Fathers of the Church

Letter Xc

Description

This letter is from Nectarius, a non-Christian from the town of Calama, some of whose pagan citizens had recently attacked the local Catholic church and killed one of its members (for this information see Augustine’s reply, letter XCI). Nectarius asks Augustine to ensure that punishment will not be directed against the whole community.

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 408 | translated by J. G. Cunningham

TO MY NOBLE LORD AND BROTHER, WORTHY OF ALL ESTEEM, BISHOP AUGUSTIN, NECTARIUS SENDS GREETING.

I do not dwell upon the strength of the love men bear to their native land, for you know it. It is the only emotion which has a stronger claim than love of kindred. If there were any limit or time beyond which it would be lawful for right-hearted men to withdraw themselves from its control, I have by this time well earned exemption from the burdens which it imposes. But since love and gratitude towards our country gain strength every day, and the nearer one comes to the end of life, the more ardent is his desire to leave his country in a safe and prosperous condition, I rejoice, in beginning this letter, that I am addressing myself to a man who is versed in all kinds of learning, and therefore able to enter into my feelings.

There are many things in the colony of Calama which justly bind my love to it. I was born here, and I have (in the opinion of others) rendered great services to this community. Now, my lord most excellent and worthy of all esteem, this town has fallen disastrously by a grievous misdemeanour on the part of her citizens, which must be punished with very great severity, if we are dealt with according to the rigour of the civil law. But a bishop is guided by another law. His duty is to promote the welfare of men, to interest himself in any case only with a view to the benefit of the parties, and to obtain for other men the pardon of their sins at the hand of the Almighty God. Wherefore I beseech you with all possible urgency to secure that, if the matter is to be made the subject of a prosecution, the guiltless be protected, and a distinction drawn between the innocent and those who did the wrong. This, which, as you see, is a demand in accordance with your own natural sentiments, I pray you to grant. An assessment to compensate for the losses caused by the tumult can be easily levied. We only deprecate the severity of revenge. May you live in the more full enjoyment of the Divine favour, my noble lord, and brother worthy of all esteem.

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.