Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in 408 | translated by J. G. Cunningham
TO OLYMPIUS, MY EXCELLENT AND JUSTLY DISTINGUISHED LORD, AND MY SON WORTHY OF MUCH HONOUR IN CHRIST, AUGUSTIN SENDS GREETING IN THE LORD.
1. Although, when we heard recently of your having obtained merited promotion to the highest rank, we felt persuaded, however uncertain we still were in some degree as to the truth of the report, that towards the Church of which we rejoice to know that you are truly a son, there was no other feeling in your mind than that which you have now made patent to us in your letter, nevertheless, having now read that letter in which you have been pleased of your own accord to send to us, when we were full of backwardness and diffidence, a most gracious exhortation to use our humble efforts in pointing out to you how the Lord, by whose gift you are thus powerful, may from time to time, by means of your pious obedience, bring assistance to His Church, we write to you with the more abundant confidence, my excellent and justly distinguished lord, and my son worthy of much honour in Christ.
2. Many brethren, indeed, holy men who are my colleagues, have, by reason of the troubles of the church here, gone—I might almost say as fugitives—to the emperor's most illustrious court; and these brethren you may have already seen, or may have received from Rome their letters, in connection with their respective occasions of appeal. I have not had it in my power to consult them before writing; nevertheless, I was unwilling to miss the opportunity of sending a letter by the bearer, my brother and fellow-presbyter, who has been compelled, though in mid-winter, to make the best of his way into those parts, under pressing necessity, in order to save the life of a fellow-citizen. I write, therefore, to salute you, and to charge you by the love which you have in Christ Jesus our Lord, to see that your good work be hastened on with the utmost diligence, in order that the enemies of the Church may know that those laws concerning the demolition of idols and the correction of heretics which were sent into Africa while Stilicho yet lived, were framed by the desire of our most pious and faithful emperor; for they either cunningly boast, or unwillingly imagine that this was done without his knowledge, or against his will, and thus they render the minds of the ignorant full of seditious violence, and excite them to dangerous and vehement enmity against us.
3. I do not doubt that, in submitting this in the way of petition or respectful suggestion to the consideration of your Excellency, I act agreeably to the wishes of all my colleagues throughout Africa; and I think that it is your duty to take measures, as could be easily done, on whatever opportunity may first arise, to make it understood by these vain men (whose salvation we seek, although they resist us), that it was to the care, not of Stilicho, but of the son of Theodosius, that those laws which have been sent into Africa for the defence of the Church of Christ owed their promulgation. On account of these things, then, the presbyter whom I have mentioned already, the bearer of this letter, who is from the district of Milevi, was ordered by his bishop, the venerable Severus, who joins me in cordial salutations to you, whose love we esteem most genuine, to pass through Hippo-regius, where I am; because, when we happened to meet together in time of serious tribulation and distress to the Church, we sought an opportunity of writing to your Highness, but found none. I had indeed already sent one letter in regard to the business of our holy brother and colleague Boniface, bishop of Cataqua; but the heavier calamities destined to cause us greater agitation had not then befallen us, regarding which, and the means whereby something may be done with the best counsel for their prevention or punishment, according to the method of Christ, the bishops who have sailed hence on that errand will be able more conveniently to confer with you, in whose cordial goodwill towards us we rejoice, inasmuch as they are able to report to you something which has been, so far as limited time permitted, the result of careful and united consultation. But as to this other matter, namely, that the province be made to know how the mind of our most gracious and religious emperor stands towards the Church, I recommend, nay, I beg, beseech, and implore you, to take care that no time be lost, but that its accomplishment be hastened, even before you see the bishops who have gone from us, so soon as shall be possible for you, in the exercise of your most eminent vigilance on behalf of the members of Christ who are now in circumstances of the utmost danger; for the Lord has provided no small consolation for us under these trials, seeing that it has pleased Him to put much more now than formerly in your power, although we were already filled with joy by the number and the magnitude of your good offices.
4. We rejoice much in the firm and stedfast faith of some, and these not few in number, who by means of these laws have been converted to the Christian religion, or from schism to Catholic peace, for whose eternal welfare we are glad to run the risk of forfeiting temporal welfare. For on this account especially we now have to endure at the hands of men, exceedingly and obdurately perverse, more grievous assaults of enmity, which some of them, along with us, bear most patiently; but we are in very great fear because of their weakness, until they learn, and are enabled by the help of the Lord's most compassionate grace, to despise with more abundant strength of spirit the present world and man's short day. May it please your Highness to deliver the letter of instructions which I have sent to my brethren the bishops when they come, if, as I suppose, they have not yet reached you. For we have such confidence in the unfeigned devotion of your heart, that with the Lord's help we desire to have you not only giving us your assistance, but also participating in our consultations.
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.