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ST. AUGUSTINE, BISHOP, C. AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
From his works, and from his life, written by St. Possidius, his disciple, bishop of Calama. See the history of his life, diligently compiled by Tillemont, t. 13. See also Cenlier, t. 11, 12. Orsi, t. 8–12; the life of St. Austin, compiled in Latin by F. Lanceiol, and that in English by the learned and pious Mr. Abraham Woodhead, fellow of University College, Oxon, who embraced the Catholic faith about the year 1666, and died in devout retirement at Hoxton, near London, in 1678.
A. D. 430.
So great is the veneration which popes, councils, and the whole Church have paid to the memory of this glorious saint, through every succeeding age since his time, that to load our history with a list of his illustrious panegyrists would be a superfluous labor; and barely to copy the sober praises, which the most judicious Christian critics have bestowed on his extraordinary learning and sanctity, would be like carrying water to the sea. For the name of the great St. Austin is alone the highest eulogium and panegyric, raises in all persons the most exalted idea, and commands the most profound respect. This perfect model of true penitents, this triumphing champion of our holy faith and confounder of heresies, this bright light and most glorious doctor of the Church of Christ, was born on the 13th of November, in the year 354, at Tagaste, a small town of Numidia, in Africa, not far from Hippo, but at some distance from the sea, which the saint had never seen till he was grown up. His parents were of good condition, yet not very rich; his father, Patricius, was an idolater, and of a hasty choleric disposition; but by the holy example and prudent conduct of St. Monica, his wife, he at length learned the humility and meekness of the Christian religion, and was baptized a little before his death. She bore him several children; St. Austin speaks of his brother, Navigius, who left a family behind him, and of a sister who died an abbess. Our saint had the misfortune to fall, in his youth, like the prodigal son, into the most frightful gulf of vice and spiritual miseries, of which himself has drawn a lively portraiture in the first books of his Confessions, both for his own greater humiliation, and to deplore his blindness and ingratitude towards God, to set forth the infinite riches of the divine mercy, and to propose the example of his own fall as a warning to others. If we pursue him in his youth through all those mazes in which he wandered and bewildered himself so long, it is only that we may learn to discover and shun the snares and dangers with which we are encompassed, and cleave more closely to God
St. Austin begins his Confessions by adoring the unchangeable and incomprehensible majesty of God, and by praising his infinite mercy, which in a wonderful manner brought him into this dying life (shall I call it, says be) or living death, into which he himself knew not how or whence he came. The saint thanks Him who gave him this being, formed his body, furnished it with senses, and beautified it with a comely form, and who bestowed on him a mind or soul; from his birth provided him food, and constantly attended him with the comforts of his mercy, commanding him to praise his adorable majesty for all these things, to confess to Him and sing to His holy name, who is the Most High.1 The saint cries out to God,2 “Let thy mercy suffer me to speak: what am I to Thee, that thou shouldst command me to love Thee, and shouldst be angry with me, and threaten me with great miseries if I love Thee not? Is it then a small misery not to love Thee?” He confesses, with regret, that he began to offend his gracious God even in that age which is falsely called innocent, which was passed away without leaving any traces in his memory, and which was, with respect to the darkness of his oblivion of it, much like to that which he passed in his mother’s womb. He accused himself thus from what he observed in other children; for he perceived that little ones are easily possessed with jealousy, anger, and revenge, which they sometimes express by their pale and envious looks; and they require with tears what would be hurtful if granted, and they rage and swell against their betters and those that owe them no subjection, and would have them to comply with their will, and to obey them even in things that are hurtful; they also suck in very early sentiments of vanity and pride. He laments that custom should make it appear against reason for children in this tender age to suffer correction for what certainly deserves reprehension, and what is strengthened by being flattered, and becomes sinful upon the first dawning of the use of reason; whereas there is no age which is not docile, and capable of some degree of correction by the senses, whereby the first seeds of the passions may be crushed.3 He deplores that when he had learned to speak, and launched further out into the tempestuous society of human life, though as yet wholly depending on the authority of his parents and the beck of elders, he multiplied his sins and miseries. By the care of his pious mother he was instructed in the Christian religion, and taught to pray.4 He was made a catechumen by being marked with the sign of the cross, and by blessed salt being put in his mouth; and whilst he went to school in his own town, falling dangerously ill, he desired baptism, and his mother got everything ready for it; but he on a sudden grew better, and it was deferred.5 This was done lest he should afterward stain the grace of that sacrament, considering the great billows of temptations that were like to beset him after his childhood. This custom of deferring baptism, for fear of sinning under the weight and obligations of that sacrament, St. Austin most justly condemns; but then the want of a sense of the sanctity of that sacrament, and the frequent perfidiousness and sacrileges of Christians in defiling it, by relapsing into sin, is an abuse which, in these latter ages, calls for our tears, and for all our zeal. The Church has long since forbidden the baptism of infants ever to be deferred; but it is one of the principal duties of pastors to instruct the faithful in the rigorous obligations which that sacrament lays them under, and to teach them highly to value and to watch carefully to preserve the grace which they received by it.
Patricius, who was a worldly man, and continued still an idolator, perceived that his son Austin had an excellent genius, and a wonderful disposition for learning, and with a view to his future preferment, spared nothing to breed him up a scholar. Here the saint thanks God, that though the persons who pressed him to learn, had no other end in view than to satisfy a desire of penurious riches and ignominious glory; yet divine Providence made a good use of their error, and forced him to learn for his great profit and manifold advantage.6 But herein he accuses himself that he sinned, often studying only by constraint, disobeying the commands of his parents and masters, not writing, reading, or minding his lessons so much as was required of him: and this he did, not for want of wit or memory, but out of the love of play. He dreaded correction, and prayed to God, when a little one, with great earnestness, that he might escape punishment at school, regarding it as his great and grievous evil; for which dread he was derided by his masters and parents.
Though the age of children is frequently indocile to severe discipline,* and stands in need of restraint, yet it is generally better governed by generous motives of virtue and a filial awe than by much servile fear; and St. Austin seems to complain of austere pedagogues who multiply to youth that labor and sorrow through which the sons of Adam are all obliged to pass; whereas their tasks might often be made in some degree agreeable, and scholars might be induced to love them upon principles of duty and virtue; for, “no one,” says the saint, “doth well what he doth against his will.” He takes notice of the miseries of the depraved human condition; for these severe masters were guilty themselves, in their ambitious projects and idle amusements and pleasures, of greater follies than they chastised in the children; only “the toys of men are called business.”† It was a more fatal abuse that these masters by their own passions taught children, whose observation nothing escapes, to authorize themselves in habits of anger, envy, vanity, pride, and the like vices; for the pedagogue, who chastised his scholar for a less fault, in the meanwhile, if overcome in some petty dispute by a fellow teacher, was more racked with envy and choler than the boy ever was when outdone by a playfellow at ba11.7 This, however, excuses not the faults of the scholars. St. Austin humbly acknowledges that he at that age fell also into vanity, pleasing himself with the pride of surpassing his companions at play, and loving to have his ears scratched with vain praises, that they might itch the more. A worse curiosity drew him to the dangerous entertainments of those that were older—public shows, plays, and other diversions of the theatre. He declares that God justly turns sin into its own chastisement, its pleasure always leaving a sting, and filling the mind with gall and bitterness. “For thou hast ordained it, and so it is,” says he, “that every inordinate affection should be to itself its own punishment and torment.”‡
In his studies he liked Latin very well, having learned that language from his nurses, and others with whom he conversed. Whilst he was little he hated Greek, and the perplexing rules of the grammar of that tongue; and, for want of understanding it sufficiently, he could not then relish the beauties of Homer; but the Latin poets became his early delight. Herein he laments that he filled his head with the wanderings of Æneas, whilst he forgot his own wanderings, and he shed tears for the death of Dido, when he beheld himself with dry eyes perishing from God, miserable wretch as he was; “for what can be more miserable,” says he, “than one that is in misery, yet hath no compassion for himself? than one who wept for the death of Dido, occasioned by her love for Æneas, yet wept not for his own death, caused by not loving thee, O Lord?”8 Poesy, however, not only enlarged his knowledge of languages, and exceedingly opened the faculties of his mind, especially that of invention, the ground of a creating or original genius, but this study also gave him a sublimity of thought and expression, by its exalted eloquence, by which, with elegance and decent propriety, it raises the mind above nature, which rhetoric closely confines within its bounds; and to poetry he was indebted for the art of employing in oratory frequent lively images and bold touches.
The saint thanks God for many good endowments of his childhood,9 and for his progress in learning, all the fruits of which he offers to God; and begs that he may be enabled to refer them purely to his service, so as never to speak, write, read, cast accounts, or make use of any other profitable thing that he had learned but for the divine honor.10 He humbly asks pardon for the sins he had committed by taking delight in his learning, and in the misuse of his wit, being pleased with applause given to his exercises above those of many others of his age, which was mere smoke and wind; his wit and tongue ought rather to have been employed in the praises of God.11 He complains that some scholars were more ashamed and afraid of incurring the disgrace of men by a barbarism or solecism, than they were of offending God; and that an orator will sometimes declaim before a mortal judge with implacable hatred against his enemy, or detract from his reputation, whilst he is extremely careful not to let slip any impropriety in his discourse.12 From such a pernicious example he learned to be more afraid of uttering a solecism in discourse than of being guilty of envy, or of deceiving his tutor masters, or others by lies for the sake of play,13 for which sins he grievously laments. He also deplores the sins of theft which he committed by stealing little things out of his parents’ cellar, or from their table, either to gratify his gluttony, or to give to his playfellows. He confesses in particular that one night he and a company of wicked youths stole some pears from a neighbor’s tree near his father’s garden, out of mere wantonness, and a lust of doing what they ought not to do; for the stolen fruit was bad, and they only threw it to the hogs.’ 14 In this sin he laments the strange seduction of bad company, and of that friendship which is an enemy to the soul. Because some among such companions say, “Let us go, let us do it,” every one is ashamed not to be shameless.* The most fatal rock against which Austin split, was the execrable vice of impurity, into which he fell in the sixteenth year of his age. He was led into this gulf by reading lascivious plays in Terence, by sloth, by frequenting stage entertainments, and by bad company and example.
Austin went to school first in his own town; then his father sent him to Madaura, a neighboring city, where he studied grammar, poetry, and rhetoric. When he was sixteen years old, his father made him return to Tagaste, designing to send him to finish his studies at Carthage; but before he executed this project, he kept him a whole year at home. During this time the young man, slighting the good advice of his mother, fell into lewd company, being induced to it by idleness, and by the indulgence of his father, who had not yet received baptism, and whose only ambition was to make this son a scholar. Youth ought to be constantly applied to some serious employment; a short interval of idleness between coming from school and going to business, often enervates the mind, takes off the edge of its activity and love of application, and destroys the advantage of good habits, and the fruit of whole years; and the disorder is often beyond recovery. Aus in, during the interval of this year, gave himself up to pastimes and diversions, particularly to sporting and catching of birds, in which he bore incredible fatigues. In the meantime his passions grew unruly, and his father took no care of his growing up in virtue, provided he was eloquent. His mother indeed secretly ad monished him with great solicitude to keep himself free from vice; “which,” says the saint, “seemed to me but the admonitions of a woman, which I was ashamed to obey; whereas they were thy admonitions, O God, and I knew it not. By her thou didst speak to me, and I despised thee in her.* Yet I knew it not, and I rushed on with so much blindness, that amongst my equals I was ashamed of being less guilty than others, when I heard them bragging of their flagitious actions; and I had a mind to do the like.”15
Austin went to Carthage towards the end of the year 370, in the beginning of the seventeenth year of his age. There ho easily held the foremost place, in the school of rhetoric, and applied himself to his studies with so much eagerness and pleasure, that it was with great difficulty that he was drawn from them. But his motives were vanity and ambition, and in his studies he was pleased with pride, and puffed up with self-conceit; though he hated open arrogance, and abhorred the abusive wits called Eversores, who made it their cruel diversion to insult and impudently deride others, especially strangers, only to gratify a malicious mirth. Vincent the Rogatist, his one my, acknowledges,16 that he always loved decency and good manners even in his irregularities; but this was no more than a worldly and exterior decency for he plunged himself headlong into the filth of impurity. The world au thorizes many criminal occasions of vice, which, by the sanction of example pass among many for innocent. This reflection extorted from St. Austin after his conversion the following complaint:†—“Wo to thee, O torrent or custom among men! Who will resist thee? who will step thy impetuous tide?” He was by the force of example drawn into wicked company and dangerous amusements, especially into a fondness for tragedy and other stage entertainments, which, being full of the images of the most infamous passions, entertained that fire which had already begun to devour him.‡
His father Patricius died soon after he had been baptized, in 371; but Austin still continued his studies at Carthage. Among the works of Cicero which he read, in the nineteenth year of his age, he fell upon one which is now lost, entitled Hortensius, which was an exhortation to philosophy. By it he was strongly affected, and was inflamed with a great desire of love of wisdom, and filled with a contempt of riches and honors, and from that time laid aside all expectation of magistracies and high worldly preferments Being only twenty years old, he heard the masters speak with great boasting of Aristotle’s book, of the ten categories or predicaments; he therefore eagerly read it over by himself, and understood it all without a master. But this book led him to place God in the category of substance, and to reason of him in a corporeal manner.17 He at length grew weary of reading Cicero’s Hortensius, and the books of the heathen philosophers, because Christ was not mentioned in them, whose name he had sucked in, as it were, with his mother’s milk, and deeply retained. He desired therefore to read the holy scriptures; but was offended with the simplicity of the style: and swelling with pride as if he was endued with a great genius, he could not relish their humility, or penetrate their spirit.18 Soon after this he fell into the sect of the Manichees,* in which he continued between eight and nine years from the nineteenth to the twenty-eighth year of his age. Vice, especially that of impurity, strangely degrades and infatuates the mind, creates an utter distaste and loathing of spiritual things, and renders the soul incapable of raising her thoughts and affections to heavenly objects; this foul vice blinds the understanding, debauches the faculty of reason, and perverts the will, and all the other powers of the soul, of which no example can be more amazing than that of king Solomon. This dreadful blindness accounts for the fall of so great a genius as Austin was into the most monstrous of heresies. Pride was another occasion of his ruin. “I sought with pride,” says he,19 “what only humility could make me find. Fool that I was, I left the nest imagining myself able to fly; and I fell to the ground.” His vanity was soothed and flattered by the Manichees, who pretended to try everything by the test of bare reason, and scoffed at all those who paid a due deference to the authority of the Catholic Church, as if they shackled reason, and walked in trammels. It was by this artifice that he was seduced, and caught in their nets; they promised to show him everything by demonstration, banishing all mystery, and calling faith weakness, credulity and ignorance. “They said that, setting aside dreadful authority, they would lead men to God, and free them from all error by reason alone.”20 Isaac Beausobre hence infers, that before St. Austin’s time Catholics furiously extolled the authority of the Church.21 He ought to have added, that St. Austin afterward, upon mature consideration, found that it is highly rational, with regard to supernatural truths, to acquiesce in the testimony of God, manifested by the authority of the Church derived from him, guided by his unerring Spirit, in conserving unviolated his divine revelation, of which we have the strongest assurance given us by the same revelation, confirmed to us by evident miracles, and other motives of credibility, to which, upon an impartial review, no one can prudently refuse assent.
