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Saint Augustin by Louis Bertrand

Part 4 out of 5

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Four years earlier, about the same time of year, he had made the same
voyage, coming the opposite way. He had a calm crossing; hardly could one
notice the movement of the ship. It is the season of smooth seas in the
Mediterranean. Never is it more etherial than in these summer months. The
vague blue sky is confused with the bleached sea, spread out in a large
sheet without creases--liquid and flexible silk, swept by quivering amber
glow and orange saffron when the sun falls. No distinct shape, only strange
suffusions of soft light, a pearl-like haze, the wistful blue reaching away

At Carthage, Augustin had grown used to the magnificence of this pageantry
of the sea. Now, the sea had the same appeased and gleaming face he had
seen four years sooner. But how much his soul had since been changed!
Instead of the tumult and falsehood which rent his heart and filled it
with darkness, the serene light of Truth, and deeper than the sea's peace,
the great appeasement of Grace. Augustin dreamed. Far off the AEolian isles
were gloomed in the impending shadows, the smoky crater of Stromboli was
no more than a black point circled by the double blue of waves and sky. So
the remembrance of his passions, of all that earlier life, sank under the
triumphant uprising of heavenly peace. He believed that this blissful state
was going to continue and fill all the hours of his new life, and he knew
of nothing so sweet....

This time, again, he was mistaken about himself. Upon the thin plank of the
boat which carried him, he did not feel the force of the immense element,
asleep now under his feet, but quick to be unchained at the first gust of
wind; and he did not feel either the overflowing energy swelling his heart
renewed by Grace--an energy which was going to set in motion one of the
most complete and strenuous existences, one of the richest in thought,
charity, and works which have enlightened history. Thinking only of the
cloister, amidst the friends who surrounded him, no doubt he repeated the
words of the Psalm: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren
to dwell together in unity." He pressed the hands of Alypius and Evodius,
and tears came to his eyes.

The sun was gone. All the cold waste of waters, forsaken by the gleam,
blurred gradually in vague anguish beneath the fall of night.

* * * * *

After skirting the Sicilian coasts, they arrived at last at Carthage.
Augustin did not linger there; he was eager to see Thagaste once more, and
to retire finally from the world. Favourable omens drew him to the place,
and seemed to hearten him in his resolution. A dream had foretold his
return to his former pupil, Elogius, the rhetorician. He was present, too,
at the miraculous cure of a Carthage lawyer, Innocentius, in whose house he
dwelt with his friends.

Accordingly, he left for Thagaste as soon as he could. There he made
himself popular at once by giving to the poor, as the Gospel prescribed,
what little remained of his father's heritage. But he does not make clear
enough what this voluntary privation exactly meant. He speaks of a house
and some little meadows--_paucis agellulis_--that he sequestrated. Still,
he did not cease to live in the house all the time he was at Thagaste. The
probability is that he did sell the few acres of land he still owned and
bestowed the product of the sale on the poor. As to the house, he must have
made it over with the outbuildings to the Catholic body of his native town,
on condition of keeping the usufruct and of receiving for himself and his
brethren the necessities of life. At this period many pious persons acted
in this way when they gave their property to the Church. Church goods
being unseizable, and exempt from taxation, this was a roundabout way of
getting the better of fiscal extortion, whether in the shape of arbitrary
confiscations, or eviction by force of arms. In any case, such souls as
were tired of the world and longing for repose, found in these bequests an
heroic method of saving themselves the trouble of looking after a fortune
or a landed estate. When these fortunes and lands were extensive, the
generous donors felt, we are told, an actual relief in getting rid of them.

This financial question settled, Augustin took up the task of turning the
house into a monastery, like those he had seen at Rome and Milan. His son
Adeodatus, his friends Alypius and Evodius, Severus, who became Bishop
of Milevia, shared his solitude. But it is certain that he had other
solitaries with him whom he alludes to in his letters. Their rule was as
yet a little easy, no doubt. The brothers of Thagaste were not confined
in a cloister. They were simply obliged to fasts, to a special diet, to
prayers and meditations in common.

In this half-rustic retreat (the monastery was situated at the gates of
the town) Augustin was happy: he had at last realized the project he had
had so long at heart. To enter into himself, pray, above all, to study
the Scripture, to fathom even its most obscure places, to comment it with
the fervour and piety which the African of all times has brought to _what
is written down_--it seemed to him that he had enough there to fill all
the minutes of his life. But no man can teach, lecture, discuss, write,
during twenty years, in vain. However much Augustin might be converted, he
remembered the school at Thagaste, just as he did at Cassicium. Still, it
was necessary to finish with this sort of thing once for all. The new monk
made what may be called his will as a professor.

He finished, at this time, or revised his school treatises, which he had
begun at Milan, comprising all the liberal arts--grammar, dialectic,
rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, philosophy, music. Of all these books he
only finished the first, the treatise on grammar. The others were only
summaries, and are now lost. On the other hand, we have still the six
books on music, likewise begun at Milan, which he finished, almost as an
amusement, at Thagaste. They are dialogues between himself and his pupil,
the poet Licentius, upon metre and scansion. But we know from himself that
he intended to make this book longer, and to write a second part upon
melody, that is to say, music, properly so called. He never found the time:
"Once," he says, "the burthen of ecclesiastical affairs was placed on my
shoulders, _all these pleasant things_ slipped from my hands."

Thus, the monk Augustin only rests from prayer and meditation to study
music and poetry. He has thought it necessary to excuse himself. "In all
that," says he, "I had but one purpose. For, as I did not wish to pluck
away too suddenly either young men, or those of another age, on whom God
had bestowed good wits, from ideas of the senses and carnal literature,
_things it is very hard for them not to be attached to_, I have tried
by reasoning lessons to turn them little by little, and by the love of
unchanging truth, to attach them to God, sole master of all things.... He
who reads these books will see that if I have touched upon the poets and
grammarians, 'twas more by the exigency of the journey than by any desire
to settle among them.... Such is the life I have chosen to walk with the
feeble, not being very strong myself, rather than to hurl myself out on the
void with wings still half-fledged...."

Here again, how human all that is, and wise--yes, and modest too. Augustin
has no whit of the fanatic about him. No straighter conscience than his,
or even more persistent in uprooting error. But he knows what man is, that
life here below is a voyage among other men weak as himself, and he fits in
with the needs of the voyage. Oh, yes, no doubt, for the Christian who has
arrived at supreme renunciation--what is poetry, what is knowledge, "what
is everything that is not eternal?" But this carnal literature and science
are so many steps of a height proportionate to our feebleness, to lead
us imperceptibly to the conceptual world. As a prudent guide of souls,
Augustin did not wish to make the ascent too rapidly. As for music, he has
still more indulgence for that than for any of the other arts, for "it
is by sounds that we best perceive the power of numbers in every variety
of movement, and their study thus leads us gradually to the closest and
highest secrets of truth, and discovers to those who love and seek it
the divine Wisdom and Providence in all things...." He is always coming
back to it--to this music he loves so much; he comes back to it in spite
of himself. Later, in great severity, he will reproach himself for the
pleasure he takes in the liturgical chants, but nevertheless the old
instinct will remain. He was born a musician. He will remain one to his
last gasp.

If he did not break completely with profane art and letters at this present
moment of his life, his chief reasons were of a practical order. Still
another object may be discerned in these educational treatises--namely, to
prove to the pagans that one may be a Christian and yet not be a barbarian
and ignorant. Augustin's position in front of his adversaries is very
strong indeed. None of them can attempt to cope with him either in breadth
of knowledge, or in happy versatility, or in plenitude of intellectual
gifts. He had the entire heritage of the ancient world between his hands.
Well might he say to the pagans: "What you admire in your orators and
philosophers, I have made my own. Behold it! On my lips recognize the
accent of your orators.... Well, all that, which you deem so high, I
despise. The knowledge of this world is nothing without the wisdom of

Of course, Augustin has paid the price of this all-round knowledge--too
far-reaching, perhaps, at certain points. He has often too much paraded his
knowledge, his dialectic and oratorical talents. What matters that, if even
in this excess he aims solely at the welfare of souls--to edify them and
set them aglow with the fire of his charity? At Thagaste, he disputes with
his brethren, with his son Adeodatus. He is always the master--he knows it;
but what humility he puts into this dangerous part! The conclusion of his
book, _The Master_, which he wrote then, is that all the words of him who
teaches are useless, if the hidden Master reveal not the truth to him who

So, under his ungainly monk's habit, he continues his profession of
rhetorician. He has come to Thagaste with the intention of retiring from
the world and living in God; and here he is disputing, lecturing, writing
more than ever. The world pursues him and occupies him even in his retreat.
He says to himself that down there at Rome, at Carthage, at Hippo, there
are men speaking in the forums or in the basilicas, whispering in secret
meetings, seducing poor souls defenceless against error. These impostors
must be immediately unmasked, confounded, reduced to silence. With all his
heart Augustin throws himself into this work at which he excels. Above all,
he attacks his old friends the Manichees.... He wrote many tracts against
them. From the animosity he put into these, may be judged to what extent
Manicheeism filled his thoughts, and also the progress of the sect in

This campaign was even the cause of a complete change in his way of
writing. With the object of reaching the plainest sort of people, he began
to employ the popular language, not recoiling before a solecism, when the
solecism appeared to him indispensable to explain his thought. This must
have been a cruel mortification for him. In his very latest writings he
made a point of shewing that no elegance of language was unknown to him.
But his real originality is not in that. When he writes the fine style,
his period is heavy, entangled, often obscure. On the other hand, nothing
is more lively, clear and coloured, and, as we say to-day, more direct,
than the familiar language of his sermons and certain of his treatises.
This language he has really created. He wanted to clarify, comment, give
details, and he felt how awkward classical Latin is to decompose ideas
and render shades. And so, in a popular Latin, already very close to the
Romance languages, he has thrown out the plan of analytical prose, the
instrument of thought of the modern West.

Not only did he battle against the heretics, but his restless friendship
continually scaled the walls of his cell to fly to the absent ones dear
to his heart. He feels that he must expand to his friends, and make them
sharers in his meditations: this nervous man, in poor health, spends a part
of his nights meditating. The argument he has hit upon in last night's
insomnia--his friends must be told that! He heaps his letters on them. He
writes to Nebridius, to Romanianus, to Paulinus of Nola; to people unknown
and celebrated, in Africa, Italy, Spain, and Palestine. A time will come
when his letters will be real encyclicals, read throughout Christendom. He
writes so much that he is often short of paper. He has not tablets enough
to put down his notes. He asks Romanianus to give him some. His beautiful
tablets, the ivory ones, are used up; he has used the last one for a
ceremonial letter, and he asks his friend's pardon for writing to him on
a wretched bit of vellum.

Besides all that, he interests himself in the affairs of his
fellow-townsmen. Augustin is a personage at Thagaste. The good folk of the
free-town are well aware that he is eloquent, that he has a far-reaching
acquaintance, and that he has great influence in high quarters. They
ask for his protection and his interference. It is even possible that
they obliged him to defend them in the courts. They were proud of their
Augustin. And as they were afraid that some neighbouring town might steal
away their great man, they kept a guard round his house. They prevented him
from shewing himself too much in the neighbourhood. Augustin himself agreed
with this, and lived retired as far as he could, for he was afraid they
would make him a bishop or priest in spite of himself. In those days that
was a danger incurred by all Christians who were rich or had talent. The
rich gave their goods to the poor when they took orders. The men of talent
defended the interests of the community, or attracted opulent benefactors.
And because of all these reasons, the needy or badly managed churches
stalked as a prey the celebrated Augustin.

In spite of this supervision, this unremitting rush of business, the work
of all kinds which he undertook, he experienced at Thagaste a peace which
he was never to find again. One might say that he pauses and gathers
together all his strength before the great exhausting labour of his
apostolate. In this Numidian country, so verdant and cool, where a thousand
memories of childhood encompassed him, where he was not able to take a step
without encountering the ever-living image of his mother, he soared towards
God with more confidence. He who sought in the things of sense ladder-rungs
whereby to mount to spiritual realities, still turned kindly eyes on
the natural scene. From the windows of his room he saw the forest pines
rounding their heads, like little crystal goblets with stems slim and thin.
His scarred chest breathed in deliriously the resinous breath of the fine
trees. He listened like a musician to the orchestra of birds. The changing
scenes of country life always attracted him. It is now that he wrote:
"Tell me, does not the nightingale seem to you to modulate her voice
delightfully? Is not her song, so harmonious, so suave, so well attuned to
the season, the very voice of the spring?..."



