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"Resurrection of Christ" by Noel Coypel (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

“The Paschal mystery has two aspects: by his death, Christ liberates us from sin; by his Resurrection, he opens for us the way to a new life. This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God’s grace, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Justification consists in both victory over the death caused by sin and a new participation in grace. It brings about filial adoption so that men become Christ’s brethren, as Jesus himself called his disciples after his Resurrection: “Go and tell my brethren.” We are brethren not by nature, but by the gift of grace, because that adoptive filiation gains us a real share in the life of the only Son, which was fully revealed in his Resurrection.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 654)

From the Mass During the Day of Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord:

Entrance Antiphon

The Lord is truly risen, alleluia. To Him be glory and power for all the ages of eternity, alleluia, alleluia.

Collect

O God, who on this day through your Only Begotten Son, have conquered death and unlocked for us the path to eternity, grant, we pray, that we who keep the solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection may, through the renewal by your Spirit, rise up in the light of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Gospel (John 20:1-9)

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John.

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

What Will the Church Look Like?

[T]he big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the sidelines, watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of men, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future.

Let us go a step further. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge – a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution – when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain – to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trail of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

– Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, Christmas, 1969 (from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, Faith and the Future, San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2006)

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Christ the King (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

From the Roman Catholic Daily Missal 1962:

The royalty of Christ rests upon a twofold basis. He is our King by right of birth and by right of conquest. The first refers us to the personality of the Son of God, whereby, in His divine nature as God and by virtue of the hypostatic union, He is the sovereign Lord and Master. The second places before us the God-Man coming down on earth to rescue fallen man from the slavery of Satan, and by the labors and sufferings of His life, and passion, and death, to win a glorious victory for us over sin and hell.

Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, Who in Thy beloved Son, the King of the whole world, hast willed to restore all things, mercifully grant that all the families of nations now kept apart by the wound of sin, may be brought under the sweet yoke of His rule: Who with Thee liveth and reigneth.

Epistle (Col. 1:12-20)

Christ is the King of the Church, and the Peacemaker through His Blood.

Brethren: Giving thanks to God the Father, Who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His Blood, the remission of sins; Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him and in Him. And He is before all, and by Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the Church, Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He may hold the primacy: Because in Him, it hath well pleased the Father, that all fullness should dwell; And through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Gospel (Jn. 18:33-37)

Christ proclaims His kingly dignity and power.

At that time: Pilate said to Jesus: “Art thou the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered: “Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or have others told it thee of Me?” Pilate answered: “Am I a Jew? Thy own nation, and the chief priests, have delivered Thee up to me: what hast Thou done?” Jesus answered: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence.” Pilate therefore said to Him: “Art thou a king then?” Jesus answered: “Thou sayest that I am a King. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth My voice.”

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All Saints by Fra Angelico (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

October: Month of the Most Holy Rosary

November: Month of the Holy Souls

Sunday, October 30 – Feast of Christ the King (Traditional) / 31th Sunday in Ordinary Time (New)

St. Marcellus the Centurion (309), Martyr (Historical)

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez (1617), Widower, Lay Brother (Historical)

Monday, October 31 – All Hallows’ Eve

St. Wolfgag (994), Bishop of Ratisbon (Historical)

St. Quentin (287), Martyr (Historical)

Tuesday, November 1 – All Saints Day (Holy Day of Obligation)

Wednesday, November 2 – All Souls Day

Thursday, November 3

St. Martin de Porres (1639), Religious, Priest in South America (Traditional – some places, New)

St. Malachy O’More (1148), Primate of Armagh, Ireland (Historical)

Blessed Ida of Toggenburh (1226), Matron, Hermitess (Historical)

Friday, November 4 – First Friday, Obligatory Day of Abstinence (or Other Suitable Sacrifice)

St. Charles Borromeo (1584), Bishop, Cardinal, Patron of Seminarians (Traditional, New)

Sts. Vitalis and Agricola (3rd Century), Martyrs (Tradiational)

Saturday, November 5 – First Saturday

Feats of the Holy Relics Preserved in the Churches of the Diocese (Traditional – some places)

Sts. Zachary and Elizabeth (1st Century), Parents of St. John the Baptist (Historical)

St. Bertilla (692), Virgin, Religious, Abbes (Historical)

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The Venerable Bede (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Fathers of the Church are particularly adept at “unpacking” the allegorical meaning of Sacred Scripture. The great Father and Doctor of the Church, St. Bede the Venerable, proves no exception as he reveals the meaning of today’s Gospel.