Modern Socinians, and others, who boast mightily of making reason their only guide, are driven by their own principles into the most glaring inconsistencies and monstrous absurdities against reason itself, as St. Austin afterward discovered of the ancient Manichees: whereas reason leads us, as it were, by the hand to divine revelation, which, far from opposing it, shows its insufficiency in things that lie beyond its reach, and offers its own noon-day light to direct us safely to the most necessary and important truths. By slighting and contemning this secure and sober method of attaining the true knowledge of divine mysteries, so great a wit unhappily fell into the snares of the Manichees. Writing to his friend Honoratus, who was still detained in those errors, to which he had himself persuaded him, he lays open this to have been the source of his ruin, that, relying too much on the strength of his own reason, he despised the direction and authority of the Catholic Church. “You know, Honoratus,” says he,22 “that upon no other ground we adhered to these men. What else made me, rejecting, for almost nine years together, the religion which was instilled into me in my childhood, a follower and diligent hearer of these men, only their saying that we are overawed by superstition, and that faith is obtruded on us without reason being given: whereas they tie none to believe, except upon the truth being first examined and cleared up. Who by such promises would not have been inveigled? especially a young man, desirous of truth, and by a reputation among learned men in the schools, already grown proud and talkative. They derided the simplicity of the Catholic faith, which commanded men to believe before they were taught by evident reason what was truth.” St. Austin frequently teaches, in his other works, that this is the general method of other heretics, and the usual occasion of miscarriages in faith. “It is,” says he,23 “as it were, a rule amongst all heretics, that they endeavor to overbear with the name and promise of reason, the most steady authority of the Church, which is firmly founded; and this they are forced to do, because they perceive themselves to be most contemptibly worsted, if their authority should once come to be compared with that of the Catholic Church.” And in another place:24 “All heretics generally deceive by the ostentatious promise of science; and reprehend the simplicity of believers.”
St. Austin tells us, that the chief questions which gravelled him, and to which the Manichees promised a solution, were, Whence came evil? and the difficulty of forming a clear apprehension of a spirit; whence he was persuaded to imagine God to be corporeal; and, by listening to those masters of error, he was brought by insensible degrees to such folly as to believe, that when a fig is gathered, both it and its mother-tree weep with milky tears; and that if some Manichæan saint should eat it (after it had been plucked by another’s crime and not his own) particles of good intelligences, or rather of the Deity, which were imprisoned in the fruit, are restored to liberty.25 However, soon perceiving that these heretics were more dexterous in disputing against others, than in defending or proving their own tenets, on this account he remained rather a seeker than a perfect Manichee, and continuing among them only in the rank of a hearer, he would never be initiated among their Elect. In the meantime his heart was swelled with pride by his success in frequent disputations with several Catholics, in which, by the subtilty of his wit, and quickness in reasoning, he seemed unhappily victorious; and he engaged several of his friends in the same errors with himself; among others, Alpius, and his patron and benefactor, Romanianus, in whose house he lodged during his studies at Carthage. He had attained to a perfect understanding of most of the liberal sciences at scarce twenty years of age; but says26 of his learning at that time, because he did not apply himself with it to the true knowledge of God: “What did this profit me, when indeed it did me harm?”
In the twentieth year, to ease his mother of the charge of his education, he left Carthage, and returning to her, set up a school of grammar and rhetoric at Tagaste; but she, who was a good Catholic, and never ceased to weep and pray for his conversion, forbore to sit at the same table, or to eat with him, hoping by this severity and abhorrence of his heresy, to make him enter into himself. Some time after, finding her own endeavors to reclaim him unsuccessful, she repaired to a certain bishop, and with tears besought him to discourse with her son upon his errors. The prelate excused himself for the present, alleging that her son was yet unfit for instruction, being intoxicated with the novelty of his heresy, and bloated with conceit, having often puzzled several Catholics who had entered the lists with him, and were more zealous than learned. “Only pray to our Lord for him,” said he, “your son will at length discover his error and impiety.” She still persisted, with many tears, importuning him that he would see her unhappy son; but he dismissed her, saying, “Go your way; God bless you; it cannot be that a child of those tears should perish.” Which words she received as an oracle from heaven.27 She was only comforted by a dream, in which she seemed to see a young man, who having asked the cause of her sorrow and daily tears, bid her be of good courage, for where she was there her son also was. Upon which she, looking about, saw Austin standing upon the same plank with herself. This assurance, and her confidence in the divine mercy, gave her present comfort; but she was yet to wait several years for the accomplishment of her earnest desires, and to obtain it by many importunate prayers and tears, which she could not but put forth in abundance, while she saw her beloved son an enemy to that God whom she loved far more than her son or herself.
Austin had a dear friend, who had been for several years the companion of his studies, to whom he had been accustomed to unbosom himself without reserve in all his cares. This individual companion was in the bloom of life, and, through his persuasion, had been involved in the Manichæan errors. Falling sick, he was converted to the Catholic church, and baptized. Austin rallied him on that score, but he, with an unexpected liberty, told him that if he meant to continue his friend, he should speak to him no more in that manner; and that if he did, he should fly from him with horror, and regard him as his enemy. This young man soon after relapsed into a fever, like his first distemper, and died in great sentiments of piety and religion. The loss of this friend was a grievous affliction to Austin; his heart was overwhelmed with darkness and grief; he seemed to see the image of death in everything that he beheld; his country and his own house seemed full of horror; all places and things where he had formerly enjoyed him were turned into bitter torment, because they were now without him, and Austin’s eyes sought him in all places, though they found him in none. All things in the world were become irksome and odious to him, because they did not restore the person whom he had lost, and nothing said to him, as before everything seemed to do, “He will shortly come to you.” Tears and mourning had succeeded his friend in the dearest place of his affection, and to weep or grieve was become the sole pleasure of his life.28
Not being able any longer to bear his native country, he removed to Carthage, where time and new connexions wore away his grief. Ambition and vanity had likewise a share in that step, the capital of Africa being a greater theatre for the displaying of his abilities. At Carthage he opened a school of rhetoric, gained great applause in the public disputations, and carried away the principal prizes in the theatre for the best performances in poesy and oratory; but he laments his blindness that he was seduced by pride in the sciences, and by superstition, under a false name of religion; following in the first the emptiness of popular glory, the shouts of the theatre, and contentious disputes for crowns of hay, and such like fooleries; and seeking in a false religion to be purged from the sins of his intemperance and lusts, by carrying food to the elect and saints, which was to be moulded in their stomachs into angels and gods, by whom he was to be delivered.29 Considering this his folly, he cries out to God in a feeling and humble acknowledgment of his own weakness: “What am I to myself without thee, but my own guide falling headlong down a precipice.”* He began to apply himself to judiciary astrology, but soon abandoned that fallacious study, being informed that it consisted altogether in tricks and deceit. When he was about six or seven and twenty years of age, he wrote two or three books, De pulchro et apto, or, on what is beautiful and decent or fit in things; which work is lost. He began, about that time, to dislike he stories related by the Manichees concerning the system of the world, the heavenly bodies, and the elements. “This kind of knowledge,” said he, “is not essential to religion, but it is essential not to lie, and not to boast of knowing what we know not.”
There was in Africa at that time a Manichæan bishop, named Faustus, much celebrated by those of his sect as a wonderful man, and perfectly skilled in all manner of sciences. Austin had waited with great impatience for his coming to Carthage, hoping he would satisfy all his doubts; but when he arrived, he found, by a long conference, that he was a good speaker, but said no more than the rest of the Manichees, only explained himself with greater grace and facility. Austin wanted something more than words, and was too solid a wit to be contented with mere form; and perceiving how little same faction he received from this great doctor of the sect, he from that time disapproved it entirely, being then twenty-nine years of age. Nevertheless, his prepossessions against the Catholic faith hindered him from turning his inquiries on that side; so that, after he despaired of discovering the truth in his own sect, not knowing where to find anything better, he determined still to remain content with what he had stumbled upon, till he should fall upon something that should appear more reasonable and satisfactory.30 The truly ingenious and pious Mr. Abraham Woodhead, who, leaving Oxford, embraced the Catholic faith, wishes many now-a-days would take warning to arm themselves against the same pernicious sloth; supposing several now to labor under the like disease, who, as it were, purposely deprive themselves of the grace of being enlightened with the truth, by not inquiring after it, only from the false informers of their own party, to which, by chance, or a false choice, they are first addicted.31
Austin, whilst he remained in this fluctuation of mind, being disgusted at the disorderly behavior of the students at Carthage, resolved to go to Rome, where scholars were kept under stricter discipline. This foreign journey he undertook without his mother’s consent, and herein he praises the divine goodness, which, by his irregularities themselves, brought him to their cure; by afflicting his mother, and refusing to hear her present request, by which she prayed that her son might not sail, God made her redouble her earnestness and her tears, that he might accomplish the main thing which she always requested, which was the conversion of this son. At Rome he applied himself to the Manichees, and lodged with one of that sect, merely on account of former acquaintance, and because he was not yet resolved on any other religion. Soon after his arrival in that city, he fell sick of a violent fever, and seemed reduced by it to the very point of dying, and perishing for ever.32 “For whither had I gone,” says he, “if I had then died, but into those flames and torments which I deserved?” But it pleased God to raise him from this dangerous sickness, through the prayers of his mother, which she never ceased to put forth for his conversion, though she was then absent, and ignorant of his present danger. Whilst he professed rhetoric in that great city, his school was frequented by the most famous wits of that age, and none ever went from it without either being struck with admiration at his learning and parts, which were rendered more amiable by the natural sweetness of his temper; or being moved with envy at the honor he acquired in his disputations; but finding the scholars there often unjust enough to change frequently their masters, in order to cheat them of their salary for leaching, he grew weary of the place; and it happening that deputies were sent from Milan, where the emperor Valentinian the Younger kept his court, to Symmachus, prefect of Rome, who was himself a great orator, requiring that he should send thither some able master of rhetoric, Austin made suit to be the man. He was strongly recommended by several persons of consideration, and having given Symmachus proofs of his capacity, was chosen by him, and accordingly sent.
At Milan he was received with great applause, and the most ingenious persons of that city were soon convinced that he deserved the high opinion they had entertained of him. The holy bishop, St. Ambrose, gave him particular marks of his respect. St. Austin was very desirous of being acquainted with him, not as with a teacher of the truth, which he thought impossible to be found among the Catholics, but only as a person of great learning and reputation, and one who was obliging and friendly to him. He frequently attended his sermons, not with any desire of profiting by them, but to gratify his curiosity, and to inform himself whether his eloquence answered the fame he had heard concerning him. He was very intent upon his words, and found his discourse elegant and more learned than that of Faustus, the Manichæan, yet not so pleasing in the delivery. Austin aimed only at gratifying his ears, and despised the matter which the bishop treated: yet his doctrine, like a distilling rain, insensibly made impressions on his heart, and caused the seeds of virtue to spring forth therein. He began to think there was good argument and reason in what he said, and that the Manichees unjustly derided and cast contempt on the writings of the law and the prophets; but he was not yet convinced of the goodness of the Catholic cause, and he continued in suspense, withholding his heart from giving any assent, for fear of a precipice; though he learned from St. Ambrose’s discourses, that Catholics did not hold what the Manichees charged them with.33 In the meantime, in the pursuit of honors, riches, and a suitable marriage, he was often tormented with bitter anxieties, the remembrance of which made his soul afterward cleave faster and more sweetly to God, who at length rescued him from that tenacious birdlime of death. Being to pronounce, on the calends of January, in 385, a panegyric in praise of the emperor, and of the newly-elected consul, Bauto, who was to be present,34 he was very anxious for the success; and, passing through the streets of Milan, he envied the happiness of a poor beggar whom he saw there laughing and merry, and complained to his friends what torments our own folly creates, only to purchase a tranquillity which perhaps we can never attain; but which that poor man seemed to enjoy in the trifling alms he had gathered that day: “It is true,” says he, “his joy is not real; but that which my ambition sought after was much less so.”
In the search of truth he was still perplexed about the origin of evil, and suffered a secret anguish in his soul to which only God was witness; for neither was his time sufficient nor his tongue able to express the inward tumult of his sou1.35 He also found great difficulty in conceiving God to be a pure spirit, without any corporeal extension, having been accustomed to the gross imagination of apprehending him as corporeal and extended through all the empire of his goodness, according to the idea of the Manichees, which differed entirely from that of the Anthropomorphites, who apprehended the divine substance to resemble a human body. In correcting this false notion he received great light by reading the works of Plato, and some other philosophers of his sect, who speak of the Eternal Word, and of incorporeal substances, in a manner which seemed to him clear and perspicuous.36 He became sensible of the necessity of admitting incorporeal substances, though (our ideas of them being conveyed to us chiefly through the inlets of our senses) we apprehend them imperfectly, and express them by analogical terms drawn from corporeal images. He therefore acknowledged that God must necessarily be an eternal, infinite, incomprehensible, and unchangeable being, and a most pure and perfect spirit; also that there is nothing in the creation absolutely evi1.37 He seemed to hear the divine voice crying to him from on high, “I am the meat of those that are grown up: grow thou up, and thou shalt feed upon me: neither shalt thou convert me into thee, like thy corporeal food; but thou shalt be changed into me.”38
He found the writings of the Platonic philosophers bred in his soul pride, and not humility, making him to have a mind to seem wise, and leaving him full of his punishment, instead of teaching him to bewail his own misery. Finding nothing in them about the great mystery of man’s redemption, of Christ’s incarnation, he with great eagerness of mind betook himself to read the New Testament, especially the writings of St. Paul, in which he then began to take great delight. Here he found the testimonies of the Old Testament admirably illustrated, the glory of heaven displayed, and the way clearly pointed out which leadeth us thither; here he learned that which he had long felt, that he had a law in his members warring against the law in his mind, and that nothing could deliver him from this body of death but the grace of Jesus Christ. He perceived an infinite difference between the doctrine of him who styled himself the last of the apostles, and that of those proud philosophers who esteemed themselves the greatest of men.39 Austin himself was now convinced of the truth and excellency of that virtue which the divine law prescribes in the Catholic church, but was still prejudiced with such an apprehension of insuperable difficulties in the practice, as kept him from resolutely entering upon it.
Under his difficulties he addressed himself to Simplician, a priest of Milan, whom pope Damasus had formerly sent from Rome to St. Ambrose to be his instructor and tutor, who was then beloved by him as his father, and afterward succeeded him in the bishopric of Milan. This holy man was in a very advanced age, and had served God with great piety from his youth. To him Austin gave an account of the round of his wanderings and errors, and mentioned his reading certain books of the Platonics, which had been translated into Latin by Victorinus, who had formerly been professor of rhetoric in Rome, and died a Christian. Simplician commended his choice of these books, and related to him how himself had been instrumental in the conversion of this Victorinus; for that very learned old man, who taught most of the senators of Rome, and had the honor of a statue set up in the Forum, embraced the faith of Christ. A fear of offending his friends, the Roman senators, those proud worshippers of devils, from whom he apprehended great storms of malice would fall upon him, made him defer his baptism for some time; but being encouraged by Simplician he overcame that temptation, and, trampling the world under his feet, was instructed and baptized by him. When Julian the Apostate forbade Christians to teach the sciences, Victorinus with joy quitted his school. Austin was strongly touched by so generous an example, and he envied the felicity of Victorinus more than he admired his fortitude; but was still held captive under the slavery of his passions.