This halt did not last long. Soon was going to begin for Augustin the time
of tribulation, that of his struggles and apostolic journeys.

And first, he must mourn his son Adeodatus, that young man who seemed
destined to such great things. It is indeed most probable that the young
monk died at Thagaste during the three years that his father spent there.
Augustin was deeply grieved; but, as in the case of his mother's death, he
mastered his sorrow by all the force of his Christian hope. No doubt he
loved his son as much as he was proud of him. It will be remembered what
words he used to speak of this youthful genius, whose precocity frightened
him. Little by little his grief quietened down, and in its place came a
mild resignation. Some years later he will write about Adeodatus: "Lord,
early didst Thou cut off his life from this earth, but I remember him
without a shadow of misgiving. My remembrance is not mixed with any fear
for his boyhood, or the youth he was, or the man he would have been." No
fear! What a difference between this and the habitual feelings of the
Jansenists, who believed themselves his disciples! While Augustin thinks of
his son's death with a calm and grave joy which he can scarce hide, those
of Port Royal could only think in trembling of the judgment of God. Their
faith did not much resemble the luminous and confident faith of Augustin.
For him, salvation is the conquest of joy.

At Thagaste he lived in joy. Every morning in awaking before the forest
pines, glistening with the dews of the morning, he might well say with a
full heart: "My God, give me the grace to live here under the shades of Thy
peace, while awaiting that of Thy Paradise." But the Christians continued
to watch him. It was to the interest of a number of people that this light
should not be hid under a bushel. Perhaps a snare was deliberately laid for
him. At any rate, he was imprudent enough to come out of his retreat and
travel to Hippo. He thought he might be safe there, because, as the town
had a bishop already, they would not have any excuse to get him consecrated
in spite of himself.

An inhabitant of Hippo, a clerk of the Imperial Ministry of the Interior,
begged his spiritual assistance. Doubts, he maintained, still delayed him
on the way to an entire conversion. Augustin alone could help him to get
clear of them. So Augustin, counting already on a new recruit for the
Thagaste monastery, went over there at the request of this official.

Now, if there was a bishop at Hippo (a certain Valerius), priests were
lacking. Furthermore, Valerius was getting on in years. Originally Greek,
he knew Latin badly, and not a word of Punic--a great hindrance for him in
his duties of judge, administrator, and catechist. The knowledge of the two
languages was indispensable to an ecclesiastic in such a country, where the
majority of the rural population spoke only the old Carthaginian idiom.
All this proves to us that Catholicism was in bad shape in the diocese
of Hippo. Not only was there a lack of priests, but the bishop was a
foreigner, little familiar with African customs. There was a general
demand for a native to take his place--one young, active, and well enough
furnished with learning to hold his own against the heretics and the
schismatics of the party of Donatus, and also sufficiently able to watch
over the interests of the Church at Hippo, and above all, to make it
prosperous. Let us not forget that at this time, in the eyes of a crowd of
poor wretches, Christianity was first and foremost the religion which gave
out bread. Even in those early days, the Church did its best to solve the
eternal social question.

While Augustin was at Hippo, Valerius preached a sermon in the basilica in
which, precisely, he deplored this lack of priests the community suffered
from. Mingled with the congregation, Augustin listened, sure that he would
be unrecognized. But the secret of his presence had leaked out. People
pointed to him while the bishop was preaching. The next thing was that some
furious enthusiasts seized hold of him and dragged him to the foot of the
episcopal chair, yelling:

"Augustin a priest! Augustin a priest!"

Such were the democratic ways of the Church in those days. The
inconveniences are plain enough. What is certain is, that if Augustin had
resisted, he might have lost his life, and that the bishop would have
provoked a riot in refusing him the priesthood. In Africa, religious
passions are not to be trifled with, especially when they are exasperated
by questions of profit or politics. In his heart, the bishop was delighted
with this brutal capture which gained him the distinction of such a
well-known fellow-worker. There and then he ordained the Thagaste monk. And
so, as Augustin's pupil, Possidius, the future Bishop of Guelma, puts it,
"This shining lamp, which sought the darkness of solitude, was placed upon
the lamp-stand..." Augustin, who saw the finger of God in this adventure,
submitted to the popular will. Nevertheless, he was in despair, and he
wept at the change they were forcing on him. Then, some of those present,
mistaking the significance of his tears, said to console him:

"Yes, you are right. The priesthood is not good enough for your merits. But
you may be certain that you will be our bishop."

Augustin well knew all that the crowd meant by that, and what it expected
of its bishop. He who only thought of leaving the world, grew frightened
at the practical cares he would have to take over. And the spiritual side
of his jurisdiction frightened him no less. To speak of God! Proclaim the
word of God! He deemed himself unworthy of so high a privilege. He was so
ill-prepared! To remedy this fault of preparation, as well as he could, he
desired that he might be given a little leisure till the following Easter.
In a letter addressed to Valerius, and no doubt intended to be made public,
he humbly set forth the reasons why he asked for delay. They were so
apposite and so creditable, that very likely the bishop yielded. The new
priest received permission to retire to a country house near Hippo. His
flock, who did not feel at all sure of their shepherd, would not have let
him go too far off.

He took up his duties as soon as possible. Little by little he became,
to all intents, the coadjutor of the bishop, who charged him with the
preaching and the baptism of catechumens. These were the two most important
among the episcopal prerogatives. The bishops made a point of doing these
things themselves. Certain colleagues of Valerius even grew scandalized
that he should allow a simple priest to preach before him in his own
church. But soon other bishops, struck by the advantages of this
innovation, followed the example of Valerius, and allowed their clerks to
preach even in their presence. The priest of Hippo did not lose his head
among so many honours. He felt chiefly the perils of them, and he regarded
them as a trial sent by God. "I have been forced into this," he said,
"doubtless in punishment of my sins; for from what other motive can I think
that the second place at the helm should be given to me--to me who do not
even know how to hold an oar...."

Meanwhile, he had not relinquished his purpose of monastic life. Though
a priest, he meant to remain a monk. It was heart-breaking for him to be
obliged to leave his monastery at Thagaste. He spoke of his regret to
Valerius, who, perceiving the usefulness of a convent as a seminary for
future priests, gave him an orchard belonging to the church of Hippo, that
he might found a new community there. So was established the monastery
which was going to supply a great number of clerks and bishops to all the
African provinces.

Among the ruins of Hippo, that old Roman and Phoenician city, they search
for the place where Augustin's monastery stood, without much hope of ever
finding it. Some have thought to locate it upon that hill where the water
brought from the near mountains by an aqueduct used to pour into immense
reservoirs, and where to-day rises a new basilica which attracts all eyes
out at sea. Behind the basilica is a convent where the Little Sisters of
the Poor lodge about a hundred old people. So is maintained among the
African Mussulmans the remembrance of the grand Christian _marabout_. One
might possibly wish to see there a building more in the pure and quiet
taste of antiquity. But after all, the piety of the intention is enough.
This hospital serves admirably to call up the memory of the illustrious
bishop who was charity itself. As for the basilica, Africa has done all she
can to make it worthy of him. She has given her most precious marbles, and
one of her fairest landscapes as a frame.

It is chiefly in the evening, in the closing dusk, that this landscape
reveals all its special charm and its finer values. The roseate glow of the
setting sun throws into sharp relief the black profile of the mountains,
which command the Seybouse valley. Under the mustering shadows, the pallid
river winds slowly to the sea. The gulf, stretching limitless, shines like
a slab of salt strangely bespangled. In this atmosphere without mists, the
sharp outlines of the coast, the dense movelessness of the aspect, has an
indescribable effect. It is like a hitherto unknown and virginal revelation
of the earth. Then the stars bloom out, with a flame, an hallucinating
palpability. Charles's Wain, burning low on the gorges of the Edough, seems
like a golden waggon rolling through the fields of Heaven. A deep peace
settles upon farmland and meadow country, only broken by a watch-dog's bark
now and then....

But it matters not which spot is chosen in the surroundings of Hippo to
place Augustin's monastery, the view will be equally beautiful. From all
parts of the plain, mounded by heaps of ruins, the sea can be seen--a wide
bay circled in soft bland curves, like at Naples. All around, an arena of
mountains--the green ravines of the Edough and its wooded slopes. Along the
surbased roads rise the great sonorous pines, and through them wanders the
aeolian complaint of the sea-winds. Blue of the sea, blue of the sky, noble
foliage of Italy's ancient groves--it is one of Lamartine's landscapes
under a more burning sun. The gaiety of the mornings there is a physical
luxury for heart and eyes, when the new-born light laughs upon the painted
cupolas of the houses, and dark blue veils float between the walls, glaring
white, of the steep streets.

Among the olives and orange-trees of Hippo, Augustin must have seen happy
days pass by, as at Thagaste. The rule he had given the convent, which he
himself obeyed like any one else, was neither too slack nor too strict--in
a word, such as it should be for men who have lived in the culture of
letters and works of the mind. There was no affectation of excessive
austerity. Augustin and his monks wore very simple clothes and shoes, but
suitable for a bishop and his clerks. Like laymen, they wore the byrrhus,
a garment with a hood, which seems very like the ancestor of the Arab
burnous. To keep an even line between daintiness and negligence in costume,
to have no exaggeration in anything, is what Augustin aimed at. The poet
Rutilius Numatianus, who about that time was attacking the sordid and
culture-hating monks with sombre irony, would have had a chance to admire
a restraint and decorum in the Hippo monastery which recalled what was
best in the manners of the ancient world. At table, a like moderation.
Vegetables were generally provided, and sometimes meat when any one
was sick, or guests arrived. They drank a little wine, contrary to the
regulations of St. Jerome, who condemned wine as a drink for devils. When
a monk infringed the rule, his share of the wine was stopped.

Through some remains of fastidious habits in Augustin, or perhaps because
he had nothing else, the table service he used himself was silver. On the
other hand, the pots and dishes were of earthenware, or wood, or common
alabaster. Augustin, who was very temperate in eating and drinking, seemed
at table to pay attention only to what was being read or talked about.
He cared very little what he ate, provided the food was not a stimulant
to lubricity. He used to say to those Christians who paraded a Pharisaic
severity: "It is the pure heart which makes pure food." Then, with his
constant desire for charity, he prohibited all spiteful gossip in the
conversation in the refectory. In those times of religious struggle, the
clerics ferociously blackened each other's characters. Augustin caused to
have written on the walls a distich, which ran thus:

"He who takes pleasure in slandering the life of the absent,
Should know he is unworthy to sit at this table."

"One day," says Possidius, "some of his intimate friends, even other
bishops, having forgotten this sentence, he reproached them warmly, and
very much perturbed, he cried out that he was going to remove those verses
from the refectory, or rise from table and withdraw to his cell. I was
present with many others when this happened."

It was not only slanderous talk or interior dissensions which troubled
Augustin's peace of mind. He combined the duties of priest, of a head of
a convent, and of an apostle. He had to preach, instruct the catechumens,
battle against the disaffected. The town of Hippo was very unruly, full
of heretics, schismatics, pagans. Those of the party of Donatus were
triumphant, driving the Catholics from their churches and lands. When
Augustin came into the country, Catholicism was very low. And then the
ineradicable Manichees continued to recruit proselytes. He never stopped
writing tracts, disputing against them, overwhelming them under the close
logic of his arguments. At the request of the Donatists themselves, he had
an argument with one of their priests, a certain Fortunatus, in the baths
of Sossius at Hippo. He reduced this man to silence and to flight. Not in
the least discouraged were the Manichees: they sent another priest.

If the enemies of the Church shewed themselves stubborn, Augustin's own
congregation were singularly turbulent, hard to manage. The weakness of old
Valerius must have allowed a good many abuses to creep into the community.
Ere long the priest of Hippo had a foretaste of the difficulties which
awaited him as bishop.

Following the example of Ambrose, he undertook to abolish the custom
of feasts in the basilicas and on the tombs of the martyrs. This was a
survival of paganism, of which the festivals included gluttonous eating and
orgies. At every solemnity, and they were frequent, the pagans ate in the
courts and under the porticoes around the temples. In Africa, above all,
these public repasts gave an opportunity for repugnant scenes of stuffing
and drunkenness. As a rule, the African is very sober; but when he does let
himself go he is terrible. This is quite easily seen to-day, in the great
Muslem feasts, when the rich distribute broken bits of meat to the poor of
their district. As soon as these people, used to drink water and to eat a
little boiled rice, have tasted meat, or drunk only one cup of wine, there
is no holding them: there are fights, stabbing matches, a general brawl
in the hovels. Just picture this popular debauch in full blast in the
cemeteries and the courts of the basilicas, and it will be understood why
Augustin did his best to put an end to such scandals.

