Sunday, April 15, 2012

Garry Wills, The Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine & the Mystery of Baptism

In this small book, Garry Wills comes back around to the most recurring subject of his varied writings, St. Augustine. Sharing stage with Augustine is Ambrose, the man who baptized him, and who, along with Jerome and Augustine, serves as one of the Fathers of the Western Church. Wills does an excellent job of bringing to life not only the ecclesiastical and religious issues of the day, but he also gives some sense of the political, especially as Ambrose dueled with the emperors who then resided in Milan. Wills also focuses on the meaning and significance of baptism as practiced by Ambrose, which consisted in an elaborate ritual during Holy Week, and he compares it with Augustine's later, more spare style of sacramental ritual.

One comes away from the book with a greater appreciation of what the world looked like at that time as far as religion and politics stood, and, of course, some of the interaction between them. Great intellectual debates were waged and the course of history took a different (how different?) turn because of them. Wills also does an excellent job of bringing to light the sacramental meaning and symbolism of baptism. And he highlight's Augustine's adoption of Ambrose's typology for use of the Old Testament in a New Testament context, a form of Biblical scholarship that has survived for centuries.

An outstanding book.

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