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Bill Thayer

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Book I
Note F

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book I
Chapter 10

Book 1 (continued)

Thayer's Note: This page is from the first edition of the book, which Hodgkin considerably expanded into a much more detailed second edition, often refining or even outright changing his conclusions and opinions. That second edition is onsite in full; the serious student will take advantage of it.

Vol. I
Note G

St. Augustine and Count Bonifacius

The following letter (the 220th of the epistles of Augustine), though very long, will I think repay the reader's perusal.

No abstract would reproduce the peculiar blending of Christian nobleness and courage with ascetic austerity in the mind of the writer of the letter, or adequately show the conflict of emotions — saint and rebel striving together for the mastery — in the heart of the receiver.

'Augustine, to his master and son Bonifacius, whom he longs to see protected and ruled by the compassion of God for his present and eternal salvation.

(1) 'I could not have found a more faithful man or one who would more readily obtain access to thy presence than that servant of Christ, dear to both of us, whom the Lord has now offered me for this service, the Deacon Paul, the bearer of this letter. For I have something to say to thee, not on behalf of thy power and the honour which thou bearest in this evil world, nor for the safety of thy perishable and mortal flesh, since that also must pass away, and how soon we know not. But I would speak to thee on behalf of that salvation which Christ hath promised us: Christ who for this was dishonoured and crucified that he might teach us to spurn the good things of this world, and to love and to hope for that from him which he showed forth in his resurrection. "For he hath risen from the dead and now dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over him."

 p496  (2) 'I know that there are many men who love thee according to this world's life, and who in that sphere give thee their counsels, sometimes useful, sometimes useless, seeing that they are men, and, as far as may be, they are wise for the present time, not knowing what shall be on the morrow. But that thy soul may not perish in the sight of God — it is not easy for any man to give thee counsel for this end: not because the men to do it are wanting, but because it is difficult for them to find a time when they may have audience with thee on such matters. For I too have often longed for it, but have never yet found place or time to converse with thee as I ought to converse with a man so dear to me in Christ. But thou knowest in what state I was when thou condescendest to visit me at Hippo, for I could scarcely speak for the weakness and weariness of my body. Now therefore, my son, hear me, at least when I discourse to thee in this letter, which in thy present perils I have had no earlier opportunity to send to thee, fearing both for the safety of the messenger and also for the letter lest it should fall into the hands of those by whom I would not have it read. I confess these fears of mine: forgive me if they have been excessive.

(3) 'Hear me, therefore, or rather hear the Lord our God using my weakness for his message. Remember what manner of man thou wast when thy former wife, that woman of blessed memory, was still present in the body: what thou wast when her death was still recent: how the vanity of this world repelled thee, how thou then didst yearn after the service of God. We know, we are witnesses what manner of conversation thou hadst with us at Tubunae concerning thy state of mind and thy inclinations. We were alone with thee, I and my brother Alypius. I cannot think that all the cares of this world which now fill thy mind can be mighty enough to blot out altogether those conversations from thy memory. For then thou wast desiring to be rid of all the civil functions the discharge of which took possession of thy time, and to betake thee to sacred leisure, and to that life which is led by the monks, the servants of God. And what hindered thee then from  p497 taking this step? What but the consideration which we pressed upon thee, how much even thy public life would benefit the churches of Christ if thou madest this its sole aim, that they being delivered from the molestations of the barbarians, might, as the Apostle says, "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and chastity." Thou the while wast to seek from this world nothing but what was needed for the mere support of life for thee and thine, being girt with the belt of chastest continence, and under all the armour of a Roman soldier being yet more safely, yet more strongly, fortified by the whole armour of God.

(4) 'While I believed, and rejoiced to believe that thou wast still firm in this purpose, thou madest a voyage, thou marriedst a [second] wife. The voyage was a part of that obedience which, according to the Apostle, is owing to the higher powers. But the wife thou wouldest not have married unless thou hadst been conquered by concupiscence, and therefore broken thy vow of chastity. When I heard that thou hadst done this, I confess that I was struck dumb with astonishment, though my grief was somewhat assuaged when I learned that thou hadst refused to marry her unless she first became a Catholic; and yet the heresy of those who deny the true Son of God has so far prevailed in thy house that thy own daughter was baptized by these very men. But now, if the rumours which have reached me be not false — oh, that they were — and if it be true that even the handmaids dedicated to God are re-baptized by these same heretics, with what fountains of tears must such wickedness be deplored. Men say too, but perhaps they lie, that thy wife is not sufficient for thee, but that thou art polluted by intercourse with concubines, I know not whom.

