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Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism (Emblems of Antiquity) Hardcover – April 6, 2012


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Product Details

  • Series: Emblems of Antiquity
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780199768516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199768516
  • ASIN: 019976851X
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #724,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


"Unusually instructive...But he does more than bring us down from the fairy-tale roof of the Duomo of Milan (the usual goal of tourists) to the ruins that now lie hidden beneath the ground. He takes us for a vertiginous drop of almost 1,800 years into a Christianity profoundly different from our own." --New York Review of Books


"Wills shows where Ambrose and Augustine differed from each other in theology, temperament, and even ritual preference. He engagingly offers insight into the religion, politics, and culture of the time." -- Library Journal


"A small masterpiece of exposition." --Booklist


"A well-researched and fascinating historical look at Ambrose, Augustine, and the sacrament of baptism." --Publishers Weekly


"Garry Wills is as deft and compelling when he untangles the ideas and politics of the age of Augustine as when he writes about John Wayne or Abraham Lincoln. This is a work of fresh and genuinely original scholarship told with verve and a keen sense of why the issues of fourth-century Milan still matter today."--James J. O'Donnell, Georgetown University


"The font in the Milan baptistery where Ambrose baptized Augustine at Easter 387 provides the setting for Garry Wills's dramatic evocation of the relations between two of the most powerful and influential figures in the early Christian church. He reveals the personal and theological distance that separated them in the years before and after the baptism. Wills's depiction of Augustine's confrontation with Ambrose is like a magnificent diptych in which the figures take on shifting forms and colors as the light changes. This is a nuanced, perceptive, and utterly persuasive account of two great men."--G. W. Bowersock, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton


"The author's affection for his subjects fills out the human picture...The book surveys the intersection of the lives of two of the Latin patriarchs who left great, if different, marks on the church. It explores theology with narrative flow. It makes serious points with grace."--America


"An interesting and evocative addition to Wills's impressive corpus." -- Christian Century


About the Author


Garry Wills is the author of many books, including Bomb Power, What Jesus Meant, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

More About the Author

Garry Wills is one of the most respected writers on religion today. He is the author of Saint Augustine's Childhood, Saint Augustine's Memory, and Saint Augustine's Sin, the first three volumes in this series, as well as the Penguin Lives biography Saint Augustine. His other books include "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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I heartily recommend this book - and its writer!
Chira the Innkeeper's Wife
The book tells of the tenure of St. Ambrose as the bishop of Milan, and his influence on baptismal ceremonies.
Frank J. Konopka
To say that it is an enlightening work, is an oversimplification.
Michael E. Nader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Chira the Innkeeper's Wife on July 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Garry Wills convincingly brings two Church Fathers to life (and they are like us). Philosophy and philosophical debate in the Greek tradition, I have learned in Font of Life, gave us many of the beliefs of our faith as Christians. This has caused me to rethink my own belief system to try hard not to philosophize. I love this book: it's well-written, interesting, informative, and has photos to bring the places Mr. Wills describes to life. I heartily recommend this book - and its writer!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Wyman Richardson on February 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Here is a fascinating, insightful work on a particular little slice of church history. Garry Wills' Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, & the Mystery of Baptism explores the nature of 4th century baptism in Milan and in Hippo through the stories of the two figures that dominated those two cities in that time: Ambrose and Augustine, respectively. The book also explores the complex relationship between Ambrose and Augustine and how, over time, Augustine was driven to a more explicit appreciation for Ambrose as he, Augustine, conflicted with the Pelagians (who likewise attempted to appeal to Ambrose).

The baptismal details are utterly fascinating. Wills demonstrates Ambrose's almost theatrical approach to the act of baptism with persuasive detail. This is not to say that Ambrose indulged in empty, cheap theatrics. Rather, it is simply to say that Ambrose developed a much more exhaustive, detailed and visual pageantry around the act than Augustine would after his departure from Milan for Hippo. To some extent, Ambrose's approach to baptism was shaped by his battle with the Arians just as Augustine's will be by his battles with the Donatists and Pelagians. Augustine's more scaled-back approach would also be influenced by the more rustic and less-sophisticated nature of Hippo itself, in contrast to Milan.

As a Baptist Christian, the details of the baptismal practices of both men challenged me in many ways. On the one hand, the seriousness with which they approached the preparatory rites for the catechumens has caused me to think long and hard about the amount of care we take in preparing people for baptism today.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Daniel T. Benedict Jr. on January 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Font of Life offers the reader a close look at two 4th century bishops and their approach to baptism through the lenses of architectural, political, theological, and pastoral realities. Willis' seems to draw more heavily upon Ambrose, perhaps because he has more access to Ambrose's Milan than to Augustine's Hippo. This could also reflect his assessment that Augustine, by contrast with Ambrose, was a baptismal minimalist. The book is a good read for those who are interested in period history or in ancient ritual practice as it was shaped by contextual realities. I am a pastor/scholar deeply interested in the development of early catechumenate as it informs the church's practice today, so Font of Life was a really good read for me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By W. Jamison VINE VOICE on February 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In this book GW stretches his examination of Augustine's life into that of Ambrose to see how much impact Ambrose had on him. Oddly, the investigation turns out that while the impact was there and Augustine needed Ambrose, the connection was not really as strong as traditionally thought, but that there were others doctrinally more important. There is also the exploration of the structures in Milan and the conflicts between Ambrose and the emperor and secular authorities over ownership / dominance over the churches. As the emperor was Arian and non-Nicene this conflict was certainly consequential. It was also instructive for Augustine since in his 30 some years as Bishop he would make use of lessons learned from how Ambrose managed those same practical affairs. Details in the change in emphasis on Baptism are interesting and tie in with later traditions as essentially Augustine dominated these.
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