Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

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 writes a Donatist bishop, Januarius, complaining of violence by Donatists known as Circumcelliones against Catholics and their property, and reminding him that the imperial decrees confiscating Church property from Donatists were made in response to Donatist accusations to Constantine against a Catholic bishop, and revived due to the recent Donatist violence.


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 406 | translated by J. G. Cunningham


1. Your clergy and your Circumcelliones are venting against us their rage in a persecution of a new kind, and of unparalleled atrocity. Were we to render evil for evil, we should be transgressing the law of Christ. But now, when all that has been done, both on your side and on ours, is impartially considered, it is found that we are suffering what is written, "They rewarded me evil for good;" and (in another Psalm), "My soul hath long dwelt with him that hateth peace. I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war." For, seeing that you have arrived at so great age, we suppose you to know perfectly well that the party of Donatus, which at first was called at Carthage the party of Majorinus, did of their own accord accuse Caecilianus, then bishop of Carthage, before the famous Emperor Constantine. Lest, however, you should have forgotten this, venerable sir, or should pretend not to know, or perhaps (which we scarcely think possible) may never have known it, we insert here a copy of the narrative of Anulinus, then proconsul, to whom the party of Majorinus appealed, requesting that by him as proconsul a statement of the charges which they brought against Caecilianus should be sent to the Emperor aforesaid: —

2. To Constantine Augustus, from Anulinus, a man of consular rank, proconsul of Africa, these:

The welcome and adored celestial writing sent by your Majesty to Caecilianus, and those over whom he presides, who are called clergy, have been, by the care of your Majesty's most humble servant, engrossed in his Records; and he has exhorted these parties that, heartily agreeing among themselves, since they are seen to be exempted from all other burdens by your Majesty's clemency, they should, preserving Catholic unity, devote themselves to their duties with the reverence due to the sanctity of law and to divine things. After a few days, however, there arose some persons to whom a crowd of people joined themselves, who thought that proceedings should be taken against Caecilianus, and presented to me a sealed packet wrapped in leather, and a small document without seal, and earnestly besought me to transmit them to your Majesty's sacred and venerable court, which your Majesty's most humble servant has taken care to do, Caecilianus continuing meanwhile as he was. The Acts pertaining to the case are subjoined, in order that your Majesty may be able to arrive at a decision concerning the whole matter. The documents sent are two: the one in a leathern envelope, with this title, "A document of the Catholic Church containing charges against Caecilianus, and furnished by the party of Majorinus;" the other attached without a seal to the same leathern envelope.

Given on the 17th day before the Calends of May, in the third consulship of our lord Constantine Augustus [i.e. April 15, A.D. 313].

3. After this report had been sent to him, the Emperor summoned the parties before a tribunal of bishops to be constituted at Rome. The ecclesiastical records show how the case was there argued and decided, and Caecilianus pronounced innocent. Surely now, after the peacemaking decision of the tribunal of bishops, all the pertinacity of strife and bitterness should have given way. Your forefathers, however, appealed again to the Emperor, and complained that the decision was not just, and that their case had not been fully heard. Accordingly, he appointed a second tribunal of bishops to meet in Aries, a town of Gaul, where, after sentence had been pronounced against your worthless and diabolical schism, many of your party returned to a good understanding with Caecilianus; some, however, who were most obstinate and contentious, appealed to the Emperor again. Afterwards, when, yielding to their importunity, he personally interposed in this dispute, which belonged properly to the bishops to decide, having heard the case, he gave sentence against your party, and was the first to pass a law that the properties of your congregations should be confiscated; of all which things we could insert the documentary evidence here, if it were not for making the letter too long. We must, however, by no means omit the investigation and decision in open court of the case of Felix of Aptunga, whom, in the Council of Carthage, under Secundus of Tigisis, primate, your fathers affirmed to be the original cause of all these evils. For the Emperor aforesaid, in a letter of which we annex a copy, bears witness that in this trial your party were before him as accusers and most strenuous prosecutors:—

