Augustine quote "Outward sign of inner grace"

Can someone direct me to where the frequently used Augustine quote comes from that defines a Sacrament as an “outward sign of an inner grace.” This quote is being used in some conversations I’m having and I’d like to get the greater context of the writing itself. I’ve studied Sacramental Theology and Augustine’s writing on it, but I just can’t recall where this small piece comes from. I’m suspecting Augustine didn’t say this in an effort to minimize the human necessity to actually participate in the reception of Sacraments to obtain specific graces (tongue in cheek). So my purpose is defense of this quote against its use to try and illustrate the superfluous nature of the “outward sign.”

Well I guess my purpose is to just get to the truth so I suppose if I find there that Augustine actually flipped his own script on Sacramental Theology then I guess that’s what I find haha.

I did some digging, and I’m no means an expert, but I found this Catholic Encyclopedia article:

Judging by the source of the quote, I think “outward sign of inward grace” is the definition provided by a council, but it was heavily inspired (I think) by St. Augustine’s On Catechizing the Uninstructed (

I only skimmed parts, but there is related discussion in Chapter 26 of Augustine’s work here, and there may be something more specific somewhere in the document.

I hope someone more learned than me can better direct you.

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I am not an expert on Augustine’s writings or this particular saying, but an online search led me to Augustine’s letter, On the Catechising of the Uninstructed, which in Paragraph 50 has this:

On the subject of the sacrament, indeed, which he receives, it is first to be well impressed upon his notice that the signs of divine things are, it is true, things visible, but that the invisible things themselves are also honored in them, and that that species, which is then sanctified by the blessing, is therefore not to be regarded merely in the way in which it is regarded in any common use. And thereafter he ought to be told what is also signified by the form of words to which he has listened, and what in him is seasoned by that (spiritual grace) of which this material substance presents the emblem.

I also note that the usual wording is inward, not inner.

Edited to add: After I posted this, I see that @Wesrock cited the same source for Augustine’s letter. Furthermore, I found the Catholic Encyclopedia article on sacraments (cited by @Wesrock) to be helpful in understanding this.

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