The Bones of St. Augustine

Yesterday, I posted about the bones of St. Monnica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo.  Today we move to the mortal remains of her sainted son.

Augustine died on 28 August 430.

Sometime before the early 8th century, Augustine’s remains were translated from N. Africa to Sardinia for fear of desecration. It is possible that St. Fulgentius of Ruspe took Augustine’s body to Sardinia. Fulgentius had run afoul of the Arian Vandal overlords in N. Africa and was driven out.  If you want to know more about St. Fulgentius, I have a PODCAzT about him.

During the 8th century Augustine’s remains were in danger again, but this time by another gang of vandals called Arabs, who were swarming all over the Mediterranean as pirates and brigands.

Sometime between 710 and 730 King Liutprand of the Lombards translated Augustine a second time. On some 11 October, Luitprand had him interred in Pavia in the church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro.

It is thought that Liutprand had to pay a huge ransom the bones from some Muslim thug. (Hard to believe, I know.)

With the passage of time people simply forgot where the saints bones actually physically were in the church.

Eventually, the church itself came to be controlled by two different Augustinian groups, the Canons Regular and the Hermits. Let’s just say their relations were strained and leave it at that. Then somethingBenedict XIII happened that set off the war between them.

In 1695 a group of workman were excavating under the altar in the crypt of the church. They found a marble box containing human bones. The box apparently had some charcoal markings spelling the part of the word “Augustine”, though those markings disappeared. Great chaos ensued.

The memory of just where the relics of Augustine were placed in the church had been lost through the passing of the years. Finding them again set off a rather unedifying battle for their control between the Augustinian Hermits and the Canons Regular.

Ultimately, Rome had to step in to resolve things. That’s what Pope’s do.

Pope Benedict XIII, a Dominican who changed his numbering from XIV to XIII so as to avoid counting an anti-pope, got involved personally. He was very interested in saints and canonized the huge number of 18!  At least that was a huge number before the pontificate of John Paul II.

This was also at the time when the future Pope Benedict XIV, Propsero Lambertini, published his fourth and final volume On the beatification of the servants of God and of the canonization of the blessed. Pope Lambertini would give us the legislation for the canonical processes of canonizations that has lasted with some few changes to today.

In any event, Benedict XIII sent a letter to the Bishop of Pavia telling him to get their act together and figure out the questions of authenticity and control.

Additional studies were made under someone appointed by Benedict and by 19 September of 1729 things were wrapped up.

Processions were held, solemn proclamations made about the authenticity of the relics, a great Te Deum was sung and there was a fireworks display, and anyone who decided to disagree and start the bickering again would be excommunicated.   The good ol’ days.

The next year under Pope Clement XII the Cardinal Secretary of State (and a patron of the Canons Regular) commissioned the carving of the large main altar with its reliefs, completed in 1738, and which you can see today in the church where Augustine’s tomb is even now.

So, when you travel to northern Italy, be sure to stop in the interesting city of Pavia (Pav-EE-a), south of Milan.   There you will find the bones of the mighty north African Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine of Hippo.

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St. Monnica avoided alcoholism

From Serge Lancel’s Augustine, one of the best biographies I know of the great Bishop of Hippo (p. 8 ff – emphases mine):

Before devoting himself entirely to Mother Church, as he approached the age of forty, Augustine had had a concubine for about fifteen years, fo whom he had beem very fond and who had given him a son; then, at the same time as a fleeting engagement, a second short-lived liaison.  But only one woman really counted in his life, and that was his natural mother, Monica.

As we may guess from reading a few pages of Book XI of the Confessions, Patricius had taken a wife in Thagaste from a milieu close to his own.  He had married Monica, as his would describe it in a phrase borrowed from Virgil, “in the fullness of her nubility”, which means that he had not married a child, a practice that was in any case more rare then in Agrica that in Rome itself.  The couple had three children, in what order we do not know: a girl, who remains anonymous to us, but who, once widowed, would later become the superior of a community of nuns, and two boys, Augustine and Navigius, whom we shall find with his brother in Italy, at Cassiciacum, then at Ostia at their dying mother’s bedside.  …

