Wednesday, August 28, 2013

St. Augustine's mistress and son, and a lesson from his conversion

The conversion of St. Augustine, by Fra Angelico
August 28th, Feast of St. Augustine
The greatest of the Fathers of the Church, the Doctor of Grace, St. Augustine was not always so saintly. This is well known. Until his thirty-second year, the future Bishop of Hippo was not baptized nor did he live a life worthy of the true Faith.
St. Augustine, in the time before his conversion, had contracted an illicit relationship with an unnamed woman and, from this union, came a son. What became of these two – this mother and son – after St. Augustine’s conversion?
What brought about this great conversion in Augustine?

When only seventeen years of age, Augustine entered into relations with a young woman. She conceived and bore him an illegitimate son, whom he named Adeodatus or “Gift of God”.
When the future saint traveled to Rome and then to Milan, the woman and child accompanied him. She and Augustine continued their illicit union.
The guilt of their relations was a source of great sorrow for St. Monica, Augustine’s mother, who prayed for her son’s conversion with many tears. Her prayers were very nearly answered by a marriage, but this was postponed and ultimately abandoned for a reason which has been lost to history.
However, the son, Adeodatus, was a bright young lad with a promising future. His intellectual capabilities were evident even from his young teenage years. He was the joy of his parents.
The conversion of the mistress
When it became clear that marriage would not be contracted (and, most likely, related to whatever the difficulty was), the unnamed lover of St. Augustine experienced a strong conversion. The couple ended their illicit relationship.
“She was stronger than I,” wrote St. Augustine, “and made her sacrifice with a courage and generosity which I was not strong enough to imitate.”
The mother of Adeodatus, gave her son to his father (a sacrifice which was great indeed) and abandoned the world to devote herself to a life of penance in a monastery in Carthage. There this woman made atonement for her sins and sought God above all things. We can suppose that she died a very holy death.
St. Augustine’s conversion
The Doctor of Grace was, however, slower to respond to the divine assistance. While desiring holiness, he yet desired pleasures and so fell to yet another illicit relationship. This was, however, short lived and his true conversion followed shortly.
Hearing of how others had been converted by reading the Life of St. Anthony of the Dessert (the first great Life of a Saint, itself written by the great St. Athanasius), Augustine was moved to strive in earnest for heaven.
While praying in a garden in Milan (and weeping over his attachment to sin), Augustine heard a faint voice say tolle, lege or “Take up and read.” The Saint opened the Letters of St. Paul at random and found Romans 13:13-14, Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.
At the Easter Vigil of 388, St. Augustine was baptized together with Adeodatus by the saintly bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose. And so began his Christian life which has benefited the Church through the ages to the present day. 
[Update: I neglected to mention that Adeodatus, about a year after his baptism, died a holy death at the young age of sixteen]
A lesson from the conversion of St. Augustine
Notice that the conversion of the Doctor of Grace was brought about through spiritual reading. First, he heard of the conversion of others effected by reading the Life of St. Anthony, and then he himself was converted through reading Sacred Scripture.
Thus, we must recognize the great value of reading both the Bible and the lives of the saints.
To this end, hear the words of St. Francis de Sales (Introduction to the Devout Life, II.17)
“Cultivate a special devotion to God's Word, whether studied privately or in public; always listen to it with attention and reverence, strive to profit by it, and do not let it fall to the ground, but receive it within your heart as a precious balm, thereby imitating the Blessed Virgin, who kept all these sayings in her heart. Remember that our Lord receives our words of prayer according to the way in which we receive His words in teaching.
“You should always have some good devout book at hand, such as the writings of Saint Bonaventura, Gerson, Denis the Carthusian, Blosius, Grenada, Stella, Arias, Pinella, Da Ponte, Avila, the Spiritual Combat, the Confessions of Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome's Epistles, or the like; and daily read some small portion attentively, as though you were reading letters sent by the Saints from Paradise to teach you the way thither, and encourage you to follow them.
“Read the Lives of the Saints too, which are as a mirror to you of Christian life, and try to imitate their actions according to your circumstances; for although many things which the Saints did may not be practicable for those who live in the world, they may be followed more or less. Thus, in our spiritual retreats we imitate the solitude of the first hermit, Saint Paul; in the practice of poverty we imitate Saint Francis, and so on.
“Of course some Lives throw much more light upon our daily course than others, such as the Life of Saint Theresa, which is most admirable, the first Jesuits, Saint Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, Saint Louis, Saint Bernard, Saint Francis, and such like. Others are more the subjects of our admiring wonder than of imitation, such as Saint Mary of Egypt, Saint Simeon Stylites, Saint Catherine of Genoa, and Saint Catherine of Sienna, Saint Angela, etc., although these should tend to kindle a great love of God in our hearts.”

St. Augustine, Pray for us!


Anonymous said...

"While desiring holiness, he yet desired pleasures...converted by reading the Life of St. Anthony of the Dessert."

I suppose you have to appeal to the senses before you reach the soul.

stpetric said...

So, whatever became of Adeodatus?

Clinton R. said...

Thank you for this,Father Erlenbush. It is always a joy to read you. It is amazing how St. Augustine's writings have stood the test of time and will always be edifying. May he pray for us. +JMJ+

Anonymous said...

Why do you think that the mother of Adeodatus was not also named a saint? I would think that her actions and conversion may have been very influential in his conversion.

Gaudium said...

The Word of God truly speaks to us, as St. Francis of Assisi too, when seeking direction from the Lord, opened the Scriptures three times and received the following three verses:

1. St. Matthew 19:21 (If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me),
2. St. Luke 9:3 (He told them, Take nothing with you to use on your journey, staff or wallet or bread or money; you are not to have more than one coat apiece) and
3. St.Luke 9:23 (And he said to all alike, If any man has a mind to come my way, let him renounce self, and take up his cross daily, and follow me).

The story is related with detail in the Little Flowers of St. Francis.

Steven R said...

Hi Maureen,

Just going to interrupt for a bit, but I think she wasn't canonized on account that we have virtually no surviving written texts about her other than what St. Augustine writes of her, and he doesn't have much to say about her (perhaps out of shame or concern for her reputation).


Adeodatus gets mentioned in some interesting dialogues with St. Augustine (and St. Monica and friends) about the soul's principle journey into purity and holiness. The only other things we hear about him is that he receives baptism as a young boy and perishes shortly after.

Marco da Vinha said...

St. Benedict, in his Rule, recomends actually the reading of the lives of the saints before one initiates himself in the reading of Holy Scripture. The reason? Acquiring the mind of the Church for a correct interpretation.

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