Augustine, Letter 151

Augustine gives greeting
in the Lord God to His son
Caecilianus, illustrious lord
and most worthy of honor

Translation by Daniel-James Thornton. To see the Latin for each paragraph, click on the highlighted paragraph number

1. The complaint you present about me in your letter is all the more pleasing to me as a sign of the fullness of your devotion. If, then, I should attempt to justify my silence, what will I attempt other than to show you that you did not have a reason to bear a grudge against me? And because I esteem this more in you--that you did deign to be offended by my reticence, which I had believed, among your cares, to have little gravity--I shall forsake my own cause if I strive to justify myself. Indeed if you had not been insulted at my not writing to you, you would be treating me as of no importance, for should I speak or keep silence, you would bear it indifferently. Furthermore, because you were vexed that I did keep silence, that indignation is a very dignified form of treatment. Therefore, I do not grieve that I did not offer my words so much as I rejoice that you longed for them. For an old friend and a man (this you ought to keep quiet about, but I must acknowledge it) of such great character, placed in foreign lands and laboring over public concerns, to deem me worthy of rebuke for not encouraging him with any conversation is a cause of honor for me, not sorrow. Pardon me, then, for thanking you because you did not think me unworthy of your bearing a grudge against my silence. I now trust that to your benevolence, in which you excel, in the midst of so many and such great duties--not your own, but public matters (that is, everyone's business) my letters can not only be not burdensome; on the contrary, it is not possible that they be burdensome, but they can also even be pleasing.

2. When I received from the brethren the letter sent to me of the holy Pope Innocent, a man to be venerated for his outstanding merits, which, as it was revealed by certain evidence, had been given to me through your interecession, I had thought no page of yours to be delivered at the same time, because you had not wished to be tied up with the care of writing and replying, being occupied with more serious affairs. For it certainly would have been appropriate if you had deigned to offer me the holy writings of so holy a man with your own joined thereto. Therefore, at this point, I determined not to burden your mind with my letters, unless it were necessary to do the favor of recommending someone, which I would be unable to refuse in my duty of intercession, which is my custom to grant to all; this is a matter which may at times be inconvenient, but nevertheless a duty not to be avoided. This, then, is what I did. For I have recommended my friend to your kindness, from whom I have received your reply along with his thanks, which I myself extend to you.

3. If I held a negative opinion about you, particularly in this affair (even though it was not expressed, your letter reeked of it), far be it from me to have written any such thing to you when I was beseeching you for a privilege for either myself or anyone else. Indeed, I should either have remained quiet, biding my time until I could have you present, or if I thought it may be done by letter, I would rather do it so, and do it in such a way that you might be scarcely able to endure my grief. For after the impious and cruel perfidy of that man on whom, with your shared solicitude, I had in vain urged vehemently that he not strike our heart with that grief and truly slaughter his own conscience with such a crime, I left Carthage immediately, in a secret departure, lest so many and such men, who dreaded his sword even within the Church would detain me with their violent tears and bewailing, thinking that my presence would be some kind of benefit to them. I who could not even plead sufficiently for his soul, would be compelled to plead for them even though the walls of the Church were enough to guard their safety. I, moreover, was cruelly pressed by harsh difficulties, because he was not receptive of me, as he should have been, and in addition, I was forced to do that which was not appropriate for me to do. I grieved greatly also at the fate of my distinguished fellow bishop, Aurelius, rector of so great a church, whose duty, it is said, after the truly nefarious deceit of that man, was to humble himself, and in so doing, obtain pardon for the others. I confess: because I had not been able to bear such a crime with any courage of heart, I departed.

