Augustine: Conversions and Confessions PDF ☆
A fascinating in depth study of St.Augustine up to the time of the writing of his Confessions. With the possible exception of Julius Caesar, Augustine s is the most fully documented individual life of antiquity The difference is, rather than a history of exploits and political machination, Augustine offers a spiritual journey in his own words, combining theology and introspection His Confessions represent the birth of a new literary form you get to know what philosophical issues he personally struggled with, what he sought to accomplish, and how he felt in a time of great upheaval In terms of his wider significance, his writings helped to frame Christian theological debates in the west for the next 1,300 years As one of the greatest writers who ever lived, I hoped this biography would place him and his thought in context.For the conversions portion of the book, Fox gives a splendid portrayal of Augustine s life and times This part of the book is far and away the best Born to a pagan father and Christian mother, Augustine is part of the minor gentry in a Roman outpost of N Africa From an early age, he distinguishes himself as outstandingly brilliant and finds a wealthy patron early on, who enables him to pursue a career in rhetoric, eventually decamping to Rome where he can study with the best in the Latin world, though he never mastered Greek This path was typical for the time he learned to write and speak in the preferred forms, which were highly developed and specific, even rarified, referencing in particular the classical pagan authors his favorites were Cicero and Virgil He could make a living teaching the same to pupils as well as serving as a propagandist to the powerful Eventually, he was hired for a plum job in the Emperor s Court in Milan, where he got to know the Bishop, Ambrose, intimately In his personal life, he loved a concubine, who gave him a much loved son and satisfying sex, for which he seems to have had quite the appetite Soon, he was fianceed to the heir of a prominent family, which would open a life a provincial administration to him, about the highest rank to which a man of his stature could aspire.Underneath the successes that continued to come his way, Augustine felt uneasy and somehow unfulfilled, like he was doing things wrong, like he wasn t a good enough person Frequently, these sins caused him to despair Displeasing his demanding mother later Saint Monnica , at about the age of 20 he had joined the Manicheens, a quasi Christian heretical sect they had a bizarrely complicated cosmology, with gods of both good and evil whose essences had mixed and produced the earth Though not one of the elect, he was fascinated by their explanations of life, their strict codes, and recondite practices e.g., though celibate, the elect would make love with a virgin follower, releasing their seed onto a bed of flour they lay in, which was then baked as especially holy bread The sect was extremely influential, its images and ideas extending as far as China The book contains the best explanation of their ideas that I have yet seen, which was a great treat Unfortunately for Augustine, not only was the sect illegal to the point of execution, but he had difficulties with its theology, in particular with its notions of the inherent, irredeemable evil of the human body and mind.About the time of his conversion to Christianity, Augustine decided he had to give up rhetoric to pursue philosophy, which he had never studied formally To do so, he gathered a small group of students in a retreat near Milan, where he began to produce dialogues similar to those of Plato It was here that he concluded that while Plato was on the right track, it was only by accepting Christ that they could obtain absolute truth, which with some mystical experiences in direct contact with God he believed he had found Due to a dangerous political situation, he eventually decamped back to North Africa, where he founded a kind of monastery Soon, he was reluctantly promoted, first to priest and later to Bishop.Fox offers fascinating context As minor gentry, Augustine had certain, often costly, responsibilities for local administrative and judicial affairs, including tax collection and arbitration To concentrate his prodigious energies on writing and evangelizing, he received special permission to sell his properties and use the profits for his religious activities In addition, Augustine renounced all worldly ambition and pledged celibacy, both of which went against his nature and were major sources of guilt in his earlier life There is a great deal of detail about monastic life, such as the sanction for nocturnal emissions often than once every 4 months, the normal rate of buildup of bodily fluids Fox also described the lives of several of his contemporaries, which provide indispensable contrasts to Augustine s chosen course one of them, a pagan, even wrote an autobiography extolling his career and settling a number of bitter feuds.At this point, the book becomes much about Augustine s theological concerns, esp his battles with the Manicheens and another sect, the Donatists, who had a parallel system of virtually identical churches The details of these disputes are rather dull and obscure, at least to me, and I thought the book bogged down pretty badly for