Augustine Goes Postmodern


Many biographies of St. Augustine exist. James O’Donnell adds another that is interesting, distinctive, and lively. Time devoted to reading it is well spent, if for no other reason than to enjoy O’Donnell’s vivid depiction of the late antique era in which Augustine lived. It is not a biographical novel, but it is a novel biography, attempting to break free of the obligatory veneration of Augustine. To make this break, one has to recognize that there are two Augustines, "the one who lived and died a long time ago and the one who lives to be remade by us and is known from his works. It’s impossible to tell the story of the one without the other" (ANB, 5). As biography, this book volunteers a bold revisionism on grounds that "the study of Augustinian chronology, and thus of all of Augustine’s life, is built on shaky ground"(ANB, 34). After all these centuries of research and biography, there is still a need to "concentrate first on the Augustine who lived long ago. He is less well known than his undying alter ego (the Augustine "known from his works") (ANB, 5).

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