St. Augustine on deathbed conversions

December 9, 2021 • 4 min

From The Sinner’s Guide, page 249
By Venerable Louis of Granada

CHAPTER XXV.

OF THOSE WHO DEFER THEIR CONVERSION UNTIL THE HOUR OF DEATH.

The arguments we have just stated should certainly be sufficient to convince men of the folly of death-bed repentances; for if it be so dangerous to defer penance from day to day, what must be the consequence of deferring it until the hour of death?

But as this is a very general error, causing the ruin of many souls, we shall devote a special chapter to it.

The reflections which we are about to make may alarm and discourage weak souls, but the consequences of presumption are still more fatal, for a greater number is lost through false confidence than through excessive fear.

Therefore, we, who are one of the sentinels mentioned by Ezechiel, must warn you of these dangers, that you may not rush blindly to your ruin, and that your blood may not be upon us.

As the safest light for us is that of Holy Scripture, interpreted by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, we shall first study their opinions on this subject, and afterwards we shall learn what God Himself teaches us by His inspired writers.

Before entering upon the subject we must bear in mind an undeniable principle, concerning which St. Augustine and all the holy Doctors are agreed—namely, that as true repentance is the work of God, so He can inspire it when and where He wills. Hence if the heart of the sinner, even at the hour of death, be filled with true contrition for his sins, it will avail him for salvation.

But, to show you how rare such examples of repentance are, I shall give you the testimony of the Saints and Doctors of the Church. I do not ask you to believe me, but believe them, the chosen instruments of the Holy Ghost. And first hear St. Augustine.

In a work entitled “True and False Penance” he says:

Let no one hope to do penance when he can no longer sin. God wishes us to perform this work cheerfully and not through compulsion.

Therefore, he who, instead of leaving his sins, waits until they leave him, acts from necessity rather than from choice.

For this reason they who would not return to God when they could, but are willing to seek Him when they are no longer able to sin, will not so easily obtain what they desire.

Speaking of the character of true conversion, he says:

He is truly converted who turns to God with his whole heart, who not only fears punishment but earnestly desires to merit God’s graces and favors.

Should any one turn to God in this way, even at the end of his life, we would have no reason to despair of his salvation.

But as examples of this perfect conversion are very rare, we cannot but tremble for one who defers his repentance until the hour of death.

Moreover, if he obtain the pardon of his sins their temporal punishment is not remitted; he must expiate them in the fire of Purgatory, the pain of which is greater than any suffering known on earth.

Never did the martyrs in their most terrible torments, never did malefactors, though subjected to all the cruelties which human malice could invent, endure sufferings equal to those of Purgatory.

Let him, then, if he would avoid these dreadful punishments after death, begin from this time to amend his life.

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