Monday, December 17, 2012

Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Pagan Solstice Celebrations 2

Did Christianity Steal the Date of Pagan Winter Solstice Celebrations?

Part 2: The Mis-Use of Roman Records-Juvenalia

When modern critics of Christian Christmas make claims that Christians stole the solstice celebrations they usually mix together their ideas of Roman, Germanic, Nordic, and Celtic winter celebrations into an anachronistic mash or impossibly conflicting claims. The method is to overwhelm people with their supposed "information." There is just too much data for the average person to absorb. Viewers and readers assume that the people that put the books or programs together must know what they are talking about since they seem to know so much.

It is more accurate to use the words attributed to Henry Wheeler Shaw: "It's folks knowing so much that ain't so."

The Roman Pagan festivals that the anti-Christmas crowd and the modern pagans claim to be the sources for Christmas are:
  • Sol Invictus
  • Juvenalia
  • Saturnalia
  • Brumalia
Nero ruled 54-68 A.D. (before his first shave?)
We've already dealt with the false claims about Sol Invictus. We've also already dealt with the misuse of the early Church Fathers.

Juvenalia

The claim about Juvenalia is usually that it was the Roman solstice or early January holiday where the celebration of the youth, singing carols, and gift giving came from. Claims like this are usually made by people who watched the History Channel's programs and their views of Juvenalia:
"Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome." HC
Juvenalia was actually instituted in 59 A.D. by Emperor Nero to celebrate his first shave at the age of 21.

In other words, he was no longer a child, but an adult. Juvenalia was not a celebration of youth, but of coming out of adolescence to be a real man.

In this article I am listing sources instead of copying the quotes because they are long, but please don't gloss over what the source says. Go to it and read it.  Read each of them.

We can go back to Tacitus (56 – 117 AD), the earliest historian who recorded the invention of Juvenalia. Tacitus was 2 or 3 years old when Nero celebrated his Juvenalia.

Tacitus  records Nero's creation of Juvenalia in his Annales, XIV.15-16 [English/Latin Parallel]  XV.33 [English/Latin Parallel]  XVI.21 [English/Latin Parallel]

Again, no particular date, nothing about a childhood celebration or gift giving. Nero did command his people to sing or perform lewd songs and acts in the theaters he had constructed for this occasion.

Next is Suetonius (c. 69 – c. 122 AD) [roughly contemporary with Tacitus], who wrote in his The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, [English/Latin] but gives only a very brief account, stating nothing about the date of Nero's beard shaving party, nor about any child's gathering or gift giving.

Born almost 100 years after the Nero invented Juvenalia, Cassius Dio (c. 150 – 235 AD) gives a description that is more detailed than that of Tacitus or Seutonius in his Roman History 62.19-21 [Greek Text][English Text] Found in Vol. VIII of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1925 LXI:19-21, pp. 77-82.

No date for Nero's Juvenalia is mentioned by Cassius Dio. He does mention that Nero had theaters constructed for the event. He also mentions that Nero forced people from the high end of society in to humiliating and lewd acts in honor of the emperor’s first shave, which they did because they had a not unreasonable fear that Nero would kill them if they displeased him.

 Dio also writes that Domitian (51 – 96 AD, emperor from 81-96)gave Juvenalia games but assigns no date.

So, now we are 175 years after Nero instituted Juvenalia, and we have no date of the year, no mention that this festival is for the good of children, and no mention of gift giving. We do have the fact that Nero constructed theaters for this celebration and commanded performances that included a singing competition. And, of course, Nero was declared the best singer of all.

The choice of December 25th and January 6th for the Christmas observance is already established by the end of the 2nd century AD.

Lexicographer William Smith's 1870 Dictionary lists his next reference given of Juvenalia  to Sidonius Apollinaris, (430 -489 AD) Carmina XXIII.307, 428; but a search of this document came up without results. Perhaps someone else can help finding more on this particular document. The Latin is available here.

Augustan History, "The Three Gordians", 4 refers to three emperors in the early 3rd century who also instituted Juvenalia games. But these take place after the Church had already established the dates for the celebration of Christmas.


