As it was in the fourth book, death is also a resounding theme in Confessions 9. The death of Augustine’s mother, Monica, of course, takes center stage in this final autobiographical book, but Augustine also notes the deaths of others—his friends, Verecundus and Nebridius, and his son, Adeodatus. The language he uses to refer to all these deaths cues the shift in his post-conversion understanding of death. His friend in book 4 “died” (Conf. 4.4.8; tr. Chadwick); these loved ones “departed,” were “released,” or “taken” (9.3.5; 9.3.6; 9.6.14; 9.11.28). Such language implies continued existence after death as well as God’s sovereignty over death.

Augustine’s remarks about Nebridius’ death, in particular, imply much more. Nebridius, in Augustine’s words, was “released” from the body and now “lives” in Abraham’s bosom. No less than four times does Augustine say that Nebridius “lives:” “you released him from bodily life. Now he lives in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22). Whatever is symbolized by ‘bosom’, that is where my Nebridius lives, a sweet friend to me, but, Lord, your former freedman and now adopted son. There he lives; for what other place could hold so remarkable a soul? There he lives…” (9.3.6).

The promise of life after death clearly undergirds Augustine’s repeated assertions that Nebridius lives. Yet Augustine knows that the Christian hope is more than simply postmortem existence. He goes on to say that Nebridius, though he now drinks freely from the fount of God’s wisdom, is “not so intoxicated…as to forget me” (9.3.6). In other words, even in the sublimity of being in God’s presence, Augustine believes that his friend is still mindful of him. Not only is death not the end of life, but death has not even severed the relationship between Augustine and Nebridius—their friendship, which is established by the essential element of attention to one another.

This remark about Nebridius’ mindfulness of Augustine likely flows from the prominence Augustine gives to the notion of attention in his general account of love. For Augustine, love drives what we pay attention to. Love is in fact a force of union: a lover cannot but be drawn to and united with what he loves, and this union is primarily psychological, defined by attention to the beloved. Such an account of love explains why Augustine considers sin—or inordinate love for created, material things—to entail obsessions with those material things along with an inability to sustain any attention on God, who is immaterial.

Augustine thus considers loving attention to constitute relationship. Because God loves the world, he pays attention to it. He is mindful of every one of us. As our love for God grows, we are more and more able to pay attention to him in prayer. The same goes for human relationships: we give our attention to those we love and so experience a kind of union with them, a sense of belonging together. Today, we often use the language of “connection” with others to express our experience of what Augustine would call a genuine union of souls, driven by love, established by mutual attention.

In writing of Nebridius’ death, Augustine indicates that it is this union, this connection, that death cannot rupture—so long as the union of relationship is anchored in love for God. Nebridius has not forgotten Augustine even in God’s presence because the “Lord, whom he drinks, [is] mindful of us” (9.3.6). Because God in his love pays attention to us, those in his presence continue to attend to those they love, even as they love God above all. Our belonging to God anchors our belonging to each other, hence the possessive language Augustine uses—his reference to Nebridius as “my Nebridius,” but “your [God’s]…adopted son” (9.3.6).

It seems to me that Augustine has seized upon what is truly at the heart of our grief—or at least my grief—in the face of death and loss. I crave belonging: I long to be remembered, for those I love to be mindful of me, as I am of them. I consider that experience of union in relationship the most precious of all God’s gifts. And, by the grace of God, if my loved ones are taken from me, my hope is that they will still be, in some sense, mine—that they may continue to love and remember me as I love and remember them because God, who abolished death in Christ, loves us all.