Augustine: Conversions to Confessions

Augustine: Conversions to Confessions

by Robin Lane Fox

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Overview

"This narrative of the first half of Augustine's life conjures the intellectual and social milieu of the late Roman Empire with a Proustian relish for detail." — New York Times

In Augustine, celebrated historian Robin Lane Fox follows Augustine of Hippo on his journey to the writing of his Confessions. Unbaptized, Augustine indulged in a life of lust before finally confessing and converting. Lane Fox recounts Augustine's sexual sins, his time in an outlawed heretical sect, and his gradual return to spirituality. Magisterial and beautifully written, Augustine is the authoritative portrait of this colossal figure at his most thoughtful, vulnerable, and profound.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Mark Lilla

Confessions is so perfect that one can't help wondering why anyone would accept the challenge of writing a biography of its author. What could a historian possibly add to this unforgettable story? Fifty years ago we learned how much more there was to say when Peter Brown published his magnificent life, Augustine of Hippo…Brown's approach made Confessions appear even more remarkable. Robin Lane Fox…has now done Brown one better…Brown managed to tell the whole story, from birth to death, with great economy and flair. Fox aims for full immersion, and he conjures the intellectual and social life of the late Roman empire with an almost Proustian relish for detail. Augustine left behind dozens of books and hundreds of letters, all of which Fox seems to have consulted. He also provides vivid sketches of the saint's friends, acquaintances, correspondents, patrons and spiritual enemies…Fox is such a good writer that interest never flags, and you always feel that "you are there."

From the Publisher

New York Times Book Review
“Robin Lane Fox has now done [Peter] Brown [author of Augustine of Hippo] one better…Fox is such a good writer that interest never flags, and you always feel that ‘you are there'...[an] excellent book.”

New York Times Book Review, Editor's Choice column
“This narrative of the first half of Augustine's life conjures the intellectual and social milieu of the late Roman Empire with a Proustian relish for detail.”

Financial Times
“It is a profound understatement to observe that it was appropriate for Robin Lane Fox, at last, to tackle a biography of Augustine...he [is] one of the most distinguished and prolific living scholars of Late Antiquity.... Lane Fox, with the power of his writing and deep familiarity with the huge circuit of Augustinian texts, reveals with remarkable enthusiasm and sympathy the spiritual and intellectual drama of his remarkable subject.”

Chicago Tribune
“Such is the power of Lane Fox's pen that this biography, which begins with Augustine's birth in 354 A.D., captures our modern-day attention, ignites the imagination and sets the soul stirring… Augustine: Conversions to Confessions is a compelling read… A page-turner that might last the whole winter long, come spring you'll be all the more enlightened.”

Winner of the 2015 Wolfson History Prize

Included on the list of 100 Notable Books of 2015 in the 12/6 issue of New York Times Book Review.

Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Fox traces with clarity the development of Augustine's thought, but also of his character…[He] succeeds in offering us a figure whose inner and outer struggles, whose strengths and weaknesses, do somehow reach across the centuries and touch something profoundly human.”

New Yorker
“This biography of the Church Father displays an eclectic, discursive approach. New delights, such as an exploration of Cicero's lost Hortensius, beloved by Augustine and pieced together by scholars through scattered mentions in the ancient record, add surprising shadings to Augustine's personality. Lane Fox sees his subject in intimate yet global terms: Augustine's disenchantment with politics, the dubious powers of rhetoric, and his own skill at navigating the system draws comparisons with Tolstoy, Byron, and Joyce. Most engaging is the portrait of Augustine's complex relationship with his lively, wine-drinking, social-striving mother, Monnica, from whom he ‘imbibed the name of Christ,' and learned to ‘retain it deeply within.'”

Choice
“[Augustine] is an engaging, respectful, and highly erudite yet readily accessible study worthy of its glowing commendations.”

Catholic World Report
“Fox has written an attentive, rich, and compelling book about Augustine which will reward scholars and edify non-specialists. It will also entertain both.”

Wolfson History Prize Judge Professor Julia Smith
“This book revisits one of the most influential and prolific authors in western thought, a man whose preoccupations with sin, evil, bodily pain, longing, and love lie at the heart of this scintillating analysis. In brief, the book is about one man's life-long search for heaven in a world of abundant evil, and his strivings to make some sort of contact with that heaven in his daily life… But unlike so many interpretations of works of philosophy and theology, this study is grounded in the man's direct experience of the world around him—the people he knew, those he loved, his emotions and intense physical experiences, whether of pain, lust, pleasure or anger… Beautifully written in a crystalline prose where not a word is out of place, it's a book to read in a garden, or the shady courtyard of a Mediterranean villa, as well as in the study or library.”

Irish Catholic
“It is a compelling emotional drama…. This is a richly detailed and well informed book, which is written with skill and style. It will provide many with a rich feat of insights and information, and will doubtless find its place beside Brown, Chadwick, Marrou and other scholars of the past.”

