Who Was Saint Augustine's Mother?

Monica has an incredibly unique and special place in the hearts and minds of the Augustinians.  In fact, the greater Catholic Church recognizes her as being the Patron Saint of Mothers.  Little did Monica ever know that her son, Augustine of Hippo, would eventually become the most quoted and cited saint throughout all of Christendom to this day.  Saint Monica is truly a Hero of our Faith.

Mostly everything we know about Monica and her husband Patricius comes from Augustine's Confessions, a semi-autobiographical dialogue with God.  She was born in either 331 or 332 in the small town of Thagaste (modern-day Souk-Ahras, Algeria).  She was a member of the Berber tribe, an ethnicity that presently lives mostly in Morocco and Algeria.  On November 13, 354, she gave birth to Aurelius Augustine in Thagaste.

Although Monica's husband Patricius had no particular religious beliefs, she raised Augustine in the Catholic faith.  However, Augustine was not baptized during his infancy, which was the common Church practice of the time.  Augustine later recounted:

My cleansing was therefore deferred on the pretext that if I lived I would inevitably soil myself again, for it was held that the guild of sinful defilement incurred after the laver of baptism was greater and more perilous. I was already a believer, as were my mother and all the household, with the exception of my father. He, however, did not overrule the influence my mother’s piety exercised over me, by making any attempt to stop me believing in Christ, in whom he did not at that time believe himself. My mother did all she could do to see that you, my God, should be more truly than my father was ...
— Confessions I, 11, 18

As Augustine entered early adulthood, however, he began to drift away from the Church and into a a world of sin.  He desired to learn about secular philosophies, he lusted, and he desired worldly goods.  He went to study in Carthage, where he became skilled in rhetoric.  He joined various religious groups like the Manichees and the neo-Platonists, drifting further and further from Christ.  All the while, Monica continued to pray for her son to find his faith once again.  She did not approve of him joining these other religions but still loved him unconditionally. 

One day, Monica approached a certain priest and asked him to guide Augustine back to Christianity.  Augustine later described this encounter in his Confessions:

She pleaded all the more insistently and with free-flowing tears that he would consent to see me and discuss matters with me. A little vexed, he answered, ‘Go away now; but hold onto this: it is inconceivable that he should perish, a son of tears like yours.’ In her conversations with me [Augustine] later she often recalled that she had taken these words to be an oracle from Heaven.”
— Confessions III, 12, 21

When Augustine finally experienced his conversion back to the Christian faith, Monica rejoiced.  Augustine was finally baptized on April 24, 387 in Milan.  He then left Milan to return to his hometown of Thagaste.  However, his return was delayed for nearly two years while the port of Ostia was closed by a blockade.  At what point during this time, Augustine and Monica had simultaneously experienced a mystical moment.  During a discussion of divine wisdom, Augustine claims that "We did for one instant touch it ..."  Nine days after this encounter with divinity, Monica died and was buried in Ostia.  Right before her death, she asked of Augustine:

Lay this body anywhere and take no trouble over it. One thing only do I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be.
— Confessions IX, 11, 27

The death of Saint Monica

Augustine proceeded to enter ordained ministry and created a Rule for religious communities that the Augustinians continue to follow to this very day.  Imagine, however, that Monica did not continue to pray for Augustine's path to knowing God.  Imagine if she had simply given up on him or even disowned him.  What would the world, or even the Catholic Church, look like today?

Monica loved Augustine unconditionally even throughout his life of sin far away from the Lord.  She prayed for him and cried for him with immense devotion and care.  Her remains now rest at the Church of Saint Augustine in Rome.  Mothers across the world continue to pray for her intercession, especially on her feast day, August 27.  She is a role model to mothers everywhere, as well as anyone else who is praying that their loved ones find Christ.  She is truly an Augustinian Hero of Faith.

 

Patrick Murphy

Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel, 5401 S Cornell Ave, Chicago, IL, 60615, United States

Patrick Murphy has been working with the Augustinians in fundraising and communications since 2010. He began working with the Augustinian Vocations office in 2015. He also holds a Master of Science in Nonprofit Management.


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