I cannot write about St. Augustine, unless I write about his incredible mother, St. Monica, whose Feast day was celebrated yesterday, August 27th. St. Monica was the mother of the great Doctor of the Church, theologian, philosopher and writer, St. Augustine of Hippo, whose Feast day we celebrate today, August 28th. This incredible lady did everything she could for her children and with regard to her son, not only gave him birth into this world, but gave him his spiritual birth as he languished in sin and licentious living.
She was born in Tagaste, sixty miles from Carthage, North Africa, in 332 A.D. of Christian parents. When she had reached the age of marriage, her parents gave her as a wife to a citizen of Tagaste, Patricius, a pagan who was generous, but who was also violent-tempered and dissolute. Monica put up with this man, but yet, he admired her piety and respected her, Monica not being the recipient of his rage. Apparently, her mother-in-law also lived with her, being described as “cantankerous”. Due in part to Monica’s prayers and her example, both her husband and her mother-in-law became Christians, with Patricius dying in 371, a year after his baptism.
Monica and Patricius had three children, but their ambitions centered upon their eldest son, Augustine, who was born November 13, 354 in North Africa. They gave him the best possible education as he was brilliant and clever. Nevertheless, Augustine loved pleasure and led a wicked life, enjoying the physical pleasures of life, fathering a son out of wedlock, embracing the Manichaean heresy. Yet, Augustine’s life was a passionate search for the truth She endured difficulties with Augustine but she never ceased her efforts on his behalf. She prayed for him, she asked members of the clergy to argue truth with him, wherein she was told, “The heart of the young man is at present too stubborn, but God’s time will come,” was the reply of a wise bishop who had formerly been a Manichaean himself. (According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Manichaeism was a radical offshoot of the Gnostic traditions of E. Persia. It taught that the object of the practice of religion was to release the particles of light which Satan had stolen from the world of Light and imprisoned in man’s brain and that Jesus, Buddha, the Prophets, and Manes had been sent to help in this task. For the Manichaean believer, the whole physical universe was mobilized to create this release.) Monica kept persisting, but this bishop said to her, “Go now, I beg of you: it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.”
Augustine was 29 years old when he decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric, still a heretic and still living in a licentious manner. Monica wanted to go with him and followed him to the port where they were to embark. Nevertheless, Augustine had no intentions of his mother accompanying him to Rome. Augustine told his mother that he was going to say good-bye to a friend. In the meantime, she spent the night in prayer in the church of St. Cyprian. Needless to say, Augustine left her there on the port, but she persistently followed after him. One would have liked to have been a fly on the wall to see Monica confront her son! Monica went to Rome but then discovered that Augustine had went to Milan instead.
Again, Monica tracked Augustine down to Milan and she discovered that Augustine had met the incredible and amazing St. Ambrose, the great bishop of Milan. She discovered much to her joy that Augustine was no longer a Manichaean and that he was under the influence of this wonderful bishop who could teach Augustine, argue with Augustine and teach him Truth.
In August of 387, Augustine announced his complete acceptance of the Catholic Faith. Augustine, his mother and friends went to a villa to prepare for Augustine’s baptism. They engaged in philosophical and religious conversations, with Monica displaying excellent knowledge and judgment, being very well versed in Biblical Scriptures. At Easter Vigil in 387, St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine, as well as his 15-year-old son, Adeodatus (who was to die not long afterwords) and his friend, Alipius. Soon thereafter, Augustine returned to Africa. They made it to Ostia, where they awaited a ship, but Monica was dying and she said, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled. . .God has granted me more than this in making you despise earthly felicity and consecrate yourself to His service.” On the 9th day of her illness, she died, happily knowing that Augustine was now spiritually reborn and healthy.
While in Augustine’s African home in Tagaste where he lived three years, he served God by fasting, through prayer, doing good works, by meditating and instructing others through his discourses and his books. In 391 he was ordained as an assistant to Valerius, Bishop of Hippo, wherein he had moved to Hippo in a house that adjoined the church. He established a sort of monastery, living there with Alipius, Evodius, Possidius and others. Because Bishop Valerius had a speech impediment, he appointed Augustine to preach to the people in his own presence. We have almost 600 sermons drafted and/or taken down by others as he delivered his sermons.
In j395, he was consecrated bishop as coadjutor to Valerius and succeeded him in the see of Hippo. According to One-Hundred Saints (Bulfinch Press), “Augustine established regular and common life in his residence, and required all the priests, deacons, and subdeacons that lived with him to renounce property and to follow the rule he established there; nor did he admit any to holy orders who did not bind themselves to a similar manner of life. He also founded a community of religious women to whom he addressed a letter on the general ascetic principles of the religious life. This letter, together with two sermons on the subject, constitutes the Rule of St. Augustine, which is the basis of the constitutions of many canons regular, friars and nuns. St. Augustine employed the revenues of his church in relieving the poor, as he had before given his own patrimony. . .”
