Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/338
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
to lie in consecrated earth, and, in fact, who should be allowed to be interred at all.
The deplorable superstition that could induce people to intrust such a power to any but its civil government and civil courts is amazing, and yet we find the sturdy English nation, under the government of William of Normandy, stripping their cherished Anglo-Saxon courts of all power to protect the dead, and yielding them up blindfold to priestly cognizance. As Sir William Blackstone well says, it was a "fatal encroachment" on the ancient liberties of England. Eight centuries have not sufficed to repair the mischief. Anselm and Becket, in modern garb, live even yet.
The deep-seated, fundamental idea of human burial lies in the mingling our remains with the mother earth. The "dust to dust! earth to earth! ashes to ashes!" of the Church—echoing, in deeper solemnity, the "ter pulvere" of Horace, and hallowing the dying wish of Cyrus—finds a universal response in the holiest instincts of man in every age. Here, then, was the tender spot for subtle power to touch. Logically pursuing this idea, the ecclesiastical process of excommunication prohibited burial in the earth at all, whether consecrated or not. The precise words of the formula, as used in the tenth century, gave over the body of the contumacious offender for food to the fowls of the air and beasts of the field: "Sint cadavera eorum, in escam volatilibus cœli, et bestiis terræ." In some instances the sentence was more definite and specific, confining the corpse to the hollow trunk of a tree, "in concavo trunco repositum." The essence of the idea being to keep the body out of the earth and on the surface, it was sometimes figuratively expressed, in monkish rhetoric, by "the burial of an ass," or by a stronger and more characteristic image, as "a dunghill:" "Sepultura asini sepeliantur, et in sterquilinium super faciem terræ sint." The afflicted but sinful laity, to hide the horror of the spectacle, were wont, at times, to cover the festering dead with a pile of stones, thereby rearing a tumulus, or "bloc;" so that the process came to be commonly known, in mediæval Latin, as "imblocare corpus."—(Du Cange, Glossary, "Imblocare.")
The same dominant idea of the unfitness of spiritual offenders to pollute the earth can be distinctly traced through the judicial ecclesiastical condemnations for several centuries. John Huss and Jerome of Prague being at the stake for heresy, early in the fifteenth century, under the ecclesiastical order of the Council of Constance, their ashes were not allowed to mingle with the earth, but were cast into the Rhine.
The legal process of scattering the ashes of the heretic was evidently a very significant and cherished feature in the ecclesiastical code of procedure, and it was executed in the different portions of Christendom with all attainable uniformity and precision. Within its comprehensive range it embraced not only the ashes of the heretic