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1. Treatment of the Dead

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XX. Funeral Rites and Ceremonies

1. Treatment of the Dead. 

The early Christians were distinguished by their care for the dead, and their sympathy with the afflicted. Their funeral solemnities they celebrated with gravity and propriety, with the intent of showing due respect for the deceased, and of administering consolation to survivors. These funeral services were performed as a public religious duty. This is one of the three points for which they were commended by the apostate Julian. 

The christian church manifested, from the beginning, a decided preference for the custom of burying the dead, for which they had the example of Jews, Gen. 3:9, Gen. 23:19, Deut. 24:6, Matt. 19:28, etc. But the custom of burning the dead at that time prevailed throughout the Roman empire, to which they were zealously opposed. They had at first, no separate burying places; nor would their circumstances admit of any such design. The public burial places, according to both Jewish and Roman laws, were on the outside of cities, Matt. 26:60, Luke 7:12, John 11:30. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries an open space around the church was appropriated for the burial of princes, bishops, and other clergy, and afterwards of those who died in the communion of the church. This, like everything which was appropriated to the service of the church, was formally consecrated. The first instance of this kind occurred in the sixth century. In the ninth century began the custom of interring the dead within the walls of the church.

Burial places were styled *, places of repose, cemeteries, denoting hereby, not only that the dead rest from their earthly labors and sorrows; but pointing out the hope of a future resurrection. The grave yard was also styled the Lord's ground, because it enjoyed the immunities of the church, or more properly perhaps, because of the sacred communion which those who sleep in the Lord were supposed to hold with him.

The church did not approve of the custom of interring the dead n family graves and private sepulchres. It was supposed to be invidious, and encourage the pride of distinction.

Like the Greeks and Romans, Christians erected monuments and marked them with inscriptions, *, titulis, in memory of their friends. Their luxury and. extravagance in these matters are severely censured by Basil the Great, Chrysostom and others. Frustra struunt homines pretiosa sepulcra, quasi ea animae, nee solius corporis, receptacula essent. Ambrose De Bono Mortis.

The funeral solemnities of the Romans were held by night. Those of Christians, on the other hand, were solemnized by day, but with lighted tapers. In times of persecution, the Christians were often compelled to bury their dead by night, and with all possible secrecy. But under Constantine and his sons, christian funerals were attended by day, and, at times, with great pomp. Probably they enacted laws on this subject in favor of christian burials, for the apostate Julian was compelled to issue a positive decree to restore the nocturnal celebration of funeral rites. 

The Jews, and the Eastern nations generally were accustomed to burj' very soon after death. The nature of the climate might direct to this custom; but the principal reason probably was, that by the speedy removal of the corpse, they might avoid ceremonial pollution. The custom of the Greeks and Romans corresponded in this respect with that of the Oriental nations. The early Christians also conformed to the custom of the country, in the early removal of the corpse, but they utterly discarded the idea that any ceremonial pollution could be contracted by contact with the dead. On the contrary, they fearlessly exposed themselves to contagion by their faithful offices to those who had died of malignant diseases as well as by administering to their necessities in sickness. The corpse, after being removed from the house, was usually kept for a day or more in the church, and from this originally arose the custom of keeping vigils for the dead. The funeral was sometimes delayed for several days.

Joach. Hildebrand, De veteris ecclesiae, Martyrum imprimis et SS. Pairum, ars bene moriendi, sive praxis circa moribundos et de morientium virtutibus. Helmst. 1661. ed. 2. 1719.4: Jac. Gretseri, De Christianorum funere libri tres. Ingolstad. 1611. 4: Auch in Gretseri Oper. Ratisb. 1735. f. torn. v. p. 79 seq.: Onuphrii Pauvinii, Libellus de ritu sepeliendi mortuos apud veteres Christianos, et de eorum coemeteriis. Ed. J. Ge. Joch. Lips. 1717. 4: Antiquitatum circa funera, et ritus vet. Christianorum qnovis tempore in ecclesia observat. libri vi. auctore J. E. F. U. L. (i.e. Jo. Ern. Franzen, Ulza-Luneburgico). Cum Praefat. Jo. Fabricii et Jo. Andr. Schmidii. Lips. 1713. 8: Jo. Nicolai, Liber de hictii Christianorum, sive de ritibus ad sepulturam pertinentibus. Lugd. Bat. 1739. 8: C.S. Senffii, Dissert, de cantionibus funebribus veterum. Lips. 1689. 4.

