Reverse Hagiography

One of the better magazines out there has to be Christianity Today’s Books & Culture. They have interesting reviews on a wide range of books. This month’s issue is no different.

In his review of Augustine: A New Biography by James J. O’Donnell, entitled Reverse Hagiography, Jason Byassee gives O’Donnell credit as a historian but points out the fatal flaw in the work:

[D]espite O’Donnell’s strident effort to be critical at every turn, occasionally he sees clearly what Augustine is saying and simply dislikes it. Of course it’s an extraordinary thing to claim that believers are united in Christ’s body across space and time: that is why belief in the church is something we hold to by faith. For O’Donnell, such faith is tantamount to the cessation of thought-as when he mocks Augustine’s inability fully to explain notions of God as a non-bodily Spirit, or the promised resurrection of all flesh. But for Augustine – and for all Christians – a “mystery” is something we can talk about with insight from Scripture and tradition even as we cannot explain it fully. All O’Donnell can see in such moments is theological tyranny and an arbitrary divinity.
[. . .]
So we see that the convention of separating theology and history finally fails. For O’Donnell here subjects Augustine to a ferocious inquisition and judges him worthy of condemnation at every turn. O’Donnell’s own theological commitments clearly guide him in this endeavor. Unfortunately, they keep him from offering a helpful work of history.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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