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Monica’s mother-in-law, who lived with them, was hostile to her until Monica won her over “by her respectful manner and by persistence in patience and gentleness” (9,20). Monica, Augustine wrote, whenever she could “reconciled dissident and quarrelling people” (9,21). Moreover, she was, he said to God, “a servant of your servants: any of them who knew her found much to praise in her, held her in honour and loved her; for they felt your presence in her heart” (9,22).
Monica was probably twenty-three when Augustine was born, her first of several children. “She was already a Christian in the noblest sense,” wrote Handley Moule, “strong in the power of spiritual holiness, and ardently prayerful” for the salvation of her children.10 She suffered greatly when she saw Augustine wandering away from God.
During his rebellious years, Augustine said that God was not silent but spoke to him through his mother. “Then whose words were they but yours which you were chanting in my ears through my mother, your faithful servant?” (2,7). Monica witnessed to her wayward son and prayed for him and wept for him “more than mothers weep when lamenting their dead children” (3,19). Nine years before Augustine’s conversion, Monica received the famous consolation from a bishop, wearied with her entreaties for him to reason with her son, “Go . . . it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.” She took those words “as if they had sounded from heaven” (3,21).
Monica was distraught when Augustine planned to leave Carthage for Rome. She feared that away from her influence and the restraints of home, he would be lost to her and to God. To escape he deceived her. “I lied to my mother—to such a mother—and I gave her the slip.” “By her flood of tears,” Augustine wrote, “what was she begging of you, my God, but that you would not allow me to sail? Yet in your deep counsel you heard the central point of her longing” (5,15). God did not answer Monica’s prayer—that Augustine not go to Rome—so that he could answer her prayer that her son would come to Christ.
After accusing Augustine of “deception and cruelty,” Monica turned again to pray for him (5,15). And soon she followed him to Milan, where he had gone to further his career in rhetoric. There she found him “in a dangerous state of depression” because he “had lost all hope that truth could be found” (6,1). But Monica was confident that she would live to see her son come to faith in Christ.
With Augustine in Milan was the woman (we don’t know her name) he had lived with faithfully for fifteen years and their son, Adeodatus, unwanted but then deeply loved. Monica and Augustine’s friends insisted that she be sent back to Carthage so that Augustine could marry a proper wife of social standing. The parting was exquisitely painful on both sides. Augustine wrote that “his heart was cut and wounded, and left a trail of blood” (6,25). Monica worked hard to find a wife for Augustine—one of sufficient income and from a good family. It all came to nothing. Monica and Augustine acted within the cultural expectations of the time—but it is disappointing that Monica’s lifelong Christian experience and Augustine’s spiritual pilgrimage, soon to lead to Christian conversion, did not produce a different, and more compassionate, result.
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