Death has no Sting: Augustines View

There is an inescapable reality that everyone is going to go through. The inevitable end for everyone is death. In todays society there continues to be attempts to avoid death at all possibilities. It exists in the form of medicines and other health aids all designed to put death off to the last minute. All these attempts are put in place because of the fear and trepidation that has portrayed death. Death has characterized the human race since the beginning of time and nowhere has there been one who has escaped its demise with the exception of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the only difference between one dying man and another is how they are going to prepare for this terrible end.Saint Augustine argues that the punishment of death for all those who believe in Jesus Christ is no longer a part of life to be feared in but to rejoice in.

The punishment of death that Saint Augustine writes about in the City of God is Adam’s fall. As a result of Adam’s fall all of man and, “his descendants are by birth-subject to sin and death.”Death from a Biblical perspective tells of a place where men are sent and where there is much torment and pain.Many people around the world also look at death with sorrow and distress. It is a realm that is cold and breathless. A place where one can no longer be with their family or friends thus making it frightening because many see the hopelessness in death. Augustine further adds that, “death comes to the soul when God abandons it, just as death comes to the body when the soul departs.(251)” This is also very frightening because it is hard to imagine that the body that one has now will biodegrade into the ground. If Augustine is right then what he is saying is that our physical bodies will no longer exist. That is because it is impossible for the body to live without the soul.

The reason why Augustine writes about death being so frightening is because of its strong counter opposite, life. “It is because any sort of life is a real good, while pain is an evil (251).” The real good that Augustine is talking about is the goodness that God has put in all of creation from the beginning (Gen.1:33; 1 Tim 4:4). Augustine argues in Confessions that the only thing that is good is God himself. For that reason pain is an evil because it is not good or because it is not from God. Therefore death is the separation from that “real good.” However because of the fall of man sin enter upon all men and all of humanity is going to be separated from this real good known by death. All men, Augustine points out are under the first Adam (251). The first Adam is the actual Adam who ate of the fruit that God told him not to eat of (Gen. 3:6). Paul writes in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” In addition to, Paul is also talking about a spiritual death. An idea that Augustine alludes to, “which occurs when the life of the soul (which is God) abandons it (261). In the Garden of Eden God told Adam that if he ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil he would die (Gen. 2:17). Yet when Adam did eat from the tree he did not die physically but spiritually. Adam was separated from God who is the real good so in that sense he was separated from God. In another sense because he is separated from God he cannot experience God’s goodness which is life because of his disobedience resulting in physical death. Thus not only does physical death pass upon all men but everyone is also born into the spiritual death that Adam underwent in the fall.

Despite the desperate state that all of humanity is in there is hope. Although Augustine never directly calls Jesus the second Adam, he does write that, “through the grace of the Mediator Christ . . . [one] is freed from the bondage of sin, they do no pass to that second death which is both penal and eternal (254).” Augustine is writing about the substitution that took place when Jesus died for humanity’s sins. Jesus Christ served as the propitiation giving all men who believe in Him the gift of salvation to receive this “real good” that was lost when Adam fell. This was necessary because God  is a just (Isa 61:8) and holy (Isa 6:3) as well as loving (1 John 4:8) God. Through His Son He fulfills all those attributes. Not only did Jesus Christ die but he also ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9; Eph. 1:20). Paul adds that those who believe in Christ are “made alive” in Christ as well (Eph. 2:5). Thus providing an escape goat for all those who believe. Consequently, all those who believe in Christ subsidiary work on the cross will be raised up with Christ when death comes upon them. Augustine further supports this by adding that through the, “greater and more wonderful grace of the Savior, the punishment of sin serves the purposes of sanctity (254).” When Saints die they no longer have anything to fear because death as Augustine writes serves as a way for Believers in Christ to become completely Holy as the Father in Heaven is Holy who is the only “real good” that can give life. Death for a Christian is life leading to life eternal with the ultimate good who is God. Therefore Christians have great hope in death because it reunites them with God. This is exactly what Augustine meant when he wrote, “Undoubtedly, death is the penalty of all who come to birth on earth as descendants of the first man; nevertheless, if the penalty is paid (Christ death on the Cross) in the name of justice and piety, it becomes a new birth in heaven (257).” In contrast to the Biblical perspective one idea of what goodness is comes from Aristotle. He writes of the ultimate good as the “thing” that is pursued for and liked for only for its own sake. This is important because it shows the hopelessness that the world has without Christ. For the reason that it shows that in this worldview the only thing that is good is found in man’s abilities to pursue after some thing. Therefore if man’s ultimate good is found with man then the fear still remains in death because it is not the real good, which is life.

Since there is life in Christ after death, “it secures for the soul a grace that is a security against all punishment for sin (257).” This is a problem because Augustine is also implying that there is also another form of life after death for those who are not in Christ. Thus escaping the fear of life after death that exists in hell. If there is “punishment for sin” then it assumes that the person cannot be truly dead in one sense because to be completely dead it means that one can not feel anything.  In Winston A. Van Horne journal, St. Augustine: Death and Political Resistance, he writes that,

“After the Day of Judgment the souls of the unredeemed will be reunited with their bodies which were destroyed by the first death. This union will be eternal. Their dying bodies will convulse with pain eternally, and they will be terrified forever by the approach of death, without ever having the relief that death brings to those who suffer. The unredeemed will thus be forever dying but never dead, forever in death but never after death.”

This further supports the fear of physical death. That is the fear of going to a place where the sensation of pain will never cease without ever dying. But, Christ died in place of the first and second death giving both literal and physical resurrected bodies without pain or suffering thus taking away the fear of death for the saints.

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2 thoughts on “Death has no Sting: Augustines View

  1. Pingback: Saint Monica: Another Patron Saint for Alcoholics | Catholic Alcoholic

  2. Pingback: Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, August 27, 2014 — Saint Monica, Mother of St. Augustine, Patron Saint of married women, alcoholics, difficult marriages, disappointing children, victims of unfaithfulness, victims of verbal abuse | Peace and Free

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