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Vol. XLIII, 3 Whole No. 171 


(Concluded from p. 123.) 

VII. Evidences of Spontaneity and Extemporization in 
the Seemons op St. Augustine. 

Augustine's sermons are literally filled with evidences of 
spontaneity and extemporization. Passages strike us on all sides 
which show the enthusiasm and the inspiration of the preacher 
speaking extemporaneously and without written assistance. 
These sermons could be dissected and all the parts marshalled 
under different headings but the mass of material would be so 
great that the reader would have almost the entire body of ser- 
mons arrayed before him. It is our intention here merely to 
indicate the various kinds of remarks which bear on our subject, 
quote several passages by way of illustration, and refer to several 
more in the foot-notes. Any attempt even to refer to all is out 
of the question, as one may easily see on glancing over Augus- 
tine's sermons with the various sections of this chapter in mind. 

Augustine's homilies give abundant proof that the principles 
which he enunciated for preaching the word of God were derived 
directly from his own practice. When Augustine preached, it 
was his sympathetic and sincere nature combined with a vigor 
and power to express the thoughts of that nature, which carried 
him on and on, generally to the complete captivation of his 
congregation. There are numerous passages in the sermons 
which indicate such moments of high enthusiasm. Furthermore, 



these expressions are such as we do not believe even Augustine 
could have conceived in the quiet of his study. 1 

Examples of high flights of rhetoric meet us on all sides. It 
is easy for Augustine, while enforcing the significance of some 
truth, to fall into the rhetoric of Asianisun, the rapid fire of 
choppy sentences, imperatives and rhetorical questions. 

In the course of a sermon, " On Jacob and Esau," given on 
the feast of the martyr Vincent, Augustine has had occasion to 
speak of God in the various conceptions of Him as the Light. 
Just what do we mean when we speak of God as "the Light 
of Truth," "the Light of Justice," etc.? 

Conamini cogitare, fratres, lumen veritatis, lucem sapientiae, quomodo 
ubique praesens est omnibus: conamini cogitare lumen iustitiae; prae- 
sens est enim omni cogitanti. Quid enim est quod cogitat? Qui vult 
iniuste vivere, peceat. Deserit iustitiam: diminuta est? Conversus est 
ad iustitiam: quid? aucta est? Deserit earn, integram illam relinquit: 
convertitur ad earn, integram illam invenit. Quid est ergo lumen iusti- 
tiae? De oriente hoc surgit, et in occidentem vadit? An est alius 
locus unde oritur, aut quo venit? Nonne ubique praesto est? Homo 
certe qui est in occidente, si vult iuste vivere, id est, secundum iusti- 
tiam, numquid deest illi quam intueatur et videat secundum ipsam 
iustitiam? Iterum in oriente positus si velit iuste vivere, id est, secun- 
dum eamdem iustitiam, numquid deest illi ? 2 

In such bursts of eloquence also, Augustine under the influ- 
ence of the pagan schools of rhetoric often falls into the use of 
short sentences or clauses ending with the same word or syllable, 
thus giving a sing-song or rhythmical swing to his speech. 

Thus after Augustine has quoted Math, xviii. 15 (But if thy 
brother shall offend against thee, go and rebuke him between 
thee and him alone) and 1 Tim. v. 20 (Them that sin reprove 
before all: that the rest also may have fear), he remarks that 
these statements of Christ appear to conflict. This can not be, 
however, for if we are at peace with our conscience, we shall 
find nothing contradictory in the Holy Scriptures; and Augus- 
tine goes on to examine the apparent contradiction. 

Duo ergo ista praecepta, fratres, sic audiamus, ut intelligamus, et 
inter utraque praecepta pacati constituamur. Cum corde nostro nos 

1 For Augustine's prose style in general, cf . Norden, op. cit., 2 3 

M, 7. Cf. also 34, 6; 49, 8; 196, 1; 213, 1; 224, 3. 


concordemus, et Scriptura aaneta in nulla parte discordat. Verum est 
omnino, utrumque verum est: sed discernere debemus, aliquando illud, 
aliquando illud esse faciendum; aliquando corripiendum fratrem inter 
te et ipsum solum, aliquando corripiendum fratrem coram omnibus, ut 
et caeteri timorem habeant. Si aliquando illud, aliquando illud fece- 
rimus; concordiam Scripturarum tenebimus, et in faciendo atque obtem- 
perando non errabimus. Sed dicit mihi aliquis: Quando facio illud, 
quando illud; ne tunc corripiam inter me et ipsum solum, quando debeo 
coram omnibus corripere; aut tune corripiam coram omnibus, quando 
debeo in secreto corripere ? * 

Augustine is not at all averse to indulging in a little bitter 
irony in the midst of these outbursts. In a sermon delivered to 
a congregation composed principally of the recently baptized, 
Augustine urges that they maintain carefully their newly- 
acquired purity. " Imitate the good, not the evil," he says. 
And here he takes the opportunity to score sinners in general. 
" Sinners should reform, while they have the opportunity, for 
death comes suddenly. They always say, "We will reform," 
but to the question " When ?," the answer ever returns like the 
voice of a crow ' Cras, eras ' (Tomorrow, tomorrow)." 

Corrigant se qui tales sunt, dum vivunt; ne postea velint, et non 
possint: quia subito venit mors, et non est qui corrigatur, sed qui in 
ignem mittatur. Et quando veniat ipsa novissima hora, neseitur, et 
dicitur, Corrigo. Quando corrigis, quando mutaris? Cras, inquis. 
Ecce quoties dieis, Cras, cras; f actus es corvus. Ecce dico tibi, cum 
faois vocem corvinam, occurrit tibi ruina. Nam ille corvus, cuius 
vocem imitaris, exiit de area et non rediit (Gen. 8, 7). Tu autem, 
f rater, redi in Ecclesiam, quam tunc ilia area significabat. 4 

Very often Augustine is not carried away by a flow of rhetoric, 
but his sympathetic and kindly nature shows itself in every word 
as he speaks very informally and familiarly with his congrega- 
tion. He descends among them as it were and clearly speaks 
under the impulse of the moment. 

For example, Augustine again and again reviews in an in- 
formal way what has just been said, in order to impress his 
teaching more securely on the minds of his people. When in 
one sermon he has finished talking about the Trinity, before 
commencing a new topic, he sums up informally what he has 
already said. 

a 82, 9. Cf. also 164, 10; 178, 7. 
* 224, 4. 


Exsolvimus quae promisimus: propositiones nostras firmissimis, ut 
arbitror, testimoniorum documentis probavimus. Tenete quod audistis. 
Breviter replico, et rem utilissimam, quantum existimo, mentibus vestris 
collocandam commendo. Pater non est natus de virgine: nativitatem 
tamen istam Filii et Pater et Filius operatus est ex virgine. Pater 
non est passus in cruce: passionem tamen Filii et Pater et Filius 
operatus est. Non resurrexit Pater a mortuis: resurrectionem tamen 
Filii et Pater et Filius operatus est. Habetis personarum distinctionem, 
et operationis inseparabilitatem. Non ergo dicamus, aliquid Patrem 
operari sine Filio, aliquid Filium sine Patre. An forte miraeula quae 
fecit Iesus, movent vos, ne forte aliqua ipse fecerit, quae non fecit 
Pater? Et ubi est, Pater autem in me manens, ipse facit opera (John 
14, 10) ? Haec quae diximus plana erant, tantum dicenda erant: non 
laborandum ut intelligerentur, sed curandum ut commemorarentur." 

Only too often Augustine's kindliness takes the form of an 
apology for his inability as an expositor. These expressions 
may often seem like the ordinary utterances of a trained orator, 
a trick of the trade as it were, but frequently as in the following 
example they are too profuse and appear too sincere to be con- 
sidered as the words of a professional etiquette. 

