« VorigeDoorgaan »
their larks, and fabricate dice out of their father's bones to make him participate in their crime, affect to ridicule the importance attached by men generally to the attainment of a grave. Those whom they loved, if such men can be said to love any one, may lie unburied at any cross road for aught they care; they are not like Tancred, who cannot achieve the enterprise of the enchanted forest because his dead mistress seems to come out of one of the trees. Without such perversity, but by mere dint of neglecting ail reverence, many officials, in places where Catholicism is unknown, seem to adopt the opinion of the greedy, avaricious Nabatæi in Arabia, who, as Strabo says, regard the bodies of the dead as only fit for the dunghill; following Heraclitus, who said that they should only be thrown out as so much filth, so that even the dead bodies of their kings are committed to the scavengers *. The voice of mankind in general would never sanction such barbarism, which is condemned by the sacred Scriptures, in which are commemorated many examples to recommend and confirm the primeval sentiment of respect for the dead. Thus we read that when the son of Tobias had gone, returning he told his father that one of the children of Israel lay slain in the street, and that he forthwith leaped up from his place at the table and left his dinner, and came fasting to the body; and taking it up privately, when the sun was down went and buried him. All the primitive traditions of the world attest the universality of this sentiment. According to Plato, to assist at the obsequies of the dead, and to respect their sepulchres, is to fulfil the third part of justice. Hence funeral rites were called τὰ δίκαια, νόμιμα, as among the Romans “justa facere." The act of Kreon was a public crime, an offence to Heaven and to men. Catholicism not only inspires the same feeling, but it secures, as far as it has power, for all men the same benefit. "The first among clerks," said the primitive Christians, "is the order of grave-diggers-fossariorum ordowho, after the example of holy Tobias, are admonished to bury the dead, that from the care of visible they may hasten to that of invisible things-et resurrectionem carnis credentes in Domino, totum quod faciunt Deo se præstare, non mortuis cognoscant." In later times to bury the dead, as one of the works of mercy, was the office of many confraternities, the greatest men belonging to them. Lopez de Vega, as member of the congregation of priests confined to those who were born at Madrid, used to acquit himself of all its duties, we are told, with devotion, one of its obligations being to accompany the dead to their graves. Once he expressed a wish to bury the corpse
* Lib. xvi.
+ Tobias 2. De Sept. Gradib. Eccles. inter Opera S. Hieron.
with his own hands. The assistants desired to spare his old age from such an office, but he persisted. Laying aside his ecclesiastical cloak, he went into the grave to receive the body, placed it down, and then covered it with earth.
To provide ground for the dead, instead of being a money speculation as at present, a last but most useful resource, is with those who are under the influence of Catholicism a work of charity. To purchase a cemetery for Christians was one of the causes which justified the sale of the sacred vessels of the Church, to relieve the poor from famine and to redeem captives being the other two cases required by the Fathers *. Stowe relates, that in the year 1849 Sir Walter Manny "purchased thirteen acres and a rod of ground adjoining to No Man's Land, and lying in a place called Spittle-cross, because it belonged to St. Bartilmewe's hospital, since that called the New Church haw, and caused it to be consecrated by the bishop of London to the use of burials. In consideration of the number of Christian people here buried, the said Sir Walter Manny caused first a chapel to be built, where for the space of twenty-three years offerings were made; and it is to be noted, that above one hundred thousand bodies of Christian people had in that churchyard been buried; for the said knight had purchased that place for the burial of poor people, travellers, and other that were deceased, to remain for ever; whereupon an order was taken for the avoiding of contention; to wit, that the bodies should be had unto the church where they were parishioners, or died, and, after the funeral service done, had to the place where they should be buried. And in the year 1371 he caused there to be founded a house of Carthusian monks, which he willed to be called the Salutation, and that one of the monks should be called prior; and he gave them the said place of thirteen acres and a rod of land, with the chapel and houses there built, for their habitation." In this respect the poor, at least, may be attracted to central principles by observing the care that emanates from them in regard to their sepulture, which both in pagan and modern times seems, where they are opposed, not unfrequently more a deception than a reality. At Athens, indeed, we are told that each dead man had a separate grave; but the multitude of the slaves formed an exception; and it would have been as difficult to find their graves at Rome, where even the poorer citizens were deprived of decent burial. “Generals deceive our soldiers," said Tiberius Gracchus, "when they exhort them to combat for their tombs and temples. Amongst that multitude of Romans, is there one who has an ancestral tomb or a domestic altar? They have not so much earth as would supply them with
* St. Ambrose, i. Off. c. 28.
