A Few Thoughts on Death

While prepping for a week-long course for our deacons, on end-of-life issues, I included these quotes as food for thought (among other quotes).   The first set, from Epictetus's Enchiridion are presented as examples of a noble example of a philosophical approach to death that in some way minimizes its problematic and wrenching character.  Yet, it maintains that there is a moral stance to be taken vis-à-vis death itself.  In class, we'll discuss how it falls short from a Catholic perspective.  The second quote surprisingly is from Karl Rahner.  His little On the Theology of Death has provided a number of edifying passages that I hadn't expected to find in it.  We also have texts from John Climacus and Alexander Schmemann, not included here.

Selections from Epictetus's Enchiridion (trans. Elizabeth Carter)

no. 2: "But if you are averse to sickness, or death, or poverty, you will be wretched. Remove aversion, then, from all things that are not in our control, and transfer it to things contrary to the nature of what is in our control. But, for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed; and of those which are, and which it would be laudable to desire, nothing is yet in your possession. Use only the appropriate actions of pursuit and avoidance; and even these lightly, and with gentleness and reservation."

no. 5: "Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible. When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles. An uninstructed person will lay the fault of his own bad condition upon others. Someone just starting instruction will lay the fault on himself. Some who is perfectly instructed will place blame neither on others nor on himself."

no. 21: "Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible be daily before your eyes, but chiefly death, and you win never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything."

From K. Rahner's On the Theology of Death

"Clearly, [death] cannot be an act of man if it is conceived as an isolated point at the end of life, but only if it is understood as an act of fulfillment (a concept which an ontology of the end of a spiritual being can fully justify), achieved through the act of the whole of life in such a manner that death is axiologically present all through human life.  Man is enacting his death, as his own consummation, through the deed of his life, and in this way death is present in his actions, that is, in each of his free acts, in which he freely disposes of his whole person.  Consequently, the death present in these acts of life explicitly or implicitly, can be mortal sin.  In order to try to point out briefly how man may make a mortal sin of the deed of his life, it can only be a question of indicating how he can, more or less explicitly, understand and enact his death sinfully all through his life, and not merely at its end.  There can be no question of showing how each mortal sin, implicitly and tacitly also includes a false and sinful understanding of death."