August 27th Feast of St Monica and 28th August St Augustine.

At the end of this coming week on Friday 27th and and Saturday 28th August, the church celebrates the feast of two major saints. Apart from two cracking good biographies, there is so much to learn from them so this is reflected in a lengthier than normal blog.

Mass readings for St Monica's feast day can be found here 
and the day after for her son, St Augustine here

If ever there were two saints for our times then these two, St Monica and her son St Augustine certainly fit the bill..... except for a pretty austere renunciation of all earthly pleasures by Monica when she became a widow.

Monica was born in North Africa, a tribal African woman who lived in the 4th Century (331-487) and the circumstances of her life have made her the patron saint of a whole whack of causes : lapsed Catholics, difficult marriages, abused women, and the patron saint of Mothers.............
Not a time consuming job there then .......
Saint Monica - Patron Saint of Alcoholics 

Monica was not a drunk;but  her non-Christian husband Patricius was.

There are very few realistic paintings of St Monica but this one by John Nava (link here ) is a beautiful one.

Although she was a Christian, her parents arranged a marriage to a government official, Patricius, much older than her who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. 
Patricius had some redeeming features, but he was a difficult man with a violent temper, who drank a lot and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her faith.
So, not only is she the patron saint of alcoholics, she is the patron saint of those who have to put up with them.
Saintly she must have been, for she was reportedly able to successfully nag him into sobriety, even without the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
 Monica’s prayers and example finally paid off and her husband and mother-in-law both converted to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his Baptism.

Although it may seem to be a modern phenomenon, Catholics who have given up practicing the faith have always been with us. 
Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The eldest, Augustine, is the most famous. The other two were Navigius and a daughter Perpetua.

When widowed about 371 A.D., at the age of 40, Monica vowed to belong wholly to God, renounced all worldly pleasures, and worked with the poor and orphaned while still a mother.
Augustine had left home, and on one level although he  found something attractive about Christ, in the short run he was more interested in the attractions of sex, fame, and pride in his own cleverness. 
After a moderate amount of running around as a teen-ager, he met a girl and they had a son when he was about eighteen. Theirs was a long-term relationship, with faithfulness on both sides, and we never find out  why they did not marry.
The family was relatively poor, but a rich citizen of Tagaste met Augustine's educational expenses at the university in Carthage. Monica hoped studying philosophy and science would bring him back  to God, but she did not realize Carthage was a seething mass of iniquity.

St. Monica  experienced  first-hand the pain of motherhood when rebellious Augustine, at the time of his father's death at the age of 19  became a Manichee, a member of a non - Christian sect that believed there were two gods—one good, the other evil—locked in eternal conflict for human souls. 

I wonder if Philip Pullman's latest book, The controversial  Good Man Jesus and The Scoundrel Christ  may have taken a quasi- Manichean theme?

According to the Manichees, throughout history many different “Jesuses” had come to earth to assist humankind in the struggle against evil, 
but none of them had ever managed to conquer the powers of darkness and save humankind. 
The Manichees as they moved west into the Roman Empire adopted many traits of what is generically called Gnosticism. In particular, they advertised themselves as being not an alternative to Christianity but as the advanced version of Christianity, as the faith for the spiritually mature, the intellectually gifted. 
They claimed that their beliefs were based on reason rather than authority, and that they had answers for everything, at least as soon as the learner was sufficiently advanced to comprehend them. 
They differed from the classical Gnostics by not contrasting spirit with matter. In their view, everything was composed of material particles, but these were either light or dark. Since the mind was composed of light particles, imprisoned in the body, a cage made of 
dark particles, something like the Gnostic contrast between spirit and matter was there. 

Members were divided into an inner circle, the "elect," who were expected to be celibate and vegetarian, so as to avoid all those dark particles, and the "learners," of whom considerably less was expected. Augustine signed up as a learner. 
He was at first completely captivated, but then met with a series of disappointments. The rank and file of the movement did not seem to be very clear thinkers. He met the leaders, who were advertised as the Towering Intellects of the Ages, and was not impressed.
The Manichean doctrine also held that bodily actions had no moral significance and so Augustine lived a hedonistic self centred life.
Monica was so hurt and angry when she learned that Augustine had become a Manichee that she barred the door and refused to let her son in the house.

Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. 

After completing his studies, Augustine opened a school of oratory in Carthage and instructed his disciples in the principles of Manicheism. In doing so, he discovered that the Manicheans were more adept in attacking Catholicism than in establishing the truth of their own theories. 

Augustine tells us that Monica shed "more tears for my spiritual death than other mothers shed for the bodily death of a son." Monica prayed for her son's conversion for 17 years. To add power to her prayers, she fasted, making Holy Communion her daily food. An unnamed bishop comforted her that her son was young and stubborn, but that God's time would come because "The son of so many tears cannot possibly be lost."


