The present volume consists of a collection of minor writings of St. Augustine often classified under the general title of ‘Works of Moral and Practical Theology.’ While St. Augustine is well known for his great masterpieces such as the Confessions and City of God, too little is known about him as a writer of short treatises intended for the general spiritual welfare of the people. These little essays still have an unending appeal for people of all times who are concerned about the salvation of their immortal souls.
The treatises included are: The Christian Life (De vita christiana), Lying (De medacio), Against Lying (Contra mendacium), Continence (De continentia), Patience (De patientia), The Excellence of Widowhood (De bono viduitatis), The Work of Monks (De opere monachorum), The Usefulness of Fasting (De utilitate ieiunii), and the Eight Questions of Dulcitius (De octo Dulcitii quaestionibus). Other works of moral and practical theology are not included, notably the De catechizandis rudibus, and the De doctrina christiana, but arrangements have been made to present these in other volumes. Indeed, these two cannot very well be called ‘minor’ works.
The essay, The Christian Life, is Pelagian in tone and is definitely not St. Augustine’s, but it is included here because it comes from the same general period as the other essays and treats of a similar subject. Moreover, it has special interest in that it probably was written by a close follower of Pelagius, one of St. Augustine’s celebrated opponents.
Each treatise in this volume has its own introduction, giving pertinent information for an intelligent understanding of the essay and other matters of general interest.
For The Fathers of the Church series in its entirety, see Fathers of the Church Series (127 vols.).
“Strong desires make labor and suffering tolerable. And no one voluntarily undertakes to suffer torture except for what will bring delight.” (Page 239)
“When this has been sought and chosen and consecrated by the obligation of a vow, it is culpable not only to contract marriage but even to desire it, although one may not be married. To make this clear, the Apostle does not say: ‘When they have wantonly turned away from Christ, they marry’; he says: ‘they wish to marry, and are to be condemned, because they have broken their first troth,’2 not by marrying, but merely by wishing to marry. The marriages of such persons are not in themselves deserving of condemnation. What is condemned is the abandonment of purpose, the violation of the vow; not the choice of an inferior good, but the fall from a higher good. Finally, such persons are condemned, not for having contracted marriage, but for having broken their first troth of continence.” (Pages 292–293)
“A similar interpretation may be given to that other precept: ‘Do not be anxious about tomorrow,’9 and: ‘Do not be anxious about what you shall eat or what you shall drink, or what you shall put on.’10 When we realize that our Lord Himself had a purse wherein was placed that given to Him so that it might be kept for current needs,11 and that the Apostles had procured many things for the help of the brethren not only for the morrow but in greater abundance for the time of imminent famine, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles,12 then it becomes quite clear that those precepts are to be understood in such a way that we are to do no work merely from the love of gaining temporal possessions or from the fear of want, as it were, from necessity.” (Page 91)
Aurelius Augustinus (354–430) is often simply referred to as St. Augustine or Augustine Bishop of Hippo (the ancient name of the modern city of Annaba in Algeria). He is the preeminent Doctor of the Church according to Roman Catholicism, and is considered by Evangelical Protestants to be in the tradition of the Apostle Paul as the theological fountainhead of the Reformation teaching on salvation and grace.