Augustine’s “Misericorditer”: Benevolent Severity In Correcting One’s Enemies

I have recently learned of an interesting doctrine articulated by St. Augustine in one of his letters.  The letter in question is Epistula 138, and I should describe briefly its context.  One of Augustine’s friends was a pagan senator in Rome named Volusian; his mother happened to be a Christian, but he was not.  The sack of Rome by Alaric in 410 A.D. had been a deeply shocking event for everyone in the Roman world, no matter what their religion was.  There was very much an atmosphere of despair.  People wondered how such a thing could have happened to what seemed the strongest military state in the world.

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Whether It Is Advisable To Change Religions, Or Remain With An Inherited Faith

It is well-known that there is great variability in religious practices across the world.  Climate, geography, and historical memory shape the outlook of man; and what may be routine and normal for one, may be seen as anathema to another.  Yet this variability in practices does not mean that morals, or beliefs, are irrelevant; it only means that man has proven himself infinitely creative in adapting customs to environment.

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