Smither, Edward L. Augustine as Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2009. ISBN: 978-0805447071.
The book “Augustine as a Mentor: A Model for Preparing Spiritual Leaders” written by Edward Smither revolves around Augustine as a spiritual mentor and guide for so many, and subsequently how his model can be made applicable in contemporary teachings. Smither sees Augustine as one of the most influential mentors in the history of Christianity, and in addition to preaching the teachings of Augustine and his methods, does an excellent job of explaining the history of religious mentors–including the origins of Augustine himself–in the process.
The first chapter in general is dedicated to discussing the concept of mentoring. The author provides examples of past mentors, as well as their influence–in particular, the relationship between Christ and his disciples is discussed. This is obviously the best example of mentoring in religion, and truly hits home for the reader–more than that, it allows a relatable comparison on which to base the teachings of Augustine, as well as placing him in rather good company. Smither also uses the first chapter to define a mentor as “someone with significant experience…imparting knowledge and skill to a novice…of discipline, commitment, and accountability,” (pg 2).
After examining other famous mentors such as Ambrose, in Chapter 3 the author turns to the origins of such a man as Augustine. Where could such a man have come from, to do all these amazing things? After posing the question, Smither focuses in on Monica–his mother–and her continued influence on Augustine throughout his life. Specifically, Smither asserts her influence on his ability to communicate with all of the masses, and to relate to any type of person (pg. 96).
Another figure that pops up quite frequently as a mentor to Augustine himself is Valerius. A well respected academic of his time, Valerius was not a member of the Church–although Smither makes a point to emphasize his continued influence on Augustine even after he entered the priesthood. In some ways this is not unlike Augustine at all–his long struggle with faith before turning to God is well documented. As an intellectual, Augustine continued to take his life experiences with him in his work within the Church (pg. 97).
This is certainly one of the major themes of the entire text as a whole, and had an extremely profound impact on myself. Augustine, though he was a mentor to many, never stopped being a learner, or disciple, himself. He constantly engaged in dialogue, and never dismissed anything. This shaped his method of teaching others–a Socratic-type dialogue, where ideas were discussed in depth by a group participation. In fact Smither directly addresses Augustine in this way again, claiming he was “humble” due to his ability to admit he did not know some things–a sort of negative intelligence that only the greatest minds can comprehend (pgs. 222-3). The idea of the teacher being a learner is certainly centralized in this book.
As previously stated, it was no secret that Augustine had trouble finding his faith, and indeed there is no attempt to hide this by the author. In fact, it is looked at as a positive trait–and forever shaped the way Augustine conveyed his own messages to the many that looked to him as a mentor. This “weakness” of Augustine, rather than hurting him, made him all the more effective a leader. This fact in and of itself made Augustine relatable to virtually anyone, a trait scarcely found in history, but one Augustine himself mastered.
The concept of Augustine as a relatable leader is probably the other centralized theme of the book as a whole. Naturally as a philanthropic and selfless person, he himself was very kind and approachable. Smither pays close attention to casting Augustine as the great man he was, placing special importance on mentioning the friendships he created and fostered during his lifetime.
These friendships were instrumental to Augustine in especially mentoring others. Because with Augustine much was through conversation, it was less like a master speaking to his student, and more like a father figure–Augustine was able to draw from his personal experiences to guide many lost souls. It is easy to see why people flocked to him–as well as the far-reaching influence he had as a mentor–he was kind, open-minded, and more “down to earth”, for lack of a better phrase, than other religious figures.
Looking at the themes Smither puts forward by using Augustine as an example, I believe this work was very thought provoking, as well as relevant. A relatable mentor–as well as an open minded one, is sure to be the most effective in any foreseeable situation. The other thing that distinguished Augustine was his ability to continue to be a disciple of many trains of thought; at the same time he was also largely a mentor to many different people. This combination of traits, as explained in the book, is the reason Augustine was able to influence to many minds for the better in his lifetime.