Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Used Books

I'm still waiting for my used copy of The Satanic Verses to come in the mail from the Amazon-affiliated book-dealer. Seems like I ordered it weeks ago. That's the thing with getting stuff through the mail. Like with Amazon, your order could come the next day, or you might wait three weeks. And I couldn't find a copy at my neighborhood Borders. Figures. I'll only have time to skim it by the time of my bookclub meeting. And it's a complex book, I hear, to say the least. There's a primer for it that was sent to me by one of my bookclub mates.

Meanwhile, I've picked up reading James O' Donnell's Augustine again. As at least one of it's reviewers noted, this Augustine is not an easy read, at least in terms of how the book is organized. The prose is fine, but if you're looking for a nice chronological story-telling, and an outline of all the characters and issues, this book isn't it. Probably better to read the Peter Brown version. Nonetheless, there are things to like in O'Donnell's version.

Like a lot of recent church scholarship, O'Donnell reveals a more nuanced Augustine and a more complex church portrait than what church apologists have painted. O'Donnell's Augustine maintains the career climbing, publicity seeking that marked his younger, uncoverted days. Only in his ecclesiastical career, his ambition takes the form of church authority and that era's form of self-promotion--letter writing, between the Bishop and the notables of the day, preferably the political and influential, rather than his fellow clergy.

Of the theological and political divide between Augustine's Caecilianists and the opposition Donatists, the latter of whom Augustine was himself once affiliated, and which before Augustine's time was the dominant sect, O' Donnell doesn't draw a nice, neat distinction for the reader, most likely because the distinctions are not easy to grasp for us moderns.

In fact, the strength of O'Donnell's tale is it's illumination of a less unified, theologically sorted out Christian religion than that proposed by both the orthodox Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants today. But for each, Augustine's more global, authoritarian views had a great deal in shaping their tradition's world views.

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