Document: Letter 39
Date: after 387
Addressee: Faustinus
English Translation: FC 26.416-419
Summary of Contents: Comfort after the death of his sister

I knew very well that you would lament with bitter grief the death of your sister, yet not in such a way as to estrange yourself from us, but to come back to us. Although mourners have not joyous consolations, they are always necessary ones. But you have gone off to a mountain retreat, to a cave amid the haunts of beasts, spurning all part in the affairs of men and, what is more serious, disregarding even your own good judgment.

Did your sister deserve that a human relationship which gave you a woman so remarkable and which should have exerted its influence on you, should have but little privilege? Indeed, when she was departing from life she comforted herself with the consolation that she was leaving you as her survivor to be a parent to your nephews, a mentor for her children, a help to the bereaved. You are keeping yourself from your nephews and us, so that we do not have the enjoyment of that consolation. Her dear children bid you not grieve but comfort them, so that when they see you they will think that their mother has not died; in you they will know her again; in you they will cling to her presence; in you they will feel that her life remains for them.

You are sad because she who was in good health for a long time died unexpectedly. This is an experience which we share not only with men but even with cities and countries. 1 As you left Claterna behind, coming from Bologna, and then Bologna, Modena, and Reggio, Brescello was on your right, and ahead Piacenza meets you, still echoing its ancient nobility in its name. You were moved with pity for the ruined areas of the Apennines to the left, and you pondered the towns of once-prosperous peoples and parted from them with sorrowful thoughts. Do not the empty remains of so many half-ruined cities and the destruction of so many lands set before your gaze counsel you to consider the death of one, although she is a holy and admirable lady, to be more consoling, since they have fallen and have been ruined forever, but she, who has been taken from us for a time, lives a better life beyond.

I think that she should not be mourned but, rather, followed with prayer. I believe that you should not lament for her with tears, but commend her soul to the Lord by your prayers.

Of course, you may say that she is saved through her merits and her faith, yet that you cannot bear the longing for her, no longer seeing her in the body, and this causes you terrible grief. Does not the saying of the Apostle touch you: “So that henceforth we know no one according to the flesh. And even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer”? Our body cannot be everlasting and enduring. It must fall that it may rise; it must be broken apart that it may rest and experience the end of sin. Indeed, we have known many in the flesh, but we know them now no longer. We knew our Lord Jesus Himself, says the Apostle, according to the flesh, “and now we know him so no longer.” For He had already laid away the body’s covering; He was seen no more in the guise of man; now He had died for all and all have died in Him. But that they may be made anew through Him, and made alive in spirit, they live now not for themselves, they live for Christ. Else- where the same Apostle says: “lt is now no longer I that live but Christ lives in me.”

It is but just that before he knew Christ according to the flesh he already knew His works, though not seeing them. He studied now not His flesh but His power, and, as a persecutor, with hostile animosity overwhelmed the disciples of the Man, His followers in the flesh. Yet, later, he became the teacher of the Gentiles and began to teach and rear for the preaching of the Gospel those who venerated His majesty. In fact, he adds: “lf any man is in Christ, he is a new creature,” that is, one perfect in Christ is a new creature, because one who is in the flesh is imperfect. The Lord Jesus Himself says: “My spirit shall not remain in man forever, because he is flesh.” A man in the flesh is not in Christ, but if one is in Christ he is a new creature, formed in the newness not of nature, but of grace. The old things according to the flesh have passed away, all have become new. If the scribe instructed in the kingdom of heaven knows not these things, he is like the householder who brings from his treasure new things and old, not old without new, or new without old. So the Church says: “The new and the old I have kept for you.”

The old have passed away, that is, the hidden mysteries of the Law have all been made new in Christ. This is the new creature of whom the Apostle speaks to the Galatians: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is of any avail, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature,” through which the flesh now renewed flourishes and, having borne the thorns of inveterate sin in the past, finds now the fruit of grace. What need is there for us to grieve if now it is said to the soul: “Your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”? Why do we lament the dead when the reconciliation of the world with God the Father has already been made through the Lord Jesus?

Having the blessings of Christ, we act as ambassadors for Christ, not only to all, but also to you, that you may know that His gifts are irrevocable, that you may believe what you have always believed, and not bring your understanding into doubt owing to your exceedingly great grief. For our Lord Jesus became sin to take away the sin of the world, 11 and that we might all be made in Him the justice of God, no longer entangled in sin but sure of a reward for justice.

Farewell, and love us, for we love you.

Translation from FC 26.416-419, adapted by SMT

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