What can be said about Juvenalia is that no particular consistent day of the year or month is given for this festival, though a few Emperors tried to establish such a celebration both immediately after with Domitian, and more than a century after with the Gordian emperors. 

Singing was involved with Nero's debauched celebration. But then singing is associated with almost any celebration one could point to, including the birth of Christ. Do not forget the Angels singing to God in the presence of the Shepherds and the gifts of the Magai to the Christ Child.

The fact that singing was present at Christ's first Advent was not caused by Nero. It is indeed a perverse logic that would imply that the Gospel writers were trying to win the approval of Nero by including this feature of the Christmas Narrative to win approval of those who complied with Nero's edict under threat of death.

The earliest mention of Juvenalia with Christmas may come from Alexander Hislop's 1853 “The Two Babylons” an anti-Roman Catholic member of the Masonic Lodge. Hislop's work was popularized by Ralph Woodrow's 1966 “Babylon Mystery Religion.” Woodrow has now recanted and rejected the Biblical and historical errors of Hilsop which he had promoted in that work. 

Remember that Hislop is a main theological father of several Millerite and Campbelite groups like the Seventh Day Adventists, the Jehovah's Witnesses and also the Christadelphians.

 Conclusion 

The Roman texts that we were able to survey and to which most critics of Christmas refer actually say nothing about the date of Juvenalia. It has nothing to do with the date of Christmas nor does it have to do with the date of the Solstice. Those texts do point out that Juvenalia was not a child's festival nor a festival for children, but rather a "coming of age' celebration for an adolescent male into his manhood. There was theater with singing and acting. But it is not legitimate to claim the cause of Christmas carols is to be credited to Juvenalia because some Romans sang at that celebration.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Pagan Solstice Celebrations

Did Christianity Steal the Date of Pagan Winter Solstice Celebrations?

Part 1: The Mis-use of the Church Fathers

This article builds on what was established in the first two articles in this series. Please remember that these articles are not trying to establish what day or year Christ was actually born. These articles are written to demonstrate when the Christian Church chose dates, and to rebut the accusations that these dates were chosen in order to embrace or suppress pagan idolatry.

The first article looked at the early date at which the Christian Church had through its own Biblical and Liturgical reasoning established a particular date on which to celebrate the Birth of Christ. The dates chosen were based on when the Church understood the Creation took place, when the Conception of Christ took place, and when the Crucifixion of Christ took place. And as early as before the year 200 A.D. the Church Fathers had settled on either December 25th or January 6th. 
 
The fact that the early Church had established these calendar dates to celebrate the Birth of Christ by the close of the 2nd Century is important in understanding how and why from the time of the Reformation until now the modern efforts to discredit these dates by claims of pagan origins are false and misleading. 
 
The second article looked at the particular case of the pagan holiday of Sol Invictus, “The Unconquerable Sun” or “The Invincible Sun” and showed from the actual historical documents and resources that this particular pagan holy day was a later invention dating from after the year 274 A.D. and probably even later than 354 A.D. We also saw that these sources may likely represent an attempt of pagans to usurp the Christian liturgical celebration of the Birth of Christ on the date of December 25th. 
 
A very common method of argument is that Christian Church Fathers also prove that the Christmas celebration is really stolen from  pagan solstice festivals. 
 
Examples of this are:

Increase Mather's 1687 A TESTIMONY Against several Prophane and Superstitious CUSTOMS, Now Practised by some in New-England (ch. 3, par. 3)
Increase Mather was a rabid anti-Catholic Puritan responsible for burning witches in Massachusetts.
Paul Ernst Jablonski's 1754 Institutiones historiae christianae antiquioris
 
Alexander Hilsop's 1858 The Two Babylons: or The Papal Worship Proved to be the Worship of Nimrodand His Wife. (ch. 3, section 1)
Hilsop's work helped form the theology of the Seventh Day Adventists, the Jehovah's Witnesses and strongly influenced several Millerite groups.
Joseph Martin McCabe's 1903 Augustine and His Age (pages 128ff)
McCabe was a man who fell from faith in Christ and spent most of his life writing against Christ, Christianity, and the Church. He was interested in discrediting Christianity so people would lose faith in God.
Will and Ariel Durant's 1950 The Story of Civilization - vol 4 (The Age of Faith) (ch. 4)

And others: like Hermann Usener and Bernard Botte.

