The letters of St. Augustine
Author Sparrow-Simpson, W. J. (William John), 1859-1952
Publication date 1919
Topics Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo
Publisher London : Society for promoting Christian knowledge ; New York : Macmillan
Collection pimslibrary; toronto
Digitizing sponsor MSN
Contributor PIMS – University of Toronto
Includes bibliographical references and index
The purpose of the present work is not to translate but to give such an account of Augustine’s life and thought as may be derived from his letters. A lengthy correspondence in any controversy is sure to contain a great deal of repetition. The same illustrations, the same expositions, the same ideas are certain to be included over and over again. Such repetitions are for the most part avoided in the present work, which condenses the contents of the letters and presents their principal features.
But since Augustine often refers his correspondents for further information to what he has written en a particular subject in one of his larger treatises, it seemed necessary for completeness’ sake to reproduce in such cases the main ideas of the teaching to which the Bishop refers. On no single subject is the whole of Augustine’s teaching necessarily to be found in his letters. But if the letters are thus supplemented by what he has taught elsewhere a fairly full presentation of the great writer’s mind may be obtained.
The letters range over a period of forty-three years. The earliest was written in A.D. 386, the year before his conversion ; the latest in A.D. 429, the year before his death. There are 270 letters in the Benedictine edition. But of these, fifty are addressed to Augustine ; so that we have only 220 from the Bishop’s own pen. And these 220 include one or two official letters of Councils whose authorship is undoubted.
After all, 220 letters in forty-three years does not seem an unwieldy correspondence. If we omit the letters written before his consecration this leaves 213 during his episcopate.
But then in Augustine’s case a letter was often an elaborate treatise. So great was his wealth of thought that frequently his spring became a river and his river became a sea. These letters occupy a folio volume consisting, in Gaume’s edition, of 1370 columns.
Moreover, Augustine informs us that he estimated his writings to extend to 232 treatises, not including letters or sermons (Letter 224, 2).
Augustine’s letters were arranged by the Benedictine editors as far as possible in the order in which they were written. But there is a large section of which the dates are unknown. It has been thought best in the present summary of the contents to arrange the letters in groups according to subjects, preserving the chronological order, as far as possible, within each group. This arrangement has the advantage that Augustine’s teaching and development of mind on various doctrines can be easily followed. It also enables the reader to see the proportion of his correspondence on the principal subjects which absorbed his attention.