He served 35 years as the Bishop of Hippo. In Pope Benedict’s “General Audience” recorded on August 25, 2010, Pope Benedict said, “As you know, I too am especially attached to certain Saints: among them in addition to St. Joseph and St. Benedict, whose names I bear is St. Augustine whom I have had the great gift to know, so to speak, close at hand through study and prayer and who has become a good “travelling companion” in my life and my ministry. I would like to stress once again an important aspect of his human and Christian experirence, which is also timely in our day, in which it seems, paradoxically, that relativism is “truth” which must guide our thoughts, decisions and behaviour.”
Pope Benedict teaches us in his General Audience recorded February 20, 2008, that: “The list of Augustine’s works was drafted with the explicit intention of keeping their memory alive while the Vandal invasion was sweeping through all of Roman Africa, and it included at least 1,030 writings numbered by their Author, with others “that cannot be numbered because he did not give them any number. . .In the literary corpus of Augustine, more than 1,000 publications divided into philosophical, apologetic, doctrinal, moral, monastic, exegetic and anti-heretical writings in addition precisely to the letters and homilies – certain exceptional works of immense theological and philisophical breadth stand out. First of all, it is essential to remember the Confessions…, written in 13 books between 397 and 400 in praise of God. They are sort of an autobiography in the form of a dialogue with God. This literary genre actually mirrors St. Augustine’s life, which was not one closed in on itself, dispersed in many things, but was lived substantially as a dialogue with God, hence, a life with others. . .Thanks to the Confessiones, moreover, we can follow step by step the inner journey of this extraordinary and passionate man of God.” Augustine lays open his entire self, the sins and errors that he committed, giving to God his complete contrition and trust.
Pope Benedict then tells us about Augustine’s great work, “Of the City of God,” written between 413 and 426 in 22 books. Pope Benedict says that Of the City of God it “was an impressive work crucial to the development of Western political thought and the Christian theology of history. The occasion was the sack of Rome by the Goths in 410. Numerous pagans still alive and also many Christians said: Rome has fallen; the Christian God and the Apostles can now no longer protect the city. While the pagan divinities were present, Rome was the great capital, and no one could have imagined that it would fall into enemy hands. Now, with the Christian God, this great city no longer seemed safe. Therefore, the God of the Christians did not protect, he could not be the god to whom to entrust oneself. St. Augustine answered this objection, which also touched Christian hearts profoundly, with this impressive work, explaining what we should and should not expect of God, and what the relationship is between the political sphere and the sphere of faith, of the Church. This book is also today a source for defining clearly between true secularism and the Church’s competence, the great true hope that the faith gives to us.” Clearly we could find this work so relevant today, given the corruption and evil going on in our country and in the world.
We also learn from Pope Benedict of the book authored by Augustine, “De Trinitate,” a work in 15 books on the central core of the Christian faith, faith in the Trinitarian God. . .Here he reflects on the Face of God and seeks to understand this mystery of God who is unique, the one Creator of the world, of us all, and yet this one God is precisely Trinitarian, a circle of love. He seeks to understand the unfathomable mystery: the actual Trinitarian being, in three Persons, is the most real and profound unity of the one God.”
Augustine’s last years were full of turmoil, difficulties and sufferings, inasmuch as King Genseric of the Vandals invaded the African provinces. Augustine’s friend, Possidius, described the absolute horror they incurred upon the cities, where people either were slain or had to flee. In fact, Mass was offered up in private houses or not at all, as the bishops and clergy had to escape. There were many churches in Africa, but now hardly three remaining in Carthage, Hippo and Cirta. Nevertheless, the Vandals appeared in Hippo about the end of May in 430 with an ongoing 14 month siege. Augustine endured a severe fever and died on August 28, 430, 76 years of age, spending forty of those years in the labor of his ministry.
Pope Benedict tells us that Augustine “remained the model of the jouney towards God, supreme Truth and supreme Good.” In Augustine’s Confessions, he says, “Late have I loved you, beauty, ever ancient and ever new, late have I loved you. You were within me and I was outside of you, and it was there that I sought you…You were with me and I was not with you…You called, you cried out, you pierced my deafness. You shone, you struck me down, and you healed my blindness.”
May St. Monica and St.Augustine be models and examples for us in their sincere and profound encounters with Jesus. May those people who are seeking the truth on the wrong paths and getting lost in the blind direction of relativism and self-love, be guided to Jesus, to the Truth, and may these wonderful saints help us fight for what is right and true and good, and help us to recognize what is evil. We see in their lives the familial troubles, the anguishing love for those we love, the attempt to understand the meaning of our lives and what is going on around us, and most of all, the journey to the Truth, who is a Person. “JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU!”
With Faith, Hope and Love,
Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Edited by F. L. Cross, Second Edition by F. L. Cross and E.A.Livingstone REVISED
Vatican- Holy See: The General Audiences of Pope Benedict XVI of February 20, 2008 and August 25, 2010
One Hundred Saints, Bulfrinch Press