Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book IX/Chapter 13
Chapter XIII.—He Entreats God for Her Sins, and Admonishes His Readers to Remember Her Piously.
34. But,—my heart being now healed of that wound, in so far as it could be convicted of a carnal affection,—I pour out unto Thee, O our God, on behalf of that Thine handmaid, tears of a far different sort, even that which flows from a spirit broken by the thoughts of the dangers of every soul that dieth in Adam. And although she, having been “made alive” in Christ even before she was freed from the flesh had so lived as to praise Thy name both by her faith and conversation, yet dare I not say that from the time Thou didst regenerate her by baptism, no word went forth from her mouth against Thy precepts. And it hath been declared by Thy Son, the Truth, that “Whosoever shall say to his brother, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” And woe even unto the praiseworthy life of man, if, putting away mercy, Thou shouldest investigate it. But because Thou dost not narrowly inquire after sins, we hope with confidence to find some place of indulgence with Thee. But whosoever recounts his true merits to Thee, what is it that he recounts to Thee but Thine own gifts? Oh, if men would know themselves to be men; and that “he that glorieth” would “glory in the Lord!”
35. I then, O my Praise and my Life, Thou God of my heart, putting aside for a little her good deeds, for which I joyfully give thanks to Thee, do now beseech Thee for the sins of my mother. Hearken unto me, through that Medicine of our wounds who hung upon the tree, and who, sitting at Thy right hand, “maketh intercession for us.” I know that she acted mercifully, and from the heart forgave her debtors their debts; do Thou also forgive her debts, whatever she contracted during so many years since the water of salvation. Forgive her, O Lord, forgive her, I beseech Thee; “enter not into judgment” with her. Let Thy mercy be exalted above Thy justice, because Thy words are true, and Thou hast promised mercy unto “the merciful;” which Thou gavest them to be who wilt “have mercy” on whom Thou wilt “have mercy,” and wilt “have compassion” on whom Thou hast had compassion.
36. And I believe Thou hast already done that which I ask Thee; but “accept the free-will offerings of my mouth, O Lord.” For she, when the day of her dissolution was near at hand, took no thought to have her body sumptuously covered, or embalmed with spices; nor did she covet a choice monument, or desire her paternal burial-place. These things she entrusted not to us, but only desired to have her name remembered at Thy altar, which she had served without the omission of a single day; whence she knew that the holy sacrifice was dispensed, by which the handwriting that was against us is blotted out; by which the enemy was triumphed over, who, summing up our offences, and searching for something to bring against us, found nothing in Him in whom we conquer. Who will restore to Him the innocent blood? Who will repay Him the price with which He bought us, so as to take us from Him? Unto the sacrament of which our ransom did Thy handmaid bind her soul by the bond of faith. Let none separate her from Thy protection. Let not the “lion” and the “dragon” introduce himself by force or fraud. For she will not reply that she owes nothing, lest she be convicted and got the better of by the wily deceiver; but she will answer that her “sins are forgiven” by Him to whom no one is able to repay that price which He, owing nothing, laid down for us.
37. May she therefore rest in peace with her husband, before or after whom she married none; whom she obeyed, with patience bringing forth fruit unto Thee, that she might gain him also for Thee. And inspire, O my Lord my God, inspire Thy servants my brethren, Thy sons my masters, who with voice and heart and writings I serve, that so many of them as shall read these confessions may at Thy altar remember Monica, Thy handmaid, together with Patricius, her sometime husband, by whose flesh Thou introducedst me into this life, in what manner I know not. May they with pious affection be mindful of my parents in this transitory light, of my brethren that are under Thee our Father in our Catholic mother, and of my fellow-citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, which the wandering of Thy people sigheth for from their departure until their return. That so my mother’s last entreaty to me may, through my confessions more than through my prayers, be more abundantly fulfilled to her through the prayers of many.
- Rom. viii. 7.
- 1 Cor. xv. 22. The universalists of every age have interpreted the word “all” here so as to make salvation by Christ Jesus extend to every child of Adam. If their interpretation were true, Monica’s spirit need not have been troubled at the thought of the danger of unregenerate souls. But Augustin in his De Civ. Dei, xiii. 23, gives the import of the word: “Not that all who die in Adam shall be members of Christ—for the great majority shall be punished in eternal death,—but he uses the word ‘all’ in both clauses because, as no one dies in an animal body except in Adam, so no one is quickened a spiritual body save in Christ.” See x. sec. 68, note 1, below.
