OLDIE PODCAzT 42: St. Augustine on St. Lawrence and how to be a Christian

Here is an oldie PODCAzT in honor of the feast of St. Lawrence.

Here is a fast, patristiblogger PODCAzT inspired by the second selection from today’s Office of Readings on this feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr in Rome. We hear St. Augustine of Hippo’s sermo 304, preached probably in Hippo Regius in 417 on St. Lawrence’s Day.

The sermon is short enough that we can hear the whole thing.

We have the English first, to get the content into your head, followed by the whole sermon in Latin, to get your Latin ears tuned.

St. Augustine of Hippo preached various sermons on St. Lawrence. Here is another one the bishop preached in about the year 401.  It might not be quite what you expected, however!  It sure wasn’t what Augustine himself expected, you can bet on that.

Put yourself in the cathedral of Carthage on a bright morning. Bishops and emissaries are gathering from all over a great council to be held in a couple weeks. You perhaps came to see the interesting people from near and far. You are standing in the nave of the basilica and the light streams through the upper story alabaster windows in dusty shafts. Incense is still wafting from the presbyterium. It is August in N. Africa and it is blazing hot already in the morning. It is clear that Augustine, a very junior bishop in the crowd, had had no intention of preaching, but you watch as the primate of Carthage Bishop Aurelius and bishops of the North African delegation pressure him into saying something in the presence of the representatives from Rome who are there for the upcoming meeting.

Augustine reluctantly takes his seat in a chair in the center takes the scroll of the Scriptures in his lap and begins (s. 305A).

1. Because the audience is getting bored and restless, the sermon was supposed to have been cancelled [subtrahendus fuit]; but out of respect for the martyr, it has to be given. So with the Lord’s help it will be so timed that it is neither burdensome, not yet cut too short to do justice to the subject. In Rome today has dawned as one of the greatest feasts there, which is celebrated by a great concourse of the people; we are uniting ourselves to our brothers and sisters there in one body, under one head, absent indeed in body, but still present in spirit. After all, it’s not only where the tomb of his body is, that the memory of his merits is celebrated. Devotion is owed to him everywhere; his flesh is laid in one place, but his spirit is triumphant with the one who is everywhere. 

The blessed Lawrence was, as we have been informed, a youth in body, but a man gravity in spirit; the greener his age, the more unfading was the victor’s wreath that commended him so much to our devotion. Well, he was a deacon, subordinate to the bishop in rank, equal to an apostle in his crown. [And with that brief comment on Lawrence, Augustine spends the next ten paragraphs talking about everything except Lawrence!] Now this kind of festival of al the glorious martyrs has been instituted in the Church so that those who didn’t see them suffering may be led by faith to imitate them, and may be reminded of them by the festival. It’s probable, you see, that what wasn’t repeated by an annual commemoration would escape people’s minds altogether. And we can’t have fervent celebrations of all the martyrs everywhere, because then not day would pass without them; I mean, you could scarcely find a single day in the whole course of the year, on which some martyrs were not somewhere rewarded with the victor’s crown. But if fervent celebrations were a continuous event, they would induce boredom; while intervals between them renew our loving interest. For our part, let us simply listen to what we have been commanded, attend to what we have been promised. On the festivals of any martyrs you like, let us prepare our hearts to celebrate them in such a way that we do not cut ourselves off from imitating them.

At this point Augustine launches himself into to an extended and rambling talk about the different ways people celebrate and never says another word about Lawrence! He seems to be taking a few swipes at the Roman delegation there too. Then he talks about St. Cyprian of Carthage, who is far more interesting for the natives anyway, and then takes some shots at their overdoing the feast of St. Cyprian.

This is one of those sermons that Augustine, who is feeling a little testy and put upon, just doesn’t seem to be able to bring to a close easily. This often happens when people who don’t really want to speak are put in a position of having to say something anyway. And his swift writing stenographers were there and caught every word for us.

And, since I read lots of Ambrose and not just Augustine, here is what the mighty bishop of Milan had to say:

In his work De officiis ministrorum, echoing Cicero, St. Ambrose of Milan (+397) spoke about martyrs. He lingers a bit over the conversation between St. Pope Sixtus II (whose feast we had the other day) and his great deacon, the Spanish born but by adoption Roman, St. Lawrence. Who died this day in 258 on the Via Tiburina.

1.41.204. What is to be said about little children of two years who obtained the palm of victory before they had any awareness of what was going on around them? And what is to be said of Saint Agnes? Exposed to the danger of losing the two most precious goods, chastity and life, she defended chastity and exchanged life for immortality.

