Part 5 out of 5
basilicas. The copies circulated through the province and the whole Roman
This would have had an excellent result if the quarrel had been entirely
over questions of theory. But immense property interests came into it,
and rancours and terrible hates. Augustin was forced to pass from verbal
polemics to direct action--defensive action, at first, and then attack.
While he and his fellow-bishops did their utmost to preach peace, the
Donatist bishops urged their followers to the holy war. Augustin even
received threats on his life. During one of his visitations, he was nearly
assassinated. Men in ambush lay in wait for him. By a providential chance,
he took the wrong road, and owed his life to this mistake. His pupil
Possidius, who was then Bishop of Guelma, was not so lucky. Brought to
bay in a house by the Donatist bishop Crispinus, he defended himself
desperately. They set fire to the house to turn him out. When there was
nothing else left but to be burned alive, he did come out. The band of
Donatists seized him, and would have beaten his brains out, if Crispinus
himself, fearing a prosecution for murder, had not interfered. But the
assailants sacked the property and slaughtered all the horses and mules
in the stables. At Bagai, Bishop Maximianus was stabbed in his basilica.
A furious mob smashed the altar and began to strike the victim with the
fragments, and left him for dead on the flags. The Catholics lifted up his
body, but the Donatists plucked him out of their hands and flung him from
the top of a tower, and he fell on a dunghill which broke the fall. The
unhappy man still breathed, and by a miracle he recovered.
Meanwhile, the Circoncelliones, armed with their bludgeons, continued to
pillage and burn the farms. They tortured the owners to extract their money
from them. They made them toil round the mill-path like beasts of burthen,
while they lashed at them with whips. At their back, the Donatist priests
invaded the Catholic churches and lands. There and then they rebaptized
the labourers. These doings were, indeed, very like the practices of the
African Mussulmans to-day, who, in like circumstances, always begin by
converting the Christian farm-hands by main force. Then they purified
the basilicas by scraping down the walls and washing the floors with big
douches of water; and after demolishing the altar, they scattered salt
where it had stood. It was a perfect disinfection. The Donatists treated
the Catholics like the plague-stricken.
Such acts cried out for vengeance. Augustin, who up till this time had
recoiled from asking the public authorities to prosecute, who, as an
observer of the apostolic tradition, did not recognize the interference
of the civil power in Church matters--well, Augustin had to give way to
circumstances, and also to the pressure brought to bear on him by his
colleagues. Councils assembled at Carthage petitioned the Emperor to take
exceptional measures against the Donatists, who laughed at all the laws
directed against heretics. When they were summoned before the courts they
demonstrated to the judges, who were often pagans incompetent to decide in
these questions, that it was they who really belonged to the only orthodox
Church. Something must be done to end this equivocal position, and to bring
about once for all a categorical condemnation of the schism. Augustin,
acting in concert with the primate Aurelius, was the ruling spirit of these
Let us not judge his conduct by modern ideas, or be in a hurry to exclaim
against his intolerance. He and the Catholic bishops, in acting thus,
were complying with the old tradition which had influenced all the pagan
governments. Rome, particularly, though it recognized all the local sects,
all the foreign religions, never allowed any of its subjects to refuse to
fall in with the official religion. The persecutions of the Christians and
the Jews had no other motive. Now that it was become the State religion,
Christianity, willingly or unwillingly, had to summon people to the same
obedience. The Emperors made a special point of this from political reasons
easy to understand--to prevent riots and maintain public order. Even if the
bishops had refrained from all complaint, the Imperial Government would
have acted without them and suppressed the disturbances caused by the
Just look at the situation and the men as they were at that moment in
Africa. It was the Catholics who were persecuted, and that with revolting
fury and cruelty. They were obliged to defend themselves. In the next
place, the distribution of property in those countries made conversions
in batches singularly easy. Multitudes of farm tenants, workmen, and
agricultural slaves, lived upon the immense estates of one owner. Without
any interest in dogmatic questions, they were Donatists simply because
their master was. To change these devouring wolves into tranquil sheep, it
was often quite enough if the master got converted. The great blessing of
peace depended upon pressure being brought to bear on certain persons. When
all day and every day there was a risk of being murdered or burned out by
irresponsible ruffians, the temptation was very strong to fall back on such
a prompt and simple remedy. Augustin and his colleagues ended by making up
their minds to do so. For that matter, they had no choice. They were bound
to strike, or be themselves suppressed by their enemies.
However, before resorting to rigorous measures, they resolved to send forth
a supreme appeal for reconciliation. The Catholics proposed a meeting to
the Donatists in which they would loyally examine one another's grievances.
As personal or material questions made the great bar to an understanding,
they promised that every Donatist bishop who turned convert should keep
his see. In places where a schismatic and an orthodox bishop were found
together, they would come to a friendly agreement to govern the diocese by
turns. Where it was impossible for this to be done, it was proposed that
the Catholic should resign in favour of the other. Augustin lent all his
eloquence to carry this motion, which was sufficiently heroic for a good
number of bishops who were not so detached as he from the goods of this
world. And one must allow that it was difficult to go much further in the
way of self-denial.
After a good deal of skirmishing and hesitation on the side of the
schismatics, the Conference met at Carthage in June of the year 411, under
the presidency of an Imperial commissioner, the tribune Marcellinus. Once
again, the Donatists saw themselves condemned. Upon the report of the
commissioner, a decree of Honorius classed them definitely among heretics.
They were forbidden to rebaptize or to assemble together, under penalties
of fine and confiscation. Refractory countrymen and slaves would be liable
to corporal punishment, and as for the clerics, they would be banished.
The effect of these new laws was not long in appearing, and it fully
answered the wishes of the orthodox bishops. Many populations returned, or
pretended to return, to the Catholic communion. This result was largely
the work of Augustin, who for twenty years had worked to bring it about by
preaching and controversy. But, as might be expected, he did not overdo
his triumph. Without delay, he set himself to preach moderation to the
conquerors. Nor had he waited till the enemy was defeated to do that. Ten
years before, while the Donatists were besetting the Catholics everywhere,
he said to the priests of his communion:
"Remember this, my brothers, so as to practise and preach it with
never-varying gentleness. Love the men; kill the lie! Lean on truth without
pride; fight for it without cruelty. Pray for those whom you chide, and for
those to whom you shew their error."
However, the victory of the party of peace was not so thorough as it had
seemed at first. A good many fanatics here and there grew obstinate in
their resistance. The Circoncelliones, maddened, distinguished themselves
by a new outbreak of ravages and cruelties. They tortured and mutilated all
the Catholics who fell into their hands. They had invented an unheard-of
refinement of torture, which was to cover with lime diluted with vinegar
the eyes of their victims. The priest Restitutus was assassinated in the
suburbs of Hippo. A bishop had his tongue and his hand cut off. If the
towns were pretty quiet, terror began to reign once more in the country
The Roman authorities exerted themselves to put an end to these bloody
scenes. They heavily chastised the offenders whenever they could catch
them. In his charity, Augustin interceded for them with the judges. He
wrote to the tribune Marcellinus:
"We would not that the servants of God should be revenged by hurts like to
those they suffered. Surely, we are not against depriving the guilty of the
means to do harm, but we consider it will be enough, without taking their
lives or wrenching any limb from them, to turn them from their senseless
tumult by the restraining power of the laws, in bringing them back to calm
and reason; or, in a last resort, to take away the opportunity for criminal
actions by employing them in some useful work.... Christian judge, in this
matter fulfil the duty of a father, and while repressing injustice, do not
This compassion of Augustin was shewn particularly in his meeting with
Emeritus, the Donatist Bishop of Cherchell (or as it was then called,
Mauretanian Caesarea), one of the most stubborn among the irreconcilables.
His attitude in dealing with this uncompromising enemy was not only humane,
but courteous, full of graciousness, and of the most sensitive charity.
This fell out in the autumn of the year 418, seven years after the great
Conference at Carthage. Augustin was sixty-four years old. How was it
that he who had always had such feeble health undertook at this age the
long journey from Hippo to Caesarea? We know that the Pope, Zozimus, had
entrusted him with a mission to the Church of that town. With his tireless
zeal, always ready to march for the glory of Christ, the old bishop
doubtless saw in this journey a fresh opportunity for an apostle. So
he started off, in spite of the roads, which were very unsafe in those
troublous times, in spite of the crushing heat of the season--the end of
September. He travelled six hundred miles across the endless Numidian
plain and the mountainous regions of the Atlas, preaching in the churches,
halting in the towns and the hamlets to decide questions of private
interest, ever pursued by a thousand business worries and by the squabbles
of litigants and the discontented. At last, after many weeks of fatigue and
tribulation, he reached Cherchell, where he was the guest of Deuterius, the
metropolitan Bishop of Mauretania.
Now Emeritus, the deposed bishop, lived mysteriously in the suburbs, in
constant fear of some forcible action on the part of the authorities.
When he learned the friendly intentions of Augustin, he came out of his
hiding-place and shewed himself in the town. In one of the squares of
Caesarea the two prelates met. Augustin, who had formerly seen Emeritus at
Carthage, recognized him, hurried over to him, saluted him, and at once
suggested a friendly talk.
"Let us go into the church," he said. "This square is hardly suitable for a
talk between two bishops."
Emeritus, flattered, agreed. The conversation continued in such a cordial
tone that Augustin was already rejoicing upon having won back the
schismatic. Deuterius, following the line of conduct which the Catholic
bishops had adopted, spoke of resigning and handing over the see to the
other. It was agreed that within two days Emeritus should come to the
cathedral for a public discussion with his colleague of Hippo. At the
appointed hour he appeared. A great crowd of people gathered to hear
the two orators. The basilica was full. Then Augustin, turning to the
impenitent Donatist, said to him mildly:
"Emeritus, my brother, you are here. You were also at our Conference at
Carthage. If you were beaten there, why do you come here now? If, on the
other hand, you think that you were not beaten, tell us what leads you to
believe that you had the advantage...."