The Church Fathers that are usually mentioned are Cyprian, Origen, Chrysostom, and Tertullian, and Augustine.

So, do the quotations from early Church Fathers prove that the Christmas celebration is really from pagan solstice celebrations? The quotations all these authors use, when they actually quote them, are very few. They are:

Cyprian/Pseudo-Cyprian

A text long thought to have been written by Cyprian is often quoted as linking Sol Invictus and the Solstice to the choice of December 25th. The text is titled De Pascha Computus (The Passover Computation). The authorship is unknown because text itself probably pre-dates Cyprian's baptism. Some date it to 243 A.D. This dating would also put the text before Aurelian's October Sol Invictus games and more than a century before the earliest recorded association of December 25th with the Sol Invictus celebration.

The passage is usually cited from the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia's inaccurate translation:
"O, how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born . . . Christ should be born."
The ellipsis is significant. T. C. Schmidt points out a serious problem with this evidence. We'll keep the ellipsis to show only the translational problem first:

O the splendid and divine Providence of the Lord, that on that day, even at the very day, on which the Sun was made [factus], … Christ should be born [nasceretur].
With the language corrected there is nothing in this passage that connects the Birth of Christ with either the Solstice or the celebration of Sol Invictus. More to the point, the words left out in the ellipsis demonstrate that whoever originally made this citation with the ellipses knew he was misleading the reader. Here is the full passage:

O! The splendid and divine Providence of the Lord, that on that day, even at the very day, on which the Sun was made, 28 March, a Wednesday, Christ should be born. For this reason Malachi the prophet, speaking about him to the people, fittingly said: “Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings.” [Malachi 4:2]
 The Latin text is from chapter 19, p. 266 of De Pascha Computus.
 
The Passover Computation places Christ's birth on March 28, not the Winter Solstice. But more importantly, the day was Wednesday, the fourth day of the week. Wednesday is the day of the week that the Sun, Moon, and stars were created. “The very day” is “Wednesday” the fourth day of the week. Equating this with March 28 reflects the date of the year when the author believed the world was created.

Schmidt also points out that there is a small question as to whether nasceretur means “born” or “conceived.” But this is not really important to the issue here. Though there were many different dates that the early Church looked at, by the time this document was written, December 25th/January 6th were already widely established. What is important is the fact that this document does not support any claim that Cyprian/Pseudo-Cyprian thought that Christmas was based on the Solstice or the “birth of the sun.”

Tertullian of Carthage in Africa (c. 160 – c. 225 AD)

It is often stated that Tertullian had to assert that Sol was not the God of the Christians, as if this means that there was rampant solar worship that Christianity was competing against. 
 
The references given start with Tertullian's Apology 16. In his Apology Tertullian contrasts Christianity with all kinds of different forms of paganism in the world. In the 16th chapter he refutes Tacitus' claims against Christianity, for example; the cross is wood, so Christians therefore worship wood/trees; Christians face east to pray, therefore Christians worship the sun; Christians worship on the first day of the week, therefore they worship the sun. To this Tertullian replies:
[9] Others, again, certainly with more information and greater verisimilitude, believe that the sun is our god. We shall be counted Persians perhaps, though we do not worship the orb of day painted on a piece of linen cloth, having himself everywhere in his own disk. [10] The idea no doubt has originated from our being known to turn to the east in prayer. But you, many of you, also under pretence sometimes of worshipping the heavenly bodies, move your lips in the direction of the sunrise. [11] In the same way, if we devote Sun-day to rejoicing, from a far different reason than Sun-worship, we have some resemblance to those of you who devote the day of Saturn to ease and luxury, though they too go far away from Jewish ways, of which indeed they are ignorant.
The implication is that sun worship is a foreign thing to Roman north Africa, that it was typically thought to be a Persian notion. Further, Romans thought this facing east during prayer and praying on the first day of the week implied that Christians followed the Persian notion of sun worship. But using that particular day was no different than taking Saturday off for the Romans.

