I don't have time for a full review, but this book is fascinating. The blurb from Frank Kermode (on the back cover of the pictured paperback edition) calls the scholarship "vast but unobtrusive." I'm afraid Brown's learning is quite obvious. His footnotes cite texts in four different languages (English, French, German, and Latin). The typical page has maybe ten footnotes. The bibliography is almost twenty pages long. Brown seems to have translated Augustine's Latin himself throughout. His prose is for the most part very smooth.

High points:

  • Wonderful introduction to the Manichees, Neo-Platonism, the Donatist schism (which began some fifty years before Augustine was born), and the Pelagian controversies.
  • Chapter 17 ("Hippo Regius") gives a tour of Augustine's town.
  • pp 205-6: Augustine is probably best known nowadays for his prayer for "continence, but not yet." Brown shows that rather than sex, the fundamental temptations Augustine experienced had to do with pride, the love of praise, and an illegitimate desire for friendship. Later in the book we see Augustine's frightening treatment of the Donatists, which seems analogous to the suppression of Roman Catholicism in Elizabethan England.
  • p 268:  "His own superbly unaffected 'Christian' style was in reality a simplicity achieved at the other side of vast sophistication."
  • The account of Augustine's ascetic lifestyle, all the more interesting because he was so "charming" (Brown's word) a writer.

Update:  Here's Robert Louis Wilken's take on the revised edition.

AuthorSeth Holler