Suicide and Sin by Paula Fredriksen

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The views expressed on this subject are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SBL. Individuals personally struggling with this issue should seek immediate professional help. Suicide.org is a non-profit organization with a list of international suicide prevention hotlines available to anyone in suicidal crisis.

http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

Suicide for modern people seems like a sin. But suicide didn’t really become a sin in Christian tradition until the fourth, fifth century and it was specifically part of the accomplishment of Augustine of Hippo. Augustine is functioning in a North Africa that is divided energetically between two different forms of Catholic Christianity. And Augustine has the Catholic Roman Empire on his side.

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Both sides had very strong reasons for regarding themselves as correct and the other side as wrong; but only one side can win. The side that wins is called the orthodox or the Catholic side and the side that loses, which is doctrinally an angstrom unit different from the side that triumphs, the losing side are called not Christians but Donatists, after Donatus, one of their bishops. The Donatists were a group of Catholic Christians who continued to vigorously embrace an ethic of martyrdom.

Catholic bishops end up advising the emperor whom to muscle to get into the orthodox camp. What happens is that Augustine’s Christian opponents embrace martyrdom as an ethic, as a form of protest against these imperial politics, and Augustine in an effort to delegitimize his Christian opposition says that what they’re doing they call martyrdom but it’s actually suicide and suicide is a sin. So, it’s awkward because the traditions of martyrdom that shape fourth, fifth century Christianity look at self-death as a form of heroic witness and it becomes problematic in the specific political context of the Donatist controversy in North Africa. If it weren’t for Augustine, suicide very likely would not be a sin.

The views expressed on this subject are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SBL. Individuals personally struggling with this issue should seek immediate professional help. Suicide.org is a non-profit organization with a list of international suicide prevention hotlines available to anyone in suicidal crisis. 


http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

Contributors

Paula Fredrikson

Paula Fredriksen
Distinguished Visiting Professor, Hebrew University

Paula Fredriksen is the Aurelio Professor of Scripture emerita at Boston University, and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. She has authored seven books on Christian origins and on pagan-Jewish-Christian relations in the Roman empire and was a featured speaker in the PBS television special, From Jesus to Christ.

A broad, diverse group of nations ruled by the government of a single nation.

A set or system of moral principles.

Of or belonging to any of several branches of Christianity, especially from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, whose adherents trace their tradition back to the earliest Christian communities. Lowercase ("orthodox"), this term means conforming with the dominant, sanctioned ideas or belief system.

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