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Fire Down Below

Keith Hopkins, 10 November 1994

The Formation of Hell 
by Alan Bernstein.
UCL, 392 pp., £25, December 1993, 1 85728 225 6
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... relatively virtuous in heaven, and to condemn all sinners to everlasting punishment. Some people, Augustine claimed, falsely believed that God would listen to the pleas of interceding saints, and would be merciful to sinners after due punishment. Augustine knew better: God’s punishment is eternal; these people were merely ...

Fathomless Strangeness of the Ordinary

Stephen Greenblatt: Disenchantment, 7 January 1999

Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750 
by Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park.
Zone, 511 pp., £19.95, June 1998, 0 942299 90 6
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... they remained linked to one of the earliest and most influential analyses of wonder: that of St Augustine. For Augustine wonder (or at least proper wonder) and curiosity are opposites. Curiosity is a particularly heinous vice: vainglorious astronomers cannot find God, he writes, echoing Seneca, ‘even though with curious ...

How to Read Aloud

Irina Dumitrescu, 10 September 2020

Voices and Books in the English Renaissance: A New History of Reading 
by Jennifer Richards.
Oxford, 329 pp., £65, October 2019, 978 0 19 880906 7
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Learning Languages in Early Modern England 
by John Gallagher.
Oxford, 274 pp., £60, August 2019, 978 0 19 883790 9
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... better known, though still difficult fully to understand. In a famous anecdote in the Confessions, Augustine describes seeing Ambrose of Milan reading on his own without making a sound. Ambrose was not the first person in history to read silently, but his quiet, private reading was unusual enough to make an impression. ...

Norman Bread

Christopher Holdsworth, 16 October 1980

The Norman Conquest of the North 
by William Kapelle.
Croom Helm, 329 pp., £14.95, March 1980, 0 7099 0040 6
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Consul of God 
by Jeffrey Richards.
Routledge, 309 pp., £9.75, March 1980, 0 7100 0346 3
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Martin of Tours 
by Christopher Donaldson.
Routledge, 171 pp., £8.95, March 1980, 0 7100 0422 2
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by Steven Runciman.
Thames and Hudson, 160 pp., £9.50, March 1980, 0 500 25071 5
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... two hundred years after Martin’s time and is best-known to English readers as the man who sent Augustine and some monks to convert the heathen English – Gregory the Great. The third book, William Kapelle’s The Norman Conquest of the North considers a wider period than its short title indicates, for it establishes the history of what became northern ...

What’s next?

James Wood: Afterlives, 14 April 2011

After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell and Purgatory 
by John Casey.
Oxford, 468 pp., £22.50, January 2010, 978 0 19 509295 0
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... who taught in Rome in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, is another. Pelagius did not like Augustine’s Pauline emphasis on our helplessness before God’s gift of salvation. Faith, Augustine said, is crucial for salvation, but faith itself is God’s free gift. ‘The choice of believing does not lie in the human ...

Hate is the new love

Malcolm Bull: Slavoj Žižek, 25 January 2001

The Fragile Absolute or why is the christian legacy worth fighting for? 
by Slavoj Žižek.
Verso, 182 pp., £16, June 2000, 1 85984 770 6
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... is a rich source of migratory imagery, from the Exodus onward, but the locus classicus is probably Augustine’s vision of the people of God as guest-workers in Babylon and pilgrims to the New Jerusalem. Small wonder, therefore, that the City of God seems to have become the Left’s new paradigm of social change. In Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s ...

People’s Friend

Michael Brock, 27 September 1990

Lord Grey: 1764-1845 
by E.A. Smith.
Oxford, 338 pp., £37.50, March 1990, 9780198201632
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... comments almost as sharp as Hobhouse’s. ‘When the Almighty wants anything really done,’ Augustine Birrell commented in the Nation, ‘he creates a man or woman foolish enough to believe that, if the thing were done, all would be right with the world.’ ‘Mr Trevelyan,’ said H.W.C. Davis, ‘sees this great whig through a golden haze which ...

