Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book IX/Chapter 12
Chapter XII.—How He Mourned His Dead Mother.
29. I closed her eyes; and there flowed a great sadness into my heart, and it was passing into tears, when mine eyes at the same time, by the violent control of my mind, sucked back the fountain dry, and woe was me in such a struggle! But, as soon as she breathed her last the boy Adeodatus burst out into wailing, but, being checked by us all, he became quiet. In like manner also my own childish feeling, which was, through the youthful voice of my heart, finding escape in tears, was restrained and silenced. For we did not consider it fitting to celebrate that funeral with tearful plaints and groanings; for on such wise are they who die unhappy, or are altogether dead, wont to be mourned. But she neither died unhappy, nor did she altogether die. For of this were we assured by the witness of her good conversation, her “faith unfeigned,” and other sufficient grounds.
3o. What, then, was that which did grievously pain me within, but the newly-made wound, from having that most sweet and dear habit of living together suddenly broken off? I was full of joy indeed in her testimony, when, in that her last illness, flattering my dutifulness, she called me “kind,” and recalled, with great affection of love, that she had never heard any harsh or reproachful sound come out of my mouth against her. But yet, O my God, who madest us, how can the honour which I paid to her be compared with her slavery for me? As, then, I was left destitute of so great comfort in her, my soul was stricken, and that life torn apart as it were, which, of hers and mine together, had been made but one.
31. The boy then being restrained from weeping, Evodius took up the Psalter, and began to sing—the whole house responding—the Psalm, “I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto Thee, O Lord.” But when they heard what we were doing, many brethren and religious women came together; and whilst they whose office it was were, according to custom, making ready for the funeral, I, in a part of the house where I conveniently could, together with those who thought that I ought not to be left alone, discoursed on what was suited to the occasion; and by this alleviation of truth mitigated the anguish known unto Thee—they being unconscious of it, listened intently, and thought me to be devoid of any sense of sorrow. But in Thine ears, where none of them heard, did I blame the softness of my feelings, and restrained the flow of my grief, which yielded a little unto me; but the paroxysm returned again, though not so as to burst forth into tears, nor to a change of countenance, though I knew what I repressed in my heart. And as I was exceedingly annoyed that these human things had such power over me, which in the due order and destiny of our natural condition must of necessity come to pass, with a new sorrow I sorrowed for my sorrow, and was wasted by a twofold sadness.
32. So, when the body was carried forth, we both went and returned without tears. For neither in those prayers which we poured forth unto Thee when the sacrifice of our redemption was offered up unto Thee for her,—the dead body being now placed by the side of the grave, as the custom there is, prior to its being laid therein,—neither in their prayers did I shed tears; yet was I most grievously sad in secret all the day, and with a troubled mind entreated Thee, as I was able, to heal my sorrow, but Thou didst not; fixing, I believe, in my memory by this one lesson the power of the bonds of all habit, even upon a mind which now feeds not upon a fallacious word. It appeared to me also a good thing to go and bathe, I having heard that the bath [balneum] took its name from the Greek βαλανεῖον, because it drives trouble from the mind. Lo, this also I confess unto Thy mercy, “Father of the fatherless,” that I bathed, and felt the same as before I had done so. For the bitterness of my grief exuded not from my heart. Then I slept, and on awaking found my grief not a little mitigated; and as I lay alone upon my bed, there came into my mind those true verses of Thy Ambrose, for Thou art—
“Deus creator omnium,
Polique rector, vestiens
Diem decora lumine,
Noctem sopora gratia;
Artus solutos ut quies
Reddat laboris usui,
Mentesque fessas allevet,
Luctusque solvat anxios.”
33. And then little by little did I bring back my former thoughts of Thine handmaid, her devout conversation towards Thee, her holy tenderness and attentiveness towards us, which was suddenly taken away from me; and it was pleasant to me to weep in Thy sight, for her and for me, concerning her and concerning myself. And I set free the tears which before I repressed, that they might flow at their will, spreading them beneath my heart; and it rested in them, for Thy ears were nigh me,—not those of man, who would have put a scornful interpretation on my weeping. But now in writing I confess it unto Thee, O Lord! Read it who will, and interpret how he will; and if he finds me to have sinned in weeping for my mother during so small a part of an hour,—that mother who was for a while dead to mine eyes, who had for many years wept for me, that I might live in Thine eyes,—let him not laugh at me, but rather, if he be a man of a noble charity, let him weep for my sins against Thee, the Father of all the brethren of Thy Christ.
- For this would be to sorrow as those that have no hope. Chrysostom accordingly frequently rebukes the Roman custom of hiring persons to wail for the dead (see e.g. Hom. xxxii. in Matt.); and Augustin in Serm. 2 of his De Consol. Mor. makes the same objection, and also reproves those Christians who imitated the Romans in wearing black as the sign of mourning. But still (as in his own case on the death of his mother) he admits that there is a grief at the departure of friends that is both natural and seemly. In a beautiful passage in his De Civ. Dei (xix. 8), he says: “That he who will have none of this sadness must, if possible, have no friendly intercourse.…Let him burst with ruthless insensibility the bonds of every human relationship;” and he continues: “Though the cure is effected all the more easily and rapidly the better condition the soul is in, we must not on this account suppose that there is nothing at all to heal.” See p. 140, note 2, below.
- 1 Tim. i. 5.
- Ps. ci. 1. “I suppose they continued to the end of Psalm cii. This was the primitive fashion; Nazianzen says that his speechless sister Gorgonia’s lips muttered the fourth Psalm: ‘I will lie down in peace and sleep.’ As St. Austen lay a dying, the company prayed (Possid.). That they had prayers between the departure and burial, see Tertull. De Anima, c. 51. They used to sing both at the departure and burial. Nazianzen, Orat. 10, says, the dead Cæsarius was carried from hymns to hymns. The priests were called to sing (Chrysost. Hom. 70, ad Antioch). They sang the 116th Psalm usually (see Chrysost. Hom. 4, in c. 2, ad Hebræos).”—W. W. See also note 13, p. 141, below.
- In addition to the remarks quoted in note 1, see Augustin’s recognition of the naturalness and necessity of exercising human affections, such as sorrow, in his De Civ. Dei, xiv. 9.
- “Here my Popish translator says, that the sacrifice of the mass was offered for the dead. That the ancients had communion with their burials, I confess. But for what? (1) To testify their dying in the communion of the Church. (2) To give thanks for their departure. (3) To Pray God to give them place in His Paradise, (4) and a part in the first resurrection; but not as a propitiatory sacrifice to deliver them out of purgatory, which the mass is now only meant for.”—W. W. See also note 13, p. 141.
- Ps. lxviii. 5.
- Rendered as follows in a translation of the first ten books of the Confessions, described on the title-page as “Printed by J. C., for John Crook, and are to be sold at the sign of the ‘Ship,’ in St. Paul’s Churchyard. 1660”:— “O God, the world’s great Architect, Who dost heaven’s rowling orbs direct; Cloathing the day with beauteous light, And with sweet slumbers silent night; When wearied limbs new vigour gain From rest, new labours to sustain, When hearts oppressed do meet relief, And anxious minds forget their grief.” See x. sec. 52, below, where this hymn is referred to.