For this purpose, he joined hands first of all with his bishop, Valerius,
and then with the Primate of Carthage, Aurelius, who shall be henceforth
his firmest support in his struggle against the schismatics.

During Lent, the subject fitting in naturally with the season, he
spoke against these pagan orgies; and this gave rise to a good deal of
discontent, outside. Easter went by without trouble. But the day after the
Ascension, the people of Hippo were used to celebrate what they called "the
Joy-day," by a traditional good feed and drink. The day before, which was
the religious festival, Augustin intrepidly spoke against "the Joy-day."
They interrupted the preacher. Some of them shouted that as much was done
at Rome in St. Peter's basilica. At Carthage, they danced round the tomb of
St. Cyprian. To the shrilling of flutes, amid the dull blows of the gongs,
mimes gave themselves up to obscene contortions, while the spectators
sang to the clapping of their hands.... Augustin knew all about that.
He declared that these abominations might have been tolerated in former
times so as not to discourage the pagans from becoming converts; but that
henceforth the people, altogether Christian, should give them up. In the
end, he spoke with such touching eloquence that the audience burst into
tears. He believed he had won.

The next day it was all to do over again. Agitators had worked among the
crowd to such an extent that a riot was feared. Nevertheless, Augustin,
preceded by his bishop, entered the basilica at the hour of service. At the
same moment the Donatists were banqueting in their church, which was quite
near. Through the walls of their own church the Catholics heard the noise
of this carouse. It required the coadjutor's most urgent remonstrances to
keep them from imitating their neighbours. The last murmurs died down, and
the ceremony ended with the singing of the sacred hymns.

Augustin had carried the position. But the conflict had got to the point
that he had to threaten the people with his resignation, and, as he wrote
to Alypius, "to shake out on them the dust from his clothes." All this
promised very ill for the future. He who already considered the priesthood
as a trial, saw with terror the bishopric drawing near.



Dic eis ista, ut plorent ... et sic eos rape tecum ad Deum: quia de
spiritu ejus haec dicis eis, si dicis ardens igne caritatis.

"Tell them this, O my soul, that they may weep ... and thus carry them
up with thyself to God; because by His Spirit thou sayest these things,
if Thou speakest burning with the flame of charity."

_Confessions_, IV, 12.



In his monastery, Augustin was still spied upon by the neighbouring
Churches, who wanted him for their bishop. They would capture him on the
first opportunity. The old Valerius, fearing his priest would be taken
unawares, urged him to hide himself. But he knew by the very case of
Augustin, forced into the priesthood in spite of himself, that the greatest
precautions are useless against those determined to gain their ends by any
means. It would be safest to anticipate the danger.

He determined therefore to share the bishopric with Augustin, to have him
consecrated during his own lifetime, and to indicate him as his successor.
This was against the African usage, and what was more, against the Canons
of the Council of Nice--though it is true that Valerius, like Augustin
himself, was unaware of this latter point. But surely the rule could be
waived in view of the exceptional merits of the priest of Hippo. The old
bishop began by sounding Aurelius, the Primate of Carthage, and when he was
satisfied as to the agreement and support of this high personage, he took
the opportunity of a religious solemnity to make known his intentions to
the people.

Some of the neighbouring bishops--Megalius, Bishop of Guelma and Primate of
Numidia, among them--being gathered at Hippo to consecrate a new bishop,
Valerius announced publicly in the basilica that he wished Augustin to be
consecrated at the same ceremony. This had been the wish of his people
for a long time. Really, in demanding this honour for his priest, the old
bishop did no more than follow the wish of the public. Immediately, his
words were received with cheers. The faithful with loud shouts demanded
Augustin's consecration.

Megalius alone objected. He even made himself the voice of certain
calumnies, so as to have the candidate put aside as unworthy. There is
nothing astonishing in such an attitude. This Megalius was old (he died a
short time after), and, like all old men, he took the gloomiest view of
innovations. Already, in the face of settled custom, had Valerius granted
Augustin the right to preach in his presence. And see now, by a new
sinking, he was attempting to place two bishops at once in the see of
Hippo! Whatever this young priest's talents might be, enough, had been
done for him--a recent convert into the bargain, and, what was still more
serious, a refugee from the Manicheans. What was not related about the
abominations committed in the mysteries of those people? Just how far had
Augustin dipped into them? They snarled against him everywhere at Hippo,
and at Carthage too, where he had compromised himself by his excessive
zeal; Catholics and Donatists alike gossiped. Megalius, a punctilious
defender of discipline and the hierarchy, no doubt gathered up these
malevolent rumours with pleasure. He used them as an excuse for making
Augustin mark time, so to speak. Commonplace people always feel a secret
delight in humiliating to the common rule those whom they can feel are
beings of a different quality from themselves.

One of the slanders set abroad about Valerius' priest, Megalius seems to
have believed. He allowed himself to be persuaded that Augustin had given
a philtre to a woman, one of his penitents, whom he wished to possess. It
was then the fashion among the pious to exchange _eulogies_, or bits of
holy bread, to signify a spiritual communion. Augustin was said to have
mixed certain magic potions with some of these breads and offered them
hypocritically to the woman he was in love with. This accusation started a
big scandal, and the remembrance of it persisted long, because five or six
years later the Donatist Petilian was still repeating it.

Augustin cleared himself victoriously. Megalius avowed his mistake. He did
better: not only did he apologize to him he had slandered, but he solemnly
asked forgiveness from his fellow-bishops for having misled them upon false
rumours. It is probable that some time during the inquiry he had got to
know Valerius' coadjutor better. Augustin's charm, taken with the austerity
of his life, acted upon the vexed old man and altered his views. Be that
so or not, it was at any rate by Megalius, Bishop of Guelma and Primate of
Numidia, that Augustin was consecrated Bishop of Hippo.

He was in consternation over his rise. He has said it again and again. We
may take his word for it. Yet the honours and advantages of the episcopate
were then so considerable that his enemies were able to describe him as an
ambitious man. Nothing could agree less with his character. In his heart,
Augustin only wished to live in quiet. Since his retreat at Cassicium,
fortune he had given up, as well as literary glory. His sole wish was to
live in pondering the divine truths, and to draw nearer to God. _Videte et
gustate quam mitis sit Dominus_--"O taste and see that the Lord is good."
This perhaps, of the whole Bible, is the verse he liked best, which
answered best to the close desire of his soul; and he quotes it oftenest
in his sermons. Then, to study the Holy Writings, scan the least syllables
of them, since all truth lies there--well, a whole life is not too much
for such labour as that! And to do it, one should sever all ties with the
world, take refuge forbiddingly in the cloister.

But this sincere Christian analysed himself too skilfully not to perceive
that he had a dangerous tendency to isolation. He took too much pleasure
in cutting himself off from the society of mankind to enshroud himself
in study and meditation. He who acknowledged a secret tendency to the
Epicurean indolence--was he going to live a life of the dilettante and the
self-indulgent under cover of holiness? Alone could action save him from
selfishness. Others doubtless fulfilled the laws of charity in praying,
in mortifying themselves for their brethren. But when, like him, a man
has exceptional faculties of persuasion and eloquence, such vigour in
dialectics, such widespread culture, such power to bring to naught the
wrong--would it not be insulting to God to let such gifts lie idle, and a
serious failure in charity to deprive his brethren of the support of such
an engine?

Besides that, he well knew that no man draws near to truth without a
purified heart. Might not his passions, which were so violent, begin to
torment him again after this respite with greater frenzy than before his
conversion? Against that, too, action was the main antidote. In the duties
of the bishopric he saw a means of asceticism--a kind of courageous
purification. He would load himself of his own will with so many anxieties
and so much work that he would have no time left to listen to the insidious
voice of his "old friends." Could he manage to silence them at once?
This unheard-of grace--would it be granted to him? Or would not rather
the struggle continue in the depths of his conscience? What comes out as
certain is that those terrible passions which turned his youth upside down,
nevermore play any part in his life. From the moment he fell on his knees
under the fig-tree at Milan, his sinful heart is a dead heart. He has been
freed from almost all the weaknesses of the old nature, not only from its
vices and carnal affections, but from its most pardonable lapses--save,
perhaps, some old sediment of intellectual and literary vanity.

His books, at the first glance, shew us him no more save as the doctor, and
already the saint. What is seen at once is an entirely bare intelligence,
an entirely pure heart, fired only by the divine love. And yet the
affectionate and tender heart which his had been, always warms his
discussions and his most abstract exegesis. It does not take long to feel
the heat of them, the power of pouring forth emotion. Augustin takes no
heed of that. Of himself he no longer thinks; he no longer belongs to
himself. If he has accepted the episcopate, it is so as to give himself
altogether to the Church, to be all things to all men. He is the man-word,
the man-pen, the sounding-board of the truth. He becomes the man of the
miserable crowds which the Saviour covered with His pity. He is theirs, to
convince them and cure them of their errors. He is a machine which works
without ever stopping for the greater glory of Christ. Bishop, pastor,
leader of souls--he has no desire for anything else.

But it was a heavy labour for this intellectual, who till then had lived
only among books and ideas. The day after his consecration, he must have
regarded it with more terror than ever. During his nights of insomnia, or
at the recreation hour in the monastery garden, he thought over it with
great distress. His eyes wide open in the darkness of his cell, he sought
to define a theory upon the nature and origin of the soul; or else, at the
fall of day, he saw between the olive branches "the sea put on fluctuating
shades like veils of a thousand colours, sometimes green, a green of
infinite tints; sometimes purple; blue sometimes...." And his soul, easily
stirred to poetry, at once arose from these material splendours to the
invisible region of ideas. Then, immediately, he caught himself up: it
was not a question of all that! He said to himself that he was henceforth
the bishop Augustin, that he had charge of souls, that he must work for
the needs of his flock. He would have to struggle in a combat without a
moment's respite. Thereupon he arranged his plans of attack and defence.
With a single glance he gauged the huge work before him.

A crushing work, truly! He was Bishop of Hippo, but a bishop almost without
a flock, in comparison with the rival community of Donatists. The bishop of
the dissentients, Proculeianus, boasted that he was the true representative
of orthodoxy, and as he had on his side the advantage of numbers, he
certainly cut a much greater figure in the town than the successor of
Valerius, with all his knowledge and all his eloquence. The schismatics'
church, as we have seen, was quite near the Catholic church. Their noise
interfered with Augustin's sermons. Possibly the situation had become
slightly better in Hippo since the edict of Theodosius. But it was not so
long ago that those of the Donatist party had the upper hand. A little
before the arrival of the new bishop, the Donatist clergy forbade their
faithful to bake bread for Catholics. A fanatical baker had even refused a
Catholic deacon who was his landlord. These schismatics believed themselves
strong enough to put those who did not belong to them under interdict.

The rout of Catholicism appeared to be an accomplished fact from one end to
the other of Africa. Quite recently a mere fraction of the Donatist party
had been able to send three hundred and ten bishops to the Council of
Bagai, who were to judge the recalcitrants of their own sect. Among these
bishops, the terrible Optatus of Thimgad became marked on account of his
bloody zeal, rambling round Numidia and even the Proconsulate at the head
of armed bands, burning farms and villas, rebaptizing the Catholics by main
force, spreading terror on all sides.

Augustin knew all this, and when he sought help from the local authorities
he was obliged to acknowledge sadly that there was no support to be
expected from Count Gildo, who had tyrannized over Carthage and Africa for
nearly ten years. This Gildo was a native, a Moor, to whom the ministers of
the young Valentinian II had thought it a good stroke of policy to confide
the government of the province. Knowing the weakness of the Empire, the
Moor only thought of cutting out for himself an independent principality
in Africa. He openly favoured Donatism, which was the most numerous and
influential party. The Bishop of Thimgad, Optatus, swore only by him,
regarding him as his master and his "god." In consequence, he was called
"the Gildonian."

