Augustine Through the Ages: an Encyclopedia is a singular and prodigious reference book on Western Christianity's most influential theologian and churchman. General editor Allan D. Fitzgerald and four associate editors (John Cavadini, Marianne Djuth, James J. O'Donnell, and Frederick Van Fleteren) have been able to compile 437 articles on as many topics by nearly 150 authors. The result is impressive in every way: for the first time in the long and venerable history of Augustinian studies, the reader can trace in a single volume much of that breadth and depth of thought which made Augustine such a towering figure in the early Christian world and the primary theological authority in the Latin West for most of its history.
Augustine Through the Ages has four areas of focus: Augustine's life, writings, influences and thought. Each is admirably covered. Augustine, who in the words of Ernest L. Fortin, had more than his share of summer and high riot in the blood, led a life as eventful as the age in which he dwelt. Augustine's tumultuous early years, conversion and baptism, his various theological and political struggles as a priest and bishop, and the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire which he ended his days beholding with horror, are faithfully chronicled here. So too are all 119 of his extant writings, some of which have never appeared in English. Each work, from the Acta Contra Fortunatum to the Videndo Deo, is satisfactorily presented and explained.
The authors also give special attention to Augustine's powerful influence on the development of Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity. The man who was hailed by his contemporary, Jerome - a saint never accused of excessive praise - as the second founder of Christianity, cast a long and fruitful shadow over subsequent theological thought. Augustine's name seems to have been invoked in nearly every past ecclesiastical controversy, and by both sides. Saints Gregory the Great and Isidore of Seville, Saints Bonaventure and Aquinas, Luther and the Council of Trent, Jansenius and Calvin, Harnack and Blondel: all drew upon the legacy of the Bishop of Hippo in one way or another. And all of them may be found in this book.
Perhaps the most interesting articles, however, are on Augustine's thought. Though he emphatically professed a desire to know nothing but God and the soul, Augustine covered a good deal of other ground besides. The reader will find perceptive and timely treatments on such sundry matters as Augustine's teaching on abortion, war, demons, the sacraments, citizenship, women, grace, and so on. Surveying the vast and varied list of entries reminds one how Augustine assumed such a place of prominence in the first place and why it is eminently possible, even in light of the many changes that have occurred since the time of his death, to continue to learn from him.
In addition to its topical articles, Augustine Through the Ages contains a good deal of useful supplementary material. Not only is there a helpful topical bibliography at the end of each entry, but the book also includes a number of special sections such as a general bibliography and a complete list of Augustine's works, their current Latin editions, and a small selection of English translations.
This is not to say that the encyclopedia is above minor criticism. Despite the bold claim of its cover jacket, it does not exhaust the full range of subjects broached or affected by a versatile thinker like Augustine. But this is understandable, for it would be difficult to do so in a single, affordable volume. It is also understandable that in a collection of so many different authors not all of the entries are of the same quality. Several of the contributions, for example, do not seem to be quite radical enough, in the sense that they do not quite get to the real root of the matter. However, these rather conventional articles comprise only a minority of the entries and do not detract from the overall excellence of the work.
Augustine Through the Ages is an invaluable resource for every level of student or scholar and amply deserves the accolades it has thus far received. It is, in fact, an extraordinary achievement, one that will continue to stand out and illuminate, even amid the crowded throng of able Augustinian scholarship, for the foreseeable future.