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Home > Fathers of the Church > Letters of St. Augustine > Letter 231

Letter 231 (A.D. 429)

To Darius, His Son, and a Member of Christ, Augustine, a Servant of Christ and of the Members of Christ, Sends Greeting in the Lord.

1. You requested an answer from me as a proof that I had gladly received your letter. Behold, then, I write again; and yet I cannot express the pleasure I felt, either by this answer or by any other, whether I write briefly or at the utmost length, for neither by few words nor by many is it possible for me to express to you what words can never express. I, indeed, am not eloquent, though ready in speech; but I could by no means allow any man, however eloquent, even though he could see as well into my mind as I do myself, to do that which is beyond my own power, viz. to describe in a letter, however able and however long, the effect which your epistle had on my mind. It remains, then, for me so to express to you what you wished to know, that you may understand as being in my words that which they do not express. What, then, shall I say? That I was delighted with your letter, exceedingly delighted—the repetition of this word is not a mere repetition, but, as it were, a perpetual affirmation; because it was impossible to be always saying it, therefore it has been at least once repeated, for in this way perhaps my feelings may be expressed.

2. If some one inquire here what after all delighted me so exceedingly in your letterWas it its eloquence? I will answer, No; and he, perhaps, will reply, Was it, then, the praises bestowed on yourself? but again I will reply, No; and I shall reply thus not because these things are not in that letter, for the eloquence in it is so great that it is very clearly evident that you are naturally endowed with the highest talents, and that you have been most carefully educated; and your letter is undeniably full of my praises. Some one then may say, Do not these things delight you? Yes, truly, for my heart is not, as the poet says, of horn, so that I should either not observe these things or observe them without delight. These things do delight; but what have these things to do with that with which I said I was highly delighted? Your eloquence delights me since it is at once genial in sentiment and dignified in expression; and though assuredly I am not delighted with all sorts of praise from all sorts of persons, but only with such praises as you have thought me worthy of, and only coming from those who are such as you are— that is, from persons who, for Christ's sake, love His servants, I cannot deny that I am delighted with the praises bestowed upon me in your letter.

3. Thoughtful and experienced men will be at no loss as to the opinion which they should form of Themistocles (if I remember the name rightly), who, having refused at a banquet to play on the lyre, a thing which the distinguished and learned men of Greece were accustomed to do, and having been on that account regarded as uneducated, was asked, when he expressed his contempt for that sort of amusement, What, then, does it delight you to hear? and is reported to have answered: My own praises. Thoughtful and experienced men will readily see with what design and in what sense these words must have been used by him, or must be understood by them, if they are to believe that he uttered them; for he was in the affairs of this world a most remarkable man, as may be illustrated by the answer which he gave when he was further pressed with the question: What, then, do you know? I know, he replied, how to make a small republic great. As to the thirst for praise spoken of by Ennius in the words: All men greatly desire to be praised, I am of opinion that it is partly to be approved of, partly guarded against. For as, on the one hand, we should vehemently desire the truth, which is undoubtedly to be eagerly sought after as alone worthy of praise, even though it be not praised: so, on the other hand, we must carefully shun the vanity which readily insinuates itself along with praise from men: and this vanity is present in the mind when either the things which are worthy of praise are not reckoned worth having unless the man be praised for them by his fellow-men, or things on account of possessing which any man wishes to be much praised are deserving either of small praise, or it may be of severe censure. Hence Horace, a more careful observer than Ennius, says: Is fame your passion? Wisdom's powerful charm if thrice read over shall its power disarm.

4. Thus the poet thought that the malady arising from the love of human praise, which was thoroughly attacked with his satire, was to be charmed away by words of healing power. The great Teacher has accordingly taught us by His apostle, that we ought not to do good with a view to be praised by men, that is, we ought not to make the praises of men the motive for our well-doing; and yet, for the sake of men themselves, He teaches us to seek their approbation. For when good men are praised, the praise does not benefit those on whom it is bestowed, but those who bestowed it. For to the good, so far as they are themselves concerned, it is enough that they are good; but those are to be congratulated whose interest it is to imitate the good when the good are praised by them, since they thus show that the persons whom they sincerely praise are persons whose conduct they appreciate. The apostle says in a certain place, If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ; Galatians 1:10 and the same apostle says in another place, I please all men in all things, and adds the reason, Not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. 1 Corinthians 10:33 Behold what he sought in the praise of men, as it is declared in these words: Finally, my brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which you have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. Philippians 4:8-9 All the other things which I have named above, he summed up under the name of Virtue, saying, If there be any virtue; but the definition which he subjoined, Whatsoever things are of good report, he followed up by another suitable word, If there be any praise. What the apostle says, then, in the first of these passages, If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ, is to be understood as if he said, If the good things which I do were done by me with human praise as my motive, if I were puffed up with the love of praise, I should not be the servant of Christ. The apostle, then, wished to please all men, and rejoiced in pleasing them, not that he might himself be inflated with their praises, but that he being praised might build them up in Christ. Why, then, should it not delight me to be praised by you, since you are too good a man to speak insincerely, and you bestow your praise on things which you love, and which it is profitable and wholesome to love, even though they be not in me? This, moreover, does not benefit you alone, but also me. For if they are not in me, it is good for me that I am put to the blush, and am made to burn with desire to possess them. And in regard to anything in your praise which I recognise as in my possession, I rejoice that I possess it, and that such things are loved by you, and that I am loved for their sake. And in regard to those things which I do not recognise as belonging to me, I not only desire to obtain them, that I may possess them for myself, but also that those who love me sincerely may not always be mistaken in praising me for them.

