Monday, 28 March 2011

Summary of Book IX - Part 3

Grief. Recovery. A Prayer.

The grief over his mother’s death became a source for reflections on Christian mourning. Augustine describes how he struggled to control his tears. In most cases, funeral “dirges and lamentations” reflected the belief that death meant some miserable state, even complete extinction. This was not the Christian hope of Augustine and his mother. Yet Augustine still felt inward grief. He understood this as mourning for the loss of her friendship and support, “… a very affectionate and precious bond suddenly torn apart.” Leaving others to make funeral arrangements, Augustine and companions retired to a place where he could go “without discourtesy”.

His conversation during this time was a way of alleviating and hiding the pain he was experiencing. In reality, he was “holding back the torrent of sadness.” Grief is a necessary part of the current order and the human condition. Covering it up compounded his pain, so that he was “tortured by a twofold sadness.” He was in shock at the power of his human frailties. After the funeral sleep eventually brought relief, and, “little by little,” through private tears Augustine recovered from Monica’s death.

Augustine concludes Book IX with what is to all intents and purposes a prayer on behalf of his mother. It demonstrates the ambiguities of his theology of baptism and the forgiveness of sins. There are perils threatening every soul that dies in Adam (1Cor15:22). Having been made alive in Christ through her faith, Monica was no longer in Adam. Yet Augustine still felt the need to petition God for his mother’s sins. He pleads Christ’s interceding presence before God the Father (Rom8:34). Post baptismal sins were the focus of the prayer.

Interestingly, Augustine states his belief that God had already acted according to his prayer. When facing the Accuser Monica would be able to say that her debts have been forgiven by him who paid their price on her behalf.

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