Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Toward Appropriate Thanatosian Piety: A Defense of Santa Muerte, Subject of Christ the King and Acolyte of His Great High Priesthood

Toward Appropriate Thanatosian Piety
A Defense of Santa Muerte, Subject of Christ the King and Acolyte of His Great High Priesthood

I. Introduction
II. Death as a Principality or Power
III. The Domain of Holy Death
IV. Holy Death as a Subject of Christ the King and Acolyte of His Great High Priest
V. Practices of Appropriate Thanatosian Piety
VI. Conclusion: Appropriate Thanatosian Piety Combats Narco Devotion to Death


One of the fastest growing devotions in Mexico and central America is to Santa Muerte.  The devotion to the feminine Grim Reaper is particularly notable among the criminal element and narco related cartel members.  This devotion has drawn condemnation by the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi.  This was followed by some condemning remarks from Pope Francis himself. Now, certain U.S. Bishops are reiterating these condemnations.   In his address to the Mexican bishops in February of 2016 Pope Francis States,

I am particularly concerned about those many persons who, seduced by the empty power of the world, praise illusions and embrace their macabre symbols to commercialize death in exchange for money which, in the end, "moth and rust consume” and "thieves break in and steal” (Mt 6:19). I urge you not to underestimate the moral and antisocial challenge which the drug trade represents for Mexican society as a whole, as well as for the Church.

The magnitude of this phenomenon, the complexity of its causes, its immensity and its scope which devours like a metastasis, and the gravity of the violence which divides with its distorted expressions, do not allow us as Pastors of the Church to hide behind anodyne denunciations. Rather they demand of us a prophetic courage as well as a reliable and qualified pastoral plan, so that we can gradually help build that fragile network of human relationships without which all of us would be defeated from the outset in the face of such an insidious threat.

After his just condemnation, the Pope goes on to briefly lay out such a pastoral plan, which relies on social programs that would economically edify the country and assist the faithful regarding their basic human needs.  This is appropriate, yet I wonder if more may be done spiritually to channel the needs of the populace from unhealthy prayer life to a more edifying relationship toward death, their own as well as the abstract.
There is a certain Saint Anastasius of Suppentonia, whose only notable event was his, and seven of his brother’s call by the angel of death.  All known information concerning Anastasius in recounted in the Dialogues of Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome Book I chapter 8

Upon a certain night, when God had determined to reward the labours of venerable Anastasius, a voice was heard from the top of that rock, which very leisurely did cry out: "Come away, Anastasius"; who being so called, straight after, seven other monks were severally called by their names. And then the voice stayed for a little time, and then called again the eighth monk. Which strange voice the Convent hearing very plainly, made no doubt but that the death of them that were so called was not far off; wherefore not many days after, before the rest, Anastasius himself, and then the others in order, departed this mortal life, as they were before called from the top of the rock. And that monk who was called after some pausing did a little while survive the rest, and then he also ended his life: whereby it was plain that the staying of the voice did signify that he should live a little longer than the other. But a strange thing happened, for when holy Anastasius lay upon his death-bed, a certain monk there was in the Abbey, that would needs die with him, and therefore fell down at his feet, and there began with tears to beg of him in this manner: "For his love to whom you are now going, I beseech and adjure you, that I may not remain in this world seven days after your departure"; and indeed it so fell out, that before the seventh day was come, that he left this mortal life, and yet was not he that night named by that voice amongst the rest, so that it appeareth plainly that it was only the intercession of Anastasius which obtained that his departure.
It seems that the only thing worth recording about Saint Anastasius is his relationship to Holy Death, and that he himself has the ability to appropriately call people by means of her.   
The Purpose of this paper is to respond to Francis’ call to a, “prophetic courage as well as a reliable and qualified pastoral plan, so that we can gradually help build that fragile network of human relationships.”  Yet the plan presented here will be a spiritual point of view that would allow a folk piety that may in instances go astray to develop into a functioning view of a universal human phenomenon, death, and how one expresses a relation to it as a true Christian.  The assumptions concerning devotion and patronage surrounding Holy Death will revolve around Santa Muerte since she is the one who has recently caused the magisterium dismay.  This anthropomorphic aesthetic arose in Mexico, however, a host of other anthropomorphisms abound.  Each time and culture tends to conceptualize death in it’s own way suited to the needs of the community.  So one will certainly hear of Santa Muerte in Mexico, Latin America and The United States now, but in other parts of the U.S. or Haiti perhaps one would come across “Mr. Death” and in other parts of Latin America one may run across the masculine San La Muerte.  Given the universal nature of this anthropomorphic phenomenon and our aim, to exemplify proper piety concerning devotion and patronage, we will simply use the proper name Holy Death.
The paper will begin by exploring how the power of Holy Death fits into the schema of principalities and powers, to use Saint Paul’s language.  This section will focus on the difference between Satan and Holy Death as well as an emphasis on Holy Death as a power of God.  The next section will discuss the domain of the power of Holy Death, where and how her power is manifest as well as how her power is useful to humans.  This section will compare and contrast Holy Death and The Law as principalities of God.  The following section will draw out the relationship of Holy Death to the Christ, explaining how Christ subjected Holy Death to himself, turning it to his use.  The last section of the paper will illustrate a healthy Christian spirituality which views Holy Death as a principality subjected to Christ the King and working for the benefit of humanity.  This section offers practical advice concerning intercessory technique and conceptual use concerning Holy Death.

Death as a Principality or Power

We are going to begin our exploration of Holy Death by identifying death as a principality or power as described in the New testament.  What exactly a principality or power is is mildly controversial.  It seems that when Paul speaks of “thrones, dominions principalities and powers” he is talking about angelic beings who have some sort of authority in the cosmos.  These beings seem to have sentience.  It’s also apparent that some of these beings are in rebellion against God in much the same way humanity is, but since they seem to be advanced of human nature, their potential for destruction outstripes our own.  Thus the easiest way to understand principalities and powers is simply to understand that there are angels and demons in the world.  With that it must be understood that these principalities and powers have some sort of sway over humans, it is obvious that our free will is not absolute and because of this we can deduce their existence .
In moderns times it is more fashionable to see these principalities and powers as psychological forces that limit our freewill.  Rudolph Bultmann definitely saw Paul’s powers as mythical beings to be “de-mythologized” into the dangers, tribulations, distresses, and temptations that threaten a Christian’s sense of religious self.  Also in modern times it is not unheard of to take Hendrikus Berkhof’s point of view, which is more anthropocentric and see these principalities and powers as the social forces that structure humanity.  These structures are neither good nor evil, but can be turned either way depending on the deep rootedness of original sin.  That is to say, it is the individual human's response to these powers that makes them good or evil.  Lastly, there is the less useful modern view that these principalities and powers are simply the impersonal laws and forces that govern the universe as a whole, for example the laws of physics or perhaps a behaviorist psychological point of view.  Even here, the Christian may interpret the powers as such, yet still allow them to sing the glories of God through their beauty.   
The modern interpretations all lack any sort of personal agency, but both ancient and modern views of principalities and powers most certainly assert the weakness of the human position in the cosmos.  A religious point of view sees God as powerful, and there are obviously other forces that are far more powerful than humans at work in the universe as well.  God works through human will, but also seems to work through these other powers, whether they exhibit personal agency or not.  In Book X of City of God Saint Augustine states,

we cannot but believe that all miracles, whether wrought by angels or by other means, so long as they are so done as to commend the worship and religion of the one God in whom alone is blessedness, are wrought by those who love us in a true and godly sort, or through their means, God Himself working in them.                
A standard Christian beatitude would assert the same for humans as well.  But the opposite also seems to be true, humans and angelic powers can be turned to evil.  Augustine goes on in chapter 16 of that same book to assert,

If, therefore, any angels demand sacrifice for themselves, we must prefer those who demand it, not for themselves, but for God, the Creator of all, whom they serve. For thus they prove how sincerely they love us, since they wish by sacrifice to subject us, not to themselves, but to Him by the contemplation of whom they themselves are blessed, and to bring us to Him from whom they themselves have never strayed. If, on the other hand, any angels wish us to sacrifice, not to one, but to many, not, indeed, to themselves, but to the gods whose angels they are, we must in this case also prefer those who are the angels of the one God of gods, and who so bid us to worship Him as to preclude our worshipping any other. But, further, if it be the case, as their pride and deceitfulness rather indicate, that they are neither good angels nor the angels of good gods, but wicked demons, who wish sacrifice to be paid, not to the one only and supreme God, but to themselves, what better protection against them can we choose than that of the one God whom the good angels serve, the angels who bid us sacrifice, not to themselves, but to Him whose sacrifice we ourselves ought to be?

