Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I have just finished getting all the photos together for my book on Augustine. Too bad that we don't have a portrait of Augustine done by his contemporaries. Not that skill was lacking. I am so amazed at the talent of the artists of the Fayum mummy portraits in Egypt, done more or less at the same time when Jesus was on earth.
This was more or less the type of people who surrounded Jesus, the Apostles, and later Augustine (even if, in 400 years, the fashion had probably changed).
I am wondering why we had to wait another 1400 years to see the same realism in art.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

New Obstacles and More Help

Just as I was breathing a sigh of relief after receiving the last illustration for the Augustine book, I received an e-mail from my publisher saying that some of the photos I sent him are not good enough! Since this book has only 12 illustrations (six less than the other one, mostly because of problems with the illustrators), I really need to include a lot of photos!
One of the problems is that, as opposed to the Calvin book, we don't have portraits of Augustine done by his contemporaries, and we don't have any buildings from that time still standing - just ruins. In Milan, we have less than that, because the city was totally destroyed by Barbarossa in 1162.
A second problem is time - most of the photos on wikimedia and other free sources online have a low resolution, and where am I going to find lots of photos with so little time left (the book is being typeset and they actually stopped working on it because of this)?
I have been looking everywhere and praying for God to supply.
One of the first answers to prayer has been this photo on the left, sent by James O'Donnell, provost at Georgetown University and author of Augustine: a New Biography, which has been a great addition to my research material while writing my book. James O'Donnell has a wonderful website on Augustine:
This photo shows the remains of Augustine's church in Hippo Regius, with the altar and apse at the far end. I am deeply grateful to O'Donnell and to God!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Unexpected Encouragement

I have received, just a few days ago, an e-mail from Phillip Cary, Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania (photo on the left).
Dr. Cary graciously agreed to read my manuscript on Augustine (on short notice!) and made some precious comments and suggestions. He also wrote a wonderful review for the back cover.
Phillip Cary is author of several works on Augustine, including Augustine: Philosopher and Saint, 12x30 min. tapes by The Teaching Company (highly recommended). These tapes have helped me immensely in developing the outline of my book, as they point out quite clearly the milestones in Augustine's life and the main issues in his thought. Dr. Cary's enthusiasm for this great man of Church history is contagious and I hope I was able to convey it in my book.
I appreciated Dr. Cary's comments and suggestions because they were very specific. He obviously took much time to thoroughly examine each paragraph. But they were also particularly helpful because they shared the same idea that children can understand more than we often give them credit for. He said things like, "Even for a children's book, couldn't you...?", or "in a book for children, shouldn't you?"
I felt like he was next to me, coaching me along. I couldn't ask for anything better! And what a timing! The book is being typeset right now! God is taking care of this book in spite of myself.
Dr. Peter Brown (photo on right) is the author of Augustine of Hippo: a Biography, which has been considered the standard account of Augustine's life and thought. It's one of the clearest books I have ever read, as well as thorough and full of useful annotations. It has been my main source of reference while writing my book.
I have contacted Dr. Brown only recently to ask him to write a review for my book. The reason why, in both cases, I wrote so late is that I never thought these great professors and authors would take the time to consider a small children's book such as mine. Regrettably, Dr. Brown is too busy at this time, but he sent me a personal and warm reply, greatly encouraging me in my pursuits.

Rachel Getting Married

My husband is a movie-lover. He watches a movie every night when he is not watching football. I don't usually join him - too much blood most of the time. Last night I was sick with a cold and saw this interesting movie about family woes. Rachel's sister Kym (Ann Hathaway) struggles with terrible guilt for having caused the death of her little brother. As she explained the weight of that guilt, she said (as I remember), "I cannot forgive myself, and can't believe in a God who will." And later, "What am I supposed to be now? Even if I were Mother Theresa I could not remedy what I have done."
She is so right. I think with sadness of days gone by when I would have said, "No, God forgives you. He is waiting with outstretched arms." But those who are crushed by guilt know better. God, in His justice, cannot forgive, and there is nothing we could ever do to atone for our sins. To say otherwise is to minimize our sin and Christ's sacrifice.
We can never help others by pulling them up to a made-believe, Mary Poppins type of world where everyone can be happy just by accepting that God loves us. We need to delve into the real world where they are suffering, sharing their real pain, and agree with their absolutely logical conclusions, and then introduce them to a real historical event - the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and to the Covenant of Redemption that it fulfills - the only logical explanation to why there is still hope in this fallen world.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A 9/11 Reflection

