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Fathers of the Church

Letter IV


”Augustine’s correspondence, the mark and expression of the influential personality and apostolic zeal of the author, is rich in historical, philosophical, theological, exegetical, spiritual, literary, and autobiographical content” (Agostino Trapè). Here he reflects, writing to his friend Nebridius, on his own progress as a philosopher (in the Platonic tradition).


The correspondence of St. Augustine that has been preserved includes more than 270 letters, including well over 200 written by him. Those numbered 1-30 span the period between his conversion and his episcopal ordination.

by Augustine of Hippo in 387 | translated by J. G. Cunningham


1. It is very wonderful how completely I was taken by surprise, when, on searching to discover which of your letters still remained unanswered, I found only one which held me as your debtor, —that, namely, in which you request me to tell you how far in this my leisure, which you suppose to be great, and which you desire to share with me, I am making progress in learning to discriminate those things in nature with which the senses are conversant, from those about which the understanding is employed. But I suppose it is not unknown to you, that if one becomes more and more fully imbued with false opinions, the more fully and intimately one exercises himself in them, the corresponding effect is still more easily produced in the mind by contact with truth. Nevertheless my progress, like our physical development, is so gradual, that it is difficult to define its steps distinctly, just as though there is a very great difference between a boy and a young man, no one, if daily questioned from his boyhood onward, could at any one date say that now he was no more a boy, but a young man.

2. I would not have you, however, so to apply this illustration as to suppose that, in the vigour of a more powerful understanding, I have arrived as it were at the beginning of the soul's manhood. For I am yet but a boy, though perhaps, as we say, a promising boy, rather than a good-for- nothing. For although the eyes of my mind are for the most part perturbed and oppressed by the distractions produced by blows inflicted through things sensible, they are revived and raised up again by that brief process of reasoning: "The mind and intelligence are superior to the eyes and the common faculty of sight; which could not be the case unless the things which we perceive by intelligence were more real than the things which we perceive by the faculty of sight." I pray you to help me in examining whether any valid objection can be brought against this reasoning. By it, meanwhile, I find myself restored and refreshed; and when, after calling upon God for help, I begin to rise to Him, and to those things which are in the highest sense real, I am at times satisfied with such a grasp and enjoyment of the things which eternally abide, that I sometimes wonder at my requiring any such reasoning as I have above given to persuade me of the reality of those things which in my soul are as truly present to me as I am to myself.

Please look over your letters yourself, for I own that you will be in this matter at greater pains than I, in order to make sure that I am not perchance unwittingly still owing an answer to any of them: for I can hardly believe that I have so soon got from under the burden of debts which I used to reckon as so numerous; albeit, at the same time, I cannot doubt that you have had some letters from me to which I have as yet received no reply.

Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (NPNF I/I, Schaff). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.