My wife has currently undertaken a project to translate a prayer card from English to Polish. There is a reference on the card to Saint Augustine's 5th and 6th Needs.

My question is, what are these "Needs"? I presume that this is a reference to a specific text written by St. Augustine. Does anyone know which one? Translating the footnote "Saint Augustine's 5th and 6th Needs" is difficult since we don't know what this means.

Thanks, mj

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The prayer card is somewhat ambiguous in this in that it describes how to pray and references these "needs." It references 6 of them. I've copied the text and preserved the bolding/italics.

Pray a very sorrowful, very sincere, heartfelt "Act of Perfect Contrition." This will give us the correct disposition to pray. The best way to present your petitions is with less sins on your soul. St. Augustine's 1st and 2nd Needs

Pray the 3 "All Healing Prayers" slowly and wholeheartedly! Perseveringly and vocally to hear and to emphasize your prayers! By praying this way you are praying as perfectly as you can, praying the way Jesus taught us. St. Augustine's 3rd and 4th Needs

Pray the following Mary Mediatrix, proven "All Healing Prayers". When you pray, hold out your right hand to Mary's hand in the Miraculous icon and she will spiritually hold your hand in prayer! By praying this way, you are praying most lovingly, most reverently, most humbly - with deep faith, deep trust, like a small child, tenderly holding Our Dearest, Most Loving Mother's comforting hand. St. Augustine's 5th and 6th Needs

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1 Answer 1


I think there are a couple of possibilities, at least. If you can provide any more information about the text and its purpose then we could try to narrow it down.

There are a few places where St Augustine proposes a seven-step journey of the soul. However, the schemes don't match up (which is fine: he actually says in the earliest work that there are many ways to view the topic; also, they have slightly different purposes).

The first one is in De quantitate animae (On the magnitude of the soul), written in 387 or 388. In 33.70ff, the ascent of the soul has the following steps:

  1. The soul gives life to the body.
  2. Experience of the world through the senses.
  3. Reason, language, art, etc.
  4. Approach to the knowledge of God through trying to purify and strengthen oneself.
  5. Perseverance in faith, completing the work of step 4 and preparing for step 6.
  6. Contemplation of God, and submission to his will for regeneration of the spirit.
  7. Perfect joy and peace.

It is noted that step 3 and following are unique to humans. Steps 4 and 5 go together as being primarily about self-transformation, whereas the last two steps are directed towards God completely. This scheme is rather Neoplatonic, as it draws from a tradition of abandoning the material world in favour of seeking pure spirit. (See Augustine's intellectual conversion: the journey from Platonism to Christianity, Brian Dobell, 2009.)

A couple of years later, just before his ordination (390), Augustine wrote about the transformation of the "old man" into the "new man" in seven stages (De vera religione / On true religion, 26.49). These are:

  1. Learning from history.
  2. Abandoning merely human teaching to learn from the divine law.
  3. Withdrawing from sinful behaviour.
  4. Enduring in uprightness despite persecution and other difficulties.
  5. Living in the kingdom of the supreme and incomprehensible wisdom.
  6. Final abandonment of everything worldly, in favour of the coming eternal life in the image and likeness of God.
  7. Perpetual blessedness and eternal life.

The seven-age scheme is numerologically connected to the seven days of creation in Genesis 1 - compare City of God 11. Augustine would later return to this inspiration with his proposed seven ages of history (De catechizandis rudibus / On the catechizing of the unlearned, 400). The fifth age is from the exile in Babylon to the nativity of Jesus. We are presently in the sixth age, and the seventh is the coming reign of Christ.

The last work is De doctrina christiana (On Christian Doctrine). In Book 2, 7.9ff, he presents the seven steps to wisdom: fear, piety, knowledge, strength, the counsel of compassion (consilio misericordiae), purification of heart, and finally the achievement of wisdom. Here is the section on steps 5 and 6 in the James Shaw translation (at New Advent):

When, to the extent of his power, he has gazed upon this object shining from afar, and has felt that owing to the weakness of his sight he cannot endure that matchless light, then in the fifth step - that is, in the counsel of compassion - he cleanses his soul, which is violently agitated, and disturbs him with base desires, from the filth it has contracted. And at this stage he exercises himself diligently in the love of his neighbor; and when he has reached the point of loving his enemy, full of hopes and unbroken in strength, he mounts to the sixth step, in which he purifies the eye itself which can see God, [Matthew 5:8] so far as God can be seen by those who as far as possible die to this world. For men see Him just so far as they die to this world; and so far as they live to it they see Him not. But yet, although that light may begin to appear clearer, and not only more tolerable, but even more delightful, still it is only through a glass darkly that we are said to see, because we walk by faith, not by sight, while we continue to wander as strangers in this world, even though our conversation be in heaven. And at this stage, too, a man so purges the eye of his affections as not to place his neighbor before, or even in comparison with, the truth, and therefore not himself, because not him whom he loves as himself. Accordingly, that holy man will be so single and so pure in heart, that he will not step aside from the truth, either for the sake of pleasing men or with a view to avoid any of the annoyances which beset this life.

It is true that all of these are steps, and not really "needs", unless it is implicit that one needs to take a step. If you can give any more clues from the original text, then that could help us to work out which of these, if any, is the intended referent.

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