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Fathers of the Church



”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 explains to Marcellinus the apologetic benefit to be gained from publishing widely the acts of the trial of Donatists described in letter CXXXIII, and again insists that the death penalty should not be used despite the magnitude of their crime.


The extant correspondence of St. Augustine includes more than 270 letters, including well over 200 written by him. Those numbered 124-231 span the period from the conference between Catholic and Donatist bishops held in 411, and the rise of the Pelagian heresy, until Augustine’s death in 430.

by Augustine of Hippo in 412 | translated by J. G. Cunningham


1. The Acts which your Excellency promised to send I am eagerly expecting, and I am longing to have them read as soon as possible in the church at Hippo, and also, if it can be done, in all the churches established within the diocese, that all may hear and become thoroughly familiar with the men who have confessed their crimes, not because the fear of God subdued them to repentance, but because the rigour of their judges broke through the hardness of their most cruel hearts, — some of them confessing to the murder of one presbyter [Restitutus], and the blinding and maiming of another [Innocentius]; others not daring to deny that they might have known of these outrages, although they say that they disapproved of them, and persisting in the impiety of schism in fellowship with such a multitude of atrocious villains, while deserting the peace of the Catholic Church on the pretext of unwillingness to be polluted by other men's crimes; others declaring that they will not forsake the schismatics, even though the certainty of Catholic truth and the perversity of the Donatists have been demonstrated to them. The work, which it has pleased God to entrust to your diligence, is of great importance. My heart's desire is, that many similar Donatist cases may be tried and decided by you as these have been, and that in this way the crimes and the insane obstinacy of these men may be often brought to light; and that the Acts recording these proceedings may be published, and brought to the knowledge of all men.

As to the statement in your Excellency's letter, that you are uncertain whether you ought to command the said Acts to be published in Theoprepia, my reply is, Let this be done, if a large multitude of hearers can be gathered there; if this be not the case, some other place of more general resort must be provided; it must not, however, be omitted on any account.

2. As to the punishment of these men, I beseech you to make it something less severe than sentence of death, although they have, by their own confession, been guilty of such grievous crimes. I ask this out of a regard both for our own consciences and for the testimony thereby given to Catholic clemency. For this is the special advantage secured to us by their confession, that the Catholic Church has found an opportunity of maintaining and exhibiting forbearance towards her most violent enemies; since in a case where such cruelty was practised, any punishment short of death will be seen by all men to proceed from great leniency. And although such treatment appears to some of our communion, whose minds are agitated by these atrocities, to be less than the crimes deserve, and to have somewhat the aspect of weakness and dereliction of duty, nevertheless, when the feelings, which are wont to be immoderately excited while such events are recent, have subsided after a time, the kindness shown to the guilty will shine with most conspicuous brightness, and men will take much more pleasure in reading these Acts and showing them to others, my lord justly distinguished, and son very much beloved and longed for.

My holy brother and co-bishop Boniface is on the spot, and I have forwarded by the deacon Peregrinus, who travelled along with him, a letter of instructions; accept these as representing me. And whatever may seem in your joint opinion to be for the Church's interest, let it be done with the help of the Lord, who is able in the midst of so great evils graciously to succour you. One of their bishops, Macrobius, is at present going round in all directions, followed by bands of wretched men and women, and has opened for himself the [Donatist] churches which fear, however slight, had moved their owners to close for a time. By the presence, however, of one whom I have commended and again heartily commend to your love, namely, Spondeus, the deputy of the illustrious Celer, their presumption was indeed somewhat checked; but now, since his departure to Carthage, Macrobius has opened the Donatist churches ever within his property, and is gathering congregations for worship in them. In his company, moreover, is Donatus, a deacon, rebaptized by them even when he was a tenant of lands belonging to the Church, who was implicated as a ringleader in the outrage [on Innocentius]. When this man is his associate, who can tell what kind of followers may be in his retinue? If the sentence on these men is to be pronounced by the Proconsul, or by both of you together, and if he perchance insist upon inflicting capital punishment, although he is a Christian and, so far as we have had opportunity of observing, not disposed to such severity — if, I say, his determination make it necessary, order those letters of mine, which I deemed it my duty to address to you severally on this subject, to be brought before you while the trial is still going on; for I am accustomed to hear that it is in the power of the judge to mitigate the sentence, and inflict a milder penalty than the law prescribes. If, however, notwithstanding these letters from me, he refuse to grant this request, let him at least allow that the men be remanded for a time; and we will endeavour to obtain this concession from the clemency of the Emperors, so that the sufferings of the martyrs, which ought to shed bright glory on the Church, may not be tarnished by the blood of their enemies; for I know that in the case of the clergy in the valley of Anaunia, who were slain by the Pagans, and are now honoured as martyrs, the Emperor granted readily a petition that the murderers, who had been discovered and imprisoned, might not be visited with a capital punishment.

