Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism  -     By: Garry Wills
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Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine, and the Mystery of Baptism

Oxford University Press / 2012 / Hardcover

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Product Description

No two men were more influential in the early Church than Ambrose, the powerful Bishop of Milan, and Augustine, the philosopher from provincial Africa who would write The Confessions and The City of God. Dissimilar in background, they were also extraordinarily different in personality.

In Font of Life: Ambrose, Augustine & The Mystery of Baptism, Garry Wills explores the remarkable moment when their lives intersected at one of the most important, yet rarely visited, sites in the Christian world. Hidden under the piazza of the Duomo in Milan lies part of the foundations of a fourth-century cathedral where, at dawn on Easter of 387, Augustine and a group of people seeking baptism gathered after an all-night vigil.

Ambrose himself performed the sacrament and the catechumens were greeted by their fellows in the faith, which included Augustine's mother Monnica. Though the occasion had deep significance for the participants, this little cluster of devotees was unaware that they were creating the future of the Western church. Ambrose would go on to forge new liturgies, new forms of church music, and new chains of churches; Augustine would return to Africa to become Bishop of Hippo and one of the most influential writers of Christianity.

Garry Wills uses the ancient baptistery to chronicle a pivotal chapter in the history of the Church, highlighting the often uncomfortable relationship between the two church fathers and exploring the mystery and meanings of the sacrament of baptism. In addition, he brings long overdue attention to an unjustly neglected landmark of early Christianity. The result is a small but important work that covers a particular episode in church history while it also draws out important theological elements within each Father's thought.

Product Information

Format: Hardcover
Number of Pages: 208
Vendor: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: 2012
Dimensions: 8.30 X 5.50 (inches)
ISBN: 019976851X
ISBN-13: 9780199768516
Availability: Usually ships in 24-48 hours.

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Publisher's Description

No two men were more influential in the early Church than Ambrose, the powerful Bishop of Milan, and Augustine, the philosopher from provincial Africa who would write The Confessions and The City of God. Different in background, they were also extraordinarily different in personality. In Font of Life, Garry Wills explores the remarkable moment when their lives intersected at one of the most important, yet rarely visited, sites in the Christian world. Hidden under the piazza of the Duomo in Milan lies part of the foundations of a fourth-century cathedral where, at dawn on Easter of 387, Augustine and a group of people seeking baptism gathered after an all-night vigil. Ambrose himself performed the sacrament and the catechumens were greeted by their fellows in the faith, which included Augustine's mother Monnica. Though the occasion had deep significance for the participants, this little cluster of devotees was unaware that they were creating the future of the Western church. Ambrose would go on to forge new liturgies, new forms of church music, and new chains of churches; Augustine would return to Africa to become Bishop of Hippo and one of the most influential writers of Christianity. Garry Wills uses the ancient baptistry to chronicle a pivotal chapter in the history of the Church, highlighting the often uncomfortable relationship between the two church fathers and exploring the mystery and meanings of the sacrament of baptism. In addition, he brings long overdue attention to an unjustly neglected landmark of early Christianity.

Author Bio


Garry Wills is the author of many books, including Bomb Power, What Jesus Meant, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Publisher's Weekly

In his latest book, prolific author and historian Wills (Lincoln at Gettysburg) takes the reader beneath Milan’s famed cathedral to the “font of life,” the baptistry where Ambrose baptized Augustine in 387 C.E. He explores the historical moment during which the two famous and highly influential Christians met, dramatically bringing to life this critical time in the history of Christianity. Painting a backdrop of heresies and tense clashes with Roman emperors, Wills provides a captivating and rich description of Ambrose’s baptismal rite and theology. He then compares these to Augustine’s own baptismal rite and theology, analyzing to what extent Ambrose might have influenced the future bishop of Hippo. Wills compellingly argues that despite their encounter in Milan, in which Ambrose initiated Augustine into the Christian community, the two men differed greatly both in personality and theology. Their respective baptismal rites were influenced largely by the heresies they wished to disprove and condemn, not by one another. A well-researched and fascinating historical look at Ambrose, Augustine, and the sacrament of baptism. Agent: Andrew Wylie. (Apr.)2012 Reed Business Information

Editorial Reviews


"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 a magnificent diptych in which the figures take on shifting forms and colors as the light changes. This is a nuanced, perceptive, and utterly persuasive account of two great men."--G. W. Bowersock, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton


"The author's affection for his subjects fills out the human picture...The book surveys the intersection of the lives of two of the Latin patriarchs who left great, if different, marks on the church. It explores theology with narrative flow. It makes serious points with grace."--America


"An interesting and evocative addition to Wills's impressive corpus." -- Christian Century


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