A critique of Augustine in the Breviary


This is the period in the liturgical year in which the second reading at the Office of Readings comes from St Augustine’s Sermon on the Shepherds (sometimes called the Sermon on Pastors, otherwise known as sermon 46).

St Augustine was a brilliant writer and a wonderful preacher. Over a millennium and a half has passed and we are still reading him with enjoyment; that must be proof of something. 

His Confessions must rank as one of the greatest books ever written. Likewise The City of God – discursive, polemical, full of brilliant insight, not averse to really having a go at his enemies – despite its immense length, is still immensely readable, even entertaining. 

I can’t really recommend Augustine enough. He is the Shakespeare of Theology, the greatest of doctors. Once you get the bit between your teeth, then a whole new country opens up before you, the world of Late Antiquity, through which Augustine will be your guide. 

But despite his brilliance, Augustine did produce a few duds, and the sermon on the Shepherds is one of his duds. Why we have to put up with it for two weeks I do not know. The second reading in the office of Readings is supposed, or so it seems to me, to give you a guided tour to the treasures of Christian literature, not just the Fathers, but those that followed them, up to and including the Second Vatican Council. Of course, no anthology is ever going to meet with universal approval, but when the breviary comes up for revision as it surely must, then the Shepherds are ripe for exclusion.

Just so this is not entirely negative, the breviary does contain some wonderful passages, such as the astonishing sermon on the descent into hell from an anonymous author that falls on Holy Saturday (you can read it here), as well as another great favourite of mine, from many centuries later, Paul VI’s words about Nazareth, used on the Feast of the Holy Family, which you can read here. Paul VI, incidentally, the pope of my childhood and early adolescence, was a great communicator of the faith, as this passage, and may others like it, proves.

FULL BLOG: Despite his brilliance, St Augustine did produce a few duds (Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith / Catholic Herald)


Augustine of Hippo (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Office of Readings (Universalis)

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