Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism

Article excerpt

Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism. By Garry Wills. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, Pp. xiv, 194. $21.95.)

Garry Wills has a reputation as an articulate commentator on the modern world and religious issues. His fluent style makes him very readable, and his penetrating and sometimes amusing critiques are enjoyable. The usual context of his writing would seem to be the contemporary world. However, Wills has also made a considerable contribution to our study of the early church, and in particular one of its most significant figures, Augustine of Hippo. Wills has produced a very accessible short biography of Augustine and a new translation and discussion of Confessions (397-98). What marks these works out is Wills' ability to bring the characters and the context to life.

An episode that occupies a small place in Confessions is given more extended treatment in this book. In AD 387, Augustine was baptized at Easter by Ambrose in Milan. Ambrose had prepared Augustine and others for baptism in the weeks preceding that and followed the baptism with final explanations of the Christian mysteries to these new members of the church. Augustine had been in Milan since late 384. Not long after his baptism he left Milan. The two most significant figures of the Western church had met briefly over a period of months and never met again. What did that encounter mean for the two men and for the Western church?

Wills brings to this episode his well known skills as a writer. The result is a very engaging book on the two men, the political and religious situation, and on the shaping of the church by this event. …

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