If you were to take a poll between Catholic and Protestant believers regarding the church fathers, I believe one name would constantly come up. Saint Augustine has etched his place in the hearts of believers everywhere from all denominations. The amount of volumes Augustine has written are vast and the pages could fill several volumes over. It has been said by many that if one were to undertake the study of Augustine it would be nearly impossible to read every one of his works during a single lifetime.
“Augustine wrote over one hundred treatises, countless letters and sermons, and more than five million words in all. Although few scholars can become acquainted with all of his writings there are certain pivotal works that one simply must know if one is interested in the development of Christian theology, biblical exegesis, and Western civilization. This is especially the case because Augustine has always been, and remains today, a controversial thinker whose insights into the realities of God and salvation can be easily misunderstood.”
Matthew Levering, a Catholic scholar, has done a great service for the church by compiling several of his works in an attempt to summarize the most important of his writings into one manageable volume. The Theology of Augustine: An Introductory Guide to His Most Important Works (Baker Academic, 2013) could only come about as the serious study of one of the most productive minds of the early church. This book touches on the theology and highlights of seven of Augustine’s writings. Knowing that there are other important works out there, Levering chooses to leave out some of the larger writings, though not less important, in order to save the reader from diving into thousands of pages
The writings which Levering includes are; On Christian Doctrine, Answer to Faustus, a Manichean, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, On the Predestination of the Saints, Confessions, City of God, and On the Trinity. He concludes that reading these works not only carries significance for ongoing discussion between various theological views today but is as relevant today than it was when first penned.
From the outset Levering follows a scarlet cord through the works he has chosen, namely knowing and loving God. He highlights these points with great clarity and precise theological study, It’s clear from reading this text that Levering has spent some considerable time with Augustine. He points out the fact that Augustine, though an immense thinker, can be interpreted in such a way that makes the reader understand and hunger for more of what Augustine teaches. Levering points readers to scholarly texts with footnotes and comments. If one were to read solely the footnotes provided, it would be enough information to fill a private library with works on Augustine.
Overall the text is readable, clearly stated and unbiased when presenting the doctrines Augustine so fiercely defended. Levering has put invested into the church, both Catholic and Protestant, by presenting a work which could bridge the gap of Augustine scholarship. I was excited to get this book from Baker precisely because I was so confused as to where to begin with Augustine. I knew that Augustine’s work spanned a vast expanse and I was so unsure where to start. My first Augustine text, Confessions, wasn’t too hard to understand but I wasn’t sure of the context it was written in causing some of the references to throw me for a loop. I think I spent more time researching the history of Augustine than I did reading his book.
This book does what it claims to do. It presents Augustine’s works in an introductory fashion without going into too much theological jargon. He makes sure the reader knows the text and what Augustine is relaying by it. It’s an enjoyable read and an essential book to have on your shelf if you’re looking to study Augustine.