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Home > Fathers of the Church > Letters of St. Augustine > Letter 35

Letter 35 (A.D. 396)

(Another letter to Eusebius on the same subject.)

To Eusebius, My Excellent Lord and Brother, Worthy of Affection and Esteem, Augustine Sends Greeting.

1. I did not impose upon you, by importunate exhortation or entreaty in spite of your reluctance, the duty, as you call it, of arbitrating between bishops. Even if I had desired to move you to this, I might perhaps have easily shown how competent you are to judge between us in a cause so clear and simple; nay, I might show how you are already doing this, inasmuch as you, who are afraid of the office of judge, do not hesitate to pronounce sentence in favour of one of the parties before you have heard both. But of this, as I have said, I do not meanwhile say anything. For I had asked nothing else from your honourable good-nature,— and I beseech you to be pleased to remark it in this letter, if you did not in the former—than that you should ask Proculeianus whether he himself said to his presbyter Victor that which the public registers have by official report ascribed to him, or whether those who were sent have written in the public registers not what they heard from Victor, but a falsehood; and further, what his opinion is as to our discussing the whole question between us. I think that he is not constituted judge between parties, who is only requested by the one to put a question to the other, and condescend to write what reply he has received. This also I now again ask you not to refuse to do, because, as I know by experiment, he does not wish to receive a letter from me, otherwise I would not employ your Excellency's mediation. Since, therefore, he does not wish this, what could I do less likely to give offense, than to apply through you, so good a man and such a friend of his, for an answer concerning a matter about which the burden of my responsibility forbids me to hold my peace? Moreover, you say (because the son's beating of his mother is disapproved by your sound judgment), If Proculeianus had known this, he would have debarred that man from communion with his party. I answer in a sentence, He knows it now, let him now debar him.

2. Let me mention another thing. A man who was formerly a subdeacon of the church at Spana, Primus by name, when, having been forbidden such intercourse with nuns as contravened the laws of the Church, he treated with contempt the established and wise regulations, was deprived of his clerical office—this man also, being provoked by the divinely warranted discipline, went over to the other party, and was by them rebaptized. Two nuns also, who were settled in the same lands of the Catholic Church with him, either taken by him to the other party, or following him, were likewise rebaptized: and now, among bands of Circumcelliones and troops of homeless women, who have declined matrimony that they may avoid restraint, he proudly boasts himself in excesses of detestable revelry, rejoicing that he now has without hindrance the utmost freedom in that misconduct from which in the Catholic Church he was restrained. Perhaps Proculeianus knows nothing about this case either. Let it therefore through you, as a man of grave and dispassionate spirit, be made known to him; and let him order that man to be dismissed from his communion, who has chosen it for no other reason than that he had, on account of insubordination and dissolute habits, forfeited his clerical office in the Catholic Church.

3. For my own part, if it please the Lord, I purpose to adhere to this rule, that whoever, after being deposed among them by a sentence of discipline, shall express a desire to pass over into the Catholic Church, must be received on condition of submitting to give the same proofs of penitence as those which, perhaps, they would have constrained him to give if he had remained among them. But consider, I beseech you, how worthy of abhorrence is their procedure in regard to those whom we check by ecclesiastical censures for unholy living, persuading them first to come to a second baptism, in order to their being qualified for which they declare themselves to be pagans (and how much blood of martyrs has been poured out rather than that such a declaration should proceed from the mouth of a Christian!); and thereafter, as if renewed and sanctified, but in truth more hardened in sin, to defy with the impiety of new madness, under the guise of new grace, that discipline to which they could not submit. If, however, I am wrong in attempting to obtain the correction of these abuses through your benevolent interposition, let no one find fault with my causing them to be made known to Proculeianus by the public registers,— a means of notification which in this Roman city cannot, I believe, be refused to me. For, since the Lord commands us to speak and proclaim the truth, and in teaching to rebuke what is wrong, and to labour in season and out of season, as I can prove by the words of the Lord and of the apostles, let no man think that I am to be persuaded to be silent concerning these things. If they meditate any bold measures of violence or outrage, the Lord, who has subdued under His yoke all earthly kingdoms in the bosom of His Church spread abroad through the whole world, will not fail to defend her from wrong.

4. The daughter of one of the cultivators of the property of the Church here, who had been one of our catechumens, had been, against the will of her parents, drawn away by the other party, and after being baptized among them, had assumed the profession of a nun. Now her father wished to compel her by severe treatment to return to the Catholic Church; but I was unwilling that this woman, whose mind was so perverted, should be received by us unless with her own will, and choosing, in the free exercise of judgment, that which is better: and when the countryman began to attempt to compel his daughter by blows to submit to his authority, I immediately forbade his using any such means. Notwithstanding, after all, when I was passing through the Spanian district, a presbyter of Proculeianus, standing in a field belonging to an excellent Catholic woman, shouted after me with a most insolent voice that I was a Traditor and a persecutor; and he hurled the same reproach against that woman, belonging to our communion, on whose property he was standing. But when I heard his words, I not only refrained from pursuing the quarrel, but also held back the numerous company which surrounded me. Yet if I say, Let us inquire and ascertain who are or have been indeed Traditors and persecutors, they reply, We will not debate, but we will rebaptize. Leave us to prey upon your flocks with crafty cruelty, like wolves; and if you are good shepherds, bear it in silence. For what else has Proculeianus commanded but this, if indeed the order is justly ascribed to him: If you are a Christian, said he, leave this to the judgment of God; whatever we do, hold your peace. The same presbyter, moreover, dared to utter a threat against a countryman who is overseer of one of the farms belonging to the Church.

5. I pray you to inform Proculeianus of all these things. Let him repress the madness of his clergy, which, honoured Eusebius, I have felt constrained to report to you. Be pleased to write to me, not your own opinion concerning them all, lest you should think that the responsibility of a judge is laid upon you by me, but the answer which they give to my questions. May the mercy of God preserve you from harm, my excellent lord and brother, most worthy of affection and esteem.

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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/1102035.htm>.

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