Friday, December 05, 2008

A Very Short Intro to Augustine

Earlier this week I mentioned reading a couple of short books over Thanksgiving and commented on one of them. The second book is Henry Chadwick’s Augustine: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2001). This book is only 134 pages and is a great size for carrying in a coat pocket. Chadwick, who died earlier this year, was a prominent Anglican theologian well acquainted with the writings of Augustine, and he provided here an accessible stimulating overview of the life and work of this key theologian of the early church.

As I have said before, I think these brief surveys of key people or issues by people imminently familiar with the topic and qualified is a great service to the rest of us. I had a basic awareness of Augustine already but this book in brief compass has substantially increased my awareness and appreciation of Augustine, his formative influences, setting and writings.

Here is a sampling of quotes from the book. Quotes directly from Augustine’s works are indicated by wo sets of quote marks and reference to the source:

“Among ancient men he had an unsurpassed power to articulate feelings.” 1

[as he was moved towards conversion]“The professor of rhetoric found that his copy of the Pauline letters was becoming important to him.” 26

“’Vision will be granted to him who lives well, prays well, and studies well’ (O ii. 51)” 36

“Augustine records with some astonishment that there were contemporary Christians in Africa who read no book other than the Bible . . . . He was sure that wider studies were necessary. A biblical scholar needed to know some history, geography, natural science, mathematics, logic, and rhetoric (how to write and speak clearly and appropriately). There could be places where a little knowledge of technology might well help the interpreter. Certainly some knowledge of Greek was most valuable for checking translations and variant readings.” 27

“ ‘one should begin each day not with complacency that one has survived another day but with compunction that one more day of one’s allotted span has forever passed’.” (T xiii.12) 45

“The lay community met regularly for daily prayers and recitation of the Psalter. (It is hard to exaggerate the importance of the Psalter for Augustine’s spirituality; psalm quotations have been shown to be essential to the very structure of the Confessions.)” 46

“He wanted to be a monk, not a busy town parson continually beset by unreasonable people.” 58

“ ‘He who does not think of the world to come, he who is a Christian for any reason other than that he may receive God’s ultimate promises, is not yet a Christian’ (S 9.4).” 59

“But he was sure that those who praised a bishop for being easygoing could only be wicked people (P 128.4).” 63

“At long last I came to love you, beauty so ancient, yet ever new.’ (C x.37).” 74

“ ‘Take away justice, and what are governments but brigandage on a grand scale?’ (CD 4.4).” 106

“. . . but he remained pre-eminently a master of persuasive speech. . . . A fascination with words never left him.” 125-126

Abbreviations of sources:
O- De Ordine (On Order)
T- De Trinitae (On the Trinity)
S- Sermones (Sermons)C- Confessions

C- Confessions
CD- De Civitate Dei (The City of God)

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