the last 200 pages or so But beyond his brilliant and popular Confessions, Augustine decisively marked the theology of his time First, he established perhaps based on a faulty translation into Latin arguments in favor of original sin, whereby Adam s mistake tainted the following generations with sin regardless of their acts, advancing the idea that baptism was the only remedy Second, Augustine wrestled with the notion of free will in the context of the elect or chosen ones, whom God favored even prior to their births This would become a major issue in the Reformation There are other theological issues, but the subtleties of most of them were beyond my interest.This is a very scholarly book, chock full of theses and controversies argued in proofs, such as the duration of Augustine s writing process I found them pretty dull as I am a lay reader, but students certainly may find them interesting and they seem up to date Many new letters of sermons by Augustine have been found recently, etc Further, the book essentially stops once the Confessions are written, offering only perfunctory references to his later masterwork, The City of God, and his near 30 year career as the Bishop of Hippo.In spite of my criticisms, this is a good book that is worth a careful read, it is often a very good read Recommended. I am only a short way through Robin Lane Fox s book on the first part of Augustine s life but already am confident in awarding it 5 stars It is readable, scholarly and highly informative on the social context of Augustine s life something I was confused about before. good value In total agreement with the below comment The book is gripping and compelling, whilst Garry Wills vindictive unclear why so NYRB review is calmly and incisively exposed in Lane Fox s response see Excellent A major new interpretation of how one of the great figures of Christian history came to write the greatest of all autobiographiesAugustine is the person from the ancient world about whom we know most He is the author of an intimate masterpiece, the Confessions, which continues to delight its many admirers In it he writes about his infancy and his schooling in the classics in late Roman North Africa, his remarkable mother, his sexual sins Give me chastity, but not yet, he famously prayed , his time in an outlawed heretical sect, his worldly career and friendships and his gradual return to God His account of his own eventual conversion is a classic study of anguish, hesitation and what he believes to be God s intervention It has inspired philosophers, Christian thinkers and monastic followers, but it still leaves readers wondering why exactly Augustine chose to compose a work like none before itRobin Lane Fox follows Augustine on a brilliantly described journey, combining the latest scholarship with recently found letters and sermons by Augustine himself to give a portrait of his subject which is subtly different from older biographies Augustine s heretical years as a Manichaean, his relation to non Christian philosophy, his mystical aspirations and the nature of his conversion are among the aspects of his life which stand out in a sharper light For the first time Lane Fox compares him with two contemporaries, an older pagan and a younger Christian, each of whom also wrote about themselves and who illumine Augustine s life and writings by their different choicesMore than a decade passed between Augustine s conversion and his beginning the Confessions Lane Fox argues that the Confessions and their thinking were the results of a long gestation over these years, not a sudden change of perspective, but that they were then written as a single swift composition and that its final books are a coherent consummation of its scriptural meditation and personal biography This exceptional study reminds us why we are so excited and so moved by Augustine s story Utterly brilliant book Cannot understand review by Garry Wills which is full of errors and malicious misrepresentation Lane Fox rebutted all criticisms in the 10 Mar NYRB now on line Wills s reply adds nothing of any value this is a great book which fully merits the glowing reviews it received from reviewers and academic.this is a 5 bookcannot help wondering is Wills is waging some private vendetta This ambitious book is not an easy read Indeed, one is best to already be familiar with some of Augustine s writings and especially the Confessions rightly named as an extended prayer rather than a spiritual autobiography Not being an Augustinian scholar,I have not been able, yet, to do the book justice Ironically, for the author to begin with a caveat that he is not religious or part of a spiritual community, he demonstrates a respectfully sensitive empathy to Augustine s thought, passions, life story, his challenging era, etc Fox has a fully helpful index which I have found best to work with its subtitle is an instructive guide into the whole of the author s intentions I am glad it part of my small Augustine library Robin, you have tried your best, but have not yet achieved the perfection of the perfect biographer Not your fault, considering the fact that the intellectual achievements of Augustine is so vast, that no mind , can capture them in a 800 page biography.
- Audio CD
- Augustine: Conversions and Confessions
- Robin Lane Fox
- 24 April 2019 Robin Lane Fox