St. Bede tells us the ten lepers represent those “having no true knowledge of faith” who “profess a variety of heretical teachings.” These people do not hide their ignorance, but loudly proclaim it as the height of knowledge, even taking pride in what they say. Since even false doctrine contains an element of truth, St. Bede says this disordered mixing of truth and falsehoods “resemble the leprosy that spots and blemished the human body with patches of true and false colour.” We are warned that such people must be excluded from the Church and placed far off so that they might change their ways and loudly cry out to Jesus.

For those who do wish to be saved, will cry out to the Lord and will humble themselves to call Him their Master. It is in this acknowledgement of their estrangement and a return to the true teachings of Jesus that they find healing.

Of those healed by Jesus, it is only the lepers, notes St. Bede, whom Jesus directs to show themselves to the priests. This is because the Jewish priesthood prefigured the Royal Priesthood of Christ, which is the Church, His mystical Body. If those who are “discolored” with the stain of false teaching are to find salvation, they must renounce their false beliefs and return home to their Lord and His House, the Church.

As for the one healed man who returns, St. Bede says, “This one who went back giving glory to God is a figure of the one Church, in devout humility before Christ. He falling down before the feet of the Lord, gives fitting thanks. For he truly gives thanks to God who repressing the thoughts of his own presumption, is humbly aware of how weak he is in himself; he who attributes no virtue to himself; who confesses that the good he does, is due to the mercy of his Creator.”

We should note as well that we’re told the elect fall on their faces, while the wicked fall backwards. “The wicked therefore, since they do not see into what they are falling, are said to fall backwards, for they rush headlong where they cannot now see what will then happen to them. But the just fall as it were upon their faces; for moved by fear, they humble themselves: of their own will they throw themselves down amid things visible, that they may be raised up amid things visible.”

The number ten holds significance as well. It is a number which signifies unity. One joined to nine represents a unity. Thus, the nine need the one to become the unity of ten. However, the one does not need the nine since one is a unity in itself. “For this reason as the one who gave thanks is approved and praised as a sign of the One Church, so the nine who did not give thanks, now rejected, are shut out from the communion of oneness. And so shall others like them remain imperfect in the number of the nine. And rightly does the Saviour ask where are they; as though He knew them not. For, with God, to know is to choose; not to know, is to reject.”

St. Bede says, “As to the body, it is easy to see that a man may have no leprosy; and yet he may not be of sound of soul. But in the light of this miracle, it troubles the mind to know how one who is thankless can be said to be made clean? But it is now easy to see, that this also can happen that someone within the society of the Church may know her true and pure doctrine, and may interpret it all in accord with the Catholic rule of faith; he may distinguish the creature from the Creator, and by this show that he is free as it were from leprosy, from the spots of lies, and nevertheless by ungrateful to God and Lord Who made him clean, because uplifted in pride, he has not thrown himself down in loving humility to give thanks, and so has become like those of whom the Apostle said: When they knew God, they have not glorified Hum as God or given thanks (Rom i. 21). Saying, they knew God, Paul shows that they have been made clean of leprosy; yet he goes on to call them ungrateful.”

Thus, we find he who humbles himself at the feet of the Lord, professing his own unworthiness, is told to rise and be on his way, comforted by the Word of God to grow in his perfection. He is saved not through his accord, but by the grace he receives from God through his faith: “For if faith made him whole who had hurried back to give thanks to his Saviour and to the One Who had made him clean, unfaith has brought spiritual ruin to those who, receiving favours from God, fail to return and give Him glory.”

Our faith must not only grown through humility, but we must also undertake the works of faith which follow, “which makes whole those who believe, and give glory to the Father Who is in heaven. Amen.”

+JMJ

Source: M. F. Toal (ed). The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Volume 4. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000.

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(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

When discussing sin, hell, and damnation in relation to salvation, people sometimes bring up an objection citing a person in an isolated jungle who has never heard the Gospel. Surely, they claim, God would not be so “cruel” as to condemn this person to hell merely because he never had an opportunity to hear the Gospel. This well-meaning, but utterly misguided, notion shows a deep lack of understanding regarding the true Catholic Faith. Let’s consider this situation a bit further to see if we can come to a better understanding regarding the Truth of God’s Law.