There is really nothing here to show that Christianity borrowed pagan sources for the celebration of Christmas. In fact, if the arguments that Mather and the others make were to be valid, Tertullian would have to be made to say that Christians cannot worship on Sunday because it is a pagan day dedicated to Sol. No where do we find anything like this until the time of the Puritans—who did away with day names for precisely this reason.

Next is Tertullians Against the Nations chapter 13, where he addresses the false charge that Christians worship the sun. There he states the same as in the Apology.
 
The fact that Tertullian or other Fathers of the Church had to defend the Church against the charge of worshiping the sun does not demonstrate that celebrating Christmas on December 25th is wrong. It says nothing about the solstice.

Origen of Alexandria (184-253)

Origen is often enlisted as support against the celebration of Christmas. We saw in the first article in this series that Origen's predecessor, Clement of Alexandria, had already shown that the celebration of Christ's birth on December 25th or January 6th was known in Alexandria. The claim is that Origen wrote against celebrating Christmas in his 8th Homily on Leviticus. Christmas is a celebration of a birthday. Therefore, Origen is made to oppose the celebration of Christ's birth (Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, column 495 ).

In his 8th Homily on Leviticus Origen interpreted Leviticus 12 and 13, discussing purification after childbirth with the sacrifice of the two pigeons or two turtledoves for the newborn child. This sacrifice was necessary because of the sin of the newborn. Origen argued that no saint in Scripture rejoiced in the birth day of a son or daughter because of the need to purify the newborn from sin. In the Scriptures he could only find sinners like Pharaoh and Herod celebrating their births. And both of those men stained the celebration of their births with bloodshed. Origen argues further that the saints, like Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:14–18), Job(Job 3:1–3), and David (Psalms 51:5) cursed the day they were born. These men uttered these words by the power of the Holy Spirit, so therefore baptism is absolutely necessary for the newborn.

Origen's recollection about birthdays in Scripture was not as accurate as it could have been. Abraham and Sarah both rejoice at the birth of the promised son, name him “laughter” both in admission to their own initial doubt of God's promise, and for the joy God had given them. They celebrate the birth and the weaning of that son (Genesis 21:1-8). Leah rejoicing at the birth of Judah (Genesis 29:35). Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz rejoice at the birth of Obed (Ruth 4:13-17). Hannah rejoices at Samuel's birth and gives an annual gift for Samuel in thanks for his birth (1 Samuel 2:1-11, 19). The Angel tells Zechariah that the birth of John the Baptizer will be a cause of joy to his parents and to many, including those who were there to celebrate his birth(Luke 1:14, 57-58). 
 
Besides the rejoicing over those births recorded in Scripture are the many times God draws a parallel between the joy of birth and the coming of God's kingdom and God's steadfastness from our birth: Psalm 71:4-6; Isaiah 46:3-4; 66:7-11; Micah 4:10; John 16:21.

Also, God's Word points out specifically that the Birth of the Messiah would be a cause for celebration and joy: Psalm 87; Isaiah 9:1-7; Micah 5:2-5, Zecheriah 2:10; The Wise Men of Matthew 2—with their gifts; and the Angels and the Shepherds of Luke 2.

So with Origen we can say these things: 1) he was not writing about the date of Christ's birth but about the necessity of baptism for naturally born sinners as exampled in Leviticus 12 and 13. 2) Origen may have thought birthday celebrations were to be avoided—but he did not stand on solid biblical grounds for that opinion.

In any case, the example from Origen does not demonstrate that the date of Christmas came from the Roman Solstice. Nor does it demonstrate that the practice of celebrating the Birth of Christ came from pagan solstice practices.

