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was well acquainted with the opinions and usages of Christians of his day, and had any such festival as that of the Nativity existed in his time, he could not have been ignorant of the fact. Yet he does not mention it, though he expressly names the others of which we have spoken, and under circumstances which would render the absence of all allusion to this wholly inexplicable, had any such festival been then observed. In reply to an objection of Celsus, he speaks of the nature of festivals and of such in particular as Christians might lawfully attend. He does not extravagantly exalt festivals. In common with Christians of his day, he makes purity of the affections and a uniformly upright and holy life the great distinguishing characteristic of the Christian. These were a perpetual offering. The perfect Christian, he says, does not need festivals; all his days are Lord's days, and “passing over from the things of this life to God," he celebrates a continual Passover, which means transition,” and being able to say with the Apostle, we are “risen with Christ, in the spirit,” he keeps an unbroken Pentecost. But the multitude require sensible objects, he says, to renew the memory of what would else pass away and be forgotten. He enumerates the Christian festivals in the following order :“Lord's days, Parasceves, (preparatory fasts, of which we have already spoken,) the Passover, and Pentecost."* other festivals are alluded to here, or elsewhere in the four folio volumes of this eminent father of the Church.
In the time of Origen, then, the only Christian festivals in existence, those of the martyrs excepted, of which we do not now speak, were Sunday, the Passover and Pentecost, the preparatory fasts being included. The third, or next oldest festival was that of the baptism of the Saviour, called the festival of the Manifestation,t (Epiphany,)
* Contra Cels. L. viii. § 22.
† Jesus's manifestation in the character of the Messiah at his baptism, the original meaning, and not “manifestation to the Gentiles” at the coming of the “wise men,” a turn subsequently given it. The festival was probably of Jewish-Christian origin, though it is first traced among the followers of Basilides in Egypt, in the time of Clement. The Jewish Christians attached particular importance to the baptism of Jesus, by which he became the Son of God. And lo! a voice from Heaven, saying, this is my beloved in whom I am well pleased.” This view also explains the fact, that the birth and baptism of Jesus were originally celebrated in one festival.
which was celebrated on the sixth of January. With this was united the festival of the birth of Christ, (Christmas,) at the time we first hear of it, that is, in Egypt. The first traces of it are obscure in the extreme. Clement of Alexandria, another learned father of the Church, whom nothing seemingly escaped, and who flourished at the beginning of the third century, does not expressly mention it. His testimony, however, is important, as showing the ignorance of Christians of that period, even the best informed of them, of the time of Christ's birth. Both the day and the year were involved in uncertainty, and Clement seems to speak with no little contempt of those who undertook to fix the former. - There are those,” he says,
66 who with an overbusy curiosity* attempt to fix not only the year but the day of our Saviour's birth, who, they say, was born in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, on the twenty-fifth of the month Pachon,” that is the twentieth of May. He adds soon after,
that he was born on the twentyfourth or twenty-fifth of the month Pharmuthi,” that is, the nineteenth or twentieth of April,t both parties selecting the spring as the season of the nativity. And here Clement leaves the matter. The inference is plain. The day of the nativity was unknown. Whatever notice was taken of the event was taken at the festival of the Baptism. A few prying into the subject with vain solicitude, pretended to assign the day, but they differed, only agreeing that it was in April or May. In regard to the precise year of the Saviour's birth, our common or vulgar era, by the general consent of the learned, places it from three to five years (four is generally assigned) too late.
At the period when we discover the first trace of Christmas then, it was celebrated on the sixth of January, having been superadded to the feast of the Baptism. About the middle of the fourth century, we hear of its celebration at Rome on the twenty-fifth of December, the day being determined, it is asserted, though not on evidence which is perfectly conclusive, by Julius, bishop of Rome. This,
* The participle corresponding to the neuter adjective here used by Clement occurs in 2 Thes. iii. 11. and is rendered “ busy-bodies.” Clement uses the comparative degree, which of course adds to the intensity of the signification.
† Stromat. L. i. pp. 407-408. ed. Oxon. 1715. VOL. XXXIX. - 4TH S. VOL. III. NO. I.
we believe, is the earliest notice of it as a distinct festival, certainly the earliest which is clear and undisputed. It was soon after introduced into the East, where, according to the testimony of Chrysostom who was priest of Antioch, and afterwards bishop of Constantinople, it was before unknown. “It is not yet ten years," says he, in his Homily on the Nativity,* about the year 386,“ since this day was first made known to us. It had been before observed,” he adds, " in the West, whence the knowledge of it was derived.” It is clear from this testimony that the present time of celebrating the birth of the Saviour was a novelty in the East very late in the fourth century, and from the manner in which Chrysostom expresses himself, the conclusion seems irresistible, that before that time there was no festival of the kind observed in the Syrian Church. He does not allude to any; he does not say that the question was about the day merely, as he naturally would have said, if it had been so. “Some affirmed,” he says, “and others denied, that the festival was an old one, known from Thrace to Spain.” “There was much disputing,” he adds, “on the subject, and much opposition was encountered in the introduction of the festival.” This, it must be recollected, was in one of the chief cities of the East, near the end of the fourth century. The Christians of Egypt at a much later period are found celebrating the Nativity on the old sixth of January.t
Various reasons have been assigned for the selection of the twenty-fifth of December by the Romans. It was clearly an innovation. The day had never been observed as a festival of the nativity by Christians of the East, where Christ had his birth. It is certain, however, that some of the most memorable of the Heathen festivals were celebrated at Rome at this season of the year, and these the Christians were fond of attending, and could be the more readily withdrawn from them if they had similar feasts of
Opp. T. ii. pp. 417-432. ed. Par. 1838. # It is a circumstance worthy of note, that while the festival of the Baptism extended itself from East to West, that of Christmas travelled from West to East. We have not overlooked the testimony of Augustine, at the end of the fourth century, but he is too late a writer to be an authority for any early tradition, and though he mentions the festival of the Nativity, he does not ascribe to it the same importance as to the two older festivals of Easter and Whitsunday.