4. The Emperors Flavius Constantinus, Maximus Caesar, and Valerius Licinius Caesar, to Probianus, proconsul of Africa:

Your predecessor Aelianus, who acted as substitute for Verus, the superintendent of the prefects, when that most excellent magistrate was by severe illness laid aside in that part of Africa which is under our sway, considered it, and most justly, to be his duty, amongst other things, to bring again under his investigation and decision the matter of Caecilianus, or rather the odium which seems to have been stirred up against that bishop of the Catholic Church. Wherefore, having ordered the compearance of Superius, centurion, Caecilianus, magistrate of Aptunga, and Saturninus, the ex-president of police, and his successor in the office, Calibius the younger, and Solon, an official belonging to Aptunga, he heard the testimony of these witnesses; the result of which was, that whereas objection had been taken to Caecilianus on the ground of his ordination to the office of bishop by Felix, against whom it seemed that the charge of surrendering and burning the sacred books had been made, the innocence of Felix in this matter was clearly established. Moreover, when Maximus affirmed that Ingentius, a decurion of the town of Ziqua, had forged a letter of the ex-magistrate Caecilianus, we found, on examining the Acts which were before us, that this same Ingentius had been put on the rack for that offence, and that the infliction of torture on him was not, as alleged, on the ground of his affirming that he was a decurion of Ziqua. Wherefore we desire you to send under a suitable guard to the court of Augustus Constantine the said Ingentius, that in the presence and hearing of those who are now pleading in this case, and who day after day persist in their complaints, it may be made manifest and fully known that they labour in vain to excite odium against the bishop Caecilianus, and to clamour violently against him. This, we hope, will bring the people to desist, as they should do, from such contentions, and to devote themselves with becoming reverence to their religious duties, undistracted by dissension among themselves.

5. Since you see, therefore, that these things are so, why do you provoke odium against us on the ground of the imperial decrees which are in force against you, when you have yourselves done all this before we followed your example? If emperors ought not to use their authority in such cases, if care of these matters lies beyond the province of Christian emperors, who urged your forefathers to remit the case of Caecilianus, by the proconsul, to the Emperor, and a second time to bring before the Emperor accusations against a bishop whom you had somehow condemned in absence, and on his acquittal to invent and bring before the same Emperor other calumnies against Felix, by whom the bishop aforesaid had been ordained? And now, what other law is in force against your party than that decision of the elder Constantine, to which your forefathers of their own choice appealed, which they extorted from him by their importunate complaints, and which they preferred to the decision of an episcopal tribunal? If you are dissatisfied with the decrees of emperors, who were the first to compel the emperors to set these in array against you? For you have no more reason for crying out against the Catholic Church because of the decrees of emperors against yon, than those men would have had for crying out against Daniel, who, after his deliverance, were thrown in to be devoured by the same lions by which they first sought to have him destroyed; as it is written: "The king's wrath is as the roaring of a lion." These slanderous enemies insisted that Daniel should be thrown into the den of lions: his innocence prevailed over their malice; he was taken from the den unharmed and they, being cast into it, perished. In like manner, your forefathers cast Caecilianus and his companions to be destroyed by the king's wrath; and when, by their innocence, they were delivered from this, you yourselves now suffer from these kings what your party wished them to suffer; as it is written: "Whoso diggeth a pit for his neighbour, shall himself fall therein."

6. You have therefore no ground for complaint against us: nay more, the clemency of the Catholic Church would have led us to desist from even enforcing these decrees of the emperors, had not your clergy and Circumcelliones, disturbing our peace, and destroying us by their most monstrous crimes and furious deeds of violence, compelled us to have these decrees revived and put in force again. For before these more recent edicts of which you complain had come into Africa, these desperadoes laid ambush for our bishops on their journeys, abused our clergy with savage blows, and assaulted our laity in the same most cruel manner, and set fire to their habitations. A certain presbyter who had of his own free choice preferred the unity of our Church, was for so doing dragged out of his own house, cruelly beaten without form of law, rolled over and over in a miry pond, covered with a matting of rushes, and exhibited as an object of pity to some and of ridicule to others, while his persecutors gloried in their crime; after which they carried him away where they pleased, and reluctantly set him at liberty after twelve days. When Proculeianus was challenged by our bishop concerning this outrage, at a meeting of the municipal courts, he at first endeavoured to evade inquiry into the matter by pretending that he knew nothing of it; and when the demand was immediately repeated, he publicly declared that he would say nothing more on the subject. And the perpetrators of that outrage are at this day among your presbyters, continuing moreover to keep us in terror, and to persecute us to the utmost of their power.