John Chrysostom of Constantinople (347–407)

This particular quotation is often referred to, very seldom quoted, and only from one source available now: The 1911 Catholic Encyclopediaarticle on Christmas. The title given in the article is "del Solst. Et Æquin." meaning “Concerning Solstices and Equinoxes”. The source for the article is given as “(II, p. 118, ed. 1588)”, which means nothing. The Opera Omnia of Migne's Patrologia Graeca does not list this document

Chrysostom wrote in Greek. The quotation from this unnamed 1588 source is in Latin with several parts missing:
"Sed et dominus noster nascitur mense decembris . . . VIII Kal. Ian. . . . Sed et Invicti Natalem appelant. Quis utique tam invictus nisi dominus noster? . . . Vel quod dicant Solis esse natalem, ipse est Sol iustitiæ."
"But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eight before the calends of January [25 December] . . ., But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered'. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord . . .? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice."
If someone could find this document, I would greatly appreciate it. As it stands, at best it can only demonstrate that some people had started to talk about the “Birthday of the Unconquered” some years after Aurelian's Sol Invictus games of 274 A.D. and after the Pilocalean Calendar of 354 A.D. The dates for the celebration of Christmas had already been selected long before Aurelian.

From what is quoted the writer is not arguing that Christianity took the date of Christ's birth from the “Birthday of the Unconquered.” Nothing is mentioned about a solstice. And with so much missing, it is hard to know what this document is addressing.

Augustine

Augustine is usually referred to with the following:
(Tract xxxiv, in Joan. In P.L., XXXV,1652) denounces the heretical identification with Sol” (from the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, same work as above).
This tractate on John 8:12 “ I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” The English translation is at CCEL.
But in this context it is not the false god “Sol” that Augustine names, but the Manichaean false doctrine:
The Manichæans have supposed that the Lord Christ is that sun which is visible to carnal eyes, exposed and public to be seen, not only by men, but by the beasts. But the right faith of the Catholic Church rejects such a fiction, and perceives it to be a devilish doctrine: not only by believing acknowledges it to be such, but in the case of whom it can, proves it even by reasoning. Let us therefore reject this kind of error, which the Holy Church has anathematized from the beginning. Let us not suppose that the Lord Jesus Christ is this sun which we see rising from the east, setting in the west; to whose course succeeds night, whose rays are obscured by a cloud, which removes from place to place by a set motion: the Lord Christ is not such a thing as this. The Lord Christ is not the sun that was made, but He by whom the sun was made. For “all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.”
So, again, the evidence enlisted from the Church Fathers to prove that Christianity stole pagan solstice worship for Christmas comes up dry.

Roger Pearse points out: “In 401 AD, on Christmas day, Augustine (PL 46, 996) preaches a sermon discussing pagan customs on the same day:
“Stop these latest sacrileges, stop this craze for vanities and pointless games, stop these customs, which no longer take place in honour of demons but still follow the rites of demons … Yesterday, after vespers, the whole city was aflame with stinking fires; the entire sky was covered with smoke! If you make little of the matter of religion, think at least of the wrong that you do to the community. We know, brothers, that it is kids who have done this, but the parents must have let them sin.” [thus far Pearse's quote]
Notice that Augustine is focusing on the destruction of property, vandalism, and endangering lives with fire and smoke. Augustine's argument is: Even if you don't do these things to honor false gods/demons anymore, these vandalisms are still reckless and dangerous to life and property. They must stop.

Summary

There are other Church Fathers that are also enlisted in the effort to prove that Christians ought not to celebrate Christmas on December 25. But the Church Fathers discussed in this article are the most often cited. By seeing the quotations in context we can understand how little these writings have to do with the choice of date for Christmas, the pagan solstice, or with any Christmas festivities that we have inherited today.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Christmas and Sol Invictus



Did Christianity Steal the Date of Sol Invictus?

The claim is that Sol Invictus "Invincible Sun" is a more ancient pagan holiday in Rome celebrated on December 25th. The claim assumes that this pagan holiday was so popular and dangerous that the Christian Church sought to suppress it by establishing the celebration of Christ's Nativity on December 25th. By doing this, the claim continues, the Christians adopted the pagan day and some of the practices of that pagan festival to make the celebration of Christmas more appealing to pagans.

Remember first that the Christian faith is as old as the curse on Satan in Genesis 3:15. And while pagan worship of the sun certainly existed in Rome before the spread of the fulfillment of that promise in Christ came to the city; the celebration of Sol Invictus as a god in Rome actually came as pagans attempted to suppress Christianity. This early attempt as suppressing Christianity by means of the pagan worship of Sol is found in the Historia Augusta, a pagan history of Rome compiled in the fourth century AD.

