Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
City of God: Chapter 12
Chapter 12.—Of the Burial of the Dead: that the Denial of It to Christians Does Them No Injury. 61
Further still, we are reminded that in such a carnage as then occurred, the bodies could not even be buried. But godly confidence is not appalled by so ill-omened a circumstance; for the faithful bear in mind that assurance has been given that not a hair of their head shall perish, and that, therefore, though they even be devoured by beasts, their blessed resurrection will not hereby be hindered. The Truth would nowise have said, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul,” 62 if anything whatever that an enemy could do to the body of the slain could be detrimental to the future life. Or will some one perhaps take so absurd a position as to contend that those who kill the body are not to be feared before death, and lest they kill the body, but after death, lest they deprive it of burial? If this be so, then that is false which Christ says, “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do;” 63 for it seems they can do great injury to the dead body. Far be it from us to suppose that the Truth can be thus false. They who kill the body are said “to do something,” because the deathblow is felt, the body still having sensation; but after that, they have no more that they can do, for in the slain body there is no sensation. And so there are indeed many bodies of Christians lying unburied; but no one has separated them from heaven, nor from that earth which is all filled with the presence of Him who knows whence He will raise again what He created. It is said, indeed, in the Psalm: “The dead bodies of Thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of Thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them.” 64 But this was said rather to exhibit the cruelty of those who did these things, than the misery of those who suffered them. To the eyes of men this appears a harsh and doleful lot, yet “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” 65 Wherefore all these last offices and ceremonies that concern the dead, the careful funeral arrangements, and the equipment of the tomb, and the pomp of obsequies, are rather the solace of the living than the comfort of the dead. If a costly burial does any good to a wicked man, a squalid burial, or none at all, may harm the godly. His crowd of domestics furnished the purple-clad Dives with a funeral gorgeous in the eye of man; but in the sight of God that was a more sumptuous funeral which the ulcerous pauper received at the hands of the angels, who did not carry him out to a marble tomb, but bore him aloft to Abrahams bosom.
The men against whom I have undertaken to defend the city of God laugh at all this. But even their own philosophers 66 have despised a careful burial; and often whole armies have fought and fallen for their earthly country without caring to inquire whether they p. 10 would be left exposed on the field of battle, or become the food of wild beasts. Of this noble disregard of sepulture poetry has well said: “He who has no tomb has the sky for his vault.” 67 How much less ought they to insult over the unburied bodies of Christians, to whom it has been promised that the flesh itself shall be restored, and the body formed anew, all the members of it being gathered not only from the earth, but from the most secret recesses of any other of the elements in which the dead bodies of men have lain hid!
Augustin expresses himself more fully on this subject in his tract, De cura pro mortuis gerenda.9:62
Ps. 79:2, 3.9:65
Diogenes especially, and his followers. See also Seneca, De Tranq. c. 14, and Epist. 92; and in Ciceros Tusc. Disp. i. 43, the answer of Theodorus, the Cyrenian philosopher, to Lysimachus, who threatened him with the cross: “Threaten that to your courtiers; it is of no consequence to Theodorus whether he rot in the earth or in the air.”10:67
Lucan, Pharsalia, vii. 819, of those whom Cæsar forbade to be buried after the battle of Pharsalia.
Next: Chapter 13
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