As human beings are incurably nosy (I believe the vice is called curiositas), we find books more interesting if the author reveals his own attitude toward the subject. Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory was about the First World War, but it also was about Paul Fussell and how he reacted to his own experience in war, in which he had been dreadfully wounded in body and soul.
Autobiographies attract us. St. Augustine’s Confessions set a high standard of self-revelation. He was confessing not to us, but to God, and we are eavesdroppers (which makes it even better). He was also confessing not only his sins, but the work of God in his life, guiding him along paths that he would rather not have gone down. The middle-class provincial pagan boy wanted to make it in the big city (Rome or Milan) and not get stuck teaching catechism to dockworkers in North Africa.
The Roman rhetorician and lawyer Augustine would have been a small footnote, at best, in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall; Augustine the bishop of Hippo will dominate the Western Church until the Lord comes again, and people will read about his misadventure of the pear tree and his relationship with his illegitimate son Adeodatus as long as people read. (I thought the mother of the boy should have been given a more prominent role. Was Augustine’s silence delicacy or misogyny?)
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Leon J. Podles holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia and has worked as a teacher and a federal investigator. He is the author of The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity and the forthcoming License to Sin (both from Spence Publishing). His latest book is Losing the Good Portion: Why Men are Alienated from Christianity (St. Augustine’s Press). Dr. Podles and his wife have six children and live in Naples, Florida. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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