A comprehensive literary biography of the great Christian thinker Augustine (354-430).
Fox (Ancient History/New Coll., Oxford Univ.; Travelling Heroes: In the Epic Age of Homer, 2009, etc.) adds a hefty tome to the library of works on St. Augustine of Hippo, focusing mostly on his famous Confessions. Written in the late fourth century, Confessions remains a foundational work of Christian thought. Fox guides readers on an epic journey through the book and the life that inspired it. Presuming a familiarity from his audience with Confessions and with Augustine, 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. Fox sees Augustine’s early life as a series of conversions, either toward ways of thinking or away from certain lifestyles. Once he had thoroughly accepted orthodox Christianity, however, in the famous garden scene described in Confessions, the focus changed. Augustine ceased to undergo conversions and instead began a period of confession in his life, a grappling with his past that culminated in his writing (or dictating, as Fox theorizes) his great prayer, the Confessions. As Fox notes, “books and people alternate importantly in Augustine’s intellectual journey,” and he explores the many ancient texts that influenced the young Augustine as well as the many people who helped shape him. Fox’s writing is coherent and approachable, but the book is not for casual readers of Augustine. It represents a close analysis of both Confessions and of Augustine himself, leaving few stones unturned.
An erudite and ordered reading of Augustine’s Confessions and a worthy addition to any library on early Christianity.