Not much is known about Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. She appears to have been a Berber Christian woman married to a local pagan North African Roman official in Tagaste (modern Souk Ahras, Algeria). Although she raised her son, he was absent from her for some of his important teenage years, especially from ages twelve to sixteen. When he went to study in Carthage, she joined him, representing her orthodox faith with its belief in miracles and veneration of martyr cults against her son’s Manicheist beliefs. (Manicheism was a widespread heresy that treated Christ, the second person of the Trinity, as Light, through which the Father was made known to humanity. The Trinity’s third person was Mani, sent into the world by the Light.)
Monica stayed with Augustine in Italy (383-387). She had tried to arrange an advantageous marriage for the young Roman functionary before he turned completely to religion. Increasingly, in the immediate years before her death, he began to share more and more of his religious thoughts with her and appreciated her counsel. “I am daily struck anew by your natural ability,” he told her shortly before her death. Monica had other children as well. A daughter became head of a convent near the monastery Augustine founded. Her second son, Navigius, was with her at her death in Ostia, Italy, in 387 as she was waiting to return to North Africa.
Some critics have seen in Monica an interfering, in-your-face mother, which she may have been; others consider her a spiritual companion, a shrewd woman of faith who helped anchor her brilliant son. It is easy to attribute too much to Monica, but neither should too little be accorded to her, for she was an important, steadying influence on Africa’s most original theological mind.
O Lord, you strengthened your servant Monica to persevere in her love, prayers, and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Amen.
– Collect for Monica, Mother of Augustine (adapted)
- The Proper for the Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 213.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from African Saints: Saints, Martyrs, and Holy People from the Continent of Africa, copyright © 2002 by Frederick Quinn, Crossroads Publishing Company, New York, New York. All rights reserved.