He mournfully complains as follows: “I sighed and longed to be delivered, but was kept fast bound, not with exterior chains or irons, but with my own iron will. The enemy held my will, and of it he had made a chain, with which he had fettered me fast; for, from a perverse will was created wicked desire or lust, and the serving this lust produced custom, and custom not resisted produced a kind of necessity, with which, as with certain links fastened one to another, I was kept close shackled in this cruel slavery.*—I had no excuse as I pretended formerly when I delayed to serve thee, because I had not yet certainly discovered thy truth; for now I knew it, yet I was still fettered.—The load of the world agreeably kept me down, as it happens in sleep; and the desires by which I meditated to rise were but like the strugglings of such as would awake, who nevertheless are still overcome with drowsiness, and fall back into their former slumber, whilst a heavy laziness benumbs their limbs, though reason tells them it is wrong, and that it is high time to arise.—I had nothing now to reply to Thee when Thou saidst to me, Arise, thou that sleepest, and rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten thee.40 I had nothing, I say, at all to reply, being now convinced by thy faith, but certain lazy and drowsy words, Presently, by and by, let me alone a little while longer; but this presently did not presently come; these delays had no bounds, and this little while ran out to a long time.” It happened in the meantime that one Pontitianus, an African, who had an honorable employment in the emperor’s court, and was a very religious man, came one day to pay a visit to Austin and Alipius; and finding a book of St. Paul’s epistles lying on the table, took occasion to speak to them of the life of St. Antony, and was surprised to find that his name had been to that hour unknown to them. They were astonished to hear of miracles so well attested, done so lately in the Catholic Church, and did not know before Pontitianus mentioned it, that there was a monastery full of fervent servants of God without the walls of that very city where they lived, under the care of St. Ambrose. Pontitianus, seeing them very attentive to him, discoursed long upon this subject, and related that, whilst the court was at Triers, one afternoon, when the emperor was entertained with public sports in the circus, he and three others went out to walk in the gardens near the city, he with one companion going one way, and the other two another; and that these two happened to light upon a little cottage where dwelt certain servants of God poor in spirit, of whom is the kingdom of God, and there they found a book in which was written the life of St. Antony. This life one of them began to read, and then to admire, and soon to be inflamed: and whilst he was yet reading, to think of embracing the same kind of life; for he was one of those who were called agents in the emperor’s service, whose business it was to collect taxes, make provisions for the court, and execute particular commissions by order of the emperor or the prefect of the prætorium. Then suddenly filled with holy love and zeal, and a sober shame, and angry at himself, he cast his eyes upon his friend, and said to him, “Tell me, I pray, with all the pains we take, what doth our ambition aspire to? what is it we seek, and propose to ourselves? Can we have any greater hopes in the court than to arrive at the friendship and favor of the emperor? And when this is obtained, what is there in it that is not brittle and full of dangers? Through how many dangers do we ascend to this greater danger? And how long will it last? But behold, if I please, I become this moment the friend and favorite of God, and such I remain for ever.”† He turned his eyes again to the book, laboring in the inward conflict of his mind, and in the throes of a new life. In the meantime his heart was interiorly changed, and entirely emptied, and disengaged from the world; he often fetched deep sighs as he went on reading, till his soul being wholly subdued by divine grace, he took a firm resolution that moment to enter upon a better course. “I have now,” said he, “bid a final adieu to that our former hope, and am fully resolved to have no other pursuit but that of serving God. I begin from this very hour, in this very place. If you do not imitate my retreat, do not obstruct my resolution.” The other answered, that he would constantly adhere to his companion in so noble a warfare, for so high a reward. By this time Pontitianus and the other that had walked with him, came to the same place, and put them in mind of returning home; but upon hearing the resolution they had taken, they congratulated with them, and took leave of them, recommending themselves to their prayers. Both of them that remained in the cottage, had been contracted to young ladies, who, as soon as they heard of this, consecrated their virginity in like manner to God.
This example, and the discourse of Pontitianus, had a powerful influence on the mind of St. Austin, and raised strong emotions in his breast, and he saw, as it were in a glass, his own filthiness and deformity, which caused him to loathe and abhor himself. In his former half desires of conversion he had been accustomed to beg of God the grace of continency, but so as to be at the same time in some measure afraid of being heard too soon. “In the first dawning of my youth,” says he, “I had begged of thee chastity, but by halves, miserable wretch that I am; and I said, Give me chastity and continency, but not yet awhile; for I was afraid lest thou shouldst hear me too soon, and presently heal me of the disease of concupiscence, which I rather wished to have satiated than extinguished.”41 Now he began to be ashamed and grieved to find his will had been so weak and divided; and no sooner was Pontitianus departed, but he applied himself to Alipius in these words. “What are we doing who thus suffer the unlearned to start up, and seize heaven by force, whilst we with all our knowledge remain behind cowardly and heartless, and wallow still in the mire? What! because they have outstripped us, and are gone before, are we ashamed to follow them? and is it not more shameful not even to follow them?” This he spoke with an unusual and extraordinary tone of voice, and his countenance was entirely altered; and he immediately got up, and went into the garden. Alipius was astonished, not so much at his words, as at his pathetical manner of expressing them, and at the violent commotion in which he saw him laboring within his breast, and he followed him step by step into the garden.
They sat down at as great a distance as they could from the house, and there Austin groaned in bitter indignation against himself. We cannot better describe the tempest and furious agitation of his soul at that time than in his own words. “I now was enraged at myself,” says he, “that I did not courageously at once resolve on what my reason convinced me to be so good and necessary to be be done. I would and I would not; I was, as it were, divided between myself and myself; I shook my chain with which I was fettered, but could not be released from it. Thou, O Lord, continuedst to press sore upon me in my interior, with a severe mercy, redoubling the stripes of fear and shame lest I should leave off struggling, and my chain should grow again, and bind me faster than ever. I said within myself, ‘Come, let it now be done; let it be done this moment.’ Neither yet did I do it quite, demurring still a while, to die unto death, and live unto life. Trifles of trifles, and vanities, my old mistresses, hung about me, and pulling me by the garment of the flesh, softly whispered to me, ‘Wilt thou then forsake us? From this moment shall we be no more with thee for ever? Wilt thou never hereafter taste those delights? From this moment shall this or that be no more allowed thee for ever? Now I heard these suggestions not as boldly confronting me, and opposing me to my face, but as muttering behind me, and secretly pulling me that I should look back upon them; and they somewhat retarded me, whilst I delayed to snatch myself away, and shake them off, and to spring forward whither I was called; and the violence of evil custom said to me, ‘Dost thou think that thou canst live without these or those delights?* But the chaste dignity of continency enticed me to come forward, and, to encourage me to fear nothing, stretched forth to receive and embrace me her loving arms full of crowds of good examples. There were great numbers of boys and girls, young men and maidens, grave widows and old women virgins, persons of all ages; and in all these continency was the fruitful mother of chaste delights from thee, O Lord, her heavenly bridegroom; and she laughed at me with a kind of derision by way of drawing me on, as if she had said, ‘And art thou not able to do what these men and these maidens do?† Or are these able in themselves, and not in the Lord their God? He gave me to them. Why standest thou upon thyself, and therefore dost not stand? Throw thyself upon him, and fear nothing. He will receive and will heal thee.’ ”
Austin was exceedingly ashamed that he should still hear the whispers of those fooleries; and the Holy Ghost, inviting him to chastity, seemed again to say to him, “stop thine ears against those unclean monsters. They tell thee of delights, but not as the law of the Lord thy God.” This mighty tempest increasing every moment in his soul, when deep consideration had gathered together all his misery before his view, a very great shower of tears flowed from his eyes, and conceiving solitude to be more fit for weeping, he withdrew from Alipius, who beheld him with great amazement. He removed to a great distance from his friend, that his presence might not disturb him, and he threw himself down under a fig-tree, and there gave free vent to a torrent of tears. He cried out to God to this purpose, “How long, O Lord! wilt thou be angry for ever? Remember not my past iniquities.” And perceiving himself still held back by them, he cast forth miserable complaints, and reproached himself, saying, “How long? How long? To-morrow, To-morrow! Why not now? Why does not this hour put an end to my filthiness?” These complaints he uttered, and he wept with most bitter contrition of heart, when on a sudden he heard, as it were, the voice of a child, from a neighboring house, which singing frequently repeated these two words in Latin, Tolle Lege; Tolle Lege. That is; “Take up, and read: Take up, and read.”42 Presently his countenance being changed, he began to consider whether in any kind of play children were wont to sing any such words; nor could he call to mind that he had ever heard the like. Whereupon, he rose up suppressing the torrent of his tears, and he interpreted the voice to be nothing less than a divine admonition, remembering that St. Antony was converted from the world to a life of retirement, by hearing an oracle of the gospel read. Therefore he returned in haste to the place where Alipius was sitting, for he had left there the book of St. Paul’s epistles. He catched it up, opened it, and read in silence the following words on which he first cast his eyes; Not in revelling and drunkenness; not in chamberings and impurities, not in strife and envy; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.43 He would read no further, nor was there need; for at the end of these lines, as it were, by a new gleam of confidence and security streaming into his heart, all the darkness of his former hesitation was dispelled. He shut the book, having put a mark upon the place, and with a calm and serene countenance told Alipius what had passed in his soul. Alipius desired to see the passage he had read, and found the next words to be: He that is weak in faith, take unto you; which he applied to himself. Being of virtuous inclinations, and a sweet disposition, he readily joined his friend in his good resolution. They immediately went in and told this good news to St. Monica, who was transported with joy. She had followed her son into Italy, and came to him at Milan soon after he had abandoned the Manichean heresy, and before he embraced the Catholic faith, for which happiness she continued still to pray, and for his perfect conversion from vice and irregularities till she saw both accomplished.
He formerly thought, under the tyranny of evil habits, “that without sensual pleasures life itself would seem to him no life but a pain.”44 And when he became a Catholic and first entertained thoughts of entering upon a virtuous course, he designed to take a wife, thinking it impossible for him otherwise to overcome the passion of lust. Alipius, who had never dragged the chain of that passion, wondered at his slavery; and from wondering was once in danger of desiring to make a trial, and to be drawn towards the same slavery; but the divine mercy preserved him. St. Monica had provided a suitable match for her son, and the choice was extremely agreeable to him; but, when his heart was entirely converted to God, he resolved to embrace a state of perfect continency, and found by experience the truth of that maxim of Seneca;45 “It is not because things are difficult that we dare not aim at them; but they appear difficult because we have not courage to undertake them;” and that of two other heathens:46 “Who sets about, hath half performed the deed.” Our illustrious convert, pouring forth his heart in humble thanksgiving and holy jubilation before God, who had mercifully broken the chains of his slavery, cried out, “How sweet on a sudden was it become to me to be without the sweets of those toys! and what I was before so much afraid to lose, I now cast from me with joy; for thou hast expelled them from me who art the true and sovereign sweetness; thou expelledst them, and camest in thyself instead of them, sweeter than any pleasure whatever,* but not to flesh and blood; brighter than any light whatever, but more interior than any secret; higher than any dignity whatever, but not to those who are high in their own conceit. Now was my mind free from the gnawing cares of the ambition of honor, of the acquisition of riches, and of weltering in pleasures; and my infant tongue began to lisp to thee, my Lord God, my true honor, my riches and my salvation.” In the process of this saint’s wonderful conversion we cannot but admire the power of divine grace, that no one may despair; the victory indeed over evil habits is not purchased without much sorrow, pain, and contradiction to corrupt nature; yet let the sinner take courage, this conflict will at length be converted into happy liberty and joy; but let no sinner attempt so great a work with faint endeavors. It must cost many tears, and a kind of martyrdom. How watchful and strenuous ought every one to be against the first spark of vice, which, if admitted, soon grows a devouring flame, and a dreadful tyranny! This company, this fond affection, this secret envy appears light at first, but nothing is so rapid or so violent as the progress of vice.
“He that once sins, like him that slides on ice,
Goes swiftly down the slippery ways of vice;
Though conscience checks him, yet those rubs gone o’er,
He slides as smoothly, and looks back no more.”47
The conversion of St. Austin happened in the year 386, the thirty-second year of his age, in the month of August or September. At the same time he determined to quit his school and profession of teaching rhetoric; but deferred the execution of this resolution three weeks, till the vacation, which was in the time of the vintage. Then he retired to a country house at Cassiacum, near Milan, which his friend Verecundus (a professor of grammar in that city, who was then a heathen, but was baptized soon after) yielded to him and his friends; for he was accompanied in his retreat by his another St. Monica, his brother Navigius, his son Adeodatus, St. Alipius his chief confidant, Trigetius and Licentius, two of his scholars, and his cousins Lastidianus and Rusticus. Here he wholly employed himself in prayer and study, which exercises he made admirably conducive to each other; for his study was a kind of prayer by the devotion of his mind therein. Here he strenuously labored, by the practice of austere penance, by the strictest watchfulness over his heart and senses, and by most fervent and humble prayer, to subdue his passions, to purify his affections, to disengage them perfectly from the inordinate love of creatures, and to prepare himself for the grace of leading a new life in Christ, and becoming in him a new creature. He wept over the wounds and spiritual miseries of his soul, and he cried out with the greatest earnestness to his Saviour, begging him to stretch forth his merciful and omnipotent hand, and heal him. Against his domestic enemy he had recourse to God, praying: “My whole hope is in nothing else but in thy exceeding great mercy, O Lord, my God. Thou commandest me continency. Give me what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.48 I know that no man can be continent, unless God give it.”49 He particularly prayed for purity of heart, and the most perfect divine love, confessing that he ought to devote to the love of God his whole strength and all his powers every moment of his life; he desired to redouble his earnestness in it, to repair, had it been possible, the precious time he had already lost. “Too late,” said he, “have I loved thee, O beauty so ancient, and so new! too late have I loved thee. Thou wast with me, and I was not with thee. Thou hast called, thou hast cried out, and hast pierced my deafness. Thou hast touched me, and I am all inflamed with the desire of thy embraces.50 He loveth thee less, who loveth anything else with thee, which he loveth not for thee. O love, which always burnest, and art never extinguished! true charity, my God, set me all on fire.”51
This ardent lover of God, after his conversion, fulfilled the character of the true penitent, in loving God so much the more fervently as more had been forgiven him, and as the divine mercy had raised him from greater miseries; on which account he is usually represented by painters with the symbol of a flaming heart. The foundation of this divine charity and of all other perfect virtues he laid in the most profound humility, the most sincere sentiments of which virtue his writings breathe. In the tenth book of his Confessions he mentions that he made it his principal care and study to watch against the snares of pride and vain-glory, which there is danger of a man’s seeking in the very contempt of vain-glory itself; he also labored vigorously to restrain under the strictest government his tongue, his eyes, ears, and his other senses, especially that of the taste. Of this last he writes:52 “Drunkenness is far from me: thou wilt grant in thy mercy that it never approach me; but gluttony* sometimes steals upon thy servant: thou wilt have mercy that it may be removed from me. A soldier of he heavenly camp said: I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me.53 Strengthen thou me, that I also may be able. I have heard another praying: Take thou from me the concupiscence of the belly.54 Who is he, O Lord, that is not sometimes carried a little out of the bounds of necessity? Whoever he be, he is great, let him magnify thy name; but I am not such a one, because I am a sinful man.” For this he earnestly implores the healing mercy of Christ. This saint had learned the maxim of the gospel and of St. Paul, earnestly inculcated by St. John Climacus, St. Isidore,55 and all masters of a spiritual life, that all carnal passions are to be cut off, and the soul prepared to receive the impression of heavenly affections, by great abstinence and sobriety; for, “as a spring of water cut into many streams diffuses itself over a whole garden, and clothes every bed with green herbs, so if the appetite of gluttony spread itself through the veins of the heart, it will sow over it a thick grove of many lusts, and make the soul a dwelling-place of wild beasts,” says St. Basi1.56 St. Austin had contracted in the world a pernicious habit of swearing. After his conversion, exhorting others to refrain from that horrible crime, he set before them his own example, in what manner he had overcome an execrable habit of that vice. “We also were formerly engaged,” says he, “in that most base and criminal custom: we once swore; but from the time that we began to serve God, and understood the heinous evil of that sin, we were seized with vehement fear, and by fear we restrained that inveterate custom. You say you do it by habit; but above all things watch over yourselves that you may never swear. A more inveterate custom requires the greater attention. The tongue is a slippery member, and is easily moved. Be then the more watchful to curb it. If you refrain to-day, you will find it more easy to refrain to-morrow. I speak from experience. If your victory be not complete to-morrow, it will at least be more easy by the custom of the former day. The mischief dies in three days.* And we shall rejoice in our great fruit, and in our deliverance from such an evil.” In another sermon he says, “I know it is difficult to break your habit; it is what I found myself; but by fearing God we broke our custom of swearing. When I read his law, I was struck with fear, I strove against my custom, I invoked God my helper, and he afforded me his succor not to swear. Now nothing is more easy to me than not to swear.”57