(5) 'Now as to all these great sins, patent to all men, which have been committed by thee since thy re-marriage, what can I say? Thou art a Christian: thou hast a heart: thou fearest God. Consider for thyself the things which I prefer to leave unsaid: and thou wilt find how great are the evil actions which demand thy repentance. For the sake of that repentance, and in order that thou mayest have time to manifest it fully, I trust that the Lord will  p498 spare thee and free thee from all thy perils; but remember that which is written, "Delay not being converted to God, neither put off from day to day." Thou sayest the thou hast right on thy side [in thy disputes with the court] — a matter upon which I can pronounce no judgment since I cannot hear both sides — but whatever the merits of that dispute, which we need not now discuss, canst thou, at the bar of God, deny that thou wouldest never have come into thy present straits unless thou hadst loved the good things of this life, which, as a servant of God (whom we before knew thee to be), thou oughtest to have altogether despised and held of no account? If offered, thou shouldest have taken them that they might be applied to pious uses: if refused or transferred to another, thou oughtest not to have sought them so earnestly, as for their sakes to be brought into this present difficulty. In this emergency, for the sake of this world's goods, evil deeds are being wrought — few indeed by thee, but many for thee — and while thou fearest losses which harm but for a little time, if at all, thou plungest into the commission of these actions which will harm thee truly and for ever.

(6) 'To mention one of these misdoings, who cannot see that many men are gathering round thee under the pretence of guarding thy power and life. They may be all faithful to thee, thou mayest have no plot to fear from them; but at any rate it is through thy influence that they hope to obtain these possessions which they too, as well as thou, love according to the spirit of this world and not according to God. And thus thou who oughtest to have restrained and kept in check thy own lusts wilt be compelled to satisfy the lusts of others. To do this it will be necessary for thee to consent to the commission of many things displeasing to God, and yet not even so will the goal be attained. For it is easier for those who have the love of God in their hearts to prune lust, than for those who love the world to satisfy it. Wherefore the Holy Scripture says, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. The world passeth away not lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1 John   p499 ii.15‑17). Oh that multitude of armed men, loving the world with fierce lust, whose desires thou wilt have to flatter, whose ferocity thou wilt have to fear! How wilt thou ever be able, I do not say to satisfy (that is impossible), but in any measure to appease their longings without doing deeds which God forbids, and for which He threatens his punishments on the doers thereof? And in fact, already thou beholdest many places so trodden down by these followers of thine that there is scarce anything left, however paltry, that they can still carry off.

(7) 'But what can I say as to the ravage of Africa,​1 which the African barbarians are carrying unresisted by any man, while thou art so engrossed with thy own schemes of self-defence that thou art not taking any measures for averting so great a calamity. Oh! who would have believed that with a Bonifacius for General of the Household Troops (Comes domesticorum) and Count of Africa, wielding the power of so great an army, a Bonifacius who, when a mere Tribune with a few auxiliaries (foederati) at his back, had silenced all those very nations by terror and the sword, under such a Governor the Barbarians would by this time have recovered such boldness, have penetrated so far, have ravaged such wide regions, have carried off so much plunder, have made desolate so many towns once teeming with inhabitants? Did not men say when thou wast invested with the authority of a Count, that the African barbarians were not only already subdued but would become even tributaries of the Roman Commonwealth? And now to what other issue these hopes of men have turned thou seest right well: nor need I speak longer with thee on this subject, since thou must needs think more than I can say.

(8) 'But thou wilt perhaps reply, "I am not answerable for these disasters, but they who have injured me, who have punished instead of rewarding my official services." Controversies less this I cannot hear nor judge: do thou rather  p500 look within and weigh that controversy which though knowest that thou hast, not with men, whoever they may be, but with God himself, since if thou wouldest live as a believer in Christ thou oughtest to fear offending Him. For as to the controversies previously spoken of, my feeling rather is that men should impute it to their own sins that Africa suffers such calamities. But still, I would not that thou shouldest be reckoned among the number of those unrighteous and cruel men whom God uses as the instruments for inflicting temporal chastisement upon us. For He, who uses their wickedness as His scourge in Time, reserves for themselves His punishments in Eternity except they repent. Do thou therefore look towards God, consider Christ who brought us such good things, who suffered for us such evil things. They who desire to attain to His kingdom, and to live the blessed life with Him and under Him, these love even their enemies, they do good to them which hate them, and pray for them which despitefully use them and persecute them, and if they sometimes, in the way of discipline, have to use moderate severity towards wrong-doers, yet they never lose even towards these the sincerest charity. But if upon thee good gifts have been bestowed by the Roman Empire, figures of the world it is true, transitory gifts because she herself is earthly not heavenly, do not thou return evil for her good. Or if she have bestowed upon thee evil things, do not return evil for evil. Whether of these twain be true I do not wish to discuss, and I am not able to judge. I only say to a Christian man, "Do not return evil for good or evil for evil."

