Recent books on Augustine

augustineA review of several recent books on Augustine.

There have been several recent new books on the great early church theologian, Augustine. Henry Chadwick’s Augustine of Hippo: A Life is a new and distinctive approach to the African bishop who has done so much to shape the development of Western Christendom. When Professor Chadwick died in 2008, the finished manuscript for this book was discovered, and in many ways it is a gem that has been hidden too long.

It charts Augustine’s life story and intellectual development, outlining and explaining his key doctrinal and practical texts such as On the Trinity, The City of God, and the Confessions along the way. It is not too long, and is a well-written book but not simplistic, illuminating for the way in which it shows Augustine not just as a deep thinker but as a pastor, thinking deeply for the sake of his ministry to people. Chadwick seems not to entirely “get” the heart of Augustine’s soteriology, as far as I can see, and so Pelagius comes across as a better theologian and Augustine as less of a Calvinist than one might expect.

Miles Hollingworth’s Saint Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography is more detailed on the ideas that make Augustine so influential (as well as passionate and poetic at times), and Matthew Levering’s The Theology of Augustine: An Introductory Guide to his Most Important Works is a surer guide to the theology. Yet Chadwick’s long lost biography will be the first port of call for more ordinary readers.

Younger readers, however, will benefit immensely from a new book by Simonetta Carr, as will parents. Augustine of Hippo is a beautifully-produced hardback book for children, with illustrations by Wes Lowe. It is part of a series called “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” which includes volumes on Athanasius, Anselm, John Knox, John Calvin, Lady Jane Grey, and John Owen. Carr has done her research admirably, and is clearly clued up on the history and theology of her subjects, not least Augustine. This book covers Augustine’s life from his childhood, to conversion, and later ministry without shying away from the controversies in which he was involved.

The only blemish is that my (then) 9 year old son Joshua spotted a mistake on page 46 when we first read this together: the Visigoth King, Alaric, did not attack Christian Rome in 410 BC. This is only a small quibble of course (but one I am compelled to point out by aforementioned offspring!). The print is clear and large, the chapters just the right length, the illustrations rich, colourful, and varied in style. The overall message is one of God’s grace towards us and how the gospel is passed on from one generation to the next. A book at bedtime for kids anywhere between 7 and 12, which may well teach parents a thing or two as well.

This review was first published in Churchman 128/2 (2014).

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