The Historia Augusta in TheLife of Elagabalus (1.3) relates events from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, a particularly twisted man, who reigned from 218-222 AD. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus came to be called Elagabalus after the name of the Syrian sun god, and was himself initiated as a priest of that false god. He viewed himself as the personal manifestation of the Syrian sun god. After coming to Rome and being established as emperor at the age of 14, the Historia states:

4 Elagabalus [established himself] as a god on the Palatine Hill close to the imperial palace; and he built him a temple, to which he desired to transfer the emblem of the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the Palladium, the shields of the Salii, and all that the Romans held sacred, purposing that no god might be worshipped at Rome save only Elagabalus. 5 He declared, furthermore, that the religions of the Jews and the Samaritans and the rites of the Christians must also be transferred to this place, in order that the priesthood of Elagabalus might include the mysteries of every form of worship.


And, coincidentally, very shortly after Elagabalus tried to establish worship of the Syrian sun god, Sol Invictus, he was thought to be too licentious and was assassinated by his own people, pagan Romans, at the age of 18 years old.

From that time there is no mention of the celebration of Sol Invictus in Roman history until the rule of Aurelian (A.D. 270-275). Aurelian did try to re-introduce the worship of Sol Invictus by decree in the year 274. But there is no record of this festival being held on December 25th. “The traditional feast days of Sol, as recorded in the early imperial fasti, were August 8th and/or August 9th, possibly August 28th, and December 11th.”(Hijmans, p. 588 )

Aurelian did declare games to Sol every four years. But there is no record from the period or early historiographers that these games were associated with December 25th in any way. The best evidence suggest that the games were held October 19-22 of their calendar. Anyway, on another coincidence, a year after Aurelian declared these games in honor of Sol Invictus, he was assassinated by his own pagan Roman officers out of fear he would execute them based on false charges.

The earliest calendar to mention that Invictus as a specified date for Roman religious life comes from a text of the Philocalian Calendar, VIII Kal recorded in an illuminated 4th Century manuscript called TheChronography of 354. In this late manuscript the date is listed in Mensis December (The Month of December) as N·INVICTI·CM·XXX.


Many scholars through the years have assumed that INVICTI in this calendar must mean “Sol Invictus.” This is possible. However, elsewhere the calendar does not hesitate to make explicit mention of festivals to Sol, for example: on SOLIS·ET·LVNAE·CM·XXIIII (August 28th) and LVDI·SOLIS (October 19-22).

Even if INVICTI does refer to Sol Invictus on December 25th of this calendar, all this shows is that the celebration of Sol Invictus was placed on December 25th after Christianity had already widely accepted and celebrated December 25th as the Nativity of Christ.

There are many historians and people following them who will still assert that December 25th is Sol Invictus in ancient Rome. Some will even claim that another religion, Mithraism, has close connection to this December 25th celebration. In actual fact there is no ancient documentation tying Mithraism to December 25th or Sol Invictus. The Christian celebration of the Nativity of Christ as December 25th predates anything in the earliest actual documentation for Sol Invictus on December 25th. That documentation is from the much later Philocalian Calendar Chronography of 354.

[For those interested in a more technical look see T.C. Schmid's article at the Internet Archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20140721141415/http://chronicon.net/blog/christmas/sol-invictus-evidently-not-a-precursor-to-christmas/ ]

Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Christmas

Of the major Christian Holy Days, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost are the high points in the Historic Church Year. On these Holy Days we celebrate God the Father's gift of His only-begotten Son in the birth of Jesus Christ, we celebrate God the Son's gift of His life, sufferings, death and resurrection at Passover/Easter, and we celebrate God the Holy Spirit's gift of calling us to faith and dwelling in us through Word and Sacrament.

These Holy Days are also one of the main fronts in the battle against Christianity by people who wish to undermine Christianity. Part of undermining Christianity means undermining all the claims of Christianity about what the Bible teaches. The historical liturgical practice of the church has been the focal point of the application of Biblical doctrine to the faith and lives of the saints. By discrediting the liturgical practice of the Church the enemies of Christianity try to distract from biblical teaching for that day and discredit that teaching.

