Vital insights from Augustine’s sermons on the life of faith.
Augustine is not usually thought of today as a preacher, but he delivered sermons weekly over the course of nearly forty years to his congregation in Hippo Regius and occasionally also in Carthage and other Roman cities he visited as bishop. The differences between his sermons and his theological treatises are striking but not surprising considering that the treatises targeted an elite, educated audience while his preaching was intended for Christians who lived—then as now—by the spoken and remembered rather than the written word. Where Augustine’s treatises were intellectual, intricate, and theoretical, the rhetoric of his sermons is characterized by conviction, emotion, and a firm commitment to putting faith into action.
This volume by renowned Augustine scholar Patout Burns explores the theology of Augustine’s preaching. Utilizing recent advances in the chronological ordering of Augustine’s extant sermons, Burns traces the development of their core thematic elements—wealth and poverty, sin and forgiveness, baptism, eucharist, marriage, the role of clergy, the interpretation of Scripture, the human condition, and the saving work of Christ. He also identifies the influence and manifestation of significant controversies in Augustine’s preaching, most notably Donatism and Pelagianism. As Burns shows, most of Augustine’s groundbreaking insights on the relation of Christ to Christians were developed in his sermons.
Like any good preacher, Augustine strove to establish a dialogue between scripture and lived experience through his sermons—and did so quite effectively. Thus, pastors as well as scholars will benefit from Burns’s insight into the teachings of one of the most effective ministers in Christian history.
Table of Contents
Introduction 1. Interpreting the Scripture 2. Riches and Poverty 3. Sins and Forgiveness 4. Baptism 5. Eucharist 6. Marriage 7. The Ministry of the Clergy 8. The Saving Work of Christ 9. The Human Situation 10. Christ and the Church Bibliography Indexes
J. Patout Burns Jr. is the Edward A. Malloy Professor Emeritus of Catholic Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. He is the author of Cyprian the Bishop and the Church's Bible volume Romans: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators, and he is the coauthor, with Robin Jensen, of Christianity in Roman Africa: The Development of Its Practices and Beliefs.
Religious Studies Review “J. Patout Burns Jr.’s work serves as an indispensable resource, both for the newly fledged Augustinian scholar [and] to the deeply honed practitioner.”
“What does a major theologian who addressed most of the doctrinal and political challenges faced by early Christians have to say when he looks out at a congregation with a passage from the Scriptures before him? In a masterly account of Augustine’s preaching Patout Burns moves through topics such as sin and forgiveness, riches and poverty, eucharist, marriage, the human situation, Christ, and the church, citing passages from Augustine’s sermons. This is a book to be read slowly, marked, and inwardly digested.” — Robert Louis Wilken University of Virginia
“In this book we have the fruits of a lifetime’s engagement with Augustine’s sermons by one of his most sympathetic (and distinguished) readers. Patout Burns invites us to explore with him the vast range and extraordinary riches of Augustine’s theological and pastoral reflections on Scripture, and to be drawn into the Bishop of Hippo’s compelling efforts to unite his hearers in one heart and mind toward God. It is an invitation that cannot be resisted!” — Carol Harrison University of Oxford
“The publication of this book is really a monumental event in the ongoing history of Augustine scholarship and patristic scholarship more broadly. It is the fruit of a lifetime of study by one of the most eminent scholars in the field. It will have a wide appeal not only in the academy, but beyond it in the life of the church, for it will be of interest to anyone who preaches or who works within the ordinary (and extraordinary!) pastoral concerns of church life, just as Augustine did. Highly recommended!” — John C. Cavadini University of Notre Dame
