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Letters of St. Augustin: Letter CCXIII
(September 26TH, a.d. 426.)
Record, Prepared by St. Augustin, of the Proceedings on the Occasion of His Designating Eraclius to Succeed Him in the Episcopal Chair, and to Relieve Him Meanwhile in His Old Age of a Part of His Responsibilities.
In the Church of Peace in the district of Hippo Regius, on the 26th day of September in the year of the twelfth consulship of the most renowned Theodosius, and of the second consulship of Valentinian Augustus: 2935 p. 569 —Bishop Augustin having taken his seat along with his fellow bishops Religianus and Martinianus, there being present Saturninus, Leporius, Barnabas, Fortunatianus, Rusticus, Lazarus, and Eraclius,—presbyters,—while the clergy and a large congregation of laymen stood by,—Bishop Augustin said:—
“The business which I brought before you yesterday, my beloved, as one in connection with which I wished you to attend, as I see you have done in greater numbers than usual, must be at once disposed of. For while your minds are anxiously preoccupied with it, you would scarcely listen to me if I were to speak of any other subject. We all are mortal, and the day which shall be the last of life on earth is to every man at all times uncertain; but in infancy there is hope of entering on boyhood, and so our hope goes on, looking forward from boyhood to youth, from youth to manhood, and from manhood to old age: whether these hopes may be realized or not is uncertain, but there is in each case something which may be hoped for. But old age has no other period of this life to look forward to with expectation: how long old age may in any case be prolonged is uncertain, but it is certain that no other age destined to take its place lies beyond. I came to this town—for such was the will of God—when I was in the prime of life. I was young then, but now I am old. I know that churches are wont to be disturbed after the decease of their bishops by ambitious or contentious parties, and I feel it to be my duty to take measures to prevent this community from suffering, in connection with my decease, that which I have often observed and lamented elsewhere. You are aware, my beloved, that I recently visited the Church of Milevi; for certain brethren, and especially the servants of God there, requested me to come, because some disturbance was apprehended after the death of my brother and fellow bishop Severus, of blessed memory. I went accordingly, and the Lord was in mercy pleased so to help us that they harmoniously accepted as bishop the person designated by their former bishop his lifetime; for when this designation had become known to them, they willingly acquiesced in the choice which he had made. An omission, however, had occurred by which some were dissatisfied; for brother Severus, believing that it might be sufficient for him to mention to the clergy the name of his successor, did not speak of the matter to the people, which gave rise to dissatisfaction in the minds of some. But why should I say more? By the good pleasure of God, the dissatisfaction was removed, joy took its place in the minds of all, and he was ordained as bishop whom Severus had proposed. To obviate all such occasion of complaint in this case, I now intimate to all here my desire, which I believe to be also the will of God: I wish to have for my successor the presbyter Eraclius.”
The people shouted, “To God be thanks! To Christ be praise” (this was repeated twenty-three times). “O Christ, hear us; may Augustin live long!” (repeated sixteen times). “We will have thee as our father, thee as our bishop” (repeated eight times).
2. Silence having been obtained, Bishop Augustin said:—
“It is unnecessary for me to say anything in praise of Eraclius; I esteem his wisdom and spare his modesty; it is enough that you know him: and I declare that I desire in regard to him what I know you also to desire, and if I had not known it before, I would have had proof of it today. This, therefore, I desire; this I ask from the Lord our God in prayers, the warmth of which is not abated by the chill of age; this I exhort, admonish, and entreat you also to pray for along with me,—that God may confirm that, which He has wrought in us 2936 by blending and fusing together the minds of all in the peace of Christ. May He who has sent him to me preserve him! preserve him safe, preserve him blameless, that as he gives me joy while I live, he may fill my place when I die.
“The notaries of the church are, as you observe, recording what I say, and recording what you say; both my address and your acclamations are not allowed to fall to the ground. To speak more plainly, we are making up an ecclesiastical record of this days proceedings; for I wish them to be in this way confirmed so far as pertains to men.”
The people shouted thirty-six times, “To God be thanks! To Christ be praise!” O Christ, hear us; may Augustin live long!” was said thirteen times. “Thee, our father! thee, our bishop!” was said eight times. “He is worthy and just,” was said twenty times. “Well deserving, well worthy!” was said five times. “He is worthy and just!” was said six times.
