Works of St. Augustine of Hippo
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was one of the most prolific geniuses that
humanity has ever known, and is admired not only for the number of his works,
but also for the variety of subjects, which traverse the whole realm of thought.
The form in which he casts his work exercises a very powerful attraction on the
reader. Bardenhewer praises his extraordinary suppleness of expression and his
marvellous gift of describing interior things, of painting the various states of
the soul and the facts of the spiritual world. His latinity bears the stamp of
his age. In general, his style is noble and chaste; but, says the same author,
in his sermons and other popular writings he purposely drops to the language of
the people. A detailed analysis is impossible here. We shall merely indicate
his principal writings and the date (often approximate) of their composition.
Autobiography and Correspondence
The Confessions are the history of his heart; the Retractations, of his mind; while the Letters show his activity in the Church.
The Confessions (towards A.D. 400) are, in the Biblical sense of the word confiteri, not an avowal or an account, but the praise of a soul that admires the action of God within itself. Of all the works of the holy Doctor none has been more universally read and admired, none has caused more salutary tears to flow. Neither in respect of penetrating analysis of the most complex impressions of the soul, nor communicative feeling, nor elevation of sentiment, nor depth of philosophic views, is there any book like it in all literature.
The Retractations (towards the end of his life, 426-428) are a revision of the works of the saint in chronological order, explaining the occasion and dominant idea of each. They are a guide of inestimable price for seizing the progress of Augustine's thought.
The Letters, amounting in the Benedictine collection to 270 (53 of them from Augustine's correspondents), are a treasure of the greatest value, for the knowledge of his life, influence and even his doctrine.
These writings, for the most part composed in the villa of Cassisiacum, from his conversion to his baptism (388-387), continue the autobiography of the saint by initiating us into the researches and Platonic hesitations of his mind. There is less freedom in them than in the Confessions. They are literary essays, writings whose simplicity is the acme of art and elegance. Nowhere is the style of Augustine so chastened, nowhere is his language so pure. Their dialogue form shows that they were inspired by Plate and Cicero. The chief ones are:
- Contra Academicos (the most important of all);
- De Beatâ Vitâ;
- De Ordine;
- the two books of Soliloquies, which must be distinguished from the
Meditationswhich are certainly not authentic;
- De Immortalitate animæ;
- De Magistro (a dialogue between Augustine and his son Adeodatus); and
- six curious books (the sixth especially) on Music.
In The City of God (begun in 413, but Books 20-22 were written in 426) Augustine answers the pagans, who attributed the fall of Rome (410) to the abolition of pagan worship. Considering this problem of Divine Providence with regard to the Roman Empire, he widens the horizon still more and in a burst of genius he creates the philosophy of history, embracing as he does with a glance the destinies of the world grouped around the Christian religion, the only one which goes back to the beginning and leads humanity to its final term. The City of God is considered as the most important work of the great bishop. The other works chiefly interest theologians; but it, like the Confessions, belongs to general literature and appeals to every soul. The Confessions are theology which has been lived in the soul, and the history of God's action on individuals, while The City of God is theology framed in the history of humanity, and explaining the action of God in the world.
Other apologetic writings, like the
De Verâ Religione (a little masterpiece
composed at Tagaste, 389-391),
De Utilitate Credendi (391),
Liber de fide
rerum quæ non videntur (400), and the
Letter 120 to Consentius, constitute
Augustine the great theorist of the Faith, and of its relations to reason.
is the first of the Fathers, says Harnack (Dogmengeschichte, III, 97)
the need of forcing his faith to reason. And indeed he, who so repeatedly
affirms that faith precedes the intelligent apprehension of the truths of
revelation - he it is who marks out with greater clearness of definition and
more precisely than anyone else the function of the reason in preceding and
verifying the witness's claim to credence, and in accompanying the mind's act of
adhesion. (Letter to Consentius, n. 3, 8, etc.) What would not have been the
stupefaction of Augustine if anyone had told him that faith must close its eyes
to the proofs of the divine testimony, under the penalty of its becoming science!
