Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in 408 or early 409 | translated by J. G. Cunningham
TO THE VERY DEVOUT ITALICA, AN HANDMAID OF GOD, PRAISED JUSTLY AND PIOUSLY BY THE MEMBERS OF CHRIST, AUGUSTIN SENDS GREETING IN THE LORD.
1. Up to the time of my writing this reply, I had received three letters from your Grace, of which the first asked urgently a letter from me, the second intimated that what I wrote in answer had reached you, and the third, which conveyed the assurance of your most benevolent solicitude for our interest in the matter of the house belonging to that most illustrious and distinguished young man Julian, which is in immediate contact with the walls of our Church. To this last letter, just now received, I lose no time in promptly replying, because your Excellency's agent has written to me that he can send my letter without delay to Rome. By his letter we have been greatly distressed, because he has taken pains to acquaint us with the things which are taking place in the city (Rome) or around its walls, so as to give us reliable information concerning that which we were reluctant to believe on the authority of vague rumours. In the letters which were sent to us previously by our brethren, tidings were given to us of events, vexatious and grievous, it is true, but much less calamitous than those of which we now hear. I am surprised beyond expression that my brethren the holy bishops did not write to me when so favourable an opportunity of sending a letter by your messengers occurred, and that your own letter conveyed to us no information concerning such painful tribulation as has befallen you, — tribulation which, by reason of the tender sympathies of Christian charity, is ours as well as yours. I suppose, however, that you deemed it better not to mention these sorrows, because you considered that this could do no good, or because you did not wish to make us sad by your letter. But in my opinion, it does some good to acquaint us even with such events as these: in the first place, because it is not right to be ready to "rejoice with them that rejoice," but refuse to "weep with them that weep;" and in the second place, because "tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope; and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."
2. Far be it, therefore, from us to refuse to hear even of the bitter and sorrowful things which befall those who are very dear to us! For in some way which I cannot explain, the pain suffered by one member is mitigated when all the other members suffer with it. And this mitigation is effected not by actual participation in the calamity, but by the solacing power of love; for although only some suffer the actual burden of the affliction, and the others share their suffering through knowing what these have to bear, nevertheless the tribulation is borne in common by them all, seeing that they have in common the same experience, hope, and love, and the same Divine Spirit. Moreover, the Lord provides consolation for us all, inasmuch as He hath both forewarned us of these temporal afflictions, and promised to us after them eternal blessings; and the soldier who desires to receive a crown when the conflict is over, ought not to lose courage while the conflict lasts, since He who is preparing rewards ineffable for those who overcome, does Himself minister strength to them while they are on the field to baffle.
3. Let not what I have now written take away your confidence in writing to me, especially since the reason which may be pled for your endeavouring to lessen our fears is one which cannot be condemned. We salute in return your little children, and we desire that they may be spared to you, and may grow up in Christ, since they discern even in their present tender age how dangerous and baneful is the love of this world. God grant that the plants which are small and still flexible may be bent in the right direction in a time in which the great and hardy are being shaken. As to the house of which you speak, what can I say beyond expressing my gratitude for your very kind solicitude? For the house which we can give they do not wish; and the house which they wish we cannot give, for it was not left to the church by my predecessor, as they have been falsely informed, but is one of the ancient properties of the church, and it is attached to the one ancient church in the same way as the house about which this question has been raised is attached to the other.
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.