This is not to say that these liturgical practices or holiday traditions should be required in any legalistic way. This is to point out that the efforts of those who try to discredit the authenticity of Christian Holy days and seek to scandalize the traditions associated with those days do so to undermine the biblical doctrine the Church teaches through the observance of these Holy Days.

And so any Christian holy day that could be claimed is claimed by the anti-Christian groups. We have seen this with Halloween and we will see it with many other lesser Historic Christian celebrations.

There are two basic types of claims against each Christian Holy Day: The first type of claim is that the date itself was stolen from pre-Christian or pagan sources, and the second type of claim is that the traditions celebrated on that holy day are purported to be of pre-Christian/pagan origin.

So let us start with the date of Christmas celebration. We will look at two early documents from two Church Fathers, Clement of Alexandria and Hippolytus of Rome. Both of these wrote around the year 200 AD. They both put the date for the celebration of Christ's birth at December 25th in our calendar. Some of the following is a bit technical. I apologize for this. But I think it is necessary for readers to have access to these resources and the arguments so they can understand what took place and correct the inaccuracies about when Christmas was first celebrated on December 25th.

When did the earliest Christians date the birth of Christ at December 25th?
In these paragraphs we are not trying to establish when the birth of Christ actually took place. We are trying to establish where and when the Church began to associate the birth of Christ with December 25th or January 6th.

The tradition of celebrating the Nativity of Christ on December 25th or January 6th was spread all across Europe, Africa, and Asia in the early Church. And the tradition was consistent. There was a difference between the Eastern Orthodox Christians and the Western Christians on which day should be emphasized. Should the Christian Church primarily celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th, when His birth was announced to the people of Israel, or on January 6th when the Gentile Wise men, or Magai, visited him. Both days are celebrated in the Eastern and the Western Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates January 6th as the Baptism of Jesus rather than the visitation of the Wise Men. But both days were based on the early Church figuring from Scripture that Jesus was conceived in the Spring of the year at the time of the full moon of Passover.

The early Church emphasized March 25th the Festival of the Annunciation as the Incarnation of Christ. The old Catholic Encyclopedia is inaccurate in stating: 
The present date of the feast (25 March) depends upon the date of the older feast of Christmas.” [Holwek 1907]
The textual evidence from the early Church Fathers indicates the opposite.

In recent times there have been several helpful articles published on this topic. This article is indebted to Andrew McGowan's article for Biblical Archaeology Review “How December 25 Became Christmas”, T. C. Schmidt's wonderful work, and Roger Pearse's work.

So, the question is, how early did the Church recognize December 25th as the Birth of Christ?

Before the year 200 AD writers in the Church had established several possible dates. These dates were based on the traditional understandings of when the world was created, the biblical texts, and some very complicated calculations involving solar and lunar calendars from different cultures. But by the time Clement of Alexandria wrote his “Stromata” during the period 193-215 AD: Clement wrote. [Stromata 1.21.145-146 ]


γίνονται οὖν ἀφ' οὗ ὁ κύριος ἐγεννήθη
ἕως Κομόδου τελευτῆς τὰ πάντα
ἔτη ρ δʹ μὴν εἷς ἡμέ ραι ιγʹ.
εἰσὶ δὲ οἱ περιεργότερον
τῇ γενέσει τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν
οὐ μόνον τὸ ἔτος,
ἀλλὰ καὶ τὴν ἡμέραν προστιθέντες,
ἥν φασιν
  ἔτους κηʹ Αὐγούστου
ἐν πέμπτῃ Παχὼν καὶ εἰκάδι. ...
τό τε πάθος αὐτοῦ ἀκριβολογούμενοι φέρουσιν
οἳ μέν τινες
τῷ ἑκκαιδεκάτω ἔτει Τιβερίου Καίσαρος
Φαμενὼθ κεʹ,
οἳ δὲ Φαρμουθὶ κεʹ·
ἄλλοι δὲ
Φαρμουθὶ ιθʹ πεπονθέναι τὸν σωτῆρα λέγουσιν.
ναὶ μήν τινες αὐτῶν φασι
Φαρμουθὶ γεγενῆσθαι κδʹ ἢ κεʹ.
From the birth of Christ, therefore,
to the death of Commodus are, altogether,
194 years, 1 month, 13 days.
And there are those who have determined
our Savior’s genesis
not only the year,
but even the day, which they say took place
in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus
on the 25th of Pachon…
And treating of his passion, with very great accuracy,
some say that it took place
in the sixteenth year of Tiberius,
on the 25th of Phamenoth,
but others the 25th of Pharmuthi
and others say
on the 19th of Pharmuthi the Savior suffered.
Indeed, others say
that he came to be on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi.”

