I’ve read Mr. Cornwell’s Newman’s Unquiet Grave, a frank and sometimes startling account of Cardinal Newman and worthy of any readers time and attention. I’ve also read James J. O’Donnell’s Augustine: A New Biography, also a refreshingly frank, not to say surprisingly candid biography of Augustine. As an atheist I find little in the Abrahamic Tradition to admire/praise. Look at the self-contempt shared by this trio of Christian thinkers/founders: Paul, Augustine and Jerome. Their self-loathing of their humanity has become a cornerstone of Christianity, allied to an obsession, from its beginnings, with heresies: Arianism, Donatism, Gnosticism and Manichaeism. Not to speak of the heretical devotion of both Augustine and Jerome, to the texts of the Greek and Roman thinkers and writers, that rescued Christianity from its provincialism, indeed parochialism. Both Plato and Aristotle played a decisive role in early and later Christan thought:
The whole of that Christian Tradition owes more to Constantine’s conversion, don’t forget the emperors many religious affiliations, Sol Invictus being just one example. And the fact that baptism was, in these times, a sacrament that was taken near the end of life rather than its beginnings.
See Charles Freeman’s two books for a history of early Christianity:
The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason