Old Age before the Court: Monnica and Socrates in Book Nine of Augustine’s Confessions.
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Even though the character of Augustine’s mother, Monnica, has been studied from different angles, the students of the Confessions have not paid much attention to a curious image of her standing before the tribunal of God, which appears in Augustine’s prayer after her death. This short scene, which could be called the “trial of Monnica” is a carefully created passage, in which Augustine juxtaposes Pagan and Christian ethical ideas, probably alluding to Socrates’ trial and confronting the Christian attitude of his mother to that of the greatest of ancient sages. Augustine argues that Monnica should not respond to the Devil’s accusations and should not try to defend herself, because that would make her salvation impossible. On the contrary, abandoning of defense and loving trust in God’s mercy can save her soul from eternal damnation. This attitude is contrary to the proud self-defense of Socrates, who emphasized his innocence and moral perfection. Augustine’s image of Monnica before the court of God is an expression of his idea of original sin and of human inability to achieve virtue without God’s grace, which is a significant break with the Pagan ethical tradition. The end of Book Nine is also an intriguing combination of such elements as the traditional idea of old age as the time of assessing one’s life, Roman rhetorical and judicial tradition, and integration of Biblical and philosophical truths into an original, influential Augustinian synthesis.
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