“So Many Voices”: The Piety Of Monica, Mother Of Augustine -- By: Matthew D. Haste
JDFM 4:1 (Fall 2013) p. 6
“So Many Voices”: The Piety Of Monica, Mother Of Augustine
Matthew Haste is a PhD candidate in Biblical Spirituality at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he also serves in Ministry Connections. He previously served as the Adult Discipleship Pastor of Living Hope Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
In The History of St. Monica, Émile Bougaud (1823-1888) introduced his subject with the lofty claim that readers should sing such a biography rather than read it.1 Believing Monica had possessed “the most beautiful love that perhaps ever existed,” Bougaud encouraged mothers to look to her example and recognize “how divine is the strength with which God has endowed them in the interest of their children’s eternal salvation.”2 While such a statement may sound admirable, Bougaud goes on to explain that a mother’s divine strength consists of her ability to bring about her children’s salvation through her own steadfast will.3 Bougaud continues, “As regards the life of the body, a mother can do much; with regard to the life of the soul she can do all; and the world would be saved could we succeed in convincing mothers of this truth.”4 The author closes his work by praying to Monica and asking her to intercede for mothers throughout the world.5 Such erroneous conclusions, often built on hagiographic depictions, are common in the many Catholic biographies of Augustine’s mother.6
At the other end of the spectrum, modern secular scholars have examined Monica from seemingly every angle and yet few have focused on her personal piety. From Elizabeth Clark’s literary theory study of the “Monica-functions” in Confessions to Anne-Marie Bowery’s conclusion that Monica provides “the feminine face of Christ,” many of these works reveal more about the presuppositions of the author than Monica.7
Modern readers of Augustine’s Confessions may wonder if there are other options for appreciating this fourth-century woman. To put it more bluntly, one might ask, “What can an evangelical Protestant learn from Monica, the mother of Augustine?” This essay will endeavor to answer that question by examining the life and piety of Monica as set forth in Confessions, with particular reference to her final days recounted in Book 9.17-37. As this study demonstrates, M...
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