The previous Augnet page was mainly a biography about Monica herself. This page now looks more specifically at her relationship to her son Augustine during both his upbringing and immediately after his conversion.
Although there was much about the life of Monica that was heroic and saintly, there are other factors that have made scholars question her motives. For example, why did she not persist with having Augustine baptised as a youngster, especially during his illness? Did she lack charity when she helped to dismiss the concubine with whom Augustine had lived for over thirteen years? Knowing more about the difficulties in Monica's own life may possibly influence the responses made to these questions. The early family life experienced by Monica - and Augustine also, to a lesser extent - was more a product of Roman culture than of Christian formation. It involved severity more than love. In the house of their parents, Monica and her sisters were taught by an aged slave woman how to be good wives.
As part of this preparation, when they ate their frugal meals they were forbidden to drink even water, however great their thirst. This was done in the hope that in later life they would not be overcome by a love for stronger drink. Apparently this discipline did not succeed in the case of Monica in her early life, because she later was accused of being a drinker of wine. Augustine wrote of the upbringing of Monica simply and openly, and without critical comment. She had grown up in a "believing household" as "a good limb of your church" [Confessions 9, 17]. Monica was raised a Catholic, although she had relatives caught up in the Donatist schism. Augustine wrote that Monica was under the tutelage of an old female servant who was "vehement with a holy severity in administering correction," [Confessions 9, 8, 7]. She was brought up in modesty and "made obedient to her parents by You, Lord, rather than by them to You." Furthermore, she had a strong will that was not always successfully controlled during her childhood, although it would be tempered within the violence of her marriage to the irascible Patricius.
Monica was evidently an honourable, loving, self-sacrificing, and able woman. Even so, some scholars suggest that she was not always the ideal of a Christian mother that tradition has made her appear. For example, her ambition for her son seems at first to have had less of a moral force. At first she apparently regretted his Manicheanism more than she did the fact that her son had a concubine. According to this line of reasoning, it seems to have been through Ambrose - the church leader in Milan - and Augustine that she attained the mature personal calm with which she left the world. Be that true or false, what is certain is that Augustine positively credited his mother for what he had become. Death played a large role in the Confessions of Augustine, yet Augustine did not write there the death of Monica in an autobiographical fashion. Instead, he used the occasion more to reflect on his philosophical views of life.
It has been suggested that possibly it was only in hindsight, after he and his mother had shared intellectual and mystical experiences at Ostia shortly before her death, that Augustine came to see her prayers and her faith as important influences on his conversion to the Christian religion. In this theory, only after the death of Monica may Augustine have come to a full awareness of the depth of the concern and prayer of Monica for him. Augustine may have received this information from his sister (whose name, incidentally, he did not pass on to posterity). Augustine also wrote that his mother "strove in every way" to raise him up to experience the love of God. (Confessions 1, 11, 17)
He later looked back at his rejection of her attempts to instruct him according to the ways of virtue: "[Her] words seemed to be only a woman's. But they were your warnings.... I ran with such great blindness that I feared to be without sin in my circle of friends." (Confessions 2, 3, 7). Sometimes very wilfully, Augustine rejected her virtuous formation and chose to join a group of companions centred on "debased acts." (Ibid) Monica was one of the greatest guiding forces in the life of Augustine. Augustine and Monica are the mother-and-son combination of declared saints most known within the Christian church.
Her lifelong influence on Augustine
Monica was a strong presence at a number of turning points during his first thirty-three years. In fact, it has been said that the inner life of Augustine was dominated by one figure - his mother. Certainly, according to his own Confessions, Monica was strongly present at many of the turning points of his life. He first mentions her in Book I when he says that as a newborn he "was welcomed ... with the comfort of maternal milk." In Book II, he tells us that when he was entering adolescence Monica privately warned him not to go down the path of sexual sin.
It was advice that he did not follow. When in late adolescence Augustine joined the Manichean sect while in Carthage. Monica, in the first impact of her horror, at first forbade him to enter her house when he returned to Thagaste. Monica took her concerns to a bishop – his identity not now known. She begged him to speak to Augustine, and to try to refute his errors. But the reputation of Augustine in rhetoric and oratory was so well-known that the bishop declined to challenge him. The bishop wisely told Monica wisely that a mind so subtle and acute could not long continue in such deceptive reasoning. But Monica followed him with her questions and tears. Eventually the bishop was annoyed by her persistence. Even so, he was moved by her tears. He finally answered with a mixture of exasperation and compassion, "Go, go! Leave me alone. Continue what you are doing. It is not possible that the son of so many prayers and tears should be lost." Ever since those words were spoken, they have comforted the aching heart of many mothers.
In Book III of the Confessions, Augustine reported that Monica had a dream in which possibly an angelic figure assured her that Augustine would later be converted. The figure told Monica, "Where you are, he will be also. In Book V, her bitter tears for Augustine "daily ... watered the ground" when he planned to sail to Rome. In Book VI, she joined him in Milan, and played, Augustine wrote, "a large part" in getting rid of his de facto partner of fourteen years so that he could legally marry a woman who had the approval of Monica. In Book VIII, she learned of the conversion of Augustine and Alypius, and in Book IX she died at the age of fifty six years (Confessions I, 6; II, 3; III, 66-67; V, 101; VI, 131).
Monica. Few mothers have had as great a biographer as Saint Monica, but few sons have had as great a mother as Saint Augustine. In fact everything we know about Monica comes from her son and most of it in the context of his own biography. From the web site of the Californian Province of the Order of Saint Augustine. http://osa-west.org/saint-monica.html
Saint Monica. Monica was not the only matron of Thagaste whose married life was unhappy, but, by her sweetness and patience, she was able to exercise a veritable apostolate amongst the wives and mothers of her native town; they knew that she suffered as they did, and her words and example had a proportionate effect. This is the entry in the first edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10482a.htm
Monica, wife and widow (332-387). We know about Monica almost entirely from the autobiography (the Confessions) of her son Augustine, a major Christian writer, theologian and philosopher. Monica was born in North Africa, near Carthage, in what is now Tunisia, perhaps around 331, of Christian parents, and was a Christian throughout her life. http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/153.html AN1021