This is not a book about St. Augustine or his teachings on the Christian life. Instead, the reader will find a series of reflections on Christian living that are uniquely Meilaender. The selection of themes is not particularly Augustinian, yet they bear a distinct Augustinian tone, as Meilaender weaves the African bishop’s thoughts into a modern Christian’s inquiry into the meaning of a moral life.
In the first chapters—on desire and duty—Meilaender shows that while both concepts shed light on Augustine’s thinking, Augustine himself sees no need to choose between them. He shows how both duty and desire work together to create an environment of hope—a requisite for sustaining one on The Way That Leads There.
A second pair of chapters examines two areas of terrestrial life where desire and duty make claims and make claims on us: politics and sex. Each promises happiness, each imposes duties. Neither is able to bring unity to the Christian life or closure to the journey. “Life is marked, therefore, by brokenness and incompleteness;” (143) thus, the need to address the question of grief.
But if grief marks the journey, it is a grief chastened by love. The Christian way to God pulls us toward those persons and things that are loveable reflections of God’s goodness, even as it weans us from them and opens us for the experience of the only good that we desire.
Meilaender guides the reader through a reflective meditation on the moral life, exploring, with great acuity, insights that he has selected from the Bishop of Hippo. He does this in critical dialectic with the views of other Augustinian scholars (such as A. Nygren) and thinkers on the Christian life (such as C.S. Lewis). This is a book that gets to the guts of morality. A good read, a good way to keep anchored in the midst of the confusing and competing details of the endless cases students and scholars are compelled to deal with in the great ethical debates of the day.