St. Augustine on Mystical Prayer

Rev. Prof. Harvey Egan S.J.
Professor of Systematic and Mystical Theology
Boston College

The topic of this lecture the figure of St. Augustine, one of the fathers of the Catholic Church and primary influence on the first 1000 years of Christianity in Western Europe. Augustine is unique in the history of mysticism in that his main concerns and writings were about church doctrine and education. His status as the father of Christian mysticism is due largely to the fact that he viewed all speculation about God as mystical, and as such drew no distinction between thought and mystical experience. With the belief that thinking about God leads to the experience of God’s presence, Augustine wanted to lead others through such a process of contemplation.

Perhaps most unique about Augustine’s approach is his emphasis on the communal religious experience. The call to the experience of God’s unity is not an individual endeavor, but a communal one as expressed in the context of the Church. The reality of baptism implants the very nature of union with God, even if on an unconscious level.

Extending from his social orientation, Augustine equivocates love of one’s neighbor with the love of God. The love of one’s neighbor is seen by him to consist of a hidden mysticism, wherein love is defined as a path to perfection. Love is, along with communal liturgy and personal prayer, considered by Augustine to be one of the expressions of mystical prayer.