The Death of the Lord by Patrick Henry Reardon

The Death of the Lord

on Mortality as a Framework for Life & Love

On November 21, 1922, a new play was introduced on a stage in Prague. It was one of two plays that appeared that year by a young writer named Karel Capek. The title of the production, in the original Czech, was Věc Makropulos, literally "The Makropulos Case."

It is appropriate that Capek's theatrical work was soon converted to an opera, because it does, in fact, tell the story of an opera singer; her name is Amelia.

According to the plot, Amelia inherits an elixir that, when she drinks it, maintains her youth for another three hundred years, at the end of which period she can simply drink it again, and then again, every three hundred years, for as long as she wants. In principle, that is to say, Amelia can go on living forever.

Not Boredom, but Another Burden

It is hardly surprising that this play, during the 99 years since it first appeared,has been the subject of serious philosophical reflection and the focus of critical comment, especially in the realm of psychology.

For instance, in 1973, philosopher Bernard Williams devoted a whole chapter to the play in a book of essays entitled Problems of the Self. Williams considered, for example, whether or not a human being might become terribly bored if he lived an extra three hundred years, to say nothing of living forever.

If we consider the subject of immortality solely from the perspective of the human mind and its curiosities, I don't think some of us would ever become bored. I confess, for my part, that I would start my life's extension by spending the next century or so catching up on the books I failed to read, the music I did not listen to, the art works I did not see, and the places I neglected to visit, during my merely octogenarian lifetime.

For instance, I fancy devoting the next hundred years to the study of Sumerian and Coptic; then I would apply my mind, for two or three lifetimes, to the pursuit of the Talmud. Perhaps then, if the mood took hold, I would learn to read ancient Chinese literature in the original.

Moreover, if I were to live another three hundred years after that, there would be three hundred extra years of history to study, and I would want to spend a few centuries, at least in the evenings, watching reruns of my favorite movies.

In short, I do not think boredom would be a problem.

Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).

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