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Inside the Outside:
Essence – The Heart of Spirituality for Augustine and Luther

"Late have I loved You, oh beauty ever ancient, ever new. Late have I loved You, and behold, you were within, and I without, and without I sought You. And deformed, I ran after those forms of beauty You have made. You were with me, but I was not with You. Those things held me back from You, things whose only being was to be in You." So wrote Augustine in the tenth chapter of his most cherished work, The Confessions.

Most of us seek all that the world has to offer. Some few possess it. Many find it possesses them. ("Those things held me back from You, things whose only being was to be in You." – That is, nothing we gain has meaning unless it is an expression of the Giver.) Perhaps, like a prodigal son who has sought pleasure and possessions, power and prestige outside, in the world, we return home, to the place where we truly belong. Augustine wrote one line that says it all: "Our hearts are restless until we rest in You." — Our hearts rest finally inside the heart of God.

When that happens, we begin to discover our true self, the self God has called us to be. We know what it is like to feast on the world, yet to be empty, to hunger after something we have never found. Most of us are good people. Some of us are deeply motivated to heal and teach and reconcile, to bring God's "kingdom on earth as it is in heaven." With all our soul we want to serve the One who moment by moment breathes life into us. So we do the best we can. We work as hard as we can. We serve. We search for God's guidance and inspiration everywhere: in books and degrees, in counseling and self-actualization, through church committees and public service, and in retreats. We even journey to other countries for wisdom and knowledge. We live a life of reaching: reaching out to give to those who have so little and reaching out to gain so that we have more to share. Perhaps here, perhaps there, we shall find what is missing. We always look beyond. We never think to look inside our hearts.

But we are lost until we discover that God is where we are – in our very depths, deeper even than we can consciously go. That is why grace can convict and convince and empower us to confess. The dam breaks. Confession comes. It says: "I was misguided. Forgive!" But more importantly it says: "You are Lord of my being, Lord of my life!"

God is not just outside or above or beyond or hereafter. The God who can fill us, empower and guide us is right where we are, even if we don't know where that is. God, who is everywhere, whose life fills all that is, fills us as well. God is inside us, as well as outside. Inside us God's holy whisper speaks continually in the voice of silence, the same voice which Elijah recognized upon the mountaintop.

Even if we are unconscious of the Presence, even if we forget, even if we feel nothing, God is there. God, as Spirit, claims all that we are and all that we can be and do and say, just as the Spirit claimed Jesus and lived, worked, and spoke through him. Although we pray: "Come Holy Spirit!" the Spirit does not have to come into us. It is already there, waiting to be consciously claimed. That is what our "Come" means: "I need more! I will receive!"

For Luther this infilling of the Spirit meant that we become theodidacti, those taught inside by God. For Augustine this was the presence of the magister interior, the inner master or the inner teacher.

Just as at Adam's beginning, each of us is created and even recreated from the inside, out. Just as the Spirit claims us, we claim the Spirit. Luther gives our entrance to prayer: "I am yours, and you are mine." We belong to God so that we can live for God.

Luther and Augustine discovered this through different paths.

Augustine had lived the good life. His education was provided by the sacrifice of his father. Learning rhetoric, he had one of the strongest tools to succeed in his world, for he was educated in a study of the classics, Greek and Latin, and persuasive speaking.

Luther came from a peasant family with few possessions and great expectations of their son. After training to be a lawyer, they believed he would support them in their old age. His upbringing was strict and demanding. Luther does not speak of much warmth or gentleness in his home. When this passionate man decided to become a monk, he purposely chose the order which he thought would demand the most, the Order of St. Augustine. His biographer, Roland Bainton, quotes Luther as saying: "I kept the rule of my order so strictly that ... if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery, it was I!"

