Grief, Suffering, and "The Art of Dying" in a Plague: Cyprian’s De Mortalitate

Mar 23, 2024
Gavin House
1220 E 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
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Paul ScherzUniversity of Virginia

Open to current graduate students and faculty. Advanced undergraduates and others interested in participating should contact This event is in-person only. All registrants will receive copies of the selected readings, which should be read in advance of the class. Reception will follow. 

This event is made possible through the support of ‘In Lumine: Supporting the Catholic Intellectual Tradition on Campuses Nationwide’ (Grant #62372) from the John Templeton Foundation.

The ancient Stoics rejected grief as a passion.  Was it inhuman to grieve? Or was it inhuman to suppress this natural human affect?  What about longing for lost loved ones or the fear of death?  To what extent did early Christian teaching modify or reject the Stoics? And how does one approach the possibility of loss and death today, in a contemporary medical context that has prioritized statistical analysis and abstraction in lieu of concern for the concrete 'other'?

Cyprian of Carthage’s sermon Mortality, delivered in the middle of a devastating plague in the third century, provides an early Christian vision of how to face death, which both takes up and transforms ancient Stoic approaches to death. This seminar-style discussion will explore these themes as well as its call to care for others despite risk. It will explore these insights in relation to today’s dramatically changed medical context in which care for the human person risks being occluded by statistical abstraction.


Cyprian’s “Mortality” from Treatises in CUA’s Fathers of the Church Series (pp. 193-221).


Scherz “Grief, Death, and Longing in Stoic and Christian Ethics” Journal of Religious Ethics 45: 1 (2017), 7–28.

Scherz, “Chapter 10: Caring for the Statistical Other” in The Ethics of Precision Medicine: The Problems of Prevention in Healthcare (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, Forthcoming). 

Both the required and recommended readings will be distributed to participants via Dropbox. If you prefer, you can pick up a printout of the readings at Gavin House (1220 E. 58th Street) Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm once they are ready. Please email David Strobach at to let us know you are coming.

Discussion Questions:

According to Cyprian, how should Christians approach death? How is this similar and/or different from contemporary stances toward death?

For Cyprian, how does a proper attitude toward death affect our actions and feelings toward others? How does it affect our emotions for loved ones who have died?


11:30-12:00 | Optional pre-event lunch

12:00-1:20 | Session 1

1:20-1:40 | Coffee break

1:40-3:00 | Session 2

3:00-3:30 | Reception

Paul Scherz is an Associate Professor at the University of Virginia. His main area of study is the intersection of religious ethics with science, technology, and medicine. He also researched the influence of the Stoic tradition of virtue ethics on Christian ethics, especially Catholic moral theology. His first book, Science and Christian Ethics (Cambridge, 2019) used virtue theory as a lens to examine the moral formation of scientists in light of the contemporary replication crisis in science. His most recent book, Tomorrow’s Troubles: Risk, Anxiety, and Prudence in an Age of Algorithmic Governance (Georgetown, 2022), examines the role that quantitative risk analysis plays in contemporary practical reason and social practice in areas such as direct-to-consumer genetic testing, risk-reducing medications, the use of algorithms in social media, and contemporary governance. He compares these attempts to control future dangers with classical understandings of prudence and Christian calls to avoid excessive anxiety over the future.

He has also written on many topics in bioethics, such as human enhancement, genetic technology, and end of life ethics, with this latter interest leading to a volume co-edited with Joseph Davis on The Evening of Life: The Challenges of Aging and Dying Well (Notre Dame, 2020). He is currently working on projects on the ethics of the use of artificial intelligence in medicine and a book on the ethics of precision medicine.