The City of God: Book 1: Chapter Twelve

Chapter 12

It is objected further that, amid such a general massacre, it was not even possible to bury corpses. Genuine faith is not too much horrified by this calamity, since it holds fast to the prophetic assurance that not even devouring wild beasts can harm the bodies of those who will rise again and from whose heads not one hair shall perish. Truth Himself would never have said: ‘Fear ye not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul,’ if whatever the enemy might do to the bodies of the slain could in any way imperil the life to come.

Surely, no one is absurd enough to contend that those who kill the body are not to be feared before death, because they can kill the body, and yet must be feared after death, because they can prevent the burial of the body. In this view, those who have power to do so much harm to a corpse give the lie to Christ’s words when He spoke of those ‘who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do.’ God forbid that Truth Himself should have uttered falsehood.

What His words mean is that they can do something while they are killing, because there is feeling in the body being killed, but that afterward there is no more that they can do, because there is no feeling in a body that is dead. So, there may be many bodies of Christians that lie unburied, but not a single one of them has been separated from the Heaven and earth which are filled with the presence of Him who knows how to bring back to life the work of His creative hands.

The Psalmist says: ‘They have given the dead bodies of Thy servants to be meat for the fowls of the air: the flesh of Thy saints for the beasts of the earth. They have poured out their blood as water, round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury them.’ But, that was said rather to set in relief the barbarity of those who did such things rather than the misery of those who suffered them. For, however ghastly and shocking all this may be in the eyes of men, ‘precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.’

In view of all this, such things as funeral arrangements, the manner of sepulture, and the pomp of the obsequies are meant to be a solace to the living rather than a service to the dead. A costly funeral can do no more good to a villain than a cheap one or none at all can harm a saint. Magnificent in men’s eyes were the obsequies which a mob of servants provided for the rich man clad in purple, but far more glorious in the eyes of God were those of the ministering angels for the beggar covered with sores—they did not take him to a marble tomb, but bore him up to the bosom of Abraham.

Those against whom I have undertaken to vindicate the City of God will smile at all this. But, even their own philosophers have thought little of the pomp of funerals; and, often enough, entire armies, dying for an earthly fatherland, took no thought as to where they would afterward lie, or of what beasts they would become the food—so that without too much exaggeration a poet could sing: ‘All heaven is tomb to him who lacks a grave.’ There is still less reason to scorn the unburied bodies of Christians when we remember the sure promise that their flesh and all its members shall be restored and renewed in the twinkling of an eye, not out of the earth alone, but out of the mysterious recesses of all the other elements into which their disintegrated bodies were resolved.

Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VI

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