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Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, who in a letter to Victor, asserts that all the "great lights" of the Asiatic church, as the Apostles John and Philip, and several martyrs whom he names, always observed the feast on the fourteenth day of the moon, whatever might be the day of the week. Seven of his relatives, he says, had been bishops, all of whom had kept the festival on that day; he was now, he adds, an old man, he had diligently studied the Scriptures, and conversed with Christians dispersed in all parts of the world, and he was not to be intimidated by threats. He concludes by saying that the letter was approved by the bishops who were with him, and they were numerous. This letter threw the Roman bishop into a paroxysm of rage, and he proceeds immediately to send abroad letters excommunicating the whole Eastern church. His conduct in this, however, was much censured by other bishops of the West, especially by Irenæus of Lyons, who wrote him. a sharp letter in the name of the Christians of Gaul, reproving his unchristian conduct, reminding him that the customs of Christians differed much on other points, and by various arguments endeavoring to inspire in him more pacific dispositions.* The council of Nice, about a century and a quarter after, decided that the festival ought to be always celebrated on Sunday, the custom of the Latin or Gentile church thus prevailing. They who retained the old day were from that time pronounced heretics.

The feast was still a "moveable" one, as it is called, and it was necessary from year to year to announce from astronomical calculations on what day of the month the first Sunday after the full moon next succeeding the vernal equinox would fall, and as Alexandria was at that time the seat of the sciences, this office was generally discharged by the bishop of that place. There remained still in different countries a difference in the time of keeping the festival, this difference sometimes amounting to a whole month, and it was not before A. D. 800, that entire uniformity took place. The ancient Christian year began with Easter, and not with Advent. With the old Christians, indeed, the resurrection was, we may almost say, all in all; on it the truth of Christianity, preaching, every thing, rested.

* Euseb. L. v. c. 24.

Christ rose the vanquisher of death and hell, the first-born from the dead, the beginning of the new spiritual creation. As it was at the material creation, so now, light came out of darkness; from night all things came. The festival was called the "salutary" festival, the "kingly day," the "day of victory," the "crown and head of all festivals." This was not however in the earliest times.

The ceremonies attending the observance of the festival in the second century were simple, compared with those which were afterwards introduced partly from the natural love of pomp, and partly from imitation of the heathen festivals, which Christians could with difficulty be prevented from frequenting, and from which many observances were from time to time transferred to the Christian festivals. Vigils, or night watches on Easter eve, soon began to be kept, and the people continued in the churches until midnight. Constantine, naturally vain, and fond of parade, signalized his love of display, and perhaps thought he did honor to religion by celebrating them with extraordinary pomp. The custom had been introduced before his time, of lighting up a vast quantity of tapers in the churches on the eve of the festival. Not satisfied with this, the Emperor ordered them to be lighted all over the city, and further, that the brilliancy of the night might rival or even exceed the splendor of day, he had pillars of wax of an immense height erected, the effect of which, when lighted in the evening is described as brilliant in the extreme.*

The Passover, or Easter, was one of the seasons assigned for baptism, and Pentecost, (Whitsuntide, or Whitsunday,) the day of the descent of the Spirit, fifty days after, was another. This was another ancient festival intimately connected with the preceding, so intimately indeed, that they may be said to have been united, or rather, the whole interval between Easter and Pentecost was kept as a festival, no fasting, as we have said, being allowed during the period, and Christians not being permitted to kneel in

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* Euseb. Vit. Const. L. iv. c. 22. According to Jerome, (Comment. in Matth. xxv. 6.) the Easter vigils were kept till midnight in consequence of a tradition that Christ would come at that hour, as on the night when the Passover was instituted the Lord had visited Egypt at that hour. But that once past, the people could with safety be dismissed. Lactantius, (Inst. L. vii. c. 19,) refers to the same tradition.

Tert. De Baptismo, c. 19.

prayer, for this was a token, or attitude of humiliation inconsistent with the joy and gratitude becoming the season, joy naturally looking up to Heaven with outspread hands.

These were the only two festivals, with the exception of the weekly festival of Sunday, known in the church in primitive times and before the days of Origen. The silence of Justin Martyr, an earlier father, on the whole subject of annual festivals, is a remarkable fact which should not be passed over without notice.* Tertullian speaks only of Easter-the Passover he calls it—and Pentecost, though it is certain he would have mentioned others, had any been known to him. On one occasion at least, he could not have avoided it. He is censuring Christians of his age for attending Pagan festivals and attempting to dissuade them from it, and the very drift of his argument is that Christians possess more festivals than the Heathens that if any indulgence or relaxation were needed, they need not seek it at the Pagan festivals, for they had enough of their own. But his enumeration does not extend beyond those already specified.+ Could he have adduced others, his position would have been so far strengthened, and Tertullian was not the man unnecessarily to yield any advantage in an argument. But independently of this consideration, it is impossible, we should say, for any one to read Tertullian, and note his frequent allusions to Christian fasts and festivals by name, and believe that he would have omitted to notice other holidays, had they existed in his time. The testimony, of Clement of Alexandria we shall consider presently.

We have already alluded to Origen, who in piety, genius and learning, had no superior among the early fathers. Origen wrote in the former part of the third century. He

* He wrote in the former part of the second century. Though he describes baptism at large, he does not mention any festivals with which it was connected. Nor does it appear from the writings of Christian antiquity, when Easter and Pentecost first came to be considered as the most suitable seasons for the performance of the rite. The Oriental Christians baptised also at Epiphany.

↑ De Idololatria, c. 14. All the Heathen festivals, Tertullian says, would not amount to one Pentecost, or feast of fifty days. We may observe here, that this feast included whatever notice was taken of the Ascension, no distinct festival of which is mentioned by any early writer, nor does any such appear to have existed before some time in the fourth century.

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

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."* No other festivals are alluded to here, or elsewhere in the four folio volumes of this eminent father of the Church.

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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,† (Epiphany,)

* Contra Cels. L. viii. § 22.

t 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! voice from Heaven, saying, this is my beloved Son, 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, "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, some say that he was born on the twentyfourth or twenty-fifth of the month Pharmuthi," that is, the nineteenth or twentieth of April,† 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.


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