What change had Emeritus undergone in two days? Whatever it was, he
disappointed the hopes of Augustin and the people of Caesarea. He returned
only ambiguous phrases to the most pressing and brotherly urging. Finally,
he took refuge in an angry silence from which it was found impossible to
Augustin went home without having converted the heretic. No doubt he was
sorely disappointed. Nevertheless, he shewed no resentment; he even took
measures to ensure the safety of the recalcitrant, in a charitable fear
less the roused people might do him a bad turn. With all that, when he
looked back at the results of nearly thirty years of struggle against
schism, he might well say to himself that he had done good work for the
Church. Donatism, in fact, was conquered, and conquered by him. Was he
at last to have a chance to rest himself, with the only rest suitable
to a soul like his, in a steady meditation and study of the Scriptures?
Henceforth, would he be allowed to live a little less as a bishop and a
little more as a monk? This was always the strong desire of his heart....
But new and worse trials awaited him at Hippo.
THE SIXTH PART
FACE TO FACE WITH THE BARBARIANS
Et nunc veniant omnes quicumque amant Paradisum, locum quietis, locum
securitatis, locum perpetuae felicitatis, locum in quo non pertimescas
"And now let all those come who love Paradise, the place of quiet, the
place of safety, the place of eternal happiness, the place where the
Barbarian need be feared no more."
_Sermon upon the Barbarian Persecution_, vii, 9.
THE SACK OF ROME
During June of the year 403, an astonishing event convulsed the former
capital of the Empire. The youthful Honorius, attended by the regent
Stilicho, came there to celebrate his triumph over Alaric and the Gothic
army, defeated at Pollentia.
The pageantry of a triumph was indeed a very astonishing sight for
the Romans of that period. They had got so unused to them! And no
less wonderful was the presence of the Emperor at the Palatine. Since
Constantine's reign, the Imperial palaces had been deserted. They had
hardly been visited four times in a century by their master.
Rome had never got reconciled to the desertion of her princes. When the
Court was moved to Milan, and then to Ravenna, she felt she had been
uncrowned. Time after time the Senate appealed to Honorius to shew himself,
at least, to his Roman subjects, since political reasons were against his
dwelling among them. This journey was always put off. The truth is, the
Christian Caesars did not like Rome, and mistrusted her still half-pagan
Senate and people. It needed this unhoped-for victory to bring Honorius
and his councillors to make up their minds. The feeling of a common danger
had for the moment drawn the two opposing religions together, and here
they were apparently making friends in the same patriotic delight. Old
hates were forgotten. In fact, the pagan aristocracy had hopes of better
treatment from Stilicho. On account of all these reasons, the triumphant
Caesar was received at Rome with delirious joy.
The Court, upon leaving Ravenna, had crossed the Apennines. A halt was
called on the banks of the Clitumnus, where in ancient times the great
white herds were found which were sacrificed at the Capitol during a
triumph. But the gods of the land had fallen; there would be no opiman bull
this time on their altars. The pagans felt bitter about it.
Thence, by Narnia and the Tiber valley, they made their way down into the
plain. The measured step of the legions rang upon the large flags of the
Flaminian way. They crossed the Mulvius bridge--and old Rome rose like a
new city. In anticipation of a siege, the regent had repaired the Aurelian
wall. The red bricks of the enclosure and the fresh mason-work of the
towers gleamed in the sun. Finally, striking into the _Via lata_, the
procession marched to the Palatine.
The crowd was packed in this long, narrow street, and overflowed into the
nearest alleys. Women, elaborately dressed, thronged the balconies, and
even the terraces of the palace. All at once the people remarked that the
Senate was not walking before the Imperial chariot. Stilicho, who wished to
conciliate their good graces, had, contrary to custom, dispensed them from
marching on foot before the conqueror. People talked with approval of this
wily measure in which they saw a promise of new liberties. But applause and
enthusiastic cheers greeted the young Honorius as he passed by, sharing
with Stilicho the honour of the triumphal car.
The unequalled splendour of his _trabea_, of which the embroideries
disappeared under the number and flash of colour of the jewels, left the
populace gaping. The diadem, a masterpiece of goldsmith's work, pressed
heavily on his temples. Emerald pendants twinkled on each side of his neck,
which, as it was rather fat, with almost feminine curves, suggested at once
to the onlookers a comparison with Bacchus. They found he had an agreeable
face, and even a soldierly air with his square shoulders and stocky neck.
Matrons gazed with tender eyes on this Caesar of nineteen, who had, at that
time, a certain beauty, and the brilliance, so to speak, of youth. This
degenerate Spaniard, who was really a crowned eunuch, and was to spend his
life in the society of the palace eunuchs and die of dropsy--this son of
Theodosius was just then fond of violent exercise, of hunting and horses.
But he was even now becoming ponderous with unhealthy fat. His build and
bloated flesh gave those who saw him at a distance a false notion of his
strength. The Romans were most favourably impressed by him, especially the
But the army, the safeguard of the country, was perhaps even more admired
than the Emperor. The legions, following the ruler, had almost deserted
the capital. The flower of the troops were almost unknown there. In
consequence, the march past of the cavalry was quite a new sight for the
people. A great murmur of admiration sounded as the _cataphracti_ appeared,
gleaming in the coats of mail which covered them from head to foot. Upon
their horses, caparisoned in defensive armour, they looked like equestrian,
statues--like silver horsemen on bronze horses. Childish cries greeted each
_draconarius_ as he marched by carrying his ensign--a dragon embroidered on
a long piece of cloth which flapped in the wind. And the crowd pointed at
the crests of the helmets plumed with peacock feathers, and the scarfs of
scarlet silk flowing over the camber of the gilded cuirasses....
The military show poured into the Forum, swept up the _Via Sacra_, and when
it had passed under the triumphal arches of the old emperors, halted at the
Palace of Septimus Severus. In the Stadium, the crowd awaited Honorius.
When he appeared on the balcony of the Imperial box, wild cheering burst
out on all the rows of seats. The Emperor, diadem on head, bowed to the
people. Upon that the cheers became a tempest. Rome did not know how to
express her happiness at having at last got her master back.
On the eve of the worst catastrophes she had this supreme day of glory, of
desperate pride, of unconquerable faith in her destiny. The public frenzy
encouraged them in the maddest hopes. The poet Claudian, who had followed
the Court, became the mouthpiece of these perilous illusions. "Arise!" he
cried to Rome, "I prithee arise, O venerable queen! Trust in the goodwill
of the gods. O city, fling away the mean fears of age, _thou who art
immortal as the heavens_!..."
For all that, the Barbarian danger continued to threaten. The victory
of Pollentia, which, moreover, was not a complete victory, had settled
nothing. Alaric was in flight in the Alps, but he kept his eye open for a
favourable chance to fall back upon Italy and wrench concessions of money
and honours from the Court of Ravenna. Supported by his army of mercenaries
and adventurers in the pay of the Empire like himself, his dealings with
Honorius were a kind of continual blackmail. If the Imperial Government
refused to pay the sums which he protested it owed him for the maintenance
of his troops, he would pay himself by force. Rome, where fabulous riches
had accumulated for so many centuries, was an obvious prey for him and his
men. He had coveted it for a long time; and to get up his courage for this
daring exploit, as well as to work upon his soldiers, he pretended that he
had a mission from Heaven to chastise and destroy the new Babylon. In his
Pannonian forests it would seem he had heard mysterious voices which said
to him: "Advance, and thou shalt destroy the city!"
This leader of clans had nothing of the conqueror about him. He understood
that he was in no wise cut out to wear the purple; he himself felt the
Barbarian's cureless inferiority. But he also felt that neither was he
born to obey. If he asked for the title of Prefect of the City, and if he
persisted in offering his services to the Empire, it was as a means to get
the upper hand of it more surely. Repulsed, disdained by the Court, he
tried to raise himself in his own eyes and in the eyes of the common people
by giving himself the airs of an instrument of justice, a man designed by
fate, who marches blindly to a terrible purpose indicated by the divine
wrath. It often happened that he was duped by his own mummery. This turbid
Barbarian soul was prone to the most superstitious terrors.
Notwithstanding his rodomontades, it is certain that in his heart he was
scared by Rome. He hardly dared to attack it. In the first place, it was
not at all a convenient operation for him. His army of mercenaries had no
proper implements to undertake the siege of this huge city, of which the
defence lines were thrown out in so wide a perimeter. He had to come back
to it twice, before he could make up his mind to invest it seriously. The
first time, in 408, he was satisfied with starving the Romans by cutting
off the food supply. He had pitched his camp on the banks of the Tiber in
such a way as to capture the shipping between the capital and the great
store-houses built near the mouth of the river. From the ramparts, the
Romans could see the Barbarian soldiers moving about, with their sheepskin
coats dyed to a crude red. Panic-stricken, the aristocracy fled to its
villas in Campania, or Sicily, or Africa. They took with them whatever
they were able to carry. They sought refuge in the nearest islands, even
in Sardinia and Corsica, despite their reputation for unhealthiness. They
even hid among the rocks of the seashore. The terror was so great that the
Senate agreed to everything demanded by Alaric. He was paid an enormous
indemnity which he claimed as a condition of his withdrawal.
The following year he used the same method of intimidation to force on the
people an emperor he had chosen, and to get conferred on him the title of
Prefect of the City which he had desired so long. Finally, in the year 410,
he struck the supreme blow.
The Barbarian knew what he was about, and that he did not risk much in
blockading Rome. Famine would open the gates to him sooner or later. All
who were able had left the city, especially the rich. There was no garrison
to defend it. Only a lazy populace remained behind the walls, unused to
arms, and still more enfeebled by long starvation. And yet this wretched
and decimated population, in an outburst of patriotism, resisted with
desperate energy. The siege was long. Doubtless it began before the spring;
it ended only at the end of the summer. In the night of the twenty-fourth
of August, 410, amid the glare of lightning and crashes of thunder, Alaric
entered Rome by the Salarian gate. It is certain that he only managed it
even then by treachery. The prey was handed to him.
The sack of Rome seems to have lasted for three days and three nights. Part
of the town was burned. The conquered people underwent all the horrors
which accompany such events--violent and stupid destruction, rapes, murders
of individuals, wholesale slaughter, torture, and mutilation. But in
reality the Barbarians only wanted the Roman gold. They acted like perfect
highway robbers. If they tortured their victims without distinction of age
or sex, it was to pluck the secret of their treasure-houses out of them.
