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E01841: Augustine of Hippo, in his Letter 78, to his congregation in Hippo Regius (North Africa), explains how he decided to send two clerics, who had accused each other of misbehaviour, to the shrine of *Felix (confessor of Nola, S00000) at Nola (southern Italy), expecting the truth to be revealed there. He refers to a miracle of this kind which took place in Milan (northern Italy), and claims that no miracles occur at the tombs of saints in Africa. Written in Latin in Hippo, 404/408.

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posted on 2016-09-09, 00:00 authored by robert
Augustine of Hippo, Letter 78.3

The letter is addressed to the clergy and people of Hippo. Augustine tells them about two clerics who accused each other of misbehaviour. He pondered diverse ways of judging this issue and finally decided on the following:

... elegi aliquid medium, ut certo placito se ambo constringerent ad locum sanctum se pergituros, ubi terribiliora opera dei non sanam cuiusque conscientiam multo facilius aperirent et ad confessionem uel poena uel timore compellerent. Multis enim notissima est sanctitas loci, ubi beati Felicis nolensis corpus conditum est, quo uolui ut pergerent, quia inde nobis facilius fidelius que scribi potest, quicquid in eorum aliquo diuinitus fuerit propalatum. Nam et nos nouimus Mediolani apud memoriam sanctorum, ubi mirabiliter et terribiliter daemones confitentur, furem quendam, qui ad eum locum uenerat, ut falsum iurando deciperet, compulsum fuisse confiteri furtum et, quod abstulerat, reddere. Numquid non et Africa sanctorum martyrum corporibus plena est? Et tamen nusquam hic scimus talia fieri. Sicut enim, quod apostolus dicit, non omnes sancti dona habent curationum nec omnes habent diiudicationem spirituum, ita nec in omnibus memoriis sanctorum ista fieri uoluit ille, qui diuidit propria unicuique, prout uult.

'... Hence, I chose a middle path, namely, that both of them should bind themselves by a firm agreement to go to a holy place where the awesome acts of God might more readily disclose the bad conscience of anyone and might compel him to confession because of punishment or fear. God is, of course, everywhere, and he who created all things is not contained or enclosed by any place, and he must be adored by his true adorers in spirit and in truth, in order that, hearing in secret, he may also justify and crown them in secret. With regard, nonetheless, to these actions of God that are visibly known to human beings, who can search out his plan as to why these miracles occur in some places and do not occur in others? For the holiness of the place where Blessed Felix of Nola’s body is buried, where I wanted them to go, is very well known to many. For whatever God made manifest there about one of them could more easily and more faithfully be recorded for us. For we knew at Milan at the tomb of the saints, where the demons confessed in a miraculous and terrifying way, that a certain thief, who had come to that place in order to deceive by swearing falsely, was forced to confess his theft and to return what he had taken. Is not Africa filled with the bodies of holy martyrs? And, nonetheless, we know that such things do not happen anywhere here. As the apostle says, Not all the saints have the gift of healing, nor do all have the discernment of spirits (1 Cor. 12:29-30); in the same way God, who distributes his gifts as he wills, did not want that these things should occur at all the memorial shrines (memoriae) of the saints.'

Text: Goldbacher 1895, 120. Translation: Teske 2001, 305, lightly modified. Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felix, confessor and priest in Nola (Italy), ob. 250/260 : S00000 Gervasius and Protasius, martyrs of Milan (Italy), ob. 1st/4th c. : S00313

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Letters


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Hippo Regius

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Hippo Regius Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Major author/Major anonymous work

Augustine of Hippo

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Visiting graves and shrines

Cult Activities - Miracles

Juridical interventions Specialised miracle-working Other miracles with demons and demonic creatures Exorcism

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy


This letter is an interesting piece of evidence, which shows that at the beginning of the 5th century Christians in Africa did not yet expect miracles to occur at the tombs of saints in their region, even if they knew that such things happened in other places. This attitude was to change in the 420s, after the arrival of the relics of *Stephen (the first martyr, S00030) in Hippo, Uzalis, and other places. These relics were immediately recognised as sources of miraculous power, as evidenced by sermons of Augustine and the two books of the Miracles of St Stephen. The relics in Milan are most probably those of the martyrs *Gervasius and Protasius (S00313), the discovery of which Augustine witnessed in 386 (see E01019).


Edition: Goldbacher, A., Augustinus, Epistulae (ep. 31-123) (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 34/2; Vienna: Tempsky, 1895). English translation: Teske, R., The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century. Letters 1-99, vol. II 1 (New York: New City Press, 2001), 303-309.

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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