St. Augustine On Death Essay

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, Augustine’s
father, was a pagan, but later became a catechumen. Patricius did not pressure
Augustine about following his mother’s 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 son’s 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 father’s 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 other’s 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 friend’s 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.

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Augustine was constantly weeping and was a wreck. “My home became a torture to
me; my father’s 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 mother’s,
which ends the biographical accounts in Augustine’s life. During days of
Augustine’s 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 world’s 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. Augustine’s brother told her and she
replied, “Bury your mother here.” Augustine’s 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 Monica’s
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 father’s traits as
in the verbal abuse his mother received. Later on Augustine did weep to God,
crying openly about Monica’s 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 father’s death, as he did with Monica’s
death, it may have been viewed to the readers that Augustine still had views of
dualism, from Manicheism. Augustine’s 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 Augustine’s life, more so than the involvement
of his father. Monica’s 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 mother’s 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 father’s death. Death
played a large role in Augustine’s Confessions, yet with Monica’s death,
Augustine no longer writes in an autobiographical fashion, but more on his
philosophical views of life.

Brown, Peter. “Augustine of Hippo”. University of California
Press:Los Angeles. 1967.


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