Monday, August 27, 2012

Santa Monica

Today was the feast of St. Monica (it was probably originally spelled 'Monnica'). She was a North African saint, from Carthage, and was the mother of St. Augustine. Augustine's passionate description of her life and death in Book IX of the Confessions is well worth reading. A brief selection:

29. I closed her eyes; and there flowed in a great sadness on my heart and it was passing into tears, when at the strong behest of my mind my eyes sucked back the fountain dry, and sorrow was in me like a convulsion. As soon as she breathed her last, the boy Adeodatus burst out wailing; but he was checked by us all, and became quiet. Likewise, my own childish feeling which was, through the youthful voice of my heart, seeking escape in tears, was held back and silenced. For we did not consider it fitting to celebrate that death with tearful wails and groanings. This is the way those who die unhappy or are altogether dead are usually mourned. But she neither died unhappy nor did she altogether die. For of this we were assured by the witness of her good life, her "faith unfeigned," and other manifest evidence.

30. What was it, then, that hurt me so grievously in my heart except the newly made wound, caused from having the sweet and dear habit of living together with her suddenly broken? I was full of joy because of her testimony in her last illness, when she praised my dutiful attention and called me kind, and recalled with great affection of love that she had never heard any harsh or reproachful sound from my mouth against her. But yet, O my God who made us, how can that honor I paid her be compared with her service to me? I was then left destitute of a great comfort in her, and my soul was stricken; and that life was torn apart, as it were, which had been made but one out of hers and mine together.

31. When the boy was restrained from weeping, Evodius took up the Psalter and began to sing, with the whole household responding, the psalm, "I will sing of mercy and judgment unto thee, O Lord." And when they heard what we were doing, many of the brethren and religious women came together. And while those whose office it was to prepare for the funeral went about their task according to custom, I discoursed in another part of the house, with those who thought I should not be left alone, on what was appropriate to the occasion. By this balm of truth, I softened the anguish known to thee. They were unconscious of it and listened intently and thought me free of any sense of sorrow. But in thy ears, where none of them heard, I reproached myself for the mildness of my feelings, and restrained the flow of my grief which bowed a little to my will. The paroxysm returned again, and I knew what I repressed in my heart, even though it did not make me burst forth into tears or even change my countenance; and I was greatly annoyed that these human things had such power over me, which in the due order and destiny of our natural condition must of necessity happen. And so with a new sorrow I sorrowed for my sorrow and was wasted with a twofold sadness.

32. So, when the body was carried forth, we both went and returned without tears. For neither in those prayers which we poured forth to thee, when the sacrifice of our redemption was offered up to thee for her--with the body placed by the side of the grave as the custom is there, before it is lowered down into it--neither in those prayers did I weep. But I was most grievously sad in secret all the day, and with a troubled mind entreated thee, as I could, to heal my sorrow; but thou didst not.


  1. Yesterday was our first day of classes, and I got a lot of mileage out of reading the selections from Confessions in which Augustine recounts Monica's girlhood, in which she developed a taste for sneaking wine which ended when a servant girl called her a drunkard while the girls were fighting. 

    Today being St. Augustine's feast, we'll read about how he hated studying Greek as a boy, and of course we'll have to have the episode with the peaches.

    I tell you, someone really ought to do one of those big glossy illustrated children's books with excerpts from Confessions. I'd buy it. 

  2. That actually would be a pretty good book; and a good illustrator could have quite a bit of fun with the differences between North Africa, Rome, and Milan, or between the voluble, lawyer-like young Augustine and the staid, patrician-like Ambrose. And since Augustine's language is image-saturated, you could even give a (very light) taste of some of the more abstract discussion toward the end.

  3. <span>I will now get those "Confessions of St. Augustine" from the book shelf and read them.  I had not done so before.  Thanks much to both of you, Brandon and Cat Hodge.</span><span></span>

  4. It is definitely worth it, especially if you have a good translation.


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