The important line is τῇ γενέσει τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν “our Savior's genesis.” The month of Pachon in the Egyptian calendar at that time corresponded to March in the Julian Calendar.
Christ’s genesis, or conception on the 25th of Pachon was in what our calendar would equate with March 25th. The celebration of Christ’s birth would be nine months later: December 25th, in our calendar. ANF 2:333 translates “birth” rather than “conception”. The translation of “genesis” as conception is consistent with Clement's usage of this word in other contexts, for example:
It is not therefore frequent intercourse by the parents, but the reception of it [the seed] in the womb which corresponds with genesis.” (Clement of Alexandria Stromata 3.12.83.2
For more information on the interpretation of γενέσει as “conception” see https://web.archive.org/web/20120316121142/http://chronicon.net/blog/chronology/hippolytus-and-the-original-date-of-christmas/

This first evidence from Clement of Alexandria Egypt strongly suggests that before his writing the Stromata there were people in the Church who had already fixed December 25th as the birth of Christ.

A second example from the same period is Hippolytus of Rome (170 – 235).

Between the years 202 and 211 A.D. the Church Father Hippolytus wrote in his Commentary on Daniel (section 4.23.3) about the date of the birth of Christ.


Ἡ γὰρ πρώτη παρουσία τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν ἡ ἔνσαρκος,
ἐν ᾗ γεγέννηται ἐν Βηθλεέμ,
ἐγένετο πρὸ ὀκτὼ καλανδῶν
ἰανουαρίων,
ἡμέρᾳ τετράδι,
βασιλεύοντος Αὐγούστου
τεσσαρακοστὸν καὶ δεύτερον ἔτος,
ἀπὸ δὲ Ἀδὰμ πεντακισχιλιοστῷ
καὶ πεντακοσιοστῷ ἔτει·
ἔπαθεν δὲ τριακοστῷ τρίτῳ ἔτει
πρὸ ὀκτὼ καλανδῶν ἀπριλίων,
ἡμέρᾳ παρασκευῇ,
ὀκτωκαιδεκάτῳ ἔτει Τιβερίου Καίσαρος
For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh,
when he was born in Bethlehem,
which happened eight days before the kalends
of January [December 25th],
on the 4th day of the week [Wednesday],
while Augustus was reigning
in his forty-second year,
but from Adam five thousand
and five hundred years.
He suffered in the thirty third year,
8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th],
the Day of Preparation
the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesaer

(The Greek text can be found in volume 9 of Migne'sPatrologia Gracae)

This evidence from Hippolytus of Rome shows that by the end of the 2nd century, the same era as Clement of Alexandria, Christians in Europe as well as Africa recognized December 25th as the date of Christ's birth.

The fact that December 25th had been established for Christ's birth by the end of the 2nd century is important for refuting claims made by modern pagans and others about Yule and Sol Invictus which we will cover in future articles.

There are other authors to consider, such as Julius Africanus (early 3rd century). Ephrem the Syrian (lived about 306-373 AD), and St. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD).

We'll look at them as we have opportunity in the next few articles on the date and traditions of Christmas.

We'll need to look at claims about Sol Invictus, the Winter Solstice, and Yule. For traditions we hope to cover Christmas Trees, Santa Claus, Caroling, and things associated today with Yule like mistletoe, Yule Logs, and the 12 Days of Christmas.

Text Criticism News

Ancient History and Archaeology