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Fathers of the Church

Letter LVIII

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 he commends Pammachius, a landowner, for bring his tenants from Donatism to the Church through his charity and zeal.

Provenance

The extant correspondence of St. Augustine 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 401 | translated by J. G. Cunningham

TO MY NOBLE AND WORTHY LORD PAMMACHIUS, MY SON, DEARLY BELOVED IN THE BOWELS OF CHRIST, AUGUSTIN SENDS GREETING IN THE LORD.

1. The good works which spring from the grace of Christ in you have given you a claim to be esteemed by us His members, and have made you as truly known and as much beloved by us as you could be. For even were I daily seeing your face, this could add nothing to the completeness of the acquaintance with you which I now have, when in the shining light of one of your actions I have seen your inner being, fair with the loveliness of peace, and beaming with the brightness of truth. Seeing this has made me know you, and knowing you has made me love you; and therefore, in addressing you, I write to one who, notwithstanding our distance from each other, has become known to me, and is my beloved friend. The bond which binds us together is indeed of earlier date, and we were living united under One Head: for had you not been rooted in His love, the Catholic unity would not have been so dear to you, and you would not have dealt as you have done with your African tenants settled in the midst of the consular province of Numidia, the very country in which the folly of the Donatists began, addressing them in such terms, and encouraging them with such enthusiasm, as to persuade them with unhesitating devotion to choose that course which they believed that a man of your character and position would not adopt on other grounds than truth ascertained and acknowledged, and to submit themselves, though so remote from you, to the same Head; so that along with yourself they are reckoned for ever as members of Him by whose command they are for the time dependent upon you.

2. Embracing you, therefore, as known to me by this transaction, I am moved by joyful feelings to congratulate you in Christ Jesus our Lord, and to send you this letter as a proof of my heart's love towards you; for I cannot do more. I beseech you, however, not to measure the amount of my love by this letter; but by means of this letter, when you have read it, pass l on by the unseen inner passage which thought I opens up into my heart, and see what is there felt towards you. For to the eye of love that sanctuary of love shall be unveiled which we shut against the disquieting trifles of this world when there we worship God; and there you will see the ecstasy of my joy in your good work, an ecstasy which I cannot describe with tongue for pen, glowing and burning in the offering of praise to Him by whose inspiration you were made willing, and by whose help you were made able to serve Him in this way. "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift!"

3. Oh how we desire in Africa to see such work as this by which you have gladdened us done by many, who are, like yourself, senators in the State, and sons of the holy Church! It is, however, hazardous to give them this exhortation: they may refuse to follow it, and the enemies of the Church will take advantage of this to deceive the weak, as if they had gained a victory over us in the minds of those who disregarded our counsel. But it is safe for me to express gratitude to you; for you have already done that by which, in the emancipation of those who were weak, the enemies of the Church are confounded. I have therefore thought it sufficient to ask you to read this letter with friendly boldness to any to whom you can do so on the ground of their Christian profession. For thus learning what you have achieved, they will believe that that, about which as an impossibility they are now indifferent, can be done in Africa. As to the snares which these heretics contrive in the perversity of their hearts, I have resolved not to speak of them in this! letter, because I have been only amused at their imagining that they could gain any advantage over your mind, which Christ holds as His possession. You will hear them, however, from my brethren, whom I earnestly commend to your Excellency: they fear lest you should disdain some things which to you might seem unnecessary in connection with the great and unlooked for salvation of those men over whom, in consequence of your work, their Catholic Mother rejoices.

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.