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Asia Pacific Augistinian Conference

Jacob Choi OSA: St Augustine and Happiness

Jacob Heang-Kwon Choi O.S.A. is a member of the Anglo-Scottish Province of the Order of St Augustine, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1999. He received a PhD degree from Durham University in the United Kingdom during 2010. His thesis focused on Augustinian Interiority, and examined human development from theological and philosophical perspectives.
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Augustine’s lifelong preoccupation was happiness: he found God in his search for happiness and not in happiness separate from God.  Indeed it was when at the age of 19 he read the book Hortensius by the Latin author Cicero that he learned to distinguish two different kinds of happiness: one that is true and the other false. How do they differ from one another?

Let us consider a straight stick put into a glass filled with water: the stick looks bent. From such observation we can say that physical reality has two layers: one being what appears to be (under water), the other the real state of things. In a similar way Augustine maintains that there is true happiness and false happiness (i.e., one that only appears to be true.) But the problem is that persons often mistake false happiness for true happiness: this continued to be Augustine’s mistake until he studied Neoplatonism at the age of 30.

After his conversion Augustine held that if we want to attain true happiness we must in fact possess wisdom. This is because  the ‘happy life’ (beata vita) is the real way of life. In other words, we can be happy if, and only if, we sustain the right way of life; and wisdom is knowledge and practice of the right way of life.

Only God is full of wisdom. In fact God is Wisdom and Wisdom is God. Augustine concludes that trying to possess wisdom is the same as making effort to know God and of becoming more fully a ‘child of God’ (cf., De quantitate animae 28.55).

In summary, attainment of true happiness depends on possession of wisdom, and becoming wise means getting to know and practise the right way of life. God is Wisdom so the more we know God, the wiser as well as the happier we become.

Unfortunately, no one can know God fully in this life. That is to say  no one can possess wisdom fully, and thus no one can become perfectly happy. Life however is a pilgrimage on which we must love the art of trying to know God perfectly and of possessing wisdom fully.

These: gifts are what we pray for with unwavering hope.

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