First, we very clearly need to distinguish that if a person outside Christ’s Church is saved, he is not saved because of his religion but in spite of it. Certainly God is completely free to save whomever He chooses, including those outside the Church, yet at the same time we cannot discount what He has told us through His Divine Revelation about His plan for Salvation.

Some within the Church, on both sides of the rail, have misinterpreted the teachings of Vatican II, either accidently or on purpose, to claim that every religion is just as good as any other and that the Catholic Church has no particular claim on the Truth, and therefore has no right or obligation to proselytize. This is a dangerous lie. Vatican II very clearly taught, in complete continuity with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, that the fullness of Truth subsists in the Catholic Church (here’s a link to a very important document from the CDF clarifying the meaning of the word “subsists:” http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=162).

According to the Fathers of the Church, the most primitive religion is the natural religion of monotheism brought about by the work of God’s holy angels entrusted with the care of nations. As Fr. Jean Danielou says in The Angels and Their Mission, “The very regularity of the laws of nature is a sort of revelation through which man can recognize the existence of a provident God.” The angels were charged with the mission of providing protection and temporal assistance to nations, along with a primary spiritual role of leading pagan people towards God and retaining the spark of natural revelation. However, nations turned away from the natural religion due to the egotism and presumption of man, coupled with the activity of demons; instead of God, pagans turned to foolish worship of idols.

Thus, while elements of truth exist in other religions, they do not contain the fullness of Truth. God does not desire man to remain in the ignorance of false religion. Instead, those elements of truth in otherwise false religions are designed to prepare people for and lead them to the Truth, which is found only in the one, true, orthodox Catholic Faith. This is why missionary and apologetic activity remains critically important and why ecumenical activity should encourage dialogue but never compromise the Truth.

God is not cruel; He is pure and perfect love. As pure and perfect love, He grants us the free will to either accept or reject Him – for true love only exists if it is freely given and freely returned. Therefore, it is not God’s pure and perfect love which condemns us. It is we, through our own actions, who condemn ourselves. We forget that true love isn’t all smiley faces and warm puppies. Instead, true love is very often tough and difficult. Our Lord reminds us of this throughout Sacred Scripture. A close reading of Sacred Scripture shows us that salvation is anything but easy or a “given” – in fact our Lord clearly indicates the truth that not everyone is saved. In a misguided attempt not to “offend,” there’s been a de-emphasis of sin, the devil, and damnation in recent decades. Yet, isn’t it better to live in the Truth no matter how difficult it might be than to be “comforted” by a lie?

St. John pulls no punches when he tells us, “Unless a man is born again of water and the Holy Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). Thus, the Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1438-1445) declared: “the souls of those who die in mortal sin or with only original sin soon go down into hell, but there they receive different punishments.” Those two punishments are the “pain of loss” and the “pain of sense.” The “pain of loss” is the absence of the Beatific Vision. The “pain of sense” is brought about by actual sin and is felt by the senses even after the resurrection of the body. As Pope Innocent III summed it up, “the punishment for original sin is the loss of the vision of God, but the punishment for actual sin is the torment of an everlasting hell.”

The “pain of loss” is compatible with a state of natural bliss or perfect happiness – it merely lacks the Beatific Vision. This is the state many orthodox theologians throughout the history of the Church refer to as “limbo.” Limbo itself is not a dogmatic teaching of the Church, but is a strongly accepted theory among many eminent and solid theologians. I agree with the arguments for the existence of limbo and its role as the repository for souls who die without the Sacrament of Baptism. I don’t find this to be “cruel,” but instead simply a fact of the Truth. Those in limbo are in a state of perfect natural happiness; they are not being eternally punished as are those suffering “pain of sense,” instead they simply lack the Beatific Vision (they are happy, but unaware they could be more happy).

This notion that God wouldn’t be so “cruel” as not to save everyone comes down to believing what we wish to be true instead of what we’re told through Divine Revelation is actually the Truth. God clearly spells out His Law and the consequences of either rejecting or accepting that Law. Yet in our subjective and relativistic “me” centered society, we think it “unfair” and “cruel” if we’re held to an objective standard of Truth. However, at the end of the day, no matter how loudly we complain or how much we wish it were otherwise, we cannot break His Law, but only break ourselves against His Law.

As for our man we left standing alone in the middle of the jungle, did not our Lord command us to “make disciples of all nations?” If our man in the jungle dies without every hearing the Gospel, or worse yet turns to demon-inspired idolatry, then in a sense aren’t we at least partly to blame for not fully following the command of our Lord?