St. Austin, in this retirement, usually after morning prayers, took a walk out with his friends, whilst St. Monica took care of the housekeeping, though she had a great share in their domestic literary conferences.† In them it was his main design to raise by degrees the thoughts of his friends in all their studies from sensible to spiritual things. How careful he was to teach them in all things to die to themselves, appears from the following instance. In a disputation, Trigetius advanced something that did him no honor, and he desired that it might not be committed to writing. Licentius, his antagonist, insisted that it ought to be recorded as a monument of his victory. St. Austin burst into a flood of tears to see them still enslaved to a petty passion of vanity, and reproved them for their fault, praying that God would heal this wound of their hearts. Whereupon the two youths entreated that the whole contest should be left on record, each desiring this for the sake of his own confusion.58 St. Austin testifies that the love of riches or honors seemed then quite extinguished in his breast: that he was never tempted to desire any food which he had interdicted himself, but feared intemperance sometimes in what he ate: that he was determined to shun above all things the company of women: nevertheless he still felt temptations to that shameful passion, to which he had been so long enslaved; but as often as they began to molest him, he was covered with extreme confusion at himself, shed abundance of tears, and cast himself earnestly into the arms of God, begging Him to heal him.59
While he was employing himself in his solitude in the exercises of holy penance and prayer, God, as he tells us, “by his grace brought down the pride of his spirit, and laid low the lofty mountains of his vain thoughts, by bringing him daily to a greater sense of that misery and bondage from which he was delivered.” He read the psalms of David with wonderful devotion, and the words contained in them were like fiery darts, which first gave healthful wounds to his soul, and then communicated to it a divine sweetness, and a healing virtue. By these affectionate words he was influenced with the divine love, and he burned with a desire of reciting them if he could, all the world over, to abate the swelling pride of mankind. He was particularly affected with the fourth psalm Cum Invocarem, of which he has given us a very pious paraphrase in his Confessions; and he could not but censure the Manichees as blind and miserable, who deprived themselves of the advantages of those divine hymns. Deplorable, in like manner, is the misfortune of those who repeat these moving acts of adoration, love, thanksgiving, and praise, without the least attention to God, and who often have in their hearts sentiments quite opposite to those they have in their mouths; whose prayers are hypocrisy, whose promises to God are false and treacherous, whose affections are all pride and presumption, whilst in words they make protestations of humility and contrition. The divine maledictions against the lovers of vanity and iniquity which they recite, fall upon their own heads: pretending to pray they rather mock God, because they have not the interior spirit of prayer. St. Austin being penetrated with compunction and love, found these divine hymns sweet with heavenly honey, and discovered in every word a sacred light; in reading them he was all on fire, and found not what to do to cure those that were spiritually deaf and dead, one of whom he had been; like the psalmist he pined away with zeal, earnestly desiring to see those that are enemies of their own souls, and the divine truth, open their eyes and their hearts to behold its pure light, and to taste its incomparable sweetness. About this time he happened one day to be violently afflicted with the tooth-ache, which hourly increased, and grew so insupportable that he was not able to speak; whereupon, by writing in wax, he desired his friends there present to join in prayer for him to the God of all manner of health, spiritual and corporal. He knelt down to prayer with them; and as soon as they began to make their humble addresses to God, the pain wonderfully ceased. He was much amazed at this extraordinary manifestation of the divine power and goodness, and greatly confirmed in his hope that God, whose beck all things obey, and who is able at once to raise us from the deepest misery, would wash away the guilt of all his sins in the laver of baptism, in which he was shortly to be immersed.60
The time being come when St. Austin was to enter his name among the Competentes, in order to prepare himself for baptism, he came to Milan in the beginning of Lent in 387. He certainly was not behind-hand in fervor to St. Alipius, who, as our saint tells us, disposed himself to receive this sacrament with extraordinary devotion, and subdued his body with great resolution, walking barefoot during winter, which is very cold in that part of Italy near the Alps, especially if we compare it to Africa.61 St. Austin was baptized fly St. Ambrose on Easter-eve in 387, together with Alipius and his son Adeodatus, who was about fifteen years of age. Our saint had no sooner received the sacrament of regeneration but he found himself freed from all anxiety concerning his past life. Nor was he ever satiated with the wonderful sweetness he enjoyed in considering the depth of the divine counsels concerning the salvation of man. He was much moved, and wept exceedingly in hearing the psalms and sacred hymns sung in the churches,62 and God sometimes admitted him into a very uncommon affection of devotion and communicated to him much interior spiritual sweetness.63 He was at Milan when the relics of SS. Gervasius and Protasius were discovered, and was witness to certain miracles that were wrought on persons touching them.64 Soon after this, desiring to devote himself entirely to the divine service in a life of solitude, he resolved to return into Africa. Accordingly he went, on his way thither, from Milan to Rome, together with his mother and several of his friends, where they continued from the month of April to the September following. Going thence to Ostia with an intention to embark there, he lost St. Monica, who died in that seaport before the 13th of November in 387.
Upon this accident Austin went back to Rome, and stayed there till the following year.* He landed at Carthage about September in 388, and there lodged for some time in the house of a virtuous lawyer, named Innocent, and was witness to his miraculous cure of a dangerous fistula, whilst the best surgeons of Carthage and Alexandria were preparing to form a dangerous incision; a sinus which was deeper than the rest of the sore having escaped several operations which he had already undergone. The patient prayed with many tears that God would mercifully preserve him from this danger, and Saturninus, bishop of Uzalis, Aurelius, who was afterward bishop of Carthage, and several other pious clergymen who often visited him during his illness, and were then present, falling on their knees, joined him in his devout prayer. St. Austin was one of the company, and relates how, the physicians coming the next day, he that was to perform the operation took off the bandages, and to the astonishment of all who had seen the wound before, found it entirely healed, and covered with a very firm scar.65 St. Austin made a very short stay at Carthage, making all possible haste to retire to his house in the country, with certain devout friends. There he lived almost three years entirely disengaged from all temporal concerns, serving God in fasting, prayer, good works, meditating upon his law day and night, and instructing others by his discourses and books.66 He settled his paternal estate on the church of Tagasté, only on condition that the bishop should furnish him a yearly stipend out of it for his and his son’s maintenance among their religious brethren. All things were in common in their house, and were distributed according to every one’s necessities, no one among them having the least thing at his own disposal. St. Austin reserved nothing which he could call his own, having alienated the very house in which he lived. The religious Order of the hermits of St. Austin dates its foundation from this epoch, in 388.*
When St. Austin was ordained priest, and removed to Hippo, many of his religious brethren followed him thither, and with the assistance of his bishop, Valerius, he founded there a new monastery, the monks of which St. Paulinus saluted when he wrote to our saint in 394. Out of it came forth nine eminent bishops, who by their learning, and the sanctity of their manners, were so many bright ornaments of the Church of Africa, namely, St. Alipius of Tagasté, Saint Evodius of Uzalis, St. Possidius of Calama, Profuturus and Fortunatus of Cirtha, Severus of Milevis, Urbanis of Sicca, Boniface, and Peregunus.
St. Austin instituted a nunnery of his Order, after he was promoted to the episcopal dignity; and his sister who renounced the world in her widowhood, was chosen the first abbess. After her death, Felicitas, the oldest amongst the nuns, was pitched upon to succeed her; but some demanding another person for their superior, a division happened among them, which St. Austin stifled in its birth, by two letters addressed to Felicitas, Rusticus (the priest who assisted the community), and all the nuns,67 whom he strongly exhorted to union, perfect regularity, fasting, public prayer, strict religious poverty, and ready obedience to the abbess, and to the priest. In the second letter,68 he laid down a regular body of monastic rules, which is adopted also by the men who regard him as the founder of their Orders, both the Hermits and the Regular Canons, though each have added to it many particular constitutions. That it was received also by other religious men soon after the death of St. Austin, appears by the rule of Tarnate, and by that of St. Cæsarius, in both which it is inserted, and by a manuscript copy at Corbie, above a thousand years old. The holy founder lays down the strictest rules of poverty, obedience and modesty; he orders that no one ever steadfastly fix her eye upon another, even of the same sex, this being a mark of immodesty and impudence; and he will have this fault to be always severely chastised, though with more mildness, when the person guilty is her own voluntary accuser. He recommends, above all things, perfect humility; “for,” as he says, “pride lies in wait about our good works, to destroy them; and what does it avail to give our riches to the poor, and become poor ourselves, if the miserable soul becomes prouder by contemning wealth, than she was before by possessing it?”
During the saint’s retirement, his ingenious son Adeodatus, in the fervor of the sacrifice he had made of himself to God, passed to a better life. St. Austin applied himself to pious meditation, and study of the sacred writings. Though in his youth, whilst his ears could only bear the Ciceronian purity and elegance of the Latin tongue, and his mind was captivated and led away by the world and error, he was alienated from reading the holy scriptures by a seeming meanness of the style; yet, when he began to be more conversant in them, and his judgment was riper, he confessed his mistake. He acknowledges, in his books, Of the Christian Doctrine, that the prophets, and St. Paul, surpass in deep sense everything that is sublime in the heathen orators, that this apostle is most powerfully persuasive, and that the torrent of his eloquence must be perceived by the most unattentive reader. He observes this difference between him and the greatest profane orators, that they studied the ornaments of eloquence, whereas his wisdom never sought after them, but they offered themselves, and naturally followed his wisdom. Where he rejects worldly oratory, and declares, that his preaching is not founded upon the persuasive language of human wisdom and learning,69 this he does with a noble simplicity, in which there is a more true sublime than in the highest strokes of art.*
St. Austin had enjoyed his solitude near Tagasté almost three years, when a person of consideration and probity, one of the emperor’s agents at Hippo Regius, a maritime town not far from Tagasté, desired very much to converse with him at leisure about the state of his soul. The saint carefully avoided going to any cities in which the sees were vacant, for fear of being chosen to the episcopal dignity; but there being then a bishop at Hippo, he went thither on this occasion without suspecting any danger. Valerius, bishop of that city, had mentioned to his people the necessity of ordaining a priest for the service of his church. One day, when St. Austin was come into the church, they laid hands on him, and presented him to Valerius, desiring, with great earnestness and loud cries, that he might be forthwith ordained priest. St. Austin burst into tears, considering the great dangers that threatened him in that charge; but was obliged in the end to acquiesce, and was ordained priest about the end of the year 390. The disorders of his youth would have been a perpetual disqualification or irregularity, had they happened after his baptism; but, from that time, he was become a new man, and was then more conspicuous for his piety than for his great learning. Our new priest being recovered from his surprise, employed his friends to beg of Valerius some respite, in order to prepare himself in solitude for the exercise of his charge. He made the same request himself, by an excellent letter, which tacitly condemns the presumption and rashness of those who, without a holy dread, intrude themselves into the ministry. He puts his bishop in mind, that, “There is nothing in the world more easy or agreeable than the office of a bishop, priest, or deacon, if it be performed in a slight, careless, and complying manner; but nothing is more miserable in itself, or more criminal and unjust in the sight of God. On the other side, nothing in this life is more difficult, laborious, or dangerous than this office; but nothing more blessed in the sight of God, if it be discharged in the manner our Great Leader commandeth.” He says, that though ho was formerly persuaded of this truth, he now felt it much more than he had imagined at a distance, and he feared that the Lord had called him into a tempestuous sea to correct him, and to chastise his sins.* “O my father Valerius,” said he, “do you command me then to perish? Where is your charity? Do you love me? Do you love your church? I am sure you love both me and your church. Many things are wanting to me for the discharge of this employment, which are not to be attained, but as our Lord directs us, by asking, seeking, and knocking; that is, by praying, reading, and weeping.” Valerius seems to have granted him this respite till the following Easter; for his first sermons coincide with that time. This prelate, who was a Grecian, and had, moreover, an impediment in speaking, appointed St. Austin to preach to the people in his own presence, as was customary for his bishops to do in the East, but, till that time, was unusual in the West. However, Valerius continued to preach sometimes himself. Austin desiring to live still in a monastery, Valerius gave him his own gardens, which were contiguous to the church, where the citizens built him a house for his monks. This is not to be confounded with the regular community of clerks, which, after he was bishop, he established in his episcopal palace. Knowing that the instruction of the flock was the principal duty of the pastoral charge, he from that time never interrupted the course of his sermons till his death. We have near four hundred extant, though several were not written by him, but copied by others as he delivered them.70 They are not regular orations, composed of all their parts; but familiar discourses, spoken without much preparation. In them he barely proposes the truth with agreeable expressions, and impresses it with some smart thoughts. This kind of eloquence is much inferior to that of the Greek fathers of the same age; but it agreed with the genius of his hearers, who received such discourses with great acclamations and applause, and were frequently moved by them to tears.71
St. Austin perfectly understood all the essential rules of eloquence. Instructing sacred orators, he tells us,72 that a discourse must be simple and natural; and art must not appear in it, and that, if it be too fine and elaborate, it puts the hearers upon their guard. He speaks very well of the necessity of being plain and familiar, though everything that is said should have a suitable dignity, especially when religion is the subject. He distinguishes three kinds of speaking submissively, in an humble, familiar way; mildly, in an engaging, soft, insinuating manner, to make people love the truth; and, nobly, in a lofty, vehement strain, when we would captivate men, and rescue them from the dominion of their passions.† This sublime kind he would have rather full of the most pathetic emotions, than florid or adorned with embellishments of speech. But a speaker who follows the impulse of his thoughts, studies no beauties of elocution, though he naturally uses such as rise from the subject itself.* Though the Latin tongue, in his age, was not of the Augustan standard, all impartial judges must allow that he had a great talent for persuasion. He writes with infinite penetration, is full of noble notions and sentiments, and expresses himself in a pathetic insinuating manner. He knew the heart of man entirely well, and reasoned generally with great force. He indeed often, in his moral discourses, takes passages of the scripture in an allegorical sense, which is always arbitrary, and rather serves for illustration than for proof; in which he followed Origen, the Therapeuts, and latter Jews. On this account the discourses of St. Chrysostom and the comments of St. Jerom are, in general, more useful, as to the application of the sacred writings, in the genuine literal sense.
St. Austin fell into allegorical interpretations by example, and for the opportunity of introducing such moral instructions as he judged most necessary for his people. As for certain fashionable defects of eloquence in his time, this great man was sensible of them; but, having higher views than the common rules of rhetoric, he conformed himself to the prevailing taste of the age he lived in, that he might the better insinuate the truths of religion into the minds of the people, by engaging them to hear the word of God with pleasure;† and in his discourses, though popular, he is always sublime. Fenelon mentions two instances to show the wonderful influence which his pathetic eloquence had upon the minds of the people; an influence which appears more wonderful than Cicero’s victory over the determined resolution and indignation of Cæsar, and which the most florid discourses would never have had, how much soever they had pleased the ears, and excited the applause and admiration of his audience. The first is related by the saint himself in a letter to his friend Alipius. The custom of celebrating the Agapæ, or love-feasts, in the churches themselves, or in the cemeteries, upon the graves of the martyrs or others, and this often with intemperance, was an abuse which St. Austin, by a strenuous letter, exhorted Aurelius, archbishop of Carthage, to procure to be extirpated by an order of a counci1.73 The people at Hippo would not be restrained from these riotous rejoicings on festivals, which they pretended to justify by the authority of their ancestors. St. Austin, who was then priest at Hippo, read to them the most vehement threats and reproaches of the prophets. Then he earnestly besought his hearers, by the ignominies and sorrows, by the cross, by the blood of Christ, not to destroy themselves; to have pity on him who spoke to them with so much affection, and to show some regard to their venerable old bishop, who, out of tenderness for them, had commanded him to instruct them in the truth. “I did not make them weep,” says he, “by first weeping over them; but, while I preached, their tears prevented mine. I own that then I could not restrain myself. After we had wept together, I began to entertain great hopes of their amendment.”74 He had the satisfaction of seeing his people reformed from that very day. The other example is still more remarkable, and the account of it we have also from the saint.75 It was a barbarous custom at Cæsarea, in Mauritania (now called Tenez, a town subject to the dey of Algiers), for relations, brothers, fathers, and sons, being divided into two parties, to fight publicly with throwing stones at one another, for several days, at a certain time of the year. This combat was a spectacle with which the people were extremely delighted, and to draw them from it was judged a very difficult enterprise. “According to the utmost of my abilities,” says St. Austin, “I used the most pathetic expressions to extirpate such a cruel inveterate custom from their minds and manners. I thought I had done nothing, while I only heard their acclamations, and raised their delight and admiration. They were not persuaded, so long as they could amuse themselves with giving applause to the discourse which they heard. But their tears gave me some hopes, and declared that their minds were changed. When I saw them weep, I believed this horrible custom would be abolished. It is now eight years ago and upwards, and, by the grace of God, they have been restrained from attempting any such practice.”