3. Silence having been obtained, Bishop Augustin said:—
“It is my wish, as I was just now saying, that my desire and your desire be confirmed, so far as pertains to men, by being placed on an ecclesiastical record; but so far as pertains to the will of the Almighty, let us all pray, as I said p. 570 before, that God would confirm that which He has wrought in us.”
The people shouted, saying sixteen times, “We give thanks for your decision:” then twelve times, “Agreed! Agreed!” and then six times, “Thee, our father! Eraclius, our bishop!”
4. Silence having been obtained, Bishop Augustin said:—
“I approve of that of which you also express your approval; 2937 but I do not wish that to be done in regard to him which was done in my own case. What was done many of you know; in fact, all of you, excepting only those who at that time were not born, or had not attained to the years of understanding. When my father and bishop, the aged Valerius, of blessed memory, was still living, I was ordained bishop and occupied the episcopal see along with him which I did not know to have been forbidden by the Council of Nice; and he was equally ignorant of the prohibition. I do not wish to have my son here exposed to the same censure as was incurred in my own case.”
The people shouted, saying thirteen times, “To God be thanks! To Christ be praise!”
5. Silence having been obtained, Bishop Augustin said:—
“He shall be as he now is, a presbyter, meanwhile; but afterwards, at such time as may please God, your bishop. But now I will assuredly begin to do, as the compassion of Christ may enable me, what I have not hitherto done. You know what for several years I would have done, had you permitted me. It was agreed between you and me that no one should intrude on me for five days of each week, that I might discharge the duty in the study of Scripture which my brethren and fathers the co-bishops were pleased to assign to me in the two councils of Numidia and Carthage. The agreement was duly recorded, you gave your consent, you signified it by acclamations. The record of your consent and of your acclamations, was read aloud to you. For a short time the agreement was observed by you; afterwards, it was violated without consideration, and I am not permitted to have leisure for the work which I wish to do: forenoon and afternoon alike, I am involved in the affairs of other people demanding my attention. I now beseech you, and solemnly engage you, for Christs sake, to suffer me to devolve the burden of this part of my labours on this young man, I mean on Eraclius, the presbyter, whom today I designate in the name of Christ as my successor in the office of bishop.”
The people shouted, saying twenty-six times, “We give thanks for your decision.”
6. Silence having been obtained, Bishop Augustin said:—
“I give thanks before the Lord our God for your love and your goodwill; yes, I give thanks to God for these. Wherefore, henceforth, my brethren, let everything which was wont to be brought by you to me be brought to him. In any case in which he may think my advice necessary, I will not refuse it; far be it from me to withdraw this: nevertheless, let everything be brought to him which used to be brought to me. Let Eraclius himself, if in any case, perchance, he be at a loss as to what should be done, either consult me, or claim an assistant in me, whom he has known as a father. By this arrangement you will, on the one hand, suffer no disadvantage, and I will at length, for the brief space during which God may prolong my life, devote the remainder of my days, be they few or many, not to idleness nor to the indulgence of a love of ease, but, so far as Eraclius kindly gives me leave, to the study of the sacred Scriptures: this also will be of service to him, and through him to you likewise. Let no one therefore grudge me this leisure, for I claim it only in order to do important work.
“I see that I have now transacted with you all the business necessary in the matter for which I called you together. The last thing I have to ask is, that as many of you as are able be pleased to subscribe your names to this record. At this point I require a response from you. Let me have it: show your assent by some acclamations.”
The people shouted, saying twenty-five times, “Agreed! agreed!” then twenty-eight times, “It is worthy, it is just!” then fourteen times, “Agreed! agreed!” then twenty-five times, “He has long been worthy, he has long been deserving!” then thirteen times, “We give thanks for your decision!” then eighteen times, “O Christ, hear us; preserve Eraclius!”
7. Silence having been obtained, Bishop Augustin said:—
“It is well that we are able to transact around His sacrifice those things which belong to God; and in this hour appointed for our supplications, I especially exhort you, beloved, to suspend all your occupations and business, and pour out before the Lord your petitions for this church, and for me, and for the presbyter Eraclius.”
Referring to their last words, giving to Eraclius the title of bishop.
Next: Letter CCXVIII
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