Letters, Volume 6 (1*–29*) (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 81)

Letters, Volume 6 (1*–29*) (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 81)

Translated by ROBERT B. ENO
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Letters, Volume 6 (1*–29*) (The Fathers of the Church, Volume 81)
    Book Description:

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    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1181-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 3-8)

    A DISCOVERY OF PATRISTIC TEXTS is a significant event in the study of Christian antiquity. This usually comes in the form of a Syriac or Armenian translation of a Greek work long thought to be lost. Location of Latin works is rarer. Since Augustine of Hippo (354–430) has long been the best known and most widely read of the Latin. Fathers, it is so much more unexpected to find something previously unknown from his pen. Johannes Divjak found not only a single work, but a whole collection of letters.

    (2) Since the great Maurist edition of letters in the...

  6. LETTER 1*
    (pp. 9-13)

    Letter 1* fills in much of what had remained unknown about letter 250 of the basic collection of Augustine’s letters. In letter 250, Augustine wrote to a young bishop named Auxilius in order to convey his unhappiness about an excommunication imposed on a Roman official, Classicianus, for entering a church to seize someone who had sought sanctuary there. Further, the excommunication had struck not only Classicianus but also his entire household. (While the term “excommunication” is not used as such, “anathema” and cognate forms are equivalent.) Augustine asked whether the collective excommunication was fitting since it was Classicianus alone who...

  7. LETTER 1*A
    (pp. 14-16)

    The Latin text of this letter was first published by Lambot in RBen 51 (1939), 109–121. Divjak found a slightly different text in the Marseille and Paris mss. of the new letters. He collated five mss. (as against Lambot’s two) and the text was published in his collection. It has already appeared twice in this series: a translation by Bernard Peebles at the end of the first volume of the City of God (FOTC 8, pp. 399ff.), and by Sr. Wilfrid Parsons in vol. 5 of the Letters (FOTC 32, pp. 165ff., listed as letter 231A). There are also...

  8. LETTER 2*
    (pp. 17-30)

    Letter 2,* the second longest in this series, presents some answers to questions which had been raised since the 1939 publication of ep. 1*A. Who was Firmus, this person so eager to get the books of the City of God? We now know that he is not to be identified with the priest who sometimes acted as a messenger (PCBE, “Firmus 2,” pp. 458–59). This letter shows that he was one of the large group of intellectuals of the leisure class who liked to discuss and debate theoretical issues, including Christian teachings, but who brought themselves to the baptismal...

  9. LETTER 3*
    (pp. 31-37)

    The fourth century was a key period for the promotion of the ideal of consecrated virginity. Ambrose and, above all, Jerome stand out as essential figures in this effort. Indeed, Jerome is sometimes extreme in his expressions, promoting virginity by the denigration of marriage. Augustine shares the view that in the spiritual hierarchy, the state of consecrated virginity is superior to that of marriage. In turn, the state of consecrated widowhood is superior to the married state but inferior to the state of consecrated virginity. In terms of the Gospel parable, virginity yields fruit one hundred-fold, widowhood, sixty, and marriage...

  10. LETTER 4*
    (pp. 38-43)

    In all the previously known letters of Augustine, only one was addressed to an Eastern bishop, ep. 179 to John of Jerusalem (summer, 416). Augustine had asked John to send him a copy of the proceedings of the Palestinian council of Lydda/Diospolis of December 415 in which, to Augustine’s dismay, Pelagius had been absolved of the charges of heresy. From letter 4*, we now know that John never sent the acta to Augustine as requested. In fact, according to Bouhot’s reconstructed chronology, ep. 179 was a second request on the part of Augustine. John probably never responded to Augustine’s request...

  11. LETTER 5*
    (pp. 44-48)

    An African bishop whose identity is uncertain, had two specific questions for Augustine. One is a theological question based on the liturgy of baptism: If baptism gives an unconditional forgiveness of all sins, they why does the newly-baptized or, in the case of an infant, the godparent, say the Lord’s Prayer shortly thereafter, in which prayer, among other things, forgiveness of sins is asked? (“Forgive us our trespasses ...’) Augustine answers in terms of his theology of original sin and the lifelong human susceptibility to temptation and sin resulting therefrom. Baptism forgives original sin for all and all subsequent sins...

  12. LETTER 6*
    (pp. 49-59)

    This letter stands out in the new collection of Augustine’s letters because letters from the bishop of Hippo to significant figures in the Greek church were fairly rare among the previously known letters. There is the correspondence with Jerome in Bethlehem, of course, but he is a Westerner resident in the East. One previously known letter has a relation to letter 6*. Both deal with the Pelagian controversy and its relationship to the Eastern church.