Augustine’s calculation for a spiritual power being an angel or a demon is whether it draws worship to itself or to God.  If the power were interpreted as impersonal, as Berkoch states, then it could do either depending on the individual human relationship to the power.  But if the power is a sentient or personal being, then it would have intention to do one or the other.  The task at hand is, to the best of our ability, to assess whether Holy Death is personal or impersonal, and regardless of either conclusion, to see if it is possible for this power to draw us toward God.

Regardless of Holy Death’s intentions or relationships, in Romans Chapter 8 St. Paul assures us of this, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  This may seem obvious to a Christian, but what may not be so obvious is the rhetorical result of pairing life and death in this passage.  It seems that St. Paul perceives life as being as dangerous a possible alienating factor from Christ as death, but we do not have the same fear or apprehension at the attempt of utilizing our lives to seek God.  The assertion of this paper is that not only is Holy Death a neutral power of God, but most of its use in scriptures has been at the service of God for the benefit of humanity.  It must be remembered that Death and Satan are not the same thing.  If C.S. Lewis is correct then the words he puts in Screwtape’s mouth are most apt for our purpose,

How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes among doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray the sick man his true condition!  And how disastrous for us the continual remembrance of death that war enforces.  One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless.  In wartime, not even a human can believe he is going to live forever.          

The demon here is quite put off by the fact of death and it’s seeming universal ability to call things divine to mind.  Life and its living (the Law) and Death have been connected from the very beginning.  “The Lord God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.”  (Gen 2:6-17).  The Law here is a representation of a well lived life according to God’s plan, death seems, even here to be God’s call to remember himself by the gift of existence he gave.  The possibility of that gift being revoked constantly recalls the giver of the gift to the human’s mind.
Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood is true to form regarding the Genesis story.  Here as well the tempter seeks to sway the woman’s heart from God by means of abusing law and denying death.  “But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die!  God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.”  
After the humans yield to the temptation, they are punished.  The punishment is the existential and physical knowledge of evil.  The punishments are given in verse, but the verse stops before death is introduced, “See! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life, and eats of it and lives forever? The Lord God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken.”
As one can see, death is first a reminder, then a reprieve for humans, the escape from suffering until all can be rectified.  As for demons, death only seems to work against their designs.  When the lying spirit possesses Zedekiah, son of Chenaanah in 1 Kings 22, his job is to convince king Jehoshaphat that he will not die in the upcoming battle, but the just Prophet Micah, tells him otherwise.  
Similarly in the introduction to the book of Job, Satan takes all of Job’s possessions and Job’s prayer of refuge is, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back there.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”  When Satan proposes another attack, God allows him every opportunity except the power of death, which seems to be God’s right alone.  When Job is struck with boils,

He took a potsherd to scrape himself, as he sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Are you still holding to your innocence? Curse God and die!”  But he said to her, “You speak as foolish women do. We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?” Through all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Here the “foolish woman” sees death as both a punishment of God and a possible escape, but Job sees it as his part to accept all that God gives him, perceived good and perceived evil.  Death is God’s power to bestow, not something that is invoked by immoral action.
One of the stories where death is most obviously under the domain of God is the story of the plagues in Egypt.  The Exodus story is the story where God is revealed as the one true God.  In the book of Genesis it is not at all clear that the patriarchs know they are in dealings with the one true God.  In Exodus, when Moses seeks to define and therefore limit God by asking his name, God defers with the name “I AM” a non-name, which is all encompassing.  The theme of God’s absolute dominance is played out in the narrative as an unfolding revelation throughout the first half of the book.  Because of this the plagues narrative is able to play on our standard assumption that God is the God of life and the power of death is somehow opposed to God, but by the end we see that God is in complete control.
At the beginning of the story we are introduced to the Pharaoh who is portrayed as anti-life and fancies himself a death dealer.  He has enslaved the Hebrews in order to tire them out in an attempt to implement his population control plan, preventing them from procreating.  God’s jest manifests itself in a population explosion.  When Pharaoh attempts outright murder through the midwives (a poor choice considering their vocation invests itself in bringing life) he fails and God grants them large families as well.  Then Pharaoh seeks to implement laws by his words decreeing the destruction of all of the Hebrew males by throwing them into the river.  Interestingly he seems to think that his power is so absolute that the Hebrews will carry this order out, which Moses’ mother actually does, but she cleverly uses a flotation device in carrying out the law.  In Genesis 1 God’s words carry perfect effect.  Pharaoh's words are either contradicted or work, but not to the effect that he desires.  All of this sets the stage of two powers coming into combat, God, who is effective and a force for overabundant life, and Pharaoh, a demi-god who represents anti-life and death.  But even from the beginning, God is adamant that this is not the case.  It is He who is hardening Pharaoh's heart and controlling his every action.   
The first of God’s plagues follow true to the narrative so far, the river is turned to blood, the stuff of life, and frogs multiply across the kingdom (presumably emerging from the river).  But when God is asked to demonstrate his power by removing the frogs, they all die at God’s command.  This event fosters an interesting display of God’s power to use life and death in concert.  The heaps of dead frogs foment gnats and flies that carry pestilence across the land bringing boils and killing cattle, as a swarm of locusts devours the Egyptian crops that were left after God’s fire.
The last plague speaks to God’s absolute dominion over death and his use of it at his discretion.  Throughout the story of the plagues God acts as he sees fit, when he sees fit and makes precision distinctions with every strike.  With the last plague, the death of the first born, God is revealed as the harbinger of death as well as life.  Pharaoh could not kill the Hebrew children, but God is able to slay the firstborn of Egypt.  By the end of the story the first born are dead and Pharaoh's mighty military industrial complex is laid to waste.  The story was never a pitting of life against death, but the pitting of futile human assumption of self determination against the all powerful God and it is obvious that one of his great powers to bring about our humbling is death itself.   

We have a rebelious aversion to Holy Death as a power of God, because what it represents is God’s ability to ultimately limit us in every way.  Our self centered concupiscent disposition does not allow us to see this as the right and just order of the universe and we see it as so unnatural that it must be a demonic or rebellious power, not a power that is exclusively used by God.  But even this reflection hits too close to home in our death denying culture.  Thus when the pious reflect on why Holy Death should not be considered, most often the appearance is brought up, sometimes exclusively.  One even sees this almost present in Francis’ condemnation, where he feels the need to point out that their symbols used by the sinister elements of society are macabre.  But what symbol could be more macabre than the very popular crucifix?  It is after all the image of a naked man being tortured to death.  In American culture we tend to clean the image up quite a bit.  Perhaps we are influenced by our protestant brethren, who would eschew the crucifix completely and in it’s place only have the empty cross as a symbol of resurrection.  But to focus only on the resurrection makes the mistake one is set up for at the beginning of Exodus without demonstrating the lesson learned by the end.  God is the God of life and death, and in our situation the power of Holy Death is still a just instrument of God.  In Mexican and Latin American culture the aesthetic is much less concerned with giving offence.  There is no shame in displaying the most gory presentation of the crucifixion, because this is how we as Christians confront and make sense of the hardships of life.  It is in this culture, comfortable with the harsher truths of the Church, that the devotion to Holy Death is thriving, yet, as the Pope points out, perhaps not in healthy ways or for healthy reasons.  Our task is to assert Holy Death as a power of God, and explore the possibility of an appropriate thanatosian piety, that is a piety toward Holy Death that keeps God’s ultimate sovereignty in mind, yet recognises the part Holy Death has to play in God’s creation.