205. We cannot pass over Saint Lawrence, who, seeing his bishop Sixtus being led to martyrdom began to weep, not because he was being led away to die, but because he would have to outlive him. He began, therefore, to shout loudly, "Where are you going, Father, without your son? Where are you hurrying off to, O holy bishop, without your deacon? You never offered the Sacrifice without your minister. What about me has displeased you, O Father? Perhaps you have found me to be unworthy? At least reconsider whether you chose a suitable minister. Do you not want him to whom you entrusted the Blood of the Lord to shed with you his own blood, whom you caused to participate in the sacred mysteries? Be careful that while your fortitude is being praised, your judgment doesn’t waver. The ridicule of a student is a bad mark for the teacher. It is necessary to remember that great and famous men are victorious through the victorious examples of their students even more than by their own. After all, Abraham offered his own son, Peter sent Stephen before him. O Father, let you also show forth your virtue in the person of your son. Offer up the one you instructed, so as to reach the eternal prize in the glorious company, safe and sure of your justice."

206. And Sixtus replied to him: "I am not leaving you, O my son, I am not abandoning you; but even greater trials are reserved for you. Because we are old an easier track to the contest was allotted; Because you are young, for you there is fated a more glorious triumph over tyranny. You will be coming shortly, so cease your weeping: you’ll follow me within three days. It is fitting that there be this interval between a bishop and a levite. It would not be worthy for you to come through to victory under the guide of your master, as if you were looking for help. Why are you asking to share in my martyrdom? I am leaving you my entire inheritance. Why are you requiring that I be present? Students who are still weak are going before their master, and those now strong, who do not have need for any more instruction are following him in order to win through without him. In such a way Elijah left behind Elisha. I am entrusting to you the inheritance of of my virtue."

207. There was a contest between them, a truly worthy contest to be fought out by a bishop and a deacon: who would be the first to suffer for Christ? They say that in the performances of tragic plays the audience would burst out in great applause when Pylades said he was Orestes and Orestes, as he indeed was, affirmed that he was Orestes: Pylades who was to be killed in Orestes place, Orestes in order to prevent Pylades from being him in his stead. But both of them shouldn’t have been allowed to live since they were guilty of the crimes of parricide: the one because he truly committed the crime and the other because he was an accomplice. In our situation, on the other hand, Saint Lawrence was driven by no other desire that to immolate himself for the Lord. Three days later, while mocking the tyrant he was burned on a grate: "This side’s done," he said, "turn me over and have a bite." ["Assum est, inquit, versa et manduca."] And so it was that he bested the heat of the flames with the might of his spirit.

Some other old PODCAzTs:

041 07-08-09 Ratzinger on liturgical silence; silent Eucharist Prayer
040 07-08-02 Eusebius of Vercelli in exile; my column in The Wanderer on detractors of Summorum Pontificum
039 07-07-27 St. Augustine on Christ the Mediator; “for all” or “for many”?

038 07-07-25 Ratzinger on “active participation”; The Sabine Farm; Merry del Val’s music

037 07-07-18 The position of the altar and the priest’s “back to the people”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Jason says:

    Which is the correct pronunciation of St. Augustine’s name?




  2. Phillip says:

    I was told that Catholics say Uh-Gus-Ten, while protestants say Aw-gus-teen. Thus, St. Augustine, FL is pronounced the latter, as this is a protestant country. This is what someone told me. However, in Spanish, it is pronounced Ow-guust-een, so I am not really sure.

  3. Deusdonat says:

    Phillip, interesting observation. But I assure you there is no Catholic vs Protestant pronounciation; it is purely ethno-linguistics at work. If you are in the UK, you will most likely hear “Awe-GUH-stin” by both Catholics and Protestants. As the US colonised/bought/conquered lands which were formerly Spanish-speaking (i.e. Florida) they inherrited the pronounciations (however bastardised) from the original inhabitants (i.e. Rio Grand, San Hose, los anjeles etc).

    So, Jason, choose the one you like best. I have always pronounced it AH-gu-stin, since it is the closest to the original Latin. Just my biase there with no basis in legitimacy.

    De gustibus non est disputandum.

  4. Louis E. says:

    I thought Aug-us-tin was the one from Hippo,and Aug-us-teen the one from Canterbury…or was it vice versa?

  5. Cecilia says:

    I kinda wish I hadn’t listened to one of your don camillo story podcasts (even though I very much enjoyed it, very good story teller) because you slightly look like David Mitchell (from the peep show; a very funny man) so when I read your posts I always imagined you spoke like him, which made them oh so amusing. :D ….I still lurve your blog though!

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