Welcome! This study guide for Augustine’s Handbook of Faith, Hope, and Love (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/enchiridion.html) is intended to be useful to guide individual study or to help you lead a study group—whether face to face or online.
We have organized this study to last seven weeks. This seems to be long enough to get deeply into the book but not so long as to require too much commitment from group members. This requires selecting a subset of the chapters. An outline of coverage is given below.
We have provided an introduction to the whole book. In addition, for each week’s readings we have provided an introduction and several study questions. If you are using this guide to lead a group book study, you might provide participants with the section introduction and the readings at one meeting, then discuss the readings, perhaps by going over the study questions the next week. For personal study you might read the introduction to a section, read the chapters, and then think about the study questions.
If you are leading an online discussion group, you should create discussion forum topics that group members may comment on. If you are using this guide to help you study the book by yourself and you wish to see or contribute to online discussions on the study questions, please see the CCEL book discussion forums.
This guide is for you. It is intended to be complete, with introductions and discussion questions that should help you lead a group without much further effort. However, if you wish to add or remove sections, modify the discussion questions, or make other changes, please feel free.
Week 1: Handbook of Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapters I and II
Week 2: Handbook of Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapters III and IV
Week 3: Handbook of Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapters VIII, X, and XI
Week 4: Handbook of Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapters XVII and XVIII
Week 5: Handbook of Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapters XIX and XX
Week 6: Handbook of Faith, Hope, and Love, Chapters XXX and XXXI
Week 7: Concluding Thoughts and Remarks
Following 1 Corinthians 13, Augustine’s Handbook of Faith, Hope, and Love is a short, informative, and challenging treatise on key Christian concepts. By studying it, we will gain new insight into how a great church father though about God, creation, Christ, forgiveness, sin, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. More importantly, in the next seven weeks, we’ll be challenged about what it means to be a Christian and what it means to “properly worship” God.
Augustine wrote this short book to a man named Laurence, as a book he could have “at hand” to answer his questions about Christianity. Our reading will follow key concepts in this “Handbook.” In the first week we’ll study Augustine’s first two chapters and learn the purpose of the book: to teach the “proper worship” of God. These chapters will teach us about the connections between faith, hope, and love. In the second week we’ll study God’s creation of the world, the nature of evil, and humankind’s state after the fall. In the third week we’ll study the source of our redemption—Christ, the mediator between God and humankind. In the fourth week we’ll examine our forgiveness and the relationship between faith and works. In the fifth week we’ll look at an example of the way that faith and works intertwine—the example of almsgiving (and spiritual almsgiving) and the role it can play in a Christian’s life. In the sixth week we’ll return to the subject that with which the “Handbook” began—faith, hope, and love. Finally, in our last week, we’ll take time to reflect on what we’ve learned through our study and to think about how we might incorporate these reflections into our lives.
In Chapter I.2, Augustine states that he’s providing a “brief summary or short treatise on the proper mode of worshipping God.” Thus, for those (like us) who want to know what the proper mode of worshiping God is, this is the place to begin. Augustine suggests, by way of summary, that the proper mode of worshipping God is worshipping God in “faith, hope, and love.” But what does that mean? Augustine explains:
What is to be sought after above all else? … What is the certain and distinctive foundation of the catholic faith? You would have the answers to all these questions if you really understood what a man should believe, what he should hope for, and what he ought to love.
Augustine believes that faith, hope, and love, are “the chief things—indeed, the only things—to seek for in religion.” As we continue to read the rest of the “Handbook” let us keep in mind what Augustine has in mind when he says faith—“what a [person] should believe,” hope—“what a [person] should hope for,” and love—“what a [person] ought to love.”
In Chapter II, Augustine shows how faith, hope, and love depend upon each other. He writes, “thus it is that love is not without hope, hope is not without love, and neither hope nor love are without faith.” This is encouraging for the believer: if proper worship of God requires faith, hope, and love, it’s encouraging to know that if one already has any one of these three virtues, then at least to some degree one has the other two as well.
Questions for discussion or reflection:
In Chapter III, Augustine begins by recalling a point from Chapter I. He states that, when trying to determine what to believe in “matters of religion,” one should not seek after what the Greek philosophers did—the “nature of things.” That sort of knowledge is not necessary. Rather, we should simply believe that the goodness of God is the cause of all things. Thus, whatever the Greek philosopher may say about this that or the other, Augustine reminds us that the things in the world—the earth, people, animals, yourself, myself—are the results of God’s goodness.
