Most of us know Augustine through either the Confessions or City of God, and maybe on rare occasions through his work On the Trinity. But it’s easy to forget that before he was an autobiographer or a cultural critic, he was first and foremost a pastor. The great bulk of his writings are dedicated to the exposition of Scripture or its application to the life of the church and of individual Christians. As with pastors today, this included teaching his flock how best to witness to unbelievers. His short tract on how to do so is On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed.
This tract is broken into two parts. The first deals with style. Augustine engages questions like how to speak and what kind of attitude to have when speaking; how to be respectful of the person you’re speaking to; what Christian truths to emphasize, and what to take more slowly in explaining; and what practical usefulness Christianity has for day-to-day life. The second part is a sample evangelistic… talk? I guess? Maybe a mini-sermon? Anyway, it’s a short overview of Christianity at its most basic.
Overall, this work is excellent and well worth your time and attention. It’s not the most important of Augustine’s writings, of course (see above re: the Confessions and City of God), but it’s a good one that’s pretty easy to get under your belt. And in some ways this essay has the seeds of Augustine’s more important writings. For example, the themes of the Confessions make an appearance. Those who reject God lose even
“the false happiness of their life. Then there remains only a void and wounded conscience, destined to apprehend God as a Judge whom it refused to have as a Father, and destined also to find a severe Lord in Him whom it scorned to seek and love as a tender Father.(16)”Those who repent and believe receive
“that true rest which is promised to Christians after this life, [and] wilt taste the same sweet and pleasant rest even here among the bitterest troubles of this life… (16)”
Likewise we see the themes of the City of God, when Augustine points out that there are
“two communities–one of the ungodly, and another of the holy–which are carried down from the beginning of the human race even to the end of the world, which are at present commingled in respect of the bodies, but separated in respect of wills, and which, moreoever are destined to be separated also in respect of bodily presence in the day of judgment. For all men who love pride and temporal power with vain elation and pomp of arrogance, and all spirits who set their affections on such things and seek their own glory in the subjection of men, are bound fast together in one association; nay, even although they frequently fight against each other on account of these things, they are nevertheless precipitated by the like weight of lust into the same abyss, and are united with each other by similarity of manners and merits. And, again, all men and all spirits who humbly seek the glory of God and not their own, and who follow Him in piety, belong to one fellowship. And notwithstanding this, God is most merciful and patient with ungodly men, and offers them a place for penitence and amendment.” (19)
So to recap, there are three reasons to read this short work: 1) it’s short; 2) it’s a good introduction to Augustine’s writings and thought; 3) it’s a great example of both how the needs of mankind and the hope offered by the Gospel have not changed in the last millennia and a half.
Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO, where the the needs of the last millennia and a half have also stayed pretty much the same.