- For to have done so would have been to go perilously near to the heresy of the Pelagians, who laid claim to the possibility of attaining perfection in this life by the power of free-will, and without the assistance of divine grace; and went even so far, he tells us (Ep. clxxvi. 2), as to say that those who had so attained need not utter the petition for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer,—ut ei non sit jam necessarium dicere “Dimitte nobis debita nostra.” Those in our own day who enunciate perfectionist theories,— though, it is true, not denying the grace of God as did these,—may well ponder Augustin’s forcible words in his De Pecc. Mer. et Rem. iii. 13: “Optandum est ut fiat, conandum est ut fiat, supplicandum est ut fiat; non tamen quasi factum fuerit, confitendum.” We are indeed commanded to be perfect (Matt. v. 48); and the philosophy underlying the command is embalmed in the words of the proverb, “Aim high, and you will strike high.” But he who lives nearest to God will have the humility of heart which will make him ready to confess that in His sight he is a “miserable sinner.” Some interesting remarks on this subject will be found in Augustin’s De Civ. Dei, xiv. 9, on the text, “If we say we have no sin,” etc. (1 John i. 8.) On sins after baptism, see note on next section.
- Matt. xii. 36.
- Matt. v. 22.
- There is a passage parallel to this in his Ep. to Sextus (cxciv. 19). “Merits” therefore would appear to be used simply in the sense of good actions. Compare sec. 17, above, xiii. sec. 1, below, and Ep. cv. That righteousness is not by merit, appears from Ep. cxciv.; Ep. clxxvii., to Innocent; and Serm.ccxciii.
- 2 Cor. x. 17.
- Rom. viii. 34.
- Matt. xviii. 35.
- Matt. vi. 12. Augustin here as elsewhere applies this petition in the Lord’s Prayer to the forgiveness of sins after baptism. He does so constantly. For example, in his Ep. cclxv. he says: “We do not ask for those to be forgiven which we doubt not were forgiven in baptism; but those which, though small, are frequent, and spring from the frailty of human nature.” Again, in his Con Ep. Parmen. ii. 10, after using almost the same words, he points out that it is a prayer against daily sins; and in his De Civ. Dei, xxi. 27, where he examines the passage in relation to various erroneous beliefs, he says it “was a daily prayer He [Christ] was teaching, and it was certainly to disciples already justified He was speaking. What, then, does He mean by ‘your sins’ (Matt. vi. 14), but those sins from which not even you who are justified and sanctified can be free?” See note on the previous section; and also for the feeling in the early Church as to sins after baptism, the note on i. sec. 17, above.
- Ps. cxliii. 2.
- Jas. ii. 13.
- Matt. v. 7.
- Rom. ix. 15.
- Ps. cxix. 108.
- See v. sec. 17, above.
- Col. ii. 14.
- See his De Trin. xiii. 18, the passage beginning, “What then is the righteousness by which the devil was conquered?”
- John xiv. 30.
- Ps. xci. 13.
- Matt. ix. 2.
- Luke viii. 15.
- The origin of prayers for the dead dates back probably to the close of the second century. In note 1, p. 90, we have quoted from Tertullian’s De Corona Militis, where he says “Oblationes pro defunctis pro natalitiis annua die facimus.” In his De Monogamia, he speaks of a widow praying for her departed husband, that “he might have rest, and be a partaker in the first resurrection.” From this time a catena of quotations from the Fathers might be given, if space permitted, showing how, beginning with early expressions of hope for the dead, there, in process of time, arose prayers even for the unregenerate, until at last there was developed purgatory on the one side, and creature-worship on the other. That Augustin did not entertain the idea of creature-worship will be seen from his Ep. to Maximus, xvii. 5. In his De Dulcit. Quæst. 2 (where he discusses the whole question), he concludes that prayer must not be made for all, because all have not led the same life in the flesh. Still, in his Enarr. in Ps. cviii. 17, he argues from the case of the rich man in the parable, that the departed do certainly “have a care for us.” Aërius, towards the close of the fourth century, objected to prayers for the dead, chiefly on the ground (see Usher’s Answer to a Jesuit, iii. 258) of their uselessness. In the Church of England, as will be seen by reference to Keeling’s Liturgicæ Britannicæ, pp. 210, 335, 339, and 341, prayers for the dead were eliminated from the second Prayer Book; and to the prudence of this step Palmer bears testimony in his Origines Liturgicæ, iv. 10, justifying it on the ground that the retaining of these prayers implied a belief in her holding the doctrine of purgatory. Reference may be made to Epiphanius, Adv. Hær. 75; Bishop Bull, Sermon 3; and Bingham, xv. 3, secs. 15, 16, and xxiii. 3, sec. 13.