    After the earlier African condemnation of Pelagius and his principal disciple, Celestius, a Roman lawyer, the two went to the East where they apparently met...

  13. LETTER 7*
    (pp. 60-64)

    This letter gives us a glimpse into the activities of Augustine the pastor as one concerned with the Church’s money and, in particular, with donations made to the Church. The count of Africa, Boniface (see ep. 17*, Introduction), probably in earlier years when he was on better terms with Augustine, had decided to make a financial contribution to the church in Hippo. But he did not donate the money directly or immediately. (Here we follow the detailed analysis of the text by Jean Andreau.) The exact amount of money is never specified but whatever it was, Boniface entrusted it to...

  14. LETTER 8*
    (pp. 65-68)

    Here we have another unusual letter. Augustine writes to Victor after receiving a complaint from a Jew by the name of Licinius. The latter reported that Victor had swindled him by purchasing land from his mother. The problem was that Licinius’ mother no longer owned the land. Victor, when approached by Licinius, refused any compensation and told him to sue his mother.

    The letter comprises two principal sections. In the first, Augustine informs Victor of the facts of the case, presuming always of course that Licinius’ account is factual. No doubt, the latter had documentation to prove his case, if...

  15. LETTER 9*
    (pp. 69-73)

    This brief memorandum, directed to Augustine’s episcopal colleague and closest confidant, Alypius, bishop of Thagaste, concerns yet another incident of violence. It seems that a prominent layman, someone holding a position of honor (“honor vel curiae vel fori,” section 2) had abducted and raped a nun (sanctimonialis). Further this had taken place in a church where he had carried on in other ways as well. When some members of the clergy discovered this, they attacked and beat the man. He later protested to Pope Celestine that clerics had no right to inflict corporal punishment (especially not on someone of his...

  16. LETTER 10*
    (pp. 74-80)

    The new letters make us more aware of the activities of Augustine’s friend, bishop Alypius of Thagaste, and of his travels in Italy on behalf of the African bishops. In the later stages of the Pelagian conflict and for some time afterward, one by-product of his travels was the facilitating of his transmitting of Julian of Eclanum’s attacks and Augustine’s replies from Italy to Africa and back.

    But the main subject of this letter concerns the plight of the people of North Africa who in this twilight of the Roman empire (as we see it) were plagued by increasing insecurity...

  17. LETTER 11*
    (pp. 81-98)

    Consentius, the author of two lengthy letters in this collection which are, after 20*, the longest of the group, was a Spanish layman. While it is not impossible that he was a monk or cleric, his activities and lifestyle seem to make this unlikely. He lived on Minorca in the Balearic Isles. Previously known for an exchange of letters c. 410 (epp. 119–120) concerning the relations of the persons of the Trinity and of the two natures of Christ and from ep. 205 (c. 420) in which Augustine discussed the glorified body of Christ and the resurrected human body,...

  18. LETTER 12*
    (pp. 99-108)

    Unlike the previous letter with its vignettes concerning Priscillianism in Spain, ep. 12* has little of substance to say. One commentator has called it a sort of panegyric on laziness. Like Firmus in ep. 2*, Consentius possessed works of Augustine but had been remiss in reading them.¹ But then he had not been very assiduous in reading anything. Even Scripture which he professed to respect, merited, he confessed, hardly more than a perfunctory scrutiny. Despite this egregious failure to do his homework, he could not keep himself from plunging into controversy, not only orally but also in writing, no doubt...

  19. LETTER 13*
    (pp. 109-111)

    Stories of clerical or monastic scandals are hardly absent from Augustine’s letters though the percentage of such material seems higher in this collection of new letters. In ep. 13* we have such a story that speaks for itself. This is the cleric’s version of the incident, one which Augustine would like to believe. The cleric describes how he stopped at a house in the course of his pastoral duties–or was he seeking an “occasion of sin”? The young woman is called sanctimonialis, a nun. Such an arrangement for the nun living with her family would have been a common,...

  20. LETTER 14*
    (pp. 112-113)

    This is a covering note for the letter which follows. A man who works for Dorotheus, a layman of whom Augustine thinks highly, has committed a serious crime of which Dorotheus is unaware but which Augustine believes must be brought to his attention and punishment inflicted. On the other hand, Augustine who abhors bloodshed is afraid that the pious but vehement Dorotheus will go too far when he finds out what happened: he probably would have the culprit flogged. Those who bring the letter are first to exact a promise from Dorotheus that he will be mild and restrained in...

