Presbyters Uniwersytet Warszawski
ER 473
The people of Hippo Regius (North Africa) want to ordain Pinianus, a very rich man, against his will. Augustine dissuades them, making some reflections on wealth in the disposition of presbyters and bishops. Augustine, Letter 126, AD 411.
Letter 126
 1. [...] Ego autem post primos eorum clamores cum eis dixissem de illo inuito non ordinando, qua iam promissione detinerer, atque adiecissem, quod, si mea fide uiolata illum haberent presbyterum, me episcopum non haberent [...]. Dicebam ego, quibus poteram, qui ad nos in absidem honoratiores et grauiores ascenderant, nec a promissi fide me posse dimoueri nec ab alio episcopo in ecclesia mihi tradita nisi me interrogato ac permittente posse ordinari; quod si permitterem, a fide nihilo minus deuiarem. Addebam etiam nihil eos uelle, si ordinaretur inuitus, nisi ut ordinatus abscederet. Illi hoc posse fieri non credebant. [...]
7. [...] ... cum illa mihi clericatum non inposuisset, quando potuerunt, habendum inuaserunt, quanto flagrantius in nostro Piniano amare potuerunt tantam mundi istius cupiditatem, tantas opes, tantam spem tanta conuersione superatam atque calcatam! Ego quippe secundum multorum sensum comparantium semet ipsos sibimet ipsis non diuitias dimisisse sed ad diuitias uideor uenisse. Uix enim uigesima particula res mea paterna existimari potest in comparatione praediorum ecclesiae, quae nunc ut dominus existimor possidere. In qualibet autem maxime Africanarum ecclesiarum hic noster non dico presbyter sed episcopus sit, comparatus pristinis opibus suis, etiamsi animo dominantis egerit, pauperrimus erit. [...]
(ed. Goldbacher 1898: 8.13)
Letter 126
 1. [...] After their first shouts I spoke to them about not ordaining Pinianus against his will – a promise by which I was bound– and added that, if they had him as a presbyter through the violation of my word, they would not have me as bishop. [...] I said to those I could, the more respected and dignified men who came up to the apse, that I could not be shaken from fidelity to my promise and that another bishop could not ordain him in a church entrusted to me unless I was asked and permitted it. And if I permitted it, I would still be breaking my promise. I also added that, if he were ordained against his will, they were choosing nothing but that he should leave once he was ordained. They did not believe that this was possible. [...]
 7. [...]  For, though that church [of Thagaste] had not imposed the priesthood upon me when they could have, they took over the possession of that property. If this is so, how much more ardently were they able to love in Pinian that he had overcome and trampled on so great a love of this world, such great wealth, and such fair prospects by such a great conversion! I myself, of course, according to the mind of many who compare themselves among themselves, seem not to have renounced riches but to have come into riches. For my inheritance from my father could be scarcely considered a twentieth part in comparison with the estates of the church that I am now thought to own as their lord. But in whatever church, especially in Africa, our Pinianus may be, I do not say a presbyter but a bishop, when compared to his previous wealth, even if he acted with the attitude of a ruler, he will be very poor.
 (trans. R. Teske, slightly altered)


Pinianus ultimately did not become a presbyter. He swore to the people of Hippo that he would not accept this honour in any other place. Accidently, Augustine describes what became of his own property after his ordination as a presbyter at Hippo: it passed to the church of his home town, Thagaste. The passage confirms that presbyters also were charged with the administration of church property, we also have a glimpse of the size of this property (if we are to believe Augustine, it was twenty times bigger than his own inheritance, but much smaller than that of Pinianus).
Augustine also describes the same events in Letter 125, to Alypius.

Place of event:

  • Latin North Africa
  • Hippo Regius
  • Thagaste

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 3, Ep. 124-184A, Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 44, Vienna-Leipzig 1904.
Saint Augustine, Letters 100-155, trans. R. Teske, New York 2003.


Social origin or status - Social elite
    Described by a title - Presbyter/πρεσβύτερος
    Reasons for ordination - Involuntary ordination
      Impediments or requisits for the office - Unwillingness
        Act of ordination
          Ecclesiastical administration - Administering Church property
            Economic status and activity - Ownership or possession of land
            Economic status and activity - Indication of wealth
              Please quote this record referring to its author, database name, number, and, if possible, stable URL: S. Adamiak, Presbyters in the Late Antique West, ER473,