The next step was the affecting to pray at the sepulchres of the Martyrs: which practice began in Dioclesian’s persecution. The Council of Eliberis in Spain, celebrated in the third or fourth year of Dioclesian’s persecution, A.C. 305, hath these Canons. Can. 34. Cereos per diem placuit in Coemeterio non incendi: inquietandi enim spiritus sanctorum non sunt.
Qui haec non observarint, arceantur ab Ecclesiae communione. Can. 35.
Placuit prohiberi ne faeminae in Coemeterio pervigilent, eo quod saepe sub obtentu orationis latenter scelera committant. Presently after that persecution, suppose about the year 314, the Council of Laodicea in Phrygia, which then met for restoring the lapsed discipline of the Church, has the following Canons. Can. 9. Those of the Church are not allowed to go into the Cemeteries or Martyries, as they are called, of heretics, for the sake of prayer or recovery of health: but such as go, if they be of the faithful, shall be excommunicated for a time. Can. 34. A Christian must not leave the Martyrs of Christ, and go to false Martyrs, that is, to the Martyrs of the heretics; for these are alien from God: and therefore let those be anathema who go to them. Can. 51. The birth-days of the Martyrs shall not be celebrated in Lent, but their commemoration shall be made on the Sabbath-days and Lords days. The Council of Paphlagonia, celebrated in the year 324, made this Canon: If any man be arrogant, abominates the congregations of the Martyrs, or the Liturgies performed therein, or the memories of the Martyrs, let him be anathema. By all which it is manifest that the Christians in the time of Dioclesian’s persecution used to pray in the Cemeteries or burying-places of the dead; for avoiding the danger of the persecution, and for want of Churches, which were all thrown down: and after the persecution was over, continued that practice in honor of the Martyrs, till new Churches could be built: and by use affected it as advantageous to devotion, and for recovering the health of those that were sick. It also appears that in these burying-places they commemorated the Martyrs yearly upon days dedicated to them, and accounted all these practices pious and religious, and anathematized those men as arrogant who opposed them, or prayed in the Martyries of the heretics. They also lighted torches to the Martyrs in the day-time, as the heathens did to their Gods; which custom, before the end of the fourth century, prevailed much in the West. They sprinkled the worshipers of the Martyrs with holy-water, as the heathens did the worshipers of their Gods; and went in pilgrimage to see Jerusalem and other holy places, as if those places conferred sanctity on the visitors. From the custom of praying in the cemeteries and Martyries, came the custom of translating the bodies of the Saints and Martyrs into such Churches as were new built: the Emperor Constantius began this practice about the year 359, causing the bodies of Andrew the Apostle, Luke and Timothy, to be translated into a new Church at Constantinople: and before this act of Constantius, the Egyptians kept the bodies of their Martyrs and Saints unburied upon beds in their private houses, and told stories of their souls appearing after death and ascending up to heaven, as Athanasius relates in the life of Antony. All which gave occasion to the Emperor Julian, as Cyril relates, to accuse the Christians in this manner: Your adding to that ancient dead man, Jesus, many new dead men, who can sufficiently abominate? You have filled all places with sepulchres and monuments, although you are no where bidden to prostrate yourselves to sepulchres, and to respect them officiously. And a little after: Since Jesus said that sepulchres are full of filthiness, how do you invoke God upon them? and in another place he saith, that if Christians had adhered to the precepts of the Hebrews, they would have worshiped one God instead of many, and not a man, or rather not many unhappy men: And that they adored the wood of the cross, making its images on their foreheads, and before their houses.