"Read St Monica's life, you will see her care for her Augustine and find much to console you," wrote Saint Francis de Sales to Saint Jane de Chantal when she was having trouble with her teenage son.
Monica was born in the year 332. Thagaste is given as her birthplace, and this is based less on historical evidence and more on the presumption that she was raised in the district where later she wed. During her infancy, Christians were just emerging from the period when they kept their religion secret for fear of persecution.
There has been speculation among historians as to whether Monica may have begun life as a schismatic Donatist Christian. This possibility is raised because Thagaste only became progressively anti-Donatist during the years 348-361, when Monica was aged between sixteen and twenty nine years.
It is known via the writings of Augustine that some of her relatives were Donatist (and Augustine had cousins who were Donatists). There is no suggestion anywhere in the writings of Augustine that she may ever have been, willingly or unwillingly, a Donatist communicant. Such an insinuation was not even raised by any of the Donatist opponents of Augustine. At any rate, she is unlikely to have been completely untouched by such controversies, and Augustine's childhood - even in a Catholic household - was surely not completely insulated from Donatism either.
When she was about twenty-two years of age, Monica was married to Patricius, aged 40 and one of the city magistrates at Tagaste. Patricius did not follow any religion. He was also violent and loose-living. He was from a good family and could be generous at times. Following the marriage Monica shared her house with her mother-in-law. This was a constant source of friction. Patricius did not change with the marriage. He continued to be violent, and was not faithful to his vows of marriage.
Yet Monica resolutely refused to give way to sadness or bitterness. Instead, she worked towards cultivating a gentle, understanding way with her husband. He became a Christian shortly before his death about the year 371. As Patricius was dying, his eldest son, Augustine, was seventeen years old. In spite of all the efforts of Monica to provide a good Christian foundation to Augustine's life, he lapsed. It is a strange paradox that as Patricius began to embrace the Christian faith, Augustine was still rejecting it.
As a widow, Monica made great sacrifices for the education of Augustine, but she witnessed the rejection by Augustine of all that she held dear. Augustine moved in with a girl who as his concubine was to bear him a son, Adeodatus.They never married, but stayed together for over fifteen years. The distress of Monica was aggravated by the cynical attitude of Augustine towards her advice. For a time after he returned from his studies in Carthage, she refused him, his concubine and their son a place in her home - but more because he had joined the Manichean sect than because of his concubinage.
Only a memorable dream altered her decision. In this dream, she saw a radiant being approach her as she lamented the spiritual ruin of her son. The angel bade her to be consoled, for where she was, there too her son should be.
Augustine suggested that this might indicate that his mother's belief might end. But she instantly rejoined that the words were not "Where he is, there you shall be." This was nine years before his conversion. About the same time she received consolation from a bishop. He was wearied with her entreaties that he should reason with Augustine on her behalf. Finally he told her, "Go, I beg you. The son of so many tears cannot perish." By the time these words proved true, Monica had been praying for the baptism of Augustine for seventeen years.
When Augustine became the Professor of Rhetoric in Milan, Monica came from their family home in Thagaste, North Africa and stayed with him there. She soon precipitated the departure back to Carthage of the woman who had been the concubine of Augustine for the previous fourteen years. She then arranged his marriage to a young woman similar to him in social class. He would legally be able to marry her a year or two later when she reached the legal age for marriage.
Monica participated in the time of prayer and rest by Augustine at Cassiciacum, in the hills outside of Milan, in the summer of 386. There she figured as one of the characters written down in her son's earliest writings: his dialogues, De Vita Beata ("On the Blessed Life") and De Ordine ("On Order'). Eventually Augustine returned to his faith and with the help of Ambrose became one of the greatest figures in the history of the Church.
In his Confessions Augustine acknowledged that without the example and continual prayers of his mother he would have been lost.
YOU TUBE: A lecture by the late Fr George Lawless OSA at Villanova University, USA. He was an Augustinian scholar until his death on 9 March 2018. (YouTube, one hour in duration).At Ostia in November 387, after the prayer experience of joy and happiness of Augustine and herself had passed, Monica became s ilent. Almost as if a premonition of her death, Monica however later turned to her son and said, "Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world..."
"I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have even renounced happiness here on earth to be his servant. So what am I doing here?"
About five days later she was taken ill by fever - possibly malaria. Her other son, Navigius (i.e., a brother of Augustine - who was not a Christian), suggested she be taken to their home in North Africa for burial. At one point previously she had wanted to be buried with her husband, Patricius, but now changed her mind. Following her Christian beliefs, she instructed her sons, "Bury my body anywhere you wish. Do not let care about it disturb you. I ask only this: that you remember me at the altar of the Lord, wherever you may be." [Saint Augustine, Confessions 9, 11, 27]
One day she was actually unconscious, regained consciousness another day, but was confused of her surroundings. Towards her ending hours, she asked where she was. She died at Ostia on the 13th of November 387, surrounded by her sons, grandson and two of the lifelong friends of Augustine, Alypius and Evodius. She was buried at Ostia.
Anicius Auchenius Bassus, consul in 408, had an inscription placed on her tomb, a part of which was found in 1945 near the Church of St Aurea at Ostia Antica. Her body was removed during the sixth century to a hidden crypt in the church of Saint Aurea. About the thirteenth century, however, the cult of Saint Monica began to spread and a feast in her honour was kept on 4th May. In the year 1430 Pope Martin V ordered the relics to be brought to Rome, and the cult of Monica was definitely established.
Later the Archbishop of Rouen, Cardinal William d'Estouteville, built a church at Rome in honour of Saint Augustine and deposited the relics of Monica in a chapel to the left of the high altar, where they still remain.
Augustine wrote about her death in his Confessions, not only as one more demonstration of his conviction of the providence of God towards him through Monica but also as a sign of appreciation to her for the years of anxiety that by then he realised that he had caused her. Since her death, Monica has been presented as an inspiration to mothers who are tempted to despair for the growth of Faith within their children.
As consolation to other concerned Christian mothers in subsequent centuries, it appears that the seeds of Christian faith that Monica gave Augustine at her maternal knee had in fact been more influential than Monica had noticed at the time. In Book Nine of the Confessions, Augustine described Monica as "female in gender, with the faith of a man, with the serenity of great age, the love of a mother, and the spirit of a Christian." In Book Five of the Confessions he described her affection for him as "far more than that of most mothers." EN100