We consider death as one of those powers that does not have personal agency, perhaps even seeing it as part and parcel of the laws of physics.  If this is the case then whether or not death is “holy” depends of the individual human’s relationship to it.  It is unusual to have devotion to an impersonal law except inasmuch as it can be personified.  Thus one may be devoted to “The Law” and artistically represent it with the figure of Moses, or plead intercession for strength to a particularly litigious moral saint.  Thus, for death skulls would be symbolic of an impersonal power bereft of living flesh.  In this case a pious may wish to pray the prayer to Saint Joseph, “Oh Blessed Joseph, who yielded up thy last breath in the arms of Jesus and Mary, obtain for me this grace, O holy Joseph, that I may breathe forth my soul in praise, saying in spirit, if I am unable to do so in words: "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give Thee my heart and my soul."
But the current devotion usually takes the form of a power with personal agency and the story of Saint Anastasius of Suppentonia seems to take the same interpretation of Holy Death.  Holy Death in this view is a power much like Saint Michael the Archangel.  Few believe that Saint Michael is an androgynous blond male with wings and armor, but neither do believers see Saint Michael as a simple a power bereft of any sort of personal agency.  The artistic representations give our human mind a way to grasp the ungraspable.  Hence we come to another controversial means by which Holy Death is portrayed in mexican iconography, her femininity.
Our very basic and unreflective understanding of human gender roles dislikes the idea of feminine death.  Women are life bringer’s, they birth children.  Men are death dealers, they go to war and kill people.  Such a feminine representation may be unacceptable to standard patriarchy, but should not be a problem for Christianity when divorced from this structure.  The simplistic patriarchal view of life and death gender roles does not take into account the great archetypal power that is presented by feminine death.  Archetypally Mary is certainly a symbol of life, and the life giving power of God by her virgin birth.  Yet she is also a symbol of life because the birth she gave was to a male who brings life to the entire world by bringing it rebirth through baptism, thus destroying the idea the men are simply death dealers.  When Mary is coupled with Holy Death, a feminine power the starkness of the connection between life and death is more evident.  In fact Joseph is not the only member of the holy family that is sought at death, “pray for us now, and at the hour of our death.”
 God’s plagues in Exodus, the frogs, gnats, flies and locusts, demonstrate the delicate dance between life and death.  Both Jesus’ sacrificial death and the eucharist (a meal like all others, where what was alive and is now dead brings life) seek at the deepest human levels to remind us of this connection as well.  The discomfort of feminine death is a reflection of the discomfort one encounters at the point in the Exodus story when one realizes the true nature of the conflict.  It wasn’t life against death at all, death was on the good guy’s team, and human arrogance, our universal sin, was on the bad guy’s team.  Here again, the assumption of feminine fecundity is turned on its head and one is reminded that God does not have boundaries, He sets and destroys them.  If one can come to terms with that, then perhaps one can pray with Saint Francis of Assisi,

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death, From whose embrace no mortal can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin!  Happy those she finds doing your will!  The second death can do them no harm.  Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks.  And serve him with great humility.

God is beyond domain, but each of the angelic power is bound by them.  Michael is God’s Justice, he defeats evil and guards against temptation, Gabriel conveys information and revelation, Raphael bring God’s healing.  It does not seem inappropriate to have a personal devotion to any of these powers, nor does it seem odd to understand them as beings with personal agency, and lastly it does not seem odd to create an aesthetic surrounding each of these powers built upon a symbolism that can be drawn upon for devotion.  So what is the domaine of death and how is it appropriate to express that devotion?  The next section will discuss the topic of the domaine of Holy Death, and following that will be a section concerning Holy Death as a subject of Christ the King and acolyte of his Great High Priesthood.  The last section of this paper will seek to develop a proper sense of thanatosian piety.  

The Domain of Holy Death      

Thus far we have sought to define Holy Death as a power of God, not a demon, as is often assumed.  In this section of the paper we are going to seek to understand what the domain of the power of Holy Death is.  In brief, what are the abilities of this power?  In the next section we will go on to develop an understanding of Christ’s sovereignty over those powers, and then finally seek to develop appropriate thanatosian piety.
It appears that the most appropriate domain or power one could ascribe to Holy Death would be dissolution.  That is not to say spiritual disillusionment or confusion, but the dissolution of created reality into nothingness.  St. Athanasius points this out in his work On the Incarnation of the Word of God.     

out of a former normal state of non-existence, they were called into being by the Presence and loving-kindness of the Word, it followed naturally that when men were bereft of the knowledge of God and were turned back to what was not (for what is evil is not, but what is good is), they should, since they derive their being from God who IS, be everlastingly bereft even of being; in other words, that they should be disintegrated and abide in death and corruption.
St. Athanasius typically connects death with the sin in such a way as to make death a punishment for sin as opposed to what we noted earlier, that it may very well be a respite from the suffering of the knowledge of good and evil, until such time as God’s plan for rectification is complete.  The connection between death and the law will be drawn out variously below, but for now it may be beneficial to linger on Athanasius’ understanding of death as a transition toward nothingness.
One of the great commentators on “nothingness” in modern thought is Martin Heidegger.  In his paper What is Metaphysics, he discusses in painful detail the dilemma of nothingness and its relationship to being.  Even at the outset of this work the prospect of success seems bleak,

What is no-thing? Our first approach to this question already shows us something unusual about it. From the outset in asking this question we posit no-thing as something that "is" such and such, as be-ing. But plainly it has in fact been distinguished from just that.  The question about no-thing—what and how it, no-thing, is—turns what is being questioned into its opposite. The question robs itself of its own object. Accordingly, every answer to this question is impossible from the outset. For it necessarily starts out in the form: no-thing "is" this or that. Question and answer alike are themselves just as nonsensical with respect to no-thing.

Similar to Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, states, “death is not an event in life” and in his Notebooks he states, “death is not a fact in the world”.  When we speak of death and nothingness language seems to come to an end.  We shall discuss Heidegger’s keen awareness that such a void of nothingness is terrifying to us.  But the void of nothingness as a valid interpretation of death seems to spit in the face of the Christians belief in life after death.  This may or may not be the case.  We certainly believe in the immortality of the soul, and in the resurrection, but could that immortality simply be a promise of life rather than a static state?
It may be useful to reflect on Holy Death as the power to carry one from life to death in the more ancient sense.  Both Athanasius and Heidegger see death as the void of nothingness.  This seems more akin to the Hebrew notion of Sheol.  As Christians we believe in an afterlife and the soul is immortal.  But as was noted above, what if immortality is the promise of life as opposed to the mechanistic guarantee of it.  What I am implying should be acceptable to Christians, that is, a contingent immortality of the soul.  This view of our “immortality” takes into account that, like the powers, we are contingent on God.  That our immortality is a gift, not a guarantee.  With the image of Christ’s harrowing of hell, the savior goes to sheol, the nothingness, and brings back the just for personal judgment.  It is a notion that the powers of God reach far deeper than the human imagination can fathom, because, as Heidegger asserted, to even imagine nothing imagines it as “something” in itself.  God’s power and Christ’s redemption reached not only into the past and future, up and down, but into nothingness itself and brought those just souls back from the void.  The idea that the just were waiting “somewhere” may be our inability to conceive that God is powerful enough to repeat his first and greatest miracle, creation from nothing.  
What a contingent immortality of the soul reminds us is that God owes us nothing, our relationship is one of absolute trust.  From our point of view such absolute dissolution and calling back would seem instantaneous, so the fact that it even happened would itself be an act of faith.  To fall into denial of death as a dissolution into nothingness because of a perceived stable immortality of the soul, where the impossibility of its destruction is asserted,  could be a mark of lack of faith in God’s ability to bring us back if we are completely gone and a presumptuous pride that in some way, even if that way is the path of ultimate suffering, God cannot destroy us.  
In piety informed by stability, Holy Death is the mediator of the transition from this life to the afterlife, an attribute which can aesthetically and devotionally be extended to flux and change in every aspect.  In a piety informed by contingency, Holy Death is it the translator from being to non-being.  By this capacity Holy Death is the principality by which God’s greatest power is demonstrated, the ability to not only create ex nihilo, but restore being from absolute non-being. Yet there is further piety to be developed by means of this devotion.  Each of these views of death as the mediator of the transitus gives the devotee a sense of motivation and humility. Already we have seen this reflected in its first mention in Genesis and in Francis’ hymn to Sister Death.  Together these are the practical spiritual application of an appropriate thanatosian piety.                     