Against such enemies, the Imperial authority could only act irregularly.
Augustin was well aware of it. He knew that the Western Empire was in a
critical position. Theodosius had just died, in the midst of war with the
usurper Eugenius. The Barbarians, who made up the greater part of the Roman
armies, shewed themselves more and more threatening. Alaric, entrenched
in the Peloponnesus, was getting ready to invade Italy. However, the
all-powerful minister of the young Honorius, the half-Barbarian Stilicho,
did his best to conciliate the Catholics, and assured them that he would
continue the protection they had had from Theodosius, Augustin therefore
turned to the central power. It alone could bring about a little order in
the provinces--and then, besides, the new emperors were firmly attached
to the defence of Catholicism. The Catholic Bishop of Hippo did his
best, accordingly, to keep on good terms with the representatives of the
Metropolitan Government--the proconsuls; the propraetors; the counts;
and the tribunes, or the secretaries, sent by the Emperor as Government

There was no suspicion of flattery in his attitude, no idolatry of power.
At Milan, Augustin had been near enough to the Court to know what the
Imperial functionaries were worth. Now, he simply adapted himself as well
as he could to the needs of the moment. And with all that, he could have
wished in the depths of his heart that this power were stronger, so as to
give the Church more effective support. This cultured man, brought up in
the respect of the Roman majesty, was by instinct a faithful servant of
the Caesars. A man who held to authority and tradition, he maintained that
obedience is due to princes: "There is a general agreement," he said,
"of human society to obey its Kings." In one of his sermons he compares
thought, which commands the body, to the Emperor seated upon his throne,
and from the depths of his palace dictating orders which set the whole
Empire moving--a purely ideal image of the sovereign of that time, but one
which pleased his Latin imagination. Alas! Augustin had no illusions about
the effect of Imperial edicts; he knew too well how little they were
regarded, especially in Africa.

So he could hardly count upon Government support for the defence of
Catholic unity and peace. He found he must trust to himself; and all
his strength was in his intelligence, in his charity, in his deeply
compassionate soul. Most earnestly did he wish that Catholicism might be a
religion of love, open to all the nations of the earth, even as its Divine
Founder Himself had wished. A glowing and dominating intelligence, charity
which never tired--those were Augustin's arms. And they were enough. These
qualities gave him an overwhelming superiority over all the men of his
time. Among them, pagans or Christians, he looks like a colossus. From what
a height he crushes, not only the professors who had been his colleagues,
such as Nectarius of Guelma or Maximus of Madaura, but the most celebrated
writers of his time--Symmachus, for instance, and Ammianus Marcellinus.
After reading a treatise of Augustin's, one is astounded by the
intellectual meagreness of these last pagans. The narrowness of their
mind and platitude of thought is a thing that leaves one aghast. Even the
illustrious Apuleius, who belonged to the golden age of African literature,
the author of _The Doctrine of Plato_, praises philosophy and the Supreme
Being in terms which recall the professions of faith of the chemist and
druggist, Homais, in _Madame Bovary_.

Nor among those who surrounded Augustin, his fellow-bishops, was there one
fit to be compared with him, even at a distance. Except perhaps Nebridius,
his dearest friends, Alypius, Severus, or Evodius, are merely disciples,
not to say servants of his thought. Aurelius, Primate of Carthage, an
energetic administrator, a firm and upright character, if he is not on
Augustin's level, is at any rate capable of understanding and supporting
him. The others are decent men, like that Samsucius, Bishop of Tours, very
nearly illiterate, but full of good sense and experience, and on this
ground consulted respectfully by his colleague of Hippo. Or else they are
plotters, given to debauch, engaged in business, like Paulus, Bishop of
Cataqua, who became involved in risky speculations, swindled the revenue,
and by his expensive way of life ruined his diocese. Others, on the
Donatist side, are mere swashbucklers, half-brigands, half-fanatics, like
the Gildonian Optatus, Bishop of Thimgad, a manifestation in advance of
the Mussulman _marabout_ who preached the holy war against the Catholics,
raiding, killing, burning, converting by sabre blows and bludgeoning.

Amid these insignificant or violent men, Augustin will endeavour to realize
to the full the admirable type of bishop, at once spiritual father,
protector, and support of his people. He had promised himself to sacrifice
no whit of his ideal of Christian perfection. As bishop, he will remain a
monk, as he did during his priesthood. Beside the monastery established in
Valerius' garden, where it is impossible to receive properly his guests and
visitors, he will start another in the episcopal residence. He will conform
to the monastic rule as far as his duties allow. He will pray, study the
Scriptures, define dogmas, refute heresies. At the same time, he means to
neglect nothing of his material work. He has mouths to feed, property to
look after, law-cases to examine. He will labour at all that. For this
mystic and theorist it means a never-ceasing immolation.

First, to give the poor their daily bread. Like all the communities of that
time, Hippo maintained a population of beggars. Often enough, the diocesan
cash-box was empty. Augustin was obliged to hold out the hand, to deliver
from the height of his pulpit pathetic appeals for charity. Then, there are
hospitals to be built for the sick, a lodging-house for poor wanderers.
The bishop started these institutions in houses bequeathed to the church
of Hippo. For reasons of economy, he thought better not to build. That
would overload his budget. Next came the greatest of all his cares--the
administration of Church property. To increase this property, he stipulated
that his clergy should give up all they possessed in favour of the
community, thus giving the faithful an example of voluntary poverty.
He also accepted gifts from private persons. But he also often refused
these--for example, the bequest of a father or mother, who, in a moment of
anger, disinherited their children. He did not wish to profit by the bad
feelings of parents to plunder orphans. On another side, he objected to
engage the Church in suits at law with the exchequer upon receiving certain
heritages. When a business man at Hippo left to the diocese his share of
profits in the service of boats for carrying Government stores, Augustin
came to the conclusion that it would be better to refuse. In case of
shipwreck, they would be obliged to make good the lost corn to the
Treasury, or else to put the captain and surviving sailors to the torture
to prove that the crew was not responsible for the loss of the ship.
Augustin would not hear tell of it.

"Is it fit," he said, "that a bishop should be a shipowner?... A bishop
a torturer? Oh, no; that does not agree at all with a servant of Jesus

The people of Hippo did not share his views. They blamed Augustin's
scruples. They accused him of compromising the interests of the Church. One
day he had to explain himself from the pulpit:

"Well I know, my brothers, that you often say between yourselves: 'Why do
not people give anything to the Church of Hippo? Why do not the dying make
it their heir? The reason is that Bishop Augustin is too easy; he gives all
back to the children; he keeps nothing!' I acknowledge it, I only accept
gifts which are good and pious. Whoever disinherits his son to make the
Church his heir, let him find somebody willing to accept his gifts. It is
not I who will do it, and by God's grace, I hope it will not be anybody....
Yes, I have refused many legacies, but I have also accepted many. Need I
name them to you? I will give only one instance. I accepted the heritage of
Julian. Why? Because he died without children...."

The listeners thought that their bishop really put too fine a point on

They further reproached him with not knowing how to attract and flatter the
rich benefactors. Augustin would not allow, either, that they had any right
to force a passing stranger to receive the priesthood and consequently to
give up his goods to the poor. All this really was very wise, not only
according to the spirit of the Gospel, but according to human prudence.
If Augustin, for the sake of the good fame of his Church, did not wish to
incur the accusation of grasping and avarice, he dreaded nothing so much
as a law-case. To accept lightly the gifts and legacies offered was to lay
himself open to expensive pettifogging. Far better to refuse than to lose
both his money and reputation. So were reconciled, in this man of prayer
and meditation, practical good sense with the high disinterestedness of the
Christian teaching.

The bishop was disinterested; his people were covetous. The people of those
times wished the Church to grow rich, because they were the first to profit
by its riches. Now these riches were principally in houses and land. The
diocese of Hippo had to deal with many houses and immense _fundi_, upon
which lived an entire population of artisans and freed-men, agricultural
labourers, and even art-workers--smelters, embroiderers, chisellers on
metals. Upon the Church lands, these small people were protected from taxes
and the extortions of the revenue officers, and no doubt they found the
episcopal government more fatherly and mild than the civil.

Augustin, who had made a vow of poverty and given his heritage to the poor,
became by a cruel irony a great landowner as soon as he was elected Bishop
of Hippo. Doubtless he had stewards under him to look after the property
of the diocese. This did not save him from going into details of management
and supervising his agents. He heard the complaints, not only of his
own tenants, but also of those who belonged to other estates and were
victimized by dishonest bailiffs. Anyhow, we have a thousand signs to shew
that no detail of country life was unfamiliar to him.

On horseback or muleback, he rode for miles through the country about
Hippo to visit his vineyards and olivets. He examined, found out things,
questioned the workmen, went into the presses and the mills. He knew the
grape good to eat, and the grape to make wine with. He pointed out where
the ensilage pits had been dug in too marshy land, which endangered the
young corn. As a capable landowner he was abreast of the law, careful
about the terms of contracts. He knew the formulas employed for sales or
benefactions. He saw to it that charcoal was buried around the landmarks in
the fields, so that if the post disappeared, its place could be found. And
as he was a poet, he gathered on his course a whole booty of rural images
which later on went to brighten his sermons. He made ingenious comparisons
with the citron-tree, "which is seen to give flowers and fruits all the
year if it be watered constantly," or else with the goat "who gets upon her
two hind legs to crop the bitter leaves of the wild olive."

These journeys in the open air, however tiring they might be, were after
all a rest for his overworked brain. But there was one among his episcopal
duties which wearied him to disgust. Every day he had to listen to parties
in dispute and give judgment. Following recent Imperial legislation, the
bishop became judge in civil cases--a tiresome and endless work in a
country where tricky quibbling raged with obstinate fury. The litigants
pursued Augustin, overran his house, like those fellahs in dirty burnous
who block our law-courts with their rags. In the _secretarium_ of the
basilica, or under the portico of the court leading to the church, Augustin
sat like a Mussulman cadi in the court of the mosque.

The emperors had only regulated an old custom of apostolic times in placing
the Christians under the jurisdiction of their bishop. In accordance with
St. Paul's advice, the priests did their utmost to settle differences among
the faithful. Later, when their number had considerably increased, the
Government adopted a system not unlike the "Capitulations" in countries
under the Ottoman suzerainty. Lawsuits between clerics and laymen could not
be equitably judged by civil servants, who were often pagans. Moreover, the
parties based their claims on theological principles or religious laws that
the arbitrator generally knew nothing about. In these conditions, it was
natural enough that the Imperial authority should say to the disputants,
"Fight it out among yourselves".

And it happened, just at the moment when Augustin began to fill the see of
Hippo, that Theodosius broadened still more the judicial prerogatives of
the bishops. The unhappy judge was overwhelmed with law-cases. Every day he
sat till the hour of his meal, and sometimes the whole day when he fasted.
To those who accused him of laziness, he answered:

"I can declare on my soul that if it were question of my own convenience, I
should like much better to work at some manual labour at certain hours of
the day, as the rule is in well-governed monasteries, and have the rest of
the time free to read or pray or meditate upon the Holy Scripture, instead
of being troubled with all the complications and dull talk of lawsuits."

The rascality of the litigants made him indignant. From the pulpit he gave
them advice full of Christian wisdom, but which could not have been much
relished. A suit at law, according to him, was a loss of time and a cause
of sorrow. It would be better to let the opponent have the money, than to
lose time and be filled with uneasiness. Nor was this, added the preacher
in all good faith, to encourage injustice; for the robber would be robbed
in his turn by a greater robber than himself.

These reasons seemed only moderately convincing. The pettifoggers did not
get discouraged. On the contrary, they infested the bishop with their
pleas. As soon as he appeared, they rushed up to him in a mob, surrounded
him, kissed his hand and his shoulder, protesting their respect and
obedience, urging him, constraining him to busy himself about their
affairs. Augustin yielded. But the next day in a vehement sermon he cried
out to them:

_Discedite a me, maligni!_--"Go far from me, ye wicked ones, and let me
study in peace the commandments of my God!"



Let us try to see Augustin in his pulpit and in his episcopal city.

We cannot do much more than reconstruct them by analogy. Royal Hippo is
utterly gone. Bona, which has taken its place, is about a mile and a half
away, and the fragments which have been dug out of the soil of the dead
city are very inadequate. But Africa is full of Christian ruins, and
chiefly of basilicas. Rome has nothing equal to offer. And that is easily
understood. The Roman basilicas, always living, have been changed in the
course of centuries, and have put on, time after time, the garb forced upon
them by the fashion. Those of Africa have remained just as they were--at
least in their principal lines--on the morrow of the Arab invasion, as
Augustin's eyes had seen them. They are ruins, no doubt, and some very
mutilated, but ruins of which no restoration has altered the plan or
changed the features.

As the traces of Hippo and its church are swept away or deeply buried, we
are obliged, in order to get some approximate idea, to turn towards another
African town which has suffered less from time and devastation. Theveste
with its basilica, the best preserved, the finest and largest in all
Africa, can restore to us a little of the look and colour and atmosphere of
Hippo in those final years of the fourth century.

