Saint Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography by Miles Hollingworth - review by Diarmaid Macculloch

Diarmaid Macculloch

Confessions & Retractions

Saint Augustine of Hippo: An Intellectual Biography


Bloomsbury 312pp £20

As you read this, someone, somewhere on the planet, is writing a book about Augustine of Hippo. On the internationally recognised standard of hugeness, it is unchallengeable (because fortunately unfalsifiable) that if you collected all who had written about him and told them to bunch up close, they would fill the Isle of Wight, and their books and articles laid flat would occupy an area the size of Wales. There’s some justification for this endless industry, because Augustine is fascinating. In the fifth century CE he produced the first surviving extended psychological autobiography (maybe he even invented the genre), and he is the single most influential theologian in the Western Latin Church – which means that Catholics and Protestants are equally in his intellectual debt, for better or worse. His written output was prodigious, and a most exciting surprise is that some of it has only been rediscovered in the last couple of decades, in remote European libraries. Amid the literary cacophony are some exceptionally good biographies in English. From 1963 comes classic theological analysis from Gerald Bonner; in 1967 there appeared the first version of a colossus among biographies by Peter Brown, exhibiting all Brown’s usual mellifluous sensitivity and awareness of cultural context. OUP recently and serendipitously

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RLF - March