Even though everything is the result of the goodness of God, there is still evil in the world. However, Augustine notes that God does not allow evil in the world “unless in his omnipotence and goodness…he is able to bring forth good out of evil.” Even the evil in the world is used by God to create good.
In Chapter IV, Augustine continues to treat the topic of evil. Here he states that nature—things in the world—can change, and that periodically the goodness of created things can be “diminished” or “augmented.” But, there is hope even here, because no matter how diminished something becomes, its original good nature still remains as long as it exists. Augustine would say, for example, that no matter how depraved a human being becomes, there is still some good in that person because that person still has the nature of being a human being, and that nature is good. There is always some good, and consequently, always some hope.
Augustine concludes with a discussion of the nature of evil. According to him, evil does not exist: “Nothing evil exists in itself.” Rather, “only as an evil aspect of some actual entity” does evil exist. This leads Augustine to famously state that evil is “the privation of good.” Nothing is “pure evil” in the same way that God is “pure good.” (Not even Satan is “pure evil!”) Rather, according to Augustine, there are things which are good, that periodically lack some good, and that lacking of good is all that evil is.
Note: For next week, we are skipping ahead to Chapters VIII, X, and XI.
Questions for discussion or reflection:
In Chapter VIII, Augustine treats the origins of good and evil. Good, of course, comes from God, who is good. Further, God is “immutable”—unchanging—and therefore God will always be good. Evil comes from “mutable”—changing—creations of God, whose wills turn away from God. The original lapse by the angels and the first man ultimately culminated in “the whole mass of the human race” standing “condemned” according to Augustine. But, thankfully, human beings despite existing in an “evil state” could not lose their desire for “blessedness”—that is, a relationship with God.
The last chapter ends on a dark note—the sinfulness of mankind. But, in Chapter X, Augustine reminds us of the good news: there is a Mediator for mankind, Christ. Augustine writes, “Since men are in this state of wrath through original sin…a Mediator was required.” The Mediator allows us to change from “enemies to sons” through the grace of God to sons of God.
The Mediator is Christ. But what is Christ? The scriptures describe Christ as “the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Although “man cannot properly speak of such things,” Augustine ventures to (briefly) describe Christ. Christ lacked nothing “that belongs to human nature,” but was complete free from “the bonds of sin.” Christ is “both God and man.” He is the “son of man” and the “son of God;” but, he continues, there is only one son Christ, not two different sons.
In Chapter XI, Augustine reminds us that the Mediator is a gift from God. He writes, “in this [the Mediator] the grace of God is supremely manifest, commended in grand and visible fashion.” God’s grace is not merely aloof, but concrete, displaying itself in the particular person of Christ. Augustine writes that Christ is “full of grace” and “full of truth.”
Note: For next week, we are skipping ahead to Chapters XVII and XVIII
Questions for discussion or reflection:
“The angels are in concord with us even now, when our sins are forgiven.” The Mediator of Christ provides for humankind the ability to have their sins forgiven. Each person needs to have sin removed, even those who have been baptized, “because the sons of God, as long as they live this mortal life, are in a conflict with death.” According to Augustine, the conflict occurs because people are lead by the Spirit of God, but people are also lead “by their own spirits…they thus fall away from themselves and commit sin.”
But, hope is not lost for anyone because “no matter how great our crimes, [anyone’s] forgiveness should never be despaired of in holy Church for those who truly repent, each according to the measure of [that person’s] sin.” Such forgiveness, according to Augustine, has to do with “future judgment.” Indeed, as Augustine sees it, “the whole import of the sacraments of salvation has to do more with the hope of future goods than with the retaining or attaining of present goods.”
In Chapter XVIII, Augustine treats the relationship between faith and works. Augustine begins by responding to a certain view that “some” believe. These “some” believe that ‘Christians’ who are baptized never abandon Christ, and are not heretics, but nevertheless live in sin without repentance, will be saved at the last days “though the fire.” According to Augustine, scripture teaches otherwise. Augustine seems to be saying that “if faith works evil and not good, then… ‘it is dead itself.” True faith—the faith of salvation—does not produce evil, but good.