It is even said that in these conditions the Roman avarice produced some
admirable examples of firmness. Some let themselves be tortured to their
last gasp rather than reveal where their treasures were hid. At last, when
Alaric decided that his army was gorged enough with spoil, he gave the
order to evacuate the city, and took to the roads with his baggage-waggons
Let us be careful not to judge these doings after our modern notions. The
capture of Rome by Alaric was not a national disaster. It was plundering on
a huge scale. The Goth had no thought at all of destroying the Empire. He
was only a mercenary in rebellion--an ambitious mercenary, no doubt--but,
above all, a looter.
As a consequence of this attack on the Eternal City, one after another
caught the disease of plunder, which contaminated even the functionaries
and the subjects of Rome. Amid the general anarchy, where impunity seemed
certain, nobody restrained himself any longer. In Africa especially, where
the old instinct of piracy is always half-awake, they applied themselves to
ransack the fugitive Romans and Italians. Many rich people were come there,
seeking a place of safety in the belief that they would be more secure when
they had put the sea between themselves and the Barbarians. The report of
their riches had preceded them, exaggerated out of all measure by popular
rumour. Among them were mentioned patricians such as the Anicii, whose
property was so immense and their palaces so splendid that they could not
find purchasers. These multi-millionaires in flight were a miraculous
windfall for the country. They were bled without mercy.
Quicker than any one else, the military governor of Africa, Count
Heraclianus, was on the spot to pick the pockets of the Italian immigrants.
No sooner were they off the boat than he had very distinguished ladies
seized, and only released them when he had extorted a large ransom. He sold
those unable to pay to the Greek and Syrian slave-merchants who provided
human flesh for the Oriental harems. When the example came from such a
height, the subordinates doubtless said to themselves that they would
be very wrong to have the least shame. From one end of the province to
the other, everybody struggled to extract as much as possible from the
unfortunate fugitives. Augustin's own parishioners at Hippo undertook to
tear a donation from one of those gorgeous Anicii, whose lands stretched
further than a kite could fly--from Pinian, the husband of St. Melania
the younger. They wanted to force him to be ordained priest in spite of
himself, which, as has been explained, involved the handing over of his
goods to the Catholic community. Augustin, who opposed this, had to give in
to the crowd. There was almost a riot in the basilica.
Such were the far-off reverberations of the capture of Rome by Alaric.
Carthaginians and Numidians pillaged the Romans just like the Barbarians.
Now, how did it come about that this monstrous loot took on before the eyes
of contemporaries the magnitude of a world-catastrophe? For really nothing
was utterly lost. The Empire remained standing. After Alaric's retreat,
the Romans had come back to their city and they worked to build up the
ruins. Ere long, the populace were crying out loud that if the circus
and amphitheatre games were given back to them, they would look upon the
descent of the Goths as a bad dream.
It is no less certain that this sensational occurrence had struck the whole
Mediterranean world into a perfect stupor. It seized upon the imaginations
of all. The idea that Rome could not be taken, that it was integral and
almost sacred, had such a hold on people's minds, that they refused to
credit the sinister news. Nobody reflected that the sack of Rome by the
Barbarians should have been long ago foreseen--that Rome, deprived of
a garrison, abandoned by the Imperial army, was bound to attract the
covetousness of the Goths, and that the pillage of a place without defence,
already enfeebled by famine, was not a very glorious feat, very difficult,
or very extraordinary. People only saw the brutal fact: the Eternal City
had been captured and burned by the mercenaries. All were under the
influence of the shock caused by the narratives of the refugees. In one of
his sermons, Augustin has transmitted to us an echo of the general panic:
"Horrible things," said he, "have been told us. There have been ruins, and
fires, and rapine, and murder, and torture. That is true; we have heard it
many times; we have shuddered at all this disaster; we have often wept, and
we have hardly been able to console ourselves."
This capture of Rome was plainly a terrible warning for the future. But
party spirit strangely exaggerated the importance and meaning of the
calamity. For pagans and Christians alike it became a subject for speeches,
a commonplace of religious polemic. Both saw the event as a manifestation
of the wrath of Heaven.
"While we sacrificed to our gods," the pagan said, "Rome was standing, Rome
was happy. Now that our sacrifices are forbidden, you see what has become
And they went about repeating that Christianism was responsible for the
ruin of the Empire. On their side, the Christians answered: In the first
place, Rome has not fallen: it is always standing. It has been only
chastised, and this happened because it is still half pagan. By this
frightful punishment (and they heightened the description of the horrors
committed), God has given it a warning. Let it be converted, let it return
to the virtues of its ancestors, and it will become again the mistress of
There is what Augustin and the bishops said. Still, the flock of the
faithful were only half convinced. It was all well enough to remonstrate
to them that the Christians of Rome, and even a good number of pagans,
had been spared at the name of Christ, and that the Barbarian leader had
bestowed a quite special protection and respect upon the basilicas of
the holy apostles; it was impossible to prevent their thinking that many
Christians had perished in the sack of the city, that consecrated virgins
had experienced the last outrages, and that, as a matter of fact, all the
inhabitants had been robbed of their property.... Was it thus that God
protected His chosen? What advantage was there in being Christian if they
had the same treatment as the idolaters?
This state of mind became extremely favourable for paganism to come back
again on the offensive. Since the very hard laws of Theodosius, which
forbade the worship of the ancient gods, even within the house, the pagans
had not overlooked any chance to protest against the Imperial severity.
At Carthage there were always fights in the streets between pagans and
Christians, not to say riots. In the colony of Suffetula, sixty Christians
had been massacred. The year before the capture of Rome, there had been
trouble with the pagans at Guelma. Houses belonging to the Church were
burned, a monk killed in a brawl. Whenever the Government inspection
relaxed, or the political situation appeared favourable, the pagans hurried
to proclaim their belief. Only just lately, in Rome beleaguered by Alaric,
the new consul, Tertullus, had thought fit to revive the old customs.
Before assuming office, he studied gravely the sacred fowls in their cages,
traced circles in the sky with the augur's wand, and marked the flight of
birds. Besides, a pagan oracle circulated persistently among the people,
promising that after a reign of three hundred and sixty-five years
Christianity would be conquered. The centuries of the great desolation were
fulfilled; the era of revenge was about to begin for the outcast gods.
These warlike symptoms did not escape Augustin's vigilance. His indignation
no longer arose only from the fact that paganism was so slow in dying; he
was now afraid that the feebleness of the Empire might allow it to take on
an appearance of life. It must be ended, as Donatism had been ended. The
old apostle was summoned to a new campaign, and in it he would spend the
best of his strength to the eve of his death.
THE CITY OF GOD
For thirteen or fourteen years, through a thousand employments and a
thousand cares, amid the panics and continual alarums which kept the
Africans on the alert in those times, Augustin worked at his _City of God_,
the most formidable machine of war ever directed against paganism, and also
the arsenal fullest of proofs and refutations which the disputants and
defenders of Catholicism have ever had at their disposal.
It is not for us to examine the details of this immense work, for our sole
aim is to study Augustin's soul, and we quote scarcely anything from his
books save those parts wherein a little of this ardent soul pulsates--those
which are still living for us of the twentieth century, which contain
teachings and ways of feeling still likely to move us. Now, Augustin's
attitude towards paganism is one of those which throw the greatest light on
his nature and character. And it may even yet come to be our own attitude
when we find opposed to us a conception of life and the world which
may indeed be ruined for a time, but is reborn as soon as the sense of
spirituality disappears or grows feeble.
"Immortal Paganism, art thou dead? So they say.
But Pan scoffs under his breath, and the Chimaera laughs." 
[Footnote 1: Sainte-Beuve.]
Like ourselves, Augustin, brought up by a Christian mother, knew it only
through literature, and, so to speak, aesthetically. Recollections of
school, the emotions and admirations of a cultivated man--there is what the
old religion meant for him. Nevertheless, he had one great advantage over
us for knowing it well: the sight of the pagan customs and superstitions
was still under his eyes.
That the lascivious, romantic, and poetic adventures of the ancient gods,
their statues, their temples, and all the arts arising from their religion,
had beguiled him and filled him with enthusiasm before his conversion, is
only too certain. But all this mythology and plastic art were looked upon
as secondary things then, even by pagans. The serious, the essential part
of the religion was not in that. Paganism, a religion of Beauty, is an
invention of our modern aesthetes; it was hardly thought of in that way in
Long before this, the Roman Varro, the great compiler of the religious
antiquities of paganism, made a threefold distinction of the doctrine
concerning the gods. The first--that of the theatre, as he calls it, or
fabulous mythology, adapted to poets, dramatists, sculptors, and jesters.
Invented by these, it is only a fantasy, a play of imagination, an ornament
of life. The third is civil theology, serious and solid, which claims the
respect and piety of all. "It is that which men in cities, and chiefly the
priests, _ought to be_ cunning in. It teaches which gods to worship in
public, and with what ceremonies and sacrifices each one must be served."
Finally, the second, physical or metaphysical theology, is reserved for
philosophers and exceptional minds; it is altogether theoretical. The
only important and truly religious one, which puts an obligation on the
believer, is the third--the civil theology.
Now, we never take account of this. What we persist in regarding as
paganism is what Varro himself called "a religion for the theatre"--matter
of opera, pretext for ballets, for scenery, and for dance postures.
Transposed into another key by our poets, this mythology is inflated now
and then by mysticism, or by a vague symbolism. Playthings of our pretty
wits! The living paganism, which Augustin struggled against, which crowds
defended at the price of their blood, in which the poor believed and the
wisest statesmen deemed indispensable as a safeguard of cities--that
paganism is quite another matter. Like all religions which are possible,
it implied and it _enforced_ not only beliefs, but ritual, sacrifices,
festivals. And this is what Augustin, with the other Christians of that
time, spurned with disgust and declared to be unbearable.