But Luther's spiritual director, Johannes Staupitz, exclaimed toward his spiritual son: "Man, God is not angry with you. You are angry with God!" It was no wonder. Luther, brought up by his strict parents and following the monastery's rules to the extreme, found, in the oldest passages of Hebrew scripture, a malevolent and fickle God. According to that ancient perception, God was angry, jealous, warlike, wrathful, turned his back on his sinful children and wounded them in order to heal! Luther was terrified. It was impossible for a human being to be acceptable to such an impossibly demanding Lord.

But Luther had missed something. The Augustinian way had always centered on the theology of the heart. If that is true, it was Luther's perception that was wrong, not the intent of those who taught him the Augustinian path.

Perhaps both Augustine and Luther had missed something else or, rather, not put two aspects of their thinking together. Augustine led Luther in teaching that human beings were "curved in" upon themselves – selfish. It is self centeredness that causes sin. We replace God in our own hearts, becoming our own God. Human nature is evil..... except .... when receiving the Holy Spirit, when yielded to the will of God.

Some years later, in the tower at Wittenberg University, Luther read a passage from Habakkuk quoted in Romans. He probably had read it many times before. But this time he went inside the words, pluming their deeper meaning. "The just (the righteous) shall live by faith." (Rom.1:17) For the Jews, righteousness was central, and it was meant to be the righteousness of love. But as most people are inclined to do, he had previously read it from what I would call the outside. To him, as to so many individuals, it had obviously meant: "Law abiding people will be saved by believing and doing the right things" or "those who follow all the rules will go to heaven."

On that day in Wittenberg a deeper realization broke. His perception became something like this:

"True followers of Christ follow by trusting." That means: by depending on God, by abiding in God, by "sticking close," by listening, by waiting, by knowing that, as Jung wrote: "Seen or unseen, God is here." To "abide in the Vine," for Luther, came to mean: "to be cemented to Christ." It meant a life of prayer, a life of intentional connection and receptivity to his Creator. "For to those who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become the children of God." (John 1:12)

Luther had focused on rules, what he considered the demands of God and of the church. He called them "works." Seen only from the outside, that is what they were. But seen from the inside, as Kierkegaard said, those which truly mattered were "the works of love." Luther must have seen his whole life at the monastery as a life of "works" done for the sake of getting into heaven. Following the hours of worship, doing the disciplines, fasting, confessing every flaw, even reading the Bible in meditation and praying – all were works! Prayer was not a spontaneous expression of love or joy or gratitude. He was commanded to pray.

His new insight took him inside the Augustinian disciplines. It transformed his mind! He was freed! The passion of his freedom burned as fire.

This has to be the reason Luther railed against WORKS. He was warning against a faithfulness that is only on the outside, a "work" to convince God of our worthiness, to manipulate God into saving us, welcoming us into heaven. His writing on the Holy Spirit, in particular, reveals this inner understanding that opened his mind and heart: "I cannot, by my own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has... called, enlightened, and sanctified the whole Christian church on earth." That means we love by the Spirit inside us, and we work, speak, and pray as the Spirit would through us. Life is an act of love given back to the One who gave us life. It is not an impossible, never ending effort which can never win salvation which is the love of God. We are saved by divine love, and to be so loved is to be saved.

The Formula of Concord echoes some of Luther's later thought, that prayer should probably be considered the fourth sacrament. Surely it is in prayer, rather than just by "doing prayer," that we receive what was commanded and promised: the living presence of the Lord, even as in the eucharist.

Luther wrote a great deal about the inner Holy Spirit which empowers us to do and say all that God asks. One such writing is on John 15:5: "[T]his is what [Christ] means when He says: 'He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.' He wishes to point out that Christianity is not attached to the outside of a man or put on as a garment; that it is not the adoption of a new method and manner of life and action, like monasticism and self-chosen sanctity, but that it is a new birth through God's Word and Spirit and the creating of a man who is entirely new from the bottom of his heart. Thereafter, once the heart is born anew in Christ, fruits also follow."

Recommended: The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther



"Late have I loved You, oh beauty ever ancient, ever new. Late have I loved You, and behold, you were within, and I without, and without I sought You.... Things held me back from You, things whose only being was to be in You."
Confessions by Augustine
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