The Indefatigable Monica of Hippo: Hope for Weeping (and Praying) Mom’s

Augustine and Monica
Augustine and Monica

Augustine is considered one of the greatest theologians of all time.  Christian History magazine writes, “After Jesus and Paul, Augustine of Hippo is the most influential figure in the history of Christianity.” [1]  If the familiar adage is true, “Behind every great man is a great woman” there can be no greater example than Augustine and his mother, Monica. But don’t take my word for it. Take his.

“It is to my mother that I owe all.”

“If I am thy child, O my God, it is because Thou gavest me such a mother.”

“If I prefer the truth to all other things, it is the fruit of my mother’s teaching.”

“If I did not long ago perish in sin and misery, it is because of the long faithful tears with which she pleaded for me.”

That’s a powerful witness to a mother’s influence, don’t you think? But don’t be fooled. It didn’t come easy. Monica’s short 56 years on earth were marked by travail and tears – largely for a wayward son who, more often than not, gave her reason to despair and not hope. From her life story, I’ve gleaned a few lessons to encourage parents – especially mothers – to persevere in prayer for wayward children.

GOD’S PURPOSES WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED REGARDLESS OF AN IMPERFECT UPBRINGING: Even though Monica came from a devout Christian home, her parents (oddly enough) arranged her marriage to a pagan. He was a foul-mouthed, ill-tempered man, who subjected his wife to the pain of multiple adulteries. Though Monica rejoiced to see his conversion to Christianity one year before he died, his influence on Augustine was considerably bad and seemingly irreversible.  But God’s grace is greater. Too many Christian parents, especially those who came to Christ later in life, live with the guilt of the “damage” they’ve done to their children.  But God overrules our mistakes!

SEXUAL IMMORALITY WILL NOT HAVE THE FINAL WORD: As Augustine grew into manhood he struggled with sexuality. By the time he was 16 years old, he admits, “the frenzy gripped me and I surrendered myself entirely to lust.” Having learned his father’s promiscuous ways, he admits to “floundering in the broiling sea of … fornication. ” He lived with a woman out-of-wedlock for over 13 years and fathered a son with her. As God began to work in Augustine’s heart, his prayer reveals an inner turmoil. “Give me chastity … but not yet.”  Though Augustine describes his break-up in extremely painful terms (it was clear there was a deep emotional bond between the two) the relationship was nonetheless permanently severed. Maybe you despair over a sexually immoral relationship your child is involved in.  As time goes on the unholy partnership gets deeper, more attached, and more complex.  But with God, none of that matters! When He says, “It’s over!” It’s over. Period.

THE TRUE GOSPEL PREVAILS OVER A COUNTERFEIT GOSPEL: At age 17, Augustine left home to attend school in Carthage. There he became a member of a Christian-gnostic group called Manichaeism. The particular sect he was involved with “saw themselves as the sole possessors of true Christian knowledge and interpretation of the Bible. Other Christians, they maintained, believed absurdities about God and accepted falsified versions of the Scriptures.” [2] Augustine was not just an adherent, he was an ardent defender who employed his strong oratory skills to lead others into this error. At Rome, Monica pleaded earnestly with Bishop Ambrose.  “Talk to my son!” she begged.  But the Bishop wisely refrained. He knew Augustine was not ready to listen. Instead he told Monica, “Go your way; as sure as you live, it is impossible that the son of these tears should perish.” [3] God, in His time, shook the foundations of Manichaeism and led Augustine to the saving knowledge of Christ. Maybe your child has been seduced by a false gospel. Remember, no matter what lie has taken up residence in your child’s life, God can tear it down and bring it to naught.

DON’T MAKE JUDGMENTS BASED UPON WHAT YOU SEE: For years it seemed like Augustine grew worse. His journey was a long one. “He had periods of skepticism and doubt; there was a gradual detachment from past errors, fits of starts and stops.” [4] But after 32 years of vain and worldly pursuits, the tears and prayers of his mother caught up. Augustine recounts the day the Word came alive: “Not in revelry and drunkenness, not in chambering and shamelessness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh” [Rom. 13:13–14]. I neither wanted nor needed to read further. Immediately with the end of that sentence, a light, as it were, of certainty poured in my heart and put all my shadowy doubts to flight.”  If, at any point, Monica would have settled on what her eyes saw, she would have missed out on the great work that God brought about! Remember, this is a walk of faith!

The 4th-Century pagan philosopher, Libanius, once exclaimed, “What women these Christians have!” [5] Well, if Monica is any example, I can certainly see how he can say that. Maybe you are a hurting mom.  You’ve wept, you’ve agonized, you’ve prayed and still, your wayward child grows worse. Pray on, sister!  It’s true, not every child is destined to be an Augustine but God will be glorified in all your tears and prayers. Or, maybe you know a Monica. Churches are full of them. I have a few in my life. I know that behind their smile is a broken, hemorrhaging heart. Pray for her. Encourage her when she grows weary. And tell her about Monica, whose twenty-five years of weeping and praying ended in a torrent of triumph!