Quid sit autem hoc, adiuvante Domino, dicam ut potero: adestote, ut 
intelligatis, si Spiritu ambulatis. Hoc si non intelligatur, periculo- 
sissime auditur. Ideo sollicitus ne male homines intelligendo pereant, 
suscepi haec verba Apostoli, adiuvante Domino, exponere vestrae Chari- 
tati. Vacat nobis, matutina coepimus, hora prandii non urget: ad 
istum diem, id est sabbatum, maxime hi assolent convenire, qui esu- 
riunt verbum Dei. Audite, et attendite; dicam quantum potero dili- 

Occasionally in a kindly spirit Augustine asks his people to 
have a little patience. He does not wish to overtax their 
strength, but something still remains to be treated, which can 
not be passed over in silence. In such statements too we are 
often dealing with ordinary rhetorical platitudes, but frequently, 
as below, with expressions of real sincerity. In any case the 
passages are clearly extemporizations. 

Restant duae quaestiones : sed vereor ne oneri sim iam fastidientibus, 
item timeo ne fraudem adhuc esurientes. Memini tamen quid solverim, 
et quid debeam. Restat enim videre quid sit, Nesciat sinistra tua quid 
faciat dextera tua: et de dilectione inimici, cur antiquis videbatur data 
licentia ut odissent inimicos, quorum nobis imperatur dilectio. Sed 

• 52, 14. 

• 128, 6. Cf . also 89, 4 ; 179, 7 ; 292, 2. 


quid facio? Si breviter de his disseram, fortassis non ita ut oportet 
intelligar: si diutius, timeo ne plus gravem voa onere sermonis, quam 
fruetu expositionis sublevem. Sed certe si minus quam satis est, 
intellexeritis ; adhuc me tenete debitorem, ut alio tempore ista plenius 
disserantur. Tamen nunc non oportet ea sic relinqui, ut omnino nihil 
inde dicatur. Sinistra est animi cupiditas carnalis, dextera est animi 
charitas spiritualis, etc' 

At times Augustine is at a loss for the proper words with 
which to express his thoughts, and he frankly says so to his 
congregation. He explains and explains again, and finally he 
becomes satisfied that he has driven his point home. Thus in 
his sermon on the two blind men (Math. 20. 30-34), while 
explaining the significance of the two blind men calling on 
Christ to cure them, and the crowd that bade them hold their 
peace, he says : 

Et caetera talia turba clamat ne caeci clament. Turba clamantes 
corripiebat : sed eorum clamores non vincebat. Intelligant quid f aciant, 
qui volunt sanari. Et nunc Iesus transit : qui iuxta viam sunt, clament. 
Hi sunt enim qui labiis honorant, cor autem eorum longe est a deo. 
Ipsi sunt iuxta viam, quibus praecipit Dominus obtritis corde. Nam 
cum recitantur ea quae fecit Dominus transeuntia, semper nobis exhi- 
betur transiens Iesus. Quia usque in finem saeculi non desunt caeci 
sedentes ad viam. Opus ergo est ut clament illi iuxta viam sedentes. 
Turba quae cum Domino erat, compescebat clamorem quaerentium sani- 
tatem. Fratres, videtis quid dicam? Nescio enim quomodo dicam: sed 
plus nescio quomodo taceam. Hoc dico, et aperte dico. Timeo enim 
Iesum transeuntem et manentem: et ideo tacere non possum. Bonos 
Christianos, vere studiosos, volentes facere praecepta Dei, quae in 
Evangelio scripta sunt, Christiani mali et tepidi prohibent. Turba 
ipsa quae cum Domino est, prohibet clamantes; id est, prohibet bene 
operantes, ne perseverando sanentur, etc. 8 

Occasionally during a sermon, Augustine drops a remark re- 
garding the nature of his congregation. 

Unde hortamur Charitatem vestram, maxime quia vos videmus fre- 
quentius convenisse, qui propositum altius habetis, id est, in ipso cor- 
pore Christi ex eius munere, non meritis vestris, excellentiorem locum 
tenetis, habentes conscientiam quae a Deo donata est." 

The Bishop of Hippo at times thinks of what some may say 
by way of criticism of his sermon, and he makes a considerable 

' 149, 15. Cf. also 111, 2. 

6 88, 13. "354,3. 


digression to assure his audience that he will hear of it and will 
answer it fully. 

Post sermonem meum locuturi sunt homines; sed et quodlibet 
homines loquantur, qualicumque aura flante, perducetur inde aliquid 
ad aures meas. Et si fuerit tale, ut sit iterum necesse nos purgare, 
respondebo detractoribus, respondebo maledicis, respondebo incredulis, 
non nobis credentibus praepositis suis, ut potero, respondebo quod 
Dominus dederit: interim modo non est necesse, quia nihil forte dicturi 
sunt. Qui nos amant, libere gaudebunt: qui nos oderunt, tacite dole- 
bunt. Tamen si linguas exercuerint, audient, Deo propitio, vobiscum 
responsionem meam, non litem meam. Non enim homines nominaturus 
sum et dieturus, Ille hoc dixit, iste sic detraxit; cum fortasse etiani 
ad me falsa, quia et hoc potest fieri, perferantur. Verumtamen quae- 
cumque perlata fuerint, si oportere videbitur, loquar inde Charitati 

Very frequently Augustine refers to the time which he has 
devoted to his discourse. "We have explained our subject in 
too short a time, but accept it as it is, or hold us responsible 
for another explanation later." 

lam nunc quia ut potuimus, quaestionem profundam in tantilla tem- 
poris brevitate solvimus; aut si nondum solvimus, debitores, ut dixi, 
teneamur: illud potius breviter videamus de remissione peccatorum." 

Non est nunc tempus hortari vos, ut potius aurum, argentum, lapidea 
pretiosos aedificetis, quam lignum, fenum, stipulam, super tarn magnum 
et validum fundamentum: sed tamen breviter dictum sic accipite, quasi 
diu et multis verbis dictum." 

At this time congregations usually sat during the service 
except for the Gospel, when they rose and remained standing 
during the sermon. In Italy only did they become seated at the 
end of the reading of the Gospel. 13 As a preacher Augustine 
usually remained seated while speaking, although sometimes he 
states expressly that he is standing. In several sermons Augus- 
tine takes occasion to refer to the position of the congregation 
and of the preacher, usually as a sort of appeal or exhortation 
for greater patience, yet always clearly on the spur of the 

Nostis, fratres, quia ad panem ventris cum labore pervenitur, quanto 

*°356, 12. 

12 362, 9. Cf. also 51, 17. 

13 Cf. Ferrarius, op. cit., 265. 


magis ad panem mentis? Cum labore statis et auditis, sed no3 cum 
maiore stamus et loquimur." 

Quomodo autem inter se omnes conveniant, nee veritati, quae per 
alium promitur, ab alio repugnetur, quisquis nosse desiderat, non in 
his sermonibus, sed in aliis laboriosis litteris quaerat; nee stando, aut 
audiendo, sed potius sedendo et legendo, vel legenti aurem mentemque 
intentissimam praebendo, ille condiscat." 

The beginnings and ends of sermons most often contain state- 
ments which clearly show spontaneity and indicate that Augus- 
tine spoke without any sort of written guidance. 

It seems to have been the regular custom for a preacher to 
demand silence and attention of his congregation before begin- 
ning his sermon, just as the pagan orators did of their hearers 
before beginning their orations. 16 While all of Augustine's 
sermons do not contain this exhortation at the beginning, many 
of them do, and all such instances appear very colloquial and 
familiar, and not at all formal or stereotyped. 

Hesternae leetionis debitores nos esse meminimus: sed sicut nos 
debemus sermonem, ita et vos debetis audientiam." 

Audivimus, eoncorditerque respondimus, et Deo nostro consona voce 
cantavimus: Beatus vir quern tu erudieris, Domine, et ex lege tua 
docueris eum (Psal. 93, 12). Silentium si praebeatis, audietis." 

Augustine did not always ask for attention in the opening 
sentence. Often when his subject was particularly important, 
he would first spend a minute or two in explanation, and then 
with all the more reason demand attention. 

