In her devotion to her husband and children, Augustine’s mother, Monica (331–87), was in many ways a typical wife and mother. She holds a place in history largely because of her prayers for her prodigal son.

Monica lived with her husband, Patricius, a minor official of the North African town of Thagaste, in what is now Algeria. Patricius was a sexually passionate (and sometimes unfaithful) fourth-century pagan, and Monica a devout Christian.

She had two sons and probably several daughters. Augustine’s early years were marked by the boy’s ungovernable temper, lies, and thefts. Patricius’s death left her a widow at 40 (though not before he became a convert in his last days), and Monica faced the next 16 years of Augustine’s tumultuous early adulthood without him. Augustine’s lifestyle of unbelief and impurity caused her agonizing distress.

“Lord,” Augustine later confessed, “how loathsome I was in Thy sight. I wandered still farther from Thee, and Thou didst leave me to myself: the torrent of my fornications tossed and swelled and boiled and ran over.”

Monica, however, was determined to see her son become a genuine Christian. She clung to the belief, encouraged by a special dream, that she would see him converted before she died. To that end she prayed persistently, prayers the great bishop and theologian of Hippo would later realize were instrumental in his conversion.

When Augustine left home for a professorship in rhetoric at the University of Milan, Monica followed. There she worshiped in the church of the renowned Bishop Ambrose, often present twice daily to hear the Word and pray.

She entreated God to change her son and empower him to overcome sin in his life. She may have also seen in Ambrose a model of what she wanted Augustine ...

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