St. Augustine's Confessions By St. Augustine Summary and Analysis Book 9: Chapters 8-13

Summary

While Augustine's group is at the port of Ostia, Monica dies, Augustine reminisces about her. He describes her childhood and how she began sneaking wine from the cask when she was sent to fetch it; a servant cruelly taunted her about this habit, and she immediately gave it up. As a married woman, she was obedient to her husband and diplomatic in dealing with him. Her mother-in-law at first was hostile toward her, but Monica's patience and gentleness won her over. While Augustine and Monica were at Ostia, they talked one day about eternal life, and together they experienced a vision of that joy. When Monica was ill, she abandoned her former desire to be buried with her husband in Africa, because her true home was in God. Augustine is overwhelmed by grief at her loss, even though he knows that her death is a good event. He does not weep, even at her funeral, but later, he weeps for Monica, for which God will forgive him. Augustine asks God, through Christ, to forgive Monica's sins and asks the readers to remember his parents in prayer.

Analysis

Augustine's little group has decided to move back to Africa. War delays their departure, and the group is forced to wait at the port city of Ostia, at the mouth of the river Tiber, which is under a blockade. There, in late 387, Monica falls ill and dies. Augustine devotes the rest of Book 9 to an account of Monica's life. As in the story of his own life, Augustine selects only a few representative events from each stage of her life to demonstrate important aspects of Monica's character. He begins with her childhood and her habit of sipping wine from the cask. Patient teaching from her good nurse is not sufficient to cure her of her vice; only a hurtful insult from a slave changes her ways. The story echoes the earlier tales of Monica and Alypius, where a comment ends a bad habit, as well as Augustine's own conversion upon hearing a command from God. It also reflects one of Augustine's frequent observations, that God always turns pain to a good end, even if those who inflicted the pain had bad motives. Throughout his description, Augustine presents Monica as an ideal model of feminine Christian virtue: obedient, humble, devout, peace-making, selflessly caring for others.

The account of Augustine and Monica's vision at Ostia is almost as famous as Augustine's actual conversion. The story has clear parallels to Augustine's mystical vision at the height of the Platonic ascent in Book 7. Discussing eternal life, the two experience the direct, unmediated contact of the higher human mind with the divine. In this immaterial realm, the physical senses receive no impressions, and the mind itself is silent. Language, which always stands in between the mind and the external world, obscuring understanding, is no longer necessary. This is the true reality, the eternal, perfect, and unchanging realm of God, which is the true home of all human souls. The scene is the preparation for Monica's departure: Having experienced this perfection and with her son reclaimed for the church, she has no more fear of death. Her sudden renouncement of her desire to be buried next to her husband in Thagaste testifies to the fact that her true home is with God; where her body lies is of no consequence.

Augustine also realizes that Monica's death is not an occasion for sorrow. Nonetheless, his pain at her passing is intense. In contrast to his behavior at the death of his close friend in Book 4, now Augustine tries to moderate his grief. But he is still human, and he finally does weep for her and for himself. In Book 4, he condemns his tears as selfish and misdirected. Now, he concludes that Christian love does not preclude tears of grief; God accepts such sorrows with compassion, even if philosophers may quibble about them.

Following Monica's death, Augustine was forced to return to Rome and wait another year before it was safe to sail back to Africa. However, the end of Book 9 marks the end of the narrative of Augustine's spiritual life. Having begun his story with praise, Augustine ends here with prayer and a reminder of the heavenly Jerusalem, the true home of all Christians, to which they hope to return from their life's wanderings.

Glossary

Evodius Evodius appears as a speaker in two of Augustine's dialogues; he became bishop of Uzali in about the year 400, and continued to correspond with Augustine as late as 414.

my brother Augustine's brother was named Navigius, and it is likely that he came to Milan with Monica.

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