Ancient Theveste was much larger than the present town, the French Tebessa.
This, even reduced to the perimeter of the Byzantine fortress built under
Justinian, still surprises the traveller by its singularly original aspect.
Amid the wide plains of alfa-grass which surround it, with its quadrangular
enclosure, its roads on the projection of the walls behind the battlements,
its squat turrets, it has a look as archaic, as strange, as our own
Aigues-Mortes amid its marshy fen. Nothing can be more rich and joyous to
the eye than the rust which covers its ruins--a complete gilding that one
would say had been laid on by the hand of man.

It has a little temple which is a wonder and has been compared to the
ancient Roman temple--the _Maison Carree_--at Nimes. But how much warmer,
more living are the stones! The shafts of the columns, and the pilasters of
the peristyle, barked by time, seem as scaly and full of sap as the trunks
of palm-trees. The carved acanthus-leaves in the capitals of the pillars
droop like bunches of palms reddened by the summer.

Quite near, at the end of a narrow street, lined with modern and squalid
hovels, the triumphal arch of Septimus Severus and of Caracalla extends its
luminous bow; and high above the heavy mass of architecture, resting upon
slim aerial little columns, a buoyant _aediculus_ shines like a coral
tabernacle or a coffer of yellow ivory.

All about, forms in long draperies are huddled. The Numidian burnous has
the whiteness of the toga. It has also the same graceful folds. At the
sight of them you suddenly feel yourself to be in a strange land--carried
back very far across the centuries. No sooner is the vision of antiquity
outlined than it grows firm. Down below there, a horseman, clad in white,
is framed with his white horse in the moulded cincture of a door. He
passes, and upon the white wall of the near tower his shadow rests a
moment, like a bas-relief upon the marble of a frieze.

Beyond the Byzantine enclosure, the basilica, with its minor buildings,
forms another town almost as large as the present Theveste, and also closed
in by a belt of towers and ramparts. One is immediately struck by the
opulent colour of the stones--rose, grown pale and thinner in the sun; and
next, by the solid workmanship and the structural finish. The stones, as
in the Greek temples, are placed on top of one another in regular layers:
the whole holds together by the weight of the blocks and the polish of the

The proportions are on a large scale. There was no grudging for the
buildings, or the materials, or the land. In front of the basilica is a
wide rectangular court bordered with terraces; a portico at the far end;
and in the middle four large fountains to water the walk. A flagged avenue,
closed by two gateways, divides this court from the basilica, properly so
called, which is reached by a staircase between two columns. The staircase
leads to the _atrium_ decorated by a Corinthian portico. In the centre
is the font for purifications, a huge monolithic bason in the shape of a
four-leaved clover. Three doors give entrance from the _atrium_ to the
basilica, which is divided by rows of green marble columns into three
aisles. The galleries spread out along the side aisles. The floor was in
mosaic. In the apse, behind the altar, stood the bishop's throne.

Around the main building clustered a great number of others: a baptistry;
many chapels (one vaulted in the shape of a three-leaved clover) dedicated,
probably, to local martyrs; a graveyard; a convent with its cells, and its
windows narrow as loop-holes; stables, sheds, and barns. Sheltered within
its walls and towers, amid its gardens and outbuildings, the basilica of
Theveste thus early resembled one of our great monasteries of the Middle
Age, and also in certain ways the great mosques of Islam--the one at
Cordova, or that at Damascus, with their vestibules surrounded by arcades,
their basons for purification, and their walks bordered with orange-trees.
The faithful and the pilgrims were at home there. They might spend the day
stretched upon the flags of the porticoes, in loafing or sleeping in the
blue shade of the columns and the cool of the fountains. In the full sense
of the word, the church was the House of God, open to all.

Very likely the basilicas at Hippo had neither the size nor the splendour
of this one. Nor were there very many. At the time Augustin was ordained
priest, that is to say, when the Donatists had still a majority in the
town, it seems clear that the orthodox community owned but one single
church, the _Basilica major_, or Basilica of Peace. Its very name proves
this. With the schismatics, "Peace" was the official name for Catholicism.
"Basilica of Peace" meant simply "Catholic Basilica." Was not this as
much as to say that the others belonged to the dissenters? Doubtless they
restored later on, after the promulgations of Honorius, the Leontian
Basilica, founded by Leontius, Bishop of Hippo, and a martyr. A third was
built by Augustin during his episcopate--the Basilica of the Eight Martyrs
of the White Mace.

It was in the Major, or Cathedral, that Augustin generally preached. To
preach was not only a duty, but one of the privileges of a bishop. As has
been said, the bishop alone had the right to preach in his church. This
arose from the fact that the African dioceses, although comparatively
widespread, had scarcely more people than one of our large parishes to-day.
The position of a bishop was like that of one of our parish priests. There
were almost as many as there were villages, and they were counted by

However that may be, preaching, the real apostolic ministry, was an
exhausting task. Augustin preached almost every day, and often many times a
day--rough work for a man with such a fragile chest. Thus it often happened
that, to save his voice, he had to ask his audience to keep still. He spoke
without study, in a language very near the language of the common people.
Stenographers took down his sermons as he improvised them: hence those
repetitions and lengthinesses which astonish the reader who does not know
the reason for them. There is no plan evident in these addresses. Sometimes
the speaker has not enough time to develop his thought. Then he puts off
the continuation till the next day. Sometimes he comes with a subject all
prepared, and then treats of another, in obedience to a sudden inspiration
which has come to him with a verse of Scripture he has just read. Other
times, he comments many passages in succession, without the least care for
unity or composition.

Let us listen to him in this Basilica of Peace, where during thirty-five
years he never failed to announce the Word of God.... The chant of the
Psalms has just died away. At the far end of the apse, Augustin rises from
his throne with its back to the wall, his pale face distinct against the
golden hue of the mosaic. From that place, as from the height of a pulpit,
he commands the congregation, looking at them above the altar, which is a
plain wooden table placed at the end of the great aisle.

The congregation is standing, the men on one side, the women on the other.
On the other side of the balustrade which separates them from the crowd,
are the widows and consecrated virgins, wrapped in their veils black or
purple. Some matrons, rather overdressed, lean forward in the front rank
of the galleries. Their cheeks are painted, their eyelashes and eyebrows
blackened, their ears and necks overloaded with jewels. Augustin has
noticed them; after a while he will read them a lesson. This audience is
all alive with sympathy and curiosity before he begins. With all its faith
and all its passion it collaborates with the orator. It is turbulent also.
It expresses its opinions and emotions with perfect freedom. The democratic
customs of those African Churches surprise us to-day. People made a noise
as at the theatre or the circus. They applauded; they interrupted the
preacher. Certain among them disputed what was said, quoting passages from
the Bible.

Augustin is thus in perpetual communication with his audience. Nobody has
done less soaring than he. He keeps his eye on the facial expressions
and the attitudes of his public. He talks to them familiarly. When his
sermon is a little lengthy, he wants to know if his listeners are getting
tired--he has kept them standing so long! The time of the morning meal
draws near. Bellies are fasting, stomachs wax impatient. Then says he to
them with loving good-fellowship:

"Go, my very dear brothers and sisters, go and restore your strength--I do
not mean that of your minds, for I see well that they are tireless, but the
strength of your bodies which are the servants of your souls. Go then and
restore your bodies so that they may do their work well, and when they are
restored, come back here and take your spiritual food."

Upon certain days, a blast of the sirocco has passed over the town. The
faithful, crowded in the aisles, are stifling, covered with sweat. The
preacher himself, who is very much worked up, has his face dripping, and
his clothes are all wet. By this he perceives that once more he has been
extremely long. He excuses himself modestly. Or again, he jokes like a
rough apostle who is not repelled by the odour of a lot of human-kind
gathered together.

"Oh, what a smell!" says he. "I must have been speaking a long while

These good-natured ways won the hearts of the simple folk who listened to
him. He is aware of the charm he exerts on them, and of the sympathy they
give him back in gratitude for his charity.

"You have loved to come and hear me, my brothers," he said to them. "But
whom have you loved? If it is me--ah, even that is good, my brothers, for
I want to be loved by you, if I do not want to be loved for myself. As for
me, I love you in Christ. And you too, do you love me in Him. Let our love
for one another moan together up to God--and that is the moaning of the
Dove spoken of in the Scripture...."

Although he preaches from the height of his episcopal throne, he is anxious
that his hearers should regard him, Christianly, as their equal. So he
seems as little of the bishop as possible.

"All Christians are servants of the same master.... I have been in the
place where you are--you, my brothers, who listen to me. And now, if I
give the spiritual bread from the height of this chair to the servants of
the Master of us all--well, it is but a few years since I received this
spiritual food with them in a lower place. A bishop, I speak to laymen, but
I know to how many future bishops I speak...."

So he puts himself on an equal footing with his audience by the brotherly
accent in his words. It is not Christendom, the Universal Church, or I know
not what abstract listener he addresses, but the Africans, the people of
Hippo, the parishioners of the Basilica of Peace. He knows the allusions,
the comparisons drawn from local customs, which are likely to impress their
minds. The day of the festival of St. Crispina, a martyr of those parts,
after he had developed his subject at very great length, he asked pardon in
these terms:

"Let us think, brothers, that I have invited you to celebrate the birthday
of the blessed Crispina, and that I have kept up the feast a little too
long. Well, might not the same thing happen if some soldier were to ask you
to dinner and obliged you to drink more than is wise? Let me do as much for
the Word of God, with which you should be drunk and surfeited."

Marriages, as well as birthday feasts, supplied the orator with vivid
allegories. Thus he says that when a marriage feast is made in a house,
organs play upon the threshold, and musicians and dancers begin to sing and
to act their songs. And yet how poor are these earthly enjoyments which
pass away so soon!... "In the House of God, the feast has no end."

Continually, through the commentaries on the Psalms, like comparisons rise
to the surface--parables suited to stir the imagination of Africans. A
thousand details borrowed from local habits and daily life enliven the
exegesis of the Bishop of Hippo. The mules and horses that buck when one
is trying to cure them, are his symbol for the recalcitrant Donatists. The
little donkeys, obstinate and cunning, that trot in the narrow lanes of
Algerian _casbahs_, appear here and there in his sermons. The gnats bite in
them. The unendurable flies plaster themselves in buzzing patches on the
tables and walls. Then there are the illnesses and drugs of that country:
the ophthalmias and collyrium. What else? The tarentulas that run along
the beams on the ceiling; the hares that scurry without warning between
the horses' feet on the great Numidian plains. Elsewhere, he reminds his
audience of those men who wear an earring as a talisman; of the dealings
between traders and sailors--a comparison which would go home to this
seafaring people.

The events of the time, the little happenings of the moment, glide into
his sermons. At the same time as the service in church to-day, there is
going to be horse-racing at the circus, and fights of wild beasts or
gladiators at the arena. In consequence, there will not be many people
in the Basilica. "So much the better," says Augustin. "My lungs will get
some rest." Another time, it is advertised through the town that most
sensational attractions will be offered at the theatre--there will be a
scene representing the open sea. The preacher laughs at those who have
deserted the church to go and see this illusion: "They will have," says
he, "the sea on the stage; but we, brothers--ah, we shall have our port in
Jesus Christ." This Saturday, while he is preaching, some Jewish women set
themselves to dance and sing on the terraces of the near houses, by way of
celebrating the Sabbath. In the basilica, the bashing of the crotolos can
be heard, and the thuds of the tambourines. "They would do better," says
Augustin, "to work and spin their wool."

He dwells upon the catastrophes which were then convulsing the Roman world.
The news of them spread with wonderful rapidity. Alaric's Barbarians
have taken Rome and put it to fire and sword. At Jerusalem has been an
earthquake, and the bishop John organizes a subscription for the sufferers
throughout Christendom. At Constantinople, globes of fire have been seen in
the sky. The _Serapeum_ of Alexandria has just been destroyed in a riot....

All these things follow each other in lively pictures, without any apparent
order, throughout Augustin's sermons. It is not he who divides his
discourse into three parts, and refrains from passing to the second till he
has learnedly expounded the first. Whether he comments upon the Psalms or
the Gospels, his sermons are no more than explanations of the Scriptures
which he interprets, sometimes in a literal sense, and sometimes in an
allegoric. Let us acknowledge it--his allegoric discourses repel us by
their extreme subtilty, sometimes by their bad taste; and when he confines
himself to the letter of the text, he stumbles among small points of
grammar which weary the attention. We follow him no longer. We think
his audience was very obliging to listen so long--and on their feet--to
these endless dissertations.... And then, suddenly, a great lyrical and
oratorical outburst which carries us away--a wind which blows from the
high mountains, and in the wink of an eye sweeps away like dust all those
fine-spun reasonings.