A few people today asked what I was doing on 9/11/2001.
I remember watching the news early on TV. My father called from Italy. He knew nothing about it. I explained what had happened, and he said, "You make it sound as if it's the end of the world." He called me an hour later and said, "It IS the end of the world!"
Well, it was not, really, but it reminds me of the sack of Rome in 410, the first time Rome was ever invaded in almost eight hundred years. It had been called the Immortal City. I can imagine the same shock and fear. We know that many blamed the "new" Christian religion. Too weak of a God, they said. That's why Augustine wrote the City of God, a 22-book reply!
In some ways, however, it was different then. The Visigoths were not motivated by religious beliefs. They were not trying to make a statement. The 9/11 hijackers did.
Over the months that followed, I was saddened by the reaction of many Americans, who chose to respond with hate to hate, with violence to violence, with prejudice to prejudice.
I worked for Arab-American Business Magazine for a while after that, and was appalled to find out how many Arabs were mistreated in this country as a result of 9/11. Sad, sad stories. I also wrote two articles for a Christian paper, on the same subject, hoping to present a different view. In the process, I spoke to some wonderful people and was enriched.
My conclusion, eight years later, is quite simple: we are all sinners, Arabs, Americans, Italians, or whatever. It's only by God's grace that I didn't hijack one of those planes or torture some Iraqi prisoners, as appalling as the thought seems to me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Augustine on Science

I am not partial to Augustine, and of course I don't agree with everything he ever said, but there is so much of his thought that I could not include in my biography for young readers. I love this quote on science.

It is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics [science]; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? (Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis).

Sunday, September 6, 2009

How puritan were the Puritans?

I just read an interesting article on Tim Challies' blog
If the Puritans, like the Reformers before them, had a positive attitude toward sex, how did the change in attitude come about?

I always found interesting to notice different views of modesty in different cultures, throughout the centuries and around the globe.
At the time of Augustine (IV-V century), Christians were baptized naked, in front of the whole congregation. Ancient Romans slept naked, and so did monks in most monastery. It was a V century Catholic saint, Benedetto da Norcia, who finally wrote in his rules that his monks should wear something in bed.
It was the medieval Catholic church that destroyed valuable Greek and Roman works of art in the name of modesty (it is said that the church destroyed more artwork than the barbarians).
It was during the Counter-Reformation that Pope Pius IV hired an artist to add some pants to Michelangelo's Last Judgment.
On the other hand, the Renaissance (and the Reformation) ushered in a renewed appreciation for the classics in all their forms.
In the XVI century, Olympia Morata, the subject of my historical novel, widely praised by her Reformed contemporaries for her knowledge and piety, translated two fables from one of the most irreverent and scandalous books of the XIII century (Boccaccio's Decameron) and quoted freely "poets of love" such as Catullus and Ovid in her correspondence with other Christians.
On the occasion of her wedding, she composed this prayer,

Wide ruling Lord, highest of all rulers,
Who formed the male and the female sex,
You who gave to the first man a wife for his own,
Lest the race of man die out,
and wished the souls of mortals to be the bride of Your Son
and that He die on behalf of His Spouse,
give happiness and harmony to husband and to wife,
for the ordinance, the marriage bed, and weddings are yours.

It's interesting that she mentions the marriage bed, while in our culture we are quite shy to include it in our conversations, and I doubt that we would pray for it in public!
When I first came to America from Europe, I noticed fewer people kissing in public. On the other hand, couples at church felt quite free to stroke each other's backs, sometimes for the whole length of the sermon, something that I have never seen in Italian churches!
My point? I don't know. I don't think blogs need to have a point, necessarily. I am just making an observation.
Or maybe, if we want to find a point, it is the same as in my previous post - the study of history widens our views.
This time, however, I am not adding a picture to the post...