Questions for discussion and reflection:
In the last chapter, Augustine treats of the relationship between faith and works. In this chapter, he continues on this topic by discussing the relationship between almsgiving and forgiveness. One of the first points Augustine makes is that almsgiving is not a means of buying off God; it does not give “license to commit crimes with impunity.” Augustine makes a very curious remark. He states, “for to forgive a man who seeks forgiveness is indeed to give alms. Accordingly, what our Lord says—‘Give alms and, behold, all things are clean to you’ (Luke 11:41)—applies to all useful acts of mercy.” Thus, for Augustine, to give alms is not simply restricted to monetary giving; it involves any act of mercy.
Augustine states that the greatest alms gift is “the forgiveness from the heart of a sin committed against us by someone else.” By forgiving the sins committed against us by another, we can help the process of reconciliation between ourselves and that person. In this way, we can come to “love our enemies.”
In Chapter XX, Augustine illustrates the importance and depth of “alms-giving,” that is, works of mercy. He asks, “How, then, should all things be clean to the Pharisees, even if they gave alms, but were not believers?” The answer, as Augustine sees it, has to do with the importance and depth of alms-giving. It is not simply a tool one uses every once in a while; it is a “set plan” for life. And, one should begin “with himself and give [alms] to himself.” Giving alms to oneself is recognizing one’s “wretchedness” before God.
Thus, commenting on the Pharisees, Augustine notes that they neglect to give alms to themselves; they neglect to show mercy on themselves and admit their wretchedness before God. One must begin with showing mercy to one inwardly, and begin with oneself before moving to showing mercy to others. As Augustine writes, “therefore, if one really wished to give alms to himself, that all things might become clean to him, he would hate his soul after the world's way and love it according to God's way.”
Note: For next week, we are skipping ahead to Chapters XXX and XXXI.
Questions for discussion or reflection:
Augustine ends his “Handbook” by treating the topics he began with—faith, hope, and love. In chapter XXX, he treats faith and hope. He begins by noting that from our faith—the things we believe—hope springs up. Because hope originates in God, not man; “cursed is everyone who rests his hope in man,” writes Augustine, quoting Jer. 17:5. Thus, our faith, which is in God, brings about our hope. Faith, then, provides the occasion for hope because it is through our faith in God that we come to hope in God and the things he will do for us.
Love is greater than both hope and faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:13). The reason, Augustine states, that love is greater is that “the more richly it dwells in man, the better the man in whom it dwells.” He continues, “for when we ask whether someone is a good man, we are not asking what he believes, or hopes, but what he loves.” Although a person can hope and have faith in the correct things, it is love which makes a person a better person. A person who loves what is debauched and corrupt is not greater than a person who loves what is pure and holy.
Yet, faith works through love. We work out our faith through love. Despite having faith, hope, and love, the believer must still battle a “power that fights against him.” Traditionally, Christians have called this the “sin nature.” A believer “lives by faith and lives righteously in so far as he does not yield to evil desires, conquering them by his love of righteousness.” Faith, hope, and love work together. We live by faith by conquering evil desires with a love of righteousness, all the while hoping for the day in which these evil desires will be conquered by God.
Questions for discussion or reflection:
Augustine’s stated purpose in his Handbook is to explain the proper mode of worshiping God. He answers that “God should be worshipped in faith, hope, love.” In this study, we’ve attempted to understand exactly what Augustine means by reading through thirteen chapters of this Handbook. Here we will simply take some time to think back over our study and see what key ideas we can glean from it.
One key idea that emerges in the Handbook is that proper faith consists, to some degree, in believing the correct things (see Lesson 1 and 2). Augustine spends so much time defending his views because he is eager that his audience believes what he takes to be the truth. Why does Augustine believe that faith concerns believing the correct thing? How does believing the correct thing relate to his views on hope and love?
Another key idea that emerges in the Handbook is that proper hope consists in hoping only in God and what he can provide for us. What does Augustine mean by saying that we should not hope in someone (e.g. self, others) but only God (see Lesson 4 and 6)? Theologians typically note the difference between hoping that something will occur, and placing one’s hope in a person. Does this distinction give us any new insight into what Augustine means?
A final key idea that emerges in the “Handbook” is that proper love consists of loving with both faith and hope, and yet love is greater than faith and hope. Further, the object of love is God, and all that God does—through creation, punishment, and commands—is to encourage love. But, what exactly is love according to Augustine? What does it mean to love God (see Lesson 4)? And how does love relate to other parts of the Christian’s life, like alms giving (see Lesson 3 and 5)?
Thanks for studying with us through Augustine’s “Handbook!” I hope that you found it as edifying and beneficial as I did!
May God bless you.
CCEL Staff Writer