Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 432
Presbyter Boniface and the monk Spes accuse each other of sexual misconduct. Augustine, their bishop, cannot determine the truth, so he sends them to the shrine of St Felix in Nola. Augustine does not want to remove Boniface from the list of the clergy before their return. Augustine of Hippo, Letter 78, North Africa, AD 411/418. The same information is provided by Letter 77.
Letter 78
4. [...] Nomen autem presbyteri propterea non ausus sum de numero collegarum eius uel supprimere uel delere, ne diuinae potestati, sub cuius examine causa adhuc pendet, facere uiderer iniuriam, si illius iudicium meo uellem praeiudicio praeuenire. Quod nec in negotiis saecularibus iudices faciunt, quando causae dubitatio ad maiorem potestatem refertur, ut pendente relatione aliquid audeant commutare. Et in episcoporum concilio constitutum est nullum clericum, qui nondum conuictus sit, suspendi a communione debere,
nisi ad causam suam examinandam se non praesentauerit. Bonifatius tamen hanc humilitatem suscepit, ut nec litteras
acciperet, quibus in peregrinationem honorem suum quaereret, ut in eo loco, ubi ambo ignoti sunt, circa ambos aequalitas
seruaretur, et nunc, si uobis placet, ut nomen eius non recitetur, ne his, qui ad ecclesiam nolunt accedere, sicut ait
apostolus, demus occasionem quaerentibus occasionem [2 Cor 11,12], non erit hoc nostrum factum sed eorum, quorum
causa fuerit factum. Quid enim obest homini, quod ex illa tabula non uult eum recitari humana ignorantia, si de libro uiuorum non eum delet iniqua conscientia? [...]
(ed. Goldbacher 1898: 336-337 )
Letter 78
4.  [...] I have, however, not dared either to cancel or to remove the name of the presbyter from the number of his colleagues for fear that I might seem to do injury to the divine power under whose scrutiny the case is still pending, if I wanted to anticipate his judgment by my own prior judgment. Nor do judges do this in worldly concerns when a doubtful case is referred to a higher authority, not daring to make any change while a decision is pending. And it was decided in the council of bishops that no cleric who had not been proven guilty ought to be suspended from communion unless he does not present himself for the examination of his case. Boniface, nonethless, has accepted this humiliation to the point that he has not received letters by which he might ask for the respect due to his office on his journey (peregrination) in order that in that place where they are both unknown equality might be preserved with regard to both. And now, if you do not want his name to be read out for fear that we give a pretext to those who do not want to enter the Church — as the apostle says, to those who are looking for a pretext — that action will not be due to us, but to those because of whom it was done. For what harm does it do a man if human ignorance does not want his name to be read out from that list, provided a bad conscience does not remove him from the book of the living? [...]
(trans. R. Teske, slightly modified)


A presbyter from Augustine's monastery, Boniface, made an accusation of a sexual sin against a monk from the same monastery, Spes, who in turn accused Boniface of the same infringement. Augustine could not determine the truth, so he sent the two to the shrine of St Felix in Nola for a form of a divine judgement. Before that, he did not want to remove Boniface from the list of the clergy. Similar explanation was presented in the precedent Letter 77, also relating to the issue. Letter 77 was sent to two laymen of Hippo, whereas Letter 78 is addressed to "the clergy, the elders, and all the people of the Church of Hippo".
We can note also the content of the commendation letter which Augustine gave to Boniface, which – at his own demand – did not confirm his clerical privileges.

Place of event:

  • Latin North Africa
  • Hippo Regius

About the source:

Author: Augustine of Hippo
Title: Letters, Epistulae
Origin: Hippo Regius (Latin North Africa)
Denomination: Catholic/Nicene/Chalcedonian
The letters of Augustine of Hippo cover a wide range of topics: Holy Scripture, dogma and liturgy, philosophy, religious practice and everyday life. They range from full-scale theological treatises to small notes asking someone for a favour. The preserved corpus includes 308 letters, 252 written by Augustine, 49 that others sent to him and seven exchanged between third parties. 29 letters have been discovered only in the 20th century and edited in 1981 by Johannes Divjak; they are distinguished by the asterisk (*) after their number.
The preserved letters of Augustine extend over the period from his stay at Cassiciacum in 386 to his death in Hippo in 430.
A. Goldbacher ed., S. Augustini Hipponiensis Episcopi Epistulae, Pars 2, Ep. 31-123, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 34/2,  Prague-Vienna-Leipzig 1898.
Saint Augustine, Letters 1-99, trans. R. Teske, New York 2001.
 D. Shanzer, "Augustine's Epp. 77-78 (A Scandal in Hippo): Microhistory and Ordeal-by-Oath", Reading Medieval Studies 40 (2014), 11–33.


Sexual life - Sexual activity
Sexual life - Same sex
Travel and change of residence
Described by a title - Presbyter/πρεσβύτερος
Monastic or common life - Cenobitic monk
Public law - Ecclesiastical
Relation with - Bishop/Monastic superior
Relation with - Monk/Nun
Administration of justice - Ecclesiastical
Administration of justice - Excommunication/Anathema
    Administration of justice - Demotion
    Devotion - Pilgrimage
    Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: S. Adamiak, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER432,