In the sermons which fill the fifth tome of his works, this father inculcates chiefly assiduous meditation on the last things; for “if the Lord’s day (or last judgment) may be at some distance, is thy day (or death) afar off?”76 He enforces the necessity of doing penance; “For sin must be punished either by the penitent sinner, or by God, his avenging Judge;77 and God, who has promised pardon to the penitent sinner, has nowhere promised him who delays his conversion a to-morrow to do penance in.”78 He frequently speaks of the obligation and advantages of alms-deeds, and takes notice that the neglect of this precept is the cause of the damnation of the greatest number that perish, seeing Christ mentions only this crime in the sentence both of the elect and the reprobate at the last day.79 He often mentions purgatory, and strongly recommends prayer and sacrifices for the repose of the faithful departed.80 He speaks of holy images of St. Stephen,81 of Christ, and SS. Peter and Pau1,82 of Abraham sacrificing his son;83 also of the respect due to the sign of the cross.84 He relates miracles wrought by it,85 and by the relics of the martyrs.86 He often speaks of the honor due to the martyrs, as in most of his sixty-nine sermons On the Saints,87 but he remarks that we build altars, and offer sacrifices to God alone, not to any martyrs. He addresses himself to St. Cyprian,88 and other martyrs, to implore their intercession. “All the martyrs,” says he, “that are with Christ intercede for us. Their prayers never cease, so long as we continue our sighs.”89 St. Austin preached always in Latin, though among the peasants of the country, in certain parts of his diocess, some understood only the Punic tongue, whom he found it difficult to furnish with priests.90 To his sermons may also be reduced the greatest part of his comments on the holy scripture.*
St. Austin preached constantly, sometimes every day, and sometimes twice on the same day. He did not desist even when he was so weak as to be scarce able to speak; but he seemed to gather strength in preaching, and his ardor for the salvation of souls made him forget the pains of sickness.91 Wherever he went, even in the diocesses of other bishops, he was constantly required to feed the people with the bread of life, and was always heard with great eagerness; his sermons were received with universal applause, and. according to the custom of that age, with clappings and acclamations; out what alone gave him pleasure was the wonderful fruit which they never failed to produce. Possidius mentions, among other instances of extraordinary conversion, that the holy doctor, by making a sudden digression from his subject to speak against the Manichæan heresy, upon one Firmus, a famous rich and zealous patron of that sect, coming into the church, he gained him upon the spot to Christ. After the sermon, Firmus came and cast himself at the saint’s feet, and, bathed in tears, confessed his errors. He was afterward advanced to the priesthood.
Valerius, finding himself sinking under the weight of his years and infirmities, and fearing lest his church should be deprived of Austin by some other city demanding him for their bishop, procured privately the consent of Saint Aurelius, archbishop of Carthage, and the approbation of his own people, and the neighboring prelates of his province of Numidia, to make him his coadjutor in the bishopric. St. Austin strenuously opposed the project, but was compelled to acquiesce in the will of heaven, and was consecrated in December, 395, having in November entered into the forty-second year of his age. Valerius died the year following.
St. Austin in this new dignity was obliged to live in the episcopal house, both on account of hospitality and for the exercise of his functions. But he engaged all the priests, deacons, and subdeacons that lived with him, to renounce all property, and to engage themselves to embrace the rule he established there; nor did he admit any to holy orders who did not bind themselves to the same manner of life. Herein he was imitated by several other bishops, and this was the original of Regular Canons, in imitation of the apostles. Possidius tells us, that the saint’s clothes and furniture were modest, but decent—not slovenly. No silver was used in his house, except spoons. His dishes were of earth, wood, or marble. He exercised hospitality, but his table was frugal; besides herbs and pulse, some flesh was served up for strangers and the sick; nor was wine wanting; but a quantity was regulated, which no guest was ever allowed to exceed. At table he loved rather reading or literary conferences than secular conversation, and, to warn his guests to shun detraction, he had the following distich written upon his table:
This board allows no vile detractor place,
Whose tongue shall charge the absent with disgrace.*
If any fell into that vice in his presence, he warned them of it, without distinction of persons, and to show his dislike, suddenly rose, and withdrew into his chamber, as Possidius had seen him frequently do. All his clerks who lived with him, ate at the same table, and were clothed out of the common stock with himself. He suffered no woman ever to converse in his house; not even his sister (who was superior of a nunnery), nor his two nieces, who served God with her. He said, that though no sinister suspicion could arise from the conversation of a sister or niece, yet they would be sometimes attended or visited by others of their sex. He never would speak to any woman without having some of his clerks by, and being in sight of them, though the business were never so secret. He committed to overseers among his clergy the entire care of his temporals, and took their accounts at the end of the year. To shun whatever might distract his mind, he intrusted to the management of others the building of the hospitals or churches which he erected. He never would receive for the poor any estates or presents which he was importuned to accept, when the donation seemed a prejudice to an heir, or a disinherison of a child. Nor could any age afford a greater example of perfect disinterestedness. He was aware how easily avarice creeps unperceived into the heart, and, like a moth, devours the best actions, no less than vanity, if it taints them with its venomous blast; and he was continually upon his guard against himself, lest either of these contagious evils should infect his soul, and secretly entangle his affections. He employed whatever could be spared of the revenues of his Church in relieving the poor, as he had before given his own patrimony for their relief. Possidius says that he sometimes melted down part of the sacred vessels to redeem captives; in which he was authorized by the example of St. Ambrose. In several of his letters and sermons, mention is made of the custom he had prevailed upon his flock to establish, of clothing all the poor of each parish once a year. He was not afraid sometimes to contract considerable debts to procure comfort and subsistence for the distressed. But his zeal and charity for the spiritual welfare of others seemed to have no bounds. “I desire not to be saved without you,” said he to his people,92 like another Moses or St. Paul “What shall I desire? what shall I say? why am I bishop? why am I it the world, only to live in Jesus Christ? but to live in him with you. This is my passion, my honor, my glory, my joy, and riches.”
There perhaps never was a man endowed by nature with a more affectionate and friendly soul than the great St. Austin; but his tender and benevolent disposition was exceedingly heightened and improved by the nobler supernatural motive, and most powerful influence of holy charity and religion; of which his letters, and the sequel of the history of his life will furnish many examples. He conversed freely with infidels, and often invited them to his table;93 but generally refused to eat with Christians whose conduct was publicly scandalous and disorderly, and was severe in subjecting their crimes to canonical penance and to the censures of the Church.94 He never wanted courage to oppose iniquity without respect of persons, though he never forgot the rules of charity, meekness, and good-breeding; witness the manner in which he reproved one Romulus for the oppression of his poor vassals,95 and others. He complains that some sins were by custom become so common, that though he condemned them, he durst not oppose the torrent too violently for fear of doing much harm and no good, should he attempt to extirpate them by excommunication; yet he trembled lest he should be rendered culpable by remissness. Whereupon he cried out, “Wo to the sins of men who only fear those crimes that are rare! But as to those that are common, though so grievous that they shut the gates of heaven, through the force of custom, we are constrained to tolerate them, and by tolerating fear we may ourselves become guilty. May it please thy mercy, O Lord, that we may not be condemned as not having done all that might be done to hinder them.”96 Prayer and advice were the means by which he sought direction in such difficulties. Erasmus,97 considering his immense labors and indefatigable zeal for the salvation of souls, says of him, “In the epistles and other writings of this holy man, how manifestly do his piety, charity, meekness, gentleness, kindness, love of concord, and zeal for the house of God appear! What doth he not endeavor! How doth he labor! How doth he turn and change himself into all shapes! If there appear the least hope of drawing one pagan to Christ, or one heretic to the Church, how doth he condescend, how doth he, as St. Paul saith, change his voice!—How anxiously doth he intercede for those wicked Circumcellions who deserved more than one death! Who ever solicited more for his friends than he doth for his enemies? With what pangs doth he bring forth all to Christ! How diligently doth he endeavor to save all, and lose none! How grievously is he afflicted when any scandal ariseth! Methinks I see the hen in the gospel, solicitous and anxious to gather and cherish her chickens under her wings. In him alone, as in a mirror, may be seen a perfect bishop, such a one as St. Paul describeth.” Causes being at that time often carried by appeal from the secular courts to the bishops, St. Austin was obliged sometimes to hear them the whole day fasting, which he did diligently, affectionately, and patiently, making use of every means to reconcile the parties amicably, and, whether they were Christians or infidels, to draw them to God; but he complained of the distraction of this charge, which only charity made supportable to him. He scarce ever made any other visits than to orphans, widows, the sick, and other distressed persons. He practised the three maxims of Saint Ambrose; first, never to make matches for any persons, lest they should prove unhappy; secondly, never to persuade any to be soldiers; and, thirdly, never to go to feasts in his own city, lest they should become frequent, and he should be drawn into intemperance, and much loss of his precious time.98
The epistles of great men are generally interesting and curious both for illustrating their history, and giving the genuine portraiture of their mind. Those of St. Austin are particularly so, not only on these accounts, but also for the importance of the subjects treated in them. Several are so many excellent and learned treatises, and contain many admirable instructions for the practice of perfect virtue. In them he mentions his own frequent indispositions, and the habitual weakness of his constitution. In the thirty-eighth to Profuturus (n. 397), he says he was confined to his bed under violent pain, but adds, “Though I suffer, yet I am well, because I am as God would have me to be; for when we will not what he wills, it is we that are in the fault, as he can neither do, nor permit anything but what is just.” In the thirty-sixth he answereth Casulanus about the fast of Saturday, that the Church observes fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, because the Jews formed their conspiracy to put Christ to death on Wednesday, and executed it on Friday. As to Saturday, he bids him follow the custom of the place where he should be, according to the rule of St. Ambrose, who told his mother, “When I am here (at Milan) I do not fast upon Saturdays; when I am at Rome, I fast upon that day.” If the custom of the place be not uniform, as in many churches in Africa, he advises him to do as the bishop of the place should do or direct. He gives the same answer in his fifty-fourth to Januarius. He says in the same that they do well who communicate daily, provided it be done worthily, and with the humility of Zaccheus when he received Christ under his roof; but that they are also to be commended who sometimes imitate the humble centurion, and set apart only Sundays and Saturdays, or certain other days, for communicating, in order to do it with greater devotion. He lays down this principle, that a custom universally received in the Church must be looked upon as settled by the apostles or by general council, as the annual celebrations of Easter, Pentecost, the Ascension, and Passion of Christ. He says, that though the faithful at first communicated after supper, the apostles afterward ordained that out of reverence to so great a sacrament, all should communicate fasting.
In the fifty-fifth, to the same Januarius, he speaks of Lent and other laws of the Church; but says, that certain rites and customs may be sometimes practised by particulars which are only tolerated by the Church, and may be sometimes such as are better rejected than observed. It would be tedious to mention all the important points of faith and discipline which he discusses in many of his epistles; but devout persons will find nothing more agreeable than the perfect maxims of Christian virtue which he inculcates. With what charity and tenderness does he comfort Crysinus under temporal losses and calamities, putting him in mind that God is our only good, and a good which can never fail us, if we study truly to belong to him! If he suffers us to be afflicted in this world, it is only for our greater advantage.99 He explains the duties of a wife towards her husband in his letter to Ecdicia,100 showing her that she was obliged to condescend and conform herself to the humor of her morose husband not only in duties which she essentially owed him, but also in things indifferent; that she ought not to wear black clothes seeing this gave him offence; and she might be humble in mind in rich and gay dress (provided it were modest, and not such as the apostle condemns if he should insist upon her wearing such. He tells her she ought, in all things reasonable, to agree with her husband as to the manner of educating their son, and rather leave to him the chief care of it when he required it. He severely chides her for having given goods and money to the poor without his tacit consent, and obliges her to ask his pardon for it, whether his unwillingness to allow her extraordinary charities proceeded from a just and prudent care to provide for their son, or from any imperfect motive. He exhorts her to gain him by meekness and charity, and to endeavor by all means to reclaim him from his adulteries and other vices, especially by praying for him. “Pray for him,” says the saint, “and from the bottom of your heart. For tears are, as it were, the blood of a heart pierced with grief,” &c. In like manner did he press upon husbands the respect, tender affection, and just condescension which they owe to their wives; and so with regard to other states.
The documents he gave to Proba are more general; Proba Falconia, the widow of Probus, who had been prefect of the prætorium and consul, in 371, withdrew into Africa with her mother-in-law Juliana, and her daughter Demetrias, after Alaric the Goth had plundered Rome. This holy widow being sensible that assiduous prayer was her chief duty, desired St. Austin to send her some instructions in writing about the manner how she ought to pray. The saint told her,101 she must learn to despise the world and its pleasures, and sigh after the true happiness of divine grace and charity, which is to be the principal object of all our prayers; that prayer must be made by the earnest cry of the heart, and ought to be without ceasing, by the continued burning desire of the soul seeking God; secondly, by having regular hours for daily devotions; and, thirdly, by frequently raising our hearts to God during all our actions with fervent aspirations, in imitation of the Egyptian monks. He gave her an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, adding, that we are to recommend to God not only our spiritual, but also our corporal necessities, especially our health, that we may consecrate it to the divine service; for without health all other temporal blessings avail us little; but this and other temporal favors we must ask with resignation to the divine will, and with a view to our spiritual advantage, lest, in punishment of our impatience, God should give us them when they are pernicious to our souls, as he granted in anger the flesh meat which the Jews in the wilderness asked with murmuring, and at the same time visited them with the chastisement of their gluttony and rebellion:102 whereas he refused to hear St. Paul, because a trial was more expedient, for him.103
We have a remarkable instance of St. Austin’s meekness and humility, in his controversy with St. Jerom. The latter, in his exposition of the epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, had explained the passage of his withstanding and blaming St. Peter for withdrawing himself from the table of the Gentiles upon the arrival of the Jewish converts,104 as if this had been a mere collusion between the apostles to prevent the scandal of either party, and as if St. Paul did not think St. Peter in any fault; because he allowed the observance of such legal ceremonies at that time no less than St. Peter did. St. Austin, in 395, being only priest, wrote to him against this exposition,105 showing, that though the apostles certainly agreed in doctrine, yet in this action of St. Peter there was an indiscretion of inadvertence which gave to the Gentile converts an occasion of scandal; and, that if St. Paul did not blame him seriously he must have been guilty of an officious lie (which cannot be denied), and by admitting such a fallacy any passage in the scripture may be eluded in the like manner. This letter of St. Austin happened, by the detention and death of the bearer, never to be delivered. In 397, St. Austin being then bishop, wrote to St. Jerom another letter upon the same subject,106 which, by another accident, fell into the hands of several persons in Italy, and was only sent to St. Jerom in Palestine accidentally by one of them; at which St. Jerom took offence. Several other letters passed between them on this affair,107 in which St. Austin shows that the apostles tolerated for some time the ceremonies of the Jewish law, that they might be abrogated by insensible degrees, and the synagogue buried with honor. He conjures St. Jerom by the meekness of Christ to pardon him what he had offended him in, thankfully submits himself to his reprehension and reproof, professing himself always ready to be taught by him as his master, and corrected by him as his censor, and desires to drop the inquiry, if it caused any breach of friendship, that they might provide for their mutual salvation.108 “I entreat you again and again,” says he in another letter, “to correct me confidently when you perceive me to stand in need of it; for, though the office of a bishop be greater than that of a priest, yet in many things is Austin inferior to Jerom.”109 The saint imputes the whole blame of this dispute to himself, and his own negligence, because he had not added, that the toleration of the legal rites only belonged to that time when the New Law began to be promulgated.110 St. Jerom afterward tacitly came over to St. Austin’s opinion,111 which is confirmed by the general suffrage of theologians, St. Austin grieved exceedingly to see the debate betwixt him and Ruffinus carried on with warmth, and conjured them with the greatest tenderness imaginable to forbear invectives. “Could I meet you both together in any place,” said he, “I would fall down at your feet, I would weep as long as I were able, I would beseech as much as I love you, sometimes each for himself, then each one for the other, and for many others, especially the weak for whom Christ died.”112 This saint always dreaded the itch of vain-glory in literary contests, in which men love an opinion, as he says, “Not because it is true, but because it is their own, and they dispute, not for the truth, but for the victory.” For his part, he was so much upon his guard to shun this rock, that charity and humility were nowhere more visibly the governing principles of his heart than on such occasions.
