Penny Thornton reviews a New City publication which forms part of the series on the spirituality of the Fathers of the Church.
[New City Magazine – July 2014]
I have often felt I should know more about the Fathers of the Church, and so the opportunity to review some books for New City made me think of this series from the early 1990s.
St Augustine was born in 354 AD and became bishop of Hippo, in present-day Algeria, in 395/6. This book consists of excerpts from his Exposition of the Psalms (which, in full, runs to six volumes). Its meditations follow the order of the psalms and reveal along the way some of Augustine’s deepest beliefs about God.
Augustine is not a fluffy writer! His tone is direct, often fierce, and he is adamant that suffering is for a purpose and evil will eventually be punished. Yet he is also unshakeable in his conviction that trust in God will be rewarded. He is less concerned with the literal meaning of the psalms than with their application for Christians and the Church, and the issues he tackles are often surprisingly familiar: consumerism, frustration with God’s timing, our futile efforts to disguise our flaws. A single phrase can set off a train of ideas which leads far beyond the apparent meaning of the original psalm. The result is not always palatable but it does provoke thought.
The book starts with a long but excellent introduction, which picks out some of the more striking themes and images of the book and comments on them. This is followed by a brief summary of Saint Augustine’s life and works. The translation of his writings is modern and easy to read and, while the book is not a formal introduction to the theology of the saint, it does offer more than a glimpse into the mind of the man.