4. This, now, might have been the cause of my silence concerning you, which was then that of my departure, if I believed that you had driven him to wickedly avenge your injuries. Those who believe these things do not know how, and how many times and what you had spoken to us, when we were striving with anxious care so that as he clung to you all the more intimately, and as you could call upon him more frequently, and as you would speak with him alone more often, just so he would the more concern himself with your estimation of him, lest those who were said to be your enemies would be given to an awful death, making people think you had no influence with him. Which indeed, neither I believe, nor do my brethren, who both heard in conversation and saw in what they heard and in every motion the signs of your benign heart. But, I beg you, pardon those who do believe, for they are men, and in the minds of men there are such shadows and recesses, that even when suspicious men are deservedly blamed, they think they ought to be praised for their caution. Their cases stood; we learned from one of those whom he had suddenly commanded to be held back that you had suffered a most grave injury. His brother, whom he most viciously persecuted the Church; was also said to have answered you harshly as if on his brother's behalf. Both were thought to be suspected by you. Their presence was demanded when they were absent, and while you were waiting there with him engaged privately in conversation, as it was reported, they were suddenly ordered to be detained. Men were saying that your friendship was old, not new. Your connexion to him confirmed the report as well as did your constant colloquies alone with him. The power of that man was great then; opportunity for slander was ready to hand. It was not a grand affair to procure someone who would say what he had been told to say when immunity was promised to him. Everything supported this in that time, so that even with one witness, even though he might be invidious and without a credible accusation, without risk to the one ordering it, anyone could be taken away.

5. Meanwhile we (since there was a rumor that a band from the Church might be able to save them) were being taunted by false promises that not only by his will but also with his insistence a bishop would be sent on their behalf to Court with the promise put into episcopal ears that until something was done for them there, no trial of their case would be accomplished. Finally, on the day before they were murdered, your eminence came to us; you gave us hope, such as never had you given before that he would indeed be able to surrender them to you, since you had spoken to him gravely and prudently. But because he constantly spoke with you rather intimately and secretly, the whole circumstance does not honor as much as it implicates you and has this effect: that no one should have any doubt regarding the planned and contracted plot of his death between the two of you, if it followed after all these things. When you indicated to us what you had said, in the midst of your narration you leaped up, stretching your hands toward that place where the sacred rites of the faithful are celebrated and swore to us, who were amazed, that you had said these things; not only then, but even now after such a horrendous and unexpected murder, when I recall all your gestures, I would be far too impudent if I were to believe anything evil concerning you. You said that he had been so moved by these words that you did not lose hope that he would give their safety to you just like an intimate farewell-gift.

6. So I confess to your eminence that on the following day after the nefarious sentence was given out, when it was suddenly announced to us that they had been taken out of prison and brought before that judge, though we were disturbed, nevertheless I considered what you had said to us on the previous day, and what day would occur after that one, since it was the sacred eve of the blessed Cyprian, and I believed that he, more sublime in the benignity of his mercy than in the power of his sword, chose that day to grant your requests and wished to climb to the place of so great a martyr and delight the entire Church of Christ, when behold, a messenger rushed in to us, and before we were able to ask how their case went, we learned how they were struck down. The place was nearby, and had been provided -- it was not set apart punishing men but rather as an ornament for the city, where it is deservedly believed that some days before he had ordered certain others to be slain as well, so that these murders would not be a hateful novelty--it was his plan that they could be taken from the church, indeed, not only to face a death-sentence, but to face it in the closest place. He indicated to his mother (that is, the Holy Church) that he had not been afraid to inflict punishment, nor did he fear her intervention, although we knew he had certainly been amongst her faithful, baptized in her bosom. But after the result of such a deed, when it we had worked so diligently that even through you, without your knowledge, we had almost become certain and secure about their safety on the previous day, who is there, not just of the ordinary run of men, who would have had his doubts that it was you who deceived us and took their lives? Therefore, as I have said, even if we, my good man, do not believe this, pardon those who do believe it.