He trembled always at the danger of secret complacency, or vain-glory, amidst the praises of others. Thus he writes113 of this temptation in his Confessions: “We are daily assaulted, O Lord, with these temptations; we are tempted without ceasing. The tongues of men are as a furnace, in which we are daily tried. Thou knowest the groans of my heart to Thee concerning this thing, and the floods of my eyes. For I cannot easily discover the advances that I make towards being more clean from this plague; and I very much dread my hidden sins, which are seen by thine eyes, but not by mine. In other temptations I have some way by which I may try myself; but none at all in this.” He complains, in a letter to Aurelius, archbishop of Carthage, much more bitterly how subtly and imperceptibly this dangerous vice insinuates itself into our souls, adding, “This I write to discover my evils to you, that you may know in what things to pray to God for my infirmities.” Sincere humility made him love, at every turn, to confess his ignorance, and no less readily than candidly often to say, “I know it not;”114 an answer which does more honor to a true genius than the greatest display of wit and learning; yet which costs so much to many, that they often turn themselves into every shape rather than make this humble acknowledgment, as the judicious Carthusian of Gaillon, F. Bonaventure, remarks, speaking of the great and truly humble cardinal Bellarmin.115 He showed the greatest deference for the opinion of others, and with unfeigned humility asked their advice in the paths of virtue, and submitted himself and his works to their censure. Nothing gave him greater confusion and mortification than the esteem of others, or their opinion of his learning.116
From this sincere humility St. Austin wrote his Confessions, or praises of the divine mercy and justice, about the year 397, not long after he was made bishop, when all the world admired his sanctity, and he enjoyed the greatest honor and fame. Possidius assures us, that his main design in composing this work, was to study his own humiliation, and to endeavor that no one should think of him above that which he confessed himself to be. He therefore divulged all the sins of his youth in the nine first books, and, in the tenth, published many imperfections to which he was still subject, humbly begging the intercession of all Christians in his behalf. The saint himself sending this book to count Darius, tells him,117 that, “The caresses of this world are more dangerous than its persecutions. See what I am from this book: believe me who bear testimony of myself, and regard not what others say of me. Praise with me the goodness of God for the great mercy he hath shown in me, and pray for me, that he will be pleased to finish what he hath begun in me, and that he never suffer me to destroy myself.” St. Austin says in his second book of his Retractations, that he compiled this work also to excite both himself and other men to praise God, ever just, and ever good, and to raise up our understanding and affections to Him. He has interspersed in it sublime and solid reflections on the greatness and goodness of God, the vanity of the world, and the miseries of sin, with most useful instructions for furthering the spiritual life in our souls. Ever since this work has been written, it has been always read by pious persons with delight and admiration. The saint having given an account of his own actions in the ten first books, in the three last takes occasion to speak of his love for the holy scriptures, and discusses several metaphysical difficulties concerning time, and the creation of the world, or the first part of the history of Genesis, against the Manichees.
Those heretics were the first against whom he exerted his zeal, after his conversion from that impious sect.* When he was made priest at Hippo, he grieved to see that great numbers in that city were infected with this pestilential heresy, and he challenged Fortunatus, their priest, to a conference. This was accepted, and it lasted two days; one dispute turned principally or the origin of evil, which St. Austin proved to be derived from the freewill of the creature; which article of freewill he demonstrates, because, without it, neither law nor punishment could be just. Fortunatus, who, as Beausobre observes, was a very learned and able disputant, was so pressed as to have nothing to say, but that he would confer with the heads of his sect. Out of shame he withdrew from Hippo very soon after, and his flight gave occasion to the conversion of a great part of his deluded flock. Faustus, a native of Milevis, and bishop of the Manichees, in Africa, was the idol of his sect in that country, and by his eloquence, his affected modesty, courtesy, and agreeable, winning behavior, perverted many. He boasted that he had forsaken all things to obey the gospel, whereas he had been master of nothing in the world to renounce, and led a voluptuous soft life, sleeping on the finest feather beds, and living in plenty and delights.113 About the year 390, he published a book against the Catholic faith, full of blasphemies against the Mosaic law and the prophets, and against the mystery of the incarnation. Beausobre114 admires the elegance of his style, which is lively, clear, concise, and smooth; superior in purity of the Latin tongue to most productions of that age; and the author shows great address in palliating the defects of his sect, and in giving an ingenious turn to his sophistical arguments. St. Austin answered him in twenty-three books, about the year 400, and triumphed over him not only by the strength of truth, and the goodness of his cause, but also by an infinitely greater extent of learning. He has preserved us the text of his adversary, which he confutes.
In 404 a Manichee, of the number of the Elect, called Felix, came to Hippo, in order to reestablish his sect in that city and country, which, by the zeal of St. Austin, seemed no longer able to raise its head. He had been at Hippo from the month of August, when he agreed to hold a public disputation with St. Austin in the church in December. The conference of the first day is lost; but those of the second and third, held on the 7th and 12th of December, are extant. Felix was not so learned as Fortunatus, whom St. Austin had formerly confuted, as Erasmus observes, but he had more cunning. The issue of this disputation was, that Felix closed it by publicly professing upon the spot the Catholic faith, and anathematizing Manes and his blasphemies.
The heresy of the Priscillianists was akin to some of the Manichean principles, and at that time infected several parts of Spain, where also the errors of the Origenists prevailed among some. Paul Orosius, a Spanish priest, made a voyage into Africa, in 415, to see St. Austin, whose great reputation had reached the most remote countries where the Christian name was known. This learned priest informed him, by a memorial, in what these heresies consisted, and requested of him an antidote to preserve the minds of his countrymen against them. This gave occasion to the saint’s work, Against the Priscillianists and Origenists, in which he condemns the impious errors of those who taught the human soul to be of a divine nature, and sent into the body in punishment of former transgressions, till it be purified in this world; and he proves that it is created by God, and that the torments of the devils and damned men are eternal. Possidius relates that Pascentius, count of the emperor’s household, that is, intendant or steward of the imperial demesnes in Africa, being an Arian, insulted the Catholics on account of the simplicity of their faith, and challenged St. Austin to a conference. When they met, he refused to suffer notaries to take it down in writing; upon which St. Austin foretold that every one would give an account of it according to his fancy. Pascentius insisted upon St. Austin’s showing him the word “consubstantial” in scripture; the holy bishop asked him to show in it the term “not-begotten,” which he used; and our holy doctor demonstrated that it suffices if the sense be found there in equivalent terms. Maximinus, and Arian bishop, accompanied count Sigisvult, who commanded the Gothic troops for Valentinian, against count Boniface in Africa, and at Hippo challenged St. Austin to a public disputation, which was held in 428, and taken down in writing, as it is now extant.
The Pagans and the Jews were no small object of our saint’s zeal. The latter he confuted by a treatise, in which he shows the Mosaic law was to have an end, and to be changed into the new law. The neighboring city of Madaura was full of idolaters. St. Austin gained their good will by rendering them some important public service, and doing them good offices. Their grateful disposition towards him he improved to their spiritual advantage, and induced them to embrace the faith of Christ,115 having obliged Longinian, their pontiff, to confess that we must adore one only God, the incomprehensible Creator of all things, and our sovereign good.116 When Rome was plundered by Alaric the Goth, in 410, the Pagans renewed their blasphemies against the Christian religion, to which they imputed the calamities of the empire. To answer their slanders, St. Austin began his great work, Of the City of God, in 413, though he only finished it in 426. Several Tertullianists still subsisted at Carthage, whom St. Austin, by his mildness and zeal, reunited to the Catholic Church, as he also did another sect, called, from Abel the patriarch, Abelonians. Jovinian, the enemy of virginity consecrated to God, had been condemned by pope Siricius and the council of Milan, and confuted by St. Jerom, in 392; nevertheless, his disciples secretly gave out that those who opposed him condemned the state of marriage. St. Austin confuted this slander, by his book, On the Advantage of Matrimony,117 in which he shows that state to be holy, that many are engaged in it upon motives of virtue, and that several in that state surpass many virgins in sanctity. He published about the same time, his book, On Holy Virginity, against the error of that heresiarch, proving this state to be in itself the more perfect, if it be embraced for the sake of God, and if it be accompanied with humility, and, according to its obligation, with a most fervent consecration of the heart to the love of God. His treatise, On Continency, was written a little before he was bishop, to show that this virtue consists in subduing the passions, and that sins do not proceed from a principle that is evil by nature in us, as the Manichees pretended. In the two books, On Adulterous Marriages, the saint shows that a married person, after a separation on account of adultery, cannot take another wife or husband, and resolves some other difficulties concerning the indissolubility of marriage. His treatise, On the Advantage of Widowhood, was written in 414, and addressed to Juliana, the daughter-in-law of Proba. The saint commends very much the state of holy widowhood, though he allows second and third marriages lawful, and gives her and her daughter Demetrias, who had embraced a state of virginity the preceding year, useful instructions.
The sect which then made most noise in Africa, and gave the greatest employment to the zeal of this saint, was that of the Donatists. It has been related in the life of St. Optatus in what manner it took its rise in 305, above forty years before the birth of St. Austin. The first authors of it were condemned as schismatics by pope Melchiades, in a council at Rome, in 313, and by the great council of all the West, at Arles, in 314. Having, in the beginning, violated the unity of the Church, they, by an usual consequence in all inveterate schisms, as St. Austin observes,118 fell afterward into several errors, by defending which they became heretics. Their first heresy was, that the Catholic Church spread over the world, by holding communion with sinners, was defiled, and had ceased to be the Church of Christ, this being confined within the limits of their sect. Their second error was, that no sacraments can be validly conferred by those that are not in the true Church. Whence they rebaptized all other sectaries, and all Catholics that came over to them. Constantine the Great passed severe laws against them at Milan, in 316, and banished some of their ringleaders. Valentinian I., Gratian, and Theodosius the Great published new laws against them, and they were divided into so many different sects in Mauritania and Numidia, that they themselves did not know their number.119 The chief among these were the Urbanists, who sprung up in a corner of Numidia; and at Carthage the Claudianists, the Maximianists, and Primianists; for Primianus, who, in 391, had succeeded Parmenianus in the schismatical see at Carthage, for receiving the Claudianists into communion, was condemned by a party which raised Maximianus to that doubly schismatical dignity; yet Primianus always kept possession of Carthage; though Maximianus was acknowledged by a great number of the provinces. The Rogatists in Mauritania Cæsariensis, were so called from Rogatus, the author of their separation. Each of these sects believed that they alone had the true baptism, and were the true Church.120
The Donatists were exceeding numerous in Africa, and obstinate to a degree of madness. They reckoned above five hundred bishops of their sect. At Hippo the number of Catholics was very small, and the Donatists bore so uncontrollable a sway there, that a little before St. Austin came hither, Faustinus, their bishop, had forbidden any bread to be baked in that city for the use of Catholics, and was obeyed, even by servants who lived in Catholic families. The holy doctor arriving whilst matters were in this situation, set himself to oppose the reigning heresy, both in public and in private, in the churches and in houses, by his words and writings.* Possidius tells us that far the greatest part of Christians in Africa were at that time infected with the errors of the Donatists, and they carried their fury to the greatest excesses, murdering many Catholics, and committing all acts of violence.
By the learning and indefatigable zeal of St. Austin, supported by the sanctity of his life, the Catholics began to gain ground exceedingly; at which the Donatists wore so much exasperated, that some enthusiasts among them preached publicly, that to kill him would be doing a thing of the greatest service to their religion, and highly meritorious before God; and troops of Circumcellions made several attempts to do it, when he made the visitation of his diocess. One day he only escaped them by his guide having missed his way; for which preservation he gave public thanks to God.121 The saint was obliged, in 405, to solicit Cecilian, vicar of Africa in Numidia, to restrain the Donatists about Hippo from the outrages which they perpetrated there.122 In the same year the emperor Honorius published new severe laws against them, condemning them to heavy fines, and other penalties. St. Austin at first disapproved such a persecution, though he afterward changed his opinion, when he saw the sincere conversion of many, who being moved by the terror of these laws, had, by examining the truth, opened their eyes to discover and heartily embrace it; and by the exemplarity of their lives, and the fervor with which they gave thanks to God for their conversion, exceedingly edified the Church.123 And he observes, that their open seditions and acts of violence distinguished them from the Arians, and other heretics, and required several remedies. Nevertheless, he only employed the arms of mildness and charity against them. He even interceded for, and obtained a remission of a fine or mulct, to which Crispin, a Donatist bishop, had been condemned, not only for heresy, but also for having formed a conspiracy against the life of Possidius, bishop of Calama; and did the like for others.* He earnestly exhorted the Catholics to labor for their conversion, by fasting, singing, and praying to God for them, and by inviting them to the truth with tenderness and sincere charity, not with contentious wrangling.124 In 407 Honorius commissioned lawyers, under the title of Defensors of the Church, to prosecute the Donatists according to the laws. This name was before in use, and is mentioned in the council of Carthage in 349, and in succeeding ages, to signify a person appointed, generally by the bishop, to protect widows, orphans, and others from oppression.
The most celebrated transaction that passed in Africa at that time, between the Catholics and the Donatists, was a great conference held at Carthage. St. Austin had, by frequent challenges, invited Proculcian, the Donatist bishop of Hippo, and others of that sect, to a fair disputation before competent judges upon the controverted points; but this they constantly declined, alleging his superior eloquence. St. Aurelius of Carthage, St. Austin, and the rest of the Catholic prelates, in a national council of all Africa, held at Carthage in 403, agreed to send to all the Donatist bishops in Africa a solemn challenge for deputies of both parties to meet at an appointed time and place, in order to discuss the articles which divided them in communion; but the Donatists answered they could not meet to confer with the successors of traditors and sinners, whose company would defile them; and their evasions put by the disputation till, at the request of the Catholics, the emperor Honorius compelled them by a rescript, dated in 410, to meet within four months and hold a public conference with the Catholics, in which he appointed the tribune Marcellinus to preside. The Catholic bishops subscribed to this agreement at Carthage to the number of 270. Marcellinus ordered seven bishops to be chosen on each side for the disputants, and four notaries on each side to take down the acts in writing, with four bishops to superintend and observe them, and seven other bishops for the council of the disputants; only these eighteen on each side were to be present. However, the Donatists, at their request, were all allowed to appear at the beginning of the conferences, but no more than eighteen Catholic bishops, the rest spending this time in retirement, prayer, fasting, and almsdeeds to implore the divine blessing. The seven Catholic disputants were Aurelius, Alipius, Austin, Vincentius, Fortunatus, Fortunatianus, and Possidius. The Donatist disputants were Primianus of Carthage, Petilianus of Cirtha, Emeritus of Algiers, Protasius, Fontanus, Gaudentius, and Adeodatus of Milevis. The tribune Marcellinus was attended by twenty officers. The conference was opened on the 1st of June, 411, and was continued during three days. The Donatists refusing to sit down in such company, disputed standing; whereupon Marcellinus caused his seat to be taken away, and would also stand. The questions both of right and of matters of fact were debated; the very pieces produced by the Donatists justified Cecilian and his cause; and the universality of the true Church was demonstrated by St. Austin, who had the principal share in this disputation, and bore away the glory of that triumphant day, the fruit of which was the conversion of an incredible number of heretics. Marcellinus pronounced sentence as to the matters of fact which had given rise to the schism, declaring that Cecilianus had never been convicted of the crimes laid to his charge, and that had he been guilty, they could not have affected the universal Church; for no one is to be condemned for faults committed by another. The report of all that had passed, having been made by Marcellinus to the emperor Honorius, to whom the Donatists had appealed from this sentence, he enacted new laws against them, subjecting them to heavy fines, and ordering their clergy to be banished out of Africa, and their churches restored to the Catholics.
