Church discipline is one of the burning questions facing the Church as it embarks on the new millennium. A careful reading of the correspondence of Augustine indicates the same can be said of the North African Church of late antiquity. In fact, discipline plays a decisive role in the bishop of Hippo’s understanding and exercise of his own episcopal ministry. Although it can be viewed as negative and restrictive in primarily juridical terms, disciplina appears to be an organizing principle in Augustine’s ecclesiology and paradoxically makes the bishop one with the faithful. The bishop is not free to arbitrarily make up the rules; he too is subject to the Church’s tradition as it has been faithfully handed down. The correspondence of Augustine is the most fruitful locus for an investigation of the role of discipline in Augustine’s ministry because of its occasional nature reacting to concrete issues and difficulties. The close association between the two Latin terms, doctrina and disciplina, underscores that discovery of truth (doctrina) carries with it certain moral imperatives (disciplina). This investigation will explore the various influences on Augustine’s understanding of church discipline including the Bible and Roman law, and will evaluate the bishop’s exercise thereof in such spheres as doctrine, liturgy, and living the Christian life.
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