Diei hodiernae festivitas anniversario reditu memoriam renovat, 
natum esse Domini praecursorem ante mirabilem mirabiliter; cuiu3 
nativitatem eonsiderare nos et laudare maxime hodie convenit. Ad hoc 
enim et dies anniversarius huic miraculo dedicatus est, ut beneficia Dei 
et excelsi magnalia non deleat oblivio de cordibus nostris. Ioannes 
ergo praeco Domini missus ante ilium, sed factus per ilium. Omnia 
enim per ipsum facta sunt, et sine ipso factum est nihil. Missus homo 

"Tractate 19 on Gospel of John, 17. 

"Tractate 112 (§1) on Gospel of John. Cf. also Concio ad Psalmum 
32; Expositio Psalmi 147; 17, 2; 23, 1; 23, 2; 43, 7; 95, 2; 274, 1; 
355, 2; App. 75 (rejected as not genuine). It has been thought advisa- 
ble to quote all instances here because of the interest of the general 

16 Cf. Ferrarius, op. cit., 281. 

"4, 1. M 153, 1. 


ante hominem Deum, agnoscens Dominum suum, annuntians Creatorem 
suum; iam in terra praesentem mente diseernens, digito ostendens. 
Ipsius enim verba sunt ostendentis Dominum et testimonium perhi- 
bentis, Ecee Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccatum mundi (loan. 1, 3, 29). 
Merito ergo sterilis peperit praeeonem, virgo iudicem. In matre Ioannis 
sterilitas accepit fecunditatem : in matre Christi fecunditas non corrupit 
integritatem. Si vestra patientia et quietum studium, et attentum 
silentium praebeat mihi eopiam, adiuvante Domino, dicere quod donat 
ut dicam; erit procul dubio fructus attentionis vestrae, et operae pre- 
tium studii nostri, ut aliquid quod ad magnum sacramentum pertineat, 
insinuem auribus et cordibus vestris. 13 

On one occasion, while asking for attention in the regular 
way, Augustine notices that his audience is larger and more 
alert than usual, and surmises the reason. " I interested you," 
he says, " in the last sermon, so you are very anxious to hear 
me go on. Well, pay very good attention, for I will first give 
the sermon which is regularly due, and then I will proceed to 
talk on the Church." 

Ex eo quod hesterno die intentam fecimus Charitatem vestram, in- 
telligimus vos alacrius et numerosius convenisse: sed interim lectioni 
evangelicae ex ordine sermonem debitum reddamus, si placet; deinde 
audiet Charitas vestra de pace Eeclesiae vel quid egerimus, vel quid 
adhuc agendum speremus. Nunc ergo tota intentio cordis ad Evange- 
lium feratur, nemo aliunde cogitet. Si enim qui totus adest, vix cap it; 
qui se per cogitationes diversas dividit, nonne et quod ceperat fundit? 
Meminit autem Charitas vestra Dominico praeterito, quantum Dominus 
adiuvare dignatus est, disseruisse nos de spirituali regeneratione (in 
the previous tractate) : quam lectionem vobis iterum legi fecimus, ut 
quae tunc non dicta sunt, in Christi nomine adiuvantibus orationibus 
vestris impleamus. 20 

Again, Augustine recognizes at once when his audience is 
well disposed to pay attention. " I am sure," he says, " that 
you all have tried your utmost to understand the Gospel as it 
was being read, and I feel certain that you all have understood 
it at least in part. Yet few, perhaps, have understood it en- 
tirely, and with God's help I will try to make it entirely clear 
to all." 

Quod modo audivimus et intenti aceepimus, cum sanctum Evangelium 
legeretur, non dubito quod omnes etiam intelligere conati sumus: et 

18 288, 1. Cf. also Enarrat. 3 in Ps. 36, 1; 42, 1; 46, 1; 145, 2; 152, 1; 
153, 1; 177, 1; 180, 1; 356, 1. 
20 Tractate 12 on Gospel of John. 


quisque nostrum de re tarn magna quae lecta est, pro suo modulo cepit 
quod potuit et posito pane verbi, nemo est qui se queratur nihil gustasse. 
Sed iterum non dubito, quia difficile quisquam est qui totum intel- 
lexerit. Tamen etiamsi est qui omnia verba Domini nostri Iesu Christi 
modo ex Evangelio recitata satis intelligat; toleret ministerium 
nostrum, quousque, si possimus, illo adiuvante tractando faciamus ut 
vel omnes vel multi intelligant, quod se pauci intellexisse laetantur. 21 

At times several things casually occur to Augustine which he 
mentions before he begins the sermon proper. Thus on one 
occasion he reminds his listeners that he is going to take up 
the subject which he was to have discussed on Christmas day, 
but had postponed because so many people were present who had 
come merely to witness the celebration of the feast and not to 
hear a sermon. Today he feels sure that the people have come 
to listen. Furthermore a pagan festival is being celebrated on 
that day and many Christians have stayed away from the service 
to join this celebration. Accordingly Augustine is moved in a 
twofold manner: with sadness that some of his people have 
been enticed away to take part in pagan rites, with joy that the 
others in spite of all have come to hear the word of God. 

Exspectationem Charitatis vestrae ille impleat, qui exeitavit. Etsi 
enim quae dieenda sunt vobis, non nostra, sed Dei esse praesumimus ; 
tamen multo magis nos dicimus, quod humiliter dicit Apostolus: 
Habemus thesaurum istum in vasis fictilibus, ut eminentia virtutis 
Dei sit, et non ex nobis (II Cor. 4, 7). Non dubitamus itaque memi- 
nisse vos pollicitationis nostrae. In ipso promisimus, per quern nunc 
reddimus. Nam et cum promitteremus, ab ipso petebamus: et cum 
reddimus, ab ipso accipimus. Meminit autem Charitas vestra nos 
matutina Natalis Domini distulisse quam solvendam proposuimus quaes- 
tionem; quia multi nobiscum, etiam quibus solet esse onerosus sermo 
Dei, solemnitatem illam diei debitam celebrabant. Nunc vero puto 
neminem convenisse, nisi qui audire desiderat. Non itaque loquimur 
cordibus surdis, non fastidientibus animis. Haec autem vestra ex- 
spectatio, pro me oratio est. Accessit aliquid; quia et dies Muneris 
multos hinc ventilavit, pro quorum quidem salute quantum satagimus, 
tantum fratres ut satagatis hortamur; et pro his qui nondum intenti 
sunt spectaculis veritatis, sed dediti sunt spectaculis carnis, intenta 
mente deprecemini Deum. Novi enim, et certe scio esse modo in 
numero vestro eos qui hodie contempserunt : sed rumpunt ea quae 
consuerunt. Mutantur enim homines, et in melius et in deteriua. 
Quotidianis huiuscemodi experimentis vicissim et laetamur et contris- 
tamur; laetamur correctis, contristamur depravatis. Ideoque Dominus 

21 Tractate 34 on Gospel of John. 


non ait salvum futurum esse qui coeperit; sed, Qui perseveraverit, 
inquit, usque in finem, hie salvus erit (Matt. 10, 22). " 

At the beginning of his sermons too the size of his congre- 
gation calls forth his praise or his censure as the case may be. 
He is very much pleased on one occasion when his congregation 
in spite of the inclemency of the weather is present in large 

Fateor Sanctitati vestrae, timueram ne frigus hoc frigidos vos ad 
conveniendum faeeret: sed quia ista celebritate et frequentia vestra, 
spiritu vos fervere demonstratis, non dubito quia etiam orastis pro me, 
ut debitum vobis exsolvam. 1 * 

Then again Augustine is grieved When on the feast of the 
martyrdom of Peter and Paul, he finds an audience before him 
which does not do proper honor to the greatness of the occasion. 