When he was 29, Augustine tired of the frivolity of Carthage and decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome.

Soon after his arrival he became deathly ill. He recovered and opened his school.
Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him to Rome after selling her few remaining possessions. In the meantime, Saint Symmachus offered Augustine a chair in rhetoric in Milan, after he won a competition and so when Monica arrived in Rome Augustine  had already left for Milan !!

Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan.
In Milan, Augustine met the bishop Ambrose, and was startled to find in him a reasonableness of mind and belief, a keenness of thought, and an integrity of character far in excess of what he had found elsewhere. For the first time, Augustine saw Christianity as a religion fit for a philosopher.

Soon after his arrival in Milan, Augustine was plunged into two crises.
First, his mother arrived from Africa, and persuaded him that he ought to give up his mistress and get married. He agreed to a betrothal to a suitable young lady; but his betrothed was too young for immediate marriage, and so the actual wedding was postponed for two years. Meanwhile the mistress had been sent back to Africa. 
Augustine, not ready for two years of sexual abstinence, lapsed back into promiscuity.

The second crisis was that Augustine became a neo-Platonist  which taught that only God is fully real, and that all other things are degenerations in varying degrees from the One----- things are progressively less good, less spiritual, and less real as one goes rung by rung down the cosmic ladder.

By contemplating spiritual realities, directing one's attention to one's own mind and then moving up the ladder rung by rung to the contemplation of God, one acquires true wisdom, true self-fulfilment, true spirituality, and union with God. 

Augustine took this approach, and believed that he  had an experience of the presence of God, but found that this only made him more aware of the gulf between what he was and what he realized that he ought to be.

Meanwhile, he continued to hear Bishop Ambrose. Augustine came to love the bishop as a father and went every Sunday to hear Ambrose as he preached. At the age of 30, Augustine began to see the folly of Manicheism and its gross misrepresentation of the Church, but he still did not believe. 
When Monica arrived in Milan, her first visit was also to Ambrose and he became her spiritual director. Often when he saw Augustine he would break out in praise of her, congratulating him on having such a mother." And Augustine wryly notes: "He little knew what sort of a son she had."

Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste.

Monica and Augustine began to attend Mass together and to discuss the bishop's sermons afterwards. Monica had deeply studied philosophy and theology so that she might be able to deal intelligently with Augustine. He began to realize how many things he believed that he could not prove, but accepted on the testimony of others. 
Augustine  attributed his conversion primarily to Monica. When his instruction was over, he was baptized by Ambrose on Holy Saturday, 387.
As St. Augustine said, "Late have I loved thee."

"You have made us for Yourself, O God.
And our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."
About 12 years later he wrote an account of his life up to a time shortly after his conversion, a book called the Confessions. Ostensibly an autobiography, it is more an outpouring of penitence and thanksgiving.
Augustine describes his conversion. His intellectual objections had lost their force, and he was at a point where the difficulty was that he seemed unable to make a commitment to living chastely, or unable to make a commitment, period. 
He heard of a group of young men, Christians, one of whom decided to become a desert hermit, and the others made the same commitment, encouraged and inspired by the examples of those in the group who had already done so. Augustine went aside to ponder the question, "How is it that these young men can make so drastic a commitment, and I cannot take even the first step of declaring myself a Christian?"
He heard what seemed to be a child's voice coming from next door, saying over and over, "Tolle, lege; tolle, lege," or, "Pick up and read; pick up and read." 
Since he could not think of any reason why a child would be saying that, he took it as an omen, and picked up a copy of Paul's Epistle to The Romans As he opened it, his eye fell on the end of the thirteenth chapter:

The night is far gone, the day is at hand.
Let us then cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armour of light;
let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day,
not in reveling and drunkenness,
not in debauchery and licentiousness,
not in quarreling and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the flesh,
to gratify its desires.

As he read, he experienced this as God speaking directly to him, convicting him of his past sins, and offering him forgiveness; calling him to amend his life, and promising him the grace and power to do it. He burst into tears....Later, he wrote :
Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou was with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispell my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
and restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.
Thou hast burst my bonds asunder;
unto Thee will I offer up an offering of praise.
After his conversion, Augustine went back to his native Africa in 387, where he was ordained a priest in 391 and consecrated bishop of Hippo in 396. It was not his intention to become a priest. He was visiting the town of Hippo now Annaba,was in church hearing a sermon, and the bishop, without warning, said, "This congregation is in need of more priests, and I believe that the ordination of Augustine would be to the glory of God." 

