Monday, October 16, 2017

Précis: Mazza, Roberta 2005 “Dalla Bruma ai Brumalia. Modelli di cristianizzazione tra Roma e Costantinopoli.”

A Précis of:
Mazza, Roberta
2005 “Dalla Bruma ai Brumalia. Modelli di cristianizzazione tra Roma e Costantinopoli.” in A. Saggioro (ed.), Diritto Romano e identità cristiana. Definizioni storico-religiose e confronti interdisciplinari. Carocci Editore, Rome, pp. 161-171.

Roberta Mazza is Lecturer in Graeco-Roman Material Culture at Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Manchester, England. Her interest are Graeco-Roman Egypt, focusing on the Byzantine period, and the rise and spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire. She is a Research Fellow of the John Rylands Research Institute and Academic Honorary Curator of Graeco-Roman Egypt at the Manchester Museum. She has done extensive research and publication of Christian Papyri and Egyptian artefacts.

Précis by Joseph Abrahamson.
I took up this article because it discusses aspects of Brumalia and its relationship to the development of the liturgical calendar in late antiquity. The article is in part a response to Marguerite Harl’s 1981 “La dénonciation des festivités profanes dans le discours épiscopal et monastique, en Orient chrétien, à la fin du IVe siècl,e” and uses John Crawford’s 1919 “De Bruma et Brumalibus Festis.”

“From Bruma to Brumalia. Models of Christianity between Rome and Constantinople.”

1. Introduction

Mazza begins with noting the the work of M. Harl’s 1981 paper where the latter scholar noted the purpose of the Eastern Church Fathers in the late 4th century was “not so much the suppression of feasts as their limitation and purification.” (p. 161) For Harl this reflected the difficulties the Church faced in imposing a Christian festival calendar. Harl enumerated three kinds of festivals: Christian, Jewish, and Greek. But she did not elaborate on the Jewish festivals. Harl focused on the how the Fathers were leading the Christians to come to terms with the Greek festivals which permeated the culture around them. These pagan festivals were not merely rituals, but were complex expressions of social relationships, power relations, economic functions, and so forth. The term “profane” sums up all features of those feasts that cannot be done by Christians in their strictly religious character.

Mazza will focus on the historical development of Bruma, or Brumalia, a feast of gentile origin, and its development from late antiquity to the 10th century. The christianization of the calendar was a long, drawn-out process. The strategy of using Imperial political authority to shape the calendar appears to be more successful than the parallel condemnations of at least part of the Church.

2. The first attestation of the feast of Bruma/Brumalia

In the 10th chapter of De Idolatria Tertullian urges Christians against becoming school teachers because they might receive gifts contaminated by idolatry. One of the gifts Tertullian specifically mentions are Brumae honorariums. He mentions Bruma a second time as one of several examples of festivals from which he urges Christians to abstain.

Tertullian considered participation in Saturnalia, Ianuaria, Brumae and Matronalia as particularly grave offenses. The people he addresses were not particularly burdened with a heritage of Jewish festival practices, but the gentile pagan practices were very much a part of their cultural heritage. Tertullian works to create a distinct division between the Christian and the Gentile-pagan social practices through teaching. The idea was to prevent social mixing of pagan traditions with Christian ideology.

Neither Tertullian nor the reference in Martial indicate a particular date, only the common tradition of exchanging gifts. In other Latin literature the term Bruma indicates the shortest day of the year, winter, or the winter dark. But Martial’s reference of Bruma in relation to the festival of Saturn could imply that Bruma might even be the beginning of winter. Three later documents identify Bruma with November 24th. These identifications of date are found in the Calendar of 354, Laterculus Polemii Silvii [a 5th century list of Roman emperors and provinces], and twice in the 10th century Geoponica compiled for  Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus. This last work indicates uncertainty in the 10th century about the precise date of Bruma.

Crawford in his 1919 “De Bruma et Brumalibus Festis” argued that the date of November 24 is an anticipatory celebration of the winter solstice. Crawford bases his argument on the calendar of Claudius Tuscus which John the Lydian translated into Greek from Latin in his De Ostentis. This calendar identifies the winter solstice by its similarities to November 24-the day to which the term Bruma is attached.

A 14th century Byzantine Codex from the Bodleian Library contains excerpts of 11th century monk/historian Michael Psellos. S. Weinstock in 1948 proposed an identification with the Greek word for “sunset” found on November 22 in this document with the beginning of winter. While there is no note of “sunrise” in this calendar, Weinstock proposed a connection between the dates and the Helios-Kronos myths, so that the Calendar of 354’s use of N. Invicti on December 25 be interpreted as the “birth of the sun.” He then listed anniversaries noted in Roman and Byzantine literature which corresponded to these two dates.

Thus what can be stated about Bruma is that it is a festival of late antiquity; the name is associated with November 24, the beginning of the darkest season, celebrated in a similar way to that of the festivals of Kronos, ended with the festival of Saturnalia and the winter solstice; connected with Sol Invictus.

[Note: It should be emphasized that the era in which Bruma/Brumalia developed is late antiquity, well after the Christian church associated Christmas with December 25th. Even so,  I believe there are too many associative leaps made here. I do not think the data actually suggest or support the strong associations made by Weinstock. Nor do I believe that Mazza’s summary here has been successfully argued. I think there is too much emphasis on the parallels selected by Crawford and Weinstock rather than a comprehensive look at the actual data surrounding Bruma/Brumalia-Joe]

3. Brumalia in Justinian Age [A.D 518-602]
“The reference to chthonic cults is made in De Mensibus (158) of John the Lydian during the age of Justinian, when the evidence regarding the celebration are more frequent:” (p. 165) Mazza cites a longer passage from De Mensibus where John is reflecting upon the historic past to explain certain festival behaviors associated with Brumalia that he states are apparent in his day. [Note: some 500 years later].

