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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 13

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 13.—Reasons for Burying the Bodies of the Saints.

Nevertheless the bodies of the dead are not on this account to be despised and left unburied; least of all the bodies of the righteous and faithful, which have been used by the Holy Spirit as His organs and instruments for all good works.  For if the dress of a father, or his ring, or anything he wore, be precious to his children, in proportion to the love they bore him, with how much more reason ought we to care for the bodies of those we love, which they wore far more closely and intimately than any clothing!  For the body is not an extraneous ornament or aid, but a part of man’s very nature.  And therefore to the righteous of ancient times the last offices were piously rendered, and sepulchres provided for them, and obsequies celebrated; 68 and they themselves, while yet alive, gave commandment to their sons about the burial, and, on occasion, even about the removal of their bodies to some favorite place. 69   And Tobit, according to the angel’s testimony, is commended, and is said to have pleased God by burying the dead. 70   Our Lord Himself, too, though He was to rise again the third day, applauds, and commends to our applause, the good work of the religious woman who poured precious ointment over His limbs, and did it against His burial. 71   And the Gospel speaks with commendation of those who were careful to take down His body from the cross, and wrap it lovingly in costly cerements, and see to its burial. 72   These instances certainly do not prove that corpses have any feeling; but they show that God’s providence extends even to the bodies of the dead, and that such pious offices are pleasing to Him, as cherishing faith in the resurrection.  And we may also draw from them this wholesome lesson, that if God does not forget even any kind office which loving care pays to the unconscious dead, much more does He reward the charity we exercise towards the living.  Other things, indeed, which the holy patriarchs said of the burial and removal of their bodies, they meant to be taken in a prophetic sense; but of these we need not here speak at large, what we have already said being sufficient.  But if the want of those things which are necessary for the support of the living, as food and clothing, though painful and trying, does not break down the fortitude and virtuous endurance of good men, nor eradicate piety from their souls, but rather renders it more fruitful, how much less can the absence of the funeral, and of the other customary attentions paid to the dead, render those wretched who are already reposing in the hidden abodes of the blessed!  Consequently, though in the sack of Rome and of other towns the dead bodies of the Christians were deprived of these last offices, this is neither the fault of the living, for they could not render them; nor an infliction to the dead, for they cannot feel the loss.


Footnotes

10:68

Gen. 25:9, Gen. 35:29, etc.

10:69

Gen. 47:29, Gen. 50:24.

10:70

Tobit 12.12.

10:71

Matt. 26.10-13.

10:72

John 19.38.


Next: Chapter 14

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