Augustine himself, however, unlike Ambrose in Milan, was never an actual politician. He taught rhetoric that no doubt prepared lawyers and judges for public life, but it was a life which, at the end of his stay in Milan, he considered to be mainly empty and boastful. As a bishop he dealt, as we know from his letters and sermons, with many delicate political issues.

One of the most unsettling of these political issues was his dealings with the Donatists. Augustine’s later policies over the Donatists has merited for him an unduly harsh reputation among those who think it is a rather simple matter, in any polity, including a democratic one, to deal with fanatics. It is easy to criticize Augustine on the Donatist controversy if we think them to be merely pious dissenters.