Willing hands dragged Augustine forward, and the bishop together with his council of priests laid hands on Augustine and ordained him to the priesthood. (The experience may have coloured Augustine's perception of such questions as, "Does a man come to God because he has chosen to do so, or because God has chosen him, and drawn him to Himself?") A few years later, when the Bishop of Hippo died, Augustine was chosen to succeed him.
Augustine's writings were vast. His surviving works (and it is assumed that the majority did not survive) include 113 books and treatises, over 200 letters, and over 500 sermons. 
A second great work of his is the book, The City of God. This was written after Rome had been sacked by invaders led by Alaric the Visigoth. It is a reply to those who said that the Roman Empire was falling apart because the Christians had taken over; he discusses the work of God in history, and the relation between the Christian as citizen of an earthly commonwealth and the Christian as citizen of Heaven.
His third great work is his On The Trinity where he discusses the doctrine of the Trinity  by undertaking to compare the mind of man with the mind of God, since man is made in the image of God.

Augustine begins by pointing out a Trinitarian structure in the act of knowing something. 
He continues by pointing out a Trinitarian structure in the act of self-awareness.
He concludes by pointing out a Trinitarian structure in the act of religious contemplation by which man sees himself as made in the image of God.

According to a legend, while he was thinking about the Holy Trinity, Augustine met a child on the beach who was attempting to use a spoon to transfer the waters of the ocean into a small hole. 

When Augustine explained to him that this was not possible, the child replied that it was far more foolish to try to find an explanation for the mystery of the Trinity. 

The painting by Botticelli depicts the scene ( from St Barnaba altarpiece in Florence).

Augustine and the Donatists.

Almost a century before Augustine was born, the Church in Africa had been torn apart by the Donatist controversy. During the persecution of the Church by the Emperor Decius, some Christian clergymen in Africa, or so it was alleged, had stood firm against threat of torture, imprisonment and death more consistently and nobly than others. 
The Donatists maintained that their clergy derived their ordinations from clergy with very good records of constancy under persecution, and that they were the Church of the Martyrs, as opposed to the Church of the Sell-outs, which was everybody else. 
They further held that sacraments received at the hands of unworthy ministers were of no value. 

Augustine had a long correspondence and controversy with them, and at one point they apparently replied that they did not hold this, to which Augustine replied, "In that case, will you kindly tell me what the controversy is all about, and what you and I have been debating for the last eighteen months, and what your bishops and ours have been out of fellowship with each other about for the last century?" 

The controversy dragged on, with part of the dispute historical (whether Bishop so-and-so, now seventy years dead, had really done what he was accused of doing), and part theological. It seems clear that the Donatists, at least most of the time, argued that the holiness of the Church depended on the holiness of its members, especially its clergy. 
Against them, Augustine maintained that the holiness of the Church is not derived from the average level of virtue of its individual members, but is derived from the Holiness of its Head, who is Christ. 
The argument is something we have heard again in the current crisis of the church . 

Augustine and the Pelagians
In Augustine's day, a man from Britain named Morgan, or in Latin Pelagius began to preach, denouncing what he saw as a slackening of moral standards. He saw professed Christians living less than exemplary lives, and offering human frailty as an excuse.
Pelagius reply was: "Nonsense. God has given you free will. You can choose to follow the example of Adam, or you can choose to follow the example of Christ. God has given everyone the grace he needs to be good. If you are not good, you simply need to try harder." 
Augustine asked him about original sin, and he replied that there is no such thing. Augustine asked him why, in that case, it was the universal custom to baptize infants, and he had no answer.
Augustine saw the teaching of Pelagius as totally undermining the doctrine that God is the ultimate source of all good, and encouraging the virtuous and well-behaved Christian to feel that he had earned God's approval by his own efforts.
Monica's faith purchased for the Catholic Church " its keenest philosopher, most comprehensive theologian, most persuasive apologist, and most far-seeing moralist, a wise administrator, a powerful preacher, and a penetrating mystic."
Augustine eventually became a Doctor of the Church , meaning one of the few people who's writings are recognized as foundational teachings.
Countless now live under the Augustinian rule. 

Four years after their arrival in Milan, during a stop at Ostia en route back to Tagaste, Monica told her son: "What I am still to do, or why I still linger in this world, I do not know. There was one reason, one alone, for which I wish to tarry a little longer: that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I die. God has granted me this, and more, for I see you his servant, spurning all earthly happiness. What is left for me to do in this life?" 

Saint Monica died about two weeks later at the age of 56, Augustine was then 33.
Saint Monica's relics are enshrined at Saint Augustine's Church in Rome near the Piazza Navona.

Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his "Confessions." (From 
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