7. Far be it from my heart and my life, that I intercede with you on behalf of another, or ask your beneficence for anyone, if I should believe that you were the author of this great evil and such a wicked cruelty. But I confess clearly, if you are in his company from this time on, as you were before -- I say this with your indulgence for my pain -- you will compel us to believe much that we did not want to believe. It is fitting that I not believe this, as I do not believe those things about you. Your friend, by the unforeseen outcome of his sudden display of power has no more hounded their lives than he has your reputation. Nor do I, forgetful of my soul and profession, hope to incite you by saying those hateful things against him, but I call you to a more faithful love. Indeed, he who thus acts with evil men, that he causes them to repent from their evil knows also how to take counsel from his own indignation; for just as evil men are harmful by consent, thus good men profit by averting evil. He has, of course, struck his own soul more gravely and deeply by the same sword he used to take their lives so insolently, and after this life, unless he will have mended his ways by repentance and availed himself well of the patience of God, he will be forced to discover and feel his crime. Often the lives of good men are permitted, by the high judgment of God, to be taken away by evil men, lest it be thought evil to suffer such a thing. What harm can being killed do to those who are going to die anyway? Whatever is harmful to the dying happens to them in life, not death. For those in life who had such souls as were imbued with Christian grace, death is hardly the end of a good life, but the beginning of a better one.

8. And indeed, the character of the older one appeared to be more amicable to this world than to Christ, even though he had amended his youthful and previously worldly life for the most part when he married. Perhaps that merciful God was indeed being merciful when he wished that he be a companion in the death of his brother. That other one truly lived religiously and greatly with a Christian heart and life. This reputation preceded him, that he might so appear in the cause of the Church; she followed him when he appeared. But what integrity there was in his character, loyalty in his friendship, zeal in his learning, sincerity in his religion, chastity in his marriage, restraint in his judgment, patience towards his enemies, affability towards his friends, humility towards the holy, devotion towards all, ease in offering benefits and modesty in asking for them, love in things done rightly, and pain in his sins! How fine was his honesty, how splendid his generosity, how attentive his piety, how merciful he was in giving aid, how kind in forgiving, how truthful in speaking. What he knew was beneficial, he would speak with such modesty. What he found inconvenient not to know, he would investigate with such diligence. There was as much contempt in him for the things of the present, as great hope and longing for the good things that are eternal. He would have undertaken the war-belt of the army of Christ, having abandoned all secular deeds, if the bond of marriage did not hold him back; for he was bound there already as he had begun to long for better things even when it was not permitted to break from them, inferior as they were.

9. On a certain day his brother said to him when they were held in custody together: "If I suffer these things deservedly for my sins, you, whose life we know as so attentively and fervently Christian, on account of what evils do you deserve to be led to such things?" But he responded: "Do you think this divinely conferred benefit a small think for me, assuming that this testimony of yours about my life is true: that by this thing which I will suffer, even if I suffer it until my blood is spilled, my sins may be punished and not reserved for me on the Judgment Day?" Here someone may perchance believe him to have been conscious of some hidden sins of unchastity. I will say, therefore, what the lord God wished that I hear, to my great consolation, from his mouth and know clearly. When concerning this very thing, as is the way among people, I was concerned and asked him, when we were alone as he was held in custody, whether there was anything by which he ought to appease God to him with some greater and more distinctive penance, he, a man of such singular modesty, blushed at my false suspicion, but received my admonition most graciously, modestly and gravely smiling, with both of his hands he seized my right hand and said: "I swear by the Sacraments which are offered through this hand, that I have not committed the sexual act, except with my wife, either before or afterwards."