Holy Death is the greatest bringer of humility and motivation.  This is obvious from the very beginning of creation, where death is coupled with Law.  Once again, from Genesis, “The Lord God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.”  Death motivates in two ways, the first is most commonly known as Christian.  It is the motivation by means of desire for reward or fear of punishment upon the transitus.  In this the devotional iconography of Holy Death would be a reminder of God’s justice in that as a power, she is the companion upon your travel to such justice.  Again, St. Francis, “Woe to those who die in mortal sin!  Happy those she finds doing your will!”  In this way, Holy Death is an excellent power in the combat against sin.  This is why the demonic power in paradise sought to deny death and not God.  Only recently in human history have such rebellious powers been able to achieve any sustainable population of cognitive atheist.  This demonic achievement is most likely due to our over all aversion to death.  Such denial is problematic and downright dangerous when a culture then couples the macabre with the demonic.   In our culture this appropriation is assumed to the point that the concept of “Holy Death” takes a paper such as this to explain that Holy Death never was the bad guy in scriptures, a simple fact which should be obvious.  In consecrated life of old, franciscan novitiates would carry a human skull as a momento mori, and the one day a year that Carthusians speak to each other their only verbal solace is, “brother remember your death.”
But the desire for rewards and the fear of punishment are not the only way that Holy Death brings us to God.  It is notable that upon disaster in and after a close encounter with death, humans immediately become far more reflective concerning divine purpose and their relationship with God.  “There are no atheists in foxholes.”   Heidegger and many other existentialists point to this phenomenon, though they may not be theocentric in their concerns.  Again in his What is Metaphysics Heidegger asserts,

In anxiety occurs a shrinking back before . . . which is surely not any sort of flight but rather a kind of bewildering calm.  This “back before” takes its departure from the Nothing.   The Nothing itself does not attract; it is essentially repelling.  But this repulsion is itself such a parting gesture toward beings that are in retreat as a whole, which is the action of The Nothing oppresses Dasein [human existence] in anxiety, is the essence of nothing: nihilation.

In the clear night of The Nothing of anxiety the original openness of beings as such arises: they are beings - and not nothing.    

This fundamental experience of anxiety, or what we may call “awe” is a prime conveyor of grace.  It offers humility for us to realize our contingency, and it is only Holy Death that seems to bring it with perfect regularity.  Even in our weaker conception of stable immortality of the soul and a transitus not to nothing, but to another afterlife, that we loose all we know and are subject to such dramatic flux beyond our control puts us off our pride.  Heidegger takes the stronger assertion of absolute nihilation and we add to that the contingent immortality of the soul, our return from that nothingness by the power of God.  From his description here of dissolution into the void of nothingness and the anxiety that comes with it one gets a clear picture of the awe that such nothingness inspires and the turning of the human toward things transcendent that Holy Death effects, even absent any thought of reward or punishment.  A visual reminder of Holy Death in devotional iconography can afford this same effect without the lived experience.
Also the aesthetic representation of Holy Death brings constant reminder of our limited time.  As we noted, this will manifestly instill beatitude, specifically gratitude toward God for our very existence, no small feat for a principality or power, and falling perfectly into the definition of a benevolent angelic being as laid out by Saint Augustine in City of God.  The reminder of finite time we have here on this earth recalls the multitude of parables that tell us to beware, for we know not the day or the hour.  St. Michael is brought to mind when contemplating the eschatological end of creation, but Holy Death is a counterpoint indicating our personal end.  In such parables of the savior we are entreated to be on watch as well as live morally.  Moral living is not just not doing evil, but also developing goodness.  Hence the parable of the Talents is a perfect example of how Holy Death in not just an agent of vague existential angst which gives glory to God, but is an agent of God who motivates the Christian to develop their individual virtues.

“It will be as when a man who was going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one—to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five.  Likewise, the one who received two made another two.  But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.  
After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them.  The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five.  He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’  
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’  
[Then] the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’  
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’  
Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’
His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!  So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter?  Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?  Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.  For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
In this parable the reader is shown the sin of sloth.  Interestingly that sin is fomented by an unbalanced sense of God’s wrath.  “I knew you were demanding”.  A soul who over focuses on God’s wrath meets God’s wrath in the end, the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.  For our purposes it is important to note that the return of the master is immediately liked to death in the Christian reader’s mind.  As is par for the course, death is not a demonic power, she is the harbinger of divine justice and it’s near presence is a motivator for moral action.  A thematic trope in popular culture is the “Bucket list” narrative.  Someone is given a finite time by a medical authority and then must reinvest in their life.  The moral of the movie is garnered by how they spend their time left.  Even in our culture, which is terrified of the mention of death, such narratives, through the grace of God, find their way in.   All of this is the primary reason that the demons are so quick to attack any sort of awareness much more proper patronage under the power of death.

Therefore, to answer Francis’ call for, “a prophetic courage as well as a reliable and qualified pastoral plan” concerning the problems of cult around Holy Death, we must use the best aesthetic imagery for a given culture, coupled with deeper theological foundations and appropriate piety.  This way, the power of Holy Death can be used to her proper end. It will be useful here to explore current imagery briefly in light of what we have just discussed.
In the form of “Santa Muerte”, Holy Death is portrayed artistically and in devotion as feminine.  This seems disconcerting, but as we shall see, any discussion of dissolution and nihilation is disconcerting.  As an aesthetic or devotion the feminine death is actually rather appropriate.  Sexually, the female body is a void [vagina] into which a substance [phallus] fills.  The interrelation brings life.  This Yoni/Linga  relationship is well known in hinduism, but less explored in our own faith.  Virtuous meditation on these mysteries does give healthy fodder for the sacral rites of marriage and good exercise of sacred sex.  
In femininity, Holy Death conveys a piety of the void of nothingness with the potential to bring life.  This is not that much different than devotion to Mary, also a void through which God brings life.  But Mary is “being” developed by God in time and from existent creation, whereas Holy Death is symbolic of God’s creative ability ex nihilo as demonstrated in Genesis 1.   Our devotion to the principalities and powers relates to our needs, desires, hopes and Joys.  Mary is a human, but physical representations of her use a highly symbolic aesthetic.  The powers are not experienced by the senses, thus the artistic language used for them is completely symbolic.  As simply “void”, a gender neutral Holy Death, there is no potentiality for life, only nihilistic dissolution.  The aesthetic femininity of Holy Death, leads to the Christian piety of God’s ability to bring existence out of nothing, arguably his most powerful attribute, and God’s use of death to bring life.
For our piety, Holy Death should be that calming power of the transitus, carrying the human from one experience to another, or lack thereof.  The crucifix could be the suffering experience of dying, yet a stark image of death for Catholics is the Pieta.  In this image you see the slain Jesus at rest, devoid of life and in a state of complete calm in the arms of the feminine.  In this case it is the feminine image of God bringing creation through creation, the Virgin Mary.  She is our symbol of the stable immortality of the soul.  In her one hears the echo of God’s promise to Noah in Genesis 8, “Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings, since the desires of the human heart are evil from youth; nor will I ever again strike down every living being, as I have done.”  This image shows a Catholic piety of calm death, as juxtaposed to the image of Kali and her dead consort Shiva.  Instead of coddling, Kali symbolized the frenzied busyness of samsara that continues on as one is dead, yet it dances upon death as opposed to coddling it with love and purpose.            


A counterbalance to the Pieta is Holy Death as imaged in the white clad feminine grim reaper.  A reflection on Athanasius’ understanding of death as humanity’s tending toward nothingness could lead to an interesting meditation on and subsequent devotion to Holy Death.  Principalities and powers have jobs to do in the cosmos.  Death as a principality or power seems to functions as the mediator, or translator from being to non-being.  In the ancient Roman Catholic understanding of “the transitus”  the transition between life and death, Holy Death is the power that affects the conveyance.  To say, it is God’s will that does this, not some angel, would be an argument against any principality or power.  Michael the archangel for example is not the ultimate arbiter of justice.  Such reasoning could ultimately lead to absolute determinism and a mechanistic view of the cosmos as a closed system.  
If one practices devotion to Holy Death as the translator from life to the afterlife, the classic understanding of the transitus, then this power is a comforting femininity that accompanies one through uncertainty and change.  That type of radical metaphysical devotion could then be applied to any radical change one goes through in life.  Life is filled with temporal dissolution, and all flux is death, but that death brings a new life.  With such a devotion, every glance upon the skeletal dame in uncertain times of flux and change would remind one of God’s words in Jeremiah, “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.”  In such devotion the power of Holy Death is the power to carry one to God’s good fortune or possibly destruction.
We began here with an understanding of death as a principality or power, and a analytical discernment as to whether as such death is angelic or demonic.  The biblical and systematic evidence points overwhelmingly to the former.  In the present section we have reviewed some possible ways of understanding the domain of death and began to expand this in order to lay the groundwork for the last section wherein we will discuss practical appropriate devotion to one who chooses to seek guidance or consolation from the power of death.  But before that is is important to put Holy Death in her proper place in the cosmos.  In the next section we will discuss Holy Death in her role as subject to Christ the King, thereby solidifying the ability to observe appropriate thanatosian piety.     

