I'm not a theologian so it's difficult to review this book from a strictly religious perspective, for I'm afraid that I'll make a lot of mistakes on the theology side of it. That being said, I must confess (sorry for the pun) that I really enjoyed reading this book and learning an enormous amount about how baptisms were performed in the early Church.
Not being a complete dolt on my religion, I was aware of the fact that the Mass was divided into the Mass of the Catechumen and the Mass of the Faithful. The first part lasted until the end of the homily, at which time the unbaptized had to leave, and then the Mass continued with the regular members of the congregation. Odd, but those were the rules.
What I wasn't aware of was the regimen of intensive study required of those wishing to be baptized, and the prayers they were required to memorize before admission into the baptismal mystery. The author goes into great detail about how the ceremony was performed, and I found it quite fascinating. The idea of adult baptism was because those about to be baptized were expected to have "sown all their wild oats" and committed their sins. After baptism, their souls were clean and they were expected to sin no more for the rest of their lives (at least I think that's what was going on). When the sacrament of Confession came into vogue I don't know, but at some time the Church must have realized that we are imperfect creatures, and even the best of us sin, knowingly or otherwise.
The book tells of the tenure of St. Ambrose as the bishop of Milan, and his influence on baptismal ceremonies. We read of the conversion and subsequent baptism of St. Augustine, later bishop of Hippo. The two men had a lot in common, but not everything, for they approached certain religious ideas from completely different perspectives.
The author does his best to make the book accessible to the average reader, and he succeeds in that, for the most part, because often it is difficult to try to simplify explanations for complex religious ideas and actions. I commend him for it, and highly recommend this book.
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About the reviewer
Frank J. Konopka (frankiethek)
I'm a small town general practice attorney in the hard coal region of Pennsylvania. Books are my passion, andI read as many of them asI can. Being the President of the local library board for over … more
"Unusually instructive...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 1,800 years into a Christianity profoundly different from our own." --New York Review of Books
"Wills shows where Ambrose and Augustine differed from each other in theology, temperament, and even ritual preference. He engagingly offers insight into the religion, politics, and culture of the time." --Library Journal
"A small masterpiece of exposition." --Booklist "A well-researched and fascinating historical look at Ambrose, Augustine, and the sacrament of baptism." --Publishers Weekly "Garry Wills is as deft and compelling when he untangles the ideas and politics of the age of Augustine as when he writes about John Wayne or Abraham Lincoln. This is a work of fresh and genuinely original scholarship told with verve and a keen sense of why the issues of fourth-century Milan still matter today."--James J. O'Donnell, Georgetown University "The font in the Milan baptistery where Ambrose baptized Augustine at Easter 387 provides the setting for Garry Wills's dramatic evocation of the relations between two of the most powerful and influential figures in the early Christian church. He reveals the personal and theological distance that separated them in the years before and after the baptism. Wills's depiction of Augustine's confrontation with Ambrose is like...