Augustine on the Resurrection

The earthly material, then, from which mortal flesh is created does not die for God; but in whatever dust or ash it is scattered, in whichever vapour and wind it is dispersed, into whatever other substantial body or the elements themselves it is changed, into whatever animal and also human food it may pass and flesh it may be changed, to this human soul it returns, in an instant of time, as that which it was originally, in order that the person may come forth living, being revived. (Enchiridion 23.88)

Non autem perit Deo terrena materies de qua mortalium creatur caro; sed in quemlibet pulverem cineremve solvatur, in quoslibet halitus aurasque diffugiat, in quamcumque aliorum corporum substantiam vel in ipsa elementa vertatur, in quorumcumque animalium etiam hominum cibum cedat carnemque mutetur, illi animae humanae puncto temporis redit quae illam primitus, ut homo fieret cresceret viveret, animavit.

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4 thoughts on “Augustine on the Resurrection

  1. This is a tangential question that stems from the paragraph that you’ve quoted: So I recently read an article about how the Greek government continues to make cremation extremely difficult, since Christians are supposed to be buried in order to have whole bodies ready for the resurrection. From what I’ve heard, burial (as opposed to cremation or leaving bodies to the birds) is pretty standard Christian tradition from the earliest years up to fairly recently. But, it seems difficult to reconcile that tradition with Augustine’s thought here (which seems fairly orthodox and mainstream itself). Do you think that this should be considered an area in which Christian practice has merely taken some time to catch up with intellectual reflection like Augustine’s? Or do practices like “Christian burial” have an inherent validity since they were simply “what Christians do” from the earliest days? For me, this is an important issue in itself since Christian practice is the main reason that I am opposed to abortion (take to one example), rather than any specific rational argument on the issue.

  2. Hmm. I’ve been persuaded for a while by the Catholic Catechism: “The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body” (#2301). But of course, burial seems itself to point toward resurrection in the care taken for the body of the deceased, a point the Catechism makes just before: “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection” (#2300). It goes on to allude to Paul’s saying that our bodies are temples of the Spirit.

    I think there is something to the idea of ancient and universal Christian practice. In the to-us-uncomfortable passage on headscarves, Paul says, “If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice–nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16). But Paul also argues for 15 verses before he gets to this point. I worry about taking Christian practice qua practice as the reason for opposition to abortion or cremation. But you can, a la Hauerwas, reason from Christian language through practices to a good theological position (http://steveharris.org/2009/02/12/hauerwas-on-abortion/).

    So, you could say that maintaining the language of ‘burial’ helps us to see that its opposite is denial of the resurrection. And from there, we have a base to discuss whether or not cremation constitutes a denial of the resurrection–which, it seems, is actually left open in the Catechism.

    • Thanks. It’s not a topic that I’ve really considered before, so I’m glad that you had an informed opinion to offer.

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