Archive E.J. Hutchinson Early Church Fathers Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

In Memoriam Aurelii Augustini

Today is the 1584th anniversary of the death of Augustine on August 28, 430. The man, in all his flaws, was yet a giant, and a servant, and one whose like has not often been seen.

Here is his biographer Possidius’ account of the end, in which he had some of the penitential Psalms copied out and hung on the wall, so that he could read and weep in repentance–1though doubtless assured of the steadfast love of his God, a God whose mercy was greater than his sins:

Now the holy man in his long life given of God for the benefit and happiness of the holy Church (for he lived seventy-six years, almost forty of which he spent as a priest or bishop), in private conversations frequently told us that even after baptism had been received exemplary Christians and priests ought not depart from this life without fitting and appropriate repentance. And this he himself did in his last illness of which he died. For he commanded that the shortest penitential Psalms of David should be copied for him, and during the days of his sickness as he lay in bed he would look at these sheets as they hung upon the wall and read them; and he wept freely and constantly. And that his attention might not be interrupted by anyone, about ten days before he departed from the body he asked of us who were present that no one should come in to him, except only at the hours in which the physicians came to examine him or when nourishment was brought to him. This, accordingly, was observed and done, and he had all that time free for prayer. Up to the very moment of his last illness he preached the Word of God in the church incessantly, vigorously and powerfully, with a clear mind and sound judgment. With all the members of his body intact, |143 with sight and hearing unimpaired, while we stood by and watched and prayed, “he slept with his fathers,” as it is written, “well-nourished in a good old age.” And in our presence, after a service was offered to God for the peaceful repose of his body, he was buried. He made no will, because as a poor man of God he had nothing from which to make it. He repeatedly ordered that the library of the church and all the books should be carefully preserved for future generations. Whatever the church had in the way of possessions or ornaments he left in charge of his presbyter, who had the care of the church building under his direction. Neither in life nor death did he treat his relatives according to the general custom, whether they observed his manner of life or not. But while he was still living, whenever there was need he gave to them the same as he gave others, not that they should have riches, but that they might not be in want, or at least might be less in want.

  1. As Luther said in the first of his 95 theses, “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” Augustine surely would have agreed.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.