ST AUGUSTINE was one of the Early Church’s great theologians. He left a huge collection of writings, on theology, biblical commentary, society, and politics, including hundreds of sermons. Among them was a book that has become known as the Confessions. Most of it is autobiographical, and it can be described as the first Christian autobiography. In it, he reveals his inner thoughts, struggles, and temptations as he slowly comes to faith, and then as he continues to think, pray, and teach.
Cally Hammond has recently published a major two-volume edition and translation of the Confessions, which addresses historical, theological, and critical issues. Here she returns to the Confessions, but with a very different approach. She wants us to understand Augustine’s faith journey and to discover that the things that concerned him are the same as those which concern us. So the faith that Augustine discovers and builds can shape and support us in our journey as well.
There are nine sections, each discussing a theme of faith, such as how we come to faith, how we should read the Bible, how we grow in faith after baptism, why there are conflicts and divisions within the Church, and how we can best worship in a community and pray privately.
There are frequent extracts from the Confessions, in Hammond’s own lively and engaging translation; she then shows the thinking behind them, and grounds them in a contemporary setting by placing her own stories and experiences alongside. She firmly avoids all academic and critical comment, not even providing references to the extracts that she chooses. Each section finishes with a Bible passage, some questions for discussion, and a prayer. This locates the book very firmly within the Christian life of the reader.
The book brings one of the great thinkers of the past vividly into the present. I found many thoughts and ideas that made sense to me and will form part of my own faith. It is a wonderful book, which can be used for individual study and could also be an absorbing discussion-starter for a group work.
The Revd Dr John Binns is Visiting Professor at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge.
Augustine’s Life of Prayer, Learning and Love
Church Times Bookshop £8.20