Augustine has been the subject of so many learned theological disquisitions that it is easy to forget that he was not primarily a “theologian” —especially an academic one, professionally employed by a university, engaged in producing heavily footnoted tomes, and jetting from one scholarly conference to another—but a pastor concerned with the cura animarum. In discharging his episcopal office, Augustine was first of all a spiritual and mystical writer, to use a modern nomenclature. To discover the soul of Augustine, the place to start is not his oft-cited Confessions, De Trinitate, and De Civitate Dei but his commentaries on the Bible and his sermons.
Donald Burt, an Augustinian and a professor emeritus of philosophy at Villanova University, is a leading Augustine scholars with thirteen books and numerous articles to his name. He is therefore eminently qualified to help us discover the mind and heart of his master. To make Augustine alive to readers, happily Burt did not use the genre of scholarly and erudite monograph. Rather, from the enormous output of the saint that is beyond the reach of us non-specialists (a wit once said that anyone who claims to have read all of Augustine’s corpus is a liar), Burt makes a careful selection of texts, mostly from Augustine’s sermons, Exposition of the Psalms, Tractates on the Gospel of John, and Tractates on the First Epistle of John, and uses them as quotes for each day of the year, followed by a brief commentary.
The book is of extremely easy use. Readings for each day are of manageable length, never longer than a page. The purpose is not to impart information but to invite reflection and prayer, with Augustine’s brief texts as a launching pad. These texts are not to be just perused but to be savored and chewed, slowly and contemplatively. The volume can easily be slipped into a jacket pocket or a purse and fished out for reading during lunch break or while traveling on public transportation to work.
To help people unfamiliar with Augustine, a substantial introduction to his life and work would have been very helpful. Incidentally, Augustine was not born in the fifth century, as the introduction says (p. vii), but in the fourth, in 354 to be precise, and he died in 430. There are also two typos on p. viii (Tractates not Tracates). The book is strongly recommended for anyone wishing to know Augustine and to grow spiritually with him as guide.