Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism

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Ambrose would go on to forge new liturgies, new forms of church music, and new chains of churches; Augustine would return to Africa to become Bishop of Hippo and one of the most influential writers of Christianity.

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Garry Wills uses the ancient baptistry to chronicle a pivotal chapter in the history of the Church, highlighting the often uncomfortable relationship between the two church fathers and exploring the mystery and meanings of the sacrament of baptism. In addition, he brings long overdue attention to an unjustly neglected landmark of early Christianity. But he does more than bring us down from the fairy-tale roof of the Duomo of Milan the usual goal of tourists to the ruins that now lie hidden beneath the ground. He takes us for a vertiginous drop of almost 1, years into a Christianity profoundly different from our own.

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Enter email address. Welcome to Christianbook. Sign in or create an account. Search by title, catalog stock , author, isbn, etc. By: Garry Wills. Wishlist Wishlist. Write a Review. Advanced Search Links. Product Close-up Editorial Reviews This product is not available for expedited shipping. Add To Cart. The Christian Looks at Himself. The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament.

The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question. The Elder and His Work. Dissimilar in background, they were also extraordinarily different in personality.

Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, And the Mystery of Baptism

Garry Wills uses the ancient baptistery to chronicle a pivotal chapter in the history of the Church, highlighting the often uncomfortable relationship between the two church fathers and exploring the mystery and meanings of the sacrament of baptism. The result is a small but important work that covers a particular episode in church history while it also draws out important theological elements within each Father's thought. Related Products. Henry Chadwick.


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Saint Augustine , R. Michael A. Thomas O'Loughlin. Reviewed by Nathan J. Ristuccia, University of Notre Dame A sense of place vitalizes Carry Wills's study of the baptism of Augustine in and its ramifications. Indeed, the eponymous font of the title is not just any font, but instead two fonts in particular. One is an underground pool that was once part of the capacious free-standing baptistery for the capital of the Western Roman Empire, but is now hidden below the piazza to the Cothic cathedral of Milan. The other, cramped and long-destroyed, served as the baptistery for one of the religious factions in the provincial town of Hippo Regius.

This charming book tells the story of these two baptisteries and of the two bishops who used them. Although trained as a classicist, Wills made his reputation, and won his Pulitzer, as a historian and public intellectual writing on American history and modern Catholicism.

Doctors Of The Church, Saint Ambrose And Saint Augustine, Catholic Series

In the last fifteen years, however, Wills has remembered his first love, and turned his work increasingly to early Christianity. Indeed, Font of Life brings his corpusofbookson Augustine to a half-dozen. Despite Wills's fame as a commentator on contemporary Catholic issues. Font of Life is decidedly a work of history; this study is not advocating any specific changes in the modern rite of Christian initiation. Wills divides his book into three sections: "Milan," "The Baptism," and "Hippo.

Wills depicts the churches of Milan as a visual manifestation of the growth of episcopal power over both the Arian faction and suburban martyr cults. This first section also examines Augustine's spiritual development before , arguing compellingly that Augustine had little interaction with Ambrose before he enrolled for Easter baptism. It was a circle of philosophically-minded Christians like Simplicianus and Mallius Theodore, not Ambrose, who deserve credit for one of the most famous conversions in history.

The central section of Wills's book is its best, attempting to use narrative sources particularly the Confessions , the archaeology of Milan, and Ambroses theological writings to present a richly-textured picture of Augustine's experiences from enrolling for baptism on Epiphany through the mystagogical teaching in the week after Easter.

Font of Life : Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism

Wills assumes without comment the authenticity of some Ambrosian works such as De sacramentis that other scholars have doubted. This section reads Ambroses treatises closely, in order to illustrate how the ritual of initiation occurred within the physical space of Milan.


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  6. Wills is sensitive to the diversity of Christian rites in Late Antiquity, and the differences between baptismal preparation in Milan and Hippo for example, whether bishops taught the Lord's Prayer before or after baptism. The study provides plausible thick description of a pre-modern ritual. Font of Life ends by speculating on how, once he became a bishop, Augustine adapted what he had learned through the experience of his own baptism.

    Wills emphasizes the differences between Ambrose and Augustine in their personalities, reputations, theologies of baptism, stagings of ritual, even in their later medieval iconography. Despite these differences, Augustine came increasingly to admire Ambrose and emulate his episcopal practices, especially once Augustine had to face the complexities of his position as bishop of Hippo. Wills concludes by arguing that "Augustine needs Ambrose" ; the man of thought and the man of action grew stronger together than they could have been apart.

    While Wills produces an engaging work, it does have flaws. The study seems confused on the nature of the fourth-century theological controversies: homoians did not believe that the Father and Son were homoiousios 46 , and no one since W. Frend has believed the Donatists were "nationalists" Still, the main weakness is in methodology. Wills's reconstruction of Augustine's baptism depends on narrative sources written years after the events described and on theological treatises about the rite and catechetical preaching in which Ambrose and Augustine set forth their normative expectations.


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    Actual life, however, never follows procedure. Bad ritual can endanger just as often as proper ritual can inspire.



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