Saint Augustine is credited by Mother Teresa as saying, “Fill yourselves first and then only will you be able to give to others.” It’s in the book No Greater Love, by Mother Teresa, page 14. I Googled that quote, but didn’t find her source for that idea. Hum?
It is strange that there is little discussion of the fact that conservative Christian religion is so dependent on the writings of Saint Augustine. He is the one who provides many of the rationalizations for believing things which are counter-intuitive to casual observation, violate commonsense reasoning, and are resistant to scientific methods.
Book Four of Saint Augustine’s Confessions shows some of his rationalizations, and below are some longish quotations that indicate the quality of his young adult thinking, before he gets on with his religious rationalizations. But I question the trustworthiness of someone who admits that when twenty-eight-years old he was earning his living as a professional “liar.” Read what he himself says below.
St. Augustine’s Confessions – Parts of Chapter Four
“For this space of nine years (from my nineteenth year to my eight-and-twentieth) we lived seduced and seducing, deceived and deceiving, in divers lusts; openly, by sciences which they call liberal; secretly, with a false-named religion; here proud, there superstitious, every where vain. Here, hunting after the emptiness of popular praise, down even to theatrical applauses, and poetic prizes, and strifes for grassy garlands, and the follies of shows, and the intemperance of desires. There, desiring to be cleansed from these defilements, by carrying food to those who were called “elect” and “holy,” out of which, in the workhouse of their stomachs, they should forge for us Angels and Gods, by whom we might be cleansed. These things did I follow, and practice with my friends, deceived by me, and with me. … In those years I taught rhetoric, and, overcome by cupidity, made sale of a loquacity to overcome by. Yet I preferred (Lord, Thou knowest) honest scholars (as they are accounted), and these I, without artifice, taught artifices, not to be practised against the life of the guiltless, though sometimes for the life of the guilty. And Thou, O God, from afar perceivedst me stumbling in that slippery course, and amid much smoke sending out some sparks of faithfulness, which I showed in that my guidance of such as loved vanity, and sought after leasing, myself their companion.” …
Augustine was acknowledged, when in his twenties, to be the greatest rhetorician in the Roman Empire. Today he would be considered a great lawyer, advertising man, bon vivant, and celebrity. He is obviously a great man, but he creates a stumbling stone for me with his most famous idea, Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe, because it violates common sense, and yet without that rationalization much of modern religion would appear to be the superstition of fools.
The religion that Augustine was supposedly supporting was what Jesus had said, and what he had said most clearly in his Sermon on the Mount. — Matthew 5-7 especially 7:12 —That sermon makes sense to me, and we see another report of Jesus’ thought in Luke of either that same sermon, or a similar one given at a different time. Read the Matthew sermon first, but I quote that Luke one here to broaden the base idea.
Luke 6:27-38 King James Version
27 But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.
30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:
38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. – Luke 6:27-38
I began with Mother Teresa’s statement above, “Fill yourselves first and then only will you be able to give to others.” However, she doesn’t tell us where the abundance is to come from in the first place, and that is a problem for me, but it is one that Jesus answers. Where does all of this abundance come from? It is created when you “help others live and live more abundantly” (John 10:10). That is what you do when you behave so as to obey Jesus’ statement, “All things what so ever you would that others should do unto you, do ye even so unto them, for this is the law and the prophets.” That should is what you do, and you not only help those others on their life’s journey, you simultaneously cultivate the habit of relating to your own self in this helping way. It is from your own cultivating your character of helping others that the abundance within us is created that we may share; it’s an abundance that we may even give to our own self. The quotes from Jesus are illustrations for cultivating the habits that create personal character that leads to a fulfilled life.
But there are great problems when following what Saint Augustine cultivates. Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. This procedure seems guaranteed to create a self-centered fantasy world for the believer, and leaves Augustine’s followers’ personal lives in ruin. Instead of fantasy beliefs, we need to cultivate our habits of kindness with frequent small actions that help whomever we are with accomplish what they are trying to do.
Richard Feynman said it well, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
“The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to. … No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.” Also Richard Feynman.
Be helpful to others as often as possible in what they are doing in the moment.