De cura gerenda pro mortuis ad Pauli num. Opp. edit. Bened. Venet. 1731. b. torn. vi. p. 516–532.

Juliani, Inc. Ep. 49, ad Arsac. Opp. ed. Spanhem. p. 429.

Job. Gerbard. Loc. Theol. torn. xvii. p. 85, 86.

Cicero, De Legib. lib. ii. c. 58: Cod. Theodos. lib. ix. tit. xvii. 1.6. Concil. Bracar. c. 36.

Gregor. Turen. De Gloria. Confessor.

Chrysostom. Hom. 81.

Prudentius Peristeph. Hymn. 11: Hieron. Comment, in Math. 23.

Gothofredi, Observat. in Cod. Theodos. lib. ix. tit. 57. 1. 5.

Euseb. h. e. lib. vii. c. 22.

Franzen. Antiquit. funer. 1713. 8. p. 96–111.

The Romans, in ancient times, used to bury their dead. The dictator Cornelius Sylla is supposed to have been the first among them whose corpse was burnt, and that was done in compliance with his own desire. Afterwards this practice became general, especially among the higher orders; anti continued to prevail until the fourth century of the Christian era. Cic. De Legg. ii.e. 25; Virg. .Ere. vi. 177; – Plin. Hist. JVat. vii. c. 54, "ipsum cremare apud Roinanos non fuit veteris instituti, terra condiebantur;" – conf. Plutarch. Vit. JVumae; Stobaei, Serm. 122; Macrob. Saturn, vii. c. 7; Cod. Thecdos. lib. ix. tit 6, leg. ti. – The first Roman emperor whose corpse was interred was Commodus, as we learn from Xiphilinus. The early Christians protested against the custom of burning the bodies of the dead, and advocated inhumation, – a practice which was always observed in the christian church. – Corpus omne, sive arescit in pulverera, sive in humorem solvitur, vel in cinerem comprimitur, vel in nidorem tenuatur, subducitur nobis; sed Deo, elementorum custodi, reservatur. Nee, ut creditis, ullum damnum sepulturae timemus, sed veterem et meliorem consuetudinem humandi frequentamus. Minuc. Fel. Octav. c. 34. – Ego magis ridebo vulgus, tunc quoque cum ipsos defunctos atrocissime exurit, quos post modum gulosissime nutrit, iisdem ignibus et promerens et otFendens. O pietatem de crudelitate ludentem 1 Tertull. De Resurr. c. 1. Conf. Tertull. De Anima, c. 51; Lactant. Instit. X>ir. lib. vi. c. 12; O ri g. conf r. Cels. hh. vui.; Augastin. De. Civ. Dei, lib. i. c. 13; Euseb, Hist. EccL lib. 4. c. 16; v. 1.

Efferri cognovimus cadavera niortnorurn per confertam popali freqaentiam et per maximam insistentium densilatem: quod quidem cculos homfnnm infaustrs infestat adspectibus. Qui eiiim dies est bene auspicatns a funere? aut quomod* ad Deos et templa venietur? Ideoque qaoniam et dolor in exsequiis secreturn aniat, et diem functis nihil interest, utrum per noctes an per dies elTerantur, liberari convenit totius populi adspectus, ut dolor esse in funeribus, rion ponrpa exequiarum, nec ostentatio videatar. Cod. Theodos. lib. ix. tit 17, 1.5.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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