their own, occurring at the same season. It is certain, too, that many of the ceremonies and observances of the Pagan festivals were transferred to those of Christians.* Whether this and much else connected with the establishment of Christian festivals happened by design or accident, is a point we shall not stop formally to discuss. It has been argued that the winter solstice (the twenty-fifth of December in the Roman calendar) was chosen, from a beautiful analogy, - the sun, which then begins to return to diffuse warmth and light over the material creation,t presenting a fit emblem of the rising of the Sun of righteousness to cheer and bless the world by his beams. The festival of the birth of the Sun, (natalis Solis invicti,) a figurative expression denoting his turning at the tropic, one of the most celebrated festivals among the Romans, observed at this period, had probably much more to do in determining the time of the Christian festival than the bare analogy alluded to, which, however, served well for rhetorical and poetic illustration. We find the Christian poet, Prudentius, soon after, making use of it for this purpose. The fixing of the birth of the Saviour at the winter solstice, when the days begin to increase, which would place that of John at the summer solstice, when they begin to decrease, also gratified the love of a mystical interpretation of the language of Scripture. It gave, as it was discovered, to the affirmation, “ He must increase, but I must decrease," a deep-hidden meaning. I
The sum of the whole is, that, besides the weekly festival of Sunday, there are two annual festivals, those of the Resurrection of Christ and the Descent of the Spirit, or Easter and Whitsunday, or rather one festival of fifty days,
* Thus, during the Roman Saturnalia, or feast of Saturn, holden in memory of the golden age of equality and innocence under his reign, and kept in the time of the Cæsars from the 17th to the 23d of December, seven days, “ all orders were devoted to mirth and feasting;” friends sent presents to each other; slaves enjoyed their liberty, and wore caps as badges of freedom ;' wax tapers were lighted in the temples; and jests and freedom, and all sorts of jollity prevailed.
+ In the Northern hemisphere, where the date was adopted.
# The confessedly late origin of Christmas has led to the conjecture that, like many other customs of the Church and definitions or statements of doctrine, it was introduced in opposition to certain heretics, who either denied the incarnation altogether, or held it in light esteem. Augusti, Denkwürdigkeiten, etc. Band i. p. 226.
including both, which date back to an indefinitely remote period of Christian antiquity ; that the festival of the Baptism of Jesus came next, and last that of his Nativity; that this last was wholly unknown for some centuries after the Apostolic age; that it is not alluded to by any very ancient Christian writer, by Justin Martyr or Tertullian ; that it was unknown to the learned Origen, near the middle of the third century ; that Clement of Alexandria does not mention the festival, and speaks of the vain labor of some antiquaries who attempted to fix the date of the Saviour's birth, who agreed in nothing except in placing it in the spring months of April or May; that the festival was first celebrated in January, in connection with the festival of the Manifestation ; that Chrysostom, who represents the opinions of the Oriental Church, was ignorant, if not of the festival itself, yet certainly of the present period of its celebration, near the end of the fourth century; and finally, that the festival came from the West, and not like all the more ancient festivals, from the East.
The true explanation of the origin of both the more ancient festivals, Easter and Whitsunday, is, that they were Jewish feasts, - continued among the Jewish Christians, and afterwards, it is impossible to say when, adopted by the Gentile believers, Christ having consecrated them anew, the one by his death and resurrection, and the other by the outpouring of the Spirit upon the Apostles. Neither of them was instituted by Christians; neither of them originated in purely Christian ideas, as is shown by the testimony of Origen, already referred to, and in confirmation of which we might adduce a multitude of passages from the early Christian writers to the same point.* The Jews had no
* We choose to give the following from the Manichean Faustus, partly as well illustrating the Christian idea of worship at the time the Manicheans were separated from the Church, in the third century, and partly because we wish to say a word or two of the Manicheans in connection with the festival of Christmas. The passage is preserved by Augustine, in his reply to Faustus the Manichean. " The Pagans,” says Faustus, " think to worship the Divinity by altars, temples, images, victims, and incense. I differ much from them in this, who regard myself, if I am worthy, as the reasonable temple of God, the living image of his living Majesty; I accept Jesus Christ as his image; the mind imbued with good knowledge and disciplined in virtue I regard as the true altar; and the honor to be rendered to the Divinity and the sacrifices to be offered, I place in prayers alone, and those pure and simple.”- Contra Faust L: xx. c. 3.
We do not remember to have seen it noticed as an argument of the