Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism

Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism

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by Garry Wills
     
 

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No two men were more influential in the early Church than Ambrose, the powerful
Bishop of Milan, and Augustine, the philosopher from provincial Africa who would
write The Confessions and The City of God. Different in background, they were also
extraordinarily different in personality. In Font of Life, Garry… See more details below

Overview

No two men were more influential in the early Church than Ambrose, the powerful
Bishop of Milan, and Augustine, the philosopher from provincial Africa who would
write The Confessions and The City of God. Different in background, they were also
extraordinarily different in personality. In Font of Life, Garry Wills explores the
remarkable moment when their lives intersected at one of the most important, yet
rarely visited, sites in the Christian world. Hidden under the piazza of the Duomo
in Milan lies part of the foundations of a fourth-century cathedral where, at dawn
on Easter of 387, Augustine and a group of people seeking baptism gathered after an
all-night vigil. Ambrose himself performed the sacrament and the catechumens were
greeted by their fellows in the faith, which included Augustine's mother Monnica.
Though the occasion had deep significance for the participants, this little cluster
of devotees was unaware that they were creating the future of the Western church.
Ambrose would go on to forge new liturgies, new forms of church music, and new
chains of churches; Augustine would return to Africa to become Bishop of Hippo and
one of the most influential writers of Christianity. Garry Wills uses the ancient
baptistry to chronicle a pivotal chapter in the history of the Church, highlighting
the often uncomfortable relationship between the two church fathers and exploring
the mystery and meanings of the sacrament of baptism. In addition, he brings long
overdue attention to an unjustly neglected landmark of early Christianity.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his latest book, prolific author and historian Wills (Lincoln at Gettysburg) takes the reader beneath Milan’s famed cathedral to the “font of life,” the baptistry where Ambrose baptized Augustine in 387 C.E. He explores the historical moment during which the two famous and highly influential Christians met, dramatically bringing to life this critical time in the history of Christianity. Painting a backdrop of heresies and tense clashes with Roman emperors, Wills provides a captivating and rich description of Ambrose’s baptismal rite and theology. He then compares these to Augustine’s own baptismal rite and theology, analyzing to what extent Ambrose might have influenced the future bishop of Hippo. Wills compellingly argues that despite their encounter in Milan, in which Ambrose initiated Augustine into the Christian community, the two men differed greatly both in personality and theology. Their respective baptismal rites were influenced largely by the heresies they wished to disprove and condemn, not by one another. A well-researched and fascinating historical look at Ambrose, Augustine, and the sacrament of baptism. Agent: Andrew Wylie. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Unusually instructive...But he does more than bring us down from the fairy-tale roof of the Duomo of Milan (the usual goal of tourists) to the ruins that now lie hidden beneath the ground. He takes us for a vertiginous drop of almost 1,800 years into a Christianity profoundly different from our own." —New York Review of Books

"Wills shows where Ambrose and Augustine differed from each other in theology, temperament, and even ritual preference. He engagingly offers insight into the religion, politics, and culture of the time." — Library Journal

"A small masterpiece of exposition." —Booklist

"A well-researched and fascinating historical look at Ambrose, Augustine, and the sacrament of baptism." —Publishers Weekly

"Garry Wills is as deft and compelling when he untangles the ideas and politics of the age of Augustine as when he writes about John Wayne or Abraham Lincoln. This is a work of fresh and genuinely original scholarship told with verve and a keen sense of why the issues of fourth-century Milan still matter today."—James J. O'Donnell, Georgetown University

"The font in the Milan baptistery where Ambrose baptized Augustine at Easter 387 provides the setting for Garry Wills's dramatic evocation of the relations between two of the most powerful and influential figures in the early Christian church. He reveals the personal and theological distance that separated them in the years before and after the baptism. Wills's depiction of Augustine's confrontation with Ambrose is like a magnificent diptych in which the figures take on shifting forms and colors as the light changes. This is a nuanced, perceptive, and utterly persuasive account of two great men."—G. W. Bowersock, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

"The author's affection for his subjects fills out the human picture...The book surveys the intersection of the lives of two of the Latin patriarchs who left great, if different, marks on the church. It explores theology with narrative flow. It makes serious points with grace."—America

"An interesting and evocative addition to Wills's impressive corpus." — Christian Century

Library Journal
Pulitzer-winning historian and Catholic intellectual Wills (emeritus, Northwestern Univ.; Lincoln at Gettysburg) adds yet another title to his c.v., which includes over 40 published books, including previous works on Augustine of Hippo. Focusing here on the ritual of baptism in the fourth century, he compares and contrasts two giants of the early Latin church, Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (c.337–397 C.E.) and Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354–430 C.E.), both of whose writings greatly impacted the development of Western Christianity. Wills's analysis liberally incorporates quotations from both men's works and from scholarly studies on ecclesiastical architecture of the day. At the Duomo, Milan's cathedral, the ancient baptistery connected the old basilica with the new, and baptizands passed physically and symbolically from one to the other at Easter after weekly Lenten training sessions given by the bishop. Ambrose was likely baptized there in 374 C.E., and he baptized—though he did not convert—Augustine in 387 C.E. Wills shows where Ambrose and Augustine differed from each other in theology, temperament, and even ritual preference. He engagingly offers insight into the religion, politics, and culture of the time. VERDICT This polished and original study will attract students of early Christian history and religion.—Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ. Lib., Queens, NY

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199911899
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
03/08/2012
Series:
Emblems of Antiquity
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
591,629
File size:
3 MB

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