Antiquities of the Christian Church
XX. Funeral Rites and Ceremonies
Death was regarded by the early Christians not as an afflictive but joyful event. All immoderate grief or mourning was accordingly inconsistent, in their view, with christian faith and hope. For this reason they severely reproved the Jewish and Roman custom of hiring women to make lamentations for the dead. It must not be supposed, however, that they either condemned the exercise of natural affection, or affected a stoical indifference. On the contrary, there are many passages of ancient authors in which the right and power of nature in this respect are recognized, and a becoming sorrow, occasioned by the death of friends, is justified, both on principles of reason, and by reference to examples in Scripture.
In conformity with their views of death, Christians also utterly discarded the Jewish badges of mourning – sackcloth and ashes, and garments rent. Some of the fathers severely censure the Roman custom of wearing black. Augustine especially is peculiarly severe on this point. "Why," says he, "should we disfigure ourselves with black, unless we would imitate unbelieving nations, not only in their wailing for the dead, but also in their mourning apparel! Be assured these are foreign and unlawful usages; but if lawful, they are not becoming." Black however was, from the beginning, the customary mourning habit in the Greek church, and the use of it soon became general.
No precise rules were made respecting the duration of mourning for the dead. This matter was left to custom and the feeling of the parties concerned. "The heathen had a custom of repealing their mourning on the third, seventh, and ninth day, which was particularly called the Novendiale; and some added the twentieth, thirtieth, and fortieth, not without a superstitious opinion of those particular days, wherein they used to sacrifice to their manes with milk, and wine, and garlands, and flowers, as the Roman antiquities inform us. Something of this superstition, abating the sacrifice, was still remaining among the ignorant Christians in St. Austin's time; for he speaks of some who observed a novendial in relation to their dead (Quaest. 127 in Gen.,) which he thinks they ought to be forbidden, because it was only an heathen custom. He does not seem to intimate that they kept it exactly as the heathen did; but rather that they were superstitious in their observation of nine days of mourning, which was without example in Scripture. There was another way of continuing the funeral offices for three days together, which was allowed among Christians, because it had nothing in it but the same worship of God repeated. Then Euodius writing to St. Austin (Euodii, Ep. 258 inter Ep. August.,) and giving him an account of the funeral of a very, pious young man, who had been his votary, says that he had given him honorable obsequies, worthy of so great a soul: for he continued to sing hymns to God for three days together at his grave, and on the third day offered the sacraments of redemption. The author of the Constitutions ( Const. Apost. lib. viii. c. 42) takes notice of the repetition of the funeral office on the third day, and the ninth day, and the fortieth day, giving peculiar reasons for each of them: – 'Let the third day be observed for the dead with psalms, and lessons, and prayers, because Christ on the third day rose again from the dead; and let the ninth day be observed in remembrance of the living and the dead; and also the fortieth day, according to the ancient manner of the Israelites mourning for Moses forty days; and finally let the anniversary day be observed in commemoration of the deceased.'
"On the anniversary days of commemorating the dead, they were used to make a common feast or entertainment, inviting both the clergy and people, but especially the poor and needy, the widows and orphans, that it might not only be a memorial of rest to the dead, but an odor of sweet smell to themselves in the sight of God, as the author under the name of Origen words, it. St. Chrysostom says (Chrysost. Horn. 41 in 1 Ep. ad Cor.) that they were more tenacious of this custom, than they were of some others of greater importance. – But this often degenerated into great abuses. (Aug de Moribus Eccles. c. 34; Ep. 64 ad Aurelium.)" Bingham, Antiq. book 23, chap. 3.
Teriull. De Patient, c. 7: Chrysost. Horn. 32. in Math.: 61. in Johan.: 6. in Ep. ad Thess.: Hieron. Ep. 25. ad Paul.
Cyprian. Ser. de Mortal.: Chrysost. Horn. G9. ad Pop.
Ser. 2. De Consolat. Mort.
Fratres nostri non lugendi accersione Dominica de saeculo liberati,cum sciamus, non eosomitti, sed praemitti, recedentes praecedere,ut proficiscentes et navigantes, desiderari eos debere, non plangi; nee accipiendas heic atras vestes, quando illi ibi indumenta alba jam sumserint: occasioneni non dandam esse gentilibus, ut nos merito et jure reprehendant, quod quos vivere apud Deuni dicimus ut exstinctos et perditos lugeamus, et fidem, quam sermone et voce depromimus, cordis et pectoris testimonio reprobemur. – Cyprian, De Mortal. Omnibus Christianis prohibitum defunctos flere. – Concil Talet. III.
Non omnis infidelitatis aut infirmitatis est fletus; alius est naturae do lor, alia est tristitia in diffidentia, et plurimam refert, desiderare, quod habneris. et lugere, quod amiseris . . . Fecerunt et fletum magnum sui, cum Patriarchae sepelirentur. Lacrymae ergo pietatis indices, non illices sunt doloris. Lacrymatus sum ergo, fateor, et ego, sed lacrymatus est et Dominus ) ille alienum, ego fratrem. – Ambros. Qrat. in obit. Fratris. – Quorum nos vita propter amicitiae solatia de lectabat, unde fieri potest, ut eorum mors nul1am nobis ingerat moestitudinem? Quam qui prohibet, prohibeat, si potest, arnica, colloquia, interdicat amicalem societatefn, vel intercidat adfectum omnium humanarum necessitudinura, vincula mentis immiti stupore disrumpat, aut sic eis utendum esse censeat, ut nulla ex eis animum dulcedo perfundat. Quod si fieri nullo modo potest, etiam hoc, quo pacto futurnm est, ut ejus ngbis amara mors non sit, cujus dulcis est vita? Hinc enim est luctus quidem [al. quidam] bumano corde quasi vulnus aut ulcus, cui sanando adhibentur officiosae consolationes. Non enim propterea non est, quod sanetur; quoniam quanto est animus melior, tanto in eo citius faciliusque sanatur. – Augustin. De Civ. Dei, lib. xix. c. 8. – Fremebam ocnlos ejus [sc. matris], et confluebat in praecordia mea moestitudo ingens, et transfiuebat in lacrimas, ibidemque oculi mei violento animi imperio resorbebant fontem suum usque ad siccitatem, et in tali luctamine valde male mibi erat. Turn vero ubi efflavit extremum spiritura, puer Adeodatus exclamavit in planctum, atque ab omnibus nobis coercitus tacuit. Hoc mode etiam meum quiddam puerile, quod labebatur in fletus, juvenili voce cordis cogtcebatur et tacebat. Neque enim decere arbitrabamur, funus illud questibus lacrimosis gemitibusque celebrare, quia his plenimque solet deplorari quaedam miseria morientium, aut quasi omnimoda exstinctio. At ilia nee misere moriebatur, nee omnino moriebatur. – .Augustin. Confess, lib. ix. c. 12. – Conf. Chrysost. Horn. 29, De Dormient.; Horn. 61, in Johann.