Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume III/Moral Treatises of St. Augustin/On Care to Be Had for the Dead/Section 4
4. “But” (say I) “in such a slaughter-heap of dead bodies, could they not even be buried? not this, either, doth pious faith too greatly dread, holding that which is foretold that not even consuming beasts will be an hindrance to the rising again of bodies of which not a hair of the head shall perish. Nor in any wise would Truth say, “Fear not them which kill the body, but cannot kill the soul;” if it could at all hinder the life to come whatever enemies might choose to do with the bodies of the slain. Unless haply any is so absurd as to contend that they ought not to be feared before death, lest they kill the body, but ought to be feared after death, lest, having killed the body, they suffer it not to be buried. Is that then false which Christ says, “Who kill the body, and afterwards have no more that they can do,” if they have so great things that they can do on dead bodies? Far be the thought, that that should be false which Truth hath said. For the thing said is, that they do somewhat when they kill, because in the body there is feeling while it is in killing, but afterward they have nothing more that they can do because there is no feeling in the body when killed. Many bodies, then, of Christians the earth hath not covered: but none of them hath any separated from heaven and earth, the whole of which He filleth with presence of Himself, Who knoweth whence to resuscitate that which He created. It is said indeed in the Psalm, “The dead bodies of thy servants have they given for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth: they have shed their blood like water round about Jerusalem, and there was no man to bury them:” but more to heighten the cruelty of them who did these things, not to the infelicity of them who suffered them. For, however, in sight of men these things may seem hard and dire, yet “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” So, then, all these things, care of funeral, bestowal in sepulture, pomp of obsequies, are more for comfort of the living, than for help to the dead. If it at all profit the ungodly to have costly sepulture, it shall harm the godly to have vile sepulture or none. Right handsome obsequies in sight of men did that rich man who was clad in purple receive of the crowd of his housefolk; but far more handsome did that poor man who was full of sores obtain of the ministry of Angels; who bore him not out into a marble tomb, but into Abraham’s bosom bore him on high. All this they laugh at, against whom we have undertaken to defend the City of God: but for all that their own philosophers, even, held care of sepulture in contempt; and often whole armies, while dying for their earthly country, cared not where they should after lie, or to what beasts they should become meat; and the poets had leave to say of this matter with applause
“though all unurn’d he lie,
His cov’ring is the overarching sky.”
How much less ought they to make a vaunting about unburied bodies of Christians, to whom the flesh itself with all its members, re-fashioned, not only from the earth, but even from the other elements, yea, from their most secret windings, whereinto these evanished corpses have retired, is assured to be in an instant of time rendered back and made entire as at the first, according to His promise?
- Luke xxi. 18; xii. 4–7; Matt. x. 28–30
- Ps. lxxix. 2, 3
- Ps. cxvi. 15
- Luke xvi. 19–22
- Lucan vii. 819, speaking of the slain in the battle of Pharsalia, whose bodies Caesar forbad to burn or inter.