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4.0 out of 5 stars Context is key, 13 Dec. 2012
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P. Thomas - See all my reviews
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I came to this wonderful book knowing a little about Augustine: I had read 'Confessions' and 'On Grace and Free Will' and I had heard Augustine's name vilified all too often by people who have attributed ideas and doctrines to him that take no account of his own context. Thus this book was a revelation to me. Peter Brown sets Augustine firmly in his context as a citizen of the Late Roman Empire, as a North African Christian, as a philosopher enamoured of Plotinus, as a bishop and as a Christian endeavouring to lead a Christian life.
it is this context that is so illuminating. Suddenly, Augustine's views on baptism, sex, original sin and predestination make total sense, given his thought-world and the socio-political situation.
my one criticism is that the book was appallingly punctuated, with so many uses of a comma before 'that' (rather than 'which')as to drive me to distraction. I have also read Brown's The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Diversity 200-1000 AD (Making of Europe) and don't remember it suffering from the same calamitous punctuation, so can only conclude that a rogue editor or a typographer is responsible.
That notwithstanding, this book is well worth reading if you want to gain a more nuanced view of someone who has come to be regarded in some sections of the evangelical church as a whipping-boy for every distasteful idea in Christian history.
Brown closes the main part of his biography with a quote from Possidius, Augustine's first biographer: `Yet I think that those who gained most from him were those who had been able actually to see and hear him as he spoke in Church, and, most of all, those who had some contact with the quality of his life among men.' this book, with its many quotes from Augustine's works, letters and sermons might just be the next best thing to having met the man himself.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Excellent, 31 Jan. 2013
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This is a brilliant account of Augustine's life, divided roughly chronologically but also by topics, such as his friendships and his mother. It is always supported by reference to primary literature, but Peter Brown doesn't shy away from giving his (very educated) opinion, either, which makes for a more engaging read. It is rightly regarded as a classic.
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