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Home > Fathers of the Church > Letters of St. Augustine > Letter 101

Letter 101 (A.D. 409)

To Memor, My Lord Most Blessed, and with All Veneration Most Beloved, My Brother and Colleague Sincerely Longed For, Augustine Sends Greeting in the Lord.

1. I ought not to write any letter to your holy Charity, without sending at the same time those books which by the irresistible plea of holy love you have demanded from me, that at least by this act of obedience I might reply to those letters by which you have put on me a high honour indeed, but also a heavy load. Albeit, while I bend because of the load, I am raised up because of your love. For it is not by an ordinary man that I am loved and raised up and made to stand erect, but by a man who is a priest of the Lord, and whom I know to be so accepted before Him, that when you raise to the Lord your good heart, having me in your heart, you raise me with yourself to Him. I ought, therefore, to have sent at this time those books which I had promised to revise. The reason why I have not sent them is that I have not revised them, and this not because I was unwilling, but because I was unable, having been occupied with many very urgent cares. But it would have shown inexcusable ingratitude and hardness of heart to have permitted the bearer, my holy colleague and brother Possidius, in whom you will find one who is very much the same as myself, either to miss becoming acquainted with you, who love me so much, or to come to know you without any letter from me. For he is one who has been by my labours nourished, not in those studies which men who are the slaves of every kind of passion call liberal, but with the Lord's bread, in so far as this could be supplied to him from my scanty store.

2. For to men who, though they are unjust and impious, imagine that they are well educated in the liberal arts, what else ought we to say than what we read in those writings which truly merit the name of liberal,— if the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. John 8:36 For it is through Him that men come to know, even in those studies which are termed liberal by those who have not been called to this true liberty, anything in them which deserves the name. For they have nothing which is consonant with liberty, except that which in them is consonant with truth; for which reason the Son Himself has said: The truth shall make you free. John 8:38 The freedom which is our privilege has therefore nothing in common with the innumerable and impious fables with which the verses of silly poets are full, nor with the fulsome and highly-polished falsehoods of their orators, nor, in fine, with the rambling subtleties of philosophers themselves, who either did not know anything of God, or when they knew God, did not glorify Him as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; so that, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and four-footed beasts, and to creeping things, or who, though not wholly or at all devoted to the worship of images, nevertheless worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator. Romans 1:21-25 Far be it, therefore, from us to admit that the epithet liberal is justly bestowed on the lying vanities and hallucinations, or empty trifles and conceited errors of those men— unhappy men, who knew not the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, by which alone we are delivered from the body of this death, Romans 7:24-25 and who did not even perceive the measure of truth which was in the things which they knew. Their historical works, the writers of which profess to be chiefly concerned to be accurate in narrating events, may perhaps, I grant, contain some things worthy of being known by free men, since the narration is true, whether the subject described in it be the good or the evil in human experience. At the same time, I can by no means see how men who were not aided in their knowledge by the Holy Spirit, and who were obliged to gather floating rumours under the limitations of human infirmity, could avoid being misled in regard to very many things; nevertheless, if they have no intention of deceiving, and do not mislead other men otherwise than so far as they have themselves, through human infirmity, fallen into a mistake, there is in such writings an approach to liberty.

3. Forasmuch, however, as the powers belonging to numbers in all kinds of movements are most easily studied as they are presented in sounds, and this study furnishes a way of rising to the higher secrets of truth, by paths gradually ascending, so to speak, in which Wisdom pleasantly reveals herself, and in every step of providence meets those who love her, Wisdom 6:17 desired, when I began to have leisure for study, and my mind was not engaged by greater and more important cares, to exercise myself by writing those books which you have requested me to send. I then wrote six books on rhythm alone, and proposed, I may add, to write other six on music, as I at that time expected to have leisure. But from the time that the burden of ecclesiastical cares was laid upon me, all these recreations have passed from my hand so completely, that now, when I cannot but respect your wish and command—for it is more than a request,— I have difficulty in even finding what I had written. If, however, I had it in my power to send you that treatise, it would occasion regret, not to me that I had obeyed your command, but to you that you had so urgently insisted upon its being sent. For five books of it are all but unintelligible, unless one be at hand who can in reading not only distinguish the part belonging to each of those between whom the discussion is maintained, but also mark by enunciation the time which the syllables should occupy, so that their distinctive measures may be expressed and strike the ear, especially because in some places there occur pauses of measured length, which of course must escape notice, unless the reader inform the hearer of them by intervals of silence where they occur.

The sixth book, however, which I have found already revised, and in which the product of the other five is contained, I have not delayed to send to your Charity; it may, perhaps, be not wholly unsuited to one of your venerable age. As to the other five books, they seem to me scarcely worthy of being known and read by Julian, our son, and now our colleague, for, as a deacon, he is engaged in the same warfare with ourselves. Of him I dare not say, for it would not be true, that I love him more than I love you; yet this I may say, that I long for him more than for you. It may seem strange, that when I love both equally, I long more ardently for the one than the other; but the cause of the difference is, that I have greater hope of seeing him; for I think that if ordered or sent by you he come to us, he will both be doing what is suitable to one of his years, especially as he is not yet hindered by weightier responsibilities, and he will more speedily bring yourself to me.

I have not stated in this treatise the kinds of metre in which the lines of David's Psalms are composed, because I do not know them. For it was not possible for any one, in translating these from the Hebrew (of which language I know nothing), to preserve the metre at the same time, lest by the exigencies of the measure he should be compelled to depart from accurate translation further than was consistent with the meaning of the sentences. Nevertheless, I believe, on the testimony of those who are acquainted with that language, that they are composed in certain varieties of metre; for that holy man loved sacred music, and has more than any other kindled in me a passion for its study.

May the shadow of the wings of the Most High be for ever the dwelling-place of you all, who with oneness of heart occupy one home, father and mother, bound in the same brotherhood with your sons, being all the children of the one Father. Remember us.

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Source. Translated by J.G. Cunningham. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102101.htm>.

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