Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in 408 | translated by J. G. Cunningham
TO OLYMPIUS, MY LORD GREATLY BELOVED, AND MY SON WORTHY OF HONOUR AND REGARD AS A MEMBER OF CHRIST, AUGUSTIN SENDS GREETING.
1. Whatever your rank may be in connection with the course of this world, I have the greatest confidence in addressing you as my much-loved, true-hearted Christian fellow-servant Olympius. For I know that this name, in your esteem, excels all other glorious and lofty titles. Reports have indeed reached me that you have obtained some promotion in worldly honour, but no information confirming the truth of the rumour had come to me up to the time when this opportunity of writing to you occurred. Since, however, I know that you have learned from the Lord not to mind high things, but to condescend to those who are lightly esteemed by men, whatever the pinnacle to which you may have been raised, we take for granted, my lord greatly beloved, and son worthy of honour and regard as a member of Christ, that you will still make a letter from me welcome, just as you were wont to do. And as to your worldly prosperity, I do not doubt that you will wisely use it for your eternal gain; so that the greater the influence which you acquire in the commonwealth on this earth, the more will you devote yourself to the interests of the heavenly city to which you owe your birth in Christ, forasmuch as this shall be more abundantly repaid to you in the land of the living, and in the true peace which yields sure and endless joys.
2. I again commend to your kind consideration the petition of my brother and colleague Boniface, in the hope that what could not be done before may be in your power now. He might perhaps, indeed, legally retain, without any further difficulty, that which his predecessor had acquired, though under another name than his own, and which he had begun to possess in name of the church; but we do not wish, since his predecessor was in debt to the public exchequer, to have this burden upon our conscience. For that act of fraud was none the less truly fraud because perpetrated at the expense of the public revenue. The same Paul (the predecessor of Boniface), when he was made bishop, being about to surrender all his effects because of the accumulated burden of arrears due to the public exchequer, having secured payment of a bond by which a certain sum of money was due to him, bought with it, as if for the church, in the name of a family then very powerful, these few fields by the produce of which he might support himself, in order that, in respect to these also, after his old practice, he might escape annoyance at the hands of the collectors of the revenue, although he was paying no tax. Boniface, however, when ordained over the same church, on his death, hesitated to take the fields which he had thus held; and although he might have contented himself with asking from the emperor no more than a remission of the fiscal arrears which his predecessor had incurred on this small property, he preferred to confess without reserve that Paul had bought the property at an auction with money of his own, at a time when he was bankrupt as a debtor to the public revenue, so that now the Church may, if possible, obtain possession of this, not through the secret fraud of her bishop, but by an open act of the Christian emperor's liberality. And if this be impossible, the servants of God prefer to bear the hardship of want, rather than obtain the supply of that which they require under reproaches of conscience for dishonourable dealing.
3. I beg you to condescend to give your support to this petition, because he has resolved not to bring forward the decision in his favour which was formerly obtained, lest it should preclude him from the liberty of making a second application; for the answer then given fell short of what he desired. And now, since you are of the same kindly disposition that you formerly were, but possessed of greater influence, I do not despair of this being easily granted by the Lord's help, in consideration of your claims on the emperor; and if even you were to ask the gift of the property in your own name, and present it to the church of which I have spoken, who would find fault with your request; nay, rather, who would not commend it, as dictated not by personal covetousness, but by Christian piety? May the mercy of the Lord our God shield you, and make you more and more happy in Christ, my lord and son.
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.