Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Augustine of Hippo: Instructing Beginners in Faith

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Augustine of Hippo: Instructing Beginners in Faith

Article excerpt

Augustine of Hippo: Instructing Beginners in Faith. Translation, introduction, and notes by Raymond Canning. [The Augustine Series, Volume V.] (Hyde Park, New York: New City Press. 2006. Pp. 173. $13.95 paperback.)

In late 403, Augustine got a letter from Deogratias, a deacon of the church in Carthage. Deogratias was in charge of instructing of new converts and had real talent: a good knowledge of Scripture and a flair for teaching. But his lectures had, by his own admission, gotten a little boring, and he was struggËng with burnout. So he sought Augustine's advice. Augustine answered with a brief, but brUliant treatise, Instructing Beginners in Faith (De catechizandis rudibus). This minor masterpiece is the latest volume translated for the "Augustine Series," an offshoot of New City Press's multi-volume (and generaUy exceËent) Works of Saint Augustine . It is the first new English translation of the work since J. P. Christopher's 1946 version in the "Ancient Christian Writers" series and the first to take advantage of the critical edition in the Corpus Christianorum.

Instructing Beginners is a unique document in the surviving literature from the ancient catechumenate. No other text detaUs so vividly that first lifealtering rite of passage from pagan inquirer to apprentice Christian. In the treatise,Augustine focuses on three matters: the types and motives of inquirers; the structure and content of the catechist's evangelical address; and the emotional attitude of the catechist hiniseU. Augustine notes that many converts came haunted by ominous dreams or visions. Some newcomers were highly learned and earnest, others humble and Ëliterate, still others haughty and haU-educated, prone to judge catechists more by their rhetorical embeUishments than by the character of their content. Augustine takes on problems famUiar to veteran teachers. What if the person lies about his motives? WeU, use a shrewd psychology: "you must make . . . the lie itseU the starting point" not to unmask it, but to "bring him to the point that he actuaUy enjoys being the kind of person that he wishes to appear" (p. 74). What if the audience starts yawning? Say something clever, humorous, or awe-inspiring. …

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