He is fond of certain commonplaces, and also of certain books of the
Bible--for instance, _The Song of Songs_ and the Gospel of St. John, the
one satisfying in him the intellectual, and the other the mystic of love.
He confronts the verse of the Psalm: "Before the morning star have I
begotten thee," with the sublime opening of the Fourth Gospel: "In the
beginning was the Word." He lingers upon the beauty of Christ: _Speciosus
forma prae filiis hominum_, "Thou art fairer than the children of men." This
is why he is always repeating with the Psalmist: "Thy face, Lord, have I
sought"--_Quaesivi vultum tuum, Domine._ And the orator, carried away by
enthusiasm, adds: "Magnificent saying! Nothing more divine could be said.
Those feel it who truly love." Another of his favourite subjects is the
kindness of God: _Videte et gustate quam mitis sit Dominus_--"O taste
and see that the Lord is good." Naught can equal the pleasure of this
contemplation, of this life in God. Augustin conceives it as a musician
who has fathomed the secret of numbers. "Let your life," he said, "be one
prolonged song.... We do not sing only with the voice and lips when we
intone a canticle, but in us is an inward singing, because there is also in
us Some One who listens...."

To live this rhythmic and divine life we must get free of ourselves, give
ourselves up utterly in a great outburst of charity.

"Why," he cries--"Oh, why do you hesitate to give yourselves lest you
should lose yourselves? It is rather by not giving yourselves that you
lose yourselves. Charity herself speaks to you by the mouth of Wisdom and
upholds you against the terror which fills you at the sound of those words:
'Give yourself.' If some one wanted to sell you a piece of land, he would
say to you: 'Give me your gold.' And for something else, he would say:
'Give me your silver, give me your money.' Listen to what Charity says to
you by the mouth of Wisdom: 'My son, give me thy heart.' 'Give me,' quoth
she. Give what? 'My son, give me thy heart.'... Thy heart was not happy
when it was governed by thee, and was thine, for it turned this way and
that way after gawds, after impure and dangerous loves. 'Tis from there thy
heart must be drawn. Whither lift it up? Where to place it? 'Give me thy
heart,' says Wisdom, 'let it be mine, and it will belong to thee for

After the chant of love, the chant of the Resurrection. _Cantate mihi
canticum novum_--"Sing to me a new song!" Augustin repeats these words over
and over again. "We wish to rise from the dead," cry souls craving for
eternity. And the Church answers: "Verily, I say unto you, that you shall
rise from the dead. Resurrection of bodies, resurrection of souls, ye shall
be altogether reborn." Augustin has explained no dogma more passionately.
None was more pleasing to the faithful of those times. Ceaselessly they
begged to be strengthened in the conviction of immortality and of meeting
again brotherlike in God.

With what intrepid delight it rose--this song of the Resurrection in
those clear African basilicas swimming in light, with all their brilliant
ornamentation of mosaics and marbles of a thousand colours! And what
artless and confident language those symbolic figures spoke which peopled
their walls--the lambs browsing among clusters of asphodels, the doves, the
green trees of Paradise. As in the Gospel parables, the birds of the field
and farmyard, the fruits of the earth, figured the Christian truths and
virtues. Their purified forms accompanied man in his ascension towards
God. Around the mystic chrisms, circled garlands of oranges and pears and
pomegranates. Cocks, ducks, partridges, flamingoes, sought their pasture in
the Paradisal fields painted upon the walls of churches and cemeteries.

Those young basilicas were truly the temples of the Resurrection, where
all the creatures of the Ark saved from the waters had found their refuge.
Never more in the centuries to follow shall humanity know this frank joy at
having triumphed over death--this youth of hope.



Augustin is not only the most human of all the saints, he is also one
of the most amiable in all the senses of that hackneyed word--amiable
according to the world, amiable according to Christ.

To be convinced of this, he should be observed in his dealings with his
hearers, with his correspondents, even with those he attacks--with the
bitterest enemies of the faith. Preaching, the administration of property,
and sitting in judgment were but a part of that episcopal burthen, _Sarcina
episcopatus_, under which he so often groaned. He had furthermore to
catechize, baptize, direct consciences, guard the faithful against error,
and dispute with all those who threatened Catholicism. Augustin was a light
of the Church. He knew it.

Doing his best, with admirable conscientiousness and charity he undertook
these tasks. God knows what it must have cost this Intellectual to fulfil
precisely all the duties of his ministry, down to the humblest. What
he would have liked, above all, was to pass his life in studying the
Scriptures and meditating on the dogmas--not from a love of trifling with
theories, but because he believed such knowledge necessary to whoever gave
forth the Word of God. Most of the priests of that age arrived at the
priesthood without any previous study. They had to improvise, as quick
as they could, a complete education in religious subjects. We are left
astounded before the huge labour which Augustin must have given to acquire
his. Before long he even dominated the whole exegetical and theological
knowledge of his time. In his zeal for divine letters, he knew sleep no

And yet he did not neglect any of his tasks. Like the least of our
parish priests, he prepared the neophytes for the Sacraments. He was
an incomparable catechist, so clear-sighted and scrupulous that his
instructions may still be taken as models by the catechists of to-day.
Neither did he, as an aristocrat of the intelligence, only trouble himself
with persons of culture, and leave to his deacons the care of God's common
people. All had a right to his lessons, the simple peasants as well as the
rich and scholarly. One day, a farmer he was teaching walked off and left
him there in the middle of his discourse. The poor man, who had fasted, and
now listened to his bishop standing, was faint from hunger and felt his
legs tremble under him. He thought it better to run away than to fall down
exhausted at the feet of the learned preacher.

With his knowledge of men, Augustin carefully studied the kind of people
his catechumens were, and adapted his instructions to the character of
each. If they were city folk, Carthaginians, used to spending their time in
theatres and taverns, drunken and lazy, he took a different tone with them
from what he used with rustics who had never left their native _gourbi_.
If he were dealing with fashionable people who had a taste for literature,
he did not fail to exalt the beauties of the Scripture, although, he would
say, they had there a very trifling attraction compared to the truths
contained in it. Of all the catechumens, the hardest to deal with, the
most fearsome in his eyes, were the professors--the rhetoricians and the
grammarians. These men are bloated with vanity, puffed up with intellectual
pride. Augustin knew something about that. It will be necessary to rouse
them violently, and before anything else, to exhort them to humility of

The good saint goes further. Not only is he anxious about the souls, but
also about the bodies of his listeners. Are they comfortable for listening?
As soon as they feel tired they must not hesitate to sit down, as is the
usage in the basilicas beyond seas.

"Would not our arrogance be unbearable," he asked, "if we forbade men who
are our brothers to sit down in our presence, and, much more, men whom we
ought to try with all possible care to make our brothers?..."

If they are seen to yawn, "then things ought to be said to them to awaken
their attention, or to scatter the sad thoughts which may have come into
their minds." The catechist should shew, now a serene joy--the joy of
certainty; now a gaiety which charms people into belief; "and always that
light-heartedness we should have in teaching." Even if we ourselves are sad
from this reason or that, let us remember that Jesus Christ died for those
who are listening to us. Is not the thought of bringing Him disciples
enough to make us joyful?

Bishop Augustin set the example for his priests. It is not enough to
have prepared the conversion of his catechumens with the subtlety of the
psychologist, and such perfect Christian charity; but he accompanies them
to the very end, and charges them once more before the baptismal piscina.

How he is changed! One thinks of the boon-fellow of Romanianus and of
Manlius Theodorus, of the young man who followed the hunts at Thagaste,
and who held forth on literature and philosophy in a select company before
the beautiful horizons of the lake of Como. Here he is now with peasants,
slaves, sailors, and traders. And he takes pleasure in their society. It is
his flock. He ought to love it with all his soul in Jesus Christ. What an
effort and what a victory upon himself an attitude so strange reveals to
us! For really this liking for mean people was not natural to him. He must
have put an heroic will-power into it, helped by Grace.

A like sinking of his preferences is evident in the director of consciences
he became. Here he was obliged to give himself more thoroughly. He was
at the mercy of the souls who questioned him, who consulted him as
their physician. He spends his time in advising them, and exercises a
never-failing supervision of their morals. It is an almost discouraging
enterprise to bend these hardened pagans--above all, these Africans--to
Christian discipline. Augustin is continually reproaching their
drunkenness, gluttony, and lust. The populace were not the only ones to get
drunk and over-eat themselves. The rich at their feasts literally stuffed
till they choked. The Bishop of Hippo never lets a chance go by to recall
them to sobriety.

Oftener still, he recalls them to chastity. He writes long letters on this
subject which are actual treatises. The morals of the age and country are
fully disclosed in them. Husbands are found loudly claiming a right to free
love for themselves, while they force their wives to conjugal fidelity. The
adultery they allow themselves, they punish with death in their wives. They
make an abusive practice of divorce. Upon the most futile reasons, they
send the wife the _libellus repudii_--the bill repudiating the marriage--as
the various peoples of Islam do still. This society in a state of
transition was always creating cases of conscience for strict Christians.
For example: If a man cast off his wife under pretext of adultery, might
he marry again? Augustin held that no marriage can be dissolved as long as
both parties are living. But may not this prohibition provoke husbands to
kill their adulterous wives, so as to be free to take a new wife? Another
problem: A catechumen divorced under the pagan law and since remarried,
presents himself for baptism. Is he not an adulterer in the eyes of the
Church? A man who lives with a woman and does not hide it, who even
declares his firm intention of continuing to live with his concubine--can
he be admitted to baptism? Augustin has to answer all these questions, and
go into the very smallest details of casuistry.

Is it forbidden to eat the meats consecrated to idols, even when a man
or woman is dying of hunger? May one enter into agreements with native
camel-drivers and carriers who swear by their gods to keep the bargain?
May a lie be told in certain conditions?--say, so as to get among heretics
in pretending to be one of themselves, and thus be able to spy on them
and denounce them? May adultery be practised with a woman who promises in
exchange to point out heretics?... The Bishop of Hippo severely condemns
all these devious or shameful ways, all these compromises which are
contrary to the pure moral teaching of the Gospel. But he does this without
affecting intolerance and rigidity, and with a reminder that the evil of
sin lies altogether in the intention, and in the consent of the will. In a
word, one must tolerate and put up with what one is powerless to hinder.

Other questions, which it is quite impossible to repeat here, give us a
strange idea of the corruption of pagan morals. Augustin had all he
could do to maintain the Christian rule in such surroundings, where the
Christians themselves were more or less tainted with paganism. But if this
troop of sinners and backsliders was hard to drive, the devout were perhaps
harder. There were the _continents_--the widowers and widows who had made a
vow of chastity and found this vow heavy; the consecrated virgins who lived
in too worldly a fashion; the nuns who rebelled against their spiritual
director or their superior; the monks, either former slaves who did not
want to do another stroke of work, or charlatans who played upon public
credulity in selling talismans and miraculous ointments. Then, the married
women who refused themselves to their husbands; and those who gave away
their goods to the poor without their husbands' consent; and also the proud
virgins and widows who despised and condemned marriage.

Then came the crowd of pious souls who questioned Augustin on points of
dogma, who wanted to know all, to clear up everything; those who thought
they should be able here below to see God face to face, to know how we
shall arise, and who asked if the angels had bodies.... Augustin complains
that they are annoying, when he has so many other things to trouble him,
and that they take him from his studies. But he tries charitably to satisfy
them all.

Besides all this, he was obliged to keep up a correspondence with a great
number of people. In addition to his friends and fellow-bishops, he wrote
to unknown people and foreigners; to men in high place and to lowly people;
to the proconsuls, the counts and the vicars of Africa; to the very mighty
Olympius, Master of the Household to the Emperor Honorius; or again, "to
the Right Honourable Lady Maxima," "to the Illustrious Ladies Proba and
Juliana," "to the Very Holy Lady Albina"--women who belonged either to the
provincial nobility, or to the highest aristocracy of Rome. To whom did he
not write?...

