st. augustine church

Late Have I Loved You

- by St Augustine

Late have I loved you,
Beauty so ancient and so new,
late have I loved you! Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong,
I, misshapen.You were with me but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being
were they not in you.You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance,
I gasped, and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.

St Augustine, the Holy Trinity, the Child and the SeaShell

Today, 11 June 2017, on the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, we remember the legend of St Augustine and the Seashell.

The great Doctor of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo spent over 30 years working on his treatise De Trinitate [about the Holy Trinity], endeavouring to conceive an intelligible explanation for the mystery of the Trinity.

He was walking by the seashore one day contemplating and trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity when he saw a small boy running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore.   The boy was using a sea shell to carry the water from the ocean and place it into a small hole in the sand.

The Bishop of Hippo approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?”

“I am trying to bring all the sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile.

“But that is impossible, my dear child, the hole cannot contain all that water” said Augustine.

The boy paused in his work, stood up, looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”

The Saint was absorbed by such a keen response from that child, and turned his eyes from him for a short while.   When he glanced down to ask him something else, the boy had vanished.

Some say that it was an Angel sent by God to teach Augustine a lesson on pride in learning. Others affirm it was the Christ Child Himself who appeared to the Saint to remind him of the limits of human understanding before the great mysteries of our Faith.

Young Man Holding a Book

Master of the View of Sainte Gudule

(Netherlandish, active ca. 1485)

The heart-shaped book this sitter holds is probably a prayer book; he is depicted before a view of the church of Sainte Gudule in Brussels, where a mass is performed by a priest in the background.

The man’s identity is unknown, but he may have been a member of a confraternity or guild with a particular devotion to Saint Augustine, whose symbolic attribute was a heart surmounted by a flame.

It is possible this formed the right wing of a devotional diptych; as such, the shape of the book would echo the open form of two joined, arch-shaped panels.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved You! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with You. Created things kept me from You; yet if they had not been in You they would have not been at all. You called, You shouted, and You broke through my deafness. You flashed, You shone, and You dispelled my blindness. You breathed Your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for You. I have tasted You, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.
—  St. Augustine, The Confessions