Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in Uncertain | translated by J. G. Cunningham
TO POSSIDIUS, MY MOST BELOVED LORD AND VENERABLE BROTHER AND PARTNER IN THE SACERDOTAL OFFICE, AND TO THE BRETHREN WHO ARE WITH HIM, AUGUSTIN AND THE BRETHREN WHO ARE WITH HIM SEND GREETING IN THE LORD.
1. It requires more consideration to decide what to do with those who refuse to obey you, than to discover how to show them that things which they do are unlawful. Meanwhile, however, the letter of your Holiness has come upon me when I am exceedingly pressed with business, and the very hasty departure of the bearer has made it necessary for me to write you in reply, but has not given me time to answer as I ought to have done in regard to the matters on which you have consulted me. Let me say, however, in regard to ornaments of gold and costly dress, that I would not have you come to a precipitate decision in the way of forbidding their use, except in the case of those who, neither being married nor intending to marry, are bound to consider only how they may please God. But those who belong to the world have also to consider how they may in these things please their wives if they be husbands, their husbands if they be wives; with this limitation, that it is not becoming even in married women to uncover their hair, since the apostle commands women to keep their heads covered. As to the use of pigments by women in colouring the face, in order to have a ruddier or a fairer complexion, this is a dishonest artifice, by which I am sure that even their own husbands do not wish to be deceived; and it is only for their own husbands that women ought to be permitted to adorn themselves, according to the toleration, not the injunction, of Scripture. For the true adorning, especially of Christian men and women, consists not only in the absence of all deceitful painting of the complexion, but in the possession not of magnificent golden ornaments or rich apparel, but of a blameless life.
2. As for the accursed superstition of wearing amulets (among which the earrings worn by men at the top of the ear on one side are to be reckoned), it is practised with the view not of pleasing men, but of doing homage to devils. But who can expect to find in Scripture express prohibition of every form of wicked superstition, seeing that the apostle says generally, "I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils," and again, "What concord hath Christ with Belial?" unless, perchance, the fact that he named Belial, while he forbade in general terms fellowship with devils, leaves it open for Christians to sacrifice to Neptune, because we nowhere read an express prohibition of the worship of Neptune! Meanwhile, let those unhappy people be admonished that, if they persist in disobedience to salutary precepts, they must at least forbear from defending their impieties, and thereby involving themselves in greater guilt. But why should we argue at all with them if they are afraid to take off their earrings, and are not afraid to receive the body of Christ while wearing the badge of the devil?
As to ordaining a man who was baptized in the Donatist sect, I cannot take the responsibility of recommending you to do this; it is one thing for you to do it if you are left without alternative, it is another thing for me to advise that you should do it.
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.