St. Augustine On Death Death is a very natural occurrence in life, and everyone experiences death differently, but yet in the same way. When Augustine was a young boy his father died, and he makes a small account of this in the Confessions. Later on in life, he loses a dear friend, and his loving mother. With time, he mentally matures and death affects Augustine differently each time. The death of his father was merely mentioned in the Confessions, while the death of Monica, his mother, was an elaborate detailed account of the time of her death.
The death of his close friend, when Augustine was a child made him realize that life is temporal. Growing up, Augustine was not very close to his father. He confided in his mother and leaned towards her Christian beliefs. Patricius, Augustines father, was a pagan, but later became a catechumen. Patricius did not pressure Augustine about following his mothers beliefs, and gave him the freedom to do so. When Augustine was a child, he was subjected to the verbal abuse his father laid on Monica.
His father was also not faithful, and this left a lasting scaring impression on Augustine. Patricius never hit Monica, and she realized that other wives were being beaten, so she accepted the verbal abuse. Patricius was proud of his sons accomplishments, and was admired by all for the sacrifices Patricius made for Augustine. Patricius was considered”generous,” but then was also very “hot-tempered.” In the Confessions, Augustine only makes note of his fathers death, and one reason may be that Augustine was not happy with the way Patricius treated his loving and ever-forgiving mother. Shortly after Patricius death, Augustine deals with death once more, with his childhood friend. In the Confessions, Augustine tells of a close friend he had as a child growing up.
They both went to school together, and enjoyed each others company. “..I had come to have a friend who because of our shared interests was very close. He was my age, and we shared the flowering of youth. As a boy he had grown up with me, and had gone to school together and played with one another..” Augustine and this unnamed friend knew each other for a short time, yet Augustine felt that he was losing someone he had known all his life. “You [God] took the man from this life when our friendship had scarcely completed a year.
It had been sweet to me beyond all sweetnesses of life that I had experienced.” The unnamed friend came down a bad fever, and he was baptized while he was unconscious. Augustine felt as if this baptismal sacrament would have no affect on him and he would carry all the sins of his childhood. The unnamed friend did awake from his unconscious state and Augustine and the friend had a minor conflict over a joke Augustine made over the friends baptism. The friend did not find it a laughing matter, but they did resolve the conflict. Augustine left for a few days and while he was gone, his friend passed away. Augustine explains that he was stricken with grief from the death of his friend, that made him want to leave his hometown.
Everything made him think of his friend, and he was always looking for him. Augustine was constantly weeping and was a wreck. “My home became a torture to me; my fathers house a strange world of unhappiness; all that I shared with him was transformed into a cruel torment. My eyes looked for him everywhere, and he was not there. I hated everything because they did not have him..I had become to myself a vast problem..” Augustine explains that during this time of sorrow, he did not look towards God for help, and was too wrapped up in the misery of the death of his friend. One thought he had was that he was angered by the fact people in general do not realize that they are on this earth for a short time, and they do not understand the temporality of life. “What madness not to understand how to love human beings with the awareness of human condition!” With this sorrow, Augustine moves from Thagaste to Carthage.
The third death Augustine had to confront in his life was that of his mothers, which ends the biographical accounts in Augustines life. During days of Augustines childhood, Monica felt as if he was the “son of tears.” He turned away from Catholicism, and became a Manichean. Monica greatly disapproved of this and of his sexual desires. Augustine meets Ambrose later on in life, becomes a catechumen, and finally is baptized. Augustine meets with a man named Evodius, and they decide that to service God, it would be best to go back to Africa. Before leaving, Augustine had an intimate discussion with his mother in Ostia. Augustine and his mother were in a room for philosophical discussions, overlooking a garden. Together they sat by the window, deep in discussion.
“There we talked together, she and I alone, in deep joy… And while we were thus talking of His Wisdom and panting for it, with all the effort of our heart we did for one instant attain to touch it..” During the conversation, Monica tells Augustine that she has no desire to live any longer and that her life has been fulfilled, which was her desire for Augustine to become a Catholic. “My son, as for myself, I now find no pleasure in this life. What I have still to do here and why I am here, I do not know. My hope in this world is already fulfilled.
The one reason why I wanted to stay longer in this life was my desire to see you a Catholic Christian before I die. My God has granted me this in a way more than I had hoped. For I see you despising this worlds success to become his servant. What have I to do here?” Within five days, Monica was deathly ill with a fever. One day she was actually unconscious, regained consciousness another day, but was confused of her surroundings.
Towards her ending hours, she asked where she was. Augustines brother told her and she replied, “Bury your mother here.” Augustines brother asked his mother if she would rather be buried in her “home country,” and at one point she wanted to be buried with her husband, but then changed her mind. When she died, Augustine tried hard to hold back his tears. “I closed her eyes and an overwhelming grief welled into my heart and was about to flow forth in floods of tears. But at the same time under a powerful act of mental control my eyes held back the flood and dried it up.
The inward struggle put me into great agony.” Augustine knew that his mother was not in a state of misery or was suffering, so he felt it was not necessary to imply sorrow at the funeral. After Monicas death, Augustine questioned why he felt so much grief. “It must have been the fresh wound caused by the break in the habit formed by our living together, a very affectionate and precious bond suddenly torn apart. I was glad indeed to have her testimony when in that last sickness she lovingly responded to my attentions by calling me a devoted son. With much feeling in their love, she recalled that she had never heard me speak a hard or bitter word to her.” When Monica told Augustine that he had never spoken harsh words to her, Monica is saying that she is grateful that Augustine did not take his fathers traits as in the verbal abuse his mother received. Later on Augustine did weep to God, crying openly about Monicas death.
While writing the Confessions, it may be viewed that Augustine was very careful describing the deaths of their parents. When Augustine was writing the Confessions, he was no longer a Manichee. If Augustine wrote in detail of his fathers death, as he did with Monicas death, it may have been viewed to the readers that Augustine still had views of dualism, from Manicheism. Augustines father was a pagan and his mother was a total opposite, a Christian, causing an excellent example of a dualism. However, while both parents were alive, Monica had the most positive influence on Augustine.
With his strong love for his mother, he did an excellent job documenting her involvement in Augustines life, more so than the involvement of his father. Monicas death in the Confessions, was the most detailed account of death in the book. He described the last two weeks in detail of her life, and gave his intimate reactions to her death in the aftermath. With a higher degree of maturation growth in his spirituality, Augustine did not feel the need for weeping for his mothers death, unlike the death of the unnamed friend. The death of the unnamed friend was a continuous grieving process that even involved Augustine moving away from his hometown.
The death of Monica did involve great suffering, yet he did not spend all his time weeping. Although in the end, he did weep, this was what he needed to end his suffering. The death of Patricius was not a detailed account in the Confessions, yet it is imaginable that he did feel some sorrowful feelings towards his fathers death. Death played a large role in Augustines Confessions, yet with Monicas death, Augustine no longer writes in an autobiographical fashion, but more on his philosophical views of life. Bibliography Brown, Peter.
“Augustine of Hippo”. University of California Press:Los Angeles. 1967.