This Week in Church History

May 02, 2014

Monnica–Mother of Augustine of Hippo, 387

Monnica’s life story is enshrined in the spiritual autobiography of her eldest son, in The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Born in North Africa about 331, of Berber parents, Monnica was married to a Latinized provincial of Tagaste named Patricius, whom she won to the Christian faith before his death. In her earlier years she was not without worldly ambitions and tastes. She grew in Christian maturity and spiritual insight through an ever-deepening life of prayer.

Her ambition for her gifted son was transformed into a passionate desire for his conversion to Christ. After his baptism in Milan in 387, by Bishop Ambrose, Augustine and his mother, together with a younger brother, planned to return home to Africa. While awaiting ship at Ostia, the port of Rome, Monnica fell ill.

Augustine writes, “One day during her illness she had a fainting spell and lost consciousness for a short time. We hurried to her bedside, but she soon regained consciousness and looked up at my brother and me as we stood beside her. With a puzzled look, she asked, ‘Where was I?’ Then, watching us closely as we stood there speechless with grief, she said, ‘You will bury your mother here.’ ”

Augustine’s brother expressed sorrow, for her sake, that she would die so far from her own country. She said to the two brothers, “It does not matter where you bury my body. Do not let that worry you. All I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you should remember me at the altar of the Lord.” To the question, whether she was not afraid at the thought of leaving her body in an alien land, she replied, “Nothing is far from God, and I need have no fear that he will not know where to find me, when he comes to raise me to life at the end of the world.”

Recent excavations at Ostia have uncovered her original tomb. Her mortal remains, however, were transferred in 1430 to the Church of St. Augustine in Rome.