Debuimus quidem tantorum martyrum diem, hoc est, sanctorum 
apostolorum Petri et Pauli, maiore frequentia celebrare. Si enim cele- 
bramus frequentissime natalitia agnorum, quanto magis debemus 
arietum? . . . Haec loquor, charissimi, laetus quidem hodierno die 
propter tantam festivitatem, sed aliquantulum tristis, quia non video 
tantum populum congregatum, quantus congregari debuit in Natali 
passionis Apostolorum. Si lateret nos non nobis imputaretur : si autem 
neminem latet, quae est ista tanta pigritia? Non amatis Petrum et 
Paulum? Ego in vobis illis loquor qui hie non sunt. Nam vobis ago 
gratias quia vel vos venistis. Et potest animus cuiusque christiani 
non amare Petrum et Paulum? Si adhuc frigidus est, legat et amet: 
si adhuc non amat, sagittam verbi in cor accipiat. 2 * 

In closing his sermons Augustine shows again and again that 
he is speaking under the impulse of the moment. He frequently 
says that he has much more to discuss, but will not speak longer 
because he is unwilling to burden his hearers. Much of this 
may indeed be pure rhetoric, but it all bears the appearance of 
spontaneity. Thus in his sermon on John 1. 33 (And I knew 
him not ; but he who sent me to baptize with water, said to me : 
He upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and re- 
maining upon him, he it is that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost), 
he concludes, 

a 5l, l. 

23 Tractate 6 on Gospel of John. Cf. also Tractate 7 on Gospel of 
John; 198. 

34 298, 1 and 2. 


Non respuo Ioannem, sed potius credo Ioanni. Quid credo Ioanni? 
Quod didicit per columbam. Quid didicit per columbam? Hie est qui 
baptizat in Spiritu sancto. lam ergo, fratres, tenete hoc, et cordibus 
vestris infigite. Si enim hodie voluero plenius dioere quare per colum- 
bam, tempus non sufficit. Quia enim res discenda insinuata est Ioanni 
per columbam, quam non noverat in Christo Ioannes, quamvis iam 
nosset Christum, exposui quantum arbitror Sanctitati vestrae: sed 
quare hanc ipsam rem per columbam oportuit demonstrari, si breviter 
dici posset, dicerem: sed quia diu dicendum est, et onerare vos nolo, 
quomodo adiutus sum orationibus vestris, ut illud quod promisi, 
implerem; adiuvante etiam atque etiam pia intentione et votis bonis, 
et illud apparebit vobis, quare Ioannes quod didicit in Domino, quia ipse 
est qui baptizat in Spiritu sancto, et nulli servo suo translegavit potes- 
tatem baptizandi, non debuit discere nisi per columbam. 26 

Augustine ends his sermons sometimes because, as he says, he 
must consider the powers of his listeners and not overtax them. 
Or he must even take cognizance of his own strength and not 
drag the sermon out too long. These remarks admittedly savour 
of rhetoric, but they seem clearly to have been made on the spur 
of the moment. 

Quamvis ergo, fratres, Psalmi plura restent consulendum est tamen 
viribus et animae et corporis propter varietatem audientium: quia et 
cum reficimur ex eodem tritico velut multi sapores nobis fiunt, ad 
detergenda fastidia: haec vobis sufficiant. 26 

De quo latius dicerem, nisi sermo iam longior et meis senilibus 
viribus, et vestrae fortasse satietati parcere cogeret. 2 * 

On the other hand Augustine sees fit at times to apologize for 
a Short sermon. On one occasion he speaks scarcely more than 
three hundred words, and says " Let these few words suffice, as 
today I must speak to the children on the Sacraments of the 

Satis sint vobis pauca ista, quoniam et post laboraturi sumus, et de 
Sacramentis altaris hodie Infantibus disputandum est. 28 

It was the custom on the feast day of a martyr to read the 
acts of that martyr before giving the sermon. 29 Accordingly on 

05 Tractate 5, on Gospel of John. Cf. also Tractate 8 on Gospel of 
John; Enarrat. 1 in Ps. 32, 12; Enarrat. 1, in Ps. 33, 11; 1, 5;i 140, 6; 
274, 1; 348, 4; 355, 7. 

26 Enarrat. 1 in Ps. 32. 28 226, 1. Cf. also 212, 2; 325, 2. 

27 348, 4. *> Cf. Ferrarius, op. cit., 76. 


the feast of Saint Vincent, Augustine delivers a very short ser- 
mon, explaining that they have been very patient listening to 
the deeds of the Saint and so should not be overburdened with 
a long discourse. 

Longam lectionem audivimus, brevis est dies: longo sermone etiam 
nos tenere vestram patientiam non debemus. Novimus quia patienter 
audistis, et diu stando et audiendo tanquam martyri compassi estis. 
Qui audit vos, amet vos, et coronet vos. 30 

On one occasion the character of the congregation causes 
Augustine to end his sermon betimes. He should consider many 
other matters, which have already been postponed, but he will 
put them off again and not burden his hearers or himself. 
" Furthermore," he says, " many perhaps have come here today 
to witness the ceremony and not to hear the homily. Tomorrow 
let only those come who wish to listen so that we may neither 
deprive the eager nor burden the disdainful." 

Quid ergo, fratres, quia illis et illis respondimus, nihil dicemus quid 
sibi velint hydriae, quid aqua in vinum conversa, quid architrielinus, 
quid sponsus, quid mater Iesu in mysterio, quid ipsae nuptiae? Dicenda 
sunt omnia, sed onerandi non estis. Volui quidem in nomine Christi 
et hesterno die, quo solet sermo deberi Charitati vestrae, id agere 
vobiscum, sed non sum permissus necessitatibus quibusdam impedien- 
tibus. Si ergo placet Sanctitati vestrae, hoc quod ad mysterium per- 
tinet huius facti, in crastinum differamus, et non oneremus et vestram 
et nostram inflrmitatem. Sunt forte hodie multi qui propter solemni- 
tatem diei, non propter audiendum sermonem convenerunt. Crastino 
qui venient, veniant audituri; ut nee fraudemus studiosos, nee grave- 
mus fastidiosos. 31 

Very frequently Augustine ends his sermon with some such 
sentiment as, " Time will not permit us to continue further, 
but we shall have to make the most of what we have heard." 

Ea quae sequuntur in Evangelio, non sunt temporis brevitate coarc- 
tanda. Et ideo sermo iste, charissimi, velut ovium sanctarum cibus, si 
sufficit, salubriter capiatur; si exiguus est, desiderabiliter ruminetur. 32 

Also in closing a sermon, Augustine may refer to the size or 

ao 274. 

31 Tractate 8 on Gospel of John. Cf. also Tractate 5 on Epistle of 

32 Tractate 59 on Gospel of John. Cf. also 4, 33; 51, 35; 259, 6; 
Enarrat. 3 in Ps. 32, 29. 


character of his congregation and even request that they be 
present in greater numbers next time. 

Aliquid enim pro salute ipsorum egimus in concilio, quod explicari 
vobis hodie iam tempus non sufficit. Unde exhortamur vos ut alacriores 
et numerosiores, (audient enim a vobis fratres nostri qui nunc non 
adsunt ) , conveniatis crastino die ad basilicam Tricliarum. 33 

The frequent digressions in Augustine's sermons are a special 
mark of their informality and spontaneity. In one sermon he 
is particularly bothered by the thought of the number of 
Christians who are absent attending the pagan festival of that 
day. He mentions them continually, even at the very end of 
his discourse. 

Et si aliquanto vos diutius tenuimus, consilii fuit ut importunae 
horae transirent, arbitramur iam illos (the merry-makers) peregisse 
vanitatem suam. Nos autem, fratres, quando pasti sumus epulis 
salutaribus, quae restant agamus, ut diem dominicum solemniter im- 
pleamus in gaudiis spiritualibus, et comparemus gaudia veritatis cum 
gaudiis vanitatis: et si horremus, doleamus; si dolemus, oremus; si 
oramus, exaudiamur; si exaudimur, et illos lucramur.' 4 

Very frequently too the digressions are in the manner of 
short parenthetical explanations, after or within quotations from 

Quam sententiam confirmat; non solum Epistola quae scribitur ad 
Hebraeos, ubi dicitur, Si enim qui per Angelos dictus est sermo, factus 
est firmus (Hebr. 2, 2) : (Loquebatur enim de veteri Testamento, com- 
mendavit quod ibi Angeli loquebantur; sed Deus in Angelis suis hono- 
rabatur, et per Angelos interior habitator audiebatur) ; sed etiam in 
Actibus Apostolorum Stephanus dicit, etc. 35 

Very indicative of the spontaneous character of these sermons 
is the manner in which Augustine repeatedly stops in the middle 
of a sentence to make an explanation or even to reprove his 
audience, and then returns to take up his unfinished sentence 

Sicut quando loquitur propheta (Chri3tianis loquor, vel proflcien- 
tibus in schola Dei; non sunt rudia nee nova quae dico, sed vestrae 

33 Enarrat. 3 in Ps. 32, 29. Cf. also 19, 6. 

M Tractate 7 on Gospel of John, 24. 