He saw, or he had seen with his own eyes, the reality of the pagan worship,
and the most repellent of all to our modern delicacy--the sacrifices. At
the period when he wrote _The City of God_, private sacrifices, as well as
public, were forbidden. This did not prevent the devout from breaking the
law whenever a chance offered. They hid themselves more or less when they
sacrificed before a temple, a chapel, or on some private estate. The rites
could not be carried out according to all the minute instructions of the
pontifical books. It was no more than a shadow of the ceremonies of former
times. But in his childhood, in the reign of Julian, for instance, Augustin
could have attended sacrifices which were celebrated with full pomp and
according to all the ritual forms. They were veritable scenes of butchery.
For Heaven's sake let us forget the frieze of the Parthenon, and its
sacrificers with their graceful lines! If we want to have a literal
translation of this sculpture, and find the modern representation of a
hecatomb, we must go to the slaughter-houses at La Villette.
Among the heaps of broken flesh, the puddles of blood, the mystic Julian
was attacked by a kind of drunkenness. There were never enough beasts
strangled or slaughtered to suit him. Nothing satisfied his fury for sacred
carnage. The pagans themselves made fun of this craze for sacrificing.
During the three years his reign lasted the altars streamed with blood.
Oxen by hundreds were slain upon the floors of the temples, and the
butchers throttled so many sheep and other domestic animals that they gave
up keeping count of them. Thousands of white birds, pigeons or sea-gulls,
were destroyed day by day by the piety of the prince. He was called the
_Victimarius_, and when he started upon his campaign against the Persians,
an epigram was circulated once more which had been formerly composed
against Marcus Aurelius (the philosophic emperor!) who was equally generous
of hecatombs: "To Marcus Caesar from the white oxen. It will be all over
with us if you come back a conqueror." People said that Julian, on his
return, would depopulate stables and pasture-lands.
The populace, who gathered their very considerable profit from these
butcheries, naturally encouraged such an excess of devotion. At Rome, under
Caligula, more than a hundred and sixty thousand victims were immolated in
three months--nearly two thousand a day. And these massacres took place
upon the approaches of the temples; in the middle of the city; on the
forums; in narrow squares crowded with public buildings and statues. Just
try to call up the scene in summer, between walls at a white heat, with the
smells and the flies. Spectators and victims rubbed against one another,
pressed close in the restricted space. One day, Caligula, while he was
attending a sacrifice, was splashed all over by the blood of a flamingo as
they cut its neck. But the august Caesar was not so fastidious; he himself
operated in these ceremonies armed with a mallet and clad in the short
shirt of the killers. The ignominy of all this revolted the Christians,
and whoever had nerves at all sensitive. The bloody mud in which passers
slipped, the hissing of the fat, the heavy odour of flesh, were sickening.
Tertullian held his nose before the "stinking fires" on which the victims
were roasting. And St. Ambrose complained that in the Roman Curia the
senators who were Christians were obliged to breathe in the smoke and
receive full in the face the ashes of the altar raised before the statue of
The manipulations of the _haruspicina_ seemed an even worse abomination in
the eyes of the Christians. Dissection of bowels, examination of entrails,
were practices very much in fashion in all classes of society. The
pagans generally took more or less interest in magic. One was scarcely
a philosopher without being a miracle-worker. In this there was a kind
of perfidious rivalry to the Christian miracles. The ambitious or the
discontented opened the bellies of animals to learn when the Emperor was
going to die, and who would succeed him. But although it did not pretend to
magic, the _haruspicina_ made an essential part of the sacrifices. As soon
as the dismemberment was done, the diviners examined the appearance of
the entrails. Consulting together, they turned them over frequently with
anxious attention. This business might continue for a long time. Plutarch
relates that Philip, King of Macedonia, when sacrificing an ox on the
Ithomaea, with Aratus of Sicyon and Demetrius of Pharos, wished to inquire
out from the entrails of the victim concerning the wisdom of a piece of
strategy. The _haruspex_ put the smoking mass in his hands. The King shewed
it to his companions, who derived contradictory presages from it. He
listened to one side and the other, holding meanwhile the ox's entrails
in his hands. Eventually, he decided for the opinion of Aratus, and then
tranquilly gave the handful back to the sacrificer....
No doubt in Augustin's time these rites were no longer practised openly.
For all that, they were of the first importance in the ancient religion,
which desired nothing better than to restore them. It is easy to understand
the repulsion they caused in the author of _The City of God_. He who would
not have a fly killed to make sure of the gold crown in the contest of
poets, looked with horror on these sacred butchers, and manglers, and
cooks. He flung the garbage of the sacrifices into the sewer, and shewed
proudly to the pagans the pure oblation of the eucharistic Bread and Wine.
But what, above all, he attacked, because it was a present and permanent
scandal, was the gluttony, the drunkenness, and lust of the pagans. Let us
not exaggerate these vices--not the two first, at least. Augustin could not
judge them as we can. It is certain that the Africans of his time--and for
that matter, those of to-day--would have struck us modern people as very
sober. The outbursts of intemperance which he accuses them of only happened
at intervals, at times of public festivity or some family celebration. But
as soon as they did begin they were terrible. When one thinks of the orgies
of our Arabs behind locked doors!
But it is no less true that the pagan vices spread themselves out
cynically under the protecting shadow of religion. Popular souses of
eating and drinking were the obligatory accompaniments of the festivals
and sacrifices. A religious festival meant a carouse, loads of victuals,
barrels of wine broached in the street. These were called the Dishes,
_Fercula_, or else, the Rejoicing, _Laetitia_. The poor people, who knew
meat only by sight, ate it on these days, and they drank wine. The effect
of this unaccustomed plenty was felt at once. The whole populace were
drunk. The rich in their houses possibly did it with more ceremony, but it
was really the same brutishness. The elegant Ovid, who in the _Art of Love_
teaches fine manners to the beginners in love, advises them not to vomit at
table, and to avoid getting drunk like the husbands of their mistresses.
Plainly, religion was only an excuse for these excesses. Augustin goes too
far when he makes the gods responsible for this riot of sensuality. What is
true is that they did nothing to hinder it. And it is also true that the
lechery, which he flings so acridly in the face of the pagans, the gross
stage-plays, the songs, dances, and even prostitution, were all more or
less included in the essence of paganism. The theatre, like the games of
the arena and circus, was a divine institution. At certain feasts, and in
certain temples, fornication became sacred. All the world knew what took
place at Carthage in the courts and under the porticoes of the Celestial
Virgin, and what the ears of the most chaste matrons were obliged to hear,
and also what the use was of the castrated priests of the Great Mother
of the gods. Augustin, who declaims against these filthy sports, has not
forced the note of his denunciation to make out a good case. If anybody
wants to know in more detail the sights enjoyed at the theatre, or what
were the habits of certain pious confraternities, he has only to read what
is told by Apuleius, the most devout of pagans. He takes evident pleasure
in these stories, or, if he sometimes waxes indignant, it is the depravity
of men he accuses. The gods soar at a great height above these wretched
trifles. To Augustin, on the contrary, the gods are unclean devils who fill
their bellies with lust and obscenities, as if they were hankering for the
blood and grease of sacrifices.
And so he puts his finger on the open wound of paganism--its basic
immorality, or, if you like, its unmorality. Like our scientism of to-day,
it was unable to lay down a system of morals. It did not even try to. What
Augustin has written on this subject in _The City of God_, is perhaps the
strongest argument ever objected to polytheism. Anyhow, pages like this are
very timely indeed to consider:
"But such friends and such worshippers of those gods, whom they rejoice
to follow and imitate in all villainies and mischiefs--do they trouble
themselves about the corruption and great decay of the Republic? Not so.
Let it but stand, say they; let it but prosper by the number of its troops
and be glorious by its victories; or, _which is best of all, let it but
enjoy security and peace_, and what care we? Yes, what we care for above
all is that every one may have the means to increase his wealth, to pay the
expenses of his usual luxury, and that the powerful may still keep under
the weak. Let the poor crouch to the rich to be fed, or to live at ease
under their protection; let the rich abuse the poor as things at their
service, and to shew how many they have soliciting them. Let the people
applaud such as provide them with pleasures, not such as have a care for
their interests. _Let naught that is hard be enjoined, nothing impure
be prohibited_.... Let not subdued provinces obey their governors as
supervisors of their morality, but as masters of their fortune and the
procurers of their pleasures. What matters it if this submission has no
sincerity, but rests upon a bad and servile fear! _Let the law protect
estates rather than fair justice_. Let there be a good number of public
harlots, either for all that please to enjoy themselves in their company,
or for those that cannot keep private ones. Let stately and sumptuous
houses be erected, so that night and day each one according to his liking
or his means may gamble and drink and revel and vomit. Let the rhythmed
tinkling of dances be ordinary, the cries, the uncontrolled delights,
the uproar of all pleasures, even the bloodiest and most shameful in the
theatres. He who shall assay to dissuade from these pleasures, let him
be condemned as a public enemy. And if any one try to alter or suppress
them--let the people stifle his voice, let them banish him, let them
kill him. On the other hand, those that shall procure the people these
pleasures, and authorize their enjoyment, let them be eternized for the
However, Augustin acknowledges a number of praiseworthy minds among
pagans--those philosophers, with Plato in the first rank, who have done
their best to put morality into the religion. The Christian teacher renders
a magnificent tribute to Platonism. But these high doctrines have scarcely
got beyond the portals of the schools, and this moral teaching which
paganism vaunts of, is practically limited to the sanctuaries. "Let them
not talk," says he, "of some closely muttered instructions, taught in
secret, and whispered in the ear of a few adepts, which hold I know not
what lessons of uprightness and virtue. But let them shew the temples
ordained for such pious meetings, wherein were no sports with lascivious
gestures and loose songs.... Let them shew us the places where the gods'
doctrine was heard against covetousness, the suppression of ambition, the
bridling of luxury, and where wretches might learn what the poet Persius
thunders unto them, saying:
'Learn, wretches, and conceive the course of things,
What man is, and why nature forth him brings;...
How to use money; how to help a friend;
What we on earth, and God in us, intend.'
Let them shew where their instructing gods were used to give such lessons;
and where their worshippers used to go _often_ to hear these matters.
As for us, we can point to our churches, built for this sole purpose,
wheresoever the religion of Christ is diffused."
Can it surprise, then, if men so ignorant of high morality, and so deeply
embedded in matter, were also plunged in the grossest superstitions?
