Cicero, the prince of Roman orators, says of someone that "He never uttered a word which he would wish to recall." High praise indeed! - but more applicable to a complete ass than to a genuinely wise man ... If God permit me, I shall gather together and point out, in a work specially devoted to this purpose, all the things which justly displease me in my books: then men will see that I am far from being a biased judge in my own case. ... For I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress - by writing.
-Augustine, Epistle 143.2-3.Augustine kept his promise too, publishing a book called Retractiones (Retractions). In a massive exercise in self-criticism, during the last years of his life the old bishop went back through all his published books pointing things he'd said over which he had now changed his mind (along the way gaving historians invaluable autobiographical information about the dating and purpose of many of them). And that was no small task, as he'd been a prolific wrier. Leaving aside everything of doubtful authenticity, his surviving output includes over 100 books and lengthy treatises, more than 200 hundred letters and over 500 sermons.
The composition of so much by someone with a demanding full time position of public responsibility (and he was no slouch as a bishop!) is astounding. Its preservation by countless monks and scribes and academics for hundreds of years is a minor miracle, particularly since Hippo (the location of his Episcopal See and library) was under seige by Vandals as Augustine lay dying, and fell into their hands not long after he died. Thanks to this heroic scribal effort, we now have more writings from the hand of Augustine and know more about his life than any other figure from antiquity.
I really should have picked someone more obscure for my project...
Ten points for the city. Twenty for who is buried directly underneath the gold dome. Hint: the tenuous link between the picture and the post is the lack of self-criticism exercised by the guy under the dome. I was really suprised to find how popular he remains in this city.