Are you a Christian?
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1. You requested an answer from me as a proof that I had gladly received your letter.2998
2. If some one inquire here what after all delighted me so exceedingly in your letter,—“Was it its eloquence?” I will answer, No; and he, perhaps, will reply, “Was it, then, the praises bestowed on yourself?” but again I will reply, No; and I shall reply thus not because these things are not in that letter, for the eloquence in it is so great that it is very clearly evident that you are naturally endowed with the highest talents, and that you have been most carefully educated; and your letter is undeniably full of my praises. Some one then may say, “Do not these things delight you?” Yes, truly, for “my heart is not,” as the poet says, “of horn,2999
3. Thoughtful and experienced men will be at no loss as to the opinion which they should form of Themistocles (if I remember the name rightly), who, having refused at a banquet to play on the lyre, a thing which the distinguished and learned men of Greece were accustomed to do, and having been on that account regarded as uneducated, was asked, when he expressed his contempt for that sort of amusement, “What, then, does it delight you to hear?” and is reported to have answered: “My own praises.” Thoughtful and experienced men will readily see with what design and in what sense these words must have been used by him, or must be understood by them, if they are to believe that he uttered them; for he was in the affairs of this world a most remarkable man, as may be illustrated by the answer which he gave when he was further pressed with the question: “What, then, do you know?” “I know,” he replied, “how to make a small republic great.” As to the thirst for praise spoken of by Ennius in the words: “All men greatly desire to be praised,” I am of opinion that it is partly to be approved of, partly guarded against. For as, on the one hand, we should vehemently desire the truth, which is undoubtedly to be eagerly sought after as alone worthy of praise, even though it be not praised: so, on the other hand, we must carefully shun the vanity which readily insinuates itself along with praise from men: and this vanity is present in the mind when either the things which are worthy of praise are not reckoned worth having unless the man be praised for them by his fellow-men, or things on account of possessing which any man wishes to be much praised are deserving either of small praise, or it may be of severe censure. Hence Horace, a more careful observer than Ennius, says: “Is fame your passion? Wisdom’s powerful charm if thrice read over shall its power disarm.”3000
4. Thus the poet thought that the malady arising from the love of human praise, which was thoroughly attacked with his satire, was to be charmed away by words of healing power. The great Teacher has accordingly taught us by His apostle, that we ought not to do good with a view to be praised by men, that is, we ought not to make the praises of men the motive for our well-doing; and yet, for the sake of men themselves, He teaches us to seek their approbation. For when good men are praised, the praise does not benefit those on whom it is bestowed, but those who bestowed it. For to the good, so far as they are themselves concerned, it is enough that they are good; but those are to be congratulated whose interest it is to imitate the good when the good are praised by them, since they thus show that the persons whom they sincerely praise are persons whose conduct they appreciate. The apostle says in a certain place, “If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ;”3001
5. Behold how many things I have said, and still I have not yet spoken of that in your letter which delighted me more than your eloquence, and far more than the praises you bestowed on me. What do you think, O excellent man, that this can be? It is that I have acquired the friendship of so distinguished a man as you are, and that without having even seen you; if, indeed, I ought to speak of one as unseen whose soul I have seen in his own letters, though I have not seen his body. In which letters I rest my opinion concerning you on my own knowledge, and not, as formerly, on the testimony of my brethren. For what your character was I had already heard, but how you stood affected to me I knew not until now. From this, your friendship to me, I doubt not that even the praises bestowed on me, which give me pleasure for a reason about which I have already said enough, will much more abundantly benefit the Church of Christ, since the fact that you possess, and study, and love, and commend my labours in defence of the gospel against the remnant of impious idolaters, secures for me a wider influence in these writings in proportion to the high position which you occupy; for, illustrious yourself, you insensibly shed a lustre upon them. You, being celebrated, give celebrity to them, and wherever you shall see that the circulation of them might do good, you will not suffer them to remain altogether unknown. If you ask me how I know this, my reply is, that such is the impression concerning you produced on me by reading your letters. Herein you will now see how great delight your letter could impart to me, for if your opinion of me be favourable, you are aware how great delight is given to me by gain to the cause of Christ. Moreover, when you tell me concerning yourself that, although, as you say, you belong to a family which not for one or two generations, but even to remote ancestors, has been known as able to accept the doctrine of Christ, you have nevertheless been aided by my writings against the Gentile rites so to understand these as you never had done before, can I esteem it a small matter how great benefit our writings, commended and circulated by you, may confer upon others, and to how many and how illustrious persons your testimony may bring them, and how easily and profitably through these persons they may reach others? Or, reflecting on this, can the joy diffused in my heart be small or moderate in degree?
6. Since, then, I cannot in words express how great delight I have received from your letter, I have spoken of the reason why it delighted me, and may that which I am unable adequately to utter on this subject I leave to you to conjecture. Accept, then, my son—accept, O excellent man, Christian not by outward profession merely, but by Christian love—accept, I say, the books containing my “Confessions,” which you desired to have. In these behold me, that you may not praise me beyond what I am; in these believe what is said of me, not by others, but by myself; in these contemplate me, and see what I have been in myself, by myself; and if anything in me please you, join me, because of it, in praising Him to whom, and not to myself, I desire praise to be given. For “He hath made us, and not we ourselves;”3004
7. I have sent you also other books which you did not ask, that I might not rigidly restrict myself to what you asked:—my works on Faith in Things Unseen, on Patience, on Continence, on Providence, and a large work on Faith, Hope, and Charity. If, while you are in Africa, you shall read all these, either send your opinion of them to me, or let it be sent to some place whence it may be sent us by my lord and brother Aurelius, though wherever you shall be we hope to have letters from you; and do you expect letters from us as long as we are able. I most gratefully received the things you sent to me, in which you deigned to aid me both in regard to my bodily health,3006