Although Augustine provided no detailed description of how exactly he wrote his manuscripts, he left passing evidence that suggests he frequently used the traditional methods of his time.
As was the custom, he employed a noterarius (a note-taker or stenographer), who recorded his words in a shorthand called tironian notes, named after the secretary of Cicero, M. Tullius Tiro, who supposedly developed the system.
The dictation was then written out in longhand, corrected and edited. When, for example, this system was used by him for De Trinitate (“On the Trinity”), Augustine became angered when some of his brethren published (i.e., copied and circulated) a draft before it was edited.
But Augustine did not always use this method. For example, when writing a biblical commentary, he made notes in the margins of the biblical text, and these were subsequently copied in longhand when he felt that he had made as many notes as desired.
In composing his longer works, he resorted to publishing sections progressively in instalments. From internal evidence, it is known that De civitate dei (“City of God”) was published in fascicles over a thirteen-year period.
De Doctrina Christiana (“On Christian Doctrine”) is unusual in that he decided to complete it after a period of thirty years.
The first version ended at Book III: 25, 35. Toward the end of his life, in the years 426-427, Augustine added the end of the third book and the concluding fourth book.
Because the copying of handwritten manuscripts was an expensive and time-consuming process, books were not copied by speculation ahead of time (i.e., before somebody came forweard with the money with which to commission the making of a copy). Nor were there any commercial booksellers.
To facilitate the circulation of his written works, Augustine at times deposited copies of them with trusted friends, who would then authorise further copies to be prepared upon request.
Two of his friends whom Augustine mentioned in his writings as fulfiling this role for him were Romanianus at Thagaste and Paulinus of Nola (Nola being a town near Naples).
The next pages of Augnet review the publication of the works of Augustine subsequent to his death.