St. Augustine and the Death of a Friend

Essay add: 30-09-2015, 16:14   /   Views: 813
This paper considers St. Augustine’s grief at the death of his friend, his attachments to mortal things, and why he regrets them. (4 pages; 1 source; MLA citation style)

I Introduction

In Chapter IV of his Confessions, St. Augustine describes his terrible grief at the death of a friend, and then goes on to discuss attachments to mortal things, and why he regrets them.
This paper explores Augustine’s reasoning in this situation.

II Discussion

First, it’s interesting to note the terms in which Augustine talks about his reaction to his friend’s death. So many people say, “If he dies, I won’t be able to live without him,” yet here Augustine says, “I was wretched, and yet that wretched life I still held dearer than my friend. For though I would willingly have changed it, I was still more unwilling to lose it than to have lost him.” (IV, vi.) This is a very practical reaction to the fact of death, and yet it in no way diminishes the depth of Augustine’s grief.
This man is obviously Augustine’s “soulmate”, for he says “I marveled all the more that I, who had been a second self to him, could go on living when he was dead.” (IV, vi.) He also finds that he doesn’t want to live as a “half-self,” but is even more afraid of dying, because then his friend would “die wholly.” (IV, vi.)
Augustine relates that he couldn’t find any peace; everything was gloomy and miserable because his friend was gone. When at last he began to find some measure of comfort, when his “soul left off weeping” he found “a heavy burden of misery weighed me down.” (IV, vii). He knew that he should turn to God for comfort, but at that point he didn’t know God’s true nature and considered him only “an empty fantasm.” (IV, vii). And if he sought comfort from this fantasy, it only made him more downcast.
Finally, though, time brought a measure of healing, and here is where Augustine begins a subtle argument about sorrow and the nature of God. He says that the sorrow he felt at his friend’s death was so extreme because he had “poured his soul onto the dust, but loving a man as if he would never die who nevertheless had to die.” (IV, viii). It’s implied, I think, that if Augustine had loved God instead, he would have not found himself torn apart with mourning, as God is immortal.
In addition, Augustine says he found most of his consolation in the company of his friends, and when he was with them, he went on loving and enjoying the things he had always loved and enjoyed, instead of loving God. If Augustine had loved God, and loved his friend in God, he would never have lost him: “Blessed is he who loves thee, and who loves his friend in thee … for he alone loses none dear to him…” (IV, ix).
And now we find how Augustine deals with mortal things; he says, that no matter where the soul of man turns, it will be “enmeshed in sorrows” unless it turns to God. Even the most beautiful things are beautiful only because they come from God, and even though they are from him, they are not eternal. The “come to be and they pass away … and they grow toward perfection. Then … they begin to wax old and perish, and, if all do not wax old, still all perish.” (IV, x).
This is the way of all things, he says, the way it must be, for the old to pass away to make room for the new. And then he comes to what I believe is the heart of the matter, when he says, “Let my soul praise thee, in all these things, O God, the Creator of all, but let not my soul be stuck to these things by the glue of love, through the senses of the body.” (IV, x). This is the objection Augustine has to conversations and other “mortal things”: they are doomed to pass away, and in so doing, cause even more grief and pain. These thing “do not abide. They flee away, and who is he who can follow them with his physical senses?” (IV, x).
It is impossible for anyone to physically follow their loved one into death, no matter how much they might wish to do so. It is only through the love of God (the metaphysical sense, perhaps) that it is possible to understand these mysteries.
“The physical sense is quite sufficient for what it was made to do, but it is not sufficient to stay things from running their courses from the beginning appointed to the end appointed.” (IV, x).

III Conclusion

As we’ve seen, Augustine’s reasoning about the death of his friend is very subtle, and much of it can be understood only as we contemplate the fact that at the time, Augustine himself was not wholly committed to God.
If he had been able to love his friend through God, then he would not have felt such agonizing grief; he would have known his friend was not truly gone. But lacking that knowledge, he sought comfort in the things of the world. His objection here, and the heart of the argument, is that he realized he didn’t want to be bound to these things by love, or by bodily senses—for they were bound to perish and cause even more pain. I believe their transience is really why Augustine objects to “mortal things.”
IV Reference
St. Augustine. Confessions. Trans. Albert C. Outler. [On-line]. Undated. Accessed: 4 Nov 2003.

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