William Harmless explains what he wants the anthology to accomplish: “I want this book to serve as a hospitable entry into Augustine’s writings and world, and hope it encourages readers to explore beyond its pages.” (xviii) To serve this purpose, Harmless has thought carefully about what to include in this Augustine reader and how to arrange the readings; he tells the reader the rationale for his choices in a useful Introduction (ix-xxii). The excerpts are arranged chronologically as Augustine wrote them, but also within the context in which he wrote lest anyone think he turned out a Summa. Instead, his works were for occasions: sermons, letters, and books to counter heresies or to explain difficult concepts or even why Christians make good citizens. The Chapters are 1. Confessions, 2. Augustine the Philosopher, 3. Augustine the Bishop, (these texts may be among the least anthologized and easily found.) 4. Augustine the Preacher, 5. Augustine the Exegete, 6. Controversies (I): Against the Manichees, 7. Controversies (II): Against the Donatists, 8. Augustine the Theologian: On the Trinity, 9. Controversies (III): On the City of God, Against the Pagans, 10 Controversies (IV): Against the Pelagians, and an Epilogue that among other brief bits, contains a description of Augustine’s last illness and death taken from Possidius of Calama’s Life of St. Augustine.
Harmless wants readers to see Augustine writing and dictating “in action” so to speak, and to appreciate the roles he filled so remarkably.
I find the book most helpful. As Harmless says, even early medieval saints and scholars found it impossible to read the whole corpus of Augustine’s works—one went so far as to say that if anyone claims to have done so, that person is a liar. So the best way to see how broadly Augustine wrote and in how many ways, is to sample this collection that contains portions from Augustine’s letters, his commentaries on scripture, and occasional pieces not often contained in anthologies.
I wish I had had this book when I taught seminars on Augustine. Fine scholarly tools to aid the reader to research further enhance its usefulness. The book includes a complete list of Augustine’s works, both texts in Latin and in translations, a chronology of Augustine’s life and major works (41-446), pages of suggestions for further reading organized by chapters (447-465), indices of Scripture, of Augustinian texts, of other ancient authors and texts, and of persons and subjects (469-496).
At $34.95, this book is a great bargain that belongs on the bookshelves of every historian of Christianity and Christian theologian.