Or if one had spoken to him of faith in authority giving its assent, without
examining any motive which might prove the value of the testimony! It surely
cannot be possible for the human mind to accept testimony without known motives
for such acceptance, or, again, for any testimony, even when learnedly sifted
out, to give the science - the inward view - of the object.
Controversies with Heretics
Against the Manichæans:
De Moribus Ecclesiæ Catholicæ et de Moribus Manichæorum(at Rome, 368);
De Duabus Animabus(before 392);
Acts of the Dispute with Fortunatus the Manichæan(392);
Acts of the Conference with Felix(404);
De Libero Arbitrio- very important on the origin of evil;
- various writings
- against the Epistle of Mani (the foundation);
- against Faustus (about 400);
- against Secundinus (405), etc.
Against the Donatists:
Psalmus contra partem Donati(about 395), a purely rhythmic song for popular use (the oldest example of its kind);
Contra epistolam Parmeniani(400);
De Baptismo contra Donatistas(about 400), one of the most important pieces in this controversy;
Contra litteras Parmeniani,
- a good number of letters, also, relating to this debate.
Against the Pelagians, in chronological order, we have:
De peccatorum meritis et remissione(On merit and forgiveness);
- same year,
De spiritu et litterâ(On the spirit and the letter);
De Perfectione justitiæ hominis- important for understanding Pelagian impeccability;
De Gestis Pelagii- a history of the Council of Diospolis, whose acts it reproduces;
De Gratiâ Christi et de peccato originali;
De nuptiis et concupiscentiâand other writings (420-428);
Against Julian of Eclanum- the last of this series, interrupted by the death of the saint.
Against the Semipelagians:
De correptione et gratiâ(427);
De prædestinatione Sanctorum(428);
De Done Perseverantiæ(429).
Contra sermonem Arianorum(418) and
Collattio cum Maximino Arianorum episcopo(the celebrated conference of Hippo in 428).
Augustine in the
De Doctrinâ Christianâ (begun in 397 and ended in 426)
gives us a genuine treatise of exegesis, historically the first (for St. Jerome
wrote rather as a controversialist). Several times he attempted a commentary on
Genesis. The great work
De Genesi ad litteram was composed from 401 to 415.
Enarrationes in Psalmos are a masterpiece of popular eloquence, with a
swing and a warmth to them which are inimitable. On the New Testament: the
Sermone Dei in Monte (during his priestly ministry) is especially noteworthy;
De Consensu Evangelistarum (Harmony of the Gospels - 400); HomilieEine Homilie (von griech.„ὁμιλεῖν”, „vertraut miteinander reden”) ist eine Art von Predigt. Während eine Predigt die Großtaten Gottes preist (lat. „praedicare”, „preisen”) und Menschen für den Glauben begeistern will, hat die Homilie lehrhaften Charakter. s on St.
John (416), generally classed among the chief works of Augustine; the Exposition
of the Epistle to the Galatians (324), etc. The most remarkable of his Biblical
works illustrate either a theory of exegesis (one generally approved) which
delights in finding mystical or allegorical interpretations, or the style of
preaching which is founded on that view. His strictly exegetical work is far
from equalling in scientific value that of St. Jerome. His knowledge of the
Biblical languages was insufficient: he read Greek with difficulty; as for
Hebrew, all that we can gather from the studies of Schanz and Rottmanner is that
he was familiar with Punic, a language allied to Hebrew. Moreover, the two grand
qualities of his genius - ardent feeling and prodigious subtlety - carried him
sway into interpretations that were violent or more ingenious than solid.