Holy Death as a Subject of Christ the King and Acolyte of His Great High Priest

Up to this point we have discussed how Holy Death is one of the principalities or powers of God, and how the service of Holy Death seeks to bring honor and glory to God and not herself.  We discussed the domain of death and how this domain can be useful as a reminder of how we owe God our gratitude and service.  In this section we will explore the reality of how Holy Death is a subject of Christ the King and is put to good use by the savior as an acolyte of his Great High Priesthood.
Mark’s account of the temptation in the desert is extremely brief, “At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him.”  However, in that short narrative there is a very interesting tidbit.  “And the angels ministered to him” calls to mind Daniel in the lion’s den or perhaps even Elijah under the broom tree.  We rarely consider that Christ works with and is helped by the principalities, yet this makes sense, any king is helped by the subservient powers he directs.  
The power of Holy Death has a long history in the Bible of connecting God to humanity, a history that finds its fulfillment in Christ himself.  This history is most obviously manifest in the sacrificial system of the Hebrews as it is contained in the levitical law. There are many ways that the power of The Law and the power of Holy Death work together in the levitical system in an attempt to reconcile humans to God.  There are peace offerings as well as scapegoats, that in different ways seek to allow humans to offer of themselves, by means of Holy Death, some sense of reconciliation or penitence to God.  As was noted earlier, the synergy between death and the law as cooperators with the relationship between God and humanity has been present from the very beginning of creation, even in paradise.
Here is one common pattern throughout scriptures that illustrates how Holy Death allows for a window into divine fidelity.  Holy Death is used as a power by which someone can give up something precious to them.  The entire sacrificial system of giving up lambs and bulls to God is meant to convey an offering of something precious.  In an agrarian society these animals are extremely valuable, and to destroy one is to trust that God is the arbiter of life and will grant one more through the fecund powers of divinity.  In a mercantile system, to pay for one in a temple and dispose of one’s money is the same sentiment.
In both cases something valuable is given up through the power of death.  This sacrificial system is then expanded from the simple ritual to the application to one’s life.  There is a pattern of sacrifice in the Old Testament where the unlikely hero of a story must give up something precious to him, often because the coveted thing is causing problems. When it is returned the hero is better able to utilize or appreciate the offering, and when it is returned it is returned with more than is expected.
For our purposes this is most interestingly played out by means of people offering human life is such a way.  The first obvious instance of this is Isaac, yet Abraham offered Ishmael in a similar manner to Isaac to the same end.  In each case Abraham offers his children, whom he cherishes so much that he constantly doubts God’s ability to grant him more children.  When he is finally able to will the sacrifice of his son, “his only son” Isaac, he is given the son back and in time humanity is given the entire nation of Israel, a nation that is beyond number.  When Jacob sends Benjamin with his brothers to Egypt, he is certain death awaits him.  But he does return, with the lost brother Joseph and relief for Israel from famine.  When Moses’ mother sacrificed him to the waters of the Nile, she received him back to raise (Ex 2:7-9), and Israel received freedom from Pharaoh. When Hannah is finally granted her every desire, a child, she gives that child, Samuel, to the temple in order to show gratitude to God.  Her sacrificial action is directly contrasted with that of Hophni and Phinehas’ who do not appreciate proper sacrifice and the ability of Holy Death to be a link to divinity.  As for God’s response to Hannah, Israel receives its greatest Judge.
In the sacrificial temple laws, or in the threatened or actual sacrificial human death in the Hebrew Scriptures, Holy Death is the power that transits from being to non-being.  It is the only way that one is certain that all benevolence or reclamation is now in God’s hands, for God is the only reality that can bring being from non-being.  In this system Holy Death is the vehicle that transports certainty of God’s commerce for though God allows the power of death to take, only God restores from nothing.
In each of the benevolent typologies where there is human sacrifice in the Hebrew Scriptures, the victim does not die.  The victim is spared death.  In these stories Holy Death is a power of God in terms of lambs, but to conceive that Holy Death could be at God’s service regarding humans goes a bit too far.  The first inkling we get get otherwise is when Ezekiel walks among the dry bones and the Lord asks him, “He asked me: Son of man, can these bones come back to life? “Lord God,” I answered, “you alone know that.”  As Ezekiel prophesies, the bones are regenerated.  “You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and make you come up out of them, my people!”  Both here and in 2 Maccabees, the idea of bodily resurrection is built upon a semblance of some corporeal remnant, just as our more greek assumption is that there is some spiritual remnant that is built upon toward bodily resurection.  But the mother of the seven sons in 2 Maccabees has the more agnostic, yet pious, approach,

I do not know how you came to be in my womb; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of.  Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of humankind and brought about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.                                    

Again one sees the synchronicity of The Law and Holy Death at play, coupled with a human reaction of awe and trust toward God.  
This leads us the preeminent example of human sacrifice in the Bible, Jesus’ sacrificial death.  Contrary to the typologies, Jesus actually undergoes true human death in every way.  Jesus in his sacrificial death is both priest and victim.  He is the offering and the one who offers.  His offering of his whole being, “spotless” and perfect, is the perfect offering.  An offering of self is more precious than an offering of property, even children.  The greater the sacrifice the greater the display of fidelity from God.  With the willing sacrifice of Isaac, one receives the nation of Israel.  With the willing and actual self sacrifice of Christ, true to form, Christ gets his life back and more than expected, a glorified existence.  And since his is the perfect sacrifice God offers, through his death, even more, salvation for all humanity.  This is Christ’s gift to us, the God-man must do this because only the man can die and only God has mastery over non-being.  
So, for our purposes, what “power” or angel ministered to him during this trial?  It is obvious that both The Law and Holy Death had parts to play in Christ’s perfect sacrifice.  The fact that they bring us to a point of understanding does not diminish the sacrifice of Christ.  More importantly, that he was ministered to by these powers during the ultimate sacrifice does not dispatch those powers to useless, rather it fulfilled their purpose and allows them to be more effective than before, because now they are true subjects of Christ.  Recognizing this subjugation paramount so that we can we can be sure that we are not captivating anyone “with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ.”  (Col 2:8)
Previously we noted that Hendrikus Berkoch, viewed the powers as the social forces of humanity.  This may work for The Law, but death is not a social construct.  Berkoch also viewed these powers as morally neutral, seeking to extol neither God nor themselves, they are only a matrix through which humanity and humans can express morality.  But Colossians is quite clear that Christ has conquered the principalities and powers.     Chapter 2 states,

For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power.  In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by hand, by stripping off the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ.  You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.  And even when you were dead [in] transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross; despoiling the principalities and the powers, he made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in triumph by it.

In this passage it is quite obvious that the biblical view of principalities and powers is not that of some sort of social construct.  The passage asserts that Christ has conquered these powers and we are their masters along with him.  It will be helpful for us to take a close look at this passage in order to understand how Christ is sovereign of both The Law and Holy Death.  We must contrast our common understanding of the breaking of the “bond” of death, which casts Holy Death as a power contrary to God or humanity, and reframe Holy Death as a power wielded by Christ with precision.  We must learn to see Holy Death as a principality that serves us inasmuch as we bond ourselves to Christ’s sacrificial death and learn to wield that service toward beatitude and moral betterment.
Colossians 2 assumes that by his mastery of life and death Jesus has gained absolute power over both domains. His perfect adherence to The Law coupled with his absolutely selfless yielding to Holy Death is a demonstration in anthro-authenticity that is effective in rendering these powers subservient to him.  By his mastery of them he synchronizes them and makes them effective such that all principalities and powers originally created through him are reconciled in him as noted in the christological hymn in Colossians 1.
How this works with regards to The Law as a power is much discussed in scripture scholarship.  Paul is quite clear that the Law is a blessing and a curse as we shall discuss below.  The purpose of The Law was pedagogical to the letter, but once Christ fulfilled it, we are free form the letter and live under the spirit of the law.  Our adherence to The Law becomes effective through conscience formation and exercise of will.  It becomes as much an interior as an exterior matter.
Both The Law and Holy Death coddle humanity into a fearful morality before the coming of Christ’s fulfillment.  While the letter of the law and the consequences of death seemed like terrors to humanity when seen as end in and of themselves (either in practice or finality), their fulfillment in Christ reveal a new usefulness.  How this works regarding The Law is exemplified in the dynamic that plays out between the ten commandments and the beatitudes.  It is clear that, though Paul sees us as freed from the bond of The Law, it is still active and useful, just in a way that is reconciled and in sync with the whole vision of the cosmos from the beginning with The Word.  No cleric would see precepts of The Law as a bond we were freed from absolutely.  The principality of The Law is still very active in the Catholic Church even though we have been freed from its bondage, because it is clear that it operates under the dominion of Christ.  
Yet for some reason, when we consider our freedom from the bondage of death our sense is an ultimate conquering and eradication such that we have explaining to do concerning the fact that people still die.  Our conception is that death is a power of evil and Christ has destroyed it utterly.  An evocative gospel image to this effect is the unbinding of Lazarus in John’s gospel.  When Jesus says “unbind him and set him free” our assumption is a total eradication of death.  We feel the unbinding means that now there is a possibility that we ourselves won’t die.  This was a concern of the community in thessalonica, when the faithful began to die off and the members were afraid that Christ may not return in time to gather them into the kingdom.  But the members of that community, like us, have a misconstrued view of Holy Death.  Holy Death is not destroyed but, like The Law, is reconciled.  Lazarus did die, neither he nor Jesus escape death any more than they escaped The Law.  All members of the community at Thessalonica who demonstrated concerns about the finality of death also came under the power of Holy Death and experienced the transitus.  For a proper thanatosian piety, we must understand that death is not demonic but denied by demons and we must understand death as reconciled with all things in Christ. Holy Death has a part to play in Christian piety.             

