This was just before Augustine wrote On the good of marriage, On holy virginity, and On the good of widowhood, meaning that in a brief period he had written about all the major styles of living. De opera monachorum is the sole treatise on this subject coming from the early Christian Church. Augustine dedicated this work to Aurelius, Bishop of Carthage.
This man had requested Augustine to write it because of some monks near Carthage whose unbalanced lifestyle concerned the bishop. These monks were begging in public places, refusing to work, and were untidy in appearance. Their application of the Latin term otium was not a positive instance of time available for the production of good purposes, but instances of wanton idleness and misspent activity. (They were lay persons, and, unlike in Augustine’s community at Hippo, not specifically identified as being clerics,)
In Chapters 1 – 30, Augustine reviews relevant passages apparently favoured “Do not worry about tomorrow, learn from the lilies of the field.. (Matt. 6:25-34), but paid little regard to “If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (2 Thes. 3:10). Augustine called them to have apostolic discipline. They were to work. This labour, whether in the monastery or outside its boundaries, was to be directed towards God, such that their monastery would become a miniature city of God.
Augustine describes work as a basic part of God’s plan for human nature. The ending of De opera monachorum in chapters 31-33 sees Augustine deftly counter the selective quoting of the Scriptures that the monks had offered as justification for their behaviour and practices. Even a lazy monk can attempt to quote Scripture selectively in an effort to prove his points.
On the Work of Monks. By Augustine of Hippo. Two translations into English on the New Advent and Christian Bookshelf websites: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1314.htm and http://christianbookshelf.org/augustine/of_the_work_of_monks_/index.html
For further reading.
Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopaedia. ISBN: 0-8028-3843-X Published in 1999, with 880 pages. Edited by Allan Fitzgerald O.S.A. (Stocks of this publication are now exhausted, but it is still available second-hand online from Amazon.com. and other sites.)
The encyclopaedia 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…." AN2117