He speaks very well of the necessity of being plain and familiar, though every thing that is said should have a suitable dignity, especially when religion is the subject. He distinguishes three kinds of speaking: submissively, in an humble, familiar way; mildly, in an engaging, soft, insinuating manner, to make people love the truth; and, nobly, in a lofty, vehement strain, when we would captivate men, and rescue them from the dominion of their passions. But a speaker who follows the impulse of his thoughts, studies no beauties of elocution, though he naturally uses such as rise from the subject itself.
He writes with infinite penetration, is full of noble notions and sentiments, and expresses himself in a pathetic insinuating manner. He knew the heart of man entirely well, and reasoned generally with great force. He indeed often, in his moral discourses, takes passages of the scripture in an allegorical sense, which is always arbitrary, and rather serves for illustration than for proof; in which he followed Origen, the Therapeuts, and latter Jews.
On this account the discourses of St. Chrysostom and the comments of St.
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Jerom are, in general, more useful, as to the application of the sacred writings, in the genuine literal sense. Austin fell into allegorical interpretations by example, and for the opportunity of introducing such moral instructions as he judged most necessary for his people. The first is related by the saint himself in a letter to his friend Alipius. Austin, by a strenuous letter, exhorted Aurelius, archbishop of Carthage, to procure to be extirpated by an order of a council.
Austin, who was then priest at Hippo, read to them the most vehement threats and reproaches of the prophets. Then he earnestly besought his hearers, by the ignominies and sorrows, by the cross, by the blood of Christ, not to destroy themselves; to have pity on him who spoke to them with so much affection, and to show some regard to their venerable old bishop, who, out of tenderness for them, had commanded him to instruct them in the truth.
I own that then I could not restrain myself. After we had wept together, I began to entertain great hopes of their amendment. The other example is still more remarkable, and the account of it we have also from the saint. This combat was a spectacle with which the people were extremely delighted, and to draw them from it was judged a very difficult enterprise. I thought I had done nothing, while I only heard their acclamations, and raised their delight and admiration.
They were not persuaded, so long as they could amuse themselves with giving applause to the discourse which they heard. But their tears gave me some hopes, and declared that their minds were changed. When I saw them weep, I believed this horrible custom would be abolished. It is now eight years ago and upwards, and, by the grace of God, they have been restrained from attempting any such practice.
He addresses himself to St. Austin preached always in Latin, though among the peasants of the country, in certain parts of his diocess, some understood only the Punic tongue, whom he found it difficult to furnish with priests. Austin preached constantly, sometimes every day, and sometimes twice on the same day. He did not desist even when he was so weak as to be scarcely able to speak; but he seemed to gather strength in preaching, and his ardour for the salvation of souls made him forget the pains of sickness.
His sermons were received with universal applause, and according to the custom of that age, with clappings and acclamations; but what alone gave him pleasure was the wonderful fruit which they never failed to produce. He was afterwards advanced to the priesthood.
Valerius, finding himself sinking under the weight of his years and infirmities, and fearing lest his church should be deprived of St. Austin by some other city demanding him for their bishop, procured privately the consent of St. Aurelius, archbishop of Carthage, and the approbation of his own people, and the neighbouring prelates of his province of Numidia, to make him his coadjutor in the bishopric. Austin strenuously opposed the project, but was compelled to acquiesce in the will of heaven, and was consecrated in December, , having in November entered into the forty-second year of his age.
Valerius died the year following. Austin, in this new dignity, was obliged to live in the episcopal house, both on account of hospitality and for the exercise of his functions; but he engaged all the priests, deacons, and subdeacons who lived with him, to renounce all property, and to engage themselves to embrace the rule he established there; nor did he admit any to holy orders who did not bind themselves to the same manner of life. Herein he was imitated by several other bishops, and this was the original of Regular Canons, in imitation of the apostles.
No silver was used in his house, except spoons.