Changes of Heart

Prue Shaw, 23 May 1985

by Nicholas Mann.
Oxford, 121 pp., £7.95, October 1984, 0 19 287610 4
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Petrarch: Poet and Humanist 
by Kenelm Foster.
Edinburgh, 214 pp., £9, July 1984, 0 85224 485 1
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... Foster is in an unrivalled position to elucidate the debate between ‘Augustinus’ (St Augustine, supposedly, but in fact Petrarch’s conscience) and ‘Franciscus’ (Petrarch himself, in all his vulnerability, persistence, rationalisation, and perverse pleasure in his condition). In Freudian terms this is a debate between super-ego and ego, two ...

Aryan Warlords in their Chariots

Edmund Leach, 2 April 1987

Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation. 
by Martin Bernal.
Free Association, 575 pp., £30, March 1987, 0 946960 55 0
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... Minor and Italy were given great prominence. But the fact that Jesus Christ was a Jew or that St Augustine might well have looked like Colonel Gaddafi was carefully concealed. The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785-1985 is planned to be the first volume of a trilogy, but the contents of the two later volumes are summarised at pp. 38-73 of the present work. A ...

No Joke

Adam Phillips: Meanings of Impotence, 5 July 2007

Impotence: A Cultural History 
by Angus McLaren.
Chicago, 332 pp., £19, April 2007, 978 0 226 50076 8
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... is a strange cultural ideal but a persistent one, and it tells us a lot about what we want to be. Augustine and Montaigne agree that what are called in this book ‘the workings of the penis’ are unpredictable. In Augustine’s De Peccatorum Meritis et Remissione, McLaren tells us, it is the ‘autonomy of the ...

Does a donkey have to bray?

Terry Eagleton: The Reality Effect, 25 September 2008

Accident: A Philosophical and Literary History 
by Ross Hamilton.
Chicago, 342 pp., £18, February 2008, 978 0 226 31484 6
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... of creatures like ourselves, whose existence is haunted by an awareness of our mortality. As St Augustine puts it, existence is shot through by nothingness from end to end. As such, the world is like a work of art, since God created it out of love rather than need. More specifically, it is like a Modernist work of art, which in order to avoid bad faith must ...

I had no imagination

Christian Lorentzen: Gerald Murnane, 4 April 2019

Tamarisk Row 
by Gerald Murnane.
And Other Stories, 281 pp., £10, February 2019, 978 1 911508 36 6
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Border Districts 
by Gerald Murnane.
And Other Stories, 144 pp., £8.99, January 2019, 978 1 911508 38 0
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... evening his father’s horse Clementia wins her maiden race, netting him a small fortune. Jean and Augustine aren’t yet married: a Protestant, she still has to finish her catechism and be baptised into the Catholic Church. The sex takes place in the grass by a horse trough behind her family’s ‘untidy’ house. It’s the first time ‘they committed that ...


Edwin Morgan, 4 October 2001

... anathemas,Bristling with intelligence not my intelligence,Black-hearted but indefatigable –Augustine! You know who you areAnd I know who you are and we shall dieCoeval as we came to life coeval.We are old. The dark is not far off.It is four hundred years now since those nailsWere hammered in that split the worldAnd not just flesh. Text and ...


Frank Kermode, 2 February 1984

Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism 
by James Barr.
Oxford, 181 pp., £13, June 1983, 0 19 826323 6
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Structuralist Interpretations of Biblical Myth 
by Edmund Leach and D. Alan Aycock.
Cambridge, 170 pp., £15, September 1983, 0 521 25491 4
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... And who would want to say that Jude deserves canonical privileges denied to the Confessions of St Augustine? Well, Augustine, very likely. But it can be made to seem very odd that a choice made seventeen hundred or more years ago, on the basis of arguments of which we don’t know the details and probably wouldn’t accept ...

Disappearing Acts

Terry Eagleton: Aquinas, 5 December 2013

Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait 
by Denys Turner.
Yale, 300 pp., £18.99, May 2013, 978 0 300 18855 4
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... we know very little, is ranked among the greatest of theologians, next only to St Paul and St Augustine. Of his publications, the centrepiece is the dauntingly hefty Summa Theologiae. In its dry, brisk, low-key manner, this formidable compendium of theology, metaphysics, ethics and psychology ranges from Thomas’s celebrated demonstrations of the ...

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