The City of God: Book 1: Chapter Eleven

Chapter 11


To be sure, many Christians perished—some of them by the foulest kinds of death. If this is to be lamented, we nevertheless must recall that death is the common lot of all who have been born on earth. This much I know: that not one person died who was not destined sooner or later to die. Moreover, life’s ending abolishes all difference between a long and a short life. For, of two things that no longer exist, one can hardly be said to be better and the other worse, or one longer and the other shorter.

What difference does it make what kind of death puts an end to life, when one from whom it is taken away is not obliged to die again? Since, with all the risks that daily threaten life, every mortal is in a measure exposed to every kind of death and is uncertain which of them he will meet, I ask which is preferable: to suffer one form of death once for all, or to keep on living in constant dread of all? I know, of course, how much more readily people choose to keep on living in fear of many deaths than to die once and fear no further death. But, what the sensitive flesh shrinks from in trepidation is one thing, and what the mind’s clear-sighted and careful reason proves beyond doubt is quite another.

No death is to be deemed evil which has been preceded by a good life; nor can anything make death evil save what follows it. Consequently, those who must inevitably die need not be concerned how death comes, but whither they must go when dead. Since good Christians know that the death of the God-fearing pauper with the dogs licking his sores was far better than that of the impious rich man ‘clothed in purple and fine linen,’1 what harm have those horrible deaths done to the dead who have lived worthily?

Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII

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