This page contains a list of the six best books on or by Saint Augustine. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on Augustine” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works by Augustine. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Augustine. Here are the best books on Augustine in no particular order:
Augustine: A Very Short Introduction – Henry Chadwick
Augustine was arguably the greatest early Christian philosopher. His teachings had a profound effect on Medieval scholarship, Renaissance humanism, and the religious controversies of both the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. Here, Henry Chadwick places Augustine in his philosophical and religious context and traces the history of his influence on Western thought, both within and beyond the Christian tradition. A handy account to one of the greatest religious thinkers, this Very Short Introduction is both a useful guide for the one who seeks to know Augustine and a fine companion for the one who wishes to know him better.
Augustine of Hippo: A Biography – Peter Brown
This classic biography was first published forty-five years ago and has since established itself as the standard account of Saint Augustine’s life and teaching.
The remarkable discovery of a considerable number of letters and sermons by Augustine cast fresh light on the first and last decades of his experience as a bishop. These circumstantial texts have led Peter Brown to reconsider some of his judgments on Augustine, both as the author of the Confessions and as the elderly bishop preaching and writing in the last years of Roman rule in north Africa. Brown’s reflections on the significance of these exciting new documents are contained in two chapters of a substantial Epilogue to his biography (the text of which is unaltered). He also reviews the changes in scholarship about Augustine since the 1960s. A personal as well as a scholarly fascination infuse the book-length epilogue and notes that Brown has added to his acclaimed portrait of the bishop of Hippo.
The Cambridge Companion to Augustine – David Vincent Meconi & Eleonore Stump
It has been over a decade since the first edition of The Cambridge Companion to Augustine was published. In that time, reflection on Augustine’s life and labors has continued to bear much fruit: significant new studies into major aspects of his thinking have appeared, as well as studies of his life and times and new translations of his work. This new edition of the Companion, which replaces the earlier volume, has eleven new chapters, revised versions of others, and a comprehensive updated bibliography. It will furnish students and scholars of Augustine with a rich resource on a philosopher whose work continues to inspire discussion and debate.
Confessions – Saint Augustine
In his own day the dominant personality of the Western Church, Augustine of Hippo today stands as perhaps the greatest thinker of Christian antiquity, and his Confessions is one of the great works of Western literature. In this intensely personal narrative, Augustine relates his rare ascent from a humble Algerian farm to the edge of the corridors of power at the imperial court in Milan, his struggle against the domination of his sexual nature, his renunciation of secular ambition and marriage, and the recovery of the faith his mother Monica had taught him during his childhood.
City of God – Saint Augustine
St Augustine, bishop of Hippo, was one of the central figures in the history of Christianity, and City of God is one of his greatest theological works. Written as an eloquent defence of the faith at a time when the Roman Empire was on the brink of collapse, it examines the ancient pagan religions of Rome, the arguments of the Greek philosophers and the revelations of the Bible. Pointing the way forward to a citizenship that transcends the best political experiences of the world and offers citizenship that will last for eternity, City of God is one of the most influential documents in the development of Christianity.
On Christian Doctrine – Saint Augustine
Since the dawn of the fifth century, theology students, religious scholars, and Christian readers have turned to this volume for instruction. Written by one of the foremost leaders in the development of Christian thought, it offers practical as well as theoretical guidance on how to read the Bible and explain the meaning of scripture. Augustine intended his treatise for the priests in his North African diocese of Hippo, but ultimately, the saint’s counsel laid the groundwork for modern hermeneutics and semiotics.
The first of On Christian Doctrine‘s four parts begins with an overview of the subjects treated in holy scripture. Subsequent parts discuss signs and their recognition, the distinctions between literal and figurative expressions, and the scriptures’ stylistic combination of eloquence and wisdom. Above all, Augustine’s text concerns itself with the ways in which individuals can live in harmony with Jesus’ teachings. Christians and non-Christians alike value this work for its role in historical theology, its influence on the development of Biblical interpretation, and its insights into the mind of a great Christian philosopher and ecclesiastic.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
If you’d like to learn more about Augustine, check out this collection of quotes on Augustine.
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