Confessions

by: St. Augustine

Monica

Thus, at that time, I “believed” along with my mother and the whole household, except my father . . . For it was her desire my god, that I should acknowledge you as my father rather than him.

In Book I, as Augustine recalls his infancy and childhood, he informs readers that his mother served as the source of his firm belief in god. He recounts a stomach illness that nearly caused his death. After his mother nursed him back to health, she praised the god who delivered her son from illness and then baptized Augustine, washing away his sins. She led him, but he resisted her.

She was anxious—and as I remember, warned me privately with great solicitude—that I should not commit fornication and above all things never defile another man’s wife.

In Book II, Augustine recalls his mother’s warnings to him about sinfulness. He realizes later that god spoke to him through his mother and that he should have heeded her words. He dismissed her warnings as womanish advice and rejected her counsel, rushing headlong, blindly, into lust and theft, taking willful pleasure in his own disgrace.

And now you stretched forth your hand from above and drew up my soul out of that profound darkness because my mother, your faithful one, wept to you on my behalf more than mothers are accustomed to weep for the bodily deaths of their children.

Here, Augustine gives his mother, Monica, credit for his salvation. He compares the time in which he lived as a sinner to being dead. His mother prayed for his rebirth, and god heard her prayers. Her husband died two years before, and she welcomed her son, Augustine, back into her house. Since she loved her son, she never gave up on him, and Augustine states that he will forever be grateful to her.

You knew the cause of my going from one country to the other, god, but you did not disclose it to either me or my mother, who grieved deeply over my departure and followed me down to the sea.

As Augustine’s conversion evolves, he decides, at age twenty-nine, to move from Carthage to Rome, for the preservation of his soul, he claims. His mother feels saddened by his leaving and returns to her own home as a result. Augustine admits that he lied to his mother about the details of his departure. Yet Augustine explains that Monica waters the ground with her tears and remains devoutly devoted to god, continuing to pray for her son’s salvation.

Still, like all mothers—though even more than others—she loved to have me with her, and did not know what you were preparing for her through my going away.

Here, Augustine expresses the faith that will come to him later in life, a faith in the wisdom of god that extends beyond human understanding. He also reveals his mother’s devotion to him, not only because of her wish to be with her son but also because of her continuous prayers for his future salvation. Sorrowfully, Monica returns to her own home in Thagaste when Augustine moves to Rome.

Instead, she was fully confident that you who had promised the whole would give her the rest, and thus most calmly, and with a fully confident heart, she replied to me that she believed, in Christ, that before she died she would see me a faithful Catholic.

Throughout his confessions, Augustine’s mother remains steadfast in her faith that her son will find his way to Catholicism. Her confidence is boon to him. He never resents her beliefs and wishes but instead always accepts her for who she is. Monica’s faith encourages him and supports him. At this point in time, she has moved to be with him in Rome, and her strong beliefs inspire him to keep seeking the truth.

Active efforts were made to get me a wife. I wooed; I was engaged; and my mother took the greatest pains in the matter. For her hope was that, when I was once married, I might be washed clean in health-giving baptism for which I was being daily prepared.

Here, Augustine reveals Monica’s eternal optimism regarding her son’s salvation, but, as he recalls, he remains a constant work in process. Her faith and hope never waver, however, and they bolster him along the way. Monica’s faith in god transferred to her faith in Augustine. However, later in Book VI, Augustine confesses that he has slept often with a mistress who leaves him and that her leaving causes him great heartache.

Then we went in to my mother, and told her what happened, to her great joy. We explained to her how it had occurred, and she leaped for joy triumphant, and she blessed you.

Augustine’s mother never gave up hope of her son’s conversion, and when his moment of epiphany finally happens, an event Augustine recounts at the end of Book VIII, she is filled with joy. Here, Alypius and Augustine tell Monica the story of Augustine hearing the child’s voice and him reading the line of scripture that led to his epiphany. Monica’s certainty about Augustine helped set him on his path: She always believed he would convert, and now the moment has finally arrived.

It was that whenever she could she acted as a peacemaker between any differing and discordant spirits, and when she heard very bitter things on either side of a controversy . . . she would disclose nothing about the one to the other except what might serve toward their reconciliation.

In Book IX, Augustine describes his mother’s death and then proceeds to praise her finest qualities as he recounts the last weeks and days of her life. Her quality as a peacemaker stands foremost in his mind, along with her devotion to god and her faith that her husband and son would convert. Monica’s supreme kindness and compassion inspired him throughout his life and continue to, even after her death.

There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My god has answered this more than abundantly.

Five days before Monica falls ill with the fever that will end her life, she converses with her son about being ready to die when her time comes. She says that her hopes have been satisfied and that her life has been fulfilled by his conversion. Later, after her illness sets in, she tells him that she does not care where he buries her, only that he remembers her at god’s altar for the rest of his life.