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Century V, Chapter VIII

CHAP. VIII.

MISCELLANEOUS PARTICULARS CONCERNING
AUGUSTINE.

Chap. I Have comprised, in several distinct chapters, a
, V1IL , variety of matter relating to the bishop of Hippo,
for the sake of perspicuity; two more chapters must
be added, one containing various articles of his life
and conduct, including the account of his death;
and the other, a view of his theological character.
It is not in my power to gratify the reader with any
thing like a regular history of the effusion of the
Spirit of God, which took place toward the end of
the last, and in the beginning of this century. We
have a far more particular account of Augustine's
literary works, than of his ministerial. On the
whole, however, some genuine information may be
collected, concerning the great work of God in his
day.

The Manichees could not fail to attract a con- Cent. siderahle portion of his attention; he had himself . v~ ^ suffered extremely through their means; they abounded in Africa, and God abundantly blessed his labours in opposing their doctrines, and in recovering souls which had been seduced. One instance, to the honour of divine grace, deserves to be recorded in the very words of the writer*. " Not only I (Possidonius) who write this life, but also other brethren, who lived together with the bishop in Hippo, know that he once said to us, being at table together: ' Did you take notice of my sermon to-day in the church, that its beginning and end were not according to my custom; that I did not finish what I proposed, but left my subject in suspense ?' We answered we were at the time astonished, and now recollect it. I believe,' said he, ' the reason was, because the Lord, perhaps, intended some erroneous person in the congregation, through my forgetfulness and mistake, to be taught and healed; for, in his hand are we and our discourses. For while I was handling the points of the question proposed, I was led into a digression, and so, without concluding or explaining the subject in hand, I terminated the argument rather against Manicheism, on which I had no design to have spoken a word, than concerning the matter proposed.' Next day, or two days after, so far as I can remember, came a merchant, called Firmus, and while Augustine was sitting in the monastery, in our presence, he threw himself at his feet, shedding tears, entreating his and our prayers, and confessing that he had lived many years a Manichee ; that he had vainly spent much money in the support of that sect, and that, by the bishop's discourses, he had, through divine mercy, been lately convinced of his error, and restored to the church. Augustine and we inquired by what sermon in particular he had been convinced; he * Possidonius, Vita Aug.

Chap, informed us; and as we all recollected the substance V*IT- , of that discourse, we admired, and were astonished at the profound counsel of God for the salvation of souls, and we glorified and blessed his holy name, who, when, whence, and as he pleases, by persons knowing and unknowing, works out the salvation of men. From that time, the man, devoting himself to God, gave up his business, and, improving in piety, was by the will of God compelled against his own will, in another region, to receive the office of Presbyter, preserving still the same sanctity ; and, perhaps, he is yet alive beyond the sea."

Augustine detected also the base and blasphemous practices of the Manichees, and thus guarded the minds of the unwary. One of them, by name Felix, coming to Hippo to sow his sentiments, Augustine held a public dispute with him in the church, and, after the second or third conference, Felix owned himself convinced, and received the Gospel.

Arianism also being introduced into Africa by the Goths, who professed it, engaged the attention of Augustine, and he exerted himself in a controversy with Maximinus their bishop.

Of his labours against Pelagianism it will now only be needful to say*, that he lived to see the fruit of them in the growth of Christian purity, both ia his own church and in other parts of Africa.

While he thus endeavoured to promote the cause of piety, he was always observed to bear, with much patience and meekness, the irregularities of the perverse, and to be more disposed to mourn over them with grief, than resent them with anger.

To the manifold labours of this bishop in preaching, visiting, and writing, was added the troublesome employment of hearing causes. For, according to the rules of l Cor. vi. the Christians of Hippo used to bring matters of controversy before the bishop. And the examination and decision of these engaged * Possidonius.

him till the hour of repast, and sometimes he was Cent. employed in them fasting the whole day. Certainly ^ y' it is not reasonable that a Christian pastor should be statedly employed in such things: but Augustine, following the customary practice of the time, made it subservient to the purest purposes. He had by this an opportunity of examining the dispositions of his people, and their improvements or defects in faith and good works ; and he explained to them, occasionally, their duties as Christians, by opening to them the word of God, by exhorting them to piety, and by rebuking sinners : And in all this he acted with perfect disinterestedness.

In attendance on councils he was frequent, and in them he distinguished himself in the defence both of Christian doctrine and discipline. In ordaining clergymen, he took care to follow the custom of the church, and to act with the concurrence of the majority of the people *. His dress, furniture, and diet, were moderated between extremes; and it will deserve to be mentioned, as an instance of superiority to popular superstition, that he always drank wine, but with great moderation. He constantly practised hospitality ; and at table encouraged reading or argument; and as his spirit, ever humble and tender since his conversion, could not bear the too fashionable mode of detraction and slander, he had a distich written on his table, which intimated, that whoever attacked the characters of the absent were to be excluded t. Nor was he content with a formal declaration ; he seriously warned his guests to abstain from defamation. " On one occasion," says his biographer, " some bishops, his intimate friends, breaking the rule in conversation, he at length was so much roused as to say, that either those lines

* Possidonius.

f Quisquis amat dictis absentum rodere vitam,

Hanc mensam vej(titam noverit esse sibi. !

must be erased from the table, or he himself would rise from the midst of the meal, and go into his bedchamber ; and of this I and others who were present are witnesses."