3. As to the books concerning the baptism of infants, of which I had sent the original manuscript to your Excellency, I have forgotten for what reason I received them again from you; unless, perhaps, it was that, after examining them, I found them faulty, and wished to make some corrections, which, by reason of extraordinary hindrances, I have not yet been able to overtake. I must also confess that the letter intended to be addressed to you and added to these books, and which I had begun to dictate when I was with you, is still unfinished, little having been added to it since that time. If, however, I could set before you a statement of the toil which it is absolutely necessary for me to devote, both by day and by night, to other duties, you would deeply sympathize with me, and would be astonished at the amount of business not admitting of delay which distracts my mind and hinders me from accomplishing those things to which you urge me in entreaties and admonitions, addressed to one most willing to oblige you, and inexpressibly grieved that it is beyond his power; for when I obtain a little leisure from the urgent necessary business of those men, who so press me into their service that I am neither able to escape them nor at liberty to neglect them, there are always subjects to which I must, in dictating to my amanuenses, give the first place, because they are so connected with the present hour as not to admit of being postponed. Of such things one instance was the abridgement of the proceedings at our Conference, a work involving much labour, but necessary, because I saw that no one would attempt the perusal of such a mass of writing; another was a letter to the Donatist laity concerning the said Conference, a document which I have just completed, after labouring at it for several nights; another was the composition of two long letters, one addressed to yourself, my beloved friend, the other to the illustrious Volusianus, which I suppose you both have received; another is a book, with which I am occupied at present, addressed to our friend Honoratus, in regard to five questions proposed by him in a letter to me, and you see that to him I was unquestionably in duty bound to send a prompt reply. For love deals with her sons as a nurse does with children, devoting her attention to them not in the order of the love felt for each, but according to the urgency of each case; she gives a preference to the weaker, because she -desires to impart to them such strength as is possessed by the stronger, whom she passes by meanwhile not because of her slighting them, but because her mind is at rest in regard to them. Emergencies of this kind, compelling me to employ my amanuenses in writing on subjects which prevent me from using their pens in work much more congenial to the ardent desires of my heart, can never fail to occur, because I have difficulty in obtaining even a very little leisure, amidst the accumulation of business into which, in spite of my own inclinations, I am dragged by other men's wishes or necessities; and what I am to do, I really do not know.

4. You have heard the burdens, for my deliverance from which I wish you to join your prayers with mine; but at the same time I do not wish you to desist from admonishing me, as you do, with such importunity and frequency; your words are not without some effect. I commend at the same time to your Excellency a church planted in Numidia, on behalf of which, in its present necessities, my holy brother and co-bishop Delphinus has been sent by my brethren and co-bishops who share the toils and the dangers of their work in that region. I no more on this matter, because you will hear all from his own lips when he comes to you. All other necessary particulars you will find in the letters of instruction, which are sent by me to the presbyter either now or by the deacon Peregrinus, so that I need not again repeat them.

May your heart be ever strong in Christ, my lord justly distinguished, and son very much beloved and longed for!

I commend to your Excellency our son Ruffinus, the Provost of Cirta.

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.