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.


  1. Just a few thoughts on initially reading this:
    -when Augustine is speaking of his mother it's remarkable to see how he praises her through praising God. He notes that all of her virtues are given to her by God, rather than being something she did alone.Thinking of the virtues of those we love, especially those who have died, in terms of God is not an easy thing to do, as we want to praise them. Thinking of them in terms of God is a really good thing to be able to do though as we begin to love them even more when we see Jesus in them, and we may find it easier to accept death when we recognise that God is the One with the power to give and take away, and that all we have and are is from Him alone.

    -I think Augustine's habit of looking at all things as ordained by God is very obvious in this book.For example, God turning the slave girl's rebukes to his mother into a way to save her from alcoholism, and allowing for him to be with his mother in Ostia before she passed away. I do believe that many things happen for a reason and God puts many things in our paths, but sometimes I wonder how much is actually coincidence and how much is completely planned by God. Does anyone think Augustine reads too much into the idea of God placing him in different situations at the same time? Or do you think once you hand your life over to God He will make everything happen for a reason?

    -Augustine's comments about his mother seeing herself as a servant to her husband could be controversial nowadays but I think it's actually a good lesson for us all in terms of how we treat people. That's not to say we should allow ourselves to be abused, just that we should try to serve others as Jesus did. Trying to see things from other people's points of view is something I've been thinking about a lot recently.

    -The conversation Augustine had with his mother about the next life makes me think of contemplative prayer, which is an amazing experience once you've mastered it, but very tricky (at least I've found it so and almost given up on it). Open Mind:Open Heart by Thomas Keating is an excellent intro to contemplative prayer for anyone that's interested.

    I'm a bit confused about this passage though. Is Augustine seems to describing a supernatural experience. Is he saying their conversation made him feel this way or that he actually transcended physicality in some way?

  2. Niamh, I've still got to complete my summary of this book, so expect Part 3 soon.

    And, on top of that, I am hoping to write a blog post about the vision experience that Augustine describes. In my recent reading of another theologian I discovered a reference to the passage, a reference which was not complimentary. The nature of Augustine's experience in relation to our knowledge of God's revelation of himself was queried.

    I had noted the passage about Monica's domestic family life too. There is a difference between domestic abuse and cultural understandings of family roles and relationships. Without knowing any commentary, I'm sure that many writers have criticised Augustine on this passage.

  3. Ian, of course, I should have written... "In my reading of the "wholly other" theologian..." :-)


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