Nicene and Post Nicene-Fathers, Vol. I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Letters of St. Augustin: Letter CCLIV
To Benenatus, My Most Blessed Lord, My Esteemed and Amiable Brother and Partner in the Priestly Office, and to the Brethren Who are with Him, Augustin and the Brethren Who are with Him Send Greeting in the Lord.
The maiden 3023 about whom your Holiness wrote to me is at present disposed to think, that if she were of full age she would refuse every proposal of marriage. She is, however, so young, that even if she were disposed to marriage, she ought not yet to be either given or betrothed to any one. Besides this, my lord Benenatus, brother revered and beloved, it must be remembered that God takes her under guardianship in His Church with the design of protecting her against wicked men; placing her, therefore, under my care not so as that she can be given by me to whomsoever I might choose, but so as that she cannot be taken away against my will by any person who would be an unsuitable partner. The proposal which you have been pleased to mention is one which, if she were disposed and prepared to marry, would not displease me; but whether she will marry any one,—although for my own part, I would much prefer that she carried out what she now talks of,—I do not in the meantime know, for she is at an age in which her declaration that she wishes to be a nun is to be received rather as the flippant utterance of one talking heedlessly, than as the deliberate promise of one making a solemn vow. Moreover, she has an aunt by the mothers side married to our honourable brother Felix, with whom I have conferred in regard to this matter,—for I neither could, nor indeed should have avoided consulting him,—and he has not been reluctant to entertain the proposal, but has, on the contrary, expressed his satisfaction; but he expressed not unreasonably his regret that nothing had been written to him on the subject, although his relationship entitled him to be apprised of it. For, perhaps, the mother of the maiden will also come forward, though in the meantime she does not make herself known, and to a mothers wishes in regard to the giving away of a daughter, nature gives in my opinion the precedence above all others, unless the maiden herself be already old enough to have legitimately a stronger claim to choose for herself what she pleases. I wish your Honour also to understand, that if the final and entire authority in the matter of her marriage were committed to me, and she herself, being of age and willing to marry, were to entrust herself to me under God as my Judge to give her to whomsoever I thought best,—I declare, and I declare the truth, in saying that the proposal which you mention pleases me meanwhile, but because of God being my Judge I cannot pledge myself to reject on her behalf a better offer if it were made; but whether any such proposal shall at any future time be made is wholly uncertain. Your Holiness perceives, therefore, how many important considerations concur to make it impossible for her to be, in the meantime, definitely promised to any one.
The maiden referred to was an orphan whom a magistrate (vir spectabilis) had requested Augustin to bring up as a ward of the Church. Four letters written by him concerning her have been preserved, viz. the 252d, in which he intimates to Felix that he can decide nothing in regard to her without consulting the friend by whom she had been placed under his guardianship; the 253d, expressing to Benenatus his surprise that he should propose for her a marriage which would not strengthen the Church; the 254th, addressed also to Benenatus, which we have translated as a specimen of the series; and the 255th, in which, writing to Rusticus, a Pagan who had sought her hand for his son, Augustin bluntly denies his request, referring him for the grounds of the refusal to his correspondence with Benenatus.
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