on 21 September 2000
Why should I buy a study of St. Augustine which is 30 years old, and I have already on my shelves? Because Peter Brown, in this new revised edition, adds to an unchanged text another 65 pages plus notes, which take into account two dramatic finds which occurred since his book was first published.There are the 'Divjak Letters' found in 1975 and the 'Dolbeau Sermons' discovered in 1990. These add considerably to our understanding of Augustine. But in the 30 years, Brown himself has matured enormously, as we might expect. I always had the feeling with the original edition that he understood the period very well, but missed out on the essential Augustine. If this was true in the past, it certainly is not so now. For that alone, this book is worth buying. The second chapter of Brown's Epilogue considers the new directions in Augustinian studies. Certainly, there has ben a renaissance in English language publications, most recently with O'Connell's magisterial 3 volume edtion of the Confessions and Alan Fitzgerald's astounding encyclopaedia: Augustine through the Ages. But Brown remarks that other small biographies have come to be written since he first wrote, concerning asceticism and monastic practice in the life of Augustine. I feel that much more need to be done here, as Augustine's only wish was to be a monk, and other preferments were forced upon him. Augustine as the 'Servant of God'' needs looking at still, if we are to have a rounded picture of him All in all, I thank Peter Brown for providing us witha good overview of Augustine in the light of the recent discoveries and the new directions.
on 3 January 1998
This is the best biography I have ever read. Brown does a superb job of synthesizing an immense amount of biographical and textual information. The book is comprehensive and thorough without ever becoming tedious or heavy -handed. In fact, Brown writes so well that the book would probably be enjoyed by people who are not paricularly interested in Augustine. It is remarkable that Brown can do all of this in fewer than 500 pages, when biographies of figures far less significant than Augustine often exceed 1000. The only limitation to the book is that the author, as he himself freely admits, does not attempt to grapple with Augustine's most profound theological writings such as "The Trinity".
It is extremely easy to view a Saint in one-dimensional terms of goodness. Peter Brown has penned a multi-faceted portrayal of the human being behind the saintliness. In a biography in which scholarliness does not impede readability, Brown conducts his readers on a fascinating journey from 4th/5th-century Roman Africa, to Rome, Milan, and back full circle to Roman Africa. In the process of the journey, he brings his insight to the life of an admittedly less-than-perfect man, his less-than-perfect family, and the turmoil and ferment of a multi-cultural society rent by riots, the strife of heresy, the depredations of imperial taxmen, strong-arm landlords, religious fanatics, and "barbarians."
The See of Hippo Regius represented an oasis in Augustine's troubled world. As Bishop, he intervened with the landlords, he interceded on behalf of prisoners, he gave succor to his small community; he gave alms to the poor. Augustine, according to Brown, prized humanitas, and it is appropriate that the publishers have chosen Carpaccio's very human portrayal of Augustine--his face uplifted in expectation to the light--for the cover of this splendid book.
I especially enjoyed reading Professor Brown's analysis of the "Confessions," which he envisions as a truly revolutionary work among what was once a plethora of conversion tales, which, Brown explains, usually dwelt on the experience after the conversion, burying the pagan past forever. Augustine, as one infers from reading his autobiography, is haunted by his past; he cannot let it go; and, according to Brown, the "Confessions" works as sort of a therapy; an antidote to the guilty pleasures of Cicero and Vergil, even though Augustine cannot help incorporating echos of Plotinus and Neo-Platonism into his thought. "Augustine of Hippo" makes a perfect companion piece to Augustine's "Confessions.
Indeed, Peter Brown's biography ought to be required reading for students of the late Roman Empire.