Monday, 28 March 2011

Summary of Book IX - Part 3

Grief. Recovery. A Prayer.

The grief over his mother’s death became a source for reflections on Christian mourning. Augustine describes how he struggled to control his tears. In most cases, funeral “dirges and lamentations” reflected the belief that death meant some miserable state, even complete extinction. This was not the Christian hope of Augustine and his mother. Yet Augustine still felt inward grief. He understood this as mourning for the loss of her friendship and support, “… a very affectionate and precious bond suddenly torn apart.” Leaving others to make funeral arrangements, Augustine and companions retired to a place where he could go “without discourtesy”.

His conversation during this time was a way of alleviating and hiding the pain he was experiencing. In reality, he was “holding back the torrent of sadness.” Grief is a necessary part of the current order and the human condition. Covering it up compounded his pain, so that he was “tortured by a twofold sadness.” He was in shock at the power of his human frailties. After the funeral sleep eventually brought relief, and, “little by little,” through private tears Augustine recovered from Monica’s death.

Augustine concludes Book IX with what is to all intents and purposes a prayer on behalf of his mother. It demonstrates the ambiguities of his theology of baptism and the forgiveness of sins. There are perils threatening every soul that dies in Adam (1Cor15:22). Having been made alive in Christ through her faith, Monica was no longer in Adam. Yet Augustine still felt the need to petition God for his mother’s sins. He pleads Christ’s interceding presence before God the Father (Rom8:34). Post baptismal sins were the focus of the prayer.

Interestingly, Augustine states his belief that God had already acted according to his prayer. When facing the Accuser Monica would be able to say that her debts have been forgiven by him who paid their price on her behalf.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Summary of Book IX - Part 2

Monica: Early life. Married life. Vision. Death.

Augustine mentions the death of his mother, and reflects on her life. The second half of the book is dedicated to this woman trained in the fear of God. Strangely, Augustine recounts a weakness for wine that developed in his mother’s early life. The ‘surplus high spirits’ of youth enticed her into the habit of drinking more and more wine as she drew it from the cask. But the Lord used a rebuke from a slavegirl to end the habit. Although the intention was to wound Monica, the Lord used that rebuke to help her.

Monica was a good wife to her husband. She was wise and patient as she bore with his infidelities. She hoped that God’s mercy would come upon him. Despite Patrick being a violent man there was never any appearance of domestic violence. Near the end of his life Monica’s husband became a baptized believer. Monica even won her mother-in-law’s respect, after household slavegirls had gossiped against her reputation. This was evidence of her gift as a peacemaker. She was also discreet, never sharing news or information with people unless it might lead to reconciliation, ‘…it should be regarded as a matter of common humanity not to stir up enmities between people nor to increase them by malicious talk…’

Augustine describes one of the last experiences he shared with his mother. At a house at Ostia together that talked very intimately about the things of God and eternal life. They asked each other questions about the nature of the new life that awaited the saints. The conclusion was that the pleasure of the bodily senses would be meaningless compared to the life of eternity. Augustine seems to claim that they both experienced something of the immediate heavenly wisdom, ’…while we talked and panted after it, we touched it in some small degree by a moment of total concentration of the heart.’

During this time together Monica shared that her desires for this world were already fulfilled. Having seen Augustine come to Christian faith, she was ready to die and pass on to the heavenly world. Within five days she had fallen sick but her only request was to be remembered by her sons before the Lord. She had no concerns about where her body was to be buried. She died a few days later at the age of 56.