7. Our bishop, however, did not complain to the emperors of the wrongs and persecution which the Catholic Church in our district suffered in those days. But when a Council had been convened, it was agreed that you should be invited to meet our party peaceably, in order that, if it were possible, you [i.e. the bishops on both sides, for the letter is written by the clergy of Hippo] might have a conference, and the error being taken out of the way, brotherly love might rejoice in the bond of peace between us. You may learn from your own records the answer which Proculeianus made at first on that occasion, that you would call a Council together, and would there see what you ought to answer; and how afterwards, when he was again publicly reminded of his promise, he stated, as the Acts bear witness, that he refused to have any conference with a view to peace. After this, when the notorious atrocities of your clergy and Circumcelliones continued, a case was brought to trial; and Crispinus being condemned as a heretic, although he was through the forbearance of the Catholics exempted from the fine which the imperial edict imposed on heretics of ten pounds of gold, nevertheless thought himself warranted in appealing to the emperors. As to the answer which was made to that appeal, was it not extorted by the preceding wickedness of your party and by his own appeal? And yet, even after that answer was given, he was permitted to escape the infliction of that fine, through the intercession of our bishops with the Emperor on his behalf. From that Council, however, our bishops sent deputies to the court, who obtained a decree that not all your bishops and clergy should be held liable to this fine of ten pounds of gold, which the decree had imposed on all heretics, but only those in whose districts the Catholic Church suffered violence at the hands of your party. But by the time that the deputation came to Rome, the wounds of the Catholic bishop of Bugle, who had just then been dreadfully injured, had moved the Emperor to send such edicts as were actually sent. When these edicts came to Africa, seeing especially that strong pressure had begun to be brought upon you, not to any evil thing, but for your good, what should you have done but invited our bishops to meet you, as they had invited yours to meet them, that by a conference the truth might be brought to light?

8. Not only, however, have you failed to do this. but your party go on inflicting yet greater injuries upon us. Not contented with beating us with bludgeons and killing some with the sword, they even, with incredible ingenuity in crime, throw lime mixed with acid [? vitriol] into our people's eyes to blind them. For pillaging our houses, moreover, they have fashioned huge and formidable implements, armed with which they wander here and there, breathing out threats of slaughter, rapine, burning of houses and blinding of our eyes; by which things we have been constrained in the first instance to complain to you, venerable sir, begging you to consider how, under these so-called terrible laws of Catholic emperors, many, nay all of you, who say that you are the victims of persecution, are settled in peace in the possessions which were your own, or which you have taken from others, while we suffer such unheard-of wrongs at the hands of your party. You say that you are. persecuted, while we are killed with clubs and swords by your armed men. You say that you are persecuted, while our houses are pillaged by your armed robbers. You say that you are persecuted, while many of us have our eyesight destroyed by the lime and acid with which your men are armed for the purpose. Moreover, if their course of crime brings some of them to death, they make out that these deaths are justly the occasion of odium against us, and of glory to them. They take no blame to themselves for the harm which they do to us, and they lay upon us the blame of the harm which they bring upon themselves. They live as robbers, they die as Circumcelliones, they are honoured as martyrs! Nay, I do injustice to robbers in this comparison; for we have never heard of robbers destroying the eyesight of those whom they have plundered: they indeed take away those whom they kill from the light, but they do not take away the light from those whom they leave in life.

9. On the other hand, if at any time we get men of your party into our power, we keep them unharmed, showing great love towards them; and we tell them everything by which the error which has severed brother from brother is refuted. We do as the Lord Himself commanded us, in the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Hear the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at His word; say, Ye are our brethren, to those who hate you, and who cast you out, that the name of the Lord may be glorified, and that He may appear to them with joy; but let them be put to shame." And thus some of them we persuade, through their considering the evidences l of the truth and the beauty of peace, not to be baptized anew for this sign of allegiance to our king they have already received (though they were as deserters), but to accept that faith, and love of the Holy Spirit, and union to the body of Christ, which formerly they had not. For it is written, "Purifying their hearts by faith;" and again, "Charity covereth a multitude of sins." If, however, either through too great obduracy, or through shame making them unable to bear the taunts of those with whom they were accustomed to join so frequently in falsely reproaching us and contriving evil against us, or perhaps more through fear lest they should come to share along with us such injuries as they were formerly wont to inflict on us,— if, I say, from any of these causes, they refuse to be reconciled to the unity of Christ, they are allowed to depart, as they were detained, without suffering any harm. We also exhort our laity as far as we can to detain them without doing them any harm, and bring them to us for admonition and instruction. Some of them obey us and do this, if it is in their power: others deal with them as they would with robbers, because they actually suffer from them such things as robbers are wont to do. Some of them strike their assailants in protecting their own bodies from their blows: while others apprehend them and bring them to the magistrates; and though we intercede on their behalf, they do not let them off, because they are very much afraid of their savage outrages. Yet all the while, these men, though persisting in the practices of robbers, claim to be honoured as martyrs when they receive the due reward of their deeds!

