The Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity by Rebillard Éric Rawlings Elizabeth Trapnell Routier-Pucci Jeanine

The Care of the Dead in Late Antiquity by Rebillard Éric Rawlings Elizabeth Trapnell Routier-Pucci Jeanine

Author:Rebillard, Éric,Rawlings, Elizabeth Trapnell,Routier-Pucci, Jeanine
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 978-0-8014-5792-0
Publisher: Cornell University Press

Gregory contrasts sacrifice and pity, and puts the care of Joseph and Nicodemus to bury Jesus in the category of sacrifice. Therefore, for him they are not at all models of what must be done for the poor.

In sermon 88 of the Homilies on Matthew, John Chrysostom stresses Joseph’s love for Christ but does not derive any lesson for his listeners. In sermon 85 of the Homilies on John, his comments are actually negative. Joseph and Nicodemus had great affection for Christ, but the grand funeral they performed show that they saw him merely as a man. The fact that Christ arose naked should be an invitation to cease the madness about funerals. The men who lavished attention on Christ’s funeral did not yet believe in resurrection, and were following the custom of the Jews, as John 19:40 explicitly says. None of the twelve apostles was there. Finally, he adds, “And so you will know that he valued none of all that, Christ said; ‘You saw me hungry, and you fed me; thirsty, and you gave me drink; naked, and you clothed me’ (Matt. 25:35); but nowhere did he say, ‘you saw that I was dead, and you buried me.’” (5) Although he is careful to stress that neither funerals nor burials were forbidden, he concludes, “It is not as sinful for a body to be cast aside unburied as for a soul to appear stripped of all virtue” (6). Therefore, the lack of burial does not pose any danger for salvation. Far from seeing the conduct of Joseph and Nicodemus as a model to be emulated, John Chrysostom uses the episode of the burial of Christ to preach on a familiar theme, the extravagance of funerals.

In the fourth and fifth centuries, Joseph and Nicodemus were therefore not being held up as examples for Christians to imitate, even if the negative interpretation of John Chrysostom was an isolated case. We must note, by contrast, the manner in which the example of Joseph was recalled at the beginning of the sixth century by Hypatios, the bishop of Ephesus:

Jesus Christ our Lord, after being laid bare before us, willingly and with out alteration, humbled himself, as the holy apostle tells us, unto his death upon the cross (Phil 2: 7–8). And after his crucifixion and his death, creative of life, as we are told by the Gospels, because of his ineffable love for mankind, he was cast off naked and unburied, was tended by Joseph and placed in his own tomb; that is how much and in how many ways he humbled himself to be as we are, yet without sin (Hebr 4:15). Whoever performs such holy service and (funerary) honor for his brothers who precede [him] in death, let him know that he does it for the Lord.33


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