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Saint Augustine of Hippo

2013

US Publisher:
Oxford University Press

UK Publisher:
Bloomsbury Publishing

From the Publisher:

St. Augustine was undoubtedly one of the great thinkers of the early church. Yet it has long been assumed – and not without reason – that the main lines of his thought have been more or less fixed since his death. That insofar as we should be aware of him in the twenty-first century, he is a figure described, if not circumscribed, by his times.

A major revisionist reading of Augustine’s life and thought, Saint Augustine of Hippo overturns this assumption. In a stimulating and provocative reinterpretation of Augustine’s ideas and their position in the Western intellectual tradition, Miles Hollingworth, though well versed in the latest scholarship, draws his inspiration largely from the actual narrative of Augustine’s life. By this means he reintroduces a cardinal but long-neglected fact to the center of Augustinian studies: that there is a direct line from Augustine’s own early experiences of life to his later commentaries on humanity. Augustine’s new Christianity did not – in blunt assaults of dogma and doctrine – obliterate what had gone before. Instead, it actually caught a subtle and reflective mind at the point when it was despairing of finding the truth. Christianity vindicated a disquiet that Augustine had been feeling all along: he felt that it alone had spoken to his serious rage about man, abandoned to the world and dislocated from all real understanding by haunting glimpses of the Divine.

A significant new treatment of Augustine on all fronts, this superb intellectual biography shines a bright light on a genuinely neglected element in his writings. In so doing it introduces us to Augustine as he emerges from the unique circumstances of his early life, struggling with ironies and inconsistencies that we might just find in our own lives as well.

Recommendation by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

This is a book whose style and feel are really worthy of Augustine himself — humane and probing, full of telling metaphor and seriousness about the strangeness of human experience. It is capable of doing for a new generation a great deal of what Peter Brown’s epochal biography did half a century ago.

Reviews

“Hollingworth patiently explains Augustine to the modern reader, imagined as someone in whom a naïve historicism holds sway and in whom Augustine’s claims, such as the damnation of unbaptized infants and the value of virginity, are easily ridiculed. He does so by appeal to the human struggles of a great man. This type of presentation justifies the subtitle, ‘An Intellectual Biography’; it is a study that embeds a person’s ideas within their historical context. One can query this approach and raise issues concerning the historiography, but it brings readers closer to Augustine in all his complexity.” – Jason Freddi, The Heythrop Journal

“The most striking thing is the author’s style which reminded me of Augustine’s view of Scripture as a many layered text and one containing both plain and more obscure passages. There is indeed some refreshing, straightforward narrative in this book when the events of Augustine’s life are related. It is, though, engagement with the denser and more metaphorical passages which is so rewarding and, in some cases, frankly, transformative…

Hollingworth shows why it is that Augustine has such broad appeal; not just because he finds him surprisingly humane and enlightened about our propensity to sin but because of the positive spin that he puts on the absence of God experience and the hope of meaning that his interpretation of the restless heart gives to those who suffer existential angst and radical doubt.

This is therefore a book for all seekers after the Truth: theist and atheist as well as all lovers of Augustine.” – Margaret Lane, Theology

“In this book, the saint becomes a man again. The lusty teenager becomes a 76-year-old who has lost a lover and a son and is dying in bed in a town besieged by the Vandals, with the Psalms of David fixed to his walls and his mind still striving. However, the earthly is not all. The brilliance of Augustine then becomes all the more dazzling, as Hollingworth allows us to see inside that mind. To see the whirl of ideas and aspirations, dreams, metaphors, self-loathing and self-confidence, inherited notions and bold leaps of imagination that somehow came together as words that changed the world. We understand ourselves better if we understand this man. Miles Hollingworth’s book is a valuable, enlightening contribution to our understanding of Augustine. You’ll need a little faith at times, to keep going, but you will be rewarded.” – Cole Moreton, The Telegraph (Read the full review HERE)

“Hollingworth’s strength lies in his presentation of Augustine’s ideas, imaginatively explored from infancy to old age. This is a rewarding book, to be most enjoyed by those interested in intellectual history. Hollingworth takes the time to explain Augustine’s debt to classical philosophy (especially to Plato, whose insights were then already nearly a millennium old) and to Christian teaching. Most interestingly of all, he frequently pushes further to link these lines of thought to modern philosophical discussions of language, reality and experience… What’s missing is any equally pressing sense of the history of the Roman empire in the late fourth century AD. To be sure, there are significant gains in concentrating on understanding Augustine as a thinker, but there is also a risk of discounting too quickly the impact on Augustine’s thought of an empire in decline and fall, fracturing under the heavy pressure of barbarian invasions. Too often the reader has the impression of overhearing Augustine and Hollingworth in their own interior dialogue. In that sense, reading this intellectual biography is like admiring the best of Chinese watercolours: a detailed and beautifully delineated figure stands out sharply against an indistinct and misty landscape. ” – Christopher Kelly, BBC History Magazine

