Monica: The Mother Who Never Stopped Praying
Probably the one person from the early centuries of the Church who influenced later Church history more than any other was Augustine (430), who became Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Augustine himself, however, recognized that to a great degree his Christian faith was an answer to the prayers of his mother Monica. Most of which is known about Monica is found in Augustine’s Confessions. There Augustine described Monica as God’s servant, “who brought me to birth both in her body, so that I was brought into the light of time, and in her heart, so that I was born into the light of eternity.”
Monica was born into a Christian family about 333. There were several sisters in the family, and Monica was cared for by an old maidservant who had cared for her father when he was a child. The servant was noted for her Christian and moral character and cared for all the daughters in the family. She was more important than their mother in the instruction and training she provided. She had a “holy severity in administering correction,” restraining the young girls’ appetites with her authority.
Monica married Patricius, who was not a Christian. He was not tremendously wealthy but had a few acres and servants and was on the town council in the North African town of Thagaste. Patricius could be both kind and quick-tempered, and, acceptable to the mores of the day, often unfaithful to Monica. Monica truly lived a life pattered on 1 Peter 3:1:2, “wives be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” As Augustine later wrote, Monica spoke of Christ to Patricius “through her virtues” by which Christ made her beautiful. She never quarreled with Patricius about his infidelities, hoping that once he converted to Christianity he would become chaste. She never opposed him when he was angry but waited until he calmed down to explain her actions, if they had caused the offense. Patricius could not help but respect and love her.
Monica was a peacemaker who often reconciled quarreling people, never revealing information to another unless it would help them. When Monica first married, her mother-in-law was hostile to her, largely because of gossip spread by the maidservants. Yet Monica’s consistent respectfulness won over her mother-in-law, and she denounced the gossipy maidservants to Patricius.
Patricius was little concerned about the morality of his children, so it was Monica who warned the youthful Augustine about the sins of fornication and adultery. Augustine scorned her advice. However, even though Monica was aware of her son’s emerging sexuality, she took no measures to try to restrain this by seeking marriage for him. Both Monica and Patricius shared worldly ambitions for Augustine, and they looked forward to the day he could marry into wealth and assume a public role in the world. Ne austere restrictions were placed on Augustine’s behavior, but he was encouraged to seek a literary education in rhetoric so that he could advance to the law courts.
Augustine decided to go to Rome to further his career, but Monica tearfully begged him not to. She was fearful that in the decadence and corruption of Rome he would be forever lost to the gospel. Augustine deceived Monica and slipped away to Rome without her knowing. Monica’s prayers that Augustine not go to Rome were not answered, but the deepest longing of her heart were answered. That Augustine did not die when fearfully ill in Rome was undoubtedly due to Monica’s faithful prayers, and it was in Italy that Augustine finally became a Christian.
When Augustine did come to faith in Christ. He was baptized by Ambrose in the church where Monica had often prayed for his soul. Her grief turned to joy. With her son’s salvation, she felt she was no longer needed on earth. When Augustine, Monica, and their group decided to return to Africa, they stopped at the Italian port of Ostia. Augustine and Monica conversed together about eternity, recalling that “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor 2:9, KJV). They shared that vision of the Eternal, climbing step by step beyond the corporeal senses so that this world and its delights became worthless. Monica shortly after became ill of a fever and died before sailed. She was 56, and Augustine was 33.
Excerpt from Diana Lynn Severance, Feminine Threads: Women in the Tapestry of Christian History (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2011)