Tiffany stained-glass window of St. Augustine, in the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine, Florida.

A typical Great Books curriculum features the Confessions of Augustine of Hippo (354–430 A.D.) at the end of the Greco–Roman portion of the syllabus, in part to suggest the transition between the pagan and Christian eras. I hope nobody says Augustine “marks” the transition, which was too slow and complicated for any marker. In fact, the contrasts and tensions in the author’s own life—parts of it narrated in this first true autobiography—look almost bizarrely deep and persistent.

Augustine’s mother, Monica,...


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