White is the New Black

December 21, 2008

I have  spent a bit of time over the last week or two reading early Protestant Ars Moriendi. This is fascinating material. One patristic reference which crops up now and again is a line from Cyprian of Carthage who, in the midst of the plague, urges his readers against inappropriate displays of grief over those who have fallen asleep in Christ:

that they should be desired, but not bewailed; that the black garments should not be taken upon us here, when they have already taken upon them white raiment there. [Cyprian, De Mortal., 20]

To do so destroys our profession of faith by our deeds before the eyes of the pagans. Cyprian’s words remind us that we are not to grieve like those without hope, even if there is a righteous anger at death, our enemy, albeit a defeated one. Interestingly, it seems that Puritans went out of their way not to wear black at funerals [according to David E. Stannard, The Puritan Way of Death: A Study in Religion, Culture and Social Change (New York: OUP, 1977), 103].

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