Why are the works of Augustine apparently not read by literate Christians of today? For readers of English, one additional reason is that much of the output of Augustine has neverbeen translated into that language, and much of that which has been translated is available only in dated and turgid prose.
Even the best of the writing of Augustine bears the marks of his own time and there is much in these old books that is of little interest to anyone but expert scholars. There are many potential stumbling places in them for the average modern reader. What makes such a study even more amazing is the fact that the vast majority of his works were written for specific situations and crises, and thus do not fit into any ordered system of thought.
Over the centuries many scholars have commented upon the patience of Augustine and his generous capacity to make enormous effort to address theological and even public issues that might trouble the faithful. Again and again Augustine took up his pen in defence of the Church. Almost everything he wrote was in response to a specific problem or an actual crisis in the immediate situation.
One may mark off significant developments in his thought over this forty years, but one can hardly miss the fundamental consistency in his entire literary output. Furthermore, Augustine himself freely admitted that there was a movement and development in his thinking. Late in life he even challenged some of his devoted but confused admirers for not growing with him in theological understanding, even in relation to his own writings. Despite all this, it is impossible to read him without recognising how his genius conquered the limitations of his times and his language. And this is so even in poor translations!
He was never interested in writing a systematic summa theologica (Manual of Theology) as Thomas Aquinas later did. Augustine probably would have been incapable of producing a balanced digest of his wide range of teaching. Thus, if he is to be read wisely, he must be read widely. He must always be read in context. Proper attention must be given to his specific purpose behind each work that he wrote. His writing continued throughout all of his years as a bishop. In the year 419 (when he was 63 years old - a very old age in those days) he mentioned in a letter to Possidius that in three months he had dictated to a stenographer some 6,000 lines - 60,000 words - of his final text of the Tractates on the Gospel of Saint John. He had achieved this by setting aside Saturday and Sunday nights for the task.
A continual challenge for any serious reader of Augustine is both the sheer volume of his writings and the nature of those writings. His output of approximately six million words over forty years constitutes the largest collection of writing remaining from any ancient author. Reading and understanding all that Augustine wrote is a lifetime project for anyone desiring a complete knowledge of Augustine. He was so overworked that it is a wonder that he actually managed to write much at all. The use by Augustine of his rare moments of leisure time were necessarily pre-empted by his tasks as an administrator. In a clever play on two Latin words, he once wrote, "Let no one then envy me my otium (leisure time), for my otium contains a lot of negotium (business)." ( Letter 213, 7)
He gave some details in his Letter 139 to Marcellinus. This government official at Carthage was importuning him to complete his great work, City of God. Augustine was publishing it in parts whenever he managed to complete another section of it. Augustine wrote, "If I were to give you an account of how the hours of my days and nights are spent, and let you know how many of them I have to spend over unnecessary things, it would make you quite sad. You would also be astonished at the number of things which I cannot put off, and which tug me by the sleeve and stop me from doing what you are questioning me about - the things which I would gladly do myself, but which, to my unspeakable regret, I am not in the position to do." (Letter 139, 3) AN1317