* 7, 6. Cf. also 62, 17; 82, 13; 89, 5; 96, 2; 181, 6. 


Sanctitati nobiscum usitatissima et manifestissima), quando propheta 
loquitur, quid dicimus ? M 

Superius quando ait, Venit hora, et nunc est; obsecro, intendite. 
Nostis, fratres, quia ad panem ventris cum labore pervenitur; quanto 
magis ad panem mentis? Cum labore statis, et auditis; sed nos cum 
maiore stamus, et loquimur. Si laboramus propter vos. collaborare non 
debetis propter eosdem vos? Superius ergo cum diceret, Venit hora, 
et adderet, et nunc est, quid subiecit ? " 

Augustine sometimes repeats a statement entirely, in order 
to make it perfectly clear. Thus, 

In omnibus enim Christianis, fratres intendite, aut per malos nas- 
cuntur boni, aut per bonos nascuntur mali, aut per bonos boni, aut 
per malos mali: amplius istis quatuor generibus non potestis invenire. 
Quare iterum repetam, advertite, retinete; excutite corda vestra, nolite 
pigri esse: capite, ne capiamini, quomodo quatuor genera sunt omnium 
Christianorum. Aut per bonos nascuntur boni, aut per malos nas- 
cuntur mali, aut per bonos mali, aut per malos boni. Puto quia 
planum est. 3 " 

The free and easy conduct of the congregations of this period 
is well known generally. The church besides being a place for 
common worship was also the regular place to visit and meet 
friends. Talking and laughing were indulged in freely, and 
conduct was in general unrestrained. Just before the reading 
of the gospel, it was the regular custom for the deacon to demand 
silence, and just before the giving of the sermon the preacher 
himself usually asked for quiet and strict attention. 39 During 
the sermon when a preacher came to an important or abstruse 
point, he would regularly ask for special attention; but often 
whispering and talking would break out, especially when the 
sermon was extra long and dull, whereupon the preacher would 
be obliged to stop and demand silence in no uncertain tones. 
The ordinary method of requesting attention is by some horta- 
tory form of attendo, intendo, video, or audio. 40 Very fre- 
quently, however, it requires more than a single word to bring 

36 2, 5. Cf. also 155, 14; 266, 7; 278, 8. 

"Tractate 19 on Gospel of John, 17. Cf. also 37, 7; 140, 6; 292, 0; 
Tractate 1 on Epistle of John, 13. 
38 Tractate 11 on Gospel of John, 8. 
" Cf. Ferrarius, op. cit., 49, 56, 58. 
* Passim. 


his audience to a proper degree of attentiveness, and thus arise 
such spontaneous outbursts as: 

Videte, obsecro vos, et moveat vos, quomodo et nos, moveat, si fieri 
potest. 41 

Quale illud corpus erat, quod Dominus per claustra traiecit? Inten- 
dite, obsecro, si possim adiuvante Domino qualibuscumque verbis 
exspectationi vestrae aut satisfacere, aut non multum deesse. 42 

Quid est ergo, Visu vestro videbatis ? Intendat Sanctitas vestra quod 
dico, intendat in orationem plus quam in me; ut intelligatis quod 
dicimus, ut et nos ita dicamus quemadmodum vos oportet audire et 
intelligere quod auditis. 43 

Attende et quod sequitur: quaecumque enim facit Pater, eadem et 
Filius facit: non dixit, Talia. Paululum attendat Charitas vestra, ne 
vobismetipsis strepitum faciatis. Tranquillo corde opus est, pia et 
devota fide, intentione religiosa: non in me vasculum, sed in ilium 
attendite qui panem ponit in vasculo. Attendite ergo paululum.* 4 

Very often Augustine feels obliged to recognize applause, and 
even to take cognizance of signs of disapproval, all of which 
must necessarily be of the moment. He usually recognizes 
applause in a very matter-of-fact way, as " There, your applause 
assures me that my explanation is clear." 

Fratres mei, unde clamatis, unde exsultatis, unde amatis, nisi, quia 
ibi est scintilla huius charitatis? Quid desideratis, rogo vos? Videri 
potest oculis? tangi potest? pulchritudo aliqua est quae oeulos 
delectat? 46 

Audi apostolum Paulum; nam ipsam exauditionem ad salutem os- 
tendit illi Deus: Sufficit tibi, inquit, gratia mea; nam virtus in infirmi- 
tate perficitur. Rogasti, clamasti, ter clamasti: ipsum semel quod 
clamasti audivi, non averti aures m«as a te; novi quid faciam: tu vis 
auf erri medicamentum quo ureris ; ego novi infirmitatem qua gravaris.* 1 

Unde omnes acclamastis, nisi quia omnes agnovistis. 47 

There are many indications of the care with which Augustine 
watched the effect of his words upon the congregation. Now he 
sees that the audience has grasped his meaning, and he may 

a 265, 7. 
"277, 8. 

43 362, 11. Cf. also 52, 8; 180, 7; 277, 8; 294, 19; Tractate 11 on 
Gospel of John, 8; Tractate 5 on Epistle of John, 13. 

44 126, 8. 

45 Tractate 3 on Gospel of John, 21. 

46 Tractate 6 on Epistle of John, 7. 

47 151, 8. Cf. also 21, 5; 9«, 4; 121, 3; 131, 5; 299, 9; 302, 7. 


either end his sermon or go on to the next point. Now he 
notices that many have not understood, and he must explain 

Nunc autem video vos et attentione audiendi, et eeleritate intelli- 
gendi, non solum percepisse dictum, sed praevolasse dioturum: Gratias 
Domino.* 1 

Video vos cito intellexisse, nee tamen debeo iam flnire. Non enim 
omnes cito intellexistis. Vidi in voce intelligentes, plures video silentio 
requirentes.* 9 

Paucos intellexisse video, plures non intellexisse, quos ego nequaquam 
tacendo fraudabo. 50 

On one occasion Augustine notices talking among his con- 
gregation. He says, " I have no doubt but that many of you 
have understood, but I judge from the talking that those who 
have understood are trying to explain the matter to those who 
failed to grasp it. Accordingly I will speak more plainly that 
you all may understand." 

Iam multos vestrum intellexisse non dubito. Non video, sed ex 
collocutione, quia loquimini ad alterutrum, sentio eos qui intellexerunt, 
velle exponere iis qui nondum intellexerunt. Ergo planius aliquanto 
dicam, ut ad omnes perveniat. 51 

In several cases the sermons of Augustine are confessedly 
extempore in the strict sense of the word. Sometimes Augustine 
would be inspired with the subject of his sermon while the 
lector was reading the Scriptures. 

Vox poenitentis agnoscitur in verbis quibus psallenti respondimus: 
Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis, et omnes iniquitates meas dele 
(Psal. 50, 11). Unde cum sermonem ad vestram Charitatem non 
praepararemus, hinc nobis esse tractandum Domino imperante cogno- 
vimus. Volebamus enim hodierna die vos in ruminatione permittere, 
scientes quam abundantes epulas ceperitis. Sed quia salubriter quod 
apponitur accipitis, quotidie multum esuritis. Praestet ergo Dominus 
ipse Deus noster, et nobis virium sufficientiam, et vobis utilem audien- 
tiam. Neque enim ignoramus, esse serviendum bonae vestrae et utili 
voluntati. Adiuvemur ergo a vobis et voto et studio; voto ad Deum, 
studio ad verburn; ut ea dicamus quae vobis esse utilia ipse iudicat, 
qui vos pascit per nos. Vox igitur in his verbis poenitentis agnoscitur: 

48 52, 20. " 101, 9. 

60 131, 9. Cf. also 57, 11; 164, 2; 315, 10; 362, 29. 