a grave." The puticolæ of pagan Rome were in the Esquiline fields, and it was there that the bodies of the common dead were thrown promiscuously. The Church from the beginning rejected all distinctions in this respect, treating the bodies of the poor and rich with equal respect; but in later times, in some places shorn of her material power, in others secretly or openly opposed by many influences, she has beheld, without being able to resist it, usages which look like a return to the old barbarity; for the state, the company, the union, or some other corporate power, sends the poor to unknown burial; and so they all depart, unrespected, unattended, unprayed for, passing by one and one to pale oblivion. Each of these unfortunates gone to their death gives occasion to witness the scene described by the poet who so deeply sympathized with our English poor:
66 They rattle his bones fast over the stones,
The spectator who belongs to the same class, so that he can say, like Menippus to the ferryman, οὐκ ἂν λάβοις παρὰ τοῦ μὴ EXOVTOS, will naturally shudder when he mournfully reflects upon what is reserved for himself, demanding what spot will deign to receive one day his own dust. Alas! the Catholic Church, when thus oppressed, knows not on these occasions what to answer, unless it be in the words of an old poet, saying,
Belongs to goodness from the great exchequer
Το bury the common dead τὸν Πανελλήνων νόμον σώζων, as the old poet says, or what would be more to the purpose, adhering to the ancient Christian practice respecting them, seems now too often a thing merely pretended. Your grave-digger no more builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter; the houses that he makes do not last till doomsday. Indeed, since the practical renouncement of the old Christian feelings in regard of sepulture, no class in the large English towns has witnessed any consistent respect shown to the bodies of its dead. That reverential treatment of the remains of man, as ancient as humanity itself, seemed in many places to be handed down in these latter ages by Catholicism alone. In London the parochial officers knew of the hideous practice which prevailed to such an extent, of mutilating the dead immediately after burial in order to procure space, and of making a profit of the coffins and their decorations. "The ministers," we are told by their friends, "connived at it, and the legislature may be said to
have sanctioned it." With respect to the poor, the inviolability of their graves is not better secured by the arrangements of the rationalist civilization on the Continent; for the city now will say, Let the earth cover them for five years. Theseus passed a more humane decree,
Where," demands Adrastus, "are the remainder of the dead, the common dead? Buried in the valleys of Clitheron? On what side? Who gave them burial? Theseus placed them near the shadowy rock of Eleutheris t." The modern legislatures, so far as they are opposed to Catholicism, are not much concerned about finding a shadowy rock for the poor who cannot pay the tariff to secure a quiet and inviolable grave; but the Church, while she had power, treated with great respect and tenderness the remains of the common people. "Non licet," she said in solemn council, "mortuum super mortuum mitti ‡." Regino, abbot of Prum, in the ninth century, citing the authority of Pope St. Gregory, says, "Grievous is the act and alien from all sacerdotal office to seek price from the earth allotted to corruption, and to make a profit of another's sorrow. This vice we never permitted, remembering that when Abraham demanded the price of the sepulchre for his wife, the owner refused to accept any remuneration. If, then, a pagan man was unwilling to derive profit from a dead body, how much more ought we priests to shrink from such a thing? If, however, the parents or heirs should voluntarily offer lights, we do not object; but we forbid any sum to be required, lest the Church should seem venal, or you to seek advantage from the death of men §." We should remark, before proceeding further, that Catholicism has inherited and consecrated that ancient respect, even for the outward tombs and for whatever appertains to the graves of the dead in general, which modern religious influences and philosophy have been powerless to preserve where they have not even openly opposed it. Cicero expresses the sentiment of his times in affirming that the monument only becomes more venerable by its antiquity: "Statuæ intereunt tempestate, vi, vetustate; sepulcrorum autem sanctitas in ipso solo est; quod nulla vi moveri neque deleri potest. Atque, ut cetera exstinguuntur,
• Iph. in Aul. 530.
Concil. Antisiodorensis, Can. xv. ann. MIV.
$ Regino, Abb. Prum., De Eccles. Disciplin. lib. i. 78.
sic sepulcra fiunt sanctiora vetustate*." No one needs to be told how the disciples of Luther and Voltaire, though in most respects at variance, agreed at least in the one point of setting at nought all such notions as these. Catholicism, however, adverse to all exaggeration, has proved on the other hand, even during the middle ages, that it could distinguish a reasonable and pious respect from a superstitious fear in regard to sepulchres; for when the public interest required such a measure, it made no difficulty in sanctioning a respectful transfer of the remains and tombs of former generations from one place to another, so that it involved a different spirit altogether from that of which Pausanias gives an instance, where he says that the citizens of Libethra, having been warned against the day when the tomb of Orpheus should no longer cover his body, and some shepherds, crowding round it to hear one of their comrades sing his verses, having overthrown the column, which caused the urn which it supported to fall and be broken, so that the sun saw the bones of Orpheus, believed that the overthrow of their city that night by a storm was in punishment for that outrage t. Such superstition belonged not to Catholicism; but undoubtedly it would have resisted the inhuman profanation of graves, against which Shakspeare is said to have sought a refuge by his epitaph, and which has left Europe almost without any ancient sepulchres, excepting those contained in museums, or such as have been reconstructed through attachment to the arts after their precious freight had been burnt or scattered to the winds.
Central principles, in regard to the respect which they inspire for graves, may be studied in "the subterraneous heaven of Rome," as Arringhi calls the catacombs-in the yard of parishes, which long enjoyed the right of asylum, the gates being consecrated with the relics of saints ‡, and where each church, as Gerbet says, "watches over its dead, or, to use the expression of St. Paul, its sleepers," as a mother watches over her child in the cradle; and, in fine, in the ancient and modern cemeteries, where
As at Pola, near Quarnaro's gulf,
That closes Italy and laves her bounds,
The place is all thick spread with sepulchres§."
Dante in these lines refers to that celebrated cemetery of the Elysian Fields of Arles called Eliscamp, without the city, upon an eminence, where pagan and Christian tombs have been crowded together for ages, the former sepulchres having been protected by the sacerdotal authority, as when Gaspar du
* Phil. ix.
+ Lib. ix.
Bib. de l'Ecole des Chartes, iv. 580.