+JMJ

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Nativity by Lorenzo Lotto, 1523 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, everyone knows Christmas and most other Christian observances, even Christianity itself, are nothing but warmed over paganism – practices which were viciously ripped from the hands of innocent pagans by a marauding Catholic Church.

It’s just too bad everyone is wrong.

Strange how every year lately someone just can’t but help bringing up the worn out urban legend that Christmas is a “stolen” pagan winter solstice festival.  Of even more interest is the fact most of these people are self-described non-Christians and non-believers (especially in “organized religion”), others are even fallen away Christians, who for whatever reason (usually dissatisfaction with the “rules”) rejected Christ’s Church.  Yet, these very admittedly (by their own words) non-Christians somehow fancy themselves “experts” in Christianity.

Strange too is the fact these people’s “explanations” of the “truth” are often accompanied by all sorts of claims of “toleration.”  Rather dubious, I must say, considering how these people, in the name of “tolerance,” go out of their way to disparage Christianity.  “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15, RSV-CE).  Unfortunately, most Christians do not know the tenets and history of their faith well enough to counter these baseless charges.  Instead, they generally cede the point, often mumbling something about a “shameful” point in Church history.  As a result, since most Christians don’t know how or won’t take a stand, these sorts of myths continue to perpetuate.

So let’s take a look at the real facts surrounding the Christian Holy Day of Christmas.

Before we begin, it’s important to understand the correct definition of “pagan” and “paganism.”  Today, when most people, particularly its “practitioners,” use the word “paganism” they are referring to a New Age spiritism belief system.  However, this is not the formal meaning of the word, particularly when applied to the ancient world.  The Catholic Encyclopedia defines paganism thus: “Paganism, in the broadest sense includes all religions other than the true one revealed by God, and, in a narrower sense, all except Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism.”  In the ancient world, a “pagan” was simply someone who wasn’t Christian or Jewish (since Islam didn’t come along until the seventh century).

Let’s begin our study by putting to rest once and for all the notion that the early Christian Church somehow “suppressed” or “got rid of” pagans.  The time period under consideration for all these claims of the Church “suppressing” paganism is within the first few centuries of the establishment of the Christian Church by Jesus Christ.  A time during which Christians were being mercilessly persecuted by the Romans (pagans) for the “crime” of following someone whose message was one of love: love of God, love of neighbor and love of self.

Widespread and systematic Roman (pagan) persecution of Christianity lasted into the fourth century, by which time the major feast days and practices of Christianity were already established.  Given what the pagans were doing to Christians, the Church was hardly in a position to “suppress” anyone – even if she had chosen to do so.  Since the major feast days and practices were established during a period when the Church was under almost constant persecution, one can hardly say these days and practices were established to “stop” paganism since the pagan Roman authorities were in control and the Church was not in a position to “stop” anyone (again, even if she’d chosen to do so).

During this time period, the vast majority of converts to Christianity were Gentiles (non-Jews).  Keep in mind as well these were people who freely converted to Christianity during a time when such a choice meant subjecting one’s self to almost certain persecution and in many cases, even death.  People were not forced to become Christians – such a notion is anathema for a Church which believes God grants man free will and that it’s up to man to use his free will to freely choose God’s gift.  Those who brush off Christianity really need to understand this point.  At a time when simply going along with the status quo was easier and more conducive to one’s lifespan, many people freely chose Christianity even while seeing what was happening to fellow Christians at the hands of non-Christians.

Christianity calls people to join through faith and reason, not through force and subjugation.  St. Paul provides a perfect example of how early Christians interacted with Gentiles (pagans), inviting them to become Christians.  We read in Acts of the Apostles, when St. Paul entered Athens, he saw a temple dedicated to an “unknown” god.  Did he tear into the people, calling them fools for believing such nonsense?  No – instead he praised the people for their faith:

Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.  For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’” (Acts 17:22-23, RSV-CE)

He then used that as a spring board to introduce them to the “good news” of Jesus and entered into a dialogue with the people, inviting them to become Christians of their own free wills.  What a terrible act of suppression and attempt to get rid of paganism by force!

In addition, if you actually know Church history, you know why stories of Jesus’ birth were not of prime importance to the Apostles and early Christians.