51 23, 8. Cf. also 24, 5. 


Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis, et omnia facinora mea dele. 
Proinde aliquid de poenitentia dicere divinitus iubemur. Neque enim 
nos istum psalmum cantandum lectori imperavimus : sed quod ille 
censuit vobis esse utile ad audiendum, hoc cordi etiam puerili imperavit. 
Dicamus aliquid de utilitate poenitentiae : praesertim, quia et dies iaia 
sanctus anniversarius imminet, quo propinquante humilari animas et 
domari corpora studiosius decet. ra 

Similarly on another occasion when Augustine is preaching on 
John 7, 2-12, according to which, Jesus, after bidding His 
brethren go up to the festival day, says that He Himself will 
not go up, because His time is not yet accomplished, and yet 
afterwards does go up, not openly but in secret. Several ques- 
tions, Augustine says, arise from this text; among others, Is 
there any difference between deceiving and lying? Is it right 
to deceive sometimes? etc. All of these, however, he will put 
off to discuss the question which came to him as the Gospel 
was being read, Could Christ lie ? or Could Truth say anything 
false ? 

Sed ait qui me audit: Numquid hoc potes de Christo dicere, quia vel 
non potuit implere quae volebat, vel futura nesciebat? Bene agis, bene 
suggeris, recte commones: sed, o homo, partire mecum sollicitudinem. 
Quern non audemus dicere minus valentem, audemus dicere mentientem? 
Ego quidem, quantum existimo, quantum pro mea infirmitate iudicare 
possum, eligo ut homo in aliquo fallatur, quam ut in aliquo mentiatur. 
Falli enim pertinet ad infirmitatem, mentiri ad iniquitatem. Odisti, 
inquit, Domine, omnes qui operantur iniquitatem. Et continuo: 
Perdes omnes qui loquuntur mendacium (Ps. 5, 7). Aut tantumdem 
valet iniquitas et mendacium ; aut plus est Perdes, quam Odisti. Neque 
enim qui odio habetur, continuo perditione punitur. Verum sit ilia 
quaestio, utrum aliquando mentiri necesse sit: non enim modo discutio: 
latebrosa est, multos sinus habet; non vacat omnes secare, et ad vivum 
pervenire. Ergo eius curatio in tempus aliud differatur : fortassis enim 
sine sermone nostro divina opitulatione sanabitur. Sed quid distuli, 
quid volo hodie tractare, intendite et distinguite. An aliquando men- 
tiendum sit, hanc dixi difficilem et latebrosissimam quaestionem, hanc 
differo. Utrum autem Christus mentitus sit, utrum Veritas aliquid 
falsum dixerit, hoc hodie suscepimus admoniti ex evangelica lectione." 

Possidius tells us of another occasion when Augustine con- 
fessed that he had lost the thread of his proposed discourse, and 
had proceeded with another subject to the end. He says, "I 

62 352, 1. Cf. also 9, 7; 52, 1; 71, 8; 180, 4. 
83 133, 3. 



know also, and not I only but also my other brethren and fellow 
servants who were at that time living together with the holy 
man in the church at Hippo, that when we were seated at the 
table he (Augustine) said, ' Did you take notice of my sermon 
in the church today, that both the beginning and end worked 
out contrary to my usual custom ? For I did not explain to its 
conclusion the subject which I had proposed but left it in sus- 
pense.' To which we replied, ' Yes, we know it and remember 
that we wondered at it at the time.' Then he said, ' I suppose 
that perhaps the Lord wished some wanderer among the people 
to be taught and healed by our forgetfulness and error, for in 
His hands are we and all our utterances. For while I was 
investigating the margins of the question proposed, by a digres- 
sion of speech I passed over to something else and so, without 
finishing or explaining the question, I ended my discourse by 
attacking the error of the Manichaeans, about which I had 
intended to say nothing in my discussion, rather than by speaking 
about those things which I had intended to explain.' " 54 

In his own works Augustine relates two very striking instances 
of the spirit in which he labored to produce a certain deep effect 
in his hearers, and how on achieving his purpose he ceased 
speaking at once. In the De Doctrina Christiana, 55 Augustine 
in talking of the majestic style says, " The majestic style, on 
the other hand, frequently silences the audience by its impres- 
siveness, but calls forth their tears. For example, when at 
Caesaria in Mauritania, I was dissuading the people from that 
civil, or worse than civil, war which they called Caterva (for 
it was not fellow-citizens merely, but neighbors, brothers, fathers, 
and sons even, who, divided into two factions and armed with 
stones, fought annually at a certain season of the year for several 
days continually, everyone killing whomsoever he could), I 
strove with all the vehemence of speech that I could command 
to root out and drive from their hearts and lives an evil so cruel 
and inveterate ; it was not however when I heard their applause, 
but when I saw their tears, that I thought I had produced an 
effect. For the applause showed that they were subdued. And 
when I saw their tears I was confident, even before the event 
proved it, that this horrible and barbarous custom (which had 

" Vita, 15. M 4, 24. 


been handed down to them from their fathers and their ancestors 
of generations long gone by and which like an enemy was 
besieging their hearts, or rather had complete possession of 
them) was overthrown, and immediately that my sermon was 
finished I called upon them with heart and voice to give praise 
and thanks to God." 

In a letter to Olyimpius, Bishop of Tagaste, 56 Augustine 
speaks of a similar incident. "While I addressed them and 
made my complaints, God, our Defender and Guide, seemed to 
impart to me courage and strength, according to the magnitude 
of the danger and enterprise. I did not move their tears by 
mine; but when I had ended speaking, I confess, that, antici- 
pated by their weeping, I was unable to abstain. Having then 
wept together for a while, with strong expectations of their 
amendment, I brought my address to a close." 

Thus then as we read over Augustine's sermons and find such 
liveliness, much spontaneity, and so many passages which could 
only have been delivered under the impulse of the moment, we 
are necessarily led to believe that his sermons were delivered 
extempore for the most part, or at least after a certain amount 
of forethought but never with any written assistance. And 
furthermore we find Augustine himself giving us two striking 
examples of his manner of preaching, which entirely confirm 
the belief. That Augustine made a very extensive use of notarii 
within the church and in the privacy of his own study has 
already been set forth, and this entirely harmonizes with the 
characteristics of the sermons as we see them today. 

The sermons were delivered without written assistance, en- 
tirely extempore or largely so. Notarii in the church took them 
down in shorthand as they were being delivered. The sermons 
as we have them today are copies of the longhand transcripts 
of the notes of the notarii. This explains the vigor, the con- 
versational tone, and the many irregularities which are to be 
found in Augustine's discourses. 

' Vol. 2, 37 ff. 


VIII. Other Characteristics of Augustine's Sermons 


Many of the passages already alluded to in the previous 
chapter as proofs of extemporization indicate likewise that 
Augustine's sermons received little or no revision ; for there are 
irregularities in them which would naturally have been smoothed 
out or omitted under revision. Thus we should have expected 
such passages to be emended as those in which Augustine gropes 
around for the exact words to fit his thoughts; or those which 
display irritability when he declaims against his critics or chides 
his congregation; or those which contain long digressions, or 
sentences interrupted for a momentary cause and then taken up 
anew from the very beginning, etc. 

Yet there are still other indications of the unfinished state of 
Augustine's sermons. Augustine is continually referring to the 
time. Either he has a great deal to say, and warns his con- 
gregation that he must have undivided attention from the start, 
or nearing the end, he finds that he has still much to say but 
lacks the time within which to say it. 1 The natural inference 
is that the sermon had a definite period allotted to it, tradi- 
tionally or otherwise, which was not to be exceeded. This seems 
especially true since we find the same complaint among many 
other preachers of this same general period ; e. g. Origen, homily 
2 in Genesfm, homily 21 in Numeros; Cyril of Jerusalem, 
Catechesis 13 ; and Petrus Chrysologus, Catechesis 121. 2 

The time usually allotted a sermon seems to have been an 
(Eoman) hour, hora. Thus we read in Chrysologus: 3 

Date ergo veniam, fratres, si intra punctum temporis et horae unius 
vix momentum obscura lucidare, clausa reserare, firmare dubia, pro- 
funda contingere, tot saeculorum ineffabile sacramentum per omnem 
modum aperire non possum, et eloqui, si vel caute aemulis, secure filiis, 
credentibus confidenter, constanter incredulis non valemus. 

