N THE space of some forty-four years,
from his conversion in Milan (A.D. 386) to his death in Hippo Regius (A.D. 430),
Augustine wrote--mostly at dictation--a vast sprawling library of books, sermons, and letters, the remains of which
(in the Benedictine edition of St. Maur) fill fourteen volumes as they are reprinted in Migne, Patrologiae cursus completus,
Series Latina (Vols. 32-45). In his old age, Augustine reviewed his authorship (in the Retractations) and has left us a critical
review of ninety-three of his works he judged most important. Even a cursory glance at them shows how enormous
was his range of interest. Yet almost everything he wrote was in response to a specific problem or an actual crisis
in the immediate situation. One may mark off significant developments in his thought over this twoscore years, but one
can hardly miss the fundamental consistency in his entire life's work. He was never interested in writing a systematic
summa theologica, and would have been incapable of producing a balanced digest of his multifaceted teaching.
Thus, if he is to be read wisely, he must be read widely--and always in context, with due attention to the specific
aim in view in each particular treatise.
For the general reader who wishes to approach Augustine as directly as possible, however, it is a useful and fortunate
thing that at the very beginning of his Christian ministry and then again at the very climax of it, Augustine set himself
to focus his experience and thought into what were, for him, summings up. The result of the first effort is the Confessions,
which is his most familiar and widely read work. The second is in the Enchiridion, written more than twenty years later.
In the Confessions, he stands on the threshold of his career in the Church. In the Enchiridion, he stands forth as triumphant
champion of orthodox Christianity. In these two works--the nearest equivalent to summation in the whole of the
Augustinian corpus--we can find all his essential themes and can sample the characteristic flavor of his thought.
Augustine had no system--but he did have a stable and coherent Christian outlook.
Moreover, he had an unwearied, ardent concern: man's salvation from his hopeless plight,
through the gracious action of God's redeeming love. To understand and interpret this was his one endeavor,
and to this task he devoted his entire genius. (from the introduction)
The City of God
The "City of God" is the masterpiece of the greatest genius among the Latin Fathers, and the best known
and most read of his works, except the "Confessions." It embodies the results of thirteen years of
intellectual labor and study (from A.D. 413-426). It is a vindication of Christianity against the attacks of
the heathen in view of the sacking of the city of Rome by the barbarians, at a time when the old
Graeco-Roman civilization was approaching its downfall, and a new Christian civilization was beginning
to rise on its ruins. It is the first attempt at a philosophy of history, under the aspect of two rival cities
or communities,-the eternal city of God and the perishing city of the world. (editor's preface)
On Christian Doctrine
The four books of Augustine On Christian Doctrine (De Doctrina Christiana, iv libri) are a commend of exegetical
theology to guide the reader in the understanding and interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures, according to the analogy of faith.
Enchiridion On Faith, Hope, and Love
God should be served: faith, hope, love. It is easy to say what one ought to believe, what to hope for, and what to love.
But to defend our doctrines against the calumnies of those who think differently is a more difficult and detailed task.
If one is to have this wisdom, it is not enough just to put an enchiridion in the hand. It is also necessary that a great
zeal be kindled in the heart. (from chapter one)