Materialism in morals always ends by producing a low credulity. Here
Augustin triumphs. He sends marching under our eyes, in a burlesque array,
the innumerable army of gods whom the Romans believed in. There are so many
that he compares them to swarms of gnats. Although he explains that he is
not able to mention them all, he amuses himself by stupefying us with the
prodigious number of those he discovers. Dragged into open day by him, a
whole divine population is brought out of the darkness and forgetfulness
where it had been sleeping perhaps for centuries: the little gods who work
in the fields, who make the corn grow and keep off the blight, those who
watch over children, who aid women in labour, who protect the hearth, who
guard the house. It was impossible to take a step among the pagans, to make
a movement, without the help of a god or goddess. Men and things were as if
fettered and imprisoned by the gods.
"In a house," says Augustin scoffingly, "there is but one porter. He is but
a mere man, yet he is sufficient for that office. But it takes three gods,
Forculus for the door, Cardea for the hinge, Limentinus for the threshold.
Doubtless, Forculus all alone could not possibly look after threshold, door
and hinges." And if it is a case of a man and woman retiring to the bridal
chamber after the wedding, a whole squadron of divinities are set in motion
for an act so simple and natural. "I beseech you," cries Augustin, "leave
something for the husband to do!"
This African, who had such a strong sense of the unity and fathomless
infinity of God, waxed indignant at this sacrilegious parcelling of the
divine substance. But the pagans, following Varro, would answer that it was
necessary to distinguish, among all these gods, those who were just the
imagination of poets, and those who were real beings--between the gods of
fable and the gods of religion. "Then," as Tertullian had said already,
"if the gods be chosen as onions are roped, it is obvious that what is not
chosen is condemned." "Tertullian carries his fancy too far," comments
Augustin. The gods refused as fabulous are not held reprobate on that
account. The truth is, they are a cut of the same piece as the admitted
gods. "Have not the pontiffs, like the poets, a bearded Jupiter and a
Mercury without beard?... Are the old Saturn and the young Apollo so much
the property of the poets that we do not see their statues too in the
And the philosophers, in their turn, however much they may protest against
the heap of fabulous gods and, like Plato and Porphyry, declare that there
exists but one God, soul of the universe, yet they no less accepted the
minor gods, and intermediaries or messengers betwixt gods and men, whom
they called demons. These hybrid beings, who pertained to humanity by their
passions, and to the divinity by the privilege of immortality, had to be
appeased by sacrifices, questioned and gratified by magic spells. And there
is what the highest pagan wisdom ended in--yes, in calling up spirits, and
the shady operations of wizards and wonder-smiths. That is what the pagans
defended, and demanded the continuation of with so much obstinacy and
By no means, replied Augustin. It does not deserve to survive. It is not
the forsaking of these beliefs and superstitious practices which has
brought about the decay of the Empire. If you are asking for the temples
of your gods to be opened, it is because they are easy to your passions.
At heart, you scoff at them and the Empire; all you want is freedom and
impunity for your vices. There we have the real cause of the decadence!
Little matter the idle grimaces before altars and statues. Become chaste,
sober, brave, and poor, as your ancestors were. Have children, agree to
compulsory military service, and you will conquer as they did. Now, all
these virtues are enjoined and encouraged by Christianity. Whatever certain
heretics may say, the religion of Christ is not contrary to marriage or the
soldier's profession. The Patriarchs of the old law were blest in marriage,
and there are just and holy wars.
And even supposing, that in spite of all efforts to save it, the Empire is
condemned, must we therefore despair? We should be prepared for the end
of the Roman city. Like all the things of this world, it is liable to old
age and death. It will die then, one day. Far from being cast down, let
us strengthen ourselves against this disaster by the realization of the
eternal. Let us strengthen our hold upon that which passes not. Above the
earthly city, rises the City of God, which is the communion of holy souls,
the only one which gives complete and never-failing joy. Let us try to be
the citizens of that city, and to live the only life worth calling life.
For the life here below is but the shadow of a shadow....
The people of those times were wonderfully prepared to hearken to such
exhortations. On the eve of the Barbarian invasions, these Christians, for
whom the dogma of the Resurrection was perhaps the chief reason of their
faith, these people, sick at heart, who looked on in torture at the ending
of a world, must have considered this present life as a bad dream, from
which there should be no delay in escaping.
At the very moment even that Augustin began to write _The City of God_, his
friend Evodius, Bishop of Uzalis, told him this story.
He had as secretary a very young man, the son of a priest in the
neighbourhood. This young man had begun by obtaining a post as stenographer
in the office of the Proconsul of Africa. Evodius, who was alarmed at what
might happen to his virtue in such surroundings, having first made certain
of his absolute chastity, offered to take him into his service. In the
bishop's house, where he had scarcely anything to do but read the Holy
Scripture, his faith became so enthusiastic that he longed for nothing now
but death. To go out of this life, "to be with Christ," was his eager wish.
It was heard. After sixteen days of illness he died in the house of his
"Now, two days after his funeral, a virtuous woman of Figes, a servant of
God, a widow for twelve years, had a dream, and in her dream she saw a
deacon who had been dead some four years, together with men, and women too,
virgins and widows--she saw these servants of God getting ready a palace.
This dwelling was so rich that it shone with light, and you would have
believed it was all made of silver. And when the widow asked whom these
preparations were for, the deacon replied that they were for a young man,
dead the evening before, the son of a priest. In the same palace, she saw
an old man, all robed in white, and he told two other persons, also robed
in white, to go to the tomb of this young man, and lift out the body, and
carry it to Heaven. When the body had been drawn from the tomb and carried
to Heaven, there arose (said she) out of the tomb a bush of virgin-roses,
which are thus named because they never open...."
So the son of the priest had chosen the better part. What was the good of
remaining in this abominable world, where there was always a risk of being
burned or murdered by Goths and Vandals, when, in the other world, angels
were preparing for you palaces of light?
THE BARBARIAN DESOLATION
Augustin was seventy-two years old when he finished the _City of God_. This
was in 426. That year, an event of much importance occurred at Hippo, and
the report of it was inserted in the public acts of the community.
"The sixth of the calends of October," _The Acts_ set forth, "the very
glorious Theodosius being consul for the twelfth time, and Valentinian
Augustus for the second, Augustin the bishop, accompanied by Religianus
and Martinianus, his fellow-bishops, having taken his place in the
Basilica of Peace at Hippo, and the priests Saturnius, Leporius, Barnaby,
Fortunatianus, Lazarus, and Heraclius, being present, with all the clergy
and a vast crowd of people--Augustin the bishop said:
"'Let us without delay look to the business which I declared yesterday to
your charity, and for which I desired you to gather here in large numbers,
as I see you have done. If I were to talk to you of anything else, you
might be less attentive, seeing the expectation you are in.
"'My brothers, we are all mortal in this life, and no man knows his last
day. God willed that I should come to dwell in this town in the force of my
age. But, as I was a young man then--see, I am old now, and as I know that
at the death of bishops, peace is troubled by rivalry or ambition (this
have I often seen and bewailed it)--I ought, so far as it rests with me, to
turn away so great a mischief from your city.... I am going then to tell
you that my will, which I believe also to be the will of God, is that I
have as successor the priest Heraclius.'
"At these words all the people cried out:
"'Thanks be to God! Praise be to Christ!'
"And this cry they repeated three-and-twenty times.
"'Christ, hear us! Preserve us Augustin!'
"This cry they repeated sixteen times.
"'Be our father! Be our bishop!'
"This cry they repeated eight times.
"When the people became silent, the bishop Augustin spoke again in these
"'There is no need for me to praise Heraclius. As much as I do justice
to his wisdom, in equal measure should I spare his modesty.... As you
perceive, the secretaries of the church gather up what we say and what you
say. My words and your shouts do not fall to the ground. To put it briefly,
these are ecclesiastical decrees that we are now drawing up, and I desire
by these means, as far as it is in the power of man, to confirm what I have
declared to you.'
"Here the people cried out:
"'Thanks be to God! Praise be to Christ!'
* * * * *
"'Be our father, and let Heraclius be our bishop!'
"When silence was made again, Augustin the bishop thus spoke:
"'I understand what you would say. But I do not wish that it happen to him
as it happened to me. Many of you know what was done at that time.... I was
consecrated bishop during the lifetime of my father and bishop, the aged
Valerius, of blessed memory, and with him I shared the see. I was ignorant,
as he was, that this was forbidden by the Council of Nice. I would not
therefore that men should blame in Heraclius, my son, what they blamed in
"With that the people cried out thirteen times:
"'Thanks be to God! Praise be to Christ!'
"After a little silence, Augustin the bishop said again:
"'So he will remain a priest till it shall please God for him to be a
bishop. But with the aid and mercy of Christ, I shall do in future what up
to now I have not been able to do.... You will remember what I wanted to
do some years ago, and you have not allowed me. For a work upon the Holy
Scriptures, with which my brothers and my fathers the bishops had deigned
to charge me in the two Councils of Numidia and Carthage, _I was not to be
disturbed by anybody during five days of the week_. That was a thing agreed
upon between you and me. The act was drawn up, and you all approved of
it after hearing it read. But your promise did not last long. I was soon
encroached upon and overrun by you all. I am no longer free to study as I
desire. Morning and afternoon, I am entangled in your worldly affairs. I
beg of you and supplicate you in Christ's name to suffer me to shift the
burthen of all these cares upon this young man, the priest Heraclius, whom
I signal, in His name, as my successor in the bishopric.'
"Upon this the people cried out six-and-twenty times:
"'We thank thee for thy choice!'
"And the people having become silent, Augustin the bishop said:
"'I thank you for your charity and goodwill, or rather, I thank God for
them. So, my brothers, you will address yourselves to Heraclius upon all
the points you are used to submit to me. Whenever he needs counsel, my care
and my help will not be wanting.... In this way, without any loss to you,
I shall be able to devote the remainder of life which it may please God
still to leave me, not to laziness and rest, but to the study of the Holy
Scriptures. This work will be useful to Heraclius, and hence to yourselves.
Let nobody then envy my leisure, for this leisure will be very busy....
"'It only remains for me to ask you, at least those who can, to sign these
acts. Your agreement I cannot do without; so kindly let me learn it by your
"At these words the people shouted:
"'Let it be so! Let it be so!'