So Monica had been born into a Christian family and was, as we would say today, a practicing believer.  The religious practices of Christians at that time, in North Africa, sometimes included aspects that would be surprising to us, such as the custom of taking offerings of food to the tombs of martyrs, for agapes that only too often degenerated into orgies; an obvious survival of the pagan festival of the Parentalia.  Of course, Monica did not indulge in those excesses.  If the baskets she brought to the cemetery contained, besides gruel and bread, a pitcher of unadulterated wine, when the time came to share libations with other faithful, she herself would take only a tiny amount, diluted with water, sipped from a goblet in front of every tomb visited.  Was this sobriety a memory of some experience in her early youth?  Augustine tells this story which he says he heard from the lady hersself.  Raised in temperance by an old serving-woman who enjoyed the complete trust of Monica’s parents, she had fallen into a bad habit.  Well-behaved girl that she was, she was sent to the cellar to fetch wine from the cask, but before using the goblet she had brought to fill the carafe she would just wet her lips with the wine, not because she liked it, says Augustine, but out of childish mischief.  But gradually she had acquired a taste for it, to the point where she was drinking entire goblets of it with great gusto.  Fortunately she had cured herself of this incipient liking for drink in a burst of pride: the maidservant who accompanied her to the cellar, having fallen out one day with her young mistresss, insultingly called he a “little wine bibber”.  Stung to the quick, Monica had immediately stopped her habit.

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ACTION ITEM REMINDER: Birettas for Seminarians

I had a note from John at Leaflet Missal in St Paul.

Birettas are coming in.

He says he has some 35 seminarians around the country who would use one. 

The biretta is in your court now!

For the whole story go HERE

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St. Monnica: “put my body anywhere”

Here is an oldie post, appropriate for the day:

Today in newer, Ordinary Form calendar of the Holy Roman Church is the feast of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo.  In the traditional calendar her feast was back in May.

Her name, which is Punic in origin, is also properly spelled Monnica.

This is the chapel in the church of St. Augustine in Rome where the mortal remains of St. Monica (+387), the mother of Augustine of Hippo now rest.

To the right is a shot of the chapel on the day some years ago when the bones of her son, St. Augustine, were brought from their resting place in Pavia (near Milan) to Rome.

How did St. Monica’s tomb wind up here? 

Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Inside the Vatican (December 2004) on the above mentioned event.  I used the alternate (and more accurate Punic) spelling of the saint’s name – “Monnica” (emphasis not in the original):

Most visitors to the Eternal City find it puzzling and wondrous that Monnica’s remains would be in Rome and even more so that Augustine’s should be in northern Italy, or that we have them at all.  How did this come to pass?  Monnica died at age 56 of a malarial fever at Ostia, Rome’s port city, not far from where modern Rome’s port, DaVinci airport, is situated.

After Augustine’s baptism in 386 by Milan’s bishop St. Ambrose (+ AD 397), Monnica and Augustine together with his brother Navigius, Adeodatus the future bishop’s son by his concubine of many years whom Monnica had forced Augustine to put aside, and friends Nebridius, Alypius and the former Imperial secret service agent (agens in rebus) Evodius were all waiting at Ostia to return home to Africa by ship.  They were stuck there for some time because the port was blockaded during a period of civil strife.

As she lay dying near Rome, Monnica told Augustine (conf. 9): “Lay this body anywhere, let not the care for it trouble you at all. This only I ask, that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you be.”  She was buried there in Ostia.  In the 6th century she was moved to a little church named for St. Aurea, an early martyr of the city, and there she remained until 1430 when her remains were translated by Pope Martin V to the Roman Basilica of St. Augustine built in 1420 by the famous Guillaume Card. D’Estouteville of Rouen, then Camerlengo under Pope Sixtus IV.  As fate or God’s directing have would have it, in December 1945, some children were digging a hole in the courtyard of the little church of St. Aurea next to the ruins of ancient Ostia.  They wanted to put up a basketball hoop, probably having been taught the exciting new game – so different from soccer – by American GIs.  While digging they discovered the broken marble epitaph which had marked Monnica’s ancient grave.  Scholars were able to authenticate the inscription, the text of which had been preserved in a medieval manuscript.  The epitaph had been composed during Augustine’s lifetime by no less then a former Consul of AD 408 and resident at Ostia, Anicius Auchenius Bassus, perhaps Augustine’s host during their sojourn.

It is possible that Anicius Bassus placed the epitaph there after 410 which saw the ravages of Alaric the Visigoth and the sacking of Rome and its environs.  One can almost feel behind these traces of ancient evidence Augustine’s plea to his old friend sent by letter from the port of Hippo Regius over the waves to Ostia.

