Augustine the Bishop: The Life and Work of a Father of the Church

Augustine the Bishop: The Life and Work of a Father of the Church

Augustine the Bishop: The Life and Work of a Father of the Church

Augustine the Bishop: The Life and Work of a Father of the Church

Excerpt

Historians keep telling us that we have a more intimate knowledge of St. Augustinethan of any other individual in the whole world of Antiquity. But who really knows him, and what exactly is it that we know? Before Bertrand's book came along, Augustine was a name. He is now a novel; an edifying novel, if you like (since the author's source of material was the Confessions), and also a fascinating one. No-one can ever forget the description of Carthage, "where the cauldron of filthy loves boiled over all about me", or the singing community of Ambrose in the Basilica of Milan; nor will anyone, I fear, banish wholly from his mind that nameless woman companion who returns to Africa without her child, to devote the remainder of her life to God.

Thus today Augustine the sinner is known to all. So is Augustine the convert. But what do men know of Augustine the saint?

It would almost seem as though the figure of Augustine could hold men's interest up to the point of his conversion. After that, the tendency is for people to forget both the man and the saint, and merely to remember the genius. Yet even the genius is somehow forbidding, for Augustine the genius is hidden away in eleven great folios of strangely scintillating Latin, a fitting subject for the scholar and especially for those industrious human bees, the philologists.

Besides these eleven great tomes, there has grown up a whole library of books intended almost exclusively for the initiated. True enough, men here and there still read the Confessions (or at any rate the first nine or ten books of them), and among such readers there are always those who put the book down deeply moved and ask in a bewildered way for something more. Into the hands of such a one may perhaps come a translation of some other work of Augustine's, but his awe before those eleven forbidding folios remains.

It is in a way natural enough that the ordinary worldly person should see a sort of "happy ending" in a conversion and feel no particular concern in what happens afterwards. That "afterwards" stretches before his mental eye as a sort of monochrome plain, dull after what he conceives to be the manner of all virtue. So it may well be that thousands of readers have been profoundly moved by this or that passage in the Confessions, without ever giving a thought to what happened in the period concerning which the Confessions are silent; and yet most of such readers would concede that the most important part of . . .

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