Bearing Death Bravely and Undertaking it in Charity: Redemptive Suffering and the Ars Moriendi

Doctoral Dissertation


This dissertation examines the meaning of redemptive suffering in the Catholic tradition.In doing so, it contributes to the retrieval of the late medieval and early modern ars moriendi tradition.By examining underappreciated resources and arguing for the presence of goods, virtues, and opportunities for moral growth in Christian suffering, it fills a lacuna in recent appropriations of the older tradition.

The dissertation falls into three parts.The first part examines suffering as a loss of certain goods that constitute human flourishing and argues that suffering does not diminish human dignity or moral identity.The loss of this dignity is a concern due to medical advances and the global medical context, which has lost a sense of “good suffering.”At the same time, the ars moriendi tradition continues to exist in the modern Catholic magisterial tradition, and the dissertation locates resources within this tradition that appropriates, expands, and develops the notion of a “good death” and the “art of dying.”

In the second part of the dissertation, two neglected figures in moral theology, Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) and Pope Pius XII (1876-1958), are examined in order to show how their thought can be used to develop a fruitful account of redemptive suffering, and to show the relationship between suffering and the virtues, God’s mercy, and human moral growth.These theologians are thus rehabilitated and re-proposed as centrally important figures whose thought is a fruitful source of reflection for an adequate account of redemptive suffering and preparation of death.

The third part of the dissertation turns explicitly to the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).In Christ, the perfect wayfarer who exemplifies virtue in suffering, human beings are presented with the exemplar of human suffering.Members of the mystical body of Christ participate intimately in Christ’s virtuous suffering by means of their membership in the body, and sacramental participation in Christ allows human suffering to be redemptive within God’s providential plan of history.

The dissertation concludes by pointing to individual, social, ecumenical, and practical ramifications of the account of suffering articulated herein, including funerals, hospice care, and daily practices.


Attribute NameValues
Author John C. Sikorski
Contributor Jean Porter, Research Director
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Theology
Degree Name Doctor of Philosophy
Banner Code

Defense Date
  • 2019-03-11

Submission Date 2019-04-05
  • Ars Moriendi

  • Death and Dying

  • Thomas Aquinas

  • Redemptive Suffering

  • Saint Alphonsus

  • Art of Dying

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units
Catalog Record


Please Note: You may encounter a delay before a download begins. Large or infrequently accessed files can take several minutes to retrieve from our archival storage system.