Fall 2012

Introduction: Death

The Fall, 2012 issue of Communio is dedicated to the theme of “Death.” In his book Eschatology, Joseph Ratzinger points out a “remarkably contradictory” attitude toward death prevalent in modern society: “On the one hand,” he writes, “death is placed under a taboo. It is unseemly. So far as possible, it must be hidden away, the thought of it repressed. . . . On the other hand, one is also aware of a tendency to put death on show, which corresponds to the general pulling down of shame barriers everywhere.” Both tendencies abstract death from life, and these attempts to either push death away or sensationalize it to the point of unreality ultimately accomplish a dehumanization of death. But when death is dehumanized, Ratzinger argues, life is inevitably dehumanized as well, for one does not exist without the other.

The articles in the present issue each, through different lenses, ask with Ratzinger, whence such a contradiction in the modern understanding of death comes, and, in their exploration of the question, begin to point the way to a recovery of what we might call a “Christian attitude towards death.”

In “Singulariter in spe constituisti me: On the Christian Attitude Towards Death,” Adrian J. Walker acknowledges that death is primarily a punishment for sin, but also points to what it reveals about creatureliness. Death, Walker writes, “conceals a medicinal mercy, an opportunity to come to our senses, to wake up from the perverse illusion of godlike autonomy without God.” Though death is in some sense the horror of all creaturely horrors, “Christ’s supernatural conversion of death into the sacrament of eternal life . . . includes its transformation into a confessio by which we fulfill our nature through the self-return into the hands of the Creator that we once refused him in Paradise.”