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Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (New…
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Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (New Edition, with an Epilogue) (original 1967; edition 2000)

by Peter Brown

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Title:Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (New Edition, with an Epilogue)
Authors:Peter Brown
Info:University of California Press (2000), Paperback, 576 pages
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Augustine of Hippo: A Biography by Peter Brown (1967)

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Brilliant! I had this on my shelf for a year before I got to it – the size and subject matter just seemed a bit daunting – but it turned out to be engrossing and readable. Brown is a wonderful writer (though his style includes more use of commas than I am accustomed to), and he does a beautiful job balancing the personal details of Augustine's life with the history of the period. I would assume that most readers going in to this would have a basic familiarity with traditional Roman religion, the history of the late Roman Empire, and with the major controversies within the Church in this period, but even without this background I think this book would be enjoyable (though more challenging. For example, the Donatist controversy comes up quite a bit before Brown goes in to it in detail. Similarly with Pelagianism. And Platonism. But when he does get to explaining things, he does it wonderfully well!)

I love the way Brown draws connections between various of Augustine's writings, tracing the development of his ideas along with the events of his life and the changing circumstances of the Church. I hadn't realized before this what an incredibly rich body of work Augustine had left, and Brown uses excerpts from his letters, sermons, pamphlets, and books throughout.

My copy of Augustine of Hippo is the New Edition with An Epilogue, published in 2000, which updates the 1967 edition with an Epilogue consisting of two chapters – “New Evidence” and New Directions.” In “New Evidence” he discusses how the 'Divjak letters,' 27 letters by Augustine found in a manuscript discovered in 1975, and the 'Dolbeau sermons,' 26 sermons, found in 1990, have added to historians' understanding of the period and of Augustine's thought, and also how they have changed his (Brown's) thinking on Augustine. “New Directions” is more personal. In this chapter he describes how his own thinking on Augustine has changed since he began his research in 1961. Both the study of the newly found documents and his own maturing over the thirty years or so have given him a more nuanced and sympathetic understanding of Augustine, and particularly of the apparently severe, elderly Augustine. Not to say that Brown's presentation of Augustine in the 1967 biography is unnuanced or unsympathetic at all, but that he now sees compassion and kindness in places where he previously saw only rigidity.

For an example of the tone of “New Directions”....

“There is a harshness in my judgements on the old Augustine which the indulgent reader should put down to a young man's lack of experience of the world. Since then I have come to know bishops. Some can be saintly; many are really quite nice; and most are ineffective. They are as ineffective, that is, in the face of a confidently profane world, as Augustine and his colleagues are now revealed by the Divjak letters to have been in their own time. Augustine's writings and the examples of his activities in Africa may have contributed decisively to the formation of Catholic Christendom in Western Europe. But fifth-century African bishops did not live in such a Christendom. They were far from being the undisputed spiritual leaders of a society 'in which church and state had become inextricably interdependent'.” (pg 492)

I read the Epilogue before I started the rest of the book, and I recommend this order, although I suppose the fact that Brown chose to make it an “epilogue” rather than a “prologue” suggests he would not agree with me.

There were so many marvelous passages from Augustine here that picking one is hard, but this one (and I include Brown's words to make the situation clear) nicely conveys what makes him so loveable...

“Not every man lives to see the fundamentals of his life's work challenged in his old age. Yet this is what happened to Augustine during the Pelagian controversy. At the time that the controversy opened, he had reached a plateau. He was already enmeshed in a reputation that he attempted to disown with characteristic charm: 'Cicero, the prince of Roman orators,' he wrote to Marcellinus, in 412, 'says of someone that “He never uttered a word which he would wish to recall.” High praise indeed! – but more applicable to a complete ass than to a genuinely wise man... If God permit me, I shall gather together and point out, in a work specially devoted to this purpose, all the things which justly displease me in my books: then men will see that I am far from being a biased judge in my own case. … For I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress – by writing.'” (pg 354) ( )
  meandmybooks | Aug 27, 2014 |
This is so good! Rightfully considered a classic, and the 1999 epilogue alone is outstanding. ( )
  LudieGrace | Dec 4, 2013 |
This is the best biography I've yet read. It is superb. ( )
  j.a.lesen | Oct 19, 2013 |
Very detailed and intellectual read. Gives a lot of detail on the issues of the day - Augustine's defense against Manichaism, Donatism and Pelagianism. A hard read but good history of our church Father Augustine. ( )
  custisld | Nov 23, 2012 |
Brilliantly written, exhaustive in scope, as near as dammit to the consummate biography, and still unsurpassed in Augustine studies. ( )
  zappa | Oct 21, 2010 |
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When Augustine was born there, in 354, the town of Thagaste (modern Souk Ahras, in Algeria) had existed for 300 years.
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Otherwise by Peter Robert Lamont Brown
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0520227573, Paperback)

This classic biography was first published thirty years ago and has since established itself as the standard account of Saint Augustine's life and teaching. The remarkable discovery recently of a considerable number of letters and sermons by Augustine has thrown fresh light on the first and last decades of his experience as a bishop. These circumstantial texts have led Peter Brown to reconsider some of his judgments on Augustine, both as the author of the Confessions and as the elderly bishop preaching and writing in the last years of Roman rule in north Africa. Brown's reflections on the significance of these exciting new documents are contained in two chapters of a substantial Epilogue to his biography (the text of which is unaltered). He also reviews the changes in scholarship about Augustine since the 1960s. A personal as well as a scholarly fascination infuse the book-length epilogue and notes that Brown has added to his acclaimed portrait of the bishop of Hippo.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:32:30 -0400)

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