In the immediate aftermath of Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven, early Christians were most concerned with hearing the message of Jesus’ preaching.  They expected the Parousia (Second Coming of Christ) to happen within their lifetimes.  Therefore, they wanted to know the message of Jesus rather than being focused on details regarding the person of Jesus.  For these people, getting their lives in order so that they might be ready for the return of the Lord was their top priority.

However, as time passed (again, time during which Christians were viciously and systematically persecuted by non-Christians) and it became clear the Parousia wasn’t going to happen immediately, the Church began to settle itself in for the long term.  As this happened, people’s interest in Jesus began to go beyond just his preaching.

It was during this period that interest developed in establishing a feast day to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.  So much time had passed since the actual events, no one any longer knew with complete certainty when this really happened – although as we’ll see shortly, compelling evidence existed for the date chosen.

Even more importantly, our ancient ancestors (Pagan, Jewish and Christian alike) were not nearly as concerned with detailed biography as we understand it in the modern sense.  Therefore, establishing exact historically accurate (as we understand this concept in the modern world) dates weren’t the prime concern of early Christians; so the historicity of the date is not a critical point.  The critical point we must examine is motivation, both of the early Christians as well as the Romans (pagans), in assigning significance to December 25th.

As it turns out, not only was Christmas not some sort of “hijacking” of a pagan festival, but the pagan festival generally cited as the one “stolen” by Christians was actually started by pagans to take December 25th from Christians.  As Dr. William Tighe, a church history specialist at Pennsylvania’s Muhlenberg College, puts it: “the pagan festival of the ‘Birth of the Unconquered Sun’ instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the ‘pagan origins of Christmas’ is a myth without historical substance.”

As Biblical scholar Mark Shae notes:

But in fact, the date [December 25] had no religious significance in the Roman pagan festal calendar before Aurelian’s time, nor did the cult of the sun play a prominent role in Rome before him.

There were two temples of the sun in Rome, one of which (maintained by the clan into which Aurelian was born or adopted) celebrated its dedication festival on August 9th, the other of which celebrated its dedication festival on August 28th. But both of these cults fell into neglect in the second century, when eastern cults of the sun, such as Mithraism, began to win a following in Rome. And in any case, none of these cults, old or new, had festivals associated with solstices or equinoxes.

What was the reaction of early Christians to Aurelian’s implementation of his Sol Invictus festival?  Shae continues:

The first irony is the reaction of the Christians of the late Roman Empire to Aurelian’s attempt to co-opt Christmas and make it a pagan day of celebration. Instead of fighting with Sun-worshipers who were trying to rip off their feast, early Christians simply “re-appropriate[d] the pagan ‘Birth of the Unconquered Sun’ to refer, on the occasion of the birth of Christ, to the rising of the ‘Sun of Salvation’ or the ‘Sun of Justice.'”

The natural symbolism of the winter solstice (return of the sun and new life) happens to also fit perfectly with Christian theology: birth of the Son of Man and the “new life” found in Him.  Consequently, early Christians didn’t “take” anything from the pagans, but instead simply refused to allow Aurelian to claim some sort of “copyright” on December 25th.  Christians continued to leave it up to people’s free will to decide if worshiping the sun or worshiping the Son made more sense.

It also turns out that records associating December 25th with the birth of Jesus are actually significantly older than records associating December 25th as a pagan festival day.  Again quoting Biblical scholar Mark Shae:

[T]he definitive “Handbook of Biblical Chronology” by professor Jack Finegan (Hendrickson, 1998 revised edition) cites an important reference in the “Chronicle” written by Hippolytus of Rome three decades before Aurelian launched his festival. Hippolytus said Jesus’ birth “took place eight days before the kalends of January,” that is, Dec. 25.

Tighe said there’s evidence that as early as the second and third centuries, Christians sought to fix the birth date to help determine the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the liturgical calendar—long before Christmas also became a festival.

So the inescapable historical record is that December 25th was an important day for Christians before it was an important day for pagans – or more correctly, an important day for one rather obscure pagan Roman sun-worship cult.

Also, the debate in the early Church which fixed the day of Jesus’ birth was not about that date, but about the dating of Good Friday.  The Eastern Church argued for dating Good Friday to April 6th while the Western Church argued in favor of a March 25th date (keep in mind, during this time, there was only one Christian Church since the Great Schism, which saw the breaking of the Church into the Eastern [Greek] Church and Western [Latin] Church did not occur until 1054 – well after the time period we’re looking at).

