Volume 51, Issue 2, 2020
Margaret R. Miles
St. Augustine’s Tears
Recollecting and Reconsidering a Life
In St. Augustine’s society, men’s tears were not considered a sign of weakness, but an expression of strong feeling. Tears might be occasional, prompted by incidents such as those Augustine described in the first books of his Confessiones. Or they might accompany a deep crisis, such as his experience of conversion. Possidius, Augustine’s contemporary biographer, reported that on his deathbed Augustine wept copiously and continuously. This essay endeavors to understand those tears, finding, primarily but not exclusively in Augustine’s later writings, descriptions of his practice of meditation suggesting that a profound and complex range of emotions from fear and repentance to gratitude, love, rest in beauty, and delight in praise richly informed Augustine’s last tears.