* * * * *
"When all there became silent, Augustin the bishop made an end, saying:
"'It is well. Now let us fulfil our duty to God. While we offer Him the
Sacrifice, and during this hour of supplication, I would urge of your
charity to lay aside all business and personal cares, and to pray the Lord
God for this church, for me, and for the priest Heraclius.'"
The dryness and official wording of the document do not succeed in stifling
the vividness and colour of this crowded scene. Through the piety of the
formal cries, it is easy to see that Augustin's hearers were hard to
manage. This flock, which he loved and scolded so much, was no easier to
lead now than when he first became bishop. Truly it was no sinecure to rule
and administrate the diocese of Hippo! The bishop was literally the servant
of the faithful. Not only had he to feed and clothe them, to spend his time
over their business and quarrels and lawsuits, but he belonged to them body
and soul. They kept a jealous eye on the employment of his time; if he
went away, they asked for an explanation. Whenever Augustin went to preach
at Carthage or Utica, he apologized to his own people. And before he can
undertake a commentary on the Scriptures, a commentary, moreover, which he
has been asked by two Councils to prepare, he must get their permission,
or, at any rate, their agreement.
At last, at seventy-two years old, after he had been a bishop for
thirty-one years, he got their leave to take a little rest. But what a
rest! He himself said: "This leisure will be very busy"--this leisure which
is going to fill the five holidays in the week. He intends to study and
fathom the Scripture, and this, besides, to the profit of his people and
clergy and the whole Church. It is the fondest dream of his life--the
plan he was never able to realize. All that, at first sight, astonishes
us. We ask ourselves, "What else had he been doing up to this time in his
treatises and letters and sermons, in all that sea of words and writings
which his enemies threw up at him, if he was not studying and explaining
the Holy Scriptures?" The fact is, that in most of these writings and
sermons he elucidates the truth only in part, or else he is confuting
heresiarchs. What he wanted to do was to study the truth for its own sake,
without having to think of and be hindered by the exposure of errors; and
above all, to seize it in all its breadth and all its depths, to have
done with this blighting and irritating eristic, and to reflect in a vast
_Mirror_ the whole and purest light of the sacred dogmas.
He never found the time for it. He had to limit himself to a handbook
of practical morals, published under this title before his death, and
now lost. Once more the heresiarchs prevented him from leading a life of
speculation. During his last years, amid the cruellest anxieties, he had
to battle with the enemies of Grace and the enemies of the Trinity, with
Arius and Pelagius. Pelagius had found an able disciple in a young Italian
bishop, Julian of Eclanum, who was a formidable opponent to the aged
Augustin. As for Arianism, which had seemed extinguished in the West, here
it was given a new life by the Barbarian invasion.
It was a grave moment for Catholicism, as it was for the Empire. The Goths,
the Alani, and the Vandals, after having laid waste Gaul and Spain, were
taking measures to pass over into Africa. Should they renew the attempts
of Alaric and Radagaisus against Italy, they would soon be masters of the
entire Occident. Now these Barbarians were Arians. Supposing (and it seemed
more and more likely) that Africa and Italy were vanquished after Gaul and
Spain, then it was all over with Western Catholicism. For the invaders
carried their religion in their baggage, and forced it on the conquered.
Augustin, who had cherished the hope of equalling the earthly kingdom
of Christ to that of the Caesars, was going to see the ruin of both.
His terrified imagination exaggerated still more the only too real and
threatening peril. He must have lived hours of agony, expecting a disaster.
If only the truth might be saved, might swim in this sea of errors which
spread like a flood in the wake of the Barbarian onflow! It was from this
wish, no doubt, that sprang the tireless persistence which the old bishop
put into a last battle with heresy. If he selected Pelagius specially to
fall upon with fury, if he forced his principles to their last consequences
in his theory of Grace, the dread of the Barbarian peril had perhaps
something to do with it. This soul, so mild, so moderate, so tenderly
human, promulgated a pitiless doctrine which does not agree with his
character. But he reasoned, no doubt, that it was impossible to drive
home too hard the need of the Redemption and the divinity of the Redeemer
in front of these Arians, these Pelagians, these enemies of Christ, who
to-morrow perhaps would be masters of the Empire.
Therefore, Augustin continued to write, and discuss, and disprove. There
came a time when he had to think of fighting otherwise than with the pen.
His life, the lives of his flock, were threatened. He had to see to the
bodily defence of his country and city. The fact was, that some time
before the great drive of the Vandals, forerunners of them, in the shape
of hordes of African Barbarians, had begun to lay waste the provinces. The
Circoncelliones were not dead, nor their good friends the Donatists either.
These sectaries, encouraged by the widespread anarchy, came out of their
hiding-places and shewed themselves more insolent and aggressive than ever.
Possibly they hoped for some effective support against the Roman Church
from the Arian Vandals who were drawing near, or at least a recognition of
what they believed to be their rights. Day after day, bands of Barbarians
were landing from Spain. In the rear of these wandering troops of brigands
or irregular soldiers, the old enemies of the Roman peace and civilization,
the Nomads of the South, the Moors of the Atlas, the Kabylian mountaineers,
flung themselves upon country and town, pillaging, killing, and burning
everything that got in their way. All was laid desolate. "Countries but
lately prosperous and populated have been changed into solitudes," said
At last, in the spring of the year 429, the Vandals and the Alani, having
joined forces on the Spanish coast under their King, Genseric, crossed
the Straits of Gibraltar. It was devastation on a large scale this time.
An army of eighty thousand men set themselves methodically to plunder the
African provinces. Cherchell, which had already been sorely tried during
the revolt of Firmus the Moor, was captured again and burned. All the towns
and fortified places on the coast fell, one after another. Constantine
alone, from the height of its rock, kept the invaders at bay. To starve out
those who fled from towns and farms and took refuge in the fastnesses of
the Atlas, the Barbarians destroyed the harvest, burned the grain-houses,
and cut down the vines and fruit trees. And they set fire to the forests
which covered the slopes of the mountains, to force the refugees out of
This stupid ravaging was against the interest of the Vandals themselves,
because they were injuring the natural riches of Africa, the report of
which had brought them there. Africa was for them the land of plenty, where
people could drink more wine than they wanted and eat wheaten bread. It was
the country where life was comfortable, easy, and happy. It was the granary
of the Mediterranean, the great supply-store of Rome. But their senseless
craving for gold led them to ruin provinces, in which, nevertheless, they
counted upon settling. They behaved in Africa as they had behaved in Rome
under Alaric. By way of tearing gold out of the inhabitants, they tortured
them as they had tortured the wealthy Romans. They invented worse ones.
Children, before their parents' eyes, were sliced in two like animals in a
slaughterhouse. Or else their skulls were smashed against the pavements and
walls of houses.
The Church was believed to be very rich; and perhaps, as it had managed
to comprise in its domains the greatest part of the landed estates, it
was upon it chiefly that the Barbarians flung themselves. The priests and
bishops were tortured with unheard-of improvements of cruelty. They were
dragged in the rear of the army like slaves, so that heavy ransoms might
be extracted from the faithful in exchange for their pastors. They were
obliged to carry the baggage like the camels and mules, and when they gave
out the Barbarians prodded them with lances. Many sank down beside the
road and never rose more. But it is certain that fanaticism added to the
covetousness and ferocity of the Vandals. These Arians bore a special
grudge against Catholicism, which was, besides, in their eyes, the religion
of the Roman domination. This is why they made their chief attacks on
basilicas, convents, hospitals, and all the property of the Church. And
throughout the country public worship was stopped.
In Hippo, these atrocities were known before the Barbarians arrived. The
people must have awaited them and prepared to receive them with gloomy
resignation. Africa had not been tranquil for a century. After the risings
of Firmus and Gildo, came the lootings of the southern Nomads and the
Berber mountaineers. And it was not so long since the Circoncelliones were
keeping people constantly on the alert. But this time everybody felt that
the great ruin was at hand. They were stunned by the news that some town
or fortified place had been captured by the Vandals, or that some farm or
villa in the neighbourhood was on fire.
Amid the general dismay, Augustin did his best to keep calm. He, indeed,
saw beyond the material destruction, and at every new rumour of massacre
or burning he would repeat to his clerics and people the words of the Wise
"Doth the firm of heart grieve to see fall the stones and beams, and death
seize the children of men?"
They accused him of being callous. They did not understand him. While all
about him mourned the present misfortunes, he was already lamenting over
the evil to come, and this clear-sightedness pained him more than the shock
of the daily horrors committed by the Barbarians. His disciple Possidius,
the Bishop of Guelma, who was with him in these sad days, naively applied
to him the saying out of _Ecclesiastes_: "In much wisdom is much grief."
Augustin did really suffer more than others, because he thought more
profoundly on the disaster. He foresaw that Africa was going to be lost to
the Empire, and consequently to the Church. They were bound together in his
mind. What was there to do against brutal strength? All the eloquence and
all the charity in the world would be as nothing against that unchained
elemental mass of Vandals. It was as impossible to convert the Barbarians
as it had been to convert the Donatists. Force was the only resource
Then in despair the man of God turned once more to Caesar. The monk appealed
to the soldier. He charged Boniface, Count of Africa, to save Rome and the
This Boniface, a rather ambiguous personage, was a fine type of the
swashbuckler and official of the Lower-Empire. Thracian by origin, he
joined the trickery of the Oriental to all the vices of the Barbarian. He
was strong, clever in all bodily exercises like the soldiers of those days,
overflowing with vigour and health, and even brave at times. In addition,
he was fond of wine and women, and ate and drank like a true pagan. He
was married twice, and after his second marriage he kept in the sight and
knowledge of everybody a harem of concubines. He was sent, first of all,
to Africa as a Tribune--that is to say, as Commissioner of the Imperial
Government, probably to carry out the decrees of Honorius against the
Donatists; and ere long he was made commander of the military forces of the
province, with the title of Count.
In reality, while seeming to protect the country, he set himself to plunder
it, as the tradition was among the Roman officials. His _officium_, still
more grasping than himself, persuaded him to deeds which the Bishop of
Hippo, who was, however, anxious to remain on the right side of him,
protested against by hints. Boniface was obliged to overlook much robbery
and pillage on the part of his subordinates so as to keep them faithful.