Both law and death were seen as laborious by Paul and early Christianity absent Christ’s reconciliation.  But with that reconciliation both become servants of Christ’s will for us, and both are glorified by our participation with them.  What we shall see as we proceed is that Holy Death has a twofold sacral service.  This service still falls under the auspices of scapegoat and peace offering, the two services that Holy Death offered in the Temple sacrificial system.  Yet now these offerings are offered by and through Christ in a wholly integrated way for and by the individual Christian, and thereby universally through the Church.
The way one gains access to this sacral offering is to “die with Christ” in the sacramental ritual of Baptism.  In this sacrament the neophyte becomes an new creature with an indelible mark.  The Catechism says in article 1272,

Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation.  Given once for all, Baptism cannot be repeated.

This configuration into Christ is in some ways a configuration into his death.  In several places Saint Paul points out that we go through some sort of death process at baptism, this is especially clear in Romans 6,

How can we who died to sin yet live in it?  Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

What will be suggested here is an understanding of this death as a reconfiguring of the Christian to conform to Christ’s dominion over Holy Death, which is death reconciled though the Word to be a proper bridge between God and Humanity.  
  Where one can really get a sense of how Paul sees Christ’s power over Holy Death theologically is in his terms “flesh” and “spirit”.  As a student of scripture these terms have always been confusing for me.  The cursory reader may take away from Paul that spirit is good and physical bodies are bad, but upon entrance to one’s first scripture class one learns that these are spiritual categories.  One learns that “flesh” is Paul’s way of talking about some power that has a modicum of control the human will.  “The Flesh” seems to be all our less desirable spiritual dispositions as Christians.  “The Flesh” obviously does not directly correlate to physical flesh, and “The Spirit” must interact with our human corporeal human aspects in order to make proper morality happen.  So why call these spiritual dispositions “The Flesh”, it seem overly confusing and easily misunderstood, tending toward a docetic view of anti-corporeality.
Our position is that Saint Paul is playing off Greek assumptions about the body and spirit, coupled with the assumption of Christ as King over his servant Holy Death to make a point about morality and life in Christ.  In the popular Greek consciousness the body is the prison of the spirit.  The body is dissoluble and subject to death, whereas the spirit is immortal and everlasting.  The greek view is definitely a stable immortality of the soul, there is no destruction of the spirit and utter destruction of “evil” flesh.  This was not the traditional Jewish view, nor was it the view of emergent Christianity.  But the forces of hellenization are strong, and Saint Paul is a master at taking the good of a culture and using it to his advantage.
Saint Paul seems to take the idea of a human part that suffers dissolution and a human part that maintains, and completely spiritualize it.  He plays in the greek biases of “evil flesh” and “good spirit” and uses these categories to highlight the not so good aspects of the spirit.  Paul sometimes come off as physically antinomian, what you do with your body is less important what power your spirit operates under and how you cooperate with that power.  In Galatians 5 he states, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”  It is not that there are no moral actions, it is that there is an interface between the body and the spirit that once reconciled through Christ, operates with calculations that are more complex than simple empirical objectivity.
What Paul is getting at with “The Flesh” is the idea that there are parts of the spirit which are not healthy and need to die.  The body is not the problem, but that it dies and rots seems to be an indicator for the greeks that the body is somehow evil.  So Paul lables aspects of the human soul, “The Flesh” to give the greek minds an adverse reaction, and an awareness that these things need to come under the power of Holy Death, they need to dissolve into nothingness.  “The Spirit”  is the aspects of the human soul that needs to live.  The humans build sin “The Flesh” on top of “The Spirit”.  Holy Death, under the direction of Christ, destroys “The Flesh” and “The Spirit” remains.  When one is baptized into Christ’s death, one is putting oneself under the power of Christ and “his death”  meaning Holy Death, whom he controls for your benefit.  You are conformed by baptism to utilize the grace, by means of your cooperative will, to allow Christ to direct Holy Death appropriately within your very soul.  In a complete reversal of Paul’s analogy, for our materialistically minded culture, baptism amounts to the spiritual version of a release form, to allow a surgeon to a laser surgery that zaps a growing cancer.  Or one may use St. Paul’s more uncomfortable image of “circumcision of the heart”.  His spiritualization of this “cutting off of flesh” as a sacrificial act illustrates our point perfectly.  
This entire reconciliation does not happen absent your will.  First there is the will to be baptized, if you are an adult.  Secondly there is your willingness to allow your flesh to die.  It is by this second part that devotion to Holy Death becomes extremely useful.  This aspect of thanatosian piety will be greatly informed by the Jewish sacrificial system where Holy Death has a large part to play.  By the end the practitioner can say with John the Baptist, “He must increase; I must decrease. Before we delve into specific pious practices and prayer techniques it will be helpful to lay a theological foundation for the sacral work to be performed by Holy Death.  There will be two ways that we will explore this, one that is absolutely invested with a stable immortality of the soul and works under the scapegoat sacrificial model.  The second way that  we will approach the sacral work of Holy Death will be open to the possibility of a contingent immortality of the soul by utilizing the imagery of a peace offering as opposed to the scapegoat.

A scapegoat is explained in Leviticus 16 as part of the ritual for the Day of Atonement,

