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E01854: Augustine of Hippo, in his Letter 29*, declines a request from Paulinus of Milan to write stories about martyrs, similar to those composed by Ambrose of Milan and the author of the Martyrdom of *Cyprian (bishop and martyr of Carthage, S00411), since he lacks the evidence to do this. Written in Latin in North Africa in the early 5th c.

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posted on 2016-09-14, 00:00 authored by robert
Augustine of Hippo, Letter 29*.2

Domino merito dilectissimo et sincerissimo filio et condiacono Paulino Augustinus in domino salutem.

1. Quemadmodum obtemperem uoluntati tuae de rebus gestis martyrum nostro sermone digerendis, cum maxime cupiam, nondum colligo. Legi enim quod dignatus es mittere et inueni quaedam aliorum sermone narrata, quaedam uero solis forensibus gestis quae me maxime delectauerunt expressa. Proinde si illa, in quibus nos alii praecesserunt, post ipse narrare uoluero, quasi doctor importunus uidebor uel superfluus operator; si autem illa quae solis gestis forensibus loquendo commemorare uoluero, uereor ne non solum non adiuuem germaniorem affectum quem mihi ipsi fecerunt, cum a me sola ipsa gesta legerentur <--->.

2. Ut enim mouerer tale aliquid facere, quando de hac re tuae caritati locutus sum, delectauerant me quaedam de martyribus conscripta a uenerabilis memoriae sene Ambrosio quae comparata ceteris quorum scripta de his rebus legeram mihi proposui, sed ea maxime narrauit senex Ambrosius quae in publicis gestis cognosci non possent. Et ideo non tantum minime superfluum, uerum etiam maxime necessarium opus eius apparet, sicut legitur a nescio quo conscriptum etiam de beatissimo martyre Cypriano, quod in hortis suis, cum accitus est ad passionem, quod Vico Saturni cum teneretur et multitudo fratrum pro foribus excubabat, iussit puellas custodiri, et si quid huiusmodi est quod in forensibus gestis non potest inueniri.

3. Ego autem quid faciam, qui non habeo unde cognoscam quod praeter gesta publica de martyribus cognoscendum est, nisi quod eorum legeram qui me in hoc opere praeuenerunt? Quod autem in gestis publicis lego, si hoc solum meo sermone narrare uoluero, decolorare id potius quam illustrare conabor. Hanc suggestionem meam peto consideres et quid tibi uideatur fiducia fraterna rescribe.

'To his rightly most beloved lord and most sincere son and fellow deacon, Paulinus, Augustine sends greetings in the Lord.

1. I do not yet see, though I desire to do so very much, how I may carry out your wishes concerning the publication of the deeds of the martyrs (gesta martyrum) in our own words. For I have read what you were so gracious as to send, and I found certain accounts narrated in the words of others, while certain others, which gave me great pleasure, were expressed only in the judicial proceedings. Hence, if I want to recount afterwards those events which others have recounted ahead of us, I will seem like an untimely teacher or a useless worker. But if I want to recall in my own language those events that are contained only in the judicial proceedings, I fear that I will not only not add to the feeling of genuineness that they produced for me when I read only the proceedings ...

2. After all, certain accounts that in his old age Ambrose of venerable memory had composed about the martyrs delighted me so that I was moved to do something of the sort when I spoke with Your Charity. I held him before me as a model compared to the others whose accounts I had read on this topic. But in his old age Ambrose recounted especially those events that could not be known from the public records. And for that reason his work seems not only not superfluous but also highly necessary, like the account composed by someone or other, in which one can read about the most blessed martyr Cyprian that he was in his garden when he was marched off to his martyrdom and that, when he was being held at Vicus Saturni and a large number of the brethren kept watch at the gates, he ordered that the young girls be protected, and anything else of this sort that cannot be found in the judicial proceedings.

3. But what am I to do, since I do not have any way of knowing what one should know about the martyrs apart from the public records, except for the works I had read of those who have preceded me in this undertaking? If, however, I want to recount in my own words only what I read in the public records, I will be trying to make the account less vivid rather than more vivid. I ask that you consider this idea and write back with brotherly confidence what you think.'

Text: Divjak 1987, 137. Translation: Teske 2005, 333-334.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (Africa) and martyr, ob. 258 : S00411 Martyrs, unnamed or name lost : S00060

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 - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy


The account of Cyprian's martyrdom to which Augustine refers must be the Life of Cyprian attributed to Pontius (E00916). A number of passiones were attributed to Ambrose already in Late Antiquity, most of them certainly inaccurately. For this issue see Lanéry 2008, and E02475, E02498, E02616.


Edition: Divjak, J., Augustin, Oeuvres, vol. 46 B: Lettres 1*- 29*. Nouvelle édition du texte critique et introduction (Paris: Études Augustniennes, 1987). English translation: Teske, R., The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century. Letters 1-99, vol. II 4 (New York: New City Press, 2005), 333-334. Further reading: Lanéry, C., Ambroise de Milan hagiographe (Paris: Institut d’Études Augustiniennes, 2008).

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    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



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