This conference gave a mortal blow to the schism of the Donatists, who from that time returned in crowds into the bosom of the Catholic Church; many bishops being converted with their whole flocks, as Possidius relates. Their bishops that renounced the schism, were confirmed in their dignities, as had been decreed in the council of Carthage in 407. Yet some of these heretics remained immoveably fixed in their errors and faction. Several of their Circumcellions and clerks, having lain in ambush near Hippo, had killed Restitutus, a Catholic priest, and had beatn out the eyes, and broken one of the fingers of another; and being apprehended they confessed their crime before Marcellinus, whom the emperor had then honored with the dignity and office of count. St. Austin fearing they would be punished according to the rigor of the law, wrote to Marcellinus, entreating him not to use that severity towards them which they had employed against Catholics. “We neither impeached them,” said he, “nor persecuted them; and should be sorry to have the sufferings of the servants of God punished by the law of retaliation.”125 He begged him to have respect to that meekness which the Church professeth to exercise towards all men, and desired these criminals might not be put to death or maimed, but only restrained from hurting others by being confined in prison, or employed in some public works. He wrote to the same purpose to Apringius, the proconsul, who was to be their judge, and was brother to Marcellinus, telling him that the sufferings of Catholics ought to serve as so many examples of patience, which we must not sully with the blood of our enemies.126 Receiving no answer he sent a second pressing letter on this affair to Marcellinus.127 That count was a very virtuous and religious man, and had for St. Austin the greatest veneration and regard; and the saint, than whom there perhaps never was a more tender or a warmer friend, had for him an equal affection and esteem. When the consul Heraclian, who had been proconsul of Africa, rebelled in 413, and being vanquished by count Marinus near Rome, fled to Carthage, where he was killed, Marinus pursued him thither, and put many to death on account of his conspiracy. The Donatists failed not to bring Marcellinus and Apringius into suspicion as if they had favored the rebels; and at their instigation, Marinus caused them to be imprisoned, and though St. Austin went to Carthage, justified them before Marinus, and obtained his promise that they should not suffer, that general afterward, on a sudden, commanded them both to be beheaded. St. Austin was much afflicted at this barbarous execution, and ascribed the death of Marcellinus to the slanders of the Donatists, who were exasperated at the sentence he had given against them; he has left us a moving description of the patience and heroic sentiments of charity and all other Christian virtues in which he found him in prison when he went to comfort and assist him before his death, and bore ample testimony to his innocence, inviolable chastity, integrity, patience, contempt of all earthly things, holy zeal and charity. He mentions, that visiting Marcellinus in prison, and asking him whether he had ever offended God by impurity, or committed any other sin for which he ought to do canonical penance, he, taking hold of the bishop’s right hand, assured him “by those sacraments which that hand brought him, that he had never been guilty of any such sin.”128 This passage shows, as Du Pin observes (p. 153), how careful the pastors then were to visit prisoners, and when they seemed to be in danger of being condemned, to prepare them for death by penance, absolution, and the holy eucharist. St. Austin rejected all commerce with Marinus, and exhorted others to testify their indignation against him in such a manner as might oblige him to a penance proportionable to his crime. The emperor Honorius disgraced Marinus for this action, honored Marcellinus as one who had been unjustly put to death through the malice of the Donatists, and styled him “of glorious memory.”129 In the martyrologies he is ranked among the martyrs on the 8th of April.
About the same time, St. Demetrias consecrated her virginity to God in a religious state at Carthage, in 413. She was a daughter of Olibrius, who had been consul in 395, and of Juliana, and grand-daughter by the father of Proba. In the midst of the delights of a great house, and surrounded with eunuchs and maids who served her, she had from her tender years inured herself to austere fasting, mean clothing, and lying often on the ground covered only with sackcloth. This she did so secretly, that only a few of her maids were conscious of it and most of her pious practices. It was her desire to devote herself to God in a religious state, and she besought her Saviour, with many tears, on her knees, to grant her this happiness, and to move the hearts of her mother and grandmother to consent to the same. An honorable marriage with a rich Roman nobleman was agreed to by her friends, and the nuptial chamber was preparing, when she one morning, encouraging herself by the example of St. Agnes, clothed in an ordinary tunic and gown, having laid aside her ornaments and jewels, went and threw herself at the feet of her grandmother Proba, but could express herself only by her tears. Proba and Juliana were extremely surprised, but when they understood her request, they raised her up, and pressing her tenderly in their arms, with great joy approved her pious resolution. They did not lessen her fortune, but bestowed that portion on the poor which they had designed for her husband. Demetrias received the veil from the hands of the bishop of Carthage, with the usual prayers and ceremonies.130 Several of her friends and slaves followed her example. St. Austin’s exhortations, whilst he was at Carthage during the conference, had very much contributed to confirm her in her good resolutions, and Proba and Juliana both wrote to acquaint him of her being professed, sending him at the same time a small present. Saint Austin returned them a letter of congratulation and thanks.131 They wrote likewise to St. Jerom, and earnestly prayed him to give their daughter some instructions for the conduct of her life, which he did by a long epistle, in which he treated of the chief duties of a Christian virgin, exhorting her particularly to work daily with her hands.132 Pelagius, who was then in Palestine, sent her also a very long letter, which is extant,133 and is one of his first writings, in which he began to discover the seeds of his heresy. SS. Austin and Alipius wrote a. joint letter to Julian in 417, to caution her daughter against the poison artfully concealed in the above mentioned letter.134 Proba, Juliana, and Demetrias returned to Rome, where this holy virgin flourished in the time of St. Leo.
Pelagius was by birth a Briton, as he is called by St. Austin, St. Prosper, and Marius Mercator; and was a monk of Bangor in Wales, not in Ireland.* He had a good genius, but was not solidly learned; his style is barren, flat, and dry. He travelled into Italy, and lived a long time at Rome, where he gained a reputation for virtue. Meeting with Rufinus the Syrian, a disciple of Theodorus and Mopsuestia, who came to Rome about the year 400, he learned from him the errors which he began from that time to propagate, though at first privately, against the necessity of divine grace,135 but he was careful to dissemble them at first, setting them forth by the mouths of his disciples to see in what manner they would be received. His chief disciple was Celestius, a man newly born, as Marius Mercator testifies; bold, and of a subtle ready wit. He was a Scotsman, and is called by St. Jerom “a fellow bloated with Scottish gruels.”136 He pleaded some time at the bar, but became afterward a monk. At Rome he joined Pelagius, and a little before that city was taken, passed with him into Africa, in 409. Pelagius went soon into the East, but left Celestius at Carthage, where he strove to be promoted to the order of priesthood; but Paulinus, the deacon of Milan, who was then in Africa, preferred against him an accusation of heresy to Aurelius, bishop of Carthage, about the beginning of the year 412. Aurelius assembled a council at Carthage, to which Paulinus presented two memorials, charging Celestius with holding the following errors: That Adam would have been equally mortal, and have died, though he had not sinned; that his sin was prejudicial to him alone, not to his posterity; that children are now born in the same state in which they would have been if Adam had never sinned, and that if they die without receiving baptism, they obtain eternal life. Celestius was heard, and notwithstanding his evasions, confessed enough to be convicted of obstinate heresy; so that he was condemned, and deprived of the ecclesiastical communion. He appealed to the apostolical see; but instead of pursuing his appeal he departed to Ephesus.
St. Austin was not at this council, but from that time he began to oppose these errors in his sermons and letters.137 But before the end of that year he was engaged by the tribune Marcellinus to write his first treatises against them. This, however, he did without naming the authors of that heresy, hoping by this mildness more easily to gain them. He even praised Pelagius by name in a book which he wrote against his errors, and says: “As I hear, he is a holy man, very much improved in Christian virtue: a good man, and worthy of praise.”138 But after his condemnation he is accused by Orosius and other fathers of loving banquets and the baths, and living in softness and delights. This heresiarch made a long stay in Palestine. In 415 he was accused of heresy before certain bishops assembled at Jerusalem, who determined to write to the bishop of Rome for information in this affair, and to abide by his answer; but, in December the same year, a council of fourteen bishops, among whom was John of Jerusalem, was held at Diospolis or Lydda, in which Pelagius was obliged to appear, and give an account of his faith, two Gaulish bishops who had been driven from their sees, Heros of Arles, and Lazarus of Aix, being his accusers. Pelagius covered the propositions with which he was charged with a gloss which made them seem excusable, and was discharged because he appeared to be a Catholic; but his error was condemned by the council, and he himself was obliged to abjure it. It is true, indeed, that he only did it in words; for he never changed his opinion, and deceived the bishops.139 After this council he became very vain, and boasted of the advantage he had gained in it; but durst not show the proceedings, because people would have seen that he had been forced to disown his errors. He was content to spread abroad a letter which he wrote to his acquaintance, wherein he said that fourteen bishops had approved his opinion, namely, that a man may live without sin, and may easily keep the divine commandments, if he will; but he did not say, that he had added in the council these words, with the grace of God; and he added in his letter the word easily, which he dared not pronounce in the council, as St. Austin takes notice. The bishops of Africa were too well acquainted with his artifices to be easily imposed upon, and assembling two councils, one at Carthage, and the other at Milevis, in 416, they wrote against him to pope Innocent, who commending their pastoral vigilance, in 417, declared Pelagius and Celestius deprived of the communion of the Church; for he saw the answers of the former in the council of Diospolis were no way satisfactory, as appears from his and St. Austin’s letters upon this affair. Pelagius wrote to the pope to justify himself, and Celestius, who had got himself ordained priest at Ephesus, went to Rome in person, where Zozimus had succeeded Innocent in the papal chair in March, 417. Celestius presented to him a confession of faith, wherein he was very explicit on the first articles of the Creed, and professed that if in any letters he had advanced anything in which he had been mistaken, he submitted it to his judgment, and begged to be set right. Pope Zosimus had so much regard to his pretended submission, that he wrote in his favor to the African bishops; though he would not take off the excommunication, which they had pronounced against Celestius, but deferred passing sentence for two months. In the meantime St. Aurelius assembled, in 418, a council at Carthage of two hundred and fourteen bishops, which renewed the sentence of excommunication against Celestius, and declared that they constantly adhered to the decree of pope Innocent.
Pope Zosimus having received their letters of information condemned the Pelagians, and cited Celestius to appear again; but the heretic fled secretly out of Rome, and travelled into the East. Upon which Zosimus passed a solemn sentence of excommunication upon Pelagius and Celestius, and sent it into Africa, and to all the chief churches of the East. The emperors Honorius and Theodosius made an edict which they sent to the three prefects of the prætorium to be published through the whole empire, by which they banished Pelagius and Celestius, and condemned to perpetual banishment and confiscation of estates, all persons who should maintain their doctrine. Pelagius and Celestius after this lurked privately in the East. In Italy, eighteen bishops refused to subscribe to the letter and sentence of Zosimus, and were deprived of their sees. The most learned and warmest stickler among these was Julianus, bishop of Eclanum in Campania, which see is now removed to Avellino. He afterward turned schoolmaster in Sicily; his tomb was discovered there in the ninth century in a small village. His writings show him to have been one of the vainest boasters of the human race, full of Pelagian pride, and a contempt of all other men, but of quick parts, and abundance of wit. It is sufficiently understood from what has been said above, that the chief errors of the Pelagian heresy regard original sin and divine grace; the former they denied, and the necessity of the latter: they also affirmed that a man could live exempt from all sin, without grace, and they extolled the virtues of the pagans. St. Austin maintained the contrary truths of the Catholic faith with invincible force; and he proved from clear passages in holy scripture, that all men are sinners, and bound to pray for the pardon of sins; for without an extraordinary grace, such as was given to the Virgin Mary, saints offend by small transgressions of a faulty inadvertence, against which they watch, and for which they live in constant compunction; he also proves that the virtues of heathens are often counterfeit, namely, when they are founded in, or infected with motives of vain-glory or other passions; they are true moral virtues, and may deserve some temporal recompense, if they spring purely from principles of moral honesty; but no virtue can be meritorious of eternal life, which is not animated by the principle of supernatural life (that is, divine charity), and which is not produced by a supernatural grace. He teaches, that the divine grace, obtained for us by Christ’s redemption, works in us the consent of our will to all virtue, though not without our free concurrence; so that all the good that can be in us is to be attributed to the Creator, and no one can boast of his good works against another; but God cannot be the author of evil, which rises entirely from the malice and defect of rectitude in the freewill of the creature, to whom nothing remains without the divine concurrence, but the wretched power of depraving and corrupting itself, or at most of doing that from self-love which ought to be done for God alone. It cannot without grace do any action of which God is the supernatural end, nor of which by consequence he will be the recompense; but the necessary grace is never wanting but through our fall.
Through the corruption of human nature by sin, pride being become the darling passion of our heart, men are born with a propensity to Pelagianism, or principles which flatter an opinion of our own strength, merit, and self-sufficiency. It is not therefore to be wondered, that this heresy found many advocates: next to that of Arianism the Church never received a more dangerous assault. The wound which this monster caused, would certainly have been much deeper, had not God raised up this eminent doctor of his grace to be a bulwark for the defence of the truth. He was a trumpet to excite the zeal of the other pastors, and, as it were, the soul of all their deliberations, councils, and endeavors to extinguish the rising flame. To him is the Church indebted as to the chief instrument of God in overthrowing this heresy. From its ashes sprung Semipelagianism, the authors of which were certain priests, bishops, and monks in Gaul, at Lerins, and in other parts about Marseilles. St. Prosper and Hilarius, two zealous and learned laymen, informed St. Austin by letters140 in 429, that these persons expressed the utmost admiration for all his other actions and words, but took offence at his doctrine of grace, as if it destroyed freewill in man: they taught that the beginning of faith and the first desire of virtue are from the creature, and move God to bestow that grace which is necessary for men to execute and accomplish good works. They said, that as to children who die without baptism, and those infidels to whom the faith is never preached, the reason of their misfortune is, that God foresees they would not make a good use of longer life or of the gospel; and that he on that account deprives them of those graces. St. Austin, in answer to these letters, wrote two books against this error, one entitled, On the Predestination of the Saints, the other, On the Gift of Perseverance, showing that the authors of this doctrine did not recede from the great principles of Pelagius, and that to ascribe to the creature the beginning of virtue, is to give the whole to it, not to God. The saint treats the Semipelagians as brethren, because they erred without obstinacy, and their error had not been yet condemned by any express definition of the Church. The principal persons who espoused it seem to have been Cassian at Marseilles, and certain monks of Lerins. Faustus, abbot of Lerins, and afterward bishop of Ries in 463, several of whose works are extant, carried this error to the greatest length.141 He died in 480. The Semipelagian heresy was condemned in the second council of Orange, under St. Cæsarius in 529, which was confirmed by pope Boniface II. in a letter to St. Cæsarius.