10. Accordingly our desire, which we lay before you, venerable sir, by this letter and by the brethren whom we have sent, is as follows. In the first place, if it be possible, let a peaceable conference be held with our bishops, so that an end may be put to the error itself, not to the men who embrace it, and men corrected rather than punished; and as you formerly despised their proposals for agreement, let them now proceed from your side. How much better for you to have such a conference between your bishops and ours, the proceedings of which may be written down and sent with signature of the parties to the Emperor, than to confer with the civil magistrates, who cannot do otherwise than administer the laws which have been passed against you! For your colleagues who sailed from this country said that they had come to have their case heard by the prefects. They also named our holy father the Catholic bishop Valentinus, who was then at court, saying that they wished to be heard along with him. This the judge could not concede, as he was guided in his judicial functions by the laws which were passed against you: the bishop, moreover, had not come on this footing, or with any such instructions from his colleagues. How much better qualified therefore will the Emperor himself be to decide regarding your case, when the report of that conference has been read before him, seeing that he is not bound by these laws, and has power to enact other laws instead of them; although it may be said to be a case upon which final decision was pronounced long ago! Yet, in wishing this conference with you, we seek not to have a second final decision, but to have it made known as already settled to those who meanwhile are not aware that it is so. If your bishops be willing to do this, what do you thereby lose? Do you not rather gain, inasmuch as your willingness for such conference will become known, and the reproach, hitherto deserved, that you distrust your own cause will be taken away? Do you, perchance, suppose that such conference would be unlawful? Surely you are aware that Christ our Lord spoke even to the devil concerning the law, and that by the Apostle Paul debates were held not only with Jews, but even with heathen philosophers of the sect of the Stoics and of the Epicureans. Is it, perchance, that the laws of the Emperor do not permit you to meet our bishops? If so, assemble together in the meantime your bishops in the region of Hippo, in which we are suffering such wrongs from men of your party. For how much more legitimate and open is the way of access to us for the writings which you might send to us, than for the arms with which they assail us!

11. Finally, we beg you to send back such writings by our brethren whom we have sent to you. If, however, you will not do this, at least hear us as well as those of your own party, at whose hands we suffer such wrongs Show us the truth for which you allege that you suffer persecution, at the time when we are suffering so great cruelties from your side. For if you convict us of being in error, perhaps you will concede to us an exemption from being rebaptized by you, because we were baptized by persons whom you have not condemned; and you granted this exemption to those whom Felicianus of Musti, and Praetextatus of Assuri, had baptized during the long period in which you were attempting to cast them out of their churches by legal interdicts, because they were in communion with Maximianus, along with whom they were condemned explicitly and by name in the Council of Bagae. All which things we can prove by the judicial and municipal transactions, in which you brought forward the decisions of this same Council of yours, when you wished to show the judges that the persons! whom you were expelling from your ecclesiastical buildings were persons by schism separated from you. Nevertheless, you who have by schism severed yourselves from the seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth are blessed, refuse to be expelled from our ecclesiastical buildings, when the decree to this effect proceeds not from judges such as you employed in dealing with schismatics from your sect, but from the kings of the earth themselves, who worship Christ as the prophecy had foretold, and from whose bar you retired vanquished when you brought accusation against Caecilianus.

12. If, however, you will neither instruct us nor listen to us, come yourselves, or send into the district of Hippo some of your party, with some of us as their guides, that they may see your army equipped with their weapons; nay, more fully equipped than ever army was before, for no soldier when fighting against barbarians was ever known to add to his other weapons lime and acid to destroy the eyes of his enemies. If you refuse this also, we beg you at least to write to them to desist now from these things, and refrain from murdering, plundering, and blinding our people. We will not say, condemn them; for it is for yourselves to see how no contamination is brought to you by the toleration within your communion of those whom we prove to be robbers, while contamination is brought to us by our having members against whom you have never been able to prove that they were traditors. If, however, you treat all our remonstrances with contempt, we shall never regret that we desired to act in a peaceful and orderly way. The Lord will so plead for His Church, that you, on the other hand, shall regret that you despised our humble attempt at conciliation.

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.

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