(9) 'Thou wilt say to me perchance, "In such an emergency what do you wish me to do?" Now if thou askest my advice as after the spirit of the world, meaning, "How can the safety of my fleeting life be guarded, how can my power and wealth be preserved intact or yet more be added to them?" I have no definite advice that I can give. But if thou seekest my counsel as after God, lest thine own soul perish, and if thou fearest the words of Truth, saying, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" then I know what to write, I have advice that I can give. For what needs then to say anything else than  p501 that which I said before, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, and the ambition of the age, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever, even as God abideth for ever." Here is my counsel: grasp it: act upon it. Hence shall it appear if thou art a brave man indeed. Conquer those lusts which make thee love that world of yours, repent of thy past evil actions when thou wast conquered and carried captive by desires which were not good. If thou shalt receive and hold fast this counsel, thou wilt both arrive at those certain blessings which are reserved for us hereafter, and thou wilt do thy part among the uncertainties of this life without ruin to thy soul.

(10) 'But perchance thou wilt yet again enquire of me, how canst thou do all these things, thou who art still entangled in all the necessities of this world. Pray mightily and say to God what thou readest in the Psalms, "O bring thou me out of my necessities."​2 For then will those necessities be at an end when those lusts are conquered. He who heard thy prayer and ours on thy behalf, that thou mightest be delivered from all those great dangers of visible and bodily warfare, in which only this fast-fading life was at stake, but not the life of the soul if she were not held captive by cruel lusts — He will again hear thee praying that thou mayest overcome thy internal and unseen foes, that is thy lusts, by an invisible and spiritual victory, that thou mayest so use the world as not abusing it, that instead of being made evil by this world's goods thou mayest make them to yield yet more good, since even this world's goods are good in themselves, and are given to men by none other than Him who hath all power in heaven and earth. They are given to the good that they may not be thought to be in themselves evil: that they may not be thought to be the supreme good they are given also to the wicked. In the  p502 same way they are taken back from good men for their probation, and from wicked men for their punishment.

(11) 'For who is so ignorant, who so foolish, as not to perceive that the health of this mortal body, the vigour of these perishable limbs, victory over the men who hate us, the honour and power of this world, and all other good things of this life are both given to and taken away from both the evil and the good. But the health of the soul with the immortality of the body, victory over the lusts which are our foes, glory and honour and peace to all eternity, these things are given only to the good. These things therefore shouldest thou love, these desire, these seek after by all means in thy power. To obtain and hold fast these benefits, give alms, pour forth thy prayers, practise fasting as far as it may be done without injury to thy body. But, as for those earthly goods, love them not howsoever they may abound to thee. So use them that many other good things may spring up from them, but commit not one evil deed in order to retain them. For all such things as these shall perish, but good works shall not perish, not even those which were wrought out of the perishing things of time.

(12) 'If thou wert still unwed I should recommend thee as I did at Tubunae to live in the holy state of continence: I shall add, what I then refrained from adding, that, as far as the safety of the state will permit, thou shouldest withdraw thyself from warlike concerns, and devote thyself, as thou wast then desiring to do, to that life of holy fellow­ship wherein the soldiers of Christ fight in silence, not that they may kill men, but that they may cast down principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places, that is the Devil and his Angels. These are the enemies whom the saints conquer. They see them not, yet they are assured of victory by conquering the feelings of their own hearts. Now however since thou hast married a wife (who came to thee in all innocence and simplicity of heart, though thou after those words of thine shouldest not have asked her to come), I can no longer give thee the same advice, but I do exhort to faithfulness though not to celibacy. . . . .  p503 However, from loving God, not the world, from acting loyally and working for peace in these very wars (if thou must still be engaged in them), from turning the good gifts of this life to good account and refusing to do aught evil for their sake, from all these things a wife is no hindrance or ought to be none.

'All this I have written to thee, dearly beloved son, at the bidding of that affection which I have for thee, not according to the spirit of the world but according to God. And remembering also that it is written, "Rebuke a wise man and he will love thee: rebuke a fool and he will go on to hate thee," I deemed it right to think of thee as not a fool but a wise man.'

The Author's Notes:

1 The previous section seems to have referred to the lawless exactions of Bonifacius's own soldiers, this to the ravages of the wild tribes of Mount Atlas. The Vandal invasion came as the climax of guilt and misery, but had not yet commenced when this letter was written.

2 'Distresses' in the A. V.  Psalm xxv.17.

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