Moreover, he himself stole. He was bound to close his eyes to the
depredations of others, that his own might be winked at. Once become the
accomplice of this band of robbers, he had no longer the authority to
How did Augustin ever believe in the goodwill and good faith of this
adventurer full of coarse passions, so far as to put his final hopes in
him? Augustin knew men very well; he could detect low and hypocritical
natures at a distance. How came it that he was taken in by Boniface?
Well, Augustin wanted his support, first of all, when he came as Imperial
Commissioner to Carthage to bring the Donatists into line. Generally, we
see only the good points of people who do us good turns. Besides, in order
to propitiate the bishop, and the devout Court at Ravenna, the Tribune
advertised his great zeal in favour of Catholicism. His first wife, a very
pious woman whom he seems to have loved much, encouraged him in this.
When she died, he was so overcome by despair that he took refuge in the
extremest practices of religion--and in this, perhaps, he was quite
sincere. It is also possible that he was becoming discredited at Ravenna,
where they must have known about his oppressions and suspected his
ambitious intrigues. Anyhow, whether he was really disgusted with the
world, or whether he deemed it prudent to throw a little oblivion over
himself just then, he spoke on all hands of resigning his post and living
in retreat like a monk. It was just at this moment that Augustin and
Alypius begged him not to desert the African army.
They met the Commander-in-Chief at Thubunae, in Southern Numidia, where,
no doubt, he was reducing the Nomads. We must remark once more Augustin's
energy in travelling, to the very eve of his death. It was a long and
dangerous road from Hippo to Thubunae. Before making up his mind to so much
fatigue, the old bishop must have judged the situation to be very serious.
At Thubunae, was Boniface playing a game, or was he, indeed, so crushed by
his grief that the world had become unbearable and he pondered genuine
thoughts of changing his way of life? What is sure is, that he gave the
two prelates the most edifying talk. When they heard the Count of Africa
speaking with unction of the cloister and of his desire to retire there,
they were a little astonished at so much piety in a soldier. Besides,
these excellent resolutions were most inconvenient for their plans. They
remonstrated with him that it was quite possible to save one's soul in
the army, and quoted the example of David, the warrior king. They ended
by telling him all the expectations they founded upon his resource and
firmness. They begged him to protect the churches and convents against
fresh attacks of the Donatists, and especially against the Barbarians of
Africa. These were at this moment breaking down all the old defence lines
and laying waste the territories of the Empire.
Boniface allowed himself to be easily convinced--promised whatever he was
asked. But he never budged. From now on, his conduct becomes most singular.
He is in command of all the military strength of the province, and he takes
no steps to suppress the African looters. It would seem as if he only
thought of filling the coffers of himself and his friends. The country was
so systematically scoured by them that, as Augustin said, there was nothing
more left to take.
This inactivity lent colour to the rumours of treason. Nor is it impossible
that he had cherished a plan from the beginning of his command to cut out
an independent principality for himself in Africa. Was this the reason that
he dealt softly with the native tribes, so as to make certain of their help
in case of a conflict with the Imperial army? However that may be, his
behaviour was not frank. Some years later, he landed on the Spanish coast
to war against the Vandals under the command of the Prefect Castinus, and
there he married a Barbarian princess who was by religion an Arian. It
is true that the new Countess of Africa became a convert to Catholicism.
But her first child was baptized by Arian priests, who rebaptized, at the
same time, the Catholic slaves of Boniface's household. This marriage
with a Vandal, these concessions to Arianism, gave immense scandal to the
orthodox. Rumours of treason began to float about again.
No doubt Boniface took great advantage of his fidelity to the Empress
Placidia. But he was standing between the all-powerful Barbarians and the
undermined Empire. He wanted to remain on good terms with both, and then,
when the hour came, to go over to the stronger. This double-faced diplomacy
caused his downfall. His rival Aetius accused him of high treason before
Placidia. The Court of Ravenna declared him an enemy of the Empire, and an
army was sent against him. Boniface did not hesitate; he went into open
rebellion against Rome.
Augustin was thunderstruck by his desertion. But what way was there to make
this violent man listen to reason, who had at least the appearances of
right on his side, since there was a chance they had slandered him to the
Empress, and who thought it quite natural to take vengeance on his enemies?
His recent successes had still more intoxicated him. He had just defeated
the two generals who had been sent to reduce him, and he was accordingly
master of the situation in Africa. What was he going to do? The worst
resolutions were to be feared from this conqueror, all smarting, and hungry
for revenge.... Nevertheless, Augustin resolved to write to him. His letter
is a masterpiece of tact, of prudence, and also of Christian and episcopal
It would have been dangerous to declare to this triumphant rebel: "You are
in the wrong. Your duty is to submit to the Emperor, your master." Boniface
was quite capable of answering: "What are you interfering for? Politics are
no business of yours. Look after your Church!" This is why Augustin very
cleverly speaks to him from beginning to end of his letter simply as a
bishop, eager for the salvation of a very dear son in Jesus Christ. And so,
by keeping strictly to his office of spiritual director, he gained his end
more surely and entirely; and, as a doctor of souls, he ventured to remind
Boniface of certain truths which he would never have dared to mention as
According to Augustin, the disgrace of the Count, and the evils which
this event had brought on Africa, came principally from his attachment to
worldly benefits. It was the ambition and covetousness of himself and his
followers which had done all the harm. Let him free himself from perishable
things, let him prevent the thefts and plundering of those under him.
Let him, who some time ago wished to live in perfect celibacy, now keep
at least to his wife and no other. Finally, let him remember his sworn
allegiance. Augustin did not mean to go into the quarrel between Boniface
and Placidia, and he gave no opinion as to the grievances of either. He
confined himself to saying to the general in rebellion: "If you have
received so many benefits from the Roman Empire, do not render evil for
good. If, on the other hand, you have received evil, do not render evil for
It is clear that the Bishop of Hippo could scarcely have given any other
advice to the Count of Africa. To play the part of political counsellor
in the very entangled state of affairs was extremely risky. How was it
possible to exhort a victorious general to lay down his arms before
the conquered? And yet, in estimating the situation from the Christian
standpoint alone, Augustin had found a way to say everything essential, all
that could profitably be said at the moment.
How did Boniface take a letter which was, in the circumstances, so
courageous? What we know is that he did not alter his plans. It would
indeed have been very difficult for him to withdraw and yield; and more
than ever since a new army under Sigisvultus had been sent against him in
all haste. A real fatality compelled him to remain in revolt against Rome.
Did he believe he was ruined, as has been stated, or else, through his
family connections--let us remember that his wife was a Barbarian--had he
been for a long time plotting with Genseric to divide Africa? He has been
accused of that. What comes out is, that as soon as he heard of the arrival
of Sigisvultus and the new expeditionary force, he called in the Vandals to
his aid. This was the great invasion of 429.
Ere long, the Barbarians entered Numidia. The borderlands about Hippo were
threatened. Stricken with terror, the inhabitants in a mass fled before the
enemy, leaving the towns empty. Those who were caught in them rushed into
the churches, imploring the bishops and priests to help them. Or else,
giving up all hope of life, they cried out to be baptized, confessed,
did penance in public. The Vandals, as we have seen, aimed specially at
the clergy; they believed that the Catholic priests were the soul of the
resistance. Should not these priests, then, in the very interest of the
Church, save themselves for quieter times, and escape the persecution by
flight? Many sheltered themselves behind the words of Christ: "When they
persecute you in this city, flee ye into another."
But Augustin strongly condemned the cowardliness of the deserters. In a
letter addressed to his fellow-bishop, Honoratus, and intended to be read
by all the clergy in Africa, he declares that bishops and priests should
not abandon their churches and dioceses, but stay at their post till the
end--till death and till martyrdom--to fulfil the duties of their ministry.
If the faithful were able to withdraw into a safe place, their pastors
might accompany them; if not, they should die in the midst of them. Thus
they would have at least the consolation of lending aid to the dying in
their last moments, and especially of preventing the apostasies which
readily took place under the shock of the terror. For Augustin, who foresaw
the future, the essential thing was that later, when the Vandal wave had
swept away, Catholicism might flourish again in Africa. To this end, the
Catholics must be made to remain in the country, and the greatest possible
number be strengthened in their faith. Otherwise, the work of three
centuries would have to be done all over again.
We must admire this courage and clear-mindedness in an old man of
seventy-five, who was being continually harassed by the complaints and
lamentations of a crowd of demoralized fugitives. The position became more
and more critical. The siege lines were drawing closer. But in the midst of
all this dread, Augustin was given a gleam of hope: Boniface made his peace
with the Empire. Henceforward, his army, turning against the Barbarians,
might protect Hippo and perhaps save Africa.
Had Augustin a hand in this reconciliation? There is not the least doubt
that he desired it most earnestly. In a letter to Count Darius, the
special envoy sent from Ravenna to treat with the rebel general, he warmly
congratulates the Imperial plenipotentiary on his mission of peace. "You
are sent," he said to him, "to stop the shedding of blood. Therefore
rejoice, illustrious and very dear son in Jesus Christ, rejoice in this
great and real blessing, and rejoice upon it in the Lord, Who has made you
what you are, and entrusted to you a task so beautiful and important. May
God seal the good work He has done for us through you!" ... And Darius
answered: "May you be spared to pray such prayers for the Empire and the
Roman State a long time yet, my Father."
But the Empire was lost in Africa. If the reconciliation of the rebellious
Count had given some illusions to Augustin, they did not last long.
Boniface, having failed in his endeavours to negotiate the retreat of the
Vandals, was defeated by Genseric, and obliged to fall back into Hippo with
an army of mercenary Goths. Thus it came about that Barbarians held against
other Barbarians one of the last Roman citadels in Africa. From the end of
May, 430, Hippo was blockaded on the land side and on the side of the sea.