And what is admirable in these letters is that he does not answer
negligently to get rid of a tiresome duty. Almost all of them are full
of substantial teaching, long thought over. Many were intended to be
published--they are practically charges. And yet, however grave the tone
of them may be, the cultivated man of the world he had been may be traced.
His correspondents, after the fashion of the time, overwhelm the bishop
with the most fulsome praises. These he accepts, with much ceremony
indeed, but he does accept them as evidence of the charity of his
brethren. Ingenuously, he does his best to return them. Let us not grow
over-scandalized because our men of letters of to-day have debased the
value of complimentary language by squandering and exaggerating it. The
most austere cotemporaries of Augustin, and Augustin himself, outdid them
by a long way in the art and in the abuse of compliments.

Paulinus of Nola, always beflowered and elegant, wrote to Augustin:
"Your letters are a luminous collyrium spread over the eyes of my mind."
Augustin, who remonstrated with him upon the scarcity of his own letters,
replies in language which our own _Precieuses_ would not have disowned:
"What! You allow me to pass two summers--and two African summers!--in such
thirst?... Would to God that you would allow enter to the opulent banquet
of your book, the long fast from your writings which you have put me
upon during all a year! If this banquet be not ready, I shall not give
over my complaints, unless, indeed, that in the time between, you send me
something to keep up my strength." A certain Audax, who begged the honour
of a special letter from the great man, calls him "the oracle of the Law";
protests that the whole world celebrates and admires him; and finally, at
the end of his arguments, conjures him in verse to "Let fall upon me the
dew of thy divine word." Augustin, with modesty and benignity, returns his
compliments, but not without slipping into his reply a touch of banter:
"Allow me to point out to you that your fifth line has seven feet. Has
your ear betrayed you, or did you want to find out if I was still capable
of judging these things?"... Truly, he is always capable of judging these
things, nor is he sorry to have it known. A young Greek named Dioscorus,
who is passing through Carthage, questions him upon the philosophy of
Cicero. Augustin exclaims at any one daring to interrupt a bishop about
such trifles. Then, little by little, he grows milder, and carried away by
his old passion, he ends by sending the young man quite a dissertation on
this good subject.

Those are among his innocent whimsicalities. Then, alongside of letters
either too literary, or erudite, or profound, there are others which are
simply exquisite, such as the one he wrote to a young Carthage girl called
Sapida. She had embroidered a tunic for her brother. He was dead, and she
asked Augustin kindly to wear this tunic, telling him that if he would
do this, it would be a great comfort for her in her grief. The bishop
consented very willingly. "I accept this garment," he said to her, "and I
have begun to wear it before writing to you...." Then gently he pities her
sorrow, and persuades her to resignation and hope.

"We should not rebuke people for weeping over the dead who are dear to
them.... When we think of them, and through habit we look for them still
around us, then the heart breaks, and the tears fall like the blood of our
broken heart...."

At the end, in magnificent words, he chants the hymn of the Resurrection:

"My daughter, your brother lives in his soul, if in his body he sleeps.
Does not the sleeper wake? God, who has received his soul, will put it
again in the body He has taken from him, not to destroy it--oh, no, but
some day to give it to him back."

* * * * *

This correspondence, voluminous as it is, is nothing beside his numberless
treatises in dogma and polemic. These were the work of his life, and it is
by these posterity has known him. The theologian and the disputer ended by
hiding the man in Augustin. To-day, the man perhaps interests us more. And
this is a mistake. He himself would not have allowed for a moment that his
_Confessions_ should be preferred to his treatises on Grace. To study, to
comment the Scriptures, to draw more exact definitions from the dogmas--he
saw no higher employment for his mind, or obligation more important for
a bishop. To believe so as to understand, to understand the better to
believe--it is a ceaseless movement of the intelligence which goes from
faith to God and from God to faith. He throws himself into this great
labour without a shade of any attempt to make literature, with a complete
sinking of his tastes and his personal opinions, and in it he entirely
forgets himself.

One single time he has thought of himself, and it is precisely in the
_Confessions_, the spirit of which modern people understand so ill, and
where they try to find something quite different from what the author
intended. He composed them just after he was raised to the bishopric, to
defend himself against the calumnies spread about his conduct. It seems as
if he wanted to say to his detractors: "You believe me guilty. Well, I am
so, and more perhaps than you think, but not in the way you think." A great
religious idea alters this personal defence. It is less a confession, or an
excuse for his faults, in the present sense of the word, than a continual
glorification of the divine mercy. It is less the shame of his sins he
confesses, than the glory of God.

After that, he never thought again of anything but Truth and the Church,
and the enemies of Truth and the Church: the Manichees, the Arians, the
Pelagians--the Donatists, above all. He lets no error go by without
refuting it, no libel without an answer. He is always on the breach. He
might well be compared, in much of his writings, to one of our fighting
journalists. He put into this generally thankless business a wonderful
vigour and dialectical subtlety. Always and everywhere he had to have the
last word. He brought eloquence to it, yet more charity--sometimes even
wit. And lastly, he had a patience which nothing could dishearten. He
repeats the same things a hundred times over. These tiresome repetitions,
into which he was driven by the obstinacy of his opponents, caused him
real pain. Every time it became necessary, he took up again the endless
demonstration without letting himself grow tired. The moment it became a
question of the Truth, Augustin could not see that he had any right to keep

In Africa and elsewhere they made fun of what they called his craze for
scribbling. He himself, in his _Retractations_, is startled by the number
of his works. He turns over the Scripture saying which the Donatists
amusingly opposed to him: _Vae mullum loquentibus_--"Woe unto them of many
words." But calling God to witness, he says to Him: _Vae tacentibus de
te_--"Woe unto those who keep silent upon Thee." In the eyes of Augustin,
the conditions were such that silence would have been cowardly. And
elsewhere he adds: "They may believe me or not as they will, but I like
much better to read than to write books...."

In any case, his modesty was evident. "I am myself," he acknowledges,
"almost always dissatisfied with what I say." To the heretics he declares,
with a glance back at his own errors, "I know by experience how easy it
is to be wrong." When there is some doubt in questions of dogma, he does
not force his explanations, but suggests them to his readers. How much
intellectual humility is in that prayer which ends his great work on the
Trinity: "Lord my God, one Trinity, if in these books I have said anything
which comes from Thee, may Thou and Thy chosen receive it. But if it is
from me it comes, may Thou and Thine forgive me."

And again, how much tolerance and charity in those counsels to the faithful
of his diocese who, having been formerly persecuted by the Donatists, now
burned to get their revenge:

"It is the voice of your bishop, my brothers, sounding in your ears. He
implores you, all of you who are in this church, to keep yourselves from
insulting those who are outside, but rather to pray that they may enter
with you into communion."

Elsewhere, he reminds his priests that they must preach at the Jews in a
spirit of friendliness and loving-kindness, without troubling to know if
they listen with gratitude or indignation. "We ought not," said he, "to
bear ourselves proudly against these broken branches of Christ's tree."...

This charity and moderation took nothing from the firmness of his
character. This he proved in a startling way in the discussion he had with
St. Jerome over a passage In the Epistle to the Galatians, and upon the
new translation, of the Bible which Jerome had undertaken. The solitary of
Bethlehem saw a "feint" on the part of St. Paul in the disputed passage:
Augustin said, a "lie." What, then, would become of evangelic truth if
in such a place the Apostle had lied? And would not this be a means of
authorizing all the exegetical fantasies of heresiarchs, who already
rejected as altered or forged all verses of the holy books which conflicted
with their own doctrines?...

As to the new translation of the Bible, it would bring about trouble in the
African churches, where they were accustomed to the ancient version of the
Septuagint. The mistranslations, pointed out by Jerome in the old version,
would upset the faithful and lead them to suspect that the entire Scripture
was false. In this double matter, Augustin defended at once orthodoxy and
tradition from very praiseworthy reasons of prudence.

Jerome retorted in a most aggressive and offensive tone. He flatly accused
the Bishop of Hippo of being jealous of him and of wishing to cut out a
reputation for learning at his expense. In front of his younger and more
supple adversary, he took on the air of an old wrestler who was still
capable of knocking out any one who had the audacity to attack him. He
hurled at Augustin this phrase heavy with menaces: "The tired ox stands
firmer than ever on his four legs."

For all that, Augustin stuck to his opinion, and he confined himself
to replying gently: "In anything I say, I am not only always ready to
receive your observations upon what you find wounding and contrary to your
feelings, but I even ask your advice as earnestly as I can."...



One day (this was soon after he became bishop) Augustin went to visit a
Catholic farmer in the suburbs of Hippo, whose daughter had been lessoned
by the Donatists, and had just enrolled herself among their consecrated
virgins. The father at first had shouted at the deserter, and flogged her
unmercifully by way of improving her state of mind. Augustin, when he heard
of the affair, condemned the farmer's brutality and declared that he would
never receive the girl back into the community unless she came of her own
free will. He then went out to the place to try and settle the matter. On
the way, as he was crossing an estate which belonged to a Catholic matron,
he fell in with a priest of the Donatist Church at Hippo. The priest at
once began to insult him and his companions, and yelled:

"Down with the traitors! Down with the persecutors!"

And he vomited out abominations against the matron herself who owned the
land. As much from prudence as from Christian charity, Augustin did not
answer. He even prevented those with him from falling upon the insulter.

Incidents of this kind happened almost every day. About the same time,
the Donatists of Hippo made a great noise over the rebaptizing of another
apostate from the Catholic community. This was a good-for-nothing loafer
who beat his old mother, and the bishop severely rebuked his monstrous

"Well, as you talk in that tone of voice," said the loafer, "I'm going to
be a Donatist."

Through bravado, he continued to ill-treat the poor old woman, and to make
the worst kind of threats. He roared in savage fury:

"Yes, I'll become a Donatist, and I'll have your blood."

And the young ruffian did really go over to the Donatist party. In
accordance with the custom among the heretics, he was solemnly rebaptized
in their basilica, and he exhibited himself on the platform clad in the
white robe of the purified. People in Hippo were much shocked. Augustin,
full of indignation, addressed his protests to Proculeianus, the Donatist
bishop. "What! is this man, all bloody with a murder in his conscience,
to walk about for eight days in white robes as a model of innocence and
purity?" But Proculeianus did not condescend to reply.

These cynical proceedings were trifling compared to the vexations which the
Donatists daily inflicted on their opponents. Not only did they tamper with
Augustin's people, but the country dwellers of the Catholic Church were
continually interfered with on their lands, pillaged, ravaged, and burned
out by mobs of fanatical brigands who organized a rule of terror from one
end of Numidia to the other. Supported in secret by the Donatists, they
called themselves "the Athletes of Christ." The Catholics had given them
the contemptuous name of "Circoncelliones," or prowlers around cellars,
because they generally plundered cellars and grain-houses. Troops of
fanaticized and hysterical women rambled round with them, scouring the
country like your true bacchantes, clawing the unfortunate wretches who
fell into their hands, burning farms and harvests, broaching barrels of
wine and oil, and crowning these exploits by orgies with "the Athletes of
Christ." When they saw a haystack blazing in the fields, the country-folk
were panic-stricken--the "Circoncelliones" were not far off. Soon they
appeared, brandishing their clubs and bellowing their war cry: _Deo
laudes!_--"Praise be to God." "Your shout," said Augustin to them, "is more
dreaded by our people than the roaring of lions."

Something had to be done to quell these furious monsters, and to resist
the encroachments and forcible acts of the heretics. These, by way of
frightening the Catholic bishops, told them roundly:

"We don't want any of your disputes, and we are going to rebaptize just as
it suits us. We are going to lay snares for your sheep and to rend them
like wolves. As for you, if you are good shepherds, keep quiet!"

Augustin was not a man to keep quiet, nor yet to spend his strength in
small local quarrels. He saw big; he did not imprison himself within the
limits of his diocese. He knew that Numidia and a good part of Africa
were in the hands of the Donatists; that they had a rival primate to the
Catholic primate at Carthage; that they had even sent a Pope of their
community to Rome. In a word, they were in the majority. Everywhere a
dissenting Church rose above the orthodox Church, when it did not succeed
in stifling it altogether. At all costs the progress of this sect must be
stopped. In Augustin's eyes there was no more urgent work. For him and his
flock it was a question of insuring their lives, since they were attacked
even in their fields and houses. From the moment he first came to Hippo,
as a simple priest, he had thrown himself intrepidly into this struggle.
He never ceased till Donatism was conquered and trampled underfoot. To
establish peace and Catholic unity everywhere was the great labour of his

Who, then, were these terrible Donatists whom we have been continually
striking against since the beginning of this history?

