Augustine of Hippo, the theoretical teacher and the practical testimony of “good treatment”
Teacher before bishop
Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that Saint Augustine was a teacher. We see him as a saint, or as a great writer, a thinker... he is represented ecstatic, enraptured in the contemplation of the divine mistery, or pen in hand attentive to the dictates of the Spirit.
However, he also had a life, a private life, with his family, his career, his his aspirations. And it turns out that, during a good part of that life, the profession that appeared in his identity card had to do with the classroom: for 13 years (361-374) he was a student, first in his town (Tagaste), then in the nearby city of Madaura and, finally, in the capital of Roman Africa, Carthage.
After finishing his studies, he was a professor for 11 years (375-386); successful teacher, even, because he began to teach in Carthage and immediately made the leap to the city of Rome to spend then to what was then the capital of the Empire, Milan.
It is not that these are contradictory things, as if Augustine had split into two distinct and irreconcilable personalities: professor and then bishop, philosopher and theologian, personcindividual or public figure. It is rather a question of two stages between which there is continuity. With his conversion, his life takes a turn, yes, it changes plane, but always maintaining the same tension that drives him to seek the truth.
In principle, he was a lover of study and a vocational teacher, which he lived with passion the craft of illustrating the minds of students. He was convinced that in this way he contributed to mold the personality of the young, which was tempered by the heat of the truth.
That was the path to happiness, according to him. If later, when he reaches 33 years of age, he leaves everything and becomes monk, it is not because he was tired of work, disappointed in his pedagogical vocation, but rather because, in the Christian experience, a broader and brighter horizon of search and taste of the truth.
As a baptized and monk from the year 387, and later as a priest and bishop of Hippo he will continue to another level the same vocation of explorer and guide through the territories of truth. And the baggage and the methodology that he possessed from his previous stage will be very valuable to him when he It is time to lead the monastic or diocesan community. How will they also serve you? negative experiences, the shadow areas, which he must illuminate to transform them into fertile ground where to recognize the action of God.
Shadows at school
There were several turbulences that he experienced on his way through the classrooms: some came from the system, while others were caused by external factors and by the students themselves. By his own admission, Augustine was not a nerd as a child, nor was he a diligent student. never. Yes, he was brilliant, and he had an exceptional memory that showed off in the subjects he taught him. they liked. But, overall, he studied out of obligation, as he himself writes:
And they forced him, even, by force of lashes, according to the system then in force. that for Augustine was a source of anguish, which multiplied when he sought refuge with his parents and he found no comfort in them; before, on the contrary, his parents were the first to laugh at him.
The only escape valve he found was to entrust himself to God with all his soul; so it describes himself again, speaking to God in his book of Confessions:
“I fervently begged you not to get spanked at school.” In this way, by dint of praying the wound did not become gangrenous and he was able to avoid the psychological trauma; before, on the contrary, what could have marked him negatively acquired for him positive valence:
This will not be the only violence that Augustine will have to experience in the academic field. Neither he will have them only in his student stage. He will also be a victim of her being a teacher. First, in Cartago, the capital of Africa, where the practice of bullying and even escraches was the order of the day, as he explains:
The young professor Augustine will get fed up with it, to the point of leaving the province and seek accommodation in Rome. There he found, yes, better organization and more order, but also greater audacity, because at the end of the course, when it comes to paying the cost of the classes, the students did not appear.
There was no physical violence, certainly, but the tactic was still putting unfair pressur that prevented the fluid teacher-student relationship and the warm and relaxed atmosphere that makes teaching possible.
There is no doubt that all these negative experiences in the classroom trained Augustine to identify and highlight the values on which the entire transmission building is based of knowledge, whether sacred or profane, is transmitted in class or in church, to children or adults.
There are values that create the only environment that enables the germination and growth of the truth in the spirit of the people. The pillars that support the temple of knowledge and they support the internal framework that gives consistency to the personality.
The first and foremost of these values is interiority, a process by which the person enters his/her inner room, walks through it, cleans, tidies up, settles in it, and from there He/She contemplates the reality from outside and transforms it. A process, moreover, sustained in the time, which requires a stable environment and creates behavioral habits.
Augustine expresses it with lapidary formulas that have remained for history:
Interiority is the key to human fulfillment and, ultimately, to happiness. And all pedagogy, school structure, teaching system or environmental conditions will be correct to the extent that they favor this process.
Any excessive pressure, therefore, or any turbulence will be counterproductive.
They come from wherever: teachers, classmates, social environment, the family itself; and be of any type: physical, psychological, sexual…
This is another of the great values that Saint Augustine inculcates. He learned it himself from childhood and at school. When they forced him to study using even physicall violence, they took away his freedom, something he valued so much, as we value it today.
Later, as he suffers the ravages of life, he will realize that freedom is something much deeper, which does not consist only in shaking off all external conditioning. The main thing is to free yourself from the ties that hold us from within: passions, addictions, vices… What he calls “chains of evil greeds and bonds of sins” (In. Ps. 101, 23). That is his fundamental experience, the one that changes his life, the one that he will later defend before all and he will analyze admirably.
In this rich range and in this density of values he wants to form the Augustinian school: both students as teachers seek to be in tune with the highest moral values of the beauty, truth, justice..., learn to discover them and guide the whole life in its search and get.
The early ages of childhood and youth cement life and build personality. The best friendships germinate in them, which are largely interwoven in the environment school. This was also experienced by Augustine, who comments on it many times with expressions that are they have made classics. There is, above all, in his autobiography, a passage that he perfectly summarizes the feelings that he lived in his circle of friends:
Augustine describes what his life was like, perhaps idealizing it a bit. And he clearly stands out from the simple camaraderie or belonging to a group manipulated by a leader. bands like that there were then, as there are now. It is largely the work of the school to forge autonomous people and sensitive to the values of authentic friendship.
It is another of the lapidary phrases that Augustine has bequeathed to posterity: Amor meus, pondus meum, “My love is my weight.” Any thought, desire, concrete action or attitude permanent, as well as the fundamental option that sustains all this, is due to love. and one It is worth according to the carats of love it has and the direction that this love takes, towards good or towards evil, vice or virtue, self-interest or that of others.
In the Augustinian perspective, authentic love is not selfish, it is not self-love. On the contrary, it is centrifugal, it goes outwards: it has God and neighbor as its object. Get into your field everything that is social sensitivity, volunteering, care for the weak, care for the poor and needy, of whatever kind… All this is very typical of the Christian and is embodied in the Augustinian ideology, which will avoid as much as it sounds like violence, discrimination, contempt or postponement.
Sense of community
A man like Saint Augustine, who lived love and friendship so intensely, had to give up places great theoretical and practical importance on the community dimension of the person, in which so intensely affects the doctrine of Christian love.
The Augustinian community spirit has its source in love. And this love creates an attitude of life in which “common things are put before one's own, not one's own before common ones”, as the saint says in the Rule that he writes for his monks.
That is not exclusive to the religious community. For Augustine there is also a community that demands social justice, as well as solidarity with the needy and in all that can promote coexistence.
Therefore, it is assumed that an Augustinian pedagogy or some centers that deserve to be called thus, they must ensure that these criteria are put into practice.