Personal Detail Against A Factual Background
Saint Augustine of Hippo. By the Rev. Hugh Pope, O.P. (Sands, 12s. 6d.) Reviewed by J. L. BENVENISTI Father Hugh Pope's new volume does? not require the apology with which the author sees fit to introduce it. Father Pope seems to feel that these nine long essays make a somewhat formless and disjointed entity, but this is not the case; for this very substantial volume not only abounds in delightful personal detail but also sketches in with an admirable sense of balance and proper proportion the whole factual background of the saint's life.
The titles of the essays speak for themselves: Roman Africa in the fourth and fifth centuries, Christian Africa (with some extraordinary interesting information on the liturgy), the life of St. Augustine, St. Augustine the preacher, Si. Augustine the letter writer, St. Augustine and the world of Nature, The Rex Pacificus or the Model of Tolerance.
The most vexed question concerning Saint Augustine and the one which has caused opinions to he most sharply divided about him is that which is dealt with in the last-named chapter and concerns the compulsory suppression of heresy. As recently as 1911 T. Allin wrote in his " Augustinian Revolution in Theology": " Augustine's influence extended for evil over practically the whole field of human activity, social and political no less than religious "-which shows how violent and unreasonable can be the passions aroused in this matter.
That Augustine held views on compulsory salvation which sixteen centuries of experience has caused us to revise, is, I think, undeniable. What is insufficiently realised and what is admirably brought out by Father Hugh Pope is that the notion of a state religion was native to the Roman Empire "According to Roman notions," writes Father Pope, "Church and State were always regarded as one; the conversion of Constantine had only meant a change front one religion to another."
In these circumstances it is not surprising that Augustine should have accepted the ideas of his time, which from the point of view of pure morals are quite defen sible. Rather is it remarkable that he should have realised that there was anything to be said against them. The occasions on which he refrained, as he frequently did, from appeal to the civil arm, are more noteworthy than those on which he exercised his undoubted prerogative. Nor was his motive here one of mere expediency. It was rooted in the highest Christian charity, in the desire to seek the peacemaker's beatitude.
No reader will be other than delighted with the essay "St. Augustine and the World of Nature." The saint was no methodical maker of catalogues, but an observer who observed with untiring delight how God reveals himself in His Creation. St. Augustine was certainly a dog lover " No matter how alike two people may be. yet if they cannot speak each other's language, and so exchange thoughts, their likeness is not much assistance to them: in fact. a inapt would far sooner take a walk with his dog than with a foreigner with whom he cannot conver.ve."
In "St. Augustine the Letter Writer" there is a delightful touch. One has an uneasy suspicion," writes the author, "that Augustine-seems to have been untidy at his desk. More than once he has to plead guilty to being unable to find letters he knows he has received." " The letter you sent me by Bishop Boniface I got." he writes to one correspondent " but when I was going to answer it I could not find it," and again to another, " Your letter has unaccountably gone astray, and though I have looked for it everywhere, I cannot find it." It is comforting to some of us that this sort of thing is apparently no obstacle to canonisation.
It would, however, be impossible within the short apace here allotted to deal with the essays individually. Suffice to say that Father Pope has given us a new source both of instruction and of delight. No one who has a vivid interest in the life and history of the Church should fail not only to read but to acquire this book, for it is one of those works that can be opened any time and at any page and yet never fail to yield profit and pleasure.
The book has three maps and an excellent index.