University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E01750: Augustine of Hippo, in his treatise On the Care of the Dead, deals with the issue of the potential advantages of burial ad sanctos (i.e. close to the body of a saint). Written in Latin in Hippo Regius (North Africa), c. 420/422.

online resource
posted on 2016-07-18, 00:00 authored by Bryan
Augustine of Hippo, On the Care of the Dead


Augustine writes this treatise in response to a letter in which Paulinus, bishop of Nola, asked him whether burials ad sanctos bring any profit to the dead. Paulinus had been asked by a woman named Flora, who most probably lived in Africa, to bury her son who had died in Nola near the tomb of Felix the Confessor, the famous saint of this city. This request was granted, but Paulinus, even though convinced that what he did conformed with the custom of the Church and so was right, was looking for a theological justification of this practice and wanted to know Augustine's thoughts on this matter (ch. 1, see E01156).

Augustine's response is nuanced. First of all, he acknowledges that it is a duty of the living to bury their dead (chs. 2-3, 9). He also admits that the practice can be sensible, for two reasons. First, burying the dead in basilicas and at the memorial shrines of martyrs is soothing to the survivors, because they know that they properly fulfilled the duty of burying their kin. Second, it can be in a way beneficial to the dead, because the living, upon recollection of the place in which those whom they loved were buried, would pray to the saints who lay close to them and are able to intercede for them (chs. 6-7, 22).

Augustine rejects, however, any direct advantage for such interments and argues that even the lack of any burial whatsoever cannot directly affect the posthumous fate of the soul. This can be proven by the fact that the bodies of many martyrs, whose souls obviously were taken to heaven, were left unburied (chs. 6, 8, 11, see E01168). Martyrs actually overcame their natural anxiety over the fate of their bodies (ch. 10).

Moreover, he believes that no power can dwell in the bodies of the dead, for their souls, whether they dwell with God in heaven or not, have no contact with their bodies and with this world in general. The fact that the dead seem to appear to the living in visions, which apparently contradicts this opinion, is indeed difficult to explain. Yet in many cases these visions are a natural product of the sleeping man's mind. They can also be caused by the activity of angels who take the shape of the dead. In either case, these visions should not be interpreted as actual meetings with the souls of the dead (chs. 12-18).

Augustine acknowledges that miracles occur at the tombs of saints: *Felix for instance appeared in Nola during the barbarian siege. Augustine has no clear explanation of this phenomenon. He suspects though that these miracles might be caused by angels, sent by God who wants to add glory to the martyrs and make people admire their virtues (chs. 19-21, see E01158 and $E04769).

Summary: Robert Wiśniewski.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Felix, priest and confessor of Nola : S00000

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Other


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Latin North Africa

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Hippo Regius

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Hippo Regius Carthage Carthago Karthago قرطاج‎ Qarṭāj Mçidfa Carthage

Major author/Major anonymous work

Augustine of Hippo

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Burial ad sanctos

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle during lifetime Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Miraculous interventions in war Revelation of hidden knowledge (past, present and future)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives


Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified


Augustine wrote the treatise On the Care of the Dead c. 420-422, in response to a letter in which Paulinus of Nola asked whether burials ad sanctos bring any profit to the dead. The response was nuanced. If Augustine rejected any direct advantage for such interments and argued that even the total lack of burial cannot affect directly the posthumous fate of the soul, he acknowledged that the practice can bring consolation to the living and indirectly help the dead for whom people visiting the graves of saints will pray.


Edition: Zycha, J. De cura pro mortuis gerenda (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 41; Vienna: Tempsky, 1900), 619-660. English translation: Browne, H., On the Care of the Dead (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, vol. 3; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887). Further reading: Duval, Y., Auprès des saints corps et âme. L'inhumation « ad sanctos » dans la chrétienté d'Orient et d'Occident du IIIe siècle au VIIe siècle (Paris: Études Augustiniennes 1988).

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager