For Augustine, the best preachers should seek to be eloquent and incorporate all necessary manners of speech in order to communicate the truth of the Scriptures.

When Augustine speaks to the necessity of eloquence to persuade a person to act, he doesn’t mean that a speaker should pander. Augustine sees eloquence as necessary to persuade the hearer to act upon a truth which they already affirm. This is calling the hearer to respond rather than affirming their inaction.

Augustine's emphasis on love throughout the text further reveals the pastoral nature of the work. Effective pastors lead with love, and Augustine verifies this when he identifies the goal of exegesis and preaching. Exegesis, and therefore preaching, that does not lead to love of God and love of man is not proper to pastoral leadership.

Eloquence and Manner of Living

Augustine affirms that some pastors may not be able to speak with eloquence or be masters of various types of speech. This does not shirk their call to preach the truth. The high calling of pastoral ministry also came with the responsibility of piety. Pastors must exhibit the virtues they wish to see within the lives of their people. Effective ministry flows from a life of holiness. Virtue is necessary for a godly life, and bishops were to model virtue based on the virtue of Christ. Augustine maintains, "But for us to be listened to with obedient compliance, whatever the grandeur of the speaker's utterances, his manner of life carries more weight."[1] He continues:

For he chooses to live a good life in such a way that he does not neglect his good reputation either….In his sermons too he should prefer to please with substance of what he says more than with the words he says it in; nor should he imagine that a thing is said better unless it is said more truly; and as a teacher his words should be serving him, not he his words[2]

For Augustine, the master rhetorician, the speaker's manner of living was of greater consequence than the way in which he spoke. Eloquence can not mitigate impiety. Augustine recognizes that truth can be proclaimed by a speaker with ulterior motives, citing Paul in Phil 1:18. "Christ is the truth," Augustine asserts, therefore whoever preaches Christ regardless of motive is preaching truth. But effective listening will only come from effective living. Congregants will be effected one way or the other depending on the manner of life of the preacher. Their manner of living serves as a rudder, guiding the church towards the safe waters of Christ's harbor, or the tumultuous waves of spiritual ruin. A captain may speak inspiring words to the crew, but without a steady hand on the control, the ship will eventually crash and sink. Augustine concludes, "If however he cannot even [speak wisely or eloquently], let him so conduct himself that he not only earns a reward for himself, but also gives an example to others, and so his manner of life can itself be a kind of eloquent sermon."[3]


Pastors need not speak eloquently in order to accomplish their calling. Though Augustine encourages this, he recognizes that speaking the truth and displaying Christ-like character are more primary to proper pastoral leadership. The great rhetorician of Milan soon became the humbled bishop of Hippo Regius. Trading in his scholarly robes for the shepherd's crook led Augustine to reevaluate the value and purpose of eloquent speech. Though never fully shedding the classical tradition in which he was reared, such training was transformed to serve a higher calling. In his De doctrina christiana, Augustine sought to equip pastors with tools to understand Scripture and adequately preach the truth. Even with such tools in hand, a pastor's manner of life was of primary importance for effective pastoral ministry. Those who live a poor life but speak truth are stealing God's words, and as Augustine put it, "It's the man who speaks well and lives badly that really speaks words that do not belong to him."[4] Effective pastoral leadership, for Augustine, includes living the words that are preached, whether they are preached eloquently or not.

  • Augustine, On Christian Teaching 4.27.59 (Hill, 237). ↩

  • Augustine, On Christian Teaching 4.28.61 (Hill, 238).  ↩

  • Augustine, On Christian Teaching 4.28.61 (Hill, 239). ↩

  • Augustine, On Christian Teaching 4.29.62 (Hill, 239).  ↩