Thomas Martin provides an interesting and helpful overview of the Augustinian tradition in this slim volume. Through the use of many impressive sources as well as his own insights, Martin emphasizes the complexity and uniqueness of Augustine of Hippo. One comes away with important historical information and a sense of reverence for this great saint, theologian, and philosopher. This subject is obviously close to the author's heart.
Our Restless Heart is one book in the Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series edited by Philip Sheldrake. "The overall purpose of the series," writes Sheldrake in the Preface to the Series, "is to make selected spiritual traditions available to a contemporary readership. The books seek to provide accurate and balanced historical and thematic treatments of their subjects" (7). Moreover, Thomas Martin makes the Augustinian tradition accessible to the general reader without implying that the Augustinian canon is designed for the general reader. He gives some helpful clues on how to read the works of Augustine, stressing that they be read in context with careful attention paid to their chronology, because "failure to understand Augustine holistically will sometimes haunt the Augustinian tradition" (25).
Beginning with an introduction to the life and times of Augustine, Martin presents the spiritual vision of Augustine in that historical context. His encounters with the Manichaeans as well as Ambrose are depicted as part of a pattern of "unanticipated and transformative grace" (22). The centrality of the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ in Augustine's journey is underscored in his writings and is used to substantiate Martin's claims for Augustine's uniqueness among philosophers and theologians since his own day.
Martin carefully examines the 'Rule' of Augustine and provides ample reasons for its being the "glue of love" for community. The Rule's emphasis on a practical love distinguishes it from other rules that stress asceticism or obedience or some other quality. Augustine's simple call to love embodies his spirituality.
Gliding over nearly seven hundred years of history, Martin next lands in the twelfth century and describes the Augustinian revival. He presents the contributions of various members of the Victorine congregation, especially Richard and Hugh of St. Victor. Through such studies of the writings of famous Augustinians, Martin depicts the complexity of medieval Augustinianism and inspires the reader to read or reread at least some of these lesser noted compositions.
Continuing on his historical journey through the Augustinian tradition, Martin next visits the Hermits of St. Augustine and explores their claim to have been directly founded by Augustine. This fascinating treatment of monks who had convinced themselves that their supposed founder had indeed worn the cowl reveals a misunderstanding of sizable proportions. Even Martin Luther had succumbed to this claim, as the author discloses. We learn more about the life of Luther as well as the profound influence of Augustinian theology throughout the Middle Ages. Martin notes that "Augustine was certainly never quite as the Augustinian Hermits portrayed him" (111). Indeed, it was not until 1969 that "the Augustinian Hermits formally requested papal permission to call themselves simply 'the Augustinians', the 'Order of St. Augustine' (111).
The impact of Augustine's theology and tradition upon Desiderius Erasmus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jerome Seripando is explored in some detail in the chapter on the Reformers. These voices illustrate the various directions that both Catholic and Protestant theologians were willing to go propelled by the influence of Augustine. Finally, Martin considers the impact of Augustinian thought as it permeated and helped to fuel the Jansennist controversy, the thinking of Rene Descartes, and an array of nineteenth and twentieth century philosophers and theologians.
Martin's ambitious venture is successful. He does what he sets out to do in a manner that is faithful both to Augustine and the general reader. At no point does the author minimize the complexity either of Augustine or the Augustinian tradition. In clear sentences, Martin explains the contributions of one of the greatest minds the thinking world has ever known. I recommend this book to those who are looking for an introduction to the life and impact of St. Augustine.