Friday, August 2, 2013

Augustine of Hippo:A Biography, by Peter Brown

Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: a Biography. (2000, Berkeley, University of California Press)

 It is not often that you will see a book review of a college course book, but I enjoyed reading this text so much that is exactly what I am writing; a review of an assigned text for a course I will be studying this fall.  

This book may be intimidating in size at 513 pages, but for any with a love for history, I highly recommend this book. Brown’s scholarship is amazing, but what is even better is his use of prose to tell the story of an amazing pillar of the Christian church, and the development of Augustine’s philosophic mind; forged by his birth, education and finally his faith.

This book is not just for history buffs, but for those who are interested in the growth and development of the early Catholic (read universal) church, the development of certain traditions and teachings, and important doctrines which trace their birth to this time of history.

Brown gives the facts of course, yet still adds the picturesque scenes of North Africa of the late Roman Empire, and describes the beauty of the region through excerpts from Augustine’s sermons and letters.

 In Peter Brown’s writing you can get a taste of the way of life in ancient Africa, and a vision of the people from all walks of life crowding the basilica in Hippo to hear Augustine, the bishop, expound on scripture. 

I have a better sense of the battle-lines drawn between the Manichean debates with Augustine, and then later the protracted maneuvering done between the Donistist bishops, who once in the majority in the region, against the Catholic bishops; and the enforcement of the edicts against the Donitists in the court rooms of the day, upholding Roman law and rules of public honor. These were scenes that would interest anyone who enjoys legal wrangling in modern courtrooms dramas.

I have to admit that learning more about Augustine from this book deepens my knowledge of the Bishop of Hippo, and the effect of Neo-platonic thought in the early church, and the internal sublimation of Roman pagan thought into the body of Christ, still leaving its mark to this day.
It may be late in the summer, but THIS was my idea of “summer reading” par excellence, to borrow a phrase from the author.


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