  21. LETTER 15*
    (pp. 114-116)

    This is the memorandum for which ep. 14* was the cover letter. The second half of it contains the details of the case which concerns an employee of Dorotheus. These details, the crime and the name of the perpetrator, are to be withheld by the bearers of the letter unless Dorotheus first commits himself to a mild punishment. The culprit was one Cresconius, Dorotheus’ agent or administrator of the plantation known as the “Spanish” estate. Latin North Africa seems, from this correspondence, to have been divided up into these plantation-like estates. One would presume that the incident took place within...

  22. LETTER 16*
    (pp. 117-120)

    This is only the fifth letter extant between Augustine and Aurelius, bishop of Carthage and Primate of Africa. It would also be the latest in date of the five. But to attempt to judge the importance and the extent of the relationship between the two men by these few letters would be totally misleading. First, there are, no doubt, letters that have been lost. Aurelius is also mentioned in sermons, a good number of which Augustine preached in Carthage. The frequent African councils underline Aurelius’ importance. The two men engaged in the cooperative leadership of the African church for nearly...

  23. LETTER 17*
    (pp. 121-122)

    This brief letter adds a little to the previously known correspondence between Augustine and the Roman general Boniface. (See also ep. 7*.) Boniface came into Augustine’s life fairly late, c. 416, when he was a tribune active in the defense of the southern frontier against incursions by nomadic tribes. Boniface, like Marcellinus who had been executed in September 413, was a Christian layman and imperial official in whom Augustine saw much that was admirable, “a man whom I love deeply in Christ” (ep. 220.2). Boniface apparently had his doubts about his own vocation and when his wife died, confided to...

  24. LETTER 18*
    (pp. 123-125)

    The Catholic Church in North Africa seems to have had a vocation shortage. It was not necessarily simply a shortage of candidates but a shortage of worthy and capable candidates. “Worthy” in this context may be a relative term but we know that in Augustine’s mind high standards were demanded. Here he warns against a continued request from the people that a deacon of Unapompei, Gitta by name, be ordained a priest for the Church in Membliba. His moral conduct has been found to be unacceptable. Indeed the request for promotion brought an investigation which uncovered the past misconduct.


  25. LETTER 19*
    (pp. 126-130)

    The correspondence between Jerome and Augustine, two of the greatest Latin fathers, stands out among the most interesting exchanges in history. Augustine is seen to be respectful of the older man, a genuine searcher after enlightenment in the realm of scriptural interpretation. Jerome, on the other hand, sometimes gives the impression of being condescending while offering a facade of respect for the bishop. This correspondence sometimes took on the aspect of a comedy of errors, illustrating the difficulties of transportation and communication in that era. Letters would go astray or make their way very slowly to Palestine via Italy, thus...

  26. LETTER 20*
    (pp. 131-149)

    This is the longest of Augustine’s letters in this collection, and also one of the most interesting. It brings new information about one of the most painful cases of Augustine’s later years, the case of Antoninus, the young bishop of Fussala. In the previously known ep. 209, Augustine wrote to Pope Celestine (422–432) to whom bishop Antollin us was appealing, to explain his own side of the story. Much of that story is told here in greater detail. It should be kept in mind that while this letter was probably written in late 422, the events leading up to...

  27. LETTER 21*
    (pp. 150-152)

    Letters 21* and 26* are dearly related to each other and both to the wider problem seen in several of the letters of this new collection, viz. the recruitment of clergy of satisfactory quality. In these letters, the names of the characters are not known from other sources and the name of the place also causes problems. In both cases, vagaries of copyists have played a role. The name of the town is otherwise unknown. Desanges and Lancel call attention to an archeological find going back to 1941. This is a boundary marker found by L. Leschi. This stone marked...

  28. LETTER 22*
    (pp. 153-161)

    Here Augustine reports on current issues to Alypius, who is probably in Italy on episcopal business. Augustine’s advanced age is apparent in his inability to attend this council, which must have been held in a mountainous region. The issue of the shortage of clergy in North Africa was not a new one, but it had been exacerbated in recent years by the reunification of Catholic and Donatist churches and the need for an increased number of clergy. The need was so desperate that the North African church had undertaken what were considered radical measures. The tradition had been that clergymen...

