March 22, 2009 - Monica of Thagaste

Since today is “Mothering Sunday” in the United Kingdom, it seems appropriate to remember Monica, a woman who made a huge impact on church history through her persistent resolve to see her children embrace the Christian faith. 

Monica was born in Thagaste (near present day Souk Ahras, Algeria) around 322 AD.  Though her parents raised her as a devout Christian, they married her to an older pagan man named Patricius, who had a hot temper, indulged in adultery, and refused to allow their three children to be baptized.

We know Monica’s eldest son as St. Augustine of Hippo.  Augustine had an illegitimate son at age 17 and lived with his mistress for about ten more years, while dabbling in the heresy of Manichaeism.  Monica witnessed to her husband, mother-in-law, and children through a gentle witness that included a sweet and forgiving disposition.  She is said to have prayed without ceasing for the conversion of her loved ones.  After the death of Patricius, Monica joined Augustine in Italy, where she finally had the joy of seeing him converted and baptized by the church father named Ambrose.

Monica did not live long enough to see Augustine become a priest or a bishop, but she knew that he had saving faith in Jesus Christ.  When he was the Bishop of Hippo, Augustine’s residence became a sort of monastery in which he lived a “community life” with other clergy.  This religious community supplied founders for other similar monasteries that in time spread across Africa.  Thus the beginning of the Augustinian order that Martin Luther entered some twelve hundred years later – an order that may never have existed without the prayers and evangelistic efforts of Monica. 

Addressing God in his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote fondly about his mother:  “Eventually she won even her husband for You, toward the end of his life on earth, and she had no cause for complaint about anything in him after his baptism that she had tolerated in him while unbaptized.   Moreover she was the servant of Your servants.  Every one of them who knew her found ample reason to praise, honor, and love You and he sensed Your presence in her heart, attested by the fruits of her holy way of life.  She had been married to one man only, had loyally repaid what she owed to her parents, had governed her household in the fear of God, and earned a reputation for good works.  She had brought up children, in labor anew with them each time she saw them straying away from You.  Finally, Lord, she took care of all of us who were Your servants – for by Your gift You permit us to speak – who before her death lived together as companions in You after receiving the grace of Your baptism; she took care of us all as though all had been her children, and served us as though she had been the daughter of all.” (Confessions of St. Augustine, Book IX, section 22.  Translation by M. Boulding, 1997.)