In the year 396 Augustine had recently been made the assistant bishop of Hippo.
Enfeebled by old age, Valerius, Bishop of Hippo, obtained the authorisation of Aurelius, Primate of Africa, to make Augustine his assistant bishop so as to stop another district choosing him as their spiritual leader.
Augustine was then forty-two years of age, and was to occupy the See of Hippo for thirty-four years.
The new bishop understood well how to combine the exercise of his pastoral duties with the austerities of the religious life.
Although he left his monastery, his residence nearby became a monastery of sorts where he lived a communal life with his clergy, who bound themselves to observe religious poverty.
Shortly after assuming the episcopate, Augustine began to write De Doctrina Christiana.
Translating the Latin title, De Doctrina Christiana, into English as simply "On Christian Doctrine" is inaccurate, as the book is not a compendium of Christian doctrine, but a treatise upon how Christian doctrine might be taught. An accurate title in English would be "On the Form of Teaching Suitable for Instructing Christians."
The first version ended at Book III: 25, 35. Toward the end of his life, however, in 426-427, Augustine added the end of the third book and the concluding fourth book.
A fifth-century manuscript of De Doctrina Christiana in the Russian National Library, St Petersburg, may possibly have been part of Augustine’s own library.
Contemporary Augustinian priest and scholar, Luc Verheijen O.S.A., indicates the first book ("section") of De Doctrina Christiana shows how, for Augustine, Scriptures guide us in the search for happiness.
Indeed, the whole of Book I of the De Doctrina Christiana explains that "the end ... of all Scriptures is love" -- a love that respects the right order of things.
It is by that right loving which Scriptures teaches that human beings journeys to that "thing" which alone can be enjoyed -- the Triune God -- in whom true blessedness is found. Anyone, therefore, who wishes to give others a Christian formation must take this into consideration.
About De Dotrina Christiana Augustine himself wrote in his Retractationes in the year 426, "The first three books help in understanding Scripture; the fourth shows how one who has understood it should express himself."
This was the foundation of a Christian education and the core of the developing Christian culture of Western Europe.
(Continued on the next page.)