Last night I finished Peter Brown’s monumental Augustine Of Hippo: A Biography. This is my second reading of this extraordinary work. St. Augustine, of course, is that towering figure from the fourth and fifth century who straddled the age of the Apostles and the unfolding of Christian Europe. Into this tumultuous time Augustine crafted a vision for Christians to engage a crumbling Roman empire and a disintegrating classical culture. Civilization suddenly seemed fragile, vulnerable, disordered, precarious. Barbarian hordes stood eager to march into the vacuum. Christians sects cropped up seeking to wrest control over the future of the emerging Catholic Church. Augustine’s was the strong voice that ultimately shaped the direction for the Church and for Western Europe. This historical moment is huge. The intellectual, theological, spiritual voice of Augustine is absolutely pivotal. And Peter Brown captures it all.

I learned a long time ago I sometimes revel in the kinds of reading other people don’t find all that appealing. But Christians could benefit immensely from this book. We find here the drama of the intense conversion of a young Roman pagan into the life of deep, reflective faith in Jesus Christ. We find here how the movement of the followers of Jesus took root in history. We find here the battles within a complicated, layered society. We find the engaging story of one complex human being, buffeted about by the forces of a moment in time, finally rising from the depths of his encounter with Jesus Christ to shape the church that shaped a civilization. We are immensely grateful to Augustine, of course, but as well grateful to Peter Brown for bringing it all to life with stunning depth and clarity.