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Patristic Pulpit Pack

Pope Benedict just last week concluded his five-part series of addresses on the life and work of St. Augustine. I’m sure it made you want to learn more about this undisputed giant of intellectual history. But where to begin?

Maybe start with the sermons. Augustine is one of history’s greatest preachers — at once warm and winsome in his delivery and profound and sophisticated in his exposition. His 559 surviving sermons fill eleven imposing volumes in the most recent English edition.

I know: That’s not much help if you’re trying to find something manageable for starters.

But now comes a book that gathers a more manageable seventy-six “essential” sermons for a modern reader’s study (or a modern preacher’s imitation). It’s aptly titled Saint Augustine: Essential Sermons. Topics range from dogma to morals, from liturgy to lives of the saints, from Mariology to celibacy.

The styles range from polemic to pleading, all rendered in the colloquial English that has been the hallmark of the New City Press Works of Saint Augustine series: “That’s what the Church of God is like; in some of the saints it works miracles, in other saints it proclaims the truth, in other saints it preserves virginity, in other saints it preserves married chastity; in some this, in others that. All doing their own thing, but living the same life together.”

The volume is well suited for devotional or spiritual reading. The scholarly notes have been stripped out, to keep the size down, and the index is minimal. The introduction, however, is immensely helpful, analyzing Augustine’s rhetorical techniques in a way that’s accessible to nonspecialists, and teasing out, from Augustine’s casual asides, the great preacher’s homiletic methods and habits of preparation.