Saint Augustine of Hippo was an esteemed late 4th and early 5th century Christian bishop in present-day Algeria. He became Bishop of Hippo, an ancient seaport city, in his early 40s, and remained in the position for the rest of his life. Known as one of the greatest Christian philosophers, St. Augustine was a prolific writer, with about 100 books, 300 letters and 500 sermons still preserved. His work covers subjects including theology, philosophy and sociology and has had a lasting influence on the Christian world. Among his most significant writings are “The City of God,” “De Doctrina Christiana” and “Confessions.” The respected bishop was also a compassionate vegetarian, and drew attention to the lifestyle of those who “not only abstain from flesh and wine, but also from other viands. … which flatter taste.” Today, we will open Saint Augustine’s book “The City of God,” to read a selection of insights on the universal gift of existence, which by itself gives us an awareness, which no living creature would trade for anything else.
“And truly the very fact of existing is by some natural spell so pleasant, that even the wretched are, for no other reason, unwilling to perish; and, when they feel that they are wretched, wish not that they themselves be annihilated, but that their misery be so.” “The well-known feeling of such men witnesses to this. For when we see that they fear to die, and will rather live in such misfortune than end it by death, is it not obvious enough how nature shrinks from annihilation?” “And how much human nature loves the knowledge of its existence, and how it shrinks from being deceived, will be sufficiently understood from this fact, that every man prefers to grieve in a sane mind, rather than to be glad in madness. And this grand and wonderful instinct belongs to men alone of all animals; for, though some of them have keener eyesight than ourselves for this world’s light, they cannot attain to that spiritual Light with which our mind is somehow irradiated, so that we can form right judgments of all things. For our power to judge is proportioned to our acceptance of this Light…”