1 See previous chapter. 

a Cf. Ferrarius, op. cit. 156; Migne P. L. 52, 508, note d. 

3 Sermo 112. In this passage, it is manifestly impossible to take 
horae as an indefinite period of time, because it is made definite by the 
unius, and the indefinite idea has already been expressed in the previous 
punctum temporis. Cf. also Cyril Cat. 13, 37; Cat. 13, 13; Cat. 14, 27. 


Similarly in Augustine we find : 

Semper in sermonibus, quos ad populos habui, huius quaestionis 
difficultatem, molestiamque vitavi; non quia nihil haberem, quod inde 
utcumque cogitarem; neque enim in re tanta quaerere, petere, pulsare 
negligerem, sed quia ipsi intelligentiae, quae mini aliquantum aperie- 
batur, verbis ad horam occurrentibus me posse sufficere non putarem. 4 

Hodierno die iam ecce tertio audivimus ex Evangelio Domini nostri 
resurrectionem. Quantum existimo, responsum est illis, sicut intelligere 
potestis : sicut et nos loqui possumus, quantum hora sermonis permittit." 

As we all know, the Roman day was divided into twelve hours 
(home), each being one-twelfth of the time between sunrise 
and sunset and varying therefore according to the season of the 
year; varying in our own time from 44 minutes and 30 seconds 
to 1 hour 10 minutes and 50 seconds. Few of Augustine's 
discourses, however, as we have them today would take even the 
shortest Roman hour for delivery. Augustine, as we have seen, 
laid down the principle that a speaker should watch his audience, 
and, once it is evident that he has made his point clear, should 
pass on to the next step, or end his sermon as the case may be. 
We have also seen Augustine ending his sermon for various 
other reasons, personal fatigue, pressure of other duties, the 
continued inattention of his congregation, etc. Yet all these 
facts will not account for the brevity of the majority of the 
sermons. The discrepancy between the length of time allowed 
for the delivery and the brevity of most of Augustine's dis- 
courses must be accounted for in other ways. 

The general irregular character of Augustine's sermons is well 
known and indeed has called forth such bitter criticisms as the 
following : " Few religious discourses are to be found which 
contain so many imperfections. There is no want in them 
indeed of subtleties and playful wit. Extremely deficient, how- 
ever, are they in respect to thoroughness of investigation, appro- 
priateness of illustration, a useful treatment of subjects, a cor- 
rect interpretation of the Holy Scripture, and an easy and agree- 
able style and manner of address." 6 Most of these supposed 
deficiencies may be explained easily from a knowledge of the 

4 Sermo 1 1 de verbis Domini in Evangelium Matthaei. 

5 Sermo 143 de Tempore. 

'Schmid (see Am. Bibl. Rep. 7, 375). 


circumstances under which the discourses were given. They 
were delivered in most cases to the common people by a preacher 
who spoke with a varying degree of preparation, often strictly 
extempore and never with any help from writing. The preacher 
also spoke with eye fixed steadfastly on his listeners, directing 
the procedure of his discourse according to the effect of his 
words as he perceived it. Notarii in the church followed the 
speaker taking down his words, and in all probability failed to 
record much of importance, as they endeavored to keep pace 
with the eloquent and rapid preacher. 7 To this may be due not 
only the faults just mentioned, but also the brevity of most 
of the sermons as noted above. 

In several sermons we seem to have actual insertions made by 
the notarius himself. It seems to have been the custom at this 
time to bring certain objects into the church and exhibit them 
to the people at the proper moment during the sermon in order 
to rouse and even to stir the audience to tears. 8 Such a practice 
was followed by the pagan orators, and seems to have been 
taken over by the early Christian Fathers. 9 Augustine on one 
occasion exhibited a young man miraculously cured by Saint 
Stephen ; 10 and at still another time presented witnesses of the 
miracle about which he was then discoursing. 11 Occasionally, 
too, Augustine recited — but not always to the best advantage — 
accounts of miracles, which he memorized from the official 
records. 12 

Thus in one sermon given in honor of St. Stephen, 13 Augus- 
tine starts to tell of a miracle performed by the Saint at Uzalis, 

Apud Uzalim ubi est episcopus frater meus Evodius, quanta miracula 
ibi fiant quaerite, et invenietis. Praetermissis autem aliis, indico vobis 
unum quod ibi factum est, ut videatis quanta sit ibi praesentia maies- 
tatis. Mulier quaedam subito aegrotum filium, cui succurrere festinando 

' Cf. Pease, Notes on St. Jerome's Tractates On the Psalms, Journal 
of Biblical Literature, 116-131; 26, 1907. 

8 Cf. Ferrarius, op. cit. 145. 

• Cf. Quintilian 6, 1. 

"320, 1. 

11 322, 1. Cf. Nourry, Le Miracle d'apres St. Aug., Annales de la 
philosophie chret. 1903, 375-386. 

" 286, 7. " 323, 3. 


non potuit, in gremio suo catechumenum amisit: quae damans, Mortuus 
est, inquit, filius meus catechumenus. 

Then we read the following, the first part of which was 
obviously not written by Augustine : 

Et cum haec diceret Augustinus, populus de memoria sancti Stephani 
clamare coepit, Deo gratias! Christo laudes! In quo oontinuo clamore, 
puella quae curata est ad dbsidam perducta est. Qua visa populus cum 
gaudio et fletu, nullis interpositis sermonibus, sed solo strepitu inter- 
posito, aliquandiu elamorem protraxit: et silentio facto, Augustinus 
episcopus dixit, Scriptum est in Psalmo, Dixi, Proloquar adversum me 
delictum meum Domino Deo meo, et tu dimisisti impietatem cordis mei. 
Dixi, Proloquar: nondum prolocutus sum: Dixi, Proloquar, et tu 
dimisisti. Commendavi istam miseram, imo ex misera, commendavi 
earn vestris orationibus". Disposuimus orare, et exauditi sumus. Sit 
gaudium nostrum actio gratiarum. Citius exaudita est mater Ecclesia, 
quam in perniciem maledicta mater ilia. 

Thus is the discourse ended. The beginning of the last sec- 
tion is clearly an integral part of the sermon as transmitted to 
us, but it is evidently not Augustine's own remark but that of 
the notarius. Apparently Augustine was forced to stop his 
discourse on account of the cries of joy, and when silence 
returned he saw fit merely to finish his account of the miracle 
and to omit the sermon proper. In fact he himself tells us in 
the beginning of the next sermon, that he will take up on this 
day the homily that was interrupted and ended so suddenly 
on the day before by the exclamations of joy at the recounting 
of a miracle. 

Debet a nobis hesternus sermo compleri, qui maiori interruptus est 
gaudio. Statueram enim et coeperam loqui Charitati vestrae, quare 
mihi videntur isti fratres divina auctoritate ad hanc civitatem esse 
directi, ut hie in eis diu optata et exspectata sanitas impleretur. Et 
hoc volens dicere, prius commendare coeperam Charitati vestrae loca 
sancta, in quibus non sunt sanati, et ad nos inde sunt directi. Et dixi 
de Ancona civitate Italiae: coeperam de Uzali civitate dicere, quae est 
in Africa (episcopum habet fratrem meum, nostis, Evodium) ; quia 
et ad illam civitatem eos venire, fama eiusdem martyris et operum eius 
compulisset. Non est illic datum quod dari potuit, ut hie daretur ubi 
dari debuit. Cum autem opera divina per sanctum Martyrem com- 
memorare breviter vellem, omissis caeteris, unum institueram dicere: 
quod cum dico, restituta illi puellae sanitate, subito laetitiae tumultus 
exortus est, et nos aliter compulit finire sermonem." 

'324, 31. Cf. also Enarrat. 2 in Ps. 36, 19 and 20. 


