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Fathers of the Church

Letter XLVIII

Description

”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 Augustine writes the Christians on the island of Cabrera, exhorting them to avoid both vainglory and laziness in responding to the needs of the Church, and to do everything for the glory of God.

Provenance

The correspondence of St. Augustine that has been preserved includes more than 270 letters, including well over 200 written by him. Those numbered 31-123 span the period from his episcopal ordination until the conference between Catholic and Donatist bishops held in 411.

by Augustine of Hippo in 398 | translated by J. G. Cunningham

TO MY LORD EUDOXIUS, MY BROTHER AND FELLOW-PRESBYTER, BELOVED AND LONGED FOR, AND TO THE BRETHREN WHO ARE WITH HIM, AUGUSTIN AND THE BRETHREN WHO ARE HERE SEND GREETING.

1. When we reflect upon the undisturbed rest which you enjoy in Christ, we also, although engaged in labours manifold and arduous, find rest with you, beloved. We are one body under one Head, so that you share our toils, and we share your repose: for "if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or if one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it." Therefore we earnestly exhort and beseech you, by the deep humility and most compassionate majesty of Christ, to be mindful of us in your holy intercessions; for we believe you to be more lively and undistracted in prayer than we can be, whose prayers are often marred and weakened by the darkness and confusion arising from secular occupations: not that we have these on our own account, but we can scarcely breathe for the pressure of such duties imposed upon us by men compelling us, so to speak, to go with them one mile, with whom we are commanded by our Lord to go farther than they ask. We believe, nevertheless, that He before whom the sighing of the prisoner comes will look on us persevering in the ministry in which He was pleased to put us, with promise of reward, and, by the assistance of your prayers, will set us free from all distress.

2. We exhort you in the Lord, brethren, to be stedfast in your purpose, and persevere to the end; and if the Church, your Mother, calls you to active service, guard against accepting it, on the one hand, with too eager elation of spirit, or declining it, on the other, under the solicitations of indolence; and obey God with a lowly heart, submitting yourselves in meekness to Him who governs you, who will guide the meek in judgment, and will teach them His way. Do not prefer your own ease to the claims of the Church; for if no good men were willing to minister to her in her bringing forth of her spiritual children, the beginning of your own spiritual life would have been impossible. As men must keep the way carefully in walking between fire and water, so as to be neither burned nor drowned, so must we order our steps between the pinnacle of pride and the whirlpool of indolence; as it is written, "declining neither to the right hand nor to the left." For some, while guarding too anxiously against being lifted up and raised, as it were, to the dangerous heights on the right hand, have fallen and been engulphed in the depths on the left. Again, others, while turning too eagerly from the danger on the left hand of being immersed in the torpid effeminacy of inaction, are, on the other hand, so destroyed and consumed by the extravagance of self-conceit, that they vanish into ashes and smoke. See then, beloved, that in your love of ease you restrain yourselves from all mere earthly delight, and remember that there is no place where the fowler who fears lest we fly back to God may not lay snares for us; let us account him whose captives we once were to be the sworn enemy of all good men; let us never consider ourselves in possession of perfect peace until iniquity shall have ceased, and "judgment shall have returned unto righteousness."

3. Moreover, when you are exerting yourselves with energy and fervour, whatever you do, whether labouring diligently in prayer, fasting, or almsgiving, or distributing to the poor, or forgiving injuries, "as God also for Christ's sake hath forgiven us," or subduing evil habits, and chastening the body and bringing it into subjection, or bearing tribulation, and especially bearing with one another in love (for what can he bear who is not patient with his brother?), or guarding against the craft and wiles of the tempter, and by the shield of faith averting and extinguishing his fiery darts, or "singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts," or with voices in harmony with your hearts; — whatever you do, I say, "do all to the glory of God," who "worketh all in all," and be so "fervent in Spirit " that your "soul may make her boast in the Lord." Such is the course of those who walk in the "straight way," whose "eyes are ever upon the Lord, for He shall pluck their feet out of the net." Such a course is neither interrupted by business, nor benumbed by leisure, neither boisterous nor languid, neither presumptuous nor desponding, neither reckless nor supine. "These things do, and the God of peace shall be with you."

4. Let your charity prevent you from accounting me forward in wishing to address you by letter. I remind you of these things, not because I think you come short in them, but because I thought that I would be much commended unto God by you, if, in doing your duty to Him, you do it with a remembrance of my exhortation. For good report, even before the coming of the brethren Eustasius and Andreas from you, had brought to us, as they did, the good savour of Christ, which is yielded by your holy conversation. Of these, Eustasius has gone before us to that land of rest, on the shore of which beat no rude waves such as those which encompass your island home, and in which he does not regret Caprera, for the homely raiment with which it furnished him he wears no more.

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.