To Grieve or not to Grieve : Grief in the Consolation Letters of Jerome and Augustine

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Title: To Grieve or not to Grieve : Grief in the Consolation Letters of Jerome and Augustine
Author: Dedua, Solomon
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Teologinen tiedekunta, Kirkkohistorian laitos
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Theology, Department of Church History
Helsingfors universitet, Teologiska fakulteten, Institutionen för kyrkohistoria
Publisher: Helsingfors universitet
Date: 2016
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: The Religious Roots of Europe
The Religious Roots of Europe
The Religious Roots of Europe
Abstract: This thesis is born out of an observation in some recent scholarly research that tends to polarize early church fathers, particularly Jerome and Augustine in their attitude towards the expression of grief by bereaved Christians. Augustine is said to allow a moderation of grief while Jerome condemns it outright. Adopting a literary analytical method, this thesis sets out to find the disposition of saints Jerome and Augustine towards the expression of grief in their consolation letters. The study finds out that there are more similarities in Jerome’s and Augustine’s approaches to grief than differences. Neither of these men maintained a singular stand on the expression of grief but adjusted their position depending on various circumstances. Their ideal recommendation was that Christians ought not to weep at all for deceased Christians but instead to rejoice and congratulate them for having left a world of sin to be with Christ. But when circumstances made the emotion of grief too powerful to bear, the church fathers excused grief and instead called for moderation. Having been bereaved themselves, at one point or the other, the church fathers were not unaware of the power of this emotion. When grief was excused, they explained that the grief was not for the departed person but for the virtues lost due to the death and for the living because they are allowed to continue in the world of turmoil and away from paradise. Grief also became legitimate if the deceased person died in sin because then, he would descend to hell. In their consolation letters the church fathers adapted traditional lines of arguments that were current in the Greco-Roman consolations to correspond with the teachings of the Bible in order to offer consolation to bereaved Christians. This hybrid produced a kind of consolation that some scholars have referred to as ‘theological consolation’. Unlike the philosophical consolation of the pagans, Christian consolation was hinged on the assurance of resurrection at the second coming of Christ. But as the second coming of Christ became less and less imminent than it was first thought the church fathers began to offer consolation based on an assurance that the deceased believer is already in heaven. The thesis begins with a survey of the ancient practice of consolation, a practice that was first documented and transmitted by the Greeks but adopted and preserved by Romans and then Greek and Latin church fathers. There was also an attempt to define consolation as a literary genre, an effort that many scholars find problematic due to the vastness of literature with consolatory content and the variety in degree of consolation in each. The solution to this problem was to view consolation as a theme present in various genres rather than a genre of its own. On this basis, my sources were delimited to include only patristic epistolary consolation.

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