Aquinas, Dumbledore, and Laying down One’s Life

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The following was a college essay written by Jessica Lincoln. It has been edited and approved by Ariel Hobbs. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

By Jessica Lincoln, Benedictine College

            As I sit here typing this paper, I am simultaneously mourning the loss of Albus Dumbledore who, though fictional, continues to impact me greatly as I plunge for somewhere around the dozenth time into the stories of The Boy Who Lived. While it may seem that these stories, particularly being fictional, are far removed from the one Thomas Aquinas shares of the God-Man, I have found within them a vast expanse of theological riches. For the purpose of this reflection, I will focus on just one of those gems, which is the Christ-like imagery seen in the death of Albus Dumbledore, and I will do so in relation to what Aquinas conveys to us of Christ’s own death.

            Thomas Aquinas makes it clear that Christ suffered all He did out of love for humanity, for though it was not out of necessity that God took on flesh and was crucified, it was fitting that He do so in order to save us from our sins and grant us eternal life. Christ did not have to die for us; He could easily have remained perfectly happy in His divinity without embracing the curse of humanity. Yet He did the unthinkable, and in this great sacrifice, Jesus demonstrated the greatest love ever known to mankind. For as Aquinas reminds us, Jesus Himself said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). To die for another requires great love. Aquinas tells us that the more “one does not avoid suffering for a friend, the more love one shows” (227). Since Jesus endured ultimate suffering, He also showed ultimate love. Dumbledore, though not a perfect man and certainly not divine, also allowed his life to be sacrificed out of love. While on a different scale than the perfect, all-encompassing sacrifice of Christ, Dumbledore still made a choice to place others over himself, returning to an imperiled Hogwarts to protect its students at all costs, despite the fact that he knew he was in an extremely weakened state. He also used his split second of warning time in the tower to cast a spell that would keep Harry safe, rather than using it to defend himself. In these actions, Dumbledore demonstrates great love for his friends by putting himself at risk and subsequently suffering on their behalf. He could have avoided his suffering and death by keeping himself out of harm’s way, but Dumbledore would never consider that an option for, like Christ, he loved much.

            Aquinas also speaks on the infinite value of Christ’s suffering, which is due to the infinite worthiness of God. We naturally see a correlation between the evil of an affliction and the goodness and innocence of the person who endures it. Aquinas explains: “The more worthy the person on whom a suffering is inflicted, the greater seems the injustice” (231). Because of Christ’s innocence and goodness, the evil of the crime committed against Him is matchless, and the value of His suffering is limitless too. Through it, all of mankind is redeemed, something that could not be won by anyone less worthy than Christ. Dumbledore, despite being imperfect, was nevertheless a good man with a merciful, compassionate, and loving heart. Thus, the suffering he experienced was quite unjust in human terms; yet it is precisely because of this injustice that the wizarding world was so ready to band together, united, to bring about justice for his sake and stand against their fear-inducing enemy. Harry, in particular, was roused by Dumbledore’s death to set out on the mission with which Dumbledore entrusted him that would ultimately lead to Voldemort’s – the wizarding community’s greatest enemy – downfall. When suffering is most unjust, grace and goodness will abound all the more, and love will always prevail over suffering.

When Dumbledore died, Voldemort thought that he had all but won the fight. When Jesus gave up His spirit on the Cross, the Devil thought that he had won the fight, and that that was the end. However, both were mistaken. Both possessed overconfidence as they had underestimated what, to them, seemed to be the smallest, most inconsequential thing in the world but in reality is the most powerful force of all: love. For even in Dumbledore’s absence, Harry and all the rest who loved Dumbledore took up the fight in the name of this love and by it, emerged triumphant. Even more powerfully, Christ, who is Love Himself, rose from the grave, thus defeating Evil once and for all. Because of Christ’s selfless act of perfect love, we always have cause for joy and hope, no matter how bleak any situation we face may be. As spoken by Dumbledore himself, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.” Just as the wizarding community is able to find light by standing together in the wake of Dumbledore’s death and pressing on to fight their great enemy, so, too, do Christians find hope, even on the darkest day of the year – Good Friday – because Easter Sunday waits just around the corner to reveal the fullness of joy of Christ’s victory over death.

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