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Cupio dissolvi is a Latin locution used in the Vulgate translation of the Paul's epistle to Philippians 1:23-4. The phrase, literally meaning "I wish to be dissolved", expresses the Christian desire to leave the earthly life and join Christ in eternal life. It has played an important role in discussions on the topic of suicide from the Middle Ages to the early Modern period. Over time, however, especially where national idioms derive from Romance languages, the phrase has acquired more secular and profane meanings and uses, expressing such concepts as the rejection of existence and the masochistic desire for self-destruction.
Quote and interpretation
Συνέχομαι δὲ ἐκ τῶν δύο, τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων εἰς τὸ ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν χριστῷ εἴναι, πολλῷ μᾶλλον κρεῖσσον· τὸ δὲ ἐπιμένειν ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἀναγκαιότερον δι’ ὑμᾶς.[Phil 1:23-4]
Synechomai de ek tōn dyo, tēn epithymian echōn eis to analysai kai syn Christō einai, pollō gar mallon kreisson to de epimenein tē sarki anankaioteron di’ hymas.
Coartor autem e duobus desiderium habens dissolvi et cum Christo esse multo magis melius / permanere autem in carne magis necessarium est propter vos.
The Douay–Rheims Bible translates:
But I am straitened between two: having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, a thing by far the better. But to abide still in the flesh, is needful for you.[Phil 1:23-4]
The phrase occurs in one of Paul's ecstasies, the loosening of the soul from the body being a prerequisite to joining Christ. A traditional use is found, for instance, in The Seven Modes of Sacred Love, by Brabantian mystic Beatrice of Nazareth (1200–1268): a complete release of the soul into eternal love. A similar use is found in a twelfth-century Old English homily on St. James from Trinity College, Cambridge, MS.B.14.52: "Hateful to me is this earthly life, and I long for Christ".
For medieval theologians, the concept was unproblematic; Rabanus Maurus (780-856) clarifies that this desire is an example of an acceptable cupiditas or greed. Not until the eleventh century is a note of warning struck, by Peter Lombard (1096–1164): it does not mean that one should only tolerate earthly life instead of loving it, suggesting that the locution had been read to mean that hastening one's end is preferable over living out one's life (as a notion deriving from Seneca, for instance), a misreading offered in Hildebert's Querimonia.
Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) and contemporary theologians read the phrase also as "giv[ing] the lie to those who say that the desire to die means sinful despair"; cupio dissolvi is a frequently cited locution in the ongoing discussion on suicide, which often took the semi-Platonic character of the reputed suicide Cleombrotus of Ambracia as a case study.
The locution is cited in important texts from all stages of the English language. In the Old English homily of Trinity MS.B.14.52, it occurs in Latin (spelled "cupio dissolui") surrounded by Old English prose. In Middle English, it occurs for instance in the Lambeth Homilies, translated as "ich walde thet ich ded were, for me longeth to criste." It was frequently quoted by Thomas More (1478–1535) especially as he got older, and by John Donne (1572–1631) in many of his sermons.
In Donne, the use of this phrase is taken as indicative of the strength of his "desire to believe himself among God's elect", while, for the exegesis influenced by Freud, of his being "possessed not only by the 'death wish' but also by a lifetime's struggle against it that this consideration should powerfully, even finally, determine our sense of the overall direction and significance of his work."
The Latin biblical locution occurs in alchemist Heinrich Khunrath's Von hylealischen [...] Chaos, 1597, p. 204 (205?). Carl Jung, founder of the analytical psychology, quoted him to describe the process of dream interpretation and individuation: "Soul and spirit must be separated from the body, and this is equivalent to death: 'Therefore Paul of Tarsus saith, Cupio dissolvi, et esse cum Christo'."
The cultural theorist Dominic Pettman explained the twentieth century and the postmodern contemporary society, swung violently between the poles of anticipation and anticlimax, citing a statement expressed by Mario Praz in 1930:
"The very ideas of Decadence, [...] of the 'cupio dissolvi', [the desire to dissolve], are perhaps no more than the extreme sadistic refinements of a milieu which was saturated to excess with complications of perversion."
