Now we come to prove that defacto, that it hath been kept holy in all ages, in all parts of the Christian world; and our witness shall be the practice of Gods Church both East and West, in Asia, Africa and Europe, in the primitive times, and of all the reformed Churches in Christendom ( Scotland only excepted and yet not altogether ) in these times wherein we live. Which practices is sufficient to prove the point, though there were only general grounds out of scripture to support and back it; the Church having power for any public benefit, to appoint a day of thanksgiving yearly to be kept holy in remembrance of the same, and by the general practice thereof, all the children of the church being bound to keep the same in their succeeding generations.
Such was the feast of Purim instituted by the church of the Jews and commanded yearly to be observed by all their posterity in remembrance of their deliverance from Haman’s cruelty.
Such was the feast of the Dedication of the Temple, at which Christ was annually present, yet neither of these were commanded by God.
Such is our Lords day, commonly so called, or the first day of the week, by us kept holy in remembrance of Christs resurrection ( or his birth, or both ) thereupon, for the keeping whereof we have no express command out of the word of God, but only the bare practice of some few churches in the apostles time, and the constant observance of all particular churches over all the world, ever since their time, which with us is so prevailing an authority, and sure warrant for observation, that we should account him that should speak against the keeping of the Lords day holy, an Anathema Maranatha.
Such then also is the day of our Lords Nativity, which hath always generally, universally, constantly, been kept holy in all Nations from the Apostles time to ours. For which we now come to produce our witnesses; and first for the primitive times, those purer days of Christianity.
The sum of whose evidence is, that our Saviour Christ was born in winter, near unto, or upon the very day of the winter Solstice, or ( as all agree ) he was born when the days began to increase and lengthen, upon the 25th day of December say some, upon the eight of the calends of January, say others, and yet all say one and the same thing, for the eight of the calends of January, and the 25th of December according to diverse accounts, are all one, and the winter solstice in our Saviours time was upon the 25th of December, as also the vernal equinox upon the 25th of March, as all astronomers confess, and shall more plainly appear in the following treatise, and so are all the Fathers to be understood, that say with St. Augustine that Christ was conceived in the vernal equinox and born in the winter solstice, that he was born on the eight of the calends of January, that is to say, on the 25th day of December, as we in England have affirmed.
2. They say and affirm, that this day was in the primitive times kept holy by apostolic tradition grounded upon the word of God; and such traditions we are bound to observe, even by the word of God, as if they had been written by the apostles themselves, as we may be assured by those two texts, 2 Thess 2:15, 1 Cor 11:2. And such an apostolic ordinance is the solemnizing of the birthday of our Saviour Christ Jesus.
To prove the last first; let two or three witnesses speak to this particular, and you shall have the rest open their mouths in the maintenance of the other, in the times wherein they lived.
First then, St. Augustine in his 118 Epistle to Januarius, speaking of the yearly feasts then observed, saith, Those feasts concerning which we have no express scripture, but only traditions, which are now observed all the world over; we ought to know that the keeping of them was commanded unto us, and instituted ( or commanded ) either by the apostles themselves, or general councils, of which there is a most wholesome use in the Church of God; such are the feasts of our Lords Passion, Resurrection, Ascension into Heaven, and the coming down of the holy Ghost, which are now kept holy with a yearly solemnity.
But here the profane opponent may reply, where is the Feast of the Nativity all this while ? I answer, he makes a more special, and honorable mention of it in the very next epistle ( as not to be named the same day with the former for the surpassing excellency thereof ) saying, Here it chiefly behooves us ( more than in the aforementioned feasts ) that upon the day of our Lords Nativity, we should receive the Sacrament in remembrance of him that was born upon it, and upon the return of the year to celebrate the very day with a feasting devotion.
These words were written more than 1200 years ago [ AD420 ], when the fore mentioned days, and especially that of the Nativity, were kept festival and holy, even to the worlds end wheresoever the Church did extend herself as he doth maintain, Lib 32. cont. Faustum cap 12.
To leave him for a while, Epiphanius, a Father more ancient than he by one hundred and fifty years, in his compendium doth affirm, that the Christians of the Primitive Church, did fast upon all the Fridays in the year, except the day of Christs Nativity, fell upon a Friday, which the Church ( saith he ) excepted by an apostolic tradition, not fasting, but feasting thereupon.
We must not here omit, that ever since the time of Christ, according to the vulgar account, our Saviour hath been held to be born on the 25th day of December, in the year of the world, 3949 which account hath been received over all Christendom for so much as belongs to that day; It is called the Vulgar and Dionysian account, because Dionysius Exiguns abbot of Rome [ AD532 ], in the time of Justinian the Emperor, about the year 532, got it established for the only true and orthodox account, because it was the sole account used by the Christians that lived before, but especially by Eusebius, Jerome, and Prosper of Aquitane, who use none but it in their Ecclesiastical Histories of the primitive times.
