Augustine, a North African bishop, towers over the landscapes of western cultures from over 1500 years ago. He invented original sin almost single-handedly. He is responsible for many of the ways in which we think about gods, religions, politics and...
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Augustine, a North African bishop, towers over the landscapes of western cultures from over 1500 years ago. He invented original sin almost single-handedly. He is responsible for many of the ways in which we think about gods, religions, politics and psychology. He wrote beautifully (and left behind 5 million words of writings). He is the first saint to have had a website. James O'Donnell has written a magnificent new biography which presents Augustine outside his own 'spin', that of his autobiographical Confessions, a best-seller since it was written. He tells the story from the vantage point of Hippo, the city in what is now Algeria, where Augustine spent almost 40 years as priest and bishop. By telling the story that way, O'Donnell is able to escape from the Confessions: the post-Confessions years are the ones in which Augustine (354-430) really made his name. The story is extraordinarily rich in vivid primary material about the crises and doings of his time, the late Roman Empire. Rich men converting to Christianity to get ahead, priests covering up their sexual and financial peccadilloes, gangs of desperadoes invading churches or lying in ambush on country roads, generals playing coldly calculated games of geopolitics - these are the figures who stand out in Augustine's world against a background of a battle to the death over the future of Christianity. This is one of the most remarkable biographies to be written about any figure from the ancient world.
JAMES O'DONNELL is Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, New Mexico State University.