Fathers of the Church

Letter LX

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). In this letter to Aurelius, a fellow bishop, he questions the prudence of ordaining to the priesthood two monks who had left their monastery in Augustine’s diocese without permission.

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 FATHER AURELIUS, MY LORD MOST BLESSED, AND REVERED WITH MOST JUSTLY MERITED RESPECT, MY BROTHER IN THE PRIESTHOOD, MOST SINCERELY BELOVED, AUGUSTIN SENDS GREETING IN THE LORD.

1. I have received no letter from your Holiness since we parted; but I have now read a letter of your Grace concerning Donatus and his brother, and I have long hesitated as to the reply which I ought to give. After frequently reconsidering what is in such a case conducive to the welfare of those whom we serve in Christ, and seek to nourish in Him, nothing has occurred to me which would alter my opinion that: it is not right to give occasion for God's servants to think that promotion to a better position is more readily given to those who have become worse. Such a rule would make monks less careful of falling, and a most grievous wrong would be done to the order of clergy, if those who have deserted their duty as monks be chosen to serve as clergy, seeing that our custom is to select for that office only the more tried and superior men of those who continue faithful to their calling as monks; unless, perchance, the common people are to be taught to joke at our expense, saying "a bad monk makes a good clerk," as they are wont to say that "a poor flute-player makes a good singer." It would be an intolerable calamity if we were to encourage the monks to such fatal pride, and were to consent to brand with so grievous disgrace the clerical order to which we ourselves belong: seeing that sometimes even a good monk is scarcely qualified to be a good clerk; for though he be proficient in self-denial, he may lack the necessary instruction, or be disqualified by some personal defect.

2. I believe, however, that your Holiness understood these monks to have left the monastery with my consent, in order that they might rather be useful to the people of their own district; but this was not the case: of their own accord they departed, of their own accord they deserted us, notwithstanding my resisting, from a regard to their welfare, to the utmost of my power. As to Donatus, seeing that he has obtained ordination before we could arrive at any decision in the Council as to his case, do as your wisdom may guide you; it may be that his proud obstinacy has been subdued. But as to his brother, who was the chief cause of Donatus leaving the monastery, I know not what to write, since you know what I think of him. I do not presume to oppose what may seem best to one of your wisdom, rank, and piety; and I hope with all my heart that you will do whatever you judge most profitable for the members of the Church.

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.