on Suicide

City of God Bk. 1

  St. Augustine Exhorts an Arian

NPNF tr. Marcus Dods City of God, Book I, Chapter 22



THE CITY of GOD (ca. 413-426) Book 1





PG 41. 34-36


 That it is not possible to attribute suicide (voluntary death) to greatness of soul

CAPUT XXII.---Quod nunquam possit mors voluntaria ad magnitudinem animi pertinere

BUT they who have laid violent hands on themselves are perhaps to be admired for their greatness of soul, though they cannot be applauded for the soundness of their judgment. However, if you look at the matter more closely, you will scarcely call it greatness of soul, which prompts a man to kill himself rather than bear up against some hardships of fortune, or sins in which he is not implicated. Is it not rather proof of a feeble mind, to be unable to bear either the pains of bodily servitude or the foolish opinion of the vulgar?

1. Et quicumque hoc in se ipsis perpetraverunt, animi magnitudine fortasse mirandi, non sapientiae sanitate laudandi sunt. Quanquam si rationem dili gentius consulas, ne ipsa quidem animi magnitudo [Col.0036] recte nominatur, ubi quisque non valendo tolerare vel quaeque aspera vel aliena peccata, se ipse interemerit. Magis enim mens infirma deprehenditur, quae ferre non potest vel duram sui corporis servitutem, vel stultam vulgi opinionem;

And is not that to be pronounced the greater mind, which rather faces than flees the ills of life, and which, in comparison of the light and purity of conscience, holds in small esteem the judgment of men, and specially of the vulgar, which is frequently involved in a mist of error?

majorque animus merito dicendus est, qui vitam aerumnosam magis potest ferre, quam fugere; et humanum judicium, maximeque vulgare, quod plerumque caligine erroris involvitur, prae conscientiae luce ac puritate contemnere.

And, therefore, if suicide is to be esteemed a magnanimous act, none can take higher rank for magnanimity than that Cleombrotus, who (as the story goes), when he had read Plato’s book in which he treats of the immortality of the soul, threw himself from a wall, and so passed from this life to that which he believed to be better.

Quamobrem si magno animo fieri putandum est, cum sibi homo ingerit mortem, ille potius Cleombrotus in hac animi magnitudine reperitur; quem ferunt lecto Platonis libro, ubi de immortalitate animae disputavit, se praecipitem dedisse de muro, atque ita ex hac vita migrasse ad eam, quam credidit esse meliorem

For he was not hard pressed by calamity, nor by any accusation, false or true, which he could not very well have lived down; there was, in short, no motive but only magnanimity urging him to seek death, and break away from the sweet detention of this life.

. Nihil enim urgebat aut calamitatis, aut criminis, seu verum, seu falsum, quod non valendo ferre, se auferret; sed ad capessendam mortem, atque ad hujus vitae suavia vincula rumpenda sola adfuit animi magnitudo.

And yet that this was a magnanimous rather than a justifiable action, Plato himself, whom he had read, would have told him; for he would certainly have been forward to commit, or at least to recommend suicide, had not the same bright intellect which saw that the soul was immortal, discerned also that to seek immortality by suicide was to be prohibited rather than encouraged.

Quod tamen magne potius factum esse quam bene, testis ei potuit esse Plato ipse, quem legerat: qui profecto id praecipue potissimumque fecisset, vel etiam praecepisset; nisi ea mente, qua immortalitatem animae vidit, nequaquam faciendum, quin etiam prohibendum esse judicasset.

Again, it is said many have killed themselves to prevent an enemy doing so. But we are not inquiring whether it has been done, but whether it ought to have been done. Sound judgment is to be preferred even to examples, and indeed examples harmonize with the voice of reason; but not all examples, but those only which are distinguished by their piety, and are proportionately worthy of imitation.

2. [XXIII.] At enim multi se interemerunt, ne in manus hostium pervenirent. Non modo quaerimus utrum sit factum, sed utrum fuerit faciendum. Sana quippe ratio etiam exemplis anteponenda est, cui quidem et exempla concordant, sed illa quae tanto digniora sunt imitatione, quanto excellentiora pietate.

For suicide we cannot cite the example of patriarchs, prophets, or apostles; though our Lord Jesus Christ, when He admonished them to flee from city to city if they were persecuted, might very well have taken that occasion to advise them to lay violent hands on themselves, and so escape their persecutors.

Non fecerunt Patriarchae, non Prophetae, non Apostoli: quia et ipse Dominus Christus, quando eos, si persecutionem paterentur, fugere admonuit de civitate in civitatem (Matth. X, 23), potuit admonere ut sibi manus inferrent, ne in manus persequentium pervenirent.

But seeing He did not do this, nor proposed this mode of departing this life, though He were addressing His own friends for whom He had promised to prepare everlasting mansions, it is obvious that such examples as are produced from the “nations that forget God,” give no warrant of imitation to the worshippers of the one true God.

Porro si hoc ille non jussit, aut monuit, ut eo modo sui ex hac vita migrarent, quibus migrantibus mansiones aeternas se praeparaturum esse promisit (Joan. XIV, 2); quaelibet exempla opponant gentes quae ignorant Deum, manifestum est hoc non licere colentibus unum verum Deum.



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