It would soon be a century since they had been disturbing and desolating
Africa. Just after the great persecution of Diocletian, the sect was born,
and it increased with amazing rapidity. During this persecution, evidence
had not been wanting of the moral slackness in the African Church. A large
number of lay people apostatized, and a good number of bishops and priests
handed over to the pagan authorities, besides the devotional objects,
the Scriptures and the muniments of their communities. In Numidia, and
especially at Constantine, scandalous scenes took place. The cowardice
of the clergy was lamentable. Public opinion branded with the names of
_traditors_, or traitors, those who had weakened and given over the sacred
books to the pagans.

The danger once over, the Numidians, whose behaviour had been so little
brilliant, determined to redeem themselves by audacity, and to prove
with superb impudence that they had been braver than the others. So they
set themselves to shout _traditor_ against whoever displeased them, and
particularly against those of Carthage and the Proconsulate. At bottom it
was the old rivalry between the two Africas, East and West.

Under the reign of Constantine a peace had been patched up, when it fell
out that a new Bishop of Carthage had to be elected, and the Archdeacon
Caecilianus, whose name was put forward, was accused of preventing the
faithful from visiting the martyrs in their prisons. The zealots contended
that in collusion with his bishop, Mensurius, he had given up the Holy
Scriptures to the Roman authorities to be burned. The election promised to
be stormy. The supporters of the Archdeacon, who feared the hostility of
the Numidian bishops, did not wait for their arrival. They hurried things
over. Caecilianus was elected and consecrated by three bishops of the
district, of whom one was a certain Felix of Abthugni.

At once the opposite clan, backed up by the Numidians, objected. At their
head was a wealthy Spanish woman named Lucilla, an unbalanced devotee,
who, it seemed, always carried about her person a bone of a martyr, and
a doubtful one at that. She would ostentatiously kiss her relic before
receiving the Eucharist. The Archdeacon Caecilianus forbade this devotion as
superstitious, and thus made a relentless enemy of the fanatical Spaniard.
All the former accusations were renewed against him, and it was added
that Felix of Abthugni, who had consecrated him, was a _traditor_. Hence
the election was void, by the single fact of the unworthiness of the
consecrating bishops. Lucilla, having bribed a section of the bishops
assembled in council, Caecilianus was deposed, and the deacon Majorinus
elected in his room. He himself was soon after succeeded by Donatus, an
active, clever, and energetic man, who organized resistance so ably, and
who represented so well the spirit of the sect, that he left it his name.
Henceforth, Donatism enters into history.

But Caecilianus had on his side the bishops overseas and the Imperial
Government. The Pope of Rome and the Emperor recognized him as legitimately
elected. Besides that, he cleared himself of all the grievances urged
against him. Finally, an inquiry, conducted by laymen, proved that Felix of
Abthugni was not a _traditor_. The Donatists appealed to Constantine, then
to two Councils convoked successively at Rome and Arles. Everywhere they
were condemned. Moreover, the Council of Arles declared that the character
of him who confers the Sacraments has no influence whatever on their
validity. Thus, baptism and ordination, even conferred by a _traditor_,
were canonically sound.

This decision was regarded as an abominable heresy by the Donatists. As a
matter of fact, there was an old African tradition, accepted by St. Cyprian
himself, that an unworthy priest could not administer the Sacraments. The
local prejudice would not yield: all were rebaptized who had been baptized
by the Catholics--that is to say, by the supporters of the _traditors_.

The theological question was complicated with a question of property which
was all but insoluble. Since the Donatist bishops were resolved to separate
from the Catholic communion, did they mean to give up, with their title,
their basilicas and the property belonging to their churches? Supposing
that they themselves were disinterested, they had behind them the crowd of
clients and land-tillers who got their living out of the Church, and dwelt
on Church property. Never would these people allow a rival party to alter
the direction of the charities, to plant themselves in their fields and
their _gourbis_, to expel them from their cemeteries and basilicas. Other
reasons, still deeper perhaps, induced the Donatists to persevere in the
schism. These religious dissensions were agreeable to that old spirit
of division which at all times has been the evil genius of Africa. The
Africans have always felt the need of segregating themselves from one
another in hostile _cofs_. They hate each other from one village to
another--for nothing, just, for the pleasure of hating and felling each
other to the ground.

At bottom, here is what Donatism really was: It was an extra sharp attack
of African individualism. These rebels brought in nothing new in dogma.
They would not even have been heretics without their claim to rebaptize.
They limited themselves to retain a position gained long ago; to keep
their churches and properties, or to seize those of the Catholics upon the
pretence that they were themselves the legitimate owners. With that, they
affected a respect for tradition, an austerity in morals and discipline,
which made them perfect puritans. Yes, they were the pure, the
irreconcilables, who alone had not bent before the Roman officials. All
this was very pleasing to the discontented and quarrelsome, and caressed
the popular instinct in its tendency to particularism.

That is why the sect became, little by little, mistress of almost the
whole country. Then it subdivided, crumbled up into little churches which
excommunicated each other. In Southern Numidia, the citadels of orthodox
Donatism, so to speak, were Thimgad and Bagai. Carthage, with its primate,
was the official centre. But in the Byzacena and Tripolitana Regio,
there were the Maximianists, and the Rogatists in Mauretania, who had
cut themselves off from the Great Church. These divisions of the schism
corresponded closely enough to the natural compartments of North Africa.
There must be some incompatibility of temper between these various regions.
To this day, Algiers prides itself on not thinking like Constantine, which
does not think like Bona or like Tunis.

Are we to see in Donatism a nationalist or separatist movement directed
against the Roman occupation? That would be to transport quite modern ideas
into antiquity. No more in Augustin's time than in our own was there such a
thing as African nationality. But if the sectaries had no least thought of
separating from Rome, it is none the less true that they were in rebellion
against her representatives, temporal as well as spiritual. Supposing that
Rome had yielded to them--an impossible event, of course--that would have
meant a surrender to the claims of Africans who wished to be masters of
their property as well as of their religious beliefs in their own country.
What more could they have wanted? It little mattered to them who was the
nominal master, provided that they had the realities of government in their
hands. Altogether, Donatism is a regionalist revindication, very strongly
characterized. It is a remarkable fact that it was among the indigenous
population, ignorant of Latin, that the most of its adherents were

* * * * *

Such was the position of the Church in Africa when Augustin was named
Bishop of Hippo. He judged it at once, with his clear-sightedness, his
strong good sense, his broad outlook of a Roman citizen freed from the
smallnesses of a local spirit, his Christian idealism which took no heed
of the accidents or considerations of worldly prosperity. What! was
Catholicism to become an African religion, a restricted sect, wretchedly
tied to the letter of tradition, to the exterior practices of worship? To
reign in a little corner of the world--did Christ die for that? Never!
Christ died for the wide world. The only limits of His Church are the
limits of the universe. And besides, in this resolution to exclude, what
becomes of the great principle of Charity? It is by charity, above all,
that we are Christians. Faith without love is a faith stagnant and dead....

Augustin also foresaw the consequences of spiritual separation; he had them
already under his eyes. The Church is the great spring, not only of love,
but of intelligence. Once cut away from this reviving spring, Donatism
would become dry and stunted like a branch stripped from a tree. The
deep sense of its dogmas would become impoverished as its works emptied
themselves of the spirit of charity. Obstinacy, narrowness, lack of
understanding, fanaticism, and cruelty--there you had the inevitable fruits
of schism. Augustin knew the rudeness and ignorance of his opponents, even
of the most cultivated among them: he might well ask himself in anguish
what would become of the African Church deprived of the benefit of Roman
culture, isolated from the great intellectual current which united all the
churches beyond seas. Finally, he knew his fellow-countrymen; he knew that
the Donatists, even victorious, even sole masters of the land, would turn
against themselves the fury they now satisfied against the Catholics, and
never stop tearing each other in pieces. Here was now nearly a hundred
years that they had kept Africa in fire and blood. This meant before very
long a return to barbarism. Separated from Catholicism, they would really
separate from the Empire and even from civilization. And so it was that
in fighting for Catholic unity, Augustin fought for the Empire and for

Confronted with these barbarians and sectaries, his attitude could not be
doubtful for a single moment. He must do his best to bring them back to the
Church. It was only a matter of hitting upon the most effectual means.

Preaching, for an orator such as he was, should be an excellent weapon.
His eloquence, his dialectic, his profane and sacred learning, gave him an
immense superiority over the defenders of the opposite side. He certainly
kept in the Church many Catholics who were ready to apostatize. But before
the crowd of schismatics, all these high gifts were as good as lost.
The people were in no wise anxious to know upon which side truth was to
be found. They were Donatists, as they were Numidians or Carthaginians,
without knowing why--because everybody about them was. Many might have
answered like that grammarian of Constantine, who told the Inquisitors with
astute simplicity:

"I am a professor of Roman literature, a teacher of Latin grammar. My
father was a decurion at Constantine; my grandfather was a soldier and
had served in the guard. Our family is of Moorish blood.... As for me, I
am quite ignorant about the origin of the schism: I am just one of the
ordinary faithful of the people called Christians. When I was at Carthage,
Bishop Secundus came there one day. I heard tell that they found out that
Bishop Caecilianus had been ordained irregularly by I don't know who, and
they elected another bishop against him. That's how the schism began at
Carthage. I have no means of knowing much about the origin of the schism,
because there has never been more than one church in our city. If there has
been a schism here, we know nothing about it."

When a grammarian talked thus, what could have been the thoughts of
agricultural labourers, city workmen, and slaves? They belonged to an
estate, or a quarter of a town, where no other faith than theirs had ever
been professed. They were Donatists like their employers, like their
neighbours, like the other people of the _cof_ to which they had belonged
from father to son. The theological side of the question left them
absolutely indifferent. If Augustin tried to debate with them, they refused
to listen and referred him to their bishops. That was the word of command.

The bishops, on their side, avoided all discussion. Augustin tried in vain
to arrange an argument with Proculeianus, his Donatist colleague at Hippo.
And if some of them shewed themselves more obliging, the evasions and
reticences of the antagonist, and sometimes outside circumstances, made the
debate utterly futile. At Thubursicum the audience raised such a noise in
the place where Augustin was debating with the bishop Fortunius, that they
were no longer able to hear each other. At other times, the meeting sank to
an oratorical joust, wherein they tired themselves out passading against
words, instead of attacking the matters at issue. Augustin felt that he was
losing his time. Besides, the Donatist bishops presented an obstinate front
against which everything smashed.

"Leave us in our errors," they said ironically. "If we are lost in your
eyes, why follow us about? We don't want to be saved."

And they prohibited their flocks from saluting Catholics, from speaking to
them, from going into their churches or into their houses, from sitting
down in the midst of them. They laid an interdict on their adversaries.
Primanius, the Donatist Primate of Carthage, upon being invited to a
conference, answered proudly:

"The sons of the martyrs can have nothing to do with the race of traitors."

This being the state of the case, no method of pacification was left but
written controversy. Augustin shewed himself tireless at it. It was chiefly
in these letters and treatises against the Donatists that he was not afraid
to repeat himself. He knew that he was dealing with the deaf, and with
the deaf who did not want to hear: he was obliged to raise his voice.
With admirable self-denial he reiterated the same arguments a hundred
times over, a hundred times took up the history of the quarrel from the
beginning, spreading such a light over the quibbles and refinings of his
contradictors, that it should have brought conviction to the bluntest
minds. "No," he repeated, "Caecilianus was not a _traditor_, nor Felix of
Abthugni either who consecrated him bishop. The documents are there to
prove this. And even supposing they were, can the fault of a single man
be charged to the whole Church?... Then why do you baptize the Catholics
under the pretence that their priests are _traditors_ and as such unworthy
to administer the Sacraments? It is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and not
the virtue of the priest which renders baptism efficacious. If it were
otherwise, what was the good of the Redemption? It is the fact that by the
voluntary death of Christ, all men have been called to salvation. Salvation
is not the privilege of Africans only. Being Catholic, the Church should
take in the whole world...."

In the long run, these continual repetitions end by seeming wearisome to
modern readers: for us there arises out of all these discussions a dense
and intolerable boredom. But let us remember that all this was singularly
living for Augustin's cotemporaries, that these thankless developments were
read with passion. And then, too, it was a question of the unity of the
Church which involved, as we cannot too often repeat, the interest of the
Empire and civilization.

Against so persuasive a power the Donatists opposed a conspiracy of
silence. Their bishops forbade the people to read what Augustin wrote. They
did more--they concealed their own libels so that it was impossible to
reply to them. But Augustin used all his skill to unearth them. He refuted
them, and had his refutations recopied and posted on the walls of the

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