In De diversis quaestionibus (“Eighty-three Questions”) the eighty-three questions may appear in approximately a chronological order.
Even though Augustine seems to have imposed no specific sequence in this collection of eighty three questions, four broad categories in the question and answer literary form are discernible.
The first category serves as Christian apologetic, e.g., against Arian and Manichaean errors. i.e., most of Questions 1 to 24, possibly questions from Thagaste.
The second presents Augustine in the role of exegete of selected passages from many parts of the Bible, i.e., Questions 51 – 65, possibly just before and after he received priesthood in the year 391.
The third category is seen in Questions 30 to 40. They deal with moral philosophy, and are difficult to date.
The fourth category, containing the greater number of questions and answers, show Augustine the theologian. i.e., most of Questions 66 – 83, and were certainly answered after he had studied Saint Paul in detail.
One part of De diversis quaestionibus, however, that will puzzle contemporary minds is Augustine's certainty about the symbolism of numbers (e.g., in Questions 55-59, 61, 64 and 81). For example, in this work he offers an convoluted interpretation of the alleged significance that it was 153 fish that were caught by Simon Peter in one of their post-Resurrection encounters with Christ (John 21:11).
In De diversis quaestionibus Augustine married his previous grasp of the philosophy of Neo-platonism with new newer and developing insights. He took his understanding of happiness, goodness, beauty, change and evil and developed his theology on the role of Christ in human salvation, the image of God, human freedom and the need of individuals for the grace of God.
Augustine mentioned De diversis quaestionibus (“Eighty-three Questions”) in Retractiones 1, 10 (“Retractions”) late in his life. There he stated that he had great difficulty in De diversis quaestionibus with the literal interpretation and was forced to resort to allegory.
In Retractiones 1, 26 he acknowledges that his answer to Question 31 is a quotation from his favourite Roman classical author, Cicero.
De diversis quaestionibus enjoyed great popularity in the Middle Ages, and a significant number of ninth-century manuscripts of it still exist.
Unfortunately there does not appear to be any English translation of this work available on the Internet
For further reading
Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia. ISBN: 0-8028-3843-X Published in 1999, by Eerdmans, 880 pages. Edited by Allan Fitzgerald O.S.A. (This publication is now out of print, but second-hand copies of it may be available for purchase online from sites such as Amazon.com)
The encyclopedia is the product of more than 140 leading scholars throughout the world. This comprehensive publication contains over 400 articles that cover every aspect of the life and writings of Augustine of Hippo (354-430). It traces his profound influence on the church and the development of Western thought through the past two millennia…."