What does the date of Good Friday have to do with Christmas?  Everything.  I’ll let Dr. Tighe explain it:

At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception.

This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ’s birth. The early Christians applied this idea to Jesus, so that March 25th and April 6th were not only the supposed dates of Christ’s death, but of his conception or birth as well. There is some fleeting evidence that at least some first- and second-century Christians thought of March 25th or April 6th as the date of Christ’s birth, but rather quickly the assignment of March 25th as the date of Christ’s conception prevailed.

It is to this day commemorated almost universally among Christians as the Feast of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel brought the good tidings of a savior to the Virgin Mary, upon whose acquiescence the Eternal Word of God (“Light of Light, True God of True God, begotten of the Father before all ages”) forthwith became incarnate in her womb. What is the length of pregnancy? Nine months. Add nine months to March 25th and you get December 25th; add it to April 6th and you get January 6th. December 25th is Christmas, and January 6th is Epiphany.

St. John Chrysostom (Archbishop of Constantinople, died AD 407) argued from a Biblical standpoint, an argument which had nothing to do with any pagan festival, for the December 25th date of Jesus’ birth:

Luke 1 says Zechariah was performing priestly duty in the Temple when an angel told his wife Elizabeth she would bear John the Baptist. During the sixth months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary learned about her conception of Jesus and visited Elizabeth “with haste.”

The 24 classes of Jewish priests served one week in the Temple, and Zechariah was in the eighth class. Rabbinical tradition fixed the class on duty when the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and, calculating backward from that, Zechariah’s class would have been serving Oct. 2-9 in 5 B.C. So Mary’s conception visit six months later might have occurred the following March and Jesus’ birth nine months afterward.

Seeing clearly that December 25th, Christmas, is a Christian Holy Day not derived from a pagan winter festival, how did it become “common knowledge” that Christmas is simply a “warmed over” or “ripped off” pagan festival?  These sorts of claims of grew in the wake of the anti-Catholicism following the Protestant Reformation during the sixteenth century as Protestants looked for ways to disparage the Catholic Church as “non-Biblical.”

With regards the “pagan” roots of Christmas, we can trace the origins of these claims to the 17th and 18th centuries:

Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, wished to show that the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th was one of the many “paganizations” of Christianity that the Church of the fourth century embraced, as one of many “degenerations” that transformed pure apostolic Christianity into Catholicism. Dom Jean Hardouin, a Benedictine monk, tried to show that the Catholic Church adopted pagan festivals for Christian purposes without paganizing the Gospel.

In the Julian calendar, created in 45 B.C. under Julius Caesar, the winter solstice fell on December 25th, and it therefore seemed obvious to Jablonski and Hardouin that the day must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one.

Note that Jablonski began, not with evidence, but with an assumption that the winter solstice must have had a pagan significance before it had a Christian one. In other words, Jablonski simply noticed a correspondence between the Julian calendar’s solstice and Christmas and assumed the pagan feast must have been the prior one even though he had no proof for his theory. Meanwhile, Hardouin, rather than challenge that assumption, simply went along with it. And it’s upon these two authors that the entire myth about Christmas being a warmed-over pagan Sun-worshiping feast is based.

Now, as Paul Harvey would have said, we know the rest of the story.  Christmas is a Christian Holy Day, not a “hijacked” pagan winter solstice festival, and the urban legend of pagan roots for Christmas came from a 17th century Protestant whose self-admitted objective was to disparage Catholicism.

In the end though, we must avoid getting bogged down in the wrong question:

The crucial thing is not, “Did the early Christians get the date of Christmas right?” It is, rather, “What mattered to them as they determined the date of Christmas?” And when you look at that, you again immediately realize that what dominates their minds is not Diana, Isis, sun worship, or anything else in the pagan religious world. What interests them is, from our modern multicultural perspective, stunningly insular. Their debates are consumed, not by longing for goddess worship, or pagan mythology, or a desire to import Isis and Diana into the Faith, but the exact details of the New Testament record of Jesus’ death, alloyed with a Jewish—-not pagan—-theory about when Jewish—-not pagan—-prophets die. They don’t care a bit how pagan priests ordered their worship in the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. They care intensely about how Levitical priests ordered their worship in the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem. These Christians are completely riveted on Scripture and details of Jewish and Christian history and tradition. They don’t give a hoot what sun worshipers, Osiris devotees, or Isis fans might think.

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