But the hermeneutics of Augustine merit great praise, especially for their
insistence upon the stern law of extreme prudence in determining the meaning of
Scripture: We must be on our guard against giving interpretations which are
hazardous or opposed to science, and so exposing the word of God to the ridicule
of unbelievers (De Genesi ad litteram, I, 19, 21, especially n. 39). An
admirable application of this well-ordered liberty appears in his thesis on the
simultaneous creation of the universe, and the gradual development of the world
under the action of the natural forces which were placed in it. Certainly the
instantaneous act of the Creator did not produce an organized universe as we see
it now. But, in the beginning, God created all the elements of the world in a
confused and nebulous mass (the word is Augustine's Nebulosa species apparet;
De Genesi ad litt., I, n. 27), and in this mass were the mysterious germs
(rationes seminales) of the future beings which were to develop themselves, when
favourable circumstances should permit. Is Augustine, therefore, an Evolutionist?
If we mean that he had a deeper and wider mental grasp than other thinkers
had of the forces of nature and the plasticity of beings, it is an incontestable
fact; and from this point of view Father Zahm (Bible, Science, and Faith, pp.
58-66, French tr.) properly felicitates him on having been the precursor of
modern thought. But if we mean that he admitted in matter a power of
differentiation and of gradual transformation, passing from the homogeneous to
the heterogeneous, the most formal texts force us to recognize that Augustine
proclaimed the fixity of species, and did not admit that
from one identical
primitive principle or from one germ, different realities can issue. This
judgment of the Abbé Martin in his very searching study on this subject (S.
Augustin, p. 314) must correct the conclusion of Father Zahm.
The elements of
this corporeal world have also their well defined force, and their proper
quality, from which depends what each one of them can or cannot do, and what
reality ought or ought not to issue from each one of them. Hence it is that from
a grain of wheat a bean cannot issue, nor wheat from a bean, nor a, man from a
beast, nor a beast from a man (De Genesi ad litt., IX, n. 32).
Dogmatic and Moral Exposition
The fifteen books De Trinitate, on which he worked for fifteen years, from 400 to 416, are the most elaborate and profound work of St. Augustine. The last books on the analogies which the mystery of the Trinity have with our soul are much discussed. The saintly author himself declares that they are only analogous and are far-fetched and very obscure.
The Enchiridion, or handbook, on Faith, Hope, and Love, composed, in 421, at the request of a pious Roman, Laurentius, is an admirable synthesis of Augustine's theology, reduced to the three theological virtues. Father Faure has given us a learned commentary of it, and Harnack a detailed analysis (Hist. of dogmas, III, 205, 221).
Several volumes of miscellaneous questions, among which
(397) has been especially noted.
Numberless writings of his have a practical aim: two on
Lying (374 and 420),
Holy Widowhood, one on
Prayer for the Dead (421).
Pastorals and Preaching
The theory of preaching and religious instruction of the people is given in
De Catechizandis Rudibus (400) and in the fourth book
Christianâ. The oratorical work alone is of vast extent. Besides the Scriptural
HomilieEine Homilie (von griech.„ὁμιλεῖν”, „vertraut miteinander reden”) ist eine Art von Predigt. Während eine Predigt die Großtaten Gottes preist (lat. „praedicare”, „preisen”) und Menschen für den Glauben begeistern will, hat die Homilie lehrhaften Charakter. s, the Benedictines have collected 363 sermons which are certainly
authentic; the brevity of these suggests that they are stenographic, often
revised by Augustine himself. If the Doctor in him predominates over the orator,
if he possesses less of colour, of opulence, of actuality, and of Oriental charm
than St. John Chrysostom, we find, on the other hand, a more nervous logic,
bolder comparisons, greater elevation and greater profundity of thought, and
sometimes, in his bursts of emotion and his daring lapses into dialogue-form,
he attains the irresistible power of the Greek orator.
Editions of St. Augustine's works
The best edition of his complete works is that of the Benedictines, eleven
tomes in eight folio volumes (Paris, 1679-1700). It has been often reprinted,
e.g. by Gaume (Paris, 1836-39), in eleven octavo volumes, and by Migne, PL 32-47.
The last volume of the Migne reprint contains a number of important earlier
studies on St. Augustine - Vivés, Noris, Merlin, particularly the literary
history of the editions of Augustine from Schönemann's
Bibl. hist. lit. patrum
Lat. (Leipzig, 1794).
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