  29. LETTER 23*
    (pp. 162-164)

    Both of the manuscripts of the new letters found and studied by Johannes Divjak have letters 23* and 23*A linked together as if they were one letter. The editor points out that while ep. 23* is addressed to Renatus (PCBE, “Renatus 1,” pp. 959–960), section 3 of ep. 23*A refers to the books sent by Renatus from Caesarea. We must conclude then with Divjak and others that we are dealing here with parts of two different letters.

    The first section of this letter is concerned with a work of Augustine on the nature and origin of the soul. While...

  30. LETTER 23*A
    (pp. 165-170)

    As noted in connection with ep. 23*, this letter is to be kept apart as a separate letter though obviously, the issue of the episcopal succession in Caesarea in Mauretania is discussed in both as it is also in ep. 22*. Since this letter is to be separated from ep. 23*, even though 23* A is the larger fragment, we are left without an addressee. Berrouard has suggested that the letter was written to Augustine’s episcopal neighbor and future biographer, Possidius of Calama, an identification that drew initial enthusiastic support when it was made. He argues that the addressee is...

  31. LETTER 24*
    (pp. 171-174)

    Closely linked in subject matter to ep. 10*, letter 24* also gives us valuable insight into the social state of the late empire. Augustine who, as a bishop in the Christian empire, is also empowered to act as a judge or arbitrator in civil cases and whose decisions will be legally binding, here seeks advice and counsel from a Christian layman, Eustochius, otherwise unknown, but obviously an expert in the civil law.

    The authority of a Christian bishop to hear legal cases, the episco palis audientia, was first established by the emperor Constantine in 318. Laws of the eastern emperor...

  32. LETTER 25*
    (pp. 175-178)

    This briefest of notes commends the bearer, the priest, Mascelio, otherwise unknown, to the hospitality of those to whom the letter is addressed. It simply lets them know that Augustine had returned to Hippo safely and in good health.

    Because of the addressees, notably Deogratias, Theodorus, Comes and Titianus, this letter is associated with ep. 173A of the corpus of letters. Ep. 173A is a short letter on the subject of the divinity of the Holy Spirit. In closing, Augustine recommends that they read a work of his which will soon be available for more information on the same topic....

  33. LETTER 26*
    (pp. 179-180)

    Augustine sends greetings in the Lord to the most blessed and deservedly venerable holy brother and fellow bishop, Honoratus:

    (1) A man from Suppa named Donantius once came to live in our monastery while his father was in Hippo living out his last years supported by the church’s charity. When Donantius could stand it no longer, he succeeded in getting the elderly Xanthippus of blessed memory, who was unaware of the facts of the case, to ordain him a deacon against the episcopal canons of the councils. But when the venerable old man mentioned above learned of this through my...

  34. LETTER 27*
    (pp. 181-185)

    This letter is unusual, apart from its content, since it is a letter written neither by nor to Augustine. Within the Augustinian epistolary corpus, there are letters such as ep. 32 from Paulinus of Nola to Romanianus but it concerns Augustine exclusively. Ep. 88 is from the Catholic clergy of Hippo to a Donatist bishop but the former category includes Augustine preeminently. There are letters from groups of bishops which either include Augustine, as ep. 128, or at least are intimately connected with an Augustinian cause such as ep. 175 from the anti-Pelagian council of Carthage. But this letter from...

  35. LETTER 28*
    (pp. 186-192)

    The new letters contain relatively little about one of the great preoccupations of Augustine’s episcopate, viz. settling the Donatist schism. The reason for this is that most of the letters come from the last fifteen years of his life and the Donatist schism was settled at least in principle at the conference of Carthage of June, 411. I say “in principle” because in fact the reuniting under governmental coercion of tens of thousands of Donatists with the Catholic Church was no easy matter. It took years. Thus we do have some echo in this letter of the difficulties of that...

  36. LETTER 29*
    (pp. 193-196)

    Paulinus of Milan is known almost exclusively as the biographer of Ambrose, bishop of Milan, Augustine’s early inspiration and mentor. Apparently, he worked as a notarius for Ambrose in the latter’s final years. Ambrose’s successor, the neoplatonist philosopher-priest, Simplicianus, invited Paulinus to go to North Africa to supervise the property of the church of Milan, presumably estates and plantations. He went and spent many years there. His letter to Augustine probably was written in Africa. Making his acquaintance, Augustine asked him to write about Ambrose. The usual date given for this biographical work is c. 422.

    What Paulinus is asking...

    (pp. 199-203)
    (pp. 204-206)
    (pp. 207-208)