José Antonio Galindo: “Saint Augustine is a man of brilliance and of his time”

Q.- What does Saint Augustine think of Mary, the mother of Jesus?
R.- In order for us to have the most noble concept that Saint Augustine has of Mary, I gather some of his many and sublime thoughts in this regard: “His mother took him in her womb; let us take him in our heart: the Virgin was pregnant through the incarnation of Christ; our hearts are pregnant by our faith in Christ; she gave birth to the Savior; let us give birth to praises. Let us not be barren, let our souls be fertile for God.” (S. 189, 3) “Even though she had been made worthy to give birth to the Son of the Most High, she was very humble; she did not even put herself before her husband. She did not say: “I and your father,” but Your father and I. (Lk. 2: 48) She did not take into consideration the dignity of her womb, but the conjugal hierarchy. (S. 51, 18)

Q.- Does Saint Augustine deny that Mary has been conceived without sin as it would be affirmed posteriorly in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception?
R.- Behold the famous text in which Saint Augustine defends the Immaculate Conception of Mary: “Therefore, excluding the Blessed Virgin Mary, about which, by the honor due to our Lord, I do not desire to have any discussion, when it deals with sins; because we know that in order to conquer sin in behalf of all his flanks, more grace was given to that one who merited to conceive and give birth to Him who clearly did not have any sin; I repeat: Excluding this Virgin, if we could gather and ask all those saints, when they were living here, if they were without sin, what, do we think, would be their answer? . . . If we say that we do not have sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not with us. (1 Jn 1: 8-9) (De nat. et gr. 36, 42) (The problem is if Augustine was referring to original sin as well, when he said, when it deals with sins. In support, we have among other things, this reason: the cause of the fact that among the saints about which he speaks after, there is no one who is free from personal sin, is, according to Saint Augustine, the contracted moral infirmity due to original sin. Thus, if no personal sin can be attributed to Mary, it is because of the fact that she does not suffer this infirmity, and that is what it seems he wants to say when he speaks, she was given more grace. In any case, would “the honor due our Lord” be spared if Mary had contracted original sin? According to Augustine’s thinking, who attributes to that sin a malice even beyond what is real, it does not seem that that honor of the Lord would have been spared.

Saint Augustine does not speak about the issue regarding the Assumption of Mary.
Q.- At that time, was the Assumption of the Mary been perceived?
R.- Many experts on the Bishop of Hippo, even though not everyone, think that way. Regarding this theme, there is a need to take into consideration that this dogmatic truth has been put forward very slowly through the centuries until its dogmatic definition in the year 1950. Let us take into account that Saint Thomas Aquinas (13th century) attributes original sin to Mary, as many other theologians of the past, while Duns Scotus ( 14th century) considers her exempted from such sin, with the supporting argument, among other reasons, “the honor due to our Lord,” as the Augustinian text says. In any case, by what we are saying, that the Bishop of Hippo would not believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary would not suppose a dishonor on his part, although in reality he teaches the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as we have said. It would be considered surely one of his greatest merits.) Saint Augustine does not speak about the issue regarding the Assumption of Mary. The first important author who talks about it is Saint John Damascene who already belongs to the 8th century.

Q.- The Virgin Mary is a woman. Does Augustine reject her by being a woman?
R.- Besides suggesting the reading of the IX Book of the Confessions in relation to Saint Monica, I transcribe this passage of the Bishop of Hippo as the best response to all these questions: “Mary, therefore, by doing the will of God, physically is only the Mother of Christ, but spiritually, she is the mother and sister as well. For this reason, only this woman is both mother and virgin, not only in the spirit, but also in the body. She is not spiritually the mother of the our Head, the Savior, whose daughter, rather, she is spiritually, because she is also among those who believed in Him and are called justly children of the Bridegroom; but certainly, Mary is the mother of his members, who is ourselves, because she cooperated with her charity in order that the faithful would be born in the Church. They are members of that Head, whose mother actually is Mary in the physical level. (De s. virg. 5, 5-6, 6) It clearly speaks of Mary as Mother of the Church, as Paul VI proclaimed, citing that passage of Saint Augustine, at the end of Second Vatican council. After the divine motherhood is the greatest glory of Mary. If in the theme of the Immaculate Conception, he is fourteen centuries ahead, in this other theme, he takes lead for fifteen centuries.

Saint Augustine was not a misogynist, although he could have been a chauvinist as it corresponds to his time (4th and 5th centuries).
Q.- How can the admiration of Augustine for Monica, so beautifully described in the Confessions, and the fact that he abandoned the mother of his son, be explained?
R.- Saint Augustine did not abandon the mother of his son; A pagan by the name of Augustine of Tagaste did this as he was bound by the laws of the empire. Saint Augustine was not a misogynist, although he could have been a chauvinist as it corresponds to his time (4th and 5th centuries). He wrote that “giving birth to children is the reason why the woman was created,” but he wrote likewise: “In truth, in the authentic and ideal marriage, despite the passing of years, of the freshness and ardor of the flowery age, between the husband and the wife, there prevails always the order of charity and affection that intimately bind the husband and wife together. (De bono con. 3, 3). Saint Augustine is the “the father of Europe,” (K. Jaspers), and also “the true author of western theology.” (M. Grabmann) But this does not mean that he would have to say everything, and more so, to say it in a perfect and definitive way, and in the only way it can be said. He is a brilliant man, as there had been few of them in history, “the first modern man” (Siebeck, Windelband, Harnack), but still a son of his time, and as such, he has his shadows and limitations as well.