Wichita Eagle
“Lane Fox presents a fascinating portrait, showcasing a vast knowledge of antiquity that allows him to explore and contextualize the themes of confession, conversion and salvation….[He] captures the drama – and at crucial moments the melodrama – of Augustine's emotional wrestling, his battles with being “in love with love,” his self-proclaimed inner lack of God.”

Paula Fredriksen, author of Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism
Augustine vividly retells the gripping story of Augustine's serial self-reinventions with both sympathy and shrewd insight. Robin Lane Fox brings to life the world of late Roman antiquity, and one of its most compelling personalities: Augustine is a perfect alloy of great scholarship and great story-telling.”

Independent (UK)
“This is an impressive resource for classicists, theologians and historians of the late Roman Empire, who will enjoy chewing over the argument that the Confessions were written in a single burst, in 397.”

Literary Review (UK)
Augustine [is] a work of scholarship as readable as any historical novel.”

New Statesman (UK)
“Lane Fox's book is undoubtedly a water-shed in Augustinian studies.”

Sunday Times (UK)
“Lane Fox's work is the fruit of intense study of Augustine's Confessions in its rhetorically forceful, rather jingly Latin, and modern scholarship on the topic.... Any reader interested in one of the early church's most influential figures, a saint we know more about than any other from the ancient world, will find this stimulating biography a pleasure to read.”

Booklist, starred review
“[R]eaders pious and skeptical alike will recognize Fox as an exceptionally insightful and probing biographer.”

Library Journal
“Highly intriguing is the exposition on the role of Platonic philosophy in Augustine's metamorphosis, his allegorical biblical exegesis, and his mystical ascent toward divine union.”

Robin Young, Catholic University of America
"In this new book on Augustine, Robin Lane Fox brings his customary wit, verve, and insight to bear on the record of a passionate and complicated man. Author and subject are well-matched, and readers can freshly savor Augustine's intelligence and ambition, as well as his depth and his devotion, as Lane Fox generously allows us to follow every move of the man whose conversions and conflicts sired most of the children of Western Christianity.”

Susanna Elm, Professor of History, University of California, Berkeley
“Robin Lane Fox's Augustine is a masterpiece. Here, Lane Fox erects in splendid prose his very own trinity by reading Augustine's Confessions in the company of two other ancient literary lions, the pagan rhetorician Libanius and the Christian Platonic philosopher and bishop Synesius, whose lives share what many have considered quintessential Augustinian qualities—conversions and autobiographical confessions. As a result, Augustine emerges fully as a man of his very own time, the later Roman empire, deeply formed from the beginning by the intellectual concerns of his day to which he formulated his own brilliant, unique, and lasting responses.”

Kirkus
“Fox guides readers on an epic journey through the book and the life that inspired it…[he] 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…[Fox] provides a true service to readers…[his] writing is coherent and approachable...[The book] 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.”

New Criterion
“The universe of Augustine scholarship is a supremely crowded one and anyone who essays a new biography must, above all, distinguish himself from the magisterial works of Peter Brown… Lane Fox does this in several ways. The first is a remarkably unsentimental take on his subject…The most significant distinction is to frame the study entirely around Augustine's Confessions, which Lane Fox gracefully describes as ‘a prayer which no pagan could have produced and which no Christian, before or since, has equaled'…Lane Fox deploys an astonishing amount of newly discovered material.”
See attached for full review.

Library Journal

10/15/2015
Fox (classics, Oxford Univ.; The Classical World; Alexander the Great) adds another weighty tome to his long list of impressive works on ancient history. This volume follows the life of the North African saint Augustine (354–430), beginning, as the author's previous work Confessions does, with his childhood. His complicated youth follows, in which the young man takes a concubine, fathers a son, and accepts a heretical Manichaean gospel. Augustine is then transformed many times, undergoing several conversions. Fox presents the various contexts and many philosophies that influenced his subjects, including a substantial discussion of Manichaean and Platonic philosophy; all the while comparing Augustine to his contemporaries, especially the rhetorician Libanius. Highly intriguing is the exposition on the role of Platonic philosophy in Augustine's metamorphosis, his allegorical biblical exegesis, and his mystical ascent toward divine union. VERDICT Fox presents a complex, ever-changing, articulate, introspective, and idealistic philosopher sinner, revealing elements from Confessions and the author's many other titles. The volume would be best for readers to have some familiarity with the ancient Mediterranean or early church history. While this mountain of a book requires dedication and discipline, knowledge awaits those who reach the summit.—Jeffrey Meyer, Mt. Pleasant P.L., IA

Kirkus Reviews

2015-08-17
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780465022274
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 11/03/2015
Pages: 688
Sales rank: 882,946
Product dimensions: 9.20(w) x 6.70(h) x 2.00(d)

Customer Reviews