St Augustine and Teaching

In the voluminous writings of St Augustine of Hippo, there were a number of books about aspects of religious education, rhetoric, etc. Here is a series of quotations; the citations refer to the Latin version of the text.

Teacher – Student Relationship

I will teach you, remembering and bearing in mind the obligations of my servantship, so that I speak not as a master but as a minister, not to pupils but to fellow pupils since I speak not to servants but to fellow servants. For we all have one master, whose school is on earth and whose cathedral is in heaven.
(Serm.242, l,l)



Let us then adapt ourselves to our students with a love which is at once the love of a brother, of a father and of a mother When once we are linked to them in heart, the old familiar things will seem new to us. So great is the influence of a sympathetic mind that, when our students are affected by us as we speak and we by them as they learn, we dwell in each other and thus both they, as it were, speak within us what they hear, while we after a fashion learn in them what we teach.
(De cat.rud., 17)

The more we love those to whom we speak, the more we want them to like what we speak and so the more careful we are in speaking to them what they need.
(De cat.rud., 14)


Augustine teaching. Fifteenth century fresco in the series on St Augustine by Benozzo Gozzoli at the Church of St Augustine, San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy.

Teach that students may become their own teacher. Let us feed our pupils with the right food so that time will come when they will be able to provide their own food.

No one succeeds in raising another to the height where he or she stands, unless he or she steps down somewhat towards the level where the other is.
(Epist. ll,4)

Let us adapt ourselves and our methods to the differing needs of our students. The same medicine is not to be applied to all, although to all the same love is due.  Different people must necessarily affect the teacher in different ways the teacher’s talk should, as it were, wear an appearance expressive of the mind from which it issues; it should affect the hearer in different ways according as his frame of mind varies, just as his hearers too affect one another in various ways by their mere presence together. Not all are given the same medicine, though the same love is due to all … Some are to be loved gently; others with severity; with love which is an enemy to none, a mother to all.
(De cat. rud., 23)

Love and Truth

Let knowledge be used as a kind of scaffolding to help build the edifice of love and understanding, which shall endure forever even after knowledge itself shall be destroyed.

Nothing conquers except truth. The victory of truth is charity.

In vain do men and women toil with all their might from without, unless the Creator works in a hidden fashion from within.
(De bon vid.22)

The first subject students learn is the teacher. Teachers offer themselves for imitation. This is the essence of what people call teaching.
(De musica 1,6)

Whatever may be the grandeur of his or her style, the life of the teacher will count for more in winning the learner’s obedience. The one who speaks wisely and eloquently but lives wickedly may, it is true, instruct many who are anxious to learn – but they would do good to very many more if they lived as they taught. There are many who seek an excuse for their own evil lives in comparing what their teachers teach with the way they behave. They say in their hearts, if not with their lips, ‘Why do you not carry out what you ask me to do?’ Thus they no longer listen attentively to a one who does not listen to himself and, in despising the instructor, they learn to despise the word that is taught. Many are good at preaching what they themselves do not practice, though they would do far better if they practice what they preach.
(De doc. Christ.,4,60)

If men or women cannot speak wisely let their life be such that they not only obtain a reward for themselves but give an example to others. Let their manner of living be in itself, so to say, an eloquent speech.
(De doc. Christ.,4, 60)

The person who speaks well but lives badly is both a parrot and a thief: a parrot, because he speaks only what he memorizes; a thief, because he does not speak of his own. How can it be his own what he says in words but denies in deeds.
(De doc. Christ.,4,60)

The eloquent are listened to with pleasure but the wise are heard with profit.
(De doc.4,8)


Free curiosity is a greater encouragement to learning than frightened compulsion.
(Conf 1,14)

Whereas teaching is imposed on us by the necessity of love, the sweetness of truth should move us to learn more and more every day.
(Question Dulcitius 2,6)

Let our searching be such that we can be sure of finding, and let our finding be such that we may go on searching.
(De Trin.9.1,1)


I know many people who, without having any knowledge of the rules of rhetoric, are more eloquent than the ones who learned them. But I know nobody who is eloquent without having read and listened to the debates and speeches of eloquent people. Even the art of grammar, by which correct speech is taught has to be learned by boys if they have the opportunity of growing up and living among men and women who speak correctly. For although children are not familiar with the names of any of the faults of style, their exposure to correct speech will lead them to seize upon and avoid whatever is faulty in the speech of anyone they are listening to.
(De doc. Christ. 1.1)

Perspective: These are quotations from various works of St Augustine that were gathered by the late Fr Michael Morahan O.S.A. when he was Principal (Rector) of Villanova College, Coorparoo, Brisbane, Australia between 1995 and 2009 inclusive. He was also a member of the Order’s international Commission for Educational Centres. He died on 25th June 2011 at the age of fifty-eight years.