It was the custom among the early Fathers of the Church to 
begin and end their sermons with a short prayer. 15 Compara- 
tively few of Augustine's sermons have a prayer at the beginning 
and this in spite of the fact that Augustine himself says in 
speaking of the Christian orator, " And when the hour is come 
that he must speak, he ought, before he opens his mouth, to 
lift up his thirsty soul to God to drink in what he is about to 
pour forth, and to be himself filled with what he is about to 
distribute." 16 

At the end of a discourse, when the prayer is quoted in full, 
we usually find — 

Conversi ad Dominum Deum Patrem omnipotentem, puro corde ei, 
quantum potest parvitas nostra, maximas atque uberes gratias agamus; 
precantes toto animo singularem mansuetudinem eius, ut preces nostras 
in beneplacito suo exaudire dignetur, inimicum a nostris actibus et 
cogitationibus sua virtute expellat, nobis multiplicet fldem, gubernet 
mentem, spirituales cogitationes concedat, et ad beatitudinem suam 
perducat, per Iesum Christum Filium eius. Amen. 17 

Usually, however, only the brief exhortation leading to the 
concluding prayer is given, such as Conversi ad Dominum, etc., 18 
and often we find nothing at all. 

All of these irregularities may be due to the notarius, who did 
not see fit, in every case, to take down the usual opening and 
closing prayer, since, after all, these prayers did not form an 
integral part of the discourses. Often, too, merely an indication 
of the prayer, such as quoting the first few words, was con- 
sidered sufficient. Any one familiar with Augustine's discourses 
could easily supply the rest. Furthermore, all inconsistencies 
of reporting, hitherto mentioned, are such as would probably 
have been corrected, if the sermons had received any serious 
attention after they had been transcribed from the shorthand 
reports. That Augustine did not revise his sermons, he himself, 
as well as his pupil Possidius, tells us. 

Possidius remarks 19 that Augustine set out to revise all his 
works shortly before his death and that he embodied his re- 

15 Cf . Ferrarius, op. eit., 38 and 154. 

16 De Doctrina Christiana, 4, 32. Cf. also the beginning of the follow- 
ing sermons: 71, 124, 133, 154, 164, 242. 

17 67, end. Cf. also end of following sermons: 34, 100, 141, 183. 

18 49, 63, 69, 76, 87, 153, 156, 182, etc. 
M Vita, 28. 


vision in two books, known as the Retractations, and then he 

adds — 

Praereptos etiam sibi quosdam libros ante diligentiorem emendationem 
a nonnullis fratribus conquerebatur. Imperfecta etiam quaedam suorum 
librorum praeventus morte dereliquit. 

Finally, Augustine himself makes a very conclusive statement 
in the very last sentence of his Retractations, a passage which 
we have discussed before, but which deserves a second notice 
here. 20 

Haec opera> nonaginta tria in libris ducentis triginta duobus me 
dictasse recolui, quando haec retractavi, utrum adhuc essem aliquos 
dictaturus ignorans atque ipsam eorum retractationem in libris duobus 
edidi, urgentibus fratribus, antequam epistulas ac sermones ad popu- 
lum, alias dictatas, alios a me dictos retractare coepissem. 

IX. Conclusion. 

The generally accepted view regarding the manner in which 
Augustine composed and delivered his sermons was, as we have 
seen, to the general effect that he wrote out most of his sermons 
before he delivered them, that he dictated many to be read to 
his congregation thereafter, and that he delivered comparatively 
few extempore. This view was based chiefly on the last sentence 
of the Retractations as given by the Benedictine editors and 
their immediate successors. The latest editor of the Retracta- 
tions (Knoll), however, gives a reading based on sound textual 
criticism, which entirely does away with any idea of Augustine's 
having written his sermons before delivering them. The only 
other evidence in support of the old view was two statements, 
neither bearing directly on the point, but each by a forced 
interpretation rendering apparent corroborative testimony. No 
direct evidence whatsoever exists to show that Augustine ever 
preached with any written assistance. 

Taking up the entire subject anew, we undertook a hurried 
glance at the manner in which some of the contemporaneous and 
nearly contemporaneous preachers prepared and delivered ser- 
mons, and we found a varied practice among them. Some read 
the sermons prepared and written out by others; some wrote 
out their sermons beforehand and then read them; and others 

M Cf. Introduction. 


preached without written preparation. The preachers of the 
highest reputation, however, such as Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, 
John Chrysostom, Pope Paustus, and Jerome, all spoke without 
written preparation of any kind. 

When these great speakers spoke in this manner, they regu- 
larly had shorthand experts present in the churches to take 
down their words. Afterwards the shorthand copies, if so de- 
sired, were transcribed, and were revised, usually by the preacher 
himself, and then sent out to the public. 

An abundance of evidence was at hand to show that Augus- 
tine, perhaps the greatest preacher of them all, also delivered 
his sermons without any written assistance. Augustine himself 
tells us that he usually thought over his subject beforehand, and 
then adapted his delivery of the sermon to the reaction pro- 
duced on the congregation by his words. Yet many definite 
cases were also at hand where, for one reason or another, 
Augustine changed his subject and spoke extemporaneously in 
the strictest sense of the word. 

Augustine, too, had the assistance of shorthand writers in 
every phase of his literary activity, and, just as in the case of 
his eloquent contemporaries, these rwtarii were present in the 
church and took down Augustine's words as he spoke. 

The fact that Augustine's sermons are a disappointing field 
for the study of the lingua rustica cannot be used as an argu- 
ment against the delivery of the sermons as just mentioned, 
because the gap between the literary and the ordinary colloquial 
language at this time was not so great as is usually believed. 
It was unnecessary for Augustine to descend deeply into the 
sermo pleieius, which was still of too low repute to be admitted 
haphazardly in any work pretending to the slightest literary 

On examining the sermons themselves, evidence appeared on 
every side to substantiate the belief that they were delivered 
without written preparation, often extemporaneously. To re- 
view but a few of the more striking features, Augustine some- 
times was at a loss for the right words to express his thoughts, 
and we see him groping around in a vain effort to hit upon the 
proper expression. The time allotted for his sermons was a 
constant source of worry, and he again and again complains that 
he must hurry on in order to finish in due season. On finishing 


a sermon, Augustine is frequently dissatisfied: the time was 
not sufficient to treat his subject properly ; he has said a great 
deal and although he has much more to say, he will not over- 
burden their minds ; his audience has been very restless, so that 
they had better go home and rest, and return next time with a 
better disposition, etc. On a great many occasions incidents 
occurred during the sermon which caused Augustine to interrupt 
his discourse : the size of the audience in spite of the inclement 
weather pleases the preacher on one occasion; then again, the 
congregation is small, many having been enticed away by the 
pleasures of a pagan festival; the audience often does not 
grasp the point, and this causes Augustine to stop just after he 
has started on a new tack to go back and explain anew; Augus- 
tine often recognizes the applause of his hearers, and even 
rarely takes notice of their cries of disapproval; the stupidity 
of the audience frequently causes Augustine to stop his sermon 
suddenly, and rebuke them again and again with considerable 
persistency; and finally, Augustine sometimes says that he has 
been inspired to change the subject which he had intended to 
speak about, and states that he is discoursing without preparation. 

Interspersed among several of the sermons we noticed certain 
remarks about the audience and the preacher which obviously 
were not from Augustine himself. The natural conclusion was 
that they were from the hand of the notarii. 

The irregular and unfinished character of the sermons in 
general led us to believe that, after they were transcribed into 
longhand, they were probably never revised by anyone, not to 
mention the author himself. Complete corroboration of this 
was found, not only in Possidius, but also in Augustine, who 
expressly states in the Eetractations, that he has revised all his 
works except the letters and sermons, and we know that he died 
shortly after he made this statement. 

As was said before, it is futile to argue that the sermons may 
have been written by Augustine after he delivered them. If 
this were the case, his discourses would vary slightly from ser- 
mons carefully prepared before delivery. They would lack all 
of the marks of spontaneity and immediate inspiration men- 
tioned just above, and moreover, would exist today as more 
polished and finished works. 

Catholic University of America. ROY J. DeFERRARI.