In great tribulation, Augustin resigned himself to this supreme
humiliation, and to all the horrors which would have to be endured if the
city were captured. As a Christian, he left all to the will of God, and
he would repeat to those about him the words of the Psalm: "Righteous art
Thou, O Lord, and upright are Thy judgments." A number of fugitive priests,
and among them Possidius, Bishop of Guelma, had taken refuge in the
episcopal residence. One day, when he lost heart, Augustin, who was at
table with them, said:
"In front of all these disasters, I ask God to deliver this city from the
siege, or, if that be not His decree, to give His servants the necessary
strength to do His will, or at least to take me from this world and receive
me into His bosom."
But it is more than probable that discouragement of that kind was
only momentary with him, and that in his sermons, as well as in his
conversations with Boniface, he did his utmost to stimulate the courage of
the people and the general. His correspondence includes a series of letters
written about this time to the Count of Africa, which manifest here and
there a very warlike spirit. These letters are most certainly apocryphal.
Yet they do reveal something of what must have been the sentiments just
then of the people of Hippo and of Augustin himself. One of these letters
emphatically congratulates Boniface upon an advantage gained over the
"Your Excellency knows, I believe, that I am stretched upon my bed, and
that I long for my last day to come. I am overjoyed at your victory. I urge
you to save the Roman city. Rule your soldiers like a good Count. Do not
trust too much to your own strength. Put your glory in Him Who gives
courage, and you will never fear any enemy. Farewell!"
The words do not matter much. Whatever may have been Augustin's last
farewell to the defender of Hippo, it was no doubt couched in language not
unlike this. In any case, posterity has wished to believe that the dying
bishop maintained to the end his unyielding demeanour face to face with the
Barbarians. It would be a misuse of words to represent him as a patriot
in the present sense of the term. It is no less true that this African,
this Christian, was an admirable servant of Rome. Until his death he kept
his respect for it, because in his eyes the Empire meant order, peace,
civilization, the unity of faith in the unity of rule.
In the third month of the siege, he fell ill. He had a fever--no doubt an
infectious fever. The country people, the wounded soldiers who had taken
refuge in Hippo after the rout of Boniface, must have brought in the germs
of disease. It was, moreover, the end of August, the season of epidemics,
of damp heats and oppressive evenings, the time of the year most dangerous
and trying for sick people.
All at once, Augustin took to his bed. But even there, upon the bed in
which he was going to die, he was not left in quiet. People came to ask his
prayers for some possessed by devils. The old bishop was touched; he wept
and asked God to give him this grace, and the devils went out of those poor
crazy men. This cure, as may well be thought, made a great noise in the
city. A man brought him another one sick to be healed. Augustin, being most
weary, said to the man:
"My son, you see the state I am in. If I had any power over illnesses, I
should begin by curing myself."
But the man had no idea of being put off: he had had a dream. A mysterious
voice had said to him, "Go and see Augustin: he will put his hands on the
sick person, who will rise up cured." And, in fact, he did. I think these
are the only miracles the saint made in his life. But what matters that,
when the continual miracle of his charity and his apostolate is considered?
Soon the bishop's illness grew worse. Eventually, he succeeded in
persuading them not to disturb him any more, and that they would let him
prepare for death in silence and recollection. During the ten days that
he still lingered, nobody entered his cell save the physicians, and the
servants who brought him a little food. He availed himself of the quiet to
repent of his faults. For he was used to say to his clergy that "even after
baptism, Christians--nay, priests, however holy they might be, ought never
go out of life without having made a general confession." And the better
to rouse his contrition, he had desired them to copy out on leaves the
Penitential Psalms, and to put these leaves on the wall of his room. He
read them continually from his pillow.
Here, then, he is alone with himself and God. A solemn moment for the great
He called up his past life, and what struck him most, and saddened him, was
the foundering of all his human hopes. The enemies of the Church, whom he
had battled with almost without ceasing for forty years, and had reason to
believe conquered--all these enemies were raising their heads: Donatists,
Arians, Barbarians. With the Barbarians' help, the Arians were going to be
the masters of Africa. The churches, reformed at the price of such long
efforts, would be once more destroyed. And see now! the authority which
might have supported them, which he had perhaps too much relied upon--well,
the Empire was sinking too. It was the end of order, of substantial peace,
of that minimum of safety which is indispensable for all spiritual effort.
From one end to the other of the Western world, Barbarism triumphed.
Sometimes, amid these sad thoughts of the dying man, the clangour of
clarions blared out--there was a call to arms on the ramparts. And these
musics came to him in his half-delirious state very mournfully, like the
trumpets proclaiming the Judgment Day. Yes, it might well be feared that
the Day of Wrath was here! Was it really the end of the world, or only the
end of a world?... Truly, there were then enough horrors and calamities to
make people think of the morrow with dismay. Many of the signs predicted
by Scripture dazed the imagination: desolations, wars, persecutions of the
Church, increased with terrific steadiness and cruelty. Yet all the signs
foretold were not there. How many times already had humanity been deceived
in its fear and its hope! In reality, though all seemed to shew that the
end of time was drawing nigh, no one could tell the day nor the hour of
the Judgment. Hence, men should watch always, according to the words of
Christ.... But if this trial of Barbarian war was to pass like the others,
how woeful it was while it endured! How hard for Augustin, above all, who
saw nearly the whole of his work thrown down.
One thought at least consoled him, that since his conversion, for forty
years and more, he had done all he was able--he had worked for Christ
even beyond his strength. He said to himself that he left behind him the
fruit of a huge labour, a whole body of doctrine and apology which would
safeguard against error whatever was left of his flock and of the African
Church. He himself had founded a Church which might serve as an example,
his dear Church of Hippo, that he had done his best to fashion after the
divine plan. And he had also founded convents, and a library full of books,
which had become still larger recently through the generosity of Count
Darius. He had lessoned his clergy who, once the disasters were past, would
scatter the good seed of Truth. Books, monasteries, priests, a sure and
solid nourishment for the mind, shelters and guides for souls--there is
what he bequeathed to the workers of the future. And with a little joy
mingling with his sorrow, he read on the corner of the wall where his bed
was, this verse of the Psalm: _Exibit homo ad opus suum et operationem suam
usque ad vesperum_--"Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until
the evening." He, too, had worked until evening.
If the earthly reward seemed to slip from him now, if all was sinking
around him, if his episcopal city was beleaguered, if he himself, although
still a strong man--"he had the use of all his limbs," says Possidius;
"a keen ear and perfect sight"--if he himself was dying too soon, it was
doubtless in expiation for the sins of his youth. At this remembrance of
his disorders, the tears fell over his face.... And yet, however wild had
been his conduct at that time, he could descry in it the sure marks of his
vocation. He recalled the despair and tears of his mother, but also his
enthusiasm when he read the _Hortensius_; his disgust for the world and
all things when he lost his friend. In the old man he recognized the new.
And he said to himself: "Nay! but that was myself. I have not changed. I
have only found myself. I have only changed my ways. In my youth, in the
strongest time of my mistakes, I had already risen to turn to Thee, my
His worst foolishness had been the desire to understand all things. He had
failed in humility of mind. Then God had given him the grace to submit his
intelligence to the faith. He had believed, and then he had understood, as
well as he could, as much as he could. In the beginning, he acknowledged
very plainly that he did not understand. And then faith had thrown open
the roads of understanding. He had splendidly employed his reason, within
the limits laid down against mortal weakness. Had that not been the proud
desire of his youth? To understand! What greater destiny?
To love also. After he had freed himself from carnal passions, he had much
employed his heart. He thought of all the charity he had poured out upon
his people and the Church, upon all he had loved in God--upon all he had
done, upon all the consequence of his labour, inspired and strengthened by
the divine love.... Yes, to love--all was in that! Let the Barbarians come!
Had not Christ said: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the
world"? So long as there shall be two men gathered together for love of
Him, the world will not be entirely lost, the Church and civilization will
be saved. The religion of Christ is a leaven of action, understanding,
sacrifice, and charity. If the world be not at this hour already condemned,
if the Day of Judgment be still far off, it is from this religion that
shall arise the new influences of the future....
And so Augustin forgot his sufferings and his human disappointments in
the thought that, in spite of all, the Church is eternal. The City of God
gathered in the wreckage of the earthly city: "The Goth cannot capture what
Christ protects"--_Non tollit Gothus quod custodit Christus_. And as his
sufferings increased, he turned all his thoughts on this unending City,
"where we rest, where we see, where we love," where we find again all the
beloved ones who have gone away. All--he called them all in this supreme
moment: Monnica, Adeodatus, and her who had nearly lost herself for him,
and all those he had held dear....
On the fifth day of the calends of September, Augustin, the bishop,
was very low. They were praying for him in the churches at Hippo, and
especially in the Basilica of Peace, where he had preached and worked for
others so long. Possidius of Guelma was in the bishop's room, and the
priests and monks. They sent up their prayers with those of the dying man.
And no doubt they sang for the last time before him one of those liturgical
chants which long ago at Milan had touched him even to tears, and now,
since the siege, in the panic caused by the Barbarians, they dared not sing
any more. Augustin, guarding himself even now against the too poignant
sweetness of the melody, attended only to the sense of the words. And he
"My soul thirsts after the living God. When shall I appear before His
"He Who is Life has come down into this world. He has suffered our death,
and He has caused it to die by the fullness of His life.... Life has come
down to you--and will you not ascend towards Him and live?..."
He was passing into Life and into Glory. He was going very quietly, amid
the chanting of hymns and the murmur of prayers.... Little by little his
eyes were veiled, the lines of his face became rigid. His lips moved no
more. Possidius, the faithful disciple, bent over him. Like a patriarch of
the Scriptures, Augustin of Thagaste "slept with his fathers."...
* * * * *
And now, whatever may be the worth of this book, which has been planned
and carried out in a spirit of veneration and love for the saint, for the
great heart and the great intellect that Augustin was, for this unique type
of the Christian, the most perfect and the most admirable perhaps that
has ever been seen--the author can only repeat in all humility what was
said fifteen hundred years ago by the Bishop of Guelma, Augustin's first
"I do desire of the charity of those into whose hands this work shall fall,
to join with me in thanksgiving and blessing to Our Lord, Who has inspired
me to make known this life to those present and those absent, and has given
me the strength to do it. Pray for me and with me, that I may try here
below to follow in the steps of this peerless man, whom, by God's goodness,
I have had the happiness of living with for such a long time...."