Augustine works that no one reads

I know that some of you who read this blog are big Augustine fans. So, I’m calling you out. Help us celebrate Augustine week.

We all know about the normal Augustine books that everyone reads: ConfessionsCity of GodOn the Trinity, On Free Will, etc. But, I want to dig deeper. What are those books Augustine wrote that lie a little off the beaten path? The man wrote enough to fill a library. Surely there are a few gems that people seldom consider.

So, anyone out there who likes Augustine, or even if you don’t, what would you recommend? What are the Augustine works that no one ever reads, but they should? You can recommend letters, sermons, manuscripts, whatever. We’re not picky. What are your favorites?



About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on September 7, 2011, in Early Church and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. There are many Augustine works, smaller and of course some larger. Many are still in the Latin. So many favorites for me… one of these would be: De beata vita: On the Happy Life! But certainly his, De praedestinatione sanctorum: On the Predestination of the Saints.

    But just for reading pleasure and getting to know Augustine, The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (Edited by Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann), is grand!

  2. Man, you gotta read “On Christian Teaching” (De doctrina christiana). And it’s pretty short!

    • I agree with Matt. It’s a very interesting work because it serves as a handbook that he wrote for ministry for bishops in North Africa. Rhetoricians love Book IV b/c it serves to change rhetorical theory from that point forward – creating, essentially, a Christian expression of rhetoric, but really the entire book is great (especially when he tells less homiletically gifted bishops to go ahead and just steal sermons from those who are better – my preaching professor didn’t enjoy it when I brought that up in class a few years ago).

  3. His letter to the monks at Hadrametum is extremely interesting – it contains a concise explanation of his soteriology. I wrote a very brief explanation, after reading the letter last year, as to what he is trying to explain about his soteriology:

    Also, his letters are wonderful to read – there are over 200 of them that are translated in the NCP edition. The final 30, the Divjak letters (marked with *), along with the Dolbeau sermons, were all discovered within the last 20-30 years and spurred Peter Brown to write his 80 page epilogue to his standard work on the Augustine. If you want to have some real fun with your class, Mark, have them read the early exchange between Jerome and Augustine. Jerome’s sarcasm is extremely thick in his first few letters. I believe Jerome’s first letter is either ep. 56 or 67. The New City Press translations are the best that I have found of these so far.

    Besides these, his earlier writings are also quite interesting. There is a debate within the field as to whether Augustine’s theology or simply his language develop over his life (I, for the most part, think that it’s the latter). In particular, On the Free Choice of the Will (de libero arbitrio) is quite interesting.

    Also, although it is often read, it may be fun to work through an introduction to Neoplatonic epistemology and then read the final three books of Confessions with your students. These final three books are often glossed over, but a study of some of the philosophical conceptualizations of Augustine’s time (such as knowledge as memory) help to open those chapters up a bit.

    Possidius, in his biography of his mentor, mused that Augustine had written so much that no one would ever be able to read it all. I’m not sure that he wrote as much as Edwards or Barth, but he sure does give them a run for their money. Thus, there are a lot of works that “no one reads”. I’ve spent the past two years studying Augustine and writing on him, and still haven’t worked my way through his entire corpus. I love Augustine and the nuance of his thought – if I can be of help at all to you or your students in this process, please let me know.

  4. Marc – one last note (sorry to hijack this thread for a minute). I’m sure that you’ve already seen it, but if you’re doing any preparation for presenting on Augustine, the encyclopedia “Augustine Through the Ages” (ed. Fitzgerald, 1999) is a great place to start researching anything. It’s such a valuable tool I ended up buying it last year for my personal library. Bonne chance!

  5. ‘On the proper care of dead bodies’ (only in Latin, or it was when I read it 10-12 years back) – an evangelical argument for the veneration of the relics of saints. Took me two years to work out why I wasn’t convinced…
    ‘In response to 83 questions of Simplicanus’ (again only in Latin) – just delightfully wide-ranging and quirky.
    And, I’d believe that everyone reads ‘City of God’ if the second para. of ch.24 of book 14 was better known – unquestionably the best of Augustine!

  6. I would say to pick up his Enchiridion. I was glad I read his “On Christian Doctrine” but felt a little confused when it was about how to interpret Scripture. Enchiridion is really his systematic theology – a synopsis of what he felt the was the orthodox church teaching at the time concerning a host of issues. A very good read.

  7. I would highly recommend “Augustine: Political Writings”, a collection of letters and sermons put out by Cambridge and edited by Dodaro and Atkins. This collection includes some of the recently discovered works, and often has the letters that Augustine is responding to, offering a fuller view of the conversation. A brief and helpful way to get at some of Augustine’s thought on topics like religious coercion and war.

    It is a bit dense in parts, but I’d also toss out “The Spirit and the Letter” for a nice dose of the Pauline, anti-Pelagian Augustine.

  8. I haven’t read Agustine works but will read after reading this and the comments. I know some are not yet translated and will look forward in reading it.,

  9. Thanks for some great suggestions! I’ll definitely have to pass those along to my students. If any others come to mind, please feel free to add them to the list.

  10. Lying and Against Lying (De mendacio and Contra medacium) were fun, thought sometimes confusing. You can find them translated in The Fathers of the Church series, volume 16 (St. Augustine: Treatise on Various Subjects).For my Augustine class we also read a short book of some of his sermons on the topic of ministry called, “We Are Your Servants” Augustine’s Homilies on Ministry. Very easy reading and very practical (

  11. Again, for those who like the philosophy approach to Augustine, the little essay: Time and creation in Augustine, by Simo Knuuttila is a sweet read! (It is in the Cambridge Companion to Augustine) I have always said, that is is good to get a basic overview of a theologian or Church Father type, as the Cambridge Companion seeks). Indeed we are all standing on the shoulders of Augustine, theologically, in many ways!


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