But to put it beyond all doubt, Clement the scholar of the apostles, mentioned by St. Paul, and called Clement of Rome, to distinguish him from the other of Alexandria, who flourished in the seventieth year of Christ, when all the apostles ( James excepted ) were alive, who was a register unto them, and writ the book of the apostles constitutions, in the thirteenth chapter of the said book sets this down for one.
Let the birthday of our Saviour Jesus Christ be celebrated on the twenty fifth day of the ninth month ( that is to say December ) beginning to reckon from March
Brethren, keep diligently the feast days, and truly in the first place the day of Christs birth.
Behold the constitution itself, word for word, and his exhortation annexed; by which, and what hath been already said, and what shall be said hereafter, it doth, and shall appear, that the twenty fifth day of December hath even from the Apostles time been kept holy by all Christians, solemnly meeting together in their several congregations, for the birthday of our Saviour Christ, thereupon joining together in public prayers, hearing the word, receiving the Sacraments, and giving thanks for his coming into the world; all building upon this constitution grounded upon the fore cited places places of the word of God.
Suppose it true, which is not, that Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian, those first fathers who flourished in the age next to the apostles, make no mention of the keeping of this day, have not a line in all their writings now extant, to exhort the people to observe the same, shall we therefore conclude that the day was not therefore annual solemnized ? No in no wise ( for those purer Christians did do it without all doubt, though many times privately for fear off persecution ) but their silence concludes rather, that the Christians then needed no exhortations to so holy a duty, nor no information concerning the day and year of our Saviours birth, they having in perfect memory what the apostles had delivered concerning this particular.
But when afterwards the mystery of iniquity began to work, and diverse Christians in those times of persecution and seducement, forgot their duty and diverse heretics, the filthy spawn of Ebion and Cherinthus, began to deny the Godhead of our Saviour, as Montanus, Theodotion, Proclus, Alcibades, Themiston, Patroclus, Aretemon, Alexander, who with many more crept into the Church about the year 200 denying not only his Deity, affirming him a mere man, conceived of mans seed, but denying also his birthday to be kept holy, and dehorting their proselytes from worshiping thereupon, least they should seem to honor and acknowledge him for God. Hereupon the Fathers, those primitive lights, to vindicate our Saviours Deity, and to show that divine worship was due to him, began vehemently to urge the keeping of the day, urging the tradition and fore mentioned constitution of the apostles, the examples of their forefathers, and the churches universal practice, in the times that they lived in, bringing in the custom of the churches of God, as a main argument, as the apostle likewise doth, in a smaller matter, 1 Cor 11:16. It is true what Tertullian saith, that Christ was called truth, not custom; and that custom without truth is nothing worth; but know that the custom of the Church, grounded upon truth, is like an armed man to fight for, and maintain it.
To proceed then, to the following fathers, Clement of Alexandria, who flourished at the same time with Tertullian, in the year 204 reputes and censures the followers of Basilides, for heretics, who held that our Saviour Christ was born on the twenty fourth, or twenty fifth of Pharmuth, or April, and others that said he was born on the twenty fifth of Pachon, or May, contrary to the ancient and received tradition, Lib. 10. Stromatum. Differences about it argue the observation.
Next after him, Telesphorus in his decretall epistle, saith, Statutum est, etc. It is ordained, that in the holy night of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour, they do celebrate the public Church services, and in them solemnly sing the Angels hymn, because also the same night he was declared unto the shepherds by an Angel, as the truth it self doth witness.
Next after him, Theophilus, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, a man approved by Mr. Perkins in his demonstration of the problem, vol 2. p. 597 affirms that we ought to celebrate the birhtday of our Lord, on what day soever the 25th of December shall happen. He is cited by the Magdeburgenses Cent 2. c. 6 and by Hospinian, de orig: Festorum Christianorum.
Origen scholar to Clement of Alexandria, famous about the year 226 in diverse parts of his works records the annual and universal observation of this blessed day.
After him, Cyprian ( who lived in the same age with Arnobias and Lactantius ) and flourished in the year 240 Bishop of Carthage, and a glorious martyr, hath one whole sermon, now extant in his works, preached upon the very day of Christs birth, part whereof we shall here engross, which will give excellent light to the truth of this particular.
His words follow.