He was conscientiously attentive to the wants of the poor, and sedulously relieved them out of the revenues of the church, or the oblations of the faithful. And, in answer to the invidious complaints of some, concerning the riches amassed by the church, he freely offered to give them up to any of the laity who would take the charge of them. Doubtless the growth of superstition was even then bringing on that accession of wealth to the clergy, which afterwards grew to so enormous a height But purer hands than those of Augustine never handled the possessions of the Church ; he seems chargeable, even with inattention to his own rights; as he committed the whole of the temporals to his clergy in succession, and never made himself sufficiently acquainted with particulars, to be able, from his own inspection, to correct any mismanagement. He himself lived perfectly unconnected with the world at one table, and in one house, with his clergy, and never purchased house or land. He checked also the fashionable method of men's leaving their possessions to the church, whenever he saw reason to think that the testators had near relations, who, in justice and equity, had a preferable claim. With much pleasure did he withdraw as soon as possible from any secular cares which he had not been able to avoid, that he might give himself wholly to divine things. Hence he always remained, as much as possible, content with old buildings and utensils, lest he should be entangled with concerns of this nature. Yet to relieve the indigent, and to redeem captives, he scrupled not to sell the vessels of the church, after the example of Ambrose.

His abstinence from the society of women we should think, in our times, to have been carried Cent. beyond the due bounds; yet it hindered not his t V; provident care for their spiritual welfare.

A littlebeforehis death he was employed in revising and correcting his works. This care produced the publication of his Retractations, the chief use of which book is, that it enables us to fix, with a considerable degree of precision, what were his Genuine works and thoughts. It pleased God, however, not to suffer him to depart this life without a cloud of grievous affliction ; and the relish of heaven, after which for many years he had panted with uncommon ardour, was quickened still more by a bitter taste of the evils of this life in declining age.

Genseric, king of the Vandals, invaded Africa, and made a dreadful desolation. To the tender mind of Augustine*, the devastation of the country,

* The tenderness of his spirit, on one occasion, led him into an error in conduct, which much afflicted him. Fussala was a little city in the extremity of his diocese, forty miles from Hippo. The country ahout it was full of Donatists ; and their re-union to the church was accompanied with much difficulty. The priests sent by Augustine were maimed, blinded, or murdered. Augustine, on account of the distance, was not capable of serving the people as he could wish ; and he at length determined to settle a bishop there, who should undertake the charge of Fussala and the neighbouring district. As soon as he bad found a proper priest, he desired the primate of Numidia to come over, and in conjunction with himself, ordain him. The priest, whom he had chosen, retracted, and the primate was arrived. Augustine was unwilling to send him back without doing the business, and through the facility of his temper, was induced to present, for ordination, a young man named Anthony, whom he had from infancy educated in his monastery, who had never been tried as he ought to have been. The bishop of Hippo had soon occasion to repent of his good nature. The young prelate was complained of by his flock, for rapacity and licentiousness, and was too scandalous in his manners to be en* dured any longer. His connexion with Fussala was therefore dissolved by a formal sentence. Anthony, however, appealed to the bishop of Rome, who was inclined to support him. Augustine insisted on the propriety of his expulsion, and maintained, that compassion for the man himself, as well as for the people, whom he had so much abused, required that the sentence

the cruelties inflicted on the pastors, the desolation of churches, and the destruction of all churchorder which ensued, must have been peculiarly afflicting. Count Boniface, one of the greatest Roman heroes of those times, undertook the defence of Hippo against the barbarians. He had not been without convictions of divine things, and Augustine, who was intimate with him, had endeavoured to improve those convictions to salutary purposes, But, to seek human glory, and the honour which cometh from God only, at the same time, was found to be incompatible. Boniface gained ashining reputation, and follow ed the world. In these trying times the bishop of Hippo again endeavoured to draw him from the love of the world to God, and Boniface seems all along to have sinned reluctantly. What God might do for him at last, during the time that he lived after the mortal wound, which he received in a duel, we know not. The man, however, was brave and sincere, and had a steady regard for men of real godliness. He defended Hippo for fourteen months, which, after that time, with all Africa, fell under the power of the Vandals.

But Augustine was taken away from the evil to come. While he mourned under the miseries of the times, in company with Possidonius and several

should be supported, lest he should be hardened still more in iniquity. Anthony himself made restitution of the sums of which he had defrauded them; yet he prevailed afterwards on the primate of Numidia to believe him innocent, and to interest himself in his favour. The spirit of Augustine, then threescore and eight years of age, was much broken with this affair. He condemned his own imprudence, and observed, that the danger into which Anthony had cast both himself and the people, so much affected him, that he was almost resolved to relinquish the episcopal office, and bewail his error, the remainder of his days, in privacy*. As it appears that Augustine still governed the church of Fussala after this, it seems that the dispute was settled to his satisfaction, and that Anthony was not restored to his See ||. The story deserves to be noticed, as illustrating the church discipline of the times, and the character of Augustine.

* Pp. 209. t Ef>.a»4.

bishops, who had fled for shelter to Hippo, he told Cent. them, that he had prayed, either that God would v- , free them from the siege, or endue his servants peathof with patience, or take him out of the world to him- Augustine, self. In the third month of the siege he was seized A" D' with a fever, which ended in his dissolution, in the 43°' year 430. He lived seventy-six years, forty of which he had been a presbyter or bishop. He used to say, that a Christian should never cease to repent, even to the hour of his death. He had David's penitential psalms inscribed on the wall, in his last sickness, and he read and wept abundantly; and for ten days before he expired he desired to be uninterrupted, that he might give himself wholly to devotion, except at certain intervals. He had preached the word of God constantly, till his last sickness. He left no will: he had neither money nor lands to leave. He left his library to the church. Of his own relations he had taken competent care before. " In his writings," says Possidonius, " the holy man appears: but those who could have heard and seen him speak in public, and particularly in private conversation would have seen still more." Pity it is, that a man, who had known him for forty years, should have left us so imperfect an account. But the vigour of the human mind was then much declined, and superstition made men childish, though it did not destroy the spirit of piety.