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The responses of biblical wisdom do not differ much form those of other profane or secular wisdom. A discipline in some universities is dedicated to the study of death, called Tanatology. It studies the different ways of looking at death based on various cultures and religions.

Epicurus said that death is a false problem. He said: “When I am (alive) death is not yet here; when I die, then I am no longer here.” So we do not need to be on guard. It is enough not to think of it. 

St. Augustine anticipated the modern philosophical reflection on death. “When a person is born, there are so many guesses: will he be handsome or ugly, rich or poor; will he live long or not… But it is not said: will he die or not die. This is the one thing absolutely certain in life.

“When we know that someone is sick of enema (incurable in his time), we say: What a poor man! He must die! He is condemned; there is no remedy. But should we not say the same of one who is born?: What a poor man, he must die! There is no remedy; he is condemned! What difference does it make if he lives long or short? Death is a mortal sickness that is opposed to being born.”

Maybe we can say that our mortal life can be considered as “living death” o “to live dying.” (Confessions I, 6,7).

Heidegger took this last idea up and made it an object of philosophy.  Man, to him, is a Being-for-death. Death is not an incident that puts an end to life, but the substance itself of life, for which man is made.

To live is to die. Man cannot live without destroying or shortening life, without dying at every moment.

To live for death means that death is not only an end, but also the end of life.

We are born to die, not for anything else.

This is the most radical overthrow or rejection of Christianity’s vision, according to which we man and woman are beings-for-eternity.

In the Christian vision, death is a negative between two positives (+ – +). Here in  secular philosophy, life is a positive between 2 negatives (- + -).

It is not life but death that has the last word. In nothing is found the only possibility for man.

This affirmation that philosophy has concluded after its long reflection of man is neither scandalous nor absurd. Philosophy makes its own craft. It tries to show the natural destiny of man, and no one can save him from it. It is a negative confirmation of revelation.

In recent times, a new knowledge, ignored by the ancients, has busied itself with death – psychology.  There are psychologists who see in the “rejection of death” the true spring of being human, of which the sexual instinct, placed by Freud at the basis of all, could not be more than one of the manifestations. (E. Becker, Rejection of Death, 1982)

But maybe the poets can say words of wisdom which are the simplest and truest about death.

Human wisdom about death is not one that consoles, not one that dissolves the fear. Like the sun in summer, it does not destroy nor melt the snow.

After all, all that we successfully know about death with educational/ sapiential considerations is not also death, but another thing.

Only the death of someone dear – a mother, father, friend, daughter – has the power to bring death, at least in a certain measure, “present”, allowing us to savor its bitterness.

One who weeps at the death of a dear one weeps always a little bit at his own death. St. Augustine confessed his sorrow at the death of his mother: Weeping because her and for her, I wept because of me and for me.

All cultures and ages stand before death as before an enigma, a mystery …

Thanks to Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, Sorella Morte