5. Behold how many things I have said, and still I have not yet spoken of that in your letter which delighted me more than your eloquence, and far more than the praises you bestowed on me. What do you think, O excellent man, that this can be? It is that I have acquired the friendship of so distinguished a man as you are, and that without having even seen you; if, indeed, I ought to speak of one as unseen whose soul I have seen in his own letters, though I have not seen his body. In which letters I rest my opinion concerning you on my own knowledge, and not, as formerly, on the testimony of my brethren. For what your character was I had already heard, but how you stood affected to me I knew not until now. From this, your friendship to me, I doubt not that even the praises bestowed on me, which give me pleasure for a reason about which I have already said enough, will much more abundantly benefit the Church of Christ, since the fact that you possess, and study, and love, and commend my labours in defence of the gospel against the remnant of impious idolaters, secures for me a wider influence in these writings in proportion to the high position which you occupy; for, illustrious yourself, you insensibly shed a lustre upon them. You, being celebrated, give celebrity to them, and wherever you shall see that the circulation of them might do good, you will not suffer them to remain altogether unknown. If you ask me how I know this, my reply is, that such is the impression concerning you produced on me by reading your letters. Herein you will now see how great delight your letter could impart to me, for if your opinion of me be favourable, you are aware how great delight is given to me by gain to the cause of Christ. Moreover, when you tell me concerning yourself that, although, as you say, you belong to a family which not for one or two generations, but even to remote ancestors, has been known as able to accept the doctrine of Christ, you have nevertheless been aided by my writings against the Gentile rites so to understand these as you never had done before, can I esteem it a small matter how great benefit our writings, commended and circulated by you, may confer upon others, and to how many and how illustrious persons your testimony may bring them, and how easily and profitably through these persons they may reach others? Or, reflecting on this, can the joy diffused in my heart be small or moderate in degree?

6. Since, then, I cannot in words express how great delight I have received from your letter, I have spoken of the reason why it delighted me, and may that which I am unable adequately to utter on this subject I leave to you to conjecture. Accept, then, my son— accept, O excellent man, Christian not by outward profession merely, but by Christian love— accept, I say, the books containing my Confessions, which you desired to have. In these behold me, that you may not praise me beyond what I am; in these believe what is said of me, not by others, but by myself; in these contemplate me, and see what I have been in myself, by myself; and if anything in me please you, join me, because of it, in praising Him to whom, and not to myself, I desire praise to be given. For He has made us, and not we ourselves; indeed, we had destroyed ourselves, but He who made us has made us anew. When, however, you find me in these books, pray for me that I may not fail, but be perfected. Pray, my son; pray. I feel what I say; I know what I ask. Let it not seem to you a thing unbecoming, and, as it were, beyond your merits. You will defraud me of a great help if you do not do so. Let not only you yourself, but all also who by your testimony shall come to love me, pray for me. Tell them that I have entreated this, and if you think highly of us, consider that we command what we have asked; in any case, whether as granting a request or obeying a command, pray for us. Read the Divine Scriptures, and you will find that the apostles themselves, the leaders of Christ's flock, requested this from their sons, or enjoined it on their hearers. I certainly, since you ask it of me, will do this for you as far as I can. He sees this who is the Hearer of prayer, and who saw that I prayed for you before you asked me; but let this proof of love be reciprocated by you. We are placed over you; you are the flock of God. Consider and see that our dangers are greater than yours, and pray for us, for this becomes both us and you, that we may give a good account of you to the Chief Shepherd and Head over us all, and may escape both from the trials of this world and its allurements, which are still more dangerous, except when the peace of this world has the effect for which the apostle has directed us to pray, That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 1 Timothy 2:2 For if godliness and honesty be wanting, what is a quiet and peaceful exemption from the evils of the world but an occasion either of inviting men to enter, or assisting men to follow, a course of self-indulgence and perdition? Do you, then, ask for us what we ask for you, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Let us ask this for each other wherever you are and wherever we are, for He whose we are is everywhere present.

7. I have sent you also other books which you did not ask, that I might not rigidly restrict myself to what you asked:— my works on Faith in Things Unseen, on Patience, on Continence, on Providence, and a large work on Faith, Hope, and Charity. If, while you are in Africa, you shall read all these, either send your opinion of them to me, or let it be sent to some place whence it may be sent us by my lord and brother Aurelius, though wherever you shall be we hope to have letters from you; and do you expect letters from us as long as we are able. I most gratefully received the things you sent to me, in which you deigned to aid me both in regard to my bodily health, since you desire me to be free from the hindrance of sickness in devoting my time to God, and in regard to my library, that I may have the means to procure new books and repair the old. May God recompense you, both in the present life and in that to come, with those favours which He has prepared for such as He has willed you to be. I request you now to salute again for me, as before, the pledge of peace entrusted to you, very dear to both of 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/1102231.htm>.

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