Hearing of the devastation to the area, far more shocking to the ancients than the events of 11 September were for us, did Augustine, now a renowned bishop, ask his old friend to tend the grave of the mother whom he had so loved and who in her time had wept for her son’s sins and rejoiced in his conversion?

Looking for a great book on Augustine?  Try this!

Meanwhile, in here is my relic of St. Monica.

May she pray for us, for widows and for parents of children who have drifted from the Church.

Be sure to pray for the departed.  Pray for them!  Don’t just remember them.  Don’t just think well of them.  Don’t just, as the case may be, resent or be angry at them.  Pray for them!  Prayer for the dead is a spiritual work of mercy.

Finally, I want to remind you of a new book on Augustine

REVIEW: The book on Augustine which Pope Benedict would have wanted to write.

I had a note that when I originally posted this, the publishers at Oxford had to have a meeting to figure out what to do because your purchases outstripped their supplies.

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Interesting Statistics about Pope Francis’ General Audiences

small numbers at audience

Shortly after the election of Pope Francis, the Wednesday General Audience and the Sunday Angelus made the area around San Pietro a complete madhouse.  I would usually be at the Augustinianum at those times for study or for lunch with a friend and I experienced it myself.

Then, over the next couple years, I noticed that it was easier and easier to get around near San Pietro at those times.  Fewer people were coming.

For the 100th general audience of Pope Francis’ pontificate, the Prefecture of the Papal Household released the average attendance of audiences from 51,6K in 2013 to 14,8K in 2015.  HERE


From Sandro Magister:

In occasione della centesima udienza generale [On the occasion of the 100th general audience] del pontificato di papa Francesco, mercoledì 26 agosto, la prefettura della casa pontificia ha comunicato che a questi cento appuntamenti hanno preso parte in totale 3.147.600 persone, così distribuite anno dopo anno:

– 1.548.500 i presenti alle 30 udienze del 2013,
– 1.199.000 i presenti alle 43 udienze del 2014,
– 400.100 i presenti alle 27 udienze del 2015.

Questo significa che anno dopo anno la media dei presenti a ciascuna udienza è stata la seguente: [the average at each audience]

– 51.617 persone nel 2013,
– 27.883 persone nel 2014,
– 14.818 persone nel 2015.

Quindi ogni nuovo anno con la metà di presenze dell’anno precedente. [Each year, half the number of the year before.]

Nè le vacche magre sembrano scongiurate, visto che alla centesima udienza di mercoledì scorso è stato comunicato che sono accorsi solo “in più di diecimila”.  [at the 100th there were “more than 10K”]

La foto sopra è stata scattata durante l’udienza generale di mercoledì 11 febbraio 2015, che era anche la festa della Madonna di Lourdes e la giornata del malato, con l’afflusso di delegazioni dell’Unitalsi.  [Photo at the audience of 11 Feb 2015, Day of the Sick.]


Benedict’s audiences exceeded those of John Paul II at times.

The square is emptier and emptier.

And it’s not because of the general secularization.

Romans aren’t going either, so it isn’t the economic slump.

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Pope John Paul – The Pope People Forget To Remember

Today is/was the anniversary of the election of Pope John Paul I, Papa Luciani.

He is the Pope people forget to remember.

Pray for him, who was Vicar of Christ for so few days. May God reward him.



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ASK FATHER: What documents are needed for us to marry?

From a senior reader…


My fiancee (age82) and I (age 76) are both widowed and lifelong Catholics. We know what documents we need, but what other church requirements must we go through before marriage.

You should have your baptism certificates, which will indicate other sacraments you received, including your marriages.  You will also need death certificates for your late spouses.

However, the first step you need to take is to go to your parish priest. He can get everything going for you. He will guide you through the steps.

My grandmother married again in her late 70’s. She too snagged a younger man. I think he was 75.


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Down with pews! Away with them!

I have a recurring dream about having to build a church.  It’s Romanesque and open, uncluttered, especially by pews.

My friend Fr. George Rutler is in Crisis.  He is talking about pews.   He has a few digressions – he wouldn’t be the writer he is without digressions – on the Roman vestment. But his observations about pews are dead on.

Everyone should be aware of this perspective.

