St. Augustine begins book six, having rejected Manichaeism but not yet having accepted Christianity. At this time his mother, Monica decide to leave Carthage and to rejoin him in Milan. Upon hearing that he had rejected Manichaeism she was overjoyed, even if he was not yet a Christian. Trusting on the vision God had given her in a dream she “redoubled her prayers and tears” to God imploring his help (6.1.1). Peter Brown describes Monica’s strengths as being, “restrained, dignified, above gossip, a firm peacemaker among her acquaintances, [and] capable, like her son, of effective sarcasm.”[ii] Monica is a constant theme in Augustine’s narrative. He will return to give more details of her life in his Book 9. In Book 6 he recounts an anecdote concerning Monica’s adherence to certain Africa pious customs such as visiting the tomb of the martyrs to make offerings of pottage, bread and wine. While Augustine makes it very clear that his mother behaved in a chaste and pious manner, these African customs had often led to drunkenness and promiscuity and “the custom resembled the cult of ancestors and was so closely kin to the superstitious practices of the pagans” (6.2.2). For this reason Bishop Ambrose had forbidden the practice in Milan and later as Bishop, Augustine will attempt to do the same in Carthage.[iii] Augustine marvels, at how graciously his mother gave up the practice, though he notes, “it seems unlikely that my mother would have yielded easily over the abolition of this custom had it been forbidden by anyone other than Ambrose, whom she highly revered” (6.2.2). Ambrose held her in mutual high regard.
Text © Scott McKellar 2011
All quotes in this series of blogs from Confessions are from, St. Augustine, Confessions, trans. Maria Boulding, O.S.B., The Works of Saint Augustine for the 21st Century, Ed John Rotelle, O.S.A., (New York, New City Press, 1997)
Image Saint Monica, Benozzo Gozzoli (fresco -1464-65)
Apsidal chapel, Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano
[i] Peter Brown, Augustine, p. 16-22; Angelo Di Berardino, O.S.A., “Monica” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 570-571.
[ii] Peter Brown, Augustine, p. 17.
[iii], In St. Augustine Letters 36.14.32 and 54.2.3, Augustine observes the practice of Ambrose to observe the custom of each local church with being quarrelsome. When he was in Milan he observed one custom when in Rome another.