*** DEBUG START ***
*** DEBUG END ***

Queens of a Fallen World by Kate Cooper

by
16 June 2023

John Binns considers the women in the life of St Augustine of Hippo

KATE COOPER has already helped us to understand the world and experience of women in early Christianity, and here she turns her attention to the bishop and theologian Augustine of Hippo, and the part played by the women in his life, which lies behind his conversion experiences recorded in his Confessions.

While the struggles over his beliefs which occupy much of the book are carried out in the company of male friends, women come into prominence when he reaches the moment of conversion, and they lead him in various ways to his discovery of faith in Christ. They have very different influences.

The Empress Justina, the mother of the child-emperor Valentinian II, was an opponent of Bishop Ambrose when Augustine was living in Milan; his mother, Monica, followed him to Italy and patiently guided him towards the Catholic faith. Then there was Augustine’s long-term concubine, the mother of his son Adeodatus, unnamed in the text, but here given the name Una or “the One”; and the ten-year- old Milanese heiress, here called Tacita, or “the Silent One”, to whom he was briefly engaged.

Augustine’s decisions to end the relationship with Una, and then to break off the engagement to Tacita, followed by the death of his mother, all contributed to the drama of his change of life and return to Africa, where he became a monk and then a bishop. We also meet a household slave who was a childhood companion of Monica.

While these women are part of the story and his reaction to them leads to his change of life, Augustine gives us little information about them. So, here their place in society and the way in which they might have fitted in to the households of late antiquity is explored. The feelings, emotions, and choices confronting these women are imaginatively suggested, and we wonder about what might have happened if other choices had been made.

We are helped to enter into their experiences and see their place in late Roman society. It is an engaging story, told in an imaginative style, as we sympathise with the aspirations and frustrations in the lives of these women.

After he becomes a monk and a bishop, he continues to engage with the lives of women around him, advising, writing letters and reflecting on scripture. His later teaching includes his reflection on these relationships, along with frank discussions of sexuality, and leads him away from the Roman idea of marriage as a legal means of transferring property to a new understanding of marriage as a faithful lifelong relationship, which shaped later Christian understandings.

Thus, Augustine’s women had an influence that reached into the mainstream of Christian teaching on marriage.
 

The Revd Dr John Binns is Visiting Professor at the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge.

 

Queens of a Fallen World: The lost women of Augustine’s “Confessions”
Kate Cooper
Basic Books £20
(978-1-399-80796-8)
Church Times Bookshop £18

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards

 

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available

 

Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available

 

SAVE THE DATE

Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website

 

Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

 

To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)