We enter in medias res:


Pews are the climbing ivy of God’s house. My case is that they should be removed. I immediately alienate from this argument anyone whose limited aesthetical perception sees nothing wrong with electric votive lights and bishops wearing miters in colors matching their vestments. [blech] But the problem with pews is worse, for it is not simply a matter of taste. Pews contradict worship. They suburbanize the City of God and put comfort before praise.


In 1843, John Coke Fowler, an Anglican barrister, wrote a neglected history of the pew, arguing for its elimination. His reference was not liturgical but social, for his purpose was to abolish the system of rentals that relegated the poor to inferior seats. The “high church” Oxford Movement at that time was a theological development little involved with ceremonial. None of the early Tractarians wore “Romish” vesture. But the consequent Cambridge Camden Society advanced ritualism and in 1854, desiring to be more “Catholic,” it published “Twenty-four Reasons for Getting Rid of Church Pews.” These reasons included sound theological points. Paradoxically, James Renwick who designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, was an Episcopalian, but he tried to explain to Cardinal McCloskey that pews were Protestant and inappropriate for a Catholic cathedral. He was overruled by the cardinal who installed the pews and rented some of the best ones for up to $2,000. This amount would be about $60,000 today. An engraving of the interior before it was consecrated, when a bazaar was held to raise money, shows how magnificent the space is, and how that perspective is lost in a forest of wooden seats. I confess that a few years ago I restored worn pews in my former church, knowing that there was little time to form minds on the subject. In the few months that the church was empty of the pews, people came to admire the uncluttered proportions.

Ascetically, pews stratify the people as passive participants. There actually are churches where ushers, like maître d’s in a cabaret, move down the aisle pew by pew, indicating when the people can go to Communion. [I have railed against this for eons!] Ensconced and regimented in serried ranks, the people are denied the mobility of the sacred assembly and even the sacred dance, which is what the Solemn Mass is—a thing far different from the embarrassing geriatric ballets called “liturgical dancing.”  Especially in a busy city parish, people wandering about and lighting candles and casting a curious eye at images, can be distracting, but it is also a healthy sign that people are freed by grace to be at home in the House of God, unlike the passive creature known as a couch potato or, in this instance, a pew potato.

Worse than plain wooden pews are those that are upholstered. Goodbye acoustics.   And anyone who gives priority to the softness of his seat rather than the sound of song, should humbly ask forgiveness of St. Cecilia who died suffering from more than the lack of a cushion, but was comforted—and eternally so—by good music.  Sensibly, seating should be provided for the elderly and physically limited.   Other seating should be moveable to permit different kinds of liturgical use, with space for kneeling. Spare us from those pews whose “kneelers” crash to the floor like thunder. If concessions are to be made, pews should be in the form of benches with railed backs, so as not to “arrest” the proportions of the church.

In 1982, the Kawaski Heavy Industries Company of Japan designed subway cars for the New York City subway system and had to go back to the drawing board at great expense, because the seats were not wide enough for the average American posterior. There still are a few cars with the original seats in use on the No. 3 line, presumably for commuters with narrower sedentary profiles. I submit this as a reminder that when an indulged culture makes comfort its god, it is worshipping a very fickle idol. And I pass along my unsolicited views to polish my credentials as an earnest curmudgeon, lest they rust. It will disappoint me if my opinions do not irritate people who could not fit into a seat on the No. 3 subway, or who like to lounge in pews in ivy-covered churches.


You will want to read it all, over there.

Fr. Z kudos, except for the part about the Roman pianeta.

Down with pews!  ¡Hagan lío!

Do I hear an “Amen!”?


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ASK FATHER: Does a declaration of nullity mean a marriage never existed?

From a reader…

My diocese’s website says, “A declaration of nullity does not say that the marriage never existed,” yet the site also says that a declaration of nullity means “that the marriage was invalid from the moment of the wedding.” These statements seem contradictory. Can it be the case that the marriage both existed and was always invalid, or is one of these statements in error?

The Church refers to a marriage which has been declared null as a “putative marriage”. There was something that resembled a matrimonial covenant, but, in fact, there was really no marriage. Sometimes even well-meaning people speak of the work of an ecclesiastical tribunal as dealing with the sacramentality of marriage, and determining whether or not a specific marriage was sacramental. This is incorrect. Tribunals examine sacramental marriages (marriages between two baptized persons) and natural marriages (those marriages wherein at least one of the parties is non-baptized).

The question before a tribunal is: “Has this marriage been proven to be invalid because of [ENTER SPECIFIC ALLEGATION(S)].”

Let’s not say that the diocesan website is in error, but it is certainly unclear.

A declaration of nullity does say that what appeared to be a marriage for however many years, really wasn’t a marriage. In declaring it to be invalid, the Church does not erase history. There was something there that had the appearance of a marriage. People of good faith were right to treat it as such. If both parties, during the course of the common life, truly thought themselves to be married, then, all things being equal, [read carefully] they were not guilty of the sin of fornication when they engaged in sexual relations with each other. Children born to such a putative marriage are legitimate. This status is not affected by a subsequent dclaration of nullity (can. 1137). Any contracts entered into by the spouses of a putative marriage as spouses remain in effect (subject to the arrangements of the civil law, can. 22).

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ASK FATHER: Can we ask God to strike down enemies?

michael_fighting_the_dragon1From a reader:

Is it a sin to ask God to strike down an enemy of the Church?

Christ the Lord has commanded us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

Love for “enemy” comes in different forms.  It can be expressed different ways.  That said, we must be vigilant that hatred toward our enemies is vigorously resisted.  We obey Our Lord.

Love for our enemies does not mean that we wish them to prosper.  It means that we will their good. We will their salvation.

If they are our enemies because they are opposed to the Church, opposed to goodness, then our love for them means that we desire they be converted.

Can we – ought we – pray that God strike down the enemies of the Church?

Holy Scripture is full of prayers offered for the defeat of the enemies of God.

The unfashionable “maledictory – cursing – psalms” (5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40 52, 54, 56, 58, 69, 79, 83, 137, 139, and 143) call for judgment and disaster to fall upon the enemies of God and God’s people.  Many of these psalms were “edited” or even wholly excluded from the revised psalter used in the Liturgy of the Hours, but that’s a different crock of bagna cauda.

We certainly are within our rights to use the psalms in our prayers.

There are many traditional prayers that ask God to visit calamity upon our enemies. The underlying implication of course is a desire for the protection of the Church and the conversion of those who oppose her. Let us not become like the Prophet Jonah, who was so desirous of seeing the destruction of evil Nineveh that he was disappointed that Nineveh repented, converted, and did penance.

We pray for the protection of Our Holy Mother the Church against all enemies.  We pray that those who oppose Her be stopped.

Perhaps the firearms training many of us have undertaken is helpful as an analogy.  First, you seek to avoid conflicts or deescalate them.  When you can’t avoid violence you try to discern the level actually needed.  Of course, this sometimes must happens in seconds.  In the case that you are forced to act in defense of your life or the lives of others, you use deadly force to stop the threat.  That means you shoot effectively to stop the threat.  You don’t try to shoot the gun out of the enemy’s hand (this isn’t TV).  You don’t shoot to hit the leg (because, again, this isn’t TV).  You shoot center mass, to do maximum damage so the threat will stop, because … that’s the point you are at.  You don’t shoot “to kill”.  Shoot (or whatever) so that the clear, present danger to life and limb is no longer a threat.  If a punch in the face or a kick in the ‘nads is enough, and the threat stops, then stop there. Stop punching and kicking.

That’s an analogy from a few horrifying seconds of immediately conflict or threat.  In prolonged situations, we have time to analyze our motives and consciences.

If the actions of enemies reveal that you (Church, country, families) won’t be safe without them losing the ability to breathe… then we purify our motive, ask God for help (for us to be effective and to not sin, and against or upon them to give them graces and/or sufferings adequete to change their minds and hearts.

It is one thing to turn one’s own cheek.  It is another to turn the cheeks of your wife and child and all your neighbors.

In our prayer we desire the conversion of hearts.  When our enemies do convert, rather than continuing to seek bloody revenge, we rejoice in the magnificent grace of Almighty God who desires not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live. (Ezechiel 33:11)

We must examine our consciences and purify them.


Aedificantium enim unusquisque gladio erat accinctus.

And now, a prayer. It’s from a movie, but it has some great elements.

Moderation is ON.

Posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ACTION ITEM!, Hard-Identity Catholicism, New Evangelization, Semper Paratus, Si vis pacem para bellum!, TEOTWAWKI, The Coming Storm, The Drill, The future and our choices | Tagged , , , | 30 Comments