Fathers of the Church
by Augustine of Hippo in 410 | translated by J. G. Cunningham
TO HIS WELL-BELOVED BRETHREN THE CLERGY, AND TO THE WHOLE PEOPLE [OF HIPPO], AUGUSTIN SENDS GREETING IN THE LORD.
1. In the first place, I beseech you, my friends, and implore you, for Christ's sake, not to let my bodily absence grieve you. For I suppose you do not imagine that I could by any means be separated in spirit and in unfeigned love from you, although perchance it is even a greater grief to me than to you that my weakness unfits me for bearing all the cares which are laid on me by those members of Christ to whose service both fear of Him and love to them constrain me to devote myself. For you know this, my beloved, that I have never absented myself from you through self-indulgent taking of ease, but only when compelled by such duties as have made it necessary for some of my holy colleagues and brethren to endure, both on the sea and in countries beyond the sea, labours from which I was exempted, not because of reluctance of spirit, but by reason of imperfect bodily health. Wherefore, my dearly-beloved brethren, act so that, as the apostle says, "whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." If any vexation pertaining to time causes you distress, this itself ought the more to remind you how you should occupy your thoughts with that life in which you may live without any burden, escaping not the annoying hardships of this short life, but the dread flames of eternal fire. For if ye strive with so much anxiety, so much earnestness, and so much labour, to save yourselves from failing into some transient sufferings in this world, how solicitous ought you to be to escape everlasting misery! And if the death which puts an end to the labours of time is so feared, how ought we to fear the death which ushers men into eternal pain! And if the short-lived and sordid pleasures of this world are so loved, with how much greater earnestness ought we to seek the pure and infinite joys of the world to come! Meditating upon these things, be not slothful in good works, that ye may come in due season to reap what you have sown.
2. It has been reported to me that you have forgotten your custom of providing raiment for the poor, to which work of charity I exhorted you when I was present with you; and I now exhort you not to allow yourselves to be overcome and made slothful by the tribulation of this world, which you see now visited with such calamities as were foretold by our Lord and Redeemer, who cannot lie. You ought in present circumstances not to be less diligent in works of charity, but rather to be more abundant in these than you were wont to be. For as men betake themselves in greater haste to a place of greater security when they see in the shaking of their walls the ruin of their house impending, so ought Christians, the more that they perceive, from the increasing frequency of their afflictions, that the destruction of this world is at hand, to be the more prompt and active in transferring to the treasury of heaven the goods which they were proposing to store up on earth, in order that, if any accident common to the lot of men occur, he may rejoice who has escaped from a dwelling doomed to ruin; and if, on the other hand, nothing of this kind happen, he may be exempt from painful solicitude who, die when he may, has committed his possessions to the keeping of the ever-living Lord, to whom he is about to go. Wherefore, my dearly-beloved brethren, let every one of you, according to his ability, of which he himself is the best judge, do with a portion of his substance as ye were wont to do; do it also with a more willing mind than ye were wont, and amid all the vexations of this life bear in your hearts the apostolic exhortation: "The Lord is at hand: be careful for nothing." Let such things be reported to me concerning you as may make me understand that it is not through my presence with you, but from obedience to the precept of God, who is never absent, that you follow that good practice which for many years while I was with you, and for some time after my departure, you observed.
May the Lord preserve you in peace! And, dearly-beloved brethren, pray for us.
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.