Recommended Reading:  Augustine: A Mother’s Son by Dolina MacCuish

[1] Christian History Magazine-Issue 15: St. Augustine of Hippo (Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1987).
[2] Stephen Cooper, Augustine for Armchair Theologians, Armchair Theologians Series (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 8.
[3] Christian History Magazine-Issue 67: St. Augustine: Sinner, Bishop, Saint (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2000).
[4] Stephen Cooper, Augustine for Armchair Theologians, Armchair Theologians Series (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 9.
[5] Christian History Magazine-Issue 17: Women in the Early Church (Worcester, PA: Christian History Institute, 1988).

Whatever Became Of Sin?

At three I had a feeling of
Ambivalence toward my brothers.
And so it follows naturally
I poisoned all my lovers.
But now I’m happy; I have learned
The lesson this has taught:
That everything I do that’s wrong
Is someone else’s fault.

Written by Anna Russell, Psychiatric Folksong

Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin?  (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1973), 181 (Google Digitized Version).

The Women of the Tower of Constance

This chapter in French Protestant history has haunted me since I learned of it. What troubles me most is the prolonged nature of the trial. When it comes to persecution, sharp but short can offer some consolation. But such is not the case with the women of the Tower of Constance.

So, who are they? First, some context. In April 1598, Henry IV of France issued the Edict of Nantes. In the broadest sense, the decree laid the groundwork for religious toleration between Catholic’s and Protestants. Also known as Huguenots, French Protestants were permitted, for the first time, to exercise freedom of conscience with a degree of protection. With the Edict in effect, they were free to worship everywhere privately (some places publicly). They could inherit property, pursue education, engage in trade activity, and enjoy other civil rights. To a country ravaged by war it was a time of much-needed respite.

Source:  Musee virtuel duProtestantisme

That all changed in 1685 when Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, which, in the harshest terms possible, reversed the Edict of Nantes. It was ruthless. It called for the immediate demolition of any standing churches. Reformed pastors had two weeks to convert or leave the country. Protestant schools were outlawed; children were forcibly baptized and educated in the Catholic Church. A ban was also placed on emigration. Added to the horror were the infamous “Dragonnades,” organized soldiers who made their lodgings in Huguenot homes and who committed unspeakable atrocities in order to force them into conversion. It was a harrowing time for French Protestants.

Despite the ban on emigration, many escaped to Switzerland, America, and other Protestant enclaves. But not everyone left. Some would remain and resist. This period of resistance, from 1685-1789, is called the “Desert.” It alludes to the 40 years of wilderness wandering of the children of Israel but also, in a literal sense, Protestants were forced to meet in the desert, in caves and other remote areas. Getting caught carried a high price. Men were condemned to the galleys; women were locked away in prison. The most notorious is the Tower of Constance where, from 1685-1767, 130 women[1] were “virtually entombed”[2] alive for refusing to recant their faith.

Source:  Office de Tourisme d'Aigues-Mortes
The Tower of Constance

Originally constructed as a military lookout and lighthouse, the tower contains two large circular chambers, twenty-eight feet in diameter, one on top of the other. Light and air enter into the upper chamber through a six-foot diameter hole in the ceiling. The lower chamber receives its air and light only from the upper room through a similar hole in its ceiling. Only through these holes can smoke escape, and fresh air enter – and with that, cold snow and rain. So dark were the rooms that at time of their release, many were blind.

The women held captive within the sixteen feet thick walls were guilty of attending a Reformed service, opening their homes for a meeting or, as in the case of Marie Neviliard, having a Protestant minister officiate their wedding. Imprisoned were women like Isabeau Menet who, seized while celebrating the Lord’s Supper alongside her husband, gave birth in the Tower. Her child was promptly snatched away to be raised Catholic. There was Marie Berand, a blind missionary, violently removed from her home, and who died in the tower at 80. There was Marie Rey, separated from her children and condemned to the Tower for participating in a Reformed service.[3]

The 1745 register of prisoner conduct bears witness to the resisting spirit of the women:

“Jacquette Vigne.  Belief unchanged.
Anne Soleyrol.  Belief unchanged.”[4]

The most famous of the prisoners is Marie Durand who came from a family of devoted Protestants. Marie’s mother Glaudine, died after her arrest for attending a secret Protestant service. Marie’s brother Pierre, a “Desert Preacher” was apparently very good at – not just preaching but evading the authorities! Frustrated by their inability to capture the firebrand, an evil plan was concocted to entrap him. First they would arrest Etienne, Pierre’s elderly father. Then they would arrest Marie. In a last-ditch effort to protect his daughter, Etienne arranged for her to marry Matthew Seres. But not even the protective heart of a loving father could hold back the Providence of God. Shortly after Etienne was arrested, the newlyweds were captured. Matthew was condemned to the galleys with his father-in-law, where they both died. 15-year old Marie was cast into the Tower. Two years later, Pierre was caught and hanged.

