The City of God: Book 1: Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter 27

There remains one argument for suicide, which I have touched on already. It is to the effect that taking one’s own life is expedient in order to ward off falling into sin, either through the allurements of pleasure or the violence of pain. If we admit this argument, it will logically lead us to the fantastic conclusion that men should prefer to end their lives as soon as they have been cleansed by the ‘laver of regeneration,’ and have received pardon for all their sins. That is the proper moment for averting all future sins, when all past sins are blotted out.

For, if self-inflicted death be morally right, why should not that moment be chosen above all others? Why should any baptized man hesitate to end his life? Why should a liberated spirit enmesh itself again in the manifold hazards of this life, when it is the easiest thing in the world for him to stave off everything by snuffing out his life? It is written: ‘He that loveth danger shall perish in it.’ Why, then, does a man love so many grave dangers, or, if he does not love them, at least lay himself open to them by clinging to a life which he may lawfully cast off? But, what insensate folly has so perverted the heart and blinded it to the truth that a man should fancy that, though he must kill himself lest he be forced into sin by one enemy who has overpowered him, he ought to keep on living, and enduring a world, constantly beset with temptations—which come not only from one master, but from the whole of life. Why waste time in those exhortations we address to the newly-baptized, striving to enkindle in them a love for virginal purity, or widowed continence, or conjugal fidelity? We have simpler short-cuts for avoiding all danger of sin: we can urge everyone, the moment he is cleansed of his sins at the baptismal font, to rush himself off to death. In that way, do we not dispatch him to the Lord sounder and purer?

Now, if there be anyone who thinks that such an exhortation should be attempted, I say he is not merely silly, he is mad. After all, with what force could he say to a man, ‘Kill yourself, lest to your slight sins you add a mortal one by living subject to a barbarous and impure master,’ when, except he cast decency to the winds, he cannot say, ‘Kill yourself the moment your sins are absolved, lest you commit like and worse sins while you live in a world alluring with filthy pleasures, mad with unspeakable cruelty, arrayed against you with errors and terrors’? Since it is wicked to speak thus, it is undoubtedly wicked to kill oneself. For, if there could be any justifiable occasion for suicide, there would certainly be none more justifiable than this. Since this is not so, then there is none at all.

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

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