Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in 389 | translated by J. G. Cunningham
TO NEBRIDIUS AUGUSTIN SENDS GREETING.
1. No question of yours ever kept me so disturbed while reflecting upon it, as the remark which I read in your last letter, in which you chide me for being indifferent as to making arrangements by which it may be possible for us to live together. A grave charge, and one which, were it not unfounded, would be most perilous. But since satisfactory masons seem to prove that we can live as we would wish to do better here than at Carthage, or even in the country, I am wholly at a loss, my dear Nebridius, what to do with you. Shall such a conveyance as may best suit your state of health be sent from us to you? Our friend Lucinianus informs me that you can be carried without injury in a palanquin. But I consider, on the other hand, how your mother, who could not bear your absence from her when you were in health, will be much less able to bear it when you are ill. Shall I myself then come to you? This I cannot do, for there are some here who cannot accompany me, and whom I would think it a crime for me to leave. For you already can pass your time agreeably when left to the resources of our own mind but in their case the object of present efforts is that they may attain to this. Shall I go and come frequently, and so be now with you, now with them? But this is neither to live together, nor to live as we would wish to do. For the journey is not a short one, but so great at least that the attempt to perform it frequently would prevent our gaining the wished- for leisure. To this is added the bodily weakness through which, as you know, I cannot accomplish what I wish, unless I cease wholly to wish what is beyond my strength.
2. To occupy one's thoughts throughout life with journeyings which you cannot perform tranquilly and easily, is not the part of a man whose thoughts are engaged with that last journey which is called death, and which alone, as you understand, really deserves serious consideration. God has indeed granted to some few men whom He has ordained to bear rule over churches, the capacity of not only awaiting calmly, but even desiring eagerly, that last journey, while at the same time they can meet without disquietude the toils of those other journeyings; but I do not believe that either to those who are urged to accept such duties through desire for worldly honour, or to those who, although occupying a private station, covet a busy life, so great a boon is given as that amid bustle and agitating meetings, and journeyings hither and thither, they should acquire that familiarity with death which we seek: for both of these classes had it in their power to seek edification in retirement. Or if this be not true, I am, I shall not say the most foolish of all men, but at least the most indolent, since I find it impossible, without the aid of such an interval of relief from care and toil, to taste and relish that only real good. Believe me, there is need of much withdrawal of oneself from the tumult of the things which are passing away, in order that there may be formed in man, not through insensibility, not through presumption, not through vainglory, not through superstitious blindness, the ability to say, "I fear nought." By this means also is attained that enduring joy with which no pleasurable excitement found elsewhere is in any degree to be compared.
3. But if such a life does not fall to the lot of man, how is it that calmness of spirit is our occasional experience? Wherefore is this experience more frequent, in proportion to the devotion with which any one in his inmost soul worships God? Why does this tranquillity for the most part abide with one in the business of life, when he goes forth to its duties from that sanctuary? Why are there times in which, speaking, we do not fear death, and, silent, even desire it? I say to you — for I would not say it to every one-to you whose visits to the upper world I know well, Will you, who have often felt how sweetly the soul lives when it dies to all mere bodily affections, deny that it is possible for the whole life of man to become at length so exempt from fear, that he may be justly called wise? Or will you venture to affirm that this state of mind, on which reason leans has ever been your lot, except when you were shut up to commune with your own heart? Since these things are so, you see that it remains only for you to share with me the labour of devising how we may arrange to live together. You know much better than I do what is to be done in regard to your mother, whom your brother Victor, of course, does not leave alone. I will write no more, lest I turn your mind away from considering this proposal.
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.