Augustine On The Problem Of Grief English Literature Essay

The problem of grief and attitude to it was one of the central moral, psychological and philosophical issues throughout human history. Many philosophers and psychologists approached it to find different answers. The issue of overcoming grief is even more important, because in any case, we cannot be taken in by grief forever, no matter how serious the loss seems to us.

St. Augustine was one of the first but not least thinkers of the past, concerned with the issue. His experience in grief can be illustrated at best with the scene of his friend from childhood passing away.

But he was taken away from my frenzy, that with Thee he might be preserved for my comfort; a few days after in my absence, he was attacked again by the fever, and so departed.

At this grief my heart was utterly darkened; and whatever I beheld was death. My native country was a torment to me, and my father’s house a strange unhappiness; and whatever I had shared with him, wanting him, became a distracting torture. (St. Augustine, Book IV).

As we can see, Augustine was sorely impacted by his dear loss. He lost his joy of life and longed death as a salvation from overwhelming grief. He did not find repose in anything, not in the woods, not in games and music, not in lavish banquets, not in the joys of bed or literature. (St. Augustine, Book IV). But Augustine eventually found his salvation in tears, which were “sweet to me, for they succeeded my friend, in the dearest of my affections” (Augustine, Book IV). After that his feelings changed as he longed to live and feared and hated death more than before.

Augustine raises a question of how grief can be overcome. His attitude to grief and grieving is quite clear. In his “Confession”, Book III, he stated his “theory of grief”.

First, he asks himself, is it normal to enjoy grief? He decides that all desire joy, if they are sane and have common sense, but he concludes that joy of grief is intermingled to great extent with the ability to be merciful. From mercy and that joy of grief, by St. Augustine, springs passion. Passion in its turn, arises from “the vein of friendship”, which is sometimes crudely turned corrupt. Is then compassion a bad feeling? Certainly, not and thus he states that for the sake of compassion and mercy grief can be sometimes “loved” (more precisely, accepted “as is”) (St. Augustine, Book III). A person not able to grieve sincerely is not able to show true compassion and mercy to those in grief, which is essential not only for Christianity, but for mankind as a whole. Further in his “Confession” he provides an example from his own life.

But I, miserable, then loved to grieve, and sought out what to grieve at, when in another’s and that feigned and personated misery, that acting best pleased me, and attracted me the most vehemently, which drew tears from me…And hence the love of griefs; not such as should sink deep into me; for I loved not to suffer, what I loved to look on (St. Augustine, Book III).

As we can see, at that time of his life Augustine took great joy in “fictional” grief, depicted in books and in theatre plays. Thus, being able to commiserate with grief of fictional characters, he then was more able to commiserate with the grief of living men.

Certainly, it is only natural for any person, which is sane and has common sense, to grieve and mourn of any significant loss in his or her life. Such is life that ones who we used to love may leave us alone in this world, we are deprived of home, things we are used to. But, in the deepness of our grief and mourning we must not forget that the life, our life, goes on, and those who passed away surely would not like to see us mourning over their death for the rest of our lives. As for my own experience, I have a friend, who lost her mother when she was twenty years old. As her mother raised her on her own, mother was the sole person who took care about her. Obviously, the daughter was crushed with the loss of the only person she so sincerely loved. But in her condition, though it may seem too pragmatic, she didn’t have much time to mourn over the death of her mother, because now she was suddenly on her own and had to think how to earn a decent living for herself in the first place. She was lucky to find a good job very quickly, but it took her much more time to overcome her grief, which she contained inside and did not show much of it, except to her close friends.

In this way, it can be an illustration to prove that St. Augustine is ultimately right in his view on grief. It is natural to grieve over big losses, but we must not drown in our grief and make it a sole sense of our existence.

Work Cited

Saint Augustine. The Confession of Saint Augustine. The Project Gutenberg Etext. Web. 21 Apr. 2011.

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