Book Review: “Saint Augustine” by Gary Wills

Augustine, bishop of Hippo, North Africa, remains a theological interest of mine.  So whenever I can read a biography or something he has written, I look forward to the opportunity.

I have been collecting the Penguin Lives for a couple of years now (in February, I posted a review of Martin Luther by Martin Marty here).  So here goes a few notes on Saint Augustine by Gary Wills, a Pulitzer Prize winner.

The work is divided into three chapters but with headings to trace either the journey or situation, at the time.  Mr. Wills transitions into each chapter and section is quite smooth, for lack of a better term.  The work flows.  It’s lively.  Wills doesn’t have an ax to grind either.  It’s a balanced and revealing work.  Augustine was a flawed human after all.

With such a short work, 176 pages, the reader wasn’t in for a lot of details about Augustine’s life and writings.  However, I believe the reader was treated to sufficient information about Augustines life and most important writings to appreciate this work.  I especially welcomed the information on Jerome, Pelagius, and Ambrose.

I read Augustine’s Confessions in college, two or three times (haven’t read it since), and neither do I remember much of what I read then.  But Wills use of the Confessions, though he prefers the term Testimonies (making a convincing case for this title instead), was something of a treat.  I particularly liked Wills interaction with other scholars and biographers, and not being afraid to disagree with their interpretation of Augustine, especially in the Confessions.

In closing, I must note that Wills does a wonderful job of tracing the theological and intellectual development of Augustine of Hippo, especially the influence of Christianity on him, especially in his later years.  But the reader will not find much in the way of deep and detailed discussions on Augustine’s theology.

Wills short biography of Saint Augustine is worth the read.

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