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Augustine: A New Biography

Product no.: 978-0060533384
Hardly a hagiography here, former Augustine aficionado O'Donnell gives his good bishop the tabloid treatment. Speculation run amok.

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Publisher's Synopsis
In this eye-opening and eminently readable biography, renowned historical scholar James J. O’Donnell picks up where Augustine himself left off to offer a fascinating, in-depth portrait of an unparalleled politician, writer, and churchman in a time of uncertainty and religious turmoil.

Augustine is a triumphant chronicle of an extraordinary life that is certain to surprise and enlighten even those who believed they knew the complex and remarkable man of God.

"The Augustines that O'Donnell sketches include the aspiring social climber who transferred his ambitions from society to church; the bitter and dogged polemicist; and Don Quixote of Hippo, whose 'fantasy world of earliest Christianity has come eerily to be real.' O'Donnell's pace is quick, his writing is sharp and there are lively and provocative interpretations on nearly every page.

But his jaundiced portrait does not quite seem to do justice to the African bishop's perennial appeal, which O'Donnell acknowledges in characteristically backhanded fashion: 'Call it codependency or Stockholm syndrome at its mildest; call it religious partisanship at its most extreme, but even Augustine's severest modern critics find something attractive or fascinating about the man and his work.' Readers of this book will certainly wonder why. For O'Donnell, it seems, familiarity has bred contempt."        ~Publishers Weekly

"O'Donnell has undertaken to do what needed to be done. He has done it with brio and erudition, although a little less brio and a little more erudition would have been welcome. We get much more from Peter Brown himself, who wrote a searching reappraisal of his own Augustine of Hippo in a new edition published in 2000. Brown added an epilogue in two substantial parts to take detailed account of the new discoveries and to ponder their implications for the narrative he had written more than 30 years before.

He recognized that the quotidian chores of the bishop in his North African context emerge much more clearly now and serve to mitigate the authoritarian character of Augustine in his contacts with a sometimes unruly flock, with Donatists and with pagans. 'Precisely because the new evidence consists of sermons and letters,' Brown wrote, 'it has tipped the balance, in my mind, towards a consideration of the more humdrum, the less successful and the more gentle, painstaking aspects of Augustine's life as a bishop in North Africa.' As a consequence, in speculating on the book he would write if he were to start all over again, he observed, 'Augustine can now be placed against a richer and more variegated landscape than was the case in the 1960's.'

O'Donnell's biography by no means replaces Peter Brown's masterpiece, even for a new generation of readers, but it is the work of an impressive Augustinian, eager to promote his subject. It vigorously depicts the teeming world of late antique North Africa and Augustine's responses to its many uncertainties and tumults. We can watch the bishop toiling in a particularly untidy and unlovely vineyard of the Lord. O'Donnell cannot be faulted for assuming that this makes Augustine's achievement even more astonishing."        ~The New York Times

"He succeeded in destroying the morale and the organization of the native African Christian Church, the so-called Donatists, and left it a prey to the combined forces of Arians and Vandals who arrived in Africa just as he was dying. He did his church few favors, and he had few friends… He set a style for ambitious churchmen aligned with state authority that had hitherto been seen mainly in the Greek east. His transfer of that model to the west is perhaps the most baleful of his achievements."

Author O'Donnell, James J.
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 432 pp.
Publisher HarperCollins Publishers 2006
Browse these categories as well: The Church: Doctors, Saints and Mystics, Spiritual Biography and Autobiography, The Early Church and Gnosticism, Noteworthy Releases 2006

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