The two works which do most honor to St. Austin’s name are those of his Confessions and Retractations; in the former of which, with the most sincere humility and compunction, he lays open the errors of his conduct, and in the latter those of his judgment. This work of his Retractations he began in the year 426, the seventy-second of his age, reviewing his writings which were very numerous, and correcting the mistakes he had made in an humble sense of them, and with a surprising candor and severity never seeking the least gloss or excuse to extenuate them.142 To have more leisure to finish this and his other writings, he proposed to his clergy and people to choose for his coadjutor Eradius, the youngest among his priests, but a person of great virtue and prudence, and his election was confirmed with great acclamations of the people on the 26th of September, 426. St. Austin, however, would not have him consecrated before his death on account of the canon which forbade two bishops to be ordained for the same city at a time but he desired the people for the future to address themselves to Eradius in all their concerns. Count Boniface, a chief commander in the imperial forces in Africa (to whom Placida and Valentinian III. were chiefly indebted for the empire, for which several rebels had contended with them), after the death of his wife, had taken a resolution to forsake the world, and to embrace a monastic life. St. Austin and St. Alipius dissuaded him from taking that step, imagining that in his present situation he was more serviceable to the Church and State.143 By insensible degrees he afterward fell from his practices of devotion, and good resolutions, and having been obliged, by the emperor’s order, to go over into Spain, he there married a second time, and took to wife an Arian woman, related to the kings of the Vandals, which alliance procured him a share in their friendship, though he insisted that she should first become a Catholic. This affinity gave occasion to the general Aëtius, his rival, to render his fidelity suspected to Placidia, daughter of Theodosius the Great, sister to the late emperor Honorius, widow of the general Constantius, and at that time regent of the empire during the minority of her son Valentinian III. Boniface resented his disgrace, and saw his ruin inevitable,* wherefore he made a treaty with Gontharis and Genseric, kings of the Vandals in Spain, and standing upon his defence, defeated three captains that were sent by Placidia and Aëtius against him. St. Austin wrote an excellent letter of advice,144 exhorting him to do penance for his sins, to return to his duty, to forgive all injuries, and if his wife consented, to embrace a state of continency, according to his former purpose; but as he could not now do this without her consent, the saint set before his eyes his duty in a married state, not to love the world, to commit no evil, to subdue his passions, pray, give alms, do penance, and fast as much as his health would give him leave. We do not find that Boniface was disposed as yet to follow his advice. Indeed the step he had then taken made it difficult to provide for his safety; and St. Austin, who was well acquainted how precarious and delicate a matter it is to be involved in the jealousies and intrigues of courts, had no advice which he would venture to give on that head. “You will perhaps say to me,” said he, “What would you have me to do in this extremity? If you advise with me concerning your secular affairs, and the means how to preserve or increase your wealth, I know not what answer to make you. Uncertain things cannot admit of certain counsels; but if you consult me for the salvation of your soul, I know very well what to say: Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. 1 John 2:15. Show your courage—repent, pray with zeal and warmth,” &c.
The Vandals under Genseric, with an army of fourscore thousand men, sailed from Spain into Africa, in May, 428, upon the invitation of count Boniface. Possidius, bishop of Calama, an eye-witness, describes the dreadful ravages by which they filled with horror and desolation all those rich provinces as they marched. He saw the cities in ruin, and the houses in the country razed to the ground, the inhabitants being either slain or fled. Some had sunk under the torture, others had perished by the sword; others groaned in captivity, being become slaves to brutal and cruel enemies, and many lost the purity of their body, and their faith. He saw that the hymns and praises of God had ceased in the churches, whose very buildings had in many places been consumed by fire; that the solemn sacrifices which were due to God, had ceased in their proper places, that is, for want of churches they were performed in private houses, or other unhallowed places; that in many parts there were none left to demand the sacraments, nor was it easy elsewhere to find any to administer them to those who required it; that the churches were destitute of priests and ministers; the consecrated virgins and other religious persons were dispersed into all parts; they who fled into the woods, mountains, rocks, and caverns, were either taken and slain, or died with hunger, and for want of necessaries; the bishops and the rest of the clergy to whom God had been so gracious as not to suffer them to fall into the hands of the enemy, or to make their escape after they had been taken, were stripped of everything, and reduced to the most extreme degree of beggary; and of the great number of churches in Africa, there were hardly three remaining (namely Carthage, Hippo, and Cirtha), whose cities were yet standing, and not laid in ruins. Mansuetus, bishop of Uri, was burnt at the gate of Furnes, and Papinian, bishop of Vita, was burnt with red-hot bars of iron.
Amidst this universal desolation St. Austin was consulted by a bishop named Quodvultdeus, and afterward by Honoratus, the pious bishop of Thabenna, whether it was lawful for bishops or other clergymen to fly upon the approach of the barbarians. St. Austin’s answer to Quodvultdeus is lost; but in that to Honoratus145 he refers to it, and repeats the same excellent maxims. He affirms, that it is lawful for a bishop or priest to fly and forsake the flock when he alone is aimed at by name, and the people are threatened with no danger, but left quiet; or when the people are all fled, so that the pastor has none left who have need of his ministry; or when the same ministry may be better performed by others who have not the like occasion of flight. In all other cases, he says, pastors are obliged to watch over their flock, which Christ has committed to them; neither can they forsake it without a crime, as he proves in terms dictated by the fire of his fervent charity, and with reasons supported by a zeal altogether divine. Representing the desolation of a town which is like to be taken, and the necessity of the presence of Christ’s ministers, he writes as follows: “In such occasions what flocking is there is the church, of persons of all ages and sexes! whereof some require baptism, others reconciliation (or absolution), others to be put under penance, and all crave comfort. If then no ministers are to be found, what misfortune is that, for such as go out of this life unregenerate, or, if penitents, not absolved! What grief is it to their kindred, if they be faithful, that they cannot hope to see them with them in everlasting rest! What cries! what lamentations! nay, what imprecations from some, to see themselves without ministers and without sacraments! If, on the contrary, ministers have proved faithful in not forsaking their people, they are an assistance to all the world as God shall give them power. Some are baptized; others are reconciled; no one is deprived of the communion of our Lord’s body. All are comforted, fortified, and exhorted to implore by fervent prayers the assistance of the divine mercy.”
Count Darius was sent by the empress Placidia into Africa to treat for peace; Boniface produced to him authentic vouchers how much he had been betrayed and driven to extremities by the treachery of Aëtius towards him, and returning to his allegiance, was again entrusted with the command of the imperial army. He endeavored to retrieve the loss of Africa; but it was then too late. He tried to draw off the barbarians first by money, afterward by force of arms, but without success. Count Darius wrote to St. Austin with extraordinary respect, and prayed him that he would send him his book of Confessions. The saint answered his compliments with unfeigned humility, and told him that he who finds not in himself those virtues for which he is commended, is but the more ashamed to see himself thought to be what he is not, but what he ought to be, and adds: “The caresses of this world are more dangerous than its persecutions.” The saint had above others a mournful sense of the miseries of his country, while he deeply considered not only the outward calamities of the people, but also the ruin of a multitude of souls that was likely to ensue; and he prayed often and importunately that God would deliver his country, or at least would give his servants constancy and resignation, and that he would receive him to himself, that he might not be an idle spectator of so great evils. He spoke much to his people on resignation to the divine will under all the scourges which their sins deserved; on the unspeakable mercies, and unsearchable judgments of God, always just, holy, and adorable, and the necessity of averting the divine anger by sincere penance. Count Boniface, after having been defeated in battle, fled to Hippo, which was the strongest fortress in Africa. Possidius and several neighboring bishops took refuge in the same place. The Vandals appeared before that city about the end of May, 430, besieging it by land, and at the same time blocking up its harbor with their fleet by sea. The siege continued fourteen months. In the third month St. Austin was seized with a fever, and from the first moment of his illness doubted not but it was a summons of God who called him to himself. Ever since he retired from the world death had been the chief subject of his meditations, and, in his last illness, he spoke of his passage with great cheerfulness, saying, We have a merciful God. He often spoke of the resignation and joy of St. Ambrose in his last moments; and of the saying of Christ to a certain bishop in a vision mentioned by St. Cyprian:146 “You are afraid to suffer here, and unwilling to go hence: what shall I do with you?” He also mentioned the last words of a certain friend and fellow-bishop, who, when he was departing out of this world, said to one that was telling him he might recover of that illness: “If I must die once, why not now?” How much we are bound to take a reasonable care of our health above other temporal goods, for all the necessary purposes of life, he proves in his letter to Proba:147 yet he often teaches that it is a mark and test of our loving God to desire vehemently by death to be united eternally and intimately to God in his perfect love and uninterrupted praise:148 “What love of Christ can that be,” says he,149 “to fear lest he come whom you say you love? O brethren, are we not ashamed to say, we love, whilst we add, that we are afraid lest he come?”
He was not able to contain within his breast the desires of his soul, in which he sighed after the glorious day of eternity, when we shall behold and possess God our sovereign good, the object of all our desires. “Then,” says he,150 “we shall bend to him the whole attention, and all the affections of our souls, and we shall behold him face to face; we shall behold and love; we shall love and praise. See what will be in the end without interruption or end.” He thus expresses his sighs with David:151 “Till I shall come, till I appear before him, I cease not to weep, and these tears are sweet to me as food. With this thirst with which I am consumed, with which I am ardently carried towards the fountain of my love, whilst my joy is delayed, I continually burn more and more vehemently. In the prosperity of the world no less than in its adversity, I pour forth tears of this ardent desire, which never languishes or abates. When it is well with me as to the world, it is ill with me till I appear before the face of my God.”152 He redoubled his fervor in these holy sighs as he drew nearer his term; and he prepared himself for his passage to eternity by the most humble compunction and penance. He used often to say in familiar discourse, that after the remission of sins received in baptism, the most perfect Christian ought not to leave this world without condign penance. In his last illness he ordered the penitential psalms of David to be written out, and hung in tablets upon the wall by his bed; and as he there lay sick, he read them with abundance of tears.153 Not to be interrupted in these devotions, he desired, about ten days before his death, that no one should come to him except at those times when either the physicians came to visit him, or his food was brought to him. This was constantly observed, and all the rest of his time was spent in prayer. Though the strength of his body daily and hourly declined, yet his senses and intellectual faculties continued sound to the last. He calmly resigned his spirit into the hands of God from whom he had received it, on the 28th of August, 430, after having lived seventy-six years, and spent almost forty of them in the labors of the ministry. He made no will; for this poor man of Christ had nothing to bequeath. He had given charge that the library which he had bestowed on his church, should be carefully preserved.
Possidius adds, “We being present, a sacrifice was offered to God for his recommendation, and so he was buried,” in the same manner as St. Austin mentions to have been done for his mother.154 The same author tells us, that whilst the saint lay sick in bed, by the imposition of his hands he restored to perfect health a sick man, who, upon the intimation made to him in a vision, was brought to him for that purpose; and he says: “I knew both when he was priest and when he was bishop, that being requested to pray for certain persons that were possessed, he had poured out prayers and supplications to our Lord, and the devils departed from them.”155 An authentic account of several other miracles with which he was favored by God, may be read in his life compiled by the pious and learned Mr. Woodhead.156 It was ascribed to his prayer that the city of Hippo was not taken in that siege. which the barbarians raised after having continued it fourteen months Count Boniface afterward hazarded another battle, but with no better success than before. He therefore fled into Italy, and all the inhabitants of Hippo withdrew into foreign countries, abandoning the empty town to the barbarians, who then entered, and burnt part of it. The saint’s body, which was buried in the church of Peace (called St. Stephen’s, since St. Austin had deposited there a portion of that martyr’s relics in 424), was respected by the barbarians, though they were Arians; and his library escaped their fury. Bede says, in his true Martyrology, that the body of St. Austin was translated into Sardinia, and in his time redeemed out of the hands of the Saracens, and deposited in the church of St. Peter at Pavia, about the year 720. Oldrad, archbishop of Milan, wrote a history of this translation by order of Charlemagne, extracted from authentic archives then kept at Pavia. He says that the bishops who were banished by Huneric into Sardinia, took with them these relics, about fifty years after the saint’s death; and that they remained in that island till Luitprand, the pious and magnificent king of the Lombards, procured them from the Saracens for a great sum of money. He took care to have this sacred treasure hid with the utmost care under a brick wall, in a coffin of lead enclosed in another of silver, the whole within a coffin of marble, upon which, in many places, was engraved the name Augustinus. In this condition the sacred bones were discovered in 1695. They were incontestably proved authentic by the bishop of Pavia in 1728, whose sentence was confirmed by pope Benedict XIII. in the same year, as is related by Fontanini in an express dissertation, and by Touron in his life of that pope.157 The church of St. Peter in Pavia from this treasure is now called St. Austin’s, and is served both by Austin Friars, and by Regular Canons of his rule. His festival is mentioned in the Martyrology which bears the name of St. Jerom, and in that of Carthage as old as the sixth century. In the life of St. Cæsarius, written in that age, it is mentioned to have been then kept with great solemnity. It is a holiday of obligation in all the dominions of the king of Spain. A general council being summoned to meet at Ephesus against Nestorius in 431, the emperor Theodosius sent a particular rescript, by a special messenger into Africa, to invite St. Austin to it; but he was departed to eternal bliss.158
This saint was not only the oracle of his own times, but of the principal among all the Latin Fathers that came after him, who often have only copied him, and always professed to adhere to his principles: Peter Lombard, St. Thomas Aquinas, and other eminent masters among the schoolmen have trodden in their steps. The councils have frequently borrowed the words of this holy doctor in expressing their decisions. On the great commendations which Innocent I., Celestine I., St. Gregory the Great, and other popes and eminent men have bestowed on his doctrine, see Orsi,159 Godeau, Massoulié, Gonet, Usher, and innumerable others. An abstract of his doctrine is given us by Ceillier,160 and in a judicious and clear manner by the learned Mr. Brerelie, in a book entitled, The Religion of St. Augustine, printed in 1620. He shows how great was the veneration which the first reformers generally expressed for this father. Luther affirms that since the apostle’s time the Church never had a better doctor than St. Austin:”161 and that, “after the sacred scripture, there is no doctor in the Church who is to be compared to Austin.”162 Dr. Couel says, he was “a man far beyond all that ever were before him, or shall in likelihood follow after him, both for divine and human learning, those being excepted that were inspired.”163 Dr. Field calls him “the greatest of all the Fathers, and the worthiest divine the Church of God ever had since the apostles’ time.”164 Mr. Forester styles him “the monarch of the Fathers.”165 To mention one of our own times, the learned and most celebrated professor at Berlin, James Brucker, in his Critical History of Philosophy,166 extols exceedingly the astonishing genius and penetration, and the extensive learning of this admirable doctor, and tells us that he was much superior to all the other great men who adorned that most learned age in which he flourished. The same author, in his Abridgment or Institutions of the Philosophical History,167 calls him “the bright star of philosophy.” These testimonies agree with that of Erasmus, who calls St. Austin “the singularly excellent father, and the chief among the greatest ornaments and lights of the Church:” “Eximius pater, inter summa ecclesiæ ornamenta ac lumina princeps.”
The eminence of the sanctity of this illustrious doctor was derived from the deep foundation of his humility, according to the maxim which he lays down: “Attempt not to attain true wisdom by any other way than that which God hath enjoined. This is in the first, second, and third place, humility; and this would I answer as often as you ask me. Not that there are not other precepts; but unless humility go before, accompany, and follow after, all that we do well is snatched out of our hands by pride. As Demosthenes, the prince of orators, being asked, which among the precepts of eloquence was to be observed first? is said to have answered: Pronunciation, or the delivery. Again, which second? Pronunciation. Which third? Nothing else (said he) but pronunciation: so if you should ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, I should answer you, Nothing but humility. Our Lord Jesus Christ was made so low in order to teach us this humility, which a certain most ignorant science opposeth.”168