“With Body and Soul” Heidelberg Catechism
When I asked Greg Uttinger to write an article on the practice of cremation in Christian history, he came back a few weeks later and said, “Since Leben is a magazine devoted to Christian history, there really isn’t anything to write about.”
His point was that there is virtually no record of Christians burning the bodies of the dead until very modern times. Whether this slow acquiescence to what has been an essentially pagan practice is based in a shifting theology about the Resurrection, a nascent Gnosticism or simple ignorance remains to be seen. Roman Catholics have taken a relatively hard line against it, while Protestants don’t seem to have given it much thought.
Of those who have written about it, they often include the caveat that the Bible does not explicitly command burial. It’s simply an argument from New Testament practice. You know, like worshipping on a Sunday….
In any case, there is some interesting history which we present in two articles, the first about Christian burial, and the second about the coming of cremation to America. We hope it helps you, and the church at large, to gain perspective on what may well be an important, but largely unaddressed issue.
I would also add a personal note about the cover art. Ever since I walked the grounds of the Melrose Plantation, I have found the works of Clementine Hunter compelling in their simple presentation of post-bellum Southern life. A lot of her paintings were about African-American church life, and in particular its many and varied burial traditions. “The Wake,” like many of her paintings, reflected scenes of St. Augustine Catholic Church. Though baptized by immersion in the local Cane River, like most of the Cane River gens de couleur libre she was also deeply attached to St. Augustine’s, the first church built and paid for by free people of color, and deeply rooted in local heritage.
Clementine never set foot outside the State of Louisiana, even to visit the White House at President Jimmy Carter’s invitation. She died in 1988 at the age of 101, and is buried at St. Augustine’s.
On the Cover
“The Wake” by Clementine Hunter, with permission of Wayne and Jennifer Johnson. All rights reserved.
The Jul-Sep 2015 issue includes these articles:
- Dead Bodies and Living Saints
- How the Occult Brought Cremation to America
- Thomas Shepard’s “Call to New England”
- The Rise and Fall of Martin Stephan
- Moralism and the Evangelical Crack-up