History of the Christian Church, Volume II
Ante-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 100-325
Philip Schaff (1819-1893)
"The early church differed from the pagan and even from the Jewish notions by a cheerful and hopeful view of death, and by discarding lamentations, rending of clothes, and all signs of extravagant grief. The terrors of the grave were dispelled by the light of the resurrection, and the idea of death was transformed into the idea of a peaceful slumber. No one, says Cyprian, should be made sad by death, since in living is labor and peril, in dying peace and the certainty of resurrection; and he quotes the examples of Enoch who was translated, of Simeon who wished to depart in peace, several passages from Paul, and the assurance of the Lord that he went to the Father to prepare heavenly mansions for us. Testim. l. III.c. 5889 The day of a believer’s death, especially if he were a martyr, was called the day of his heavenly birth. His grave was surrounded with symbols of hope and of victory; anchors, harps, palms, crowns. The primitive Christians always showed a tender care for the dead; under a vivid impression of the unbroken communion of saints and the future resurrection of the body in glory. For Christianity redeems the body as well as the soul, and consecrates it a temple of the Holy Spirit. Hence the Greek and Roman custom of burning the corpse (crematio) was repugnant to Christian feeling and the sacredness of the body. Burial was the prevailing Oriental and even the earlier Roman custom before the empire, and was afterwards restored, no doubt under the influence of Christianity Minucius Felix says (Octav. c. 34): "Veterem et meliorem consuetudinem humandi frequentamus." Comp. Cicero, De Leg. II. 22; Pliny, Hist. Nat. VII. 54; Augustin, De Civ Dei I. 12, 13. Sometimes dead Christians were burned during the persecution by the heathen to ridicule their hope of a resurrection.Tertullian even declared it a symbol of the fire of hell, and Cyprian regarded it as equivalent to apostasy.
|Rev'd Wm Jewell Died 1829|
© Godric Godricson
In its stead, the church adopted the primitive Jewish usage of burial (inhumatio), ; Matt. 27:60; John 11:17; Acts 5:6; 8:2.91 practiced also by the Egyptians and Babylonians. The bodies of the dead were washed, Acts 9:37.92 wrapped in linen cloths, Matt. 27:59; Luke 23:53; John 11:44.93 sometimes embalmed, John 19:39 sq.; 12:7.94 and then, in the presence of ministers, relatives, and friends, with prayer and singing of psalms, committed as seeds of immortality to the bosom of the earth. Funeral discourses were very common as early as the Nicene period. We have the funeral orations of Eusebius at the death of
, of Gregory of Nazianzum on his father, brother, and sister, of Ambrose on Theodosius. But in the times of persecution the interment was often necessarily performed as hastily and secretly as possible. The death-days of martyrs the church celebrated annually at their graves with oblations, love feasts, and the Lord’s Supper. Families likewise commemorated their departed members in the domestic circle. The current prayers for the dead were originally only thanksgiving for the grace of God manifested to them. But they afterwards passed into intercessions, without any warrant in the reaching of the apostles, and in connection with questionable views in regard to the intermediate state. Tertullian, for instance, in his argument against second marriage, says of the Christian widow, she prays for the soul of her departed husband,"Pro anima ejus orat!" Compare, however, the prevailing cheerful tone of the epigraphs in the catacombs and brings her annual offering on the day of his departure". Constantine