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Dealing with Death

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Augustine Dealing with Death

“A Friend’s Death” in the book “Confessions,” written in Hippo in 397, pretty clearly identifies what this portion of the text encompasses. The excerpt begins with Augustine’s recurrence of confusion with God; watching his friend suffer so intensely makes him wonder why God doesn’t divinely intervene to end his misery. This leads to a reflection on his recent dark days and more ambiguity with God’s presence. While unconscious, Augustine’s friend receives a baptism that Augustine is sure he would not have preferred if mentally present. With this in mind, Augustine pokes fun of it when his friend comes to, which is seen as repulsively unforgiveable, and threatens to end their friendship. Not long afterwards, the friend passes, which leaves no time for reconciliation for the two. This leads Augustine descending into a deep depression where constantly reminders of his loss lie and ultimately his only relief is found through weeping. Although this time period was extremely devastating to Augustine in the moment, do you think the reborn St. Augustine looks back on this memory as more of a weight off of his shoulders than a devastating loss while writing the selection? In the beginning sentences of the selection, Augustine goes into detail about the diminishing condition of his ailing friend. He goes into depth when describing his friend’s pain, stating that he was “convulsed with fever, lying insensible in a lethal sweat and given up for lost” (Augustine 66). By doing so, he is able to turn the tables on God asking, “What individual can adequately praise what you’ve done for him?” (Augustine 66). It can be inferred that he uses this accusation not only because of his friend’s condition, but also relating to his recent dark days when he felt God’s help should’ve come, but did not. Because of the severity of the illness, Augustine’s friend was baptized while unconscious, which Augustine thought he wouldn’t have preferred if he’d been responsive. He states that he was sure his friend “would prefer what he had received from him when conscious over what was done to his unconscious body” (Augustine 66). From this, it can be inferred that Augustine believed their friendship was stronger and more important than either of their bonds with God, which with their heretical views was nearly non-existent. During this period, Augustine refuses to leave the side of his friend, day and night. In a way, Augustine is acting similar to how Christians view God during their days of need. This reinforces his belief of the importance they each serve each other, but he is soon proven wrong. When his friend finally comes to, Augustine makes a joke of the baptism. He expects the laughter to be returned, but he clearly underestimates his friend’s faith. It is ambiguous if the friend had been hiding his true religious beliefs behind heresy during his days, but this is a possible interpretation. Possibly a more feasible, accurate interpretation could’ve been a deathbed conversion resulting from a fear of dying without God by his side, which would’ve made the conversion less significant.
Although the conversion could’ve been clouded by near death, Augustine speaks of a stunning new independence noticeable in his friend, which could be a sign of God working through him as a reward for his new realization. In this case, Augustine can be seen as temptation away from God, comparable to the stories of the desert monks facing temptation from Satan, which his friend wants to avoid at all costs, even if that means ending their friendship. His rejection of Augustine could be a cause of the deathbed conversion and his fear of dying without God’s acceptance or true beliefs. Augustine refers to his words towards his friend as “mad designs” (Augustine 67), which shows that he now realizes his friend is better off than he would’ve otherwise been without God. Augustine finally leaves his friend’s side, which shows a weakening of their friendship, and his friend passes away a few days later.
After the eventual passing, Augustine is unable to escape death. This could be interpreted as God’s way of asking him to reflect on his friend’s faith and use it as a stepping-stone for his own lack of faith. If Augustine saw it this way, he used it for the best, as he obviously becomes a devout Saint later in his life. He is seemingly being tortured by sorrow and a sense of desperation without his best friend by his side. This sorrow could’ve come from God wanting him to feel pain for his recent rejection of Him, or it could’ve come from his heresy beliefs tormenting him into believing he would never be with his friend again.
His longing for his friend’s presence shows the true validity their friendship had in Augustine’s mind for one, but also the regret Augustine feels about how things ended. This could be interpreted as a revolution in his lifetime, meaning that loss and anguish eventually brought him closer to God and served a positive purpose in his life. At this present moment though, weeping becomes his new “friend”, if you will, proving his sight still to be clouded by heresy and selfishness.
The effect of this passing was unquestionably devastating for Augustine, but religious beliefs support the thought that looking back on it, St. Augustine can actually take solace in what happened these days. Although a very strong friendship ended for these two men, it resulted in both men forming an even stronger bond with their God. Deep in his heart, he may have known this all along, and even if he did not, he was on a slow ascension to discovering this. This should make this memory serve as more of a weight off of St. Augustine’s shoulders than anything else looking back, knowing that one day, their friendship can be mended because of faith.

Word Count: 968 (is 3 pages without heading)

Saint Augustine. 2008. Confessions. Translated by Garry Willis. New York, New York: Penguin Group Publishing.

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