Marie Durand

When Marie entered the Tower, she brought the signature Durand family zeal of the Lord to the gloomy prisoners.  One can only imagine what a ray of sunshine she was to the poor souls languishing in darkest despair.  Most of the women had no formal education. Marie became their lifeline to the outside world helping them to read and write letters.  She also wrote numerous appeals for the improvement of conditions in the prison – many of which were acted upon.  She read the Psalms, sang hymns, prayed, nursed the sick, and brought comfort to the dying. A single word, etched with a knitting needle, in the cold hard stone betrays the lion-hearted faith of this gentle soul: “Recistez” Resist! The author of one tribute provides commentary worth repeating:

She spelled this word as she used to hear it pronounced in the sweet dialect of her province, putting a c for an s. She had not acquired her French at the court of a bourbon; but she had learnt religion at the school of Christ, and that religion had taught her that there is a higher law than that which monarchs sometimes try to impose upon their subjects, and that truly divine law then says, ‘Resist’.[5]

Although religious liberty was restored in 1764, it wasn’t until 1767 that the women were released. Most were already dead. The Prince of Beauveau  was sent on assignment by the King to liberate only three women.  When he arrived at the Tower, he was so overcome with grief by the miserable sight that he set all the captives free. The Prince was informed by messenger that the King did not take kindly to his authority being usurped. To this, the Prince sharply retorted, “The king is my master to deprive me of my place, but not to prohibit me from fulfilling my duties to my conscience and my honor.”[6]

The women of the Tower of Constance were set free at last.  Still, what had they to return to? The flower of their youth was no more, their property destroyed, their families dead. If ever there were a trial to question the good of, would this not be it? Bereft of all the fleeting comforts and pleasures of this temporal life, the women of the Tower of Constance possessed something better: Christ. And for them was laid in store “the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

“Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:13-14)
[1]Le Musee du Desert – Protestant women imprisoned in the Tower of Constance
[2] Good, James I. Famous Women of the Reformed Church. Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books. July 23, 2007: 245.
[3] Ibid 246-247.
[4] Stevens, William. The Truce of God, and Other Poems (An excerpt from “The Tower of Constance” Google digitized book. page 121.)
[5] Boston Evening Transcript, August 3, 1889. The Tower of Constance: The Prison of the Huguenot Women
[6] Good, James I. Famous Women of the Reformed Church. Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books. July 23, 2007: 250.

Other sources consulted:
[1] Musee virtuel du Protestantisme
[2] Office de Tourisme d’Aigues-Mortes
[3] Clark, Jessica. Leben: A Journal of Reformation Life: Volume 3, Issue 1. Marie Durand: Prisoner of Conscience.
[4] Rekindling the Reformation – Peace if Possible, Truth at All Costs: The RESIST Story

I’m back!

Well, hello there!  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  For those who don’t know (or can’t remember), late 2012 this blog went quiet.  Very quiet.  In fact, it went away!  My reasons were, on the whole, practical.  The ever-constant tension between duty and time had escalated so that it was apparent the time for blogging was “not now” — maybe never. So, in the spirit of Ecclesiastes 3:1, I removed Heavenly Springs from the Web to focus on home and hearth, ministry, and work responsibilities.  Removing the blog felt extreme, but it had to be.  A peek here, a peek there, and before you know it  – well, you remember the movie. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”  So, I folded up my little corner of the internet, tucked it away in a safe place, and pretty much avoided the neighborhood.  Now, a little over a year and a half, guess what?  “I’m back!”  

I’m still not sure how it’s going to work.  That tension I described hasn’t gone away.  But, the sum and substance is that I really want to be here.  So, for now, I’m going to manage expectations (not yours, mine!) and aim for one blog post per week.  Anything more is gravy.  I hope to make Heavenly Springs a profitable place by posting on subjects like Church history, Reformation theology, Christian biography, maybe even some Revolutionary War history, book reviews, and of course, an occasional recipe.

Before I go, there are two people who need to be acknowledged.  They are Louis & Melissa Tullo.  The very talented (and pregnant!) Melissa designed the blog; a busy (but always gracious) Louis managed the technical stuff on the back-end. Theirs was a labor of love and they made sure I knew that every step of the way.  And last, but certainly not least, a special thanks to my beloved husband whose persistent encouragement always cheers my heart and motivates me onward.

So, there you have it, friends!  I’m back with you on the blogosphere!