- "Cupio Dissolvi". Treccani (in Italian). Retrieved 4 September 2012.
- Wolfskeel, Cornelia (1989). "Beatrice of Nazareth (pp. 99–114)". In Mary Ellen Waithe (ed.). A History of Women Philosophers. Volume II. Medieval, Renaissance and Enlightenment Women Philosophers. A.D. 500–1600. New York City: Springer. ISBN 9-024-73572-6; ISBN 978-90-2473-572-3. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
The Seventh Mode. The seventh stage of love is that of the cupio dissolvi, (VII, 61) (in which the soul expresses the desire to be dissolved from the body).20 In this stage the soul wants to lose itself totally in the eternal Love" (p. 106).
- Morris, Richard (1873). Old English homilies of the twelfth century: From the unique ms. B. 14. 52. in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge. Early English Text Society. pp. 148–. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
- Balint, Bridget K. (2009). Ordering Chaos: The Self and the Cosmos in Twelfth-Century Latin Prosimetrum. Leiden: Brill. pp. 113–. ISBN 978-90-0417-411-5. Retrieved 4 September 2012.
- Screech, Michael Andrew (2000). Montaigne & Melancholy: The Wisdom of the Essays. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 42–46. ISBN 978-07-4250-863-7. Retrieved 4 September 2012.
- Lewis, Robert E. (1974). Middle English Dictionary: L.6. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. p. 1198. ISBN 978-04-7201-126-1. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
- More, Cresacre (1828). The life of Sir Thomas More. W. Pickering. p. 229. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
- Olin, John (1989). Interpreting Thomas More's "Utopia". The Bronx: Fordham University Press. p. 76. ISBN 978-08-2321-233-0. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
- Kermode, Frank (2005). Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne Renassance Essays. Psychology Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-04-1535-294-9. Retrieved 5 September 2012.
- "John Donne Sermons. Occurrences of "desire to be dissolved"". Provo, Utah: Harold B. Lee Library. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
- Potter, John Donne, Evelyn Simpson, George R. (George Reuben). The Sermons of John Donne. Berkeley, California: UC Press. p. 46. ISBN 978-0-520-05255-0. ISBN 0-52005255-2. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
- Hill, Geoffrey; Haynes, Kenneth (2008). Haynes, Kenneth (ed.). Collected Critical Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-199 20847-0. ISBN 0-19920847-6. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
There is a body of exegesis which — influenced by Freud — sees Donne so strongly possessed not only by the 'death wish' but also by a lifetime's struggle against it that this consideration should powerfully, even finally, determine our sense of the overall direction and significance of his work. He confesses the temptation on at least one occasion and I cannot disprove the claim that he suffered from a lifelong suicidal tendency, but even those who urge this hypothesis would agree that 'Cupio dissolvi, To have a desire that we might be dissolved, and be with Christ' is Pauline theology, notwithstanding the vehement affection which Donne may reasonably be supposed to bring to it" (p. 312).
- Jung, Carl G. (2014) . Dreams. London: Routledge. p. 201. ISBN 978-1-136-85017-2. ISBN 1-13685017-1. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
- (in German and Latin) Khunrath, Heinrich (1597). Von hylealischen Das ist pri-materialischen catholischen oder Algemeinem natürlichen Chaos der Naturgemessen Alchymiae und Alchymisten, Wiederholete, vernewerte und wolvermehrte Naturgemeß alchymisch und Rechtlehrende Philosophische Confessio oder Bekentnus. p. 204 (205?). Retrieved 25 May 2013.
- Pettman, Dominic (2002). After the Orgy. Toward a Politics of Exhaustion. Albany, New York: SUNY Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-791-48849-2. ISBN 0-79148849-7. Citing Praz, Mario (1951) . The Romantic Agony. New York: World Publishing Company. p. 381. Translation of La carne, la morte e il diavolo nella letteratura romantica (in Italian). Rome: Società editrice "La Cultura". 1930. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
l'idea stessa di decadenza, di [...] «cupio dissolvi», non sono altro, forse, che un estremo raffinamento sadico d'un ambiente eccessivamente saturo di complicazioni perverse" (p. 376.)
- The dictionary definition of 'cupio' at Wiktionary