“J. Patout Burns, after a distinguished career of scholarship on St. Augustine and the history of Christianity in North Africa, turns to presenting us with an Augustine that neither those who read his Confessions as undergrads nor those who read the Augustine of doctrinal treatises in theology ever met: the preacher his African congregations knew. As their bishop, his goal was to enable audiences to remember the Scripture they had just heard, to appreciate and act on it. From the collected sermons of Augustine, Burns develops topical chapters that can be read as stand-alone pieces on interpreting Scripture: wealth, poverty, and almsgiving; sin and forgiveness; baptism; eucharist; marriage; clerical ministry; human nature. The finale on ‘Christ and the Church’ reprises Augustine’s vision of the ‘whole Christ,’ the savior whose body embraces the entire community of believers. Christ speaking in the penitential Psalms may even articulate their human suffering. Through the Holy Spirit which dwells in the savior’s social body, the whole church shares in the saving action of forgiveness; even its poorest members express loving charity in giving alms. Twenty-first-century readers accustomed to individualized spirituality will find Augustine’s sermons a challenge to our modern world.” — Pheme Perkins Boston College
“This deeply learned book does theology from preaching and for preaching. Its close reading of Augustine’s sermons is a major contribution to historical studies of Augustine’s theology all by itself. But the clarity, organization, and steady eye to pastoral concerns open up another dimension: the book offers all this erudition in ways that renew the soul and substance of preaching today. Take and read.” — Ted A. Smith Candler School of Theology, Emory University
“Here, Patout Burns offers to us the delightful fruit of a life well lived in steadfast reflection upon Augustine. Seasoned and sensitive to both text and context, Burns shows us Augustine’s vision of the Christian life as neighborly, theologically informed, and homiletically transmitted. Christ, charity, community, sin, salvation, sacrament, and Scripture: Burns treats them all. His volume is thorough, yet handy; it coheres while each chapter kindly guides even the first steps of a pilgrim. Looking for an Augustinian feast in nourishing, bite-size portions? This is it.” — D. Jeffrey Bingham Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Anyone who has studied or worked with Patout Burns knows that his knowledge of Augustine is encyclopedic. Now, his knowledge of Augustine’s sermons in particular has been distilled into Augustine’s Preached Theology, which will be an invaluable resource to experts and non-experts alike. This is a major contribution to help us better understand Augustine’s sermons and thereby his teachings more generally. Out of all the recent literature in Augustine studies, this one is a must-have and will be a standard in the field for the foreseeable future.” — David E. Wilhite George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University
“Augustine was a superb preacher who cared deeply about his flock. His biographer and friend Possidius declared it beneficial to read the great bishop’s learned treatises but even better to have heard him preach in person. Patout Burns’s excellent new book highlights Augustine’s ability to distill hard-won, profound theological concepts into sermons easily grasped by his congregation week after week. With a nod to Possidius, Augustine’s Preached Theology ushers us into the great saint’s presence!” — Jane E. Merdinger author of Rome and the African Church in the Time of Augustine
“Over the past decades, the discovery of new sermones ad populum as well as the preparation of new critical editions of Augustine’s sermons have heightened scholarly interest in his preaching. Burns lucidly shows that Augustine’s homiletic endeavors form an integral part of his oeuvre—they are intrinsically interwoven with his doctrinal and polemical writings. Hence the sermons and the treatises must be read together; only in this way can we grasp the fullness and complexity of Augustine’s time, life, and thought. Moreover, because of their specific genre—rhetorically formulated, liturgically situated, scripturally inspired, and oriented to the initiation of a broad audience into the basics of Christian faith and life—sermons not only lend additional colour and tonality to Augustine’s theology and spirituality, but they also contain theological intuitions not elaborated in his systematic treatises: for instance, his thinking about the totus Christus, the Whole Christ. Augustine’s Preached Theology discloses to us the previously unknown, vibrant preacher Augustine. By leading us to the pulpit of Hippo in a way that is both scholarly and accessible, Burns opens up new horizons for all who are interested in Augustine, late antique Christianity, and preaching in general.” — Anthony Dupont Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
“Inasmuch as a bishop’s sermons in late antiquity were recorded and preserved to be models of exposition for their priests, this volume and Augustine’s sermons themselves are not for academics alone. They are also for women and men who know the weekly challenge and the pleasure of preaching the word by which God speaks to his people. Tolle lege.” — J. Warren Smith from the foreword
Review of Biblical Literature “This is a book to be savored.”
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