We conclude Book IX of Confessions as Augustine describes his time in the seaport of Ostia, near Rome, around 387 AD.
He had been baptized in the spring and headed south in the summer with a small company of friends and family. They had intended to return to Africa and form a community for prayer, study, and the service of God. But when they arrived, the Mediterranean Sea was sealed off as both the Eastern and Western emperors fought one another and the usurper Maximus.
Here, in the latter half of the book, he recounts his last memories of his mother Monica.
Write an essay on one of the following topics:
- In the beginning of Chapter 7, he writes: “It was not long before this that the Church in Milan had begun to seek comfort and spiritual strength in the practice of singing hymns, in which the faithful united fervently with heart and voice.” What is the importance of music in worship? Why is it almost always more uplifting or more engaging than sermons or even Bible study most of the time? Is music a unique ability for humans only? What would worship or church service be like without it?
- In Chapter 7, Augustine describes the miraculous properties of holy relics as people reported of being healed of evil spirits and blindness. What is the role of holy relics? Why the attraction to them in some denominations such as Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, and other eastern churches? Are they pagan in nature? Is the Protestant Church, for the most part, missing out, or are there parallelism in Protestant Churches in regards to relics? Does God actually use relics as a channel or vehicle for miracles? Or is it just in the persons’ imagination?
- In Chapter 8, he describes in length the life of his mother Monica. Describe how Augustine uses her to illustrate about the Christian life. Describe how he handles her certain weaknesses. How did she react toward the servant-girl who rebuked her? How did she influence his conception of grace?
- In Chapter 9, how did Monica handle the abuses of her husband? Describe the role of husband and wife Augustine describes here that seemed to be the norm at that time and place. What is the biblical description of roles of a husband and wife, if any? Should old-fashioned or traditional roles be kept as is in the 21st century and onward? Should wives submit to their husbands as Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18 states? Are those verses “eternal” and something God decrees, or are those just Paul’s opinions and there are conditional?
- In Chapter 10, he describes a vision he shared with his mother. They “were wondering what the eternal life of the saints would be like.” What do you imagine heaven or the afterlife to be like? Is it like a praise and worship concert? A retreat? A luxurious paradise where you can indulge in all your wildest dreams? Or is this all wishful thinking? Why does the human heart so yearn for an eternal resting place of peace and tranquility? Does it matter for you that there is a heaven or paradise after death? Would your worship of God cease if there was no heaven? (I am aware that I wrote a similar question before – only answer if you gained new insight or if your thinking has changed or broadened since then.)
- In Chapter 10, describe all the Neoplatonic imagery and philosophy he uses to describe the afterlife. Describe the hierarchal depiction of the cosmos and reality here. Do you agree with Augustine and Monica’s conclusion here “that no bodily pleasure, however great it might be and whatever earthly light might shed lustre upon it, was worthy of comparison, or even of mention, beside the happiness of life of the saints”? Near the end of the chapter he gives the climax of his vision with Monica where they had “reached out in thought and touched the eternal Wisdom which abides over all things… all other visions of things inferior were to be removed, so that this single vision entranced and absorbed the one who beheld it… as that instant of understanding for which we had longed so much.” Would this be a better description of the afterlife, rather than the popular depictions of heaven? Why or why not? Would a more contemplative and sublime experience of the afterlife or heaven be better or more realistic, than the popular versions of singing eternally in heaven, next to angels, loved ones, etc.? What does your preference or thoughts about this reveal about yourself and your beliefs?
- In Chapters 11 and 12 he describes the death of his mother. Compare how Monica handles death and how Augustine reacts to death. What are their main differences and what do they reveal about how a Christian should react toward death of a loved one and his or her own mortality? Does Christianity offer a different view of death than any other religion, belief system, or philosophy you can think of? How does Christianity offer ways to cope with the reality of death? Why do Christians love wondering about what heaven will be like as a comfort, while at the same time many Christians pray for sick people to be healed and thus delay them from possibly entering into heaven? Wouldn’t that be the most glorious thing to experience for a Christian? Is this an indication of a disconnect between experience and reality? Do you think about your own mortality?
- In Chapter 13, after Monica’s death, he prays for her sins and “reminds” God of all her good deeds while still alive and that He will be merciful towards her. Do you believe salvation to be conditional or unconditional? Are there any biblical verses that state salvation is either conditional or unconditional? Can you still pray for someone’s salvation even after he or she has died? Can Satan hinder a believer’s path to God after death, as Augustine seemingly believed?
Please answer for this Sunday.