“The impression derived from the passage in question is that the author, in line with his antiquarian taste and the spirit of his age, proceeded to systematize a diverse matrix of rites within the chronological scheme proposed for his 'Work on the Months.’ It is also clear that late-age progressive secularization of Gothic holidays had to cause a slow loss of meaning and memory of the origins of such rites and related myths, which explains confusion and overlaps” that we see in John the Lydian. (p. 166)

For Mazza the most interesting point in the passage is the “celebrating by name”. That is, the festival is now called by a name: Brumalia.  “This kind of reform of the Brumalia, as we shall see, was in all probability introduced or at least encouraged by Justinian, in an attempt to exhort and neutralize all those recurring events listed above, which according to Lido constituted the true essence of the festival, linked to ancient cultures 'infernal demons', so many and so true that the Church rejected such celebrations.” This “celebrating by name” is attested in the Histories of Agathias of Smyrna regarding the December 577 earthquake in Constantinople and a contemporary anonymous epigram. (p. 166)

Mazza has now argued that the generic and somewhat arbitrarily gathered festivities listed by John the Lydian were given the name ‘Brumalia’ in the 6th century because of a recently established practice of giving a name to festivities that occur during a particular span of time. John Malalas’ contemporary or recently prior Chronographia (bk. 7) shows a sort-of nationalistic interest in creating an etiology for the festival of Brumalia grounding it in the struggle of Romulus and Remus at the foundation of Rome. Malalas describes both an imperial setting for the promulgation of Brumalia and an alphabetical naming custom for the celebration. The etiology ties together the shortening of the day, the winter, and the seasonal cessation of military activities. Similar etiologies can be found in 6th century authors like George Choiroboskos.
[Note: the dating of George Choiroboskos is contested, some now believe he flourished in the 9th century. But even with this author’s dates in question the works of Malalas and Choricius of Gaza are enough to demonstrate the historical patterns Mazza points out.-Joe]

“A written oration on the Brumalia of the Emperor Justinian by Choricius of Gaza [late 5th century to early 6th] confirms the importance of recurrence and re-reflects all the elements emerging from literary works to date.”(p. 168) It also demonstrates the geographic dispersion of the festival. The oration contains the same alphabetic naming elements connected with Brumalia as well as the focus on its nationalistic importance and the seasonal cessation of military activities. Choricius’ oration on Brumalia is completely without reference to the Church or Christian religious topics. It is an imperial oration giving great space to political themes. In the Justinian era the civic estate and the ecclesiastical state are transforming the calendar to their own distinct purposes, but neither has exclusive or overwhelming power in that transformation.

A papyrus from Oxyrhynchus (xxvii, 2480, 37-40) dating from A.D. 565-566 demonstrates the reach of influence of the Justinian court to Egypt where Brumalia is listed as the occasion/date and greeting on a list of goods and services. This “testimony is very interesting because it reiterates the real plan of celebration and confirms what is found in the literary sources analyzed above,” including the suspension of military activity. (p. 169)

Most of the evidence we have is of the secular/civil festival as it took place in official contexts, though for the festival to recur it would need a level of popular acceptance. The more ‘conservative’ traditions mentioned by John the Lydian which were revived came perhaps from the common people. There is in the Corinthian Museum a  4th to 6th century funerary inscription of a Christian priest that testifies to the festival.

Mazza believes the evidence converges in a way that suggest the celebration by name of Brumalia was new to John the Lydian and built out of features from different cultic practices, given impetus or promoted by Justinian. (p. 170) Mazza identifies two possible aims for imperial intervention: in alliance with the Church one goal is the neutralization of paganism and its practices, and the strengthening of the ceremonial court with public and popular ritual, games, and festivities. Mazza gives examples from the life of Justinian which are directed at these aims. Justinian had to manage the tension between honoring the principles of Christianity and the pagan cultural heritage of the vast imperial culture. The traditions of the greater pagan cultural festivals would be especially ingrained, difficult to eradicate.  Repression of the pagan practices had been mandated and attempted on occasion, but some particular traditions were particularly significant to the civil public office. On other occasions after abolishing pagan practice the architecture was allowed to remain, but set apart for Christian use. In the East the limits upon civic authority and religious authority as well as the tension between them inhibited either estate from simple change by fiat either singly or as a united front.

4 The Endurance of the Festival beyond Late Antiquity

That the festival named Brumalia endured into the 7th and 8th centuries is shown in the explicit condemnation by the Council in Trullo cannon 62 (Quinisext held at Constantinople under Justinian II A.D. 691-2) and by a Synod of Rome under Pope Zachary in A.D. 743. At Constantinople a festival called Brumalia still existed in the 10th century, features of which are recorded in De Cerimoniis (bk 2, ch 18) which records observations that at this time the festival took place over two days and was of significant value to the throne. It involved explicitly Christian liturgical features and non-ecclesiastical traditions (e.g., singing, dancing, dining, processions, gift giving, candles and torch lighting). These last elements, Mazza, asserts had gone through a long period of secularization from their original gentile roots and are obvious evidence of pagan influence and symbolic or evocative of the winter solstice.

[Note: everybody had to use candles and torches during this time of year, even if they were not pagan. Sometimes a candle is a candle. Similarly the other elements are not of necessity uniquely non-Christian.-Joe]

Mazza closes with a final quotation and comment to show that Brumalia was understood in the 10th century not primarily as a religious issue but rather as an issue of Roman imperial identity strengthened by traditions surrounding its heritage from the founding of Rome.