“Bizarre as it may sound, Augustine is still in need of rescue after all these centuries. In his fascinating, nuanced study Hollingworth has accepted and come close to fulfilling this important mission. It is one of the best books about Augustine that I have ever read. This is very much an intellectual biography – you will learn a huge amount about Augustine’s writings – but it does not neglect the man… Hollingworth is especially good on Augustine and sex. His point of view, needless to say, became that ‘of the practitioner turned ascetic’, but anyone who thinks it is easy to sum up Augustine’s attitude towards sexuality should read this volume and think again.” – Jonathan Wright, Catholic Herald

“Persistence will be rewarded with enlightenment – This book demands your full attention but will pay rich dividends in return.” – Australian Financial Review

“In revealing the astonishing pertinence of Augustine to our own circumstances, Hollingworth is at his strongest, always aware, as Augustine was, of the depth of the gulf between priorities of the self, self-satisfaction, self-motivation, self-promotion on the one hand, and on the other submission to the reality and the love of God.” – Lucy Beckett, Times Literary Supplement

“[Hollingworth’s] book isn’t a substitute for reading the original texts but an introduction to them, and his great achievement is that his audience goes away with questions that fuel a desire for more.” – Gerald Bray, Themelios

“An ambitious and comprehensive work.” – Church of Ireland Gazette

“Hollingworth brings out the underlying vision and the lived meaning of Augustine’s thought… This book shares Augustine’s concern to relate his life to the reader’s own, and to require of readers an engagement with their own cultural and personal history. It is at times demanding, even frustrating. Readers will probably vary widely in their judgement of its success or failure, but success or failure must also attend upon the reader’s work, as she or he squares up to Augustine’s vision.” – Richard Finn, Journal of Theological Studies

“Relying primarily on Augustine’s Confessions in order to unearth how the experiences of the young Augustine shaped the theology of the older clergyman, Hollingworth interweaves Augustine’s theological insights with his personal plights in a lively and lyrical manner. In eleven chapters, Hollingworth covers diverse themes in Augustine’s life under headings such as ‘Augustine’s remarks on his parents’ (chapter 3),’Manichaeism’ (chapter 7), and ‘On the singular deportment of death, love, and grief’ (chapter 8). Hollingworth’s biography exercises the reader’s historical, philosophical, psychological, and psychoanalytic imagination…” – Melanie Webb, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“Learned and well documented.” – Aquinas Guilbeau, Claremont Review of Books

“Hollingworth presents the conversion as a climactic event, but in a somewhat unusual way. The conversion is decisive, not as a point of rupture that begins a brand-new path of transformation, but as the guarantor of maximal, almost seamless continuity between the pre- and postbaptismal Augustine. Hollingworth devotes little attention to Augustine’s life after ordination, but he illustrates his account of the early life with passages drawn from a wide variety of later works. Along with sermons and letters, De Trinitate and De Ciuitate Dei make many appearances less as substantive theological works than as commentaries on the early Augustine, a technique that underscores Hollingworth’s fundamental intuitions about Augustine… This is why the biographical dimension of the book focuses almost exclusively on the formative elements of Augustine’s life before conversion: infancy, parents, education, puberty, rhetorical career, and philosophical/religious odyssey. Hollingworth recognizes and embraces the fact that these aspects of Augustine are only available to us ex post facto conversionis. One could conclude from this what Augustine himself indicates time and again in the Confessions, that his Christianity radiates the light in which the early experiences become intelligible as a narrative. Hollingworth no doubt concedes this, but he is also interested in inverting it: Augustine’s pre-Christian life furnishes all the prepossessing riddles to which he will find aesthetically if not rationally satisfying solutions in Christianity. It is in precisely this way that the man so decisively conditioned by the earthy realia of his social-historical milieu simultaneously and seamlessly floats above it into the ether of The (Western) Human Experience.” – John Sehorn, Augustinian Studies

“De ondertitel van Hollingworth’s erudiete werk, An Intellectual Biography, is misschien wel intentioneel ambigu. Het kan immers enerzijds verwijzen naar zijn methodologische benadering van Augustinus, maar anderzijds ook naar het algemene aspect vanwaaruit de auteur het leven en werk van Augustinus onderzocht heeft. Dit boek is geen lichte lectuur; het is een verheven, diepzinnig werk: gevuld met indringende en diepgravende reflecties, zeer in de stijl van Augustinus’ eigen Confessiones.” – Matthew W. Knotts, Tijdschrift voor Theologie

“There is much in Hollingworth’s wide-ranging account that I found obscure, but the book was littered with minor epiphanies that I will carry with me for a long time to come.” – St. Louis Public Library Book Challenge