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His dishes were of earth, wood, or marble. He exercised hospitality, but his table was frugal; besides herbs and pulse, some flesh was served up for strangers and the sick; nor was wine wanting; but a quantity was regulated, which no guest was ever allowed to exceed.
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At table he loved rather reading or literary conferences than secular conversation, and, to warn his guests to shun detraction, he had the following distich written upon his table:. Whose tongue shall charge the absent with disgrace. If any fell into that vice in his presence, he warned them of it, without distinction of persons, and to show his dislike, suddenly rose, and withdrew into his chamber, as Possidius had seen him frequently do. All his clerks who lived with him, ate at the same table, and were clothed out of the common stock with himself.
He suffered no woman ever to converse in his house; not even his sister who was superior of a nunnery , nor his two nieces, who served God with her.
He said, that though no sinister suspicion could arise from the conversation of a sister or a niece, yet they would be sometimes attended or visited by others of their sex. He never would speak to any woman without having some of his clerks by, and being in sight of them, though the business was never so secret.
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He committed to overseers among his clergy the entire care of his temporals, and took their accounts at the end of the year. To shun whatever might distract his mind, he intrusted to the management of others the building of the hospitals or churches which he erected. He never would receive for the poor any estates or presents which he was importuned to accept when the donation seemed a prejudice to an heir, or a disinheriting of a child.
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Nor could any age afford a greater example of perfect disinterestedness. He was aware how easily avarice creeps unperceived into the heart, and, like a moth, devours the best actions, no less than vanity, if it taint them with its venemous blast; and he was continually upon his guard against himself, lest either of these contagious evils should infect his soul, and secretly entangle his affections. He employed whatever could be spared of the revenues of his church in relieving the poor, as he had before given his own patrimony for their relief.
Possidius says that he sometimes melted down part of the sacred vessels to redeem captives; in which he was authorized by the example of St. In several of his letters and sermons, mention is made of the custom he had prevailed upon his flock to establish, of clothing all the poor of each parish once a year.
He was not afraid sometimes to contract considerable debts to procure comfort and subsistence for the distressed; but his zeal and charity for the spiritual welfare of others seemed to have no bounds. This is my passion, my honour, my glory, my joy, and riches. There perhaps, never was a man endowed by nature with a more affectionate and friendly soul than the great St. Austin; but his tender and benevolent disposition was exceedingly heightened and improved by the nobler supernatural motive, and most powerful influence of holy charity and religion; of which his letters, and the sequel of the history of his life will furnish many examples.
He complains that some sins had by custom become so common, that though he condemned them, he durst not oppose the torrent too violently for fear of doing much harm and no good, should he attempt to extirpate them by excommunication; yet he trembled lest he should be rendered culpable by remissness. But as to those that are common, though so grievous that they shut the gates of heaven, through the force of custom, we are constrained to tolerate them, and by tolerating fear we may ourselves become guilty. May it please thy mercy, O Lord, that we may not be condemned as not having done all that might be done to hinder them.
What doth he not endeavour! How doth he labour! How doth he turn and change himself into all shapes! If there appear the least hopes of drawing one pagan to Christ, or one heretic to the church, how doth he condescend, how doth he, as St. Paul saith, change his voice! How anxiously doth he intercede for those wicked Circumcellions who deserved more than one death! Who ever solicited more for his friends than he doth for his enemies? With what pangs doth he bring forth all to Christ! How diligently doth he endeavour to save all, and lose none! How grievously is he afflicted when any scandal ariseth!
Methinks I see the hen in the gospel, solicitous and anxious to gather and cherish her chickens under her wings. In him alone, as in a mirror, may be seen a perfect bishop, such a one as St. Paul describeth. Austin was obliged sometimes to hear them the whole day fasting, which he did diligently, affectionately, and patiently, making use of every means to reconcile the parties amicably, and, whether they were Christians or infidels, to draw them to God; but he complained of the distraction of this charge, which only charity made supportable to him.
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