10. What evil happened to him in death which was not rather more good when he departed this life, having these gifts and going to Christ, without whom all gifts are possessed pointlessly? I would not recall these things with you if I believed that you would be offended by my praises of him; because I indeed do not believe this, nor do I believe that other accusation, that he could die with you, I would not say urging it, but even willing or hoping for it. Accordingly, the more sincerely you believe, along with us, that the judge behaved more cruelly toward his own soul than toward the body of the man, the more innocent you will appear, since, regardless of us, regardless of his promises, regardless of so many of your great petitions and admonitions, and finally, regardless of the Church of Christ, and in it, Christ himself, he arrived at the end of this contrivance of that man at death. Is there any comparing the high position of this man to the prison of that one, when one on high raged madly, and the other, locked away, rejoiced? The conscience of the wicked man surpasses not only all prisons with their horrendous and punishing shadows, but also all the depths of Hell. How did it harm you, whose reputation was gravely wounded, if it did not annihilate your innocence all the same? Although your reputation is safe with us, and with those who knew you better than we. And as for us, who observed with such emotion your express concerns lest such a vast crime be perpetrated, we discerned the hidden parts of your heart almost with our own eyes. Therefore, whatever harm he did, he did to himself; he has pierced his own soul, his life, his conscience, and finally, his own reputation. The benefit that even the most vile have desired, he destroyed with that blind cruelty. He is as much more hateful to all good men, by just how much he has tried to please the impious or is gladdened to have pleased them.

11. Where, moreover, was it more apparent that he had not the need which he feigned himself to have, under which pretext he accomplished such a great evil as if he were a good man, than that he did not please the man by whose command he dared to excuse himself. Let the Holy Deacon Quintianus tell your Eminence -- for he himself was assigned to the bishop whom we had sent on their behalf -- how it seemed a pardon should not be given, lest even in this way they be accused of some crime, but only a monitory, by which it would have been commanded that they be free from all molestation. In this needless cruelty, even though there might have been other causes which we suspect but do not need to commit them to writing, he viciously saddened the Church to whose bosom his brother fled, fearing death, that he might find the advisor of such a crime alive, even though he himself had offended a patron of the Church, he sought his help and it could not be denied him. If you esteem this man, execrate him; if you do not wish that he be punished through all eternity, be terrified. This is how to look after your public reputation as well as the life of that man; for whoever loves in him what God hates, hates not only himself but even his very God.

12. Since these things are so, I do not believe this about your benevolence, that you were the author of such a crime or a participant in it or that you deceived us with a malicious cruelty -- far be it from your life and character, because I do not wish your friendships to be of such a sort in which he glorifies himself with his evil deed to his own ruination and confirms the people's suspicion., but I would rather they were the sort that encourage him to repentance, and such a great repentance, just the sort of medicine that horrendous wounds want for! You will then be as much more friendly to him as you as more an adversary to his crimes. I desire wholeheartedly to know through the return letters of your eminence where you were on that day when that crime was admitted, how you received the news, what you did afterwards, whether you saw him, what you said to him, what you heard from him. I indeed departed quickly the next day and have been able to hear nothing from you which applies to this situation.

13. I have read in your letter that you are forced to believe that I departed from Carthage lest I see you; you rather force me, with these words, to keep the causes of my absence no longer silent. One of which is that since I am no longer able to sustain my work, which is always to be found in that city, and if I may reveal something else that is to be said: old age has come upon me, that common infirmity of the human race, which has pressed upon my own personal infirmity that is known to all who know me rather well. The other cause is that I have determined, if the Lord is willing, refraining from my other occupations which the need of the Church (which I serve with personal duty) demands, to devote the whole of my time given to the work of studies pertaining to ecclesiastic literature, where I believe, if it please the mercy of God, there is also something of benefit for posterity.

14. There is one thing, however, if you truly wish to hear it, which I hold against you most distressingly: that you are of an age and life and moral integrity, but still you wish to be a catechumen, just as if the faithful would not be able to administer the state more faithfully and in a better way if they were all the more faithful and better men. What good do you accomplish in these concerns and labors of yours, unless it be a benefit to men? If indeed you do not accomplish this, it would be sufficient to sleep away the days and nights than to keep vigil in public duties with no utility to future generations of men. I do not wholeheartedly doubt that your eminence . . .. . . .. . .to a wise man. . ..