Augustine is regularly written about in his capacity of being a priest, bishop, philosopher, theologian, a founder of communities, and a great scholar. His role as a catechist, however, has not been as well highlighted.
This is so for numerous reasons. Augustine wrote a number of treatises about catechesis and the catechumenate (the process by which a group is prepared for baptism). Augustine is the only patristic (i.e. in the early church) author from whom we have samples of each of the four stages of the ancient catechumenate.
The writings of Augustine are generally obtainable, both in the original Latin and less satisfactorily in English translations; and, finally, within the past seventy years there have been many archaeological and textual discoveries that have provided much detailed information about Augustine and his Church in Hippo.
The catechetical experience of Augustine personally began with his own preparation for baptism by Saint Ambrose of Milan.
In his writings (especially in his De catechizandis rudibus) Augustine treats each of the four stages in the classic catechumenate model: evangelization, catechumenate, candidate for Baptism (Lenten catechesis), and then post-Baptismal catechesis.
As well, the sermons of Augustine are a good resource for gleaning additional information about his catechetical method and content.
Even so, Augustine at times became frustrated with the situations encountered.
Writing about the catechetical task, Augustine once rehearsed the vices of catechumens: "Those persons who fill the churches in a bodily sense only: . . . persons who drink too much alcohol, people who have greed, who steal, who have bad sexual morals, who gamble, who love public spectacles, the wearers of idols, the tellers of the future, or diviners employing vain arts that are not holy."
Augustine did not gloss over the challenges faced when instructing catechumens or even those already baptised.
He struggled realistically with the all too human qualities of the people in his church, yet continued to strive for uncompromising excellence in the service of the Christian Faith.
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