The much desired, and long looked for, day of Christs Nativity, is now present with us, that famous solemnity is now upon us, and as upon this present day the holy Church, throughout the whole world gives thanks to her Saviour, and renders praise to him, that as this day, visited her from on high. Joys are preached from Heaven, and merry making commanded on earth. The fore going night conscious of that sacred Birth, is by us turned to day by bright burning lamps and torches. The powers above give glory to God in the highest, peace is promised upon earth, and good will confirmed unto men. The angels are present, and speak to the shepherds, they do not now disdain to open their mouths to mean persons, and though they be the most glorious creatures, yet they despise not those who are weak etc. So far he, and the fathers that lived before the council of Nicea in the first, second, and third centuries.
To come to the fourth, in the very beginning thereof, Nicephorus in the seventh book of his Ecclesiastical History, and the sixth Chapter, assures us, that Nicomedia ( a city of Bethenia ) when the Festival of Christs Birthday cam, and a multitude of Christians in all ages had assembled together in the Temple to celebrate that Birthday. Diocletian the tyrant, having gotten an advantageous occasion whereby he might accomplish his madness and fury send men thither to enclose the Temple, and to set it on fire round about, and so confined them all to the ashes, even twenty thousand persons. Never was such a bonfire on a thanksgiving day, never such a sacrifice on the day of Christs Nativity; so many zealous saints ascending up to heaven like Manoahs Angel in the flame, to sup with Christ above, the beginning of whose day they kept with the Church below.
But in the same age, more honor was done unto the day by Valentinian Emperor of the West, Theodosius the great, and his son Arcadius, emperors of the east, who by their imperial decrees authorized the Feast of the Nativity, as Zago Zobo, doth witness, an author quoted by Doctor Willet in his Synopsis, 9. gen. cont. q. 8. p. 406
If any man shall dispute his credit, there is mention made of it by Basil the Great, that glorious lamp of Caesarea, whose contemporaries where Athanasius, Hillario, and Optatus, about the year 370 when this bright star of Cappadocia enlightened the Christian world. And witnesseth that for his time, the blessed day was annually kept with all solemn observance; and he honors it with a new title, calling it Diem as others after him, Epiphaniam, or the day of God’s Appearing, and that most elegantly, because that upon that day God was manifested in the flesh. Further, he hath left us one sermon preached thereupon now extant.
And Gregory Nazianzen, who lived and flourished at the same time, hath an oration made to the people upon that day, entitled, An Oration Upon The Hallowed Lights of the Epiphanies ( by which name, saith the learned Zanchie ) the Fathers did not understand the day commonly so called, when Christ was worshiped by the wise men of the east, but the day of his birth and baptism. Nay more, in his 38 Oration he breaks out into this admirable expression, I am confident the heavenly powers do also this present day celebrate the Feast together, and leap exceeding for joy, seeing they are endowed with the love of God and men.
Epiphanius, that great light of Cyprus, who flourished at the same time with the two fore mentioned fathers, and continued under the emperors Valens, Gratian, Theodosius, in his book entitled Compendiaria vera Doctrina, de fide cathoicke and apostolic eccles…, reckoning up the annual feasts then kept, and solemnly observed by the Catholic Church, mentions the day of Christs Birth for one of the principal and chief. And further, in his 51 Heresie, affirms, that Christ was born circa Januarium mensem, about the month of January; who hath left us six sermons all preached on the very day.
The next is Ambrose, Bishop of Millaine in Italy who flourished at the same time under the emperors Gratian and Theodosius, about the year 374 who doth witness for the western churches, that in them in his days, this day was generally kept holy; and in his second sermon preached thereupon, descanting upon the birthday of Christ, and John the Baptist, his forerunner, affirms John to be born at Midsummer, and our Saviour in the winter; his words are these.
Behold (saith he) at the Birth of Christ the day doth increase, at the Birth of John it doth decrease: Christ rising, the light is augmented, John being born, it is lessened. For the very times in a manner do wait upon their several Nativities; when they loose, the servant is born, when they gain, the Master is brought forth. The day doth sensibly increase when the Saviour of the world cam into it; but decrease, when the last of the Prophets was born in it: for it is written, that the Law and the Prophets continued till John; and therefore it was needful that the observation of the Law should be darkened, when the calling and grace of the Gospel began to shine clear: and that the Prophecy of the old testament should cease, when the grace of the new did succeed. Therefore upon the Lords birth, the day doth increase, because the brightest light of truth doth enlighten it.
The next is Gregory of Nyssa, brother to Basil the Great, and of the same time with St. Jerome, he was present at the first Council of Constantinople, and writ the Creed confirmed in that council, he flourished about the year 380 and witnesseth the very same thing with St. Ambrose, in his Oration made upon the day of Christs Nativity saying, Upon this day the darkness begins to diminish, and the nights by the increasing sunshine, begin to grow shorter; nature herself expounds the mystery to the more prudent, and teacheth us what is meant by this, that at the coming of Christ into the world, the day increaseth, and the night diminisheth. Then he adds the exposition in most elegant terms following. