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?)
THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:
Leon J. Podles holds a Ph.D. in Old English and Old Icelandic from the University of Virginia and is a senior editor of Touchstone. His latest book is Losing the Good Portion: Why Men Are Alienated from Christianity (St. Augustine's Press, 2020). He and his wife Mary (author of the Touchstone column "A Thousand Words") are the parents of six children. He resides in Baltimore, Maryland.
Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!
Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!
Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.
Transactions will be processed on a secure server.
more from the online archives
calling all readers
"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand
"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor