Augustine: Conversions and Confessions (Hardback)
  • Augustine: Conversions and Confessions (Hardback)
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Augustine: Conversions and Confessions (Hardback)

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Hardback 672 Pages / Published: 05/11/2015
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WINNER OF THE WOLFSON PRIZE FOR HISTORY 2015 A major new interpretation of how one of the great figures of Christian history came to write the greatest of all autobiographies Augustine 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 it. Robin 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 choices. More 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.

Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
ISBN: 9781846144004
Number of pages: 672
Weight: 1162 g
Dimensions: 241 x 161 x 44 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
Confessions is so perfect that one can't help wondering why anyone would accept the challenge of writing a biography of its author. What could a historian possibly add to this unforgettable story? Fifty years ago we learned how much more there was to say when Peter Brown published his magnificent life, Augustine of Hippo. ... Robin Lane Fox, a British historian retired from Oxford, has now done Brown one better. The author of Pagans and Christians, a superb and accessible study of late antiquity, he has now given us a massive book on roughly the first half of Augustine's life, running from his youth to the writing of Confessions. Brown managed to tell the whole story, from birth to death, with great economy and flair. Fox aims for full immersion, and he conjures the intellectual and social life of the late Roman empire with an almost Proustian relish for detail. Augustine left behind dozens of books and hundreds of letters, all of which Fox seems to have consulted. He also provides vivid sketches of the saint's friends, acquaintances, correspondents, patrons and spiritual enemies. At points I had the sense of being in an American restaurant where each portion is large enough to feed an entire family. But Fox is such a good writer that interest never flags and you always feel that "you are there." -- Mark Lilla * New York Times Book Review *
Lane Fox's book is undoubtedly a watershed in Augustinian studies, close in significance to Peter Brown's great biography in the 1960s. ... the magisterial and compellingly readable narrative ... makes full and creative use of all the best recent scholarship, especially from France ... this is a well-presented book, and a substantial contribution to the field. -- Rowan Williams * New Statesman *
Any reader interested in one of the early church's most influential figures, a saint we know more about than any other from the ancient world, will find this stimulating biography a pleasure to read. -- Peter Jones * Times *
Augustine's Confessions vividly makes present to us the world of the late Roman empire. And Lane Fox, with the power of his writing and deep familiarity with the huge circuit of Augustinian texts, reveals with remarkable enthusiasm and sympathy the spiritual and intellectual drama of his remarkable subject. -- John Cornwell * Financial Times *
A work of scholarship as readable as any historical novel. -- Anthony Kenny * Literary Review *
Lane Fox writes with a historian's gift for exposing the strangeness of a different culture... [his] precise prose clarifies, streamlines and contextualises, taking us chronologically from Augustine's birth to his conversion. Along the way, the specifics of Augustine's own experiences are revealed through comparison with and contrast to two other approximate contemporaries for whom there is plenty of evidence, the brilliant pagan orator Libanius and the charismatic Libyan bishop Synesius. Lane Fox richly paints the quirky, colourful, bizarre life of a provincial, middle class, Latin-speaking north African, whose first allegiance had been to the dualist "true Christianity" of Mani ("the only world religion", we learn, "to have believed in the redemptive power of farts"), and who came to Rome as an outsider, reliant primarily on his native talents... This is how ancient texts should be discussed: with brio, panache, erudition and intuition, but also with sensitivity to the challenges posed by alien cultural frameworks. -- Tim Whitmarsh * Guardian *
One outstanding merit of this consistently interesting and readable book is the wide yet detailed and intimate picture it draws of the Roman world... A classic historian who is not a Christian is in many respects well placed to give the modern reader an accurate sense both of the solid traditions in which Augustine was educated and of the revolutionary scale of his conversation to Christianity... There is a depth of richness and sympathy of understanding of Augustine and his world in this book that makes it an enthralling read. And its thirty-three illustrations, from North Africa and elsewhere, are a joy. -- Lucy Beckett * The Times Literary Supplement *
An erudite and ordered reading of Augustine's Confessions and a worthy addition to any library on early Christianity... Fox systematically explores his subject's well-documented life and provides in-depth background and commentary capable of assisting even seasoned scholars in a deeper understanding of the great autobiography. For instance, Fox presents a lengthy, detailed, and nuanced explanation of the Manichaean heresy that Augustine fervently followed for a time. Thorough background on topics such as this, obscure today but foundational to a full reading of Confessions, provides a true service to readers. * Kirkus *
St Augustine is the person in the ancient world of whom we know the most. His copious writings are wonderfully exploited in Robin Lane Fox's book Augustine: Conversions and Confessions. Many books have been written about Augustine the sinner - many more than about Augustine the bishop. This one stands out from the others for two reasons. First it brings out the saint's uniqueness by comparing his life with that of two other contemporaries, Libanius, a pagan orator, and Synesius, a Christian bishop. Secondly, it draws on recent discoveries to paint for us the background of Augustine's time as a Manichean. The reader is left in agreement with the later Augustine that the religion with which he flirted in his youth was utterly disgusting. -- Anthony Kenny * Tablet (Books of the Year) *
Another wonderfully insightful depiction of a historical world can be found in Robin Lane Fox's Augustine: Conversions and Confessions. Alongside running comparisons of two of Augustine's near-contemporaries from Late Antiquity, Lane Fox presents a kind of triptych study of the saint's profoundly personal and yet universal masterpiece, Confessions. -- William Moore * Evening Standard (Books of the Year) *

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