Taking the two male goats and setting them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting,8he shall cast lots to determine which one is for the Lord and which for Azazel.  The goat that is determined by lot for the Lord, Aaron shall present and offer up as a purification offering.  But the goat determined by lot for Azazel he shall place before the LORD alive, so that with it he may make atonement by sending it off to Azazel in the desert.
. . . Aaron shall bring forward the live goat.  Laying both hands on its head, he shall confess over it all the iniquities of the Israelites and their trespasses, including all their sins, and so put them on the goat’s head.  He shall then have it led into the wilderness by an attendant.  The goat will carry off all their iniquities to an isolated region.    
One of the powers of Holy Death seems to be to take away sin by placing the sins of the community on a subject (scapegoat) and allowing for Holy Death to take the substitute after a casting out, the name Azazel meaning “for complete removal”.  This ritual is developed into a complex theology concerning the sacrificial death of Christ who atones for our sins through the ministry of his servant Holy Death.  As we discussed, from Saint Paul, we are called to participate in that death, on many levels.  One level is the level of our own scapegoat, our “flesh”.  As we said, “The Flesh” is the part of our spirituality which we open to Christ in order for him to wield death to our benefit.  Much like the separation of the sheep from the goat, in this ritual there is a separation, which is determined by God, one part that brings life, one part that is caste out and dissolves into nothingness.  
In an appropriate thanatosian piety one will allow Christ to separate the soul into two sides, The Spirit and The Flesh.  The Spirit lives, but one allows Christ to wield his servant Holy Death in a priestly offices (acquired through Christ's office as the high priest) to cast out The Flesh as a scapegoat, quite literally taking the penitents sin with it as it dies.  In as much as the Flesh is sacrificed by Holy Death and The Spirit lives in Christ, the human is a living sacrifice.  It would take a sincere openness to Holy Death in order to invest in this sacrifice, and the awareness of Holy Death’s power brings a keen knowledge of one’s own yielding to dissolution.  How far would that need to go?  As far as it may take to destroy all flesh within you.  
Through this lens one can use thanatosian piety to develop a disposition attuned to what is said of John the baptist, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Why would they be greater?  Because John the Baptists was filled with The Spirit, he had little “flesh” to sacrifice.  This makes him great in life and in the kingdom, but those who are the most sinful, must make the greatest sacrifice of The Flesh, something they see as “themself” that they must put their sins upon and send away beyond reach into nothingness.  As much as they must sacrifice, this his how much greater they are than anyone who had little flesh to sacrifice.  Hence, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”  The Rastafarians drive the gravity of this sacrifice home by the self referent “I and I”,  I as myself and I as the Holy Spirit that resides in me.  For our purposes the first I could easily be The Flesh in the modern psychological category of the Ego.  It is hard to self diminish.   Diminishment is the domain of Holy Death, thus all of this is done by Christ the King, the Great High Priest, through the ministry of his servant Holy Death.
The second type of sacrifice we will want to go over is the “peace offering”.  A peace offering, in Leviticus 7, is an offering that is killed and parts are offered to the Lord and the rest is completely devoured.  In such an offering bread and an animal are offered in fulfillment of a vow or as an expression of gratitude.  There is no description of the animal that is killed or the means of its death.  What is reiterated in a few different ways is that the animal is to be totally consumed in a set amount of time.  Nothing is to be left over.  This same prescription can be seen in the passover sacrifice as well.  The summation of such a sacrifice in the Hebrew scriptures can be seen in the sacrifice of Samuel before the rout of the Philistines.  “Samuel therefore took an unweaned lamb and offered it whole as a burnt offering to the Lord.”  The final place that such a peace offering is seen is, once again, Jesus, who makes peace between God and humanity by his complete offering of himself through the ministry of his servant Holy Death.
In this understanding of sacrifice, our flesh is the piece of ourselves that we might keep for ourselves, but must be destroyed by death and consumed completely.  As we played out the progression from sacred feast, to whole burnt offering, to self sacrificial death of Christ, we begin to see that this type of sacrifice differs from the scapegoat, where there is another goat that is kept.  It is easier to apply a contingent immortality of the soul when meditating on the peace offering.  Through the absolute power of dissolution wielded by Holy Death, we may be able to offer a complete sacrifice to God, like Samuel, like Jesus.  Thus as a matter of faith one can offer one’s entire self to Holy Death and retain nothing as a peace offering to God.  I say as a matter of faith because as we said,  phenomenologically a human would experience the transitus to nothingness and the redrawing to being as instantaneous, i.e. there would be no experience of it.  But as a matter of disposition, could you offer your entire self to God?  Could you say with Simeon,
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

This is an offering that the devotion to Holy Death can constantly foster.  Holy Death is a perfect agent to free the devotee from the bondage of Sin.  As Christ wields Holy Death, working dissolution of sin in the soul, the practitioner of thanatosian piety feels death after death and it is experienced as beyond their control.  There is no room for pride with this piety, because its devotion is not reliant on willed action, only a yielding to God and death.  This devotion and sacrifice can then work in conjunction with The Holy Mass in the same way described in the Onesiman Interface,

Thus during the eucharistic prayers, when the ordained priest says the collect, “pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father”, the “and yours” is a recognition that, though there is a ritually ordained priest functioning here according to the sacramental system, there is also a community of priests whose daily sacrifices are also on the altar being offered to God.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says in article 901,

Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit maybe produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit - indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born - all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives."

  In this case your sacrifice is the practitioner's very self in your willing acceptance of the ministry of Holy Death.  By devotion to Holy Death, the practitioner of thanatosian piety is bringing to the mass all of their self sacrifice and a sense of self dissolution by perfect humility to be offered on the altar of God.    
An interesting thing about the domain of Holy Death is that her power will be wrought upon any given human whether they desire it or not.  This power is made evident in our physical death.  This is the empirical data concerning this principality.  There is no need to wonder if death has an effect. This is the reason the demonic powers hate death, there is no easily identifiable reason multicellular life dies. The only explanation offered springs from the faith community in the form of moral catastrophe.  This piety simply fulfills the reconciliation of the power of Holy Death according to God’s plan.
There is a commerce between Christ the Great High Priest and Holy Death’s sacral power to transit humans toward dissolution and possibly even into nothingness.  In that commerce, it is Christ who transits us back into being glorified, just as he brought all things into being ex nihilo in the beginning.  Holy Death is the acolyte at Christ’s altar where we too can be the victim who lays our very self down for God.  As we will reiterate in the next section appropriate thanatosian piety remains at all times christocentric.  All of reality is reconciled by the actions of Christ.

We began by discussing Holy Death as an angelic power and inspecting the domain of Holy Death as such. In this section we have set our theological bearings by means of a discussion of Holy Death as a subject of Christ the King and an acolyte of Jesus, the Great High Priest.  We began by discussing Holy Death’s larger role in salvation history and then reviewed the domination of the powers by Christ and his reconciliation of them to God’s plan for creation.  Lastly we explored that reconciliation as a theological foundation for a thanatosian piety by means of a spiritual understanding of levitical sacrifice coupled with Saint Paul’s theological categories of “The Spirit” and “The Flesh”.  Now this paper will proceed to a very practical application of thanatosian piety.  First we will offer a dissuasion from unhealthy views of Holy Death and then we will explore various meditations and intercessory requests that would be spiritually edifying for any believer to approach the power Holy Death.
Practices of Appropriate Thanatosian Piety
In this paper thus far we have discussed Holy Death as a principality or power and have assessed the possible domain of such a power.  Then the previous section we explored a very important aspect of an appropriate thanatosian piety, the subjugation of Holy Death to Christ the King and the ministry of Holy Death to Christ under his Great High Priesthood.  The awareness of Holy Death as a subject and acolyte keeps one christocentric.  That christocentricity makes one able to use thanatosian piety in such a way as to allow one to truly experience death with Christ in baptism as well as utilize a spiritualized understanding of the levitical sacrificial system so as to become a living sacrifice to Christ under the patronage of Holy Death.  For most of the remainder of this paper we will discuss some very practical ways of utilizing thanatosian piety in one’s prayer life, one’s moral life and in one’s devotional life.  But first it would be very helpful to reflect on unhealthy practices regarding Holy Death, especially inasmuch as they would lead to condemnations from the magisterium. Certainly it is not the point of this paper to lead people astray from the true center of our faith, Jesus Christ.

When one reads the condemnations offered by the magisterium, they range across a variety of concerning activities, all of which are worthy of suspicion.  First, Cardinal Ravasi believes that devotion to Holy Death is fostered by the influence of demonic powers.  As we have noted, the specter of death and all that it effects in the human psyche makes it one of the most feared phenomenon of the demonic powers.  Patronage of Holy Death herself by means of an appropriate thanatosian piety could only drive demons away on fear.  But his subsequent condemnations do point to a twisting of that piety to less noble ends, a favorite tactic of the demonic, thus perhaps the charge of “unknowing satanism” is something to be considered.  However, our methodology for casting off the demonic is not to shut down devotion and patronage, but to turn it back to a useful and edifying practice.  In this way the urge of the populace can be channeled into orthodox practice the Church can be built up.
The simple fact is, that most condemnations that are made concerning Holy Death could just as easily be made regarding prayers to any principality, power or saint.  If one took the name of Holy Death out of any condemnations and replaced it with Saint Mary, would the facts on the ground change that much?    It is obvious that praying “to” Holy Death as an independent power, instead of praying in an intercessory manner with a healthy understanding of patronage is unadvisable.  It is not suited to true Christian devotion or patronage to pray with destructive motivations such as greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, or out of a sense of pride or sloth.  
It would be a horrible state of affairs to pray to Saint Mary, the Mother of God for the destruction of my enemies.  To seek Mary’s help in committing immoral acts  divisive crimes against the state would be just as illicit as seeking Holy Death’s aid.  Such people do need help in the development of their spirituality, but take a more protestant stance and condemn marian veneration completely would also be an injustice, and also completely ineffective.  Better to foster a healthy sense of who Mary is and all that she means for Mother Church.  The same is true for Holy Death.  The need is not to shut down devotion, but to foster proper devotion that channels all goodness to God.  Humans have to deep a need to comprehend Holy Death and make meaning from her arts.  This paper has sought to lay the foundations for such a devotion to Holy Death that a flourishing Catholic Church can develop into a universal encompassing of God’s glory.  Thus in this last section we will lay out practical guidelines for prayer and mindfulness in order to allow for those under the patronage of death to align with a healthy thanatosian piety.  

Much of this section will be a review and binding together of what preceded in order to bring it to healthy devotion.  To start it is important to remind the reader of how the aesthetic is an important window into the Truth according to Catholic practice.  Thus to have visual imagery of Holy Death speaks to the Catholic heart.  The particulars of such imagery have already been moderately explored, so it suffices to say here that imaginative and/or symbolic art is part and parcel of our Catholic culture.  Gruesomeness is not eschewed and cultural appropriation of a core symbolism should be encouraged.  The inspiration of the aesthetic is meant to turn the heart to proper spirituality.
The spiritual disposition one has toward Holy Death is that of invocation concerning her domain in the cosmos.  This may seem a bit pagan, but if one remains christocentric and truly sees Holy Death as a subject of Christ the King and an Acolyte to his Great High Priesthood, then there is no fear of demonic manipulation.  No Catholic would see seeking Mary’s intercession as theologically odd, nor an invocation concerning the abilities of St. Michael the archangel.  An invocation is a prayerful appeal to a higher power. It may be God, the angels or saints.  For example the following is the Invocation to the Nine Choirs of Angels
O Holy Angels, watch over us at all times during this perilous life: O holy Archangels, be our guides on the way to heaven; O heavenly choir of the Principalities, govern us in soul and body; O mighty Powers, preserve us against the wiles of the demons; O celestial Virtues, give us strength and courage in the battle of life; O powerful Dominations, obtain for us dominion over the rebellion of our flesh; O sacred Thrones, grant us peace with God and man; O brilliant Cherubim, illuminate our minds with heavenly knowledge; O burning Seraphim, enkindle in our hearts the fire of charity.

The prayerful relationship with Holy Death may also take the form of an invocation.  Death as a principality of power has specific abilities granted her by God.  It would be the same as praying to God for certain political action and also writing one’s congressional representative, or asking God to protect one from temptation to sin, while at the same time invoking the protection of Saint Michael the Archangel.  I would categorize the appropriate invocations to Holy Death  into four categories, prayers for a happy, good or holy death, prayers for motivation, prayers for humility, and prayers for dissolution.  These categories range on a spectrum from being centered on self to being selfless, thus from least to most spiritually edifying.
Not shockingly, most of the traditional appropriate invocations to Holy Death take the form of the least spiritually advanced, prayers for a happy death.  But even here one can see the other varieties seep through.  Prayer for a happy death immediately comes off as a prayer for a painless or quick death, and this is not wholly inappropriate.  Jesus himself begged the Father against a particular variety of death in the garden.  
But prayer for a good or holy death seems to step it up a spiritual notch.  In this fashion of prayer one can formulate a meditation on their own death experience.  After this fashion one can pray that their death is meaningful.  This could mean that their death was useful for their neighbors, helpful in some way or impactful, that one’s death caused events of spiritual significance in others.  In a related manner, such an invocation could be geared toward making sure one’s death is of good use to the Glory of God if one is more theocentrically geared than anthropocentric.  In this one’s death may bring about a call to justice or a sense of the true meaning of life.  If this were the case then Christ, through the patronage of Holy Death, has used your death as a reconciling agent between the power, Michael or Gabriel, in accordance with our analyzed passage from Colossians.  This type of prayer begins to shift the focus beyond self and toward others and God and pushes one to the next level of selflessness, invocation to Holy Death against sloth and a petition for moral and spiritual motivation.
As we have discussed often in this paper, from the very beginning Holy Death has been a moral motivator for humans and a terror for the demonic powers.  The idea that death comes like a thief in the night calls one for constant awareness of the use of one’s life.  To have visual images and calculated rituals acknowledging Holy Death draw one into a state of spiritual fortitude.  A prayer to invoke the power of death to motivate is not suicidal, but a petition to time death appropriately to allow for God’s will, and a supplication for motivation and fortitude.
In tandem with motivation comes invocations concerning humility.  The image of the thief in the night motivates, yet at the same time it brings to the forefront the uncontrollable nature of death.  This lack of control manifest in both timing and manner as well as the sheer inevitability of death.  It is a constant reminder that we do not own our lives, we are gifted them  by God for a purpose.  This is how appropriate thanatosian piety works both motivation and humility together in extremely edifying ways.  Humility is what spurs motivation, not a sense of grasping or gain, for thanatosian piety represents only loss.
Also, visual imagery and calculated ritual can move a believers soul toward a yielding to change and flux as it is in accord with God’s plan.  As the arbiter of the transitus Holy Death is a constant beacon of the death of the old and the transition to the new.  Such a power, as a subject of Christ the King may be invoked to protect us from all anxiety concerning flux and change, and keep us humble concerning the moments when our plans clash with God’s.
The final and highest order of invocation to Holy Death is an invocation to dissolution, or of diminishment.  In this paper we discussed how to use such a view to allow Christ to use his acolyte to be your aid in spiritual sacrifice, to sacrifice your “Flesh”, those parts of your spirit that are unhealthy for you, to transit them to nothingness such that your soul is a living sacrifice.  These invocations are sought in order that we may diminish as Christ grows within us.  They are invocations to allow us to die with Christ that we may rise with him in whatever way is fitting according to God’s plan for us.
Thanatosian piety is not simply a cognitive exercise or an experience of the angst humans face toward death, it is simply that, a piety.  It calls for christocentric prayer as well as a deep devotion that flourishes in artistic expression and calculated ritual.  Such sacramentals can be of great use for bringing the soul into a strong Christian faith and propel one toward moral action infected with proper beatitude.

Conclusion: Appropriate Thanatosian Piety Combats Narco Devotion to Death

In this paper we have traveled far across the domain of death.  We began by discussing Holy Death as a principality or power, reviewing some possible ways of understanding what St. Paul could mean by this phrase. In this discussion we realized that Holy Death has never directed glory to herself, but always driven humanity toward God, and therefore Holy Death is despised and denied by the demonic powers.  
We then discussed the possible aspects of Holy Death’s domain as a power of God.  This domain included the power of dissolution, and the power of the transitus, the dissolution of one state and conveyance to another, or to nothing.  In this section we developed views of both a stable immortality of the soul and a contingent immortality of the soul depending on whether we understood Holy Death as transiting us to heaven or to nothingness.  If it is heaven, God be praised, if it is nothingness, God be praised more, because only God can bring us back, and  Holy Death is the power through with God demonstrates his most ultimate power creation and recreation ex nihilo.
The next section kept our devotion christocentric by focusing on  Holy Death as subject of Christ the King and acolyte to his Great High Priesthood.  In this section we explored how Christ conquered principalities and powers and made public display of them, reconciling them to himself.  We then went on to explore how Christ the Great High Priest uses  Holy Death as his acolyte of his own sacrificial death, and invites us, through baptism, to die with him, and use the sacral powers of  Holy Death to make ourselves a living sacrifice.
In our last section we distinguished between healthy devotion and patronage of a celestial being and unhealthy.  The standard practices apply to  Holy Death as well as any other.  We then reiterated what was discovered all along the way, that one may categorize the appropriate invocations to Holy Death  into four categories, prayers for a happy, good or holy death, prayers for motivation, prayers for humility, and prayers for dissolution.
In conclusion we must take a look at our beginning.  If nacro culture uses Holy Death to strike terror into the hearts of the populace and mislead the faithful into demonic worship of money and mammon, then our appropriate combat is the invoke the power of Holy Death to her proper end, as a humiliator and motivator toward God. Holy Death is not to be used as a terror for the faithful, but must be used appropriately as a terror to the demonic.  The pious must be offer appropriate thanatosian piety, not, as Pope Francis called it, “anodyne denunciations”.  Instead we must seek to meet the demand of,a prophetic courage as well as a reliable and qualified pastoral plan, so that we can gradually help build that fragile network of human relationships without which all of us would be defeated from the outset in the face of such an insidious threat.”  This plan would certainly involve such social programs as laid out subsequently by the pontiff in order to grant security and thwart despair.  But our tact has been to supplement that plan with piety that meets people who have a yearning for the patronage of Holy Death and wish to draw on the aid of her in order to more fully experience God in their lives.  To that end I hope we have made a successful start.   

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