A Review of Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo
Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo is a dense, scholarly work outlining the entire life of the Catholic bishop. The University of California Press in Berkeley, California published the work in 1967. My version was the 1973 second paperback printing, found in the University library. Its smallish, scholarly, serifed, typewritten font allows for a instant respect for the subject matter: the words are at first imposing, but then revealing as their serious tone complements the complexity of the text. The pages are studded with footnotes, filling out this work with evidence of Brown’s exhaustive research. There is a three-page preface before the work, and, after the work, a seventeen-page bibliography, and ten-page index.
Brown’s book is organized, like any scholarly biography, chronologically according to Augustine’s life. It is separated into five parts, each corresponding to significant portions of Augustine’s life: his pagan life, his conversion, his actions against the Donatists, his actions against Pelagians, and his final legacy and death. Each part opens with a chronological table of events both directly involving Augustine and the world he lived in.
The first part begins with “Africa,” a chapter detailing the section of northern Africa: its Greco-Roman literary and political history, painting a picture of the world Augustine came from. The next chapter, titled “Monica,” describes Augustine’s parents, particularly his mother, and their religious beliefs and socioeconomic status. “Education,” the third chapter, is about the future bishop’s early education, focusing on his introduction to his favorite school subject, Latin literature. The next chapter in the logical progression from learning, “Wisdom,” and refers to the growth of Augustine’s mind, mainly through Cicero, but also through his disappointment with the Bible (primarily through his own misunderstanding). This want of something more concrete but metaphysical leads straight into the fifth chapter, “Manichaeism.” This details the future bishop’s obsession with the mysteries and dualism of the Manichean teaching, as well as Augustine’s work at spreading the Manichee philosophy, as well as his love for what it made him, rather that what it actually taught. “Friends,” the sixth chapter, details his life with his unnamed concubine among his celibate Manichee comrades. Next, the seventh chapter, titled “Success,” outlines Augustine’s first taste of fame as a writer and as a public speaker. Thus, Brown ends part I.
Brown begins part II, after the chronology, with a chapter on Ambrose, the bishop of Milan that helped Augustine to convert with his interpretation of the pagan philosophers and the similarities in the Hebrew prophets that the future bishop had misread, and their influence on the great Greek minds. Chapter nine, titled “The Platonists,” describes Augustine’s influence by...