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on February 1, 2000
Anyone who is familiar with Garry Wills over the past 30 years is familiar with his interest in Saint Augustine. As he put it when he was in college and the seminary he learned much about Saint Thomas Aquinas, but relatively little about Saint Augustine. Once he had been out in the world for bit he realized that he was returning over and over where Saint Augustine while Saint Thomas Aquinas stayed on as bookshelf.
Wills does two corrections right off the bat that helped to avoid a lot of confusion and made the human drama in Africa more alive. First, he renamed the Confessions the Testimony, since "confessions" in this case doesn't mean going into a box or getting the third degree. "Confessions" means this is what Saint Augustine believed, pure and simple.
Second, he names Saint Augustine's mistress, because Augustine never does. Wills gives her the name Una, meaning one, for she was the one. Wills makes the good point that Saint Augustine may have had a love life that was torrid, but compared to our century, he and Una were like the college couple next door. Saint Augustine, all through his life, was never promiscuous. Augustine and Una had one son from their association, whose name Wills translates as Godsend (from Adeodatus). Augustine was not pleased with the birth, though Godsend became a constant companion until his birth after Augustine returned to Africa.
Augustine founded a monastic order that exists to this day. Two American colleges (Villanova and Merrimack) are Augustinian schools. He wrote and expounded on a wide range of topics. His meditation on the Trinity is still compelling: The Father created the Son, and the love between the two formed the Holy Spirit. In an earlier work, Wills said that the first two verses of St. John's Gospel have a sense of turning, as the Father beheld (and turned) on the Concept (logos).
Still another idea was that of original sin, the sin of Adam or the shortcomings we all have for being human. St. Augustine worked that out, and many give their assent to the notion. Wills, in another work, said that he thought original sin said that the human race had a past, as people once talked of women having pasts. Thomas Merton rings in by saying original sin was self-centeredness, and few would deny that an infant is totally self-centered. And G. K. Chesterton wrote that original sin explained why, on a beautiful summer Sunday afternoon, two young children would decide to torture the cat.
For a book so short, it contains a mine of ideas and information. I'm a fan of Wills, and I've read many of his books. I've been waiting for this book for some years now, and this book did not disappoint me.
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on December 5, 2012
Great Life -
Excellent, well written, enjoyable. Brings History to life without being over pious. Like me , he said he didn't 'know' Greek. Im sure he had as much Greek as I have.
I liked the picture on the first edition showing Augustine in his 'street' clothes. The new picture of a mitered bishop is a bit too much. Miters came in much later and maybe they should be dumped now. This is even mentioned in the text. EvXaristou!
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on October 12, 2016
Challenging thoughts.
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on July 2, 2014
This relatively short book does and excellent job of explaining St. Augustine, for those of us who have always wanted to know a little bit more about him.
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on March 28, 2014
Interesting look at Augustine's thoughts by a prolific writer who usually has a different take than usual. A well educated author who writes well.
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on September 8, 2014
The shipment was quick and the book is excellent reading.
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on January 13, 2011
Garry Wills is an excellent writer. Saint Augustine: A Life is insightful yet not pedantic. Wills captures the life of a giant of a man who had a significant impact on religious history. It provides good reading for anyone.
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on March 1, 2009
Here, as in his other works, Garry Wills gets under the surface of his subject as does no other author. His analysis of classical language, where appropriate, gives an unique insight into whomever and whatever his focus may be settled upon. This is an excellent complementary volume to Peter Brown's monumental work on the same subject.
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on October 19, 2006
Any biography on Augustine will always linger in the shadow of the great Peter Brown's work, which is a classic treatment of the philosopher/bishop without rival in the English speaking world. Therefore, anyone desiring a complete portrait of St Augustine must first behold the masterpiece found in the pages of Brown's Augustine of Hippo. This being done, Wills book can be fully appreciated. Some notable aspects of this compact but wholesome biography are (1) his ability to bring into focus some of the more obscure details of Augustine's early life, as they are found spilled out on the pages of the Confessions. (2) Wills cleverly renders "confessions" into "the testimony," thereby greatly enhancing the meaning of the entire text of Augustine's Confessions. (3) The author also does a fine job discussing the various individuals who impacted his life: in particular, his overview of Augustine's relationship with his concubine, who Wills craftily names Una, is fantastic, just as it is with his son Adeodatus and others who were close to him. (4) The authors' brief but profound discourses on the key revolutions in Augustine's intellectual and spiritual odyssey, and on his literary and ecclesiastical exploits, will also be welcomed by the reader for all their insight and terseness.(5) Wills also makes some rather innovative--but stunning--assertions such as the down-playing of the role of St Monica and St Ambrose on Augustine's conversion. (6) Possibly the best aspect of Wills work, is the revelation of the optimistic, pastoral and compassionate side of Augustine--a characteristic that most scholars don't care to spend too much time cultivating. Overall it would be safe to say that this is not a good introductory work, however it will be very stimulating to anyone who has previously read Brown's classic or a lot of Augustine's writings first-hand.
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Even beginning to understand such a one as Augustine, so far removed from us by millenniums, language, and customs, is a formidable task. But Wills is up to it.
He warns in his introduction that too many approach Augustine on shaky foundations: "such academic conjecture is based on many kinds of ignorance." In other words, even academics can be ignorant, especially when it comes to the things of God and His servants, such as Augustine. But Wills is careful to give just enough background on the life, times and writings of Augustine to help the reader move from ignorance to knowledge of this early Church Father.
As Wills observes about Augustine's writing: "The text does not deliver us a product but calls us into a process." So it seems that Augustine's goal was to move his readers into a closer relationship with the Trinity instead of languishing in the battles with the many heresies of his day.
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