Augustine Couldn't Outrun Mother's Prayers

  • Diane Severance, Ph.D.
  • 2010 3 May
Augustine Couldn't Outrun Mother's Prayers

About 331 AD in North Africa, a baby girl was born who would become the mother of one of the most influential Christians of all times. Monica was born into a moderately wealthy family. An old Christian maidservant, who had also cared for Monica's father as a baby, brought Monica up in the Christian faith.

Monica was given in marriage to Patricius, who was not a Christian. For many years Monica sought to win Patricius to the Lord. Following the advice of I Peter 3, Monica realized her conduct more than her words would be the means of Patricius' conversion. By her persevering in patience and meekness, Monica won her mother-in-law to Christ. Patricius too became a Christian, though only towards the very end of his life.

Monica was often a great peacemaker between people who were at odds. In healing discords or disputes, she never repeated the evil, bitterness or hatred which one side might express against the other. She also sought to help and minister to those who were teachers or pastors of the church.

Though the wife of a non-Christian, Monica prayed that her family might eventually all come to Christ. She attempted to bring her children up in the ways of the Lord, and it pained her to see them stray from the truth she had taught them. Her most promising son, Augustine, was given an excellent education, and Monica hoped this might be a means of his more fully reaching God. Augustine ignored his mother's warnings against youthful lusts and pursued a life of self-gratification and immorality while continuing his classical education. He lived with a woman not his wife and fathered a child. Monica didn't have the words to convince her son of the truth of Christianity, but she determined never to stop praying that he would turn to God.

When Augustine went to Italy to teach, Monica, by then a widow, followed him there. In Milan she attended the church pastored by Ambrose and rejoiced when Augustine was befriended by Ambrose and eventually became a Christian.

Monica died in 387 at the age of 56. In his Confessions Augustine spoke of his grief and weeping for the mother "now gone from my sight, who for years had wept over me, that I might live in your [God's] sight." She died a happy woman for she had seen her prayers answered, and both her husband and her son had become believers. Augustine was only 33 at the time of his mother's death, and many years of service to Christ and His church lay before him. In later years Augustine could look back on his life and recognize the importance of his mother's perseverance in prayer to his own salvation and ministry. However, neither Augustine nor Monica could have foreseen that Augustine's own ministry would continue over the centuries and even influence such as Luther and Calvin in reforming, purifying, and strengthening the church.

DISTANT DATELINE: Monumental Church Split As East and West Divide

CONSTANTINOPLE, JULY, 1054 AD Well, it finally happened!

Some said it had been building for centuries and seemed inevitable. But that doesn't soften the shock nor relieve the perplexing questions of what it signals for the future of Christianity.

Earlier this month Cardinal Humbert, official representative for the pope in Rome, entered our magnificent cathedral, St. Sofia, here in Constantinople and placed a letter from Pope Leo on the altar in the church. That letter excommunicated our leader and patriarch, Michael Cerularius. Michael in turn has indicated that he will excommunicate the pope with the support of fellow major church leaders--the patriarchs at Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

The problems between East and West have long festered. We in the East have been wary of the expanding power of the pope. We have respected him as a "first among equals" but not head of the entire church.

There are other problems, such as whether clergy should marry, but the major disagreement is over the so-called "filoque" issue. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father alone--as we maintain in the East--or from both Father and Son, as Rome insists?

Informed sources say that the split could be long and bitter. Will any of us live long enough to see harmony restored? Ironically your reporter has heard that by the time his letter of excommunication arrived here, Pope Leo had died, which, I am told, would make its contents invalid. But things had already gone too far. Has the "seamless garment of Christ" now been irreparably rent?

Editor's Postscript: The nearly 1000-year split continues to this day.

Get Acquainted with Anselm (Editor's Notebook)

One of my favorite characters from the Middle Ages is Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093-1109.

Anselm was a great church leader who hated church politics. He didn't seek his prominent position. He sought repeatedly and urgently to resign it, but wasn't allowed.

Anselm's passion was to seek the face of God. He couldn't understand how any Christian could want less. He said, "If they are Christians, why should they break faith for any temporary gain? The thing is impossible."

Anselm was also a great thinker. He articulated what has been called the "ontological proof for the existence of God." There isn't space here to explain, but look it up in a philosophy text and enjoy pondering. It continues to fascinate and challenge every generation.

Anselm's "proof" came to him in a flash at prayer. Centuries later the famous British anti-Christian skeptic Bertrand Russell wrote, "one day in 1894, as I was walking along Trinity Lane (emphasis ours) I saw in a flash that (Anselm's) ontological argument is valid. I had gone out to buy a tin of tobacco; on my way back, I suddenly threw it up in the air, and exclaimed as I caught it, 'Great Scott, the ontological argument is sound.' "

Anselm's great work was Cur Deus Homo? (Why Did God Become Human?) . He wrote it to answer Jewish concerns that the Incarnation impugned the honor and dignity of God, and his work became one of the greatest in all church history in helping us understand the reasons for and meaning of the atonement of Christ.

He was known as one of the "Scholastics" but for him faith preceded knowledge and knowledge helped illumine faith. He said: He who does not believe cannot experience, and whoever does not experience, cannot understand.-- Ken Curtis