Friday, June 3, 2011

St. Monica

monica detailMonica’s Story (9.8.17-9.10.22)

Augustine begins this section by introducing a new African friend, Evodius[i] who converted after working in the Roman Special Branch (9.8.17). Evodius is a younger contemporary of Augustine from his home town Thagaste. Evodius will later become the Bishop of Uzalis, a small city near Carthage. He remains in close contact with Augustine after starting out as in the circle of “monks” at Thagaste.[ii]

Seemingly abruptly, Augustine notes, “And while we were in Ostia on the Tiber my mother died” (9.8.17). He does not want to speak of her gifts but of the gifts which God endowed her. He recounts the severity with which a certain servant trained her in temperance as a young girl and yet how for a time she was given to “a furtive fondness for wine” (9.8.17) in which she had developed the bad “habit of quaffing near goblets-full of wine” (9.8.18). She was cured of this when a maid accused her of being a “wine-swiller” (meribibulam).

Later in life she is given in marriage to a hot-tempered pagan man, who was guilty of many marital infidelities. She practiced a type of passive resistance whereby she would not confront her husband in word or deed when he was angry, but would wait for a time when he was calm and then explain her action. Recognizing that her culture gave her few alternate options, this plan of action resulted in marital harmony and good reputation with other wives in her community. Toward the end of his life her husband became a Christian and apparently behaved much better after his baptism (9.9.22).

The Vision at Ostia (9.10.23)

While alone together with his mother in a room overlooking a garden in Ostia they both ascend in a vision to God. On could compare this experience with the mystical vision of Book 7 with the conversion of Book 8. These experiences are united by this new mystical experience. He experiences Father, Son and now the Spirit. Augustine describes how both he and his mother ascended in their minds together into a mystical vision of God. In this vision they see uncreated Wisdom who is the creator and exists in eternity. Augustine describes this vision quoting Romans 8:23 “. . . having the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for our adoption.” He describes the shared vision in his own words returning to “articulate speech” he describes the encounter. He describes the Creator and notes we hear his Word “and in a flash of thought touch that eternal Wisdom” which leaves them feeling joy and aching for more. Now that God has granted Monica the privilege of seeing Augustine in the Catholic Church she has no other earthly desires.

monica's deathMonica’s Death (9.11.27)

About five days after this vision Monica became ill with a fever and lapsed into unconsciousness for a short time. When she returned to her senses she insisted that they bury her there in Ostia rather than take her back to Africa. All she asked is that they remember her at the Altar (9.11.27). She had originally wanted to buried beside her husband in Africa. He notes, “So on the ninth day of her illness, in the fifty-sixth year of her age, in my thirty-third year, that religious and Godly soul was set free from her body” (9.11.28).

As Augustine closed her eyes for the last time a huge sadness surged into his heart (9.12.29). He judged it unfitting to mark her death with “plaintive protests and laments” to mourn the misery of the dying or the belief that death is extinction. In light of her virtues and faith her held on to a firm hope for her eternal rest. He recounts how his son Adeodatus was not able to restrain his tears, and how he struggled himself to control his tears and eventually gave in privately on his bed (9.12.33). Because of his belief he struggled with his obvious human grief believing it to be some kind of carnal affection (9.13.34). While he acknowledged her good deeds on this earth he prayed fervently for her sin’s (9.13.35) asking God to have mercy on her and the might enter eternal rest (9.13.37).

[i] James J. O’Donnell, “Evodius of Uzalis” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan D. Fitzgerald, O.S.A., Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999, p. 344.

[ii] Ibid. Cf. n. 10 above.

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