The Seashell and the Three-In-One

The Seashell and the Three-In-One August 11, 2012

Augustine of Hippo lived a wild life—abandoning the faith, fathering a child out of wedlock, and rejecting the values of his mother Monica.

Monica, however, prayed for her son, that he would turn back to God.  For thirty years, Monica prayed unceasingly for her son—who eventually was converted, and who became one of the Church’s greatest theologians.  He was named Doctor of the Church, and the story of his dramatic conversion gives hope to mothers who pray for their wayward children, and hope to us all.

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There is a wonderful legend about Augustine, who spent thirty years writing his book De Trinitate (about the Holy Trinity).  It is said that he was walking along the beach, struggling to understand how God could be three Persons in one God, when he met a small child who was using a seashell to scoop water from the sea.  The child would run back to the beach and pour the water into a small hole he had dug in the sand.

Augustine watched for a while, then asked the child what he was doing.  “I’m putting the sea into this hole,” the child explained.

“But that is impossible!” Augustine cried.  “The hole is not big enough to contain the entire sea!”

The boy stopped for a moment, stood and looked into the eyes of the Saint, and replied, “It is no more impossible than what you are trying to do – comprehend the immensity of the mystery of the Holy Trinity with your small intelligence.”

Augustine then understood that no mortal man can understand the Trinity, because it’s a mystery which only God can comprehend.  God had used this child—thought by some to be an angel, by some to be the Christ Child himself—to teach him this valuable lesson.

Because of this, the seashell became a symbol for St. Augustine, whose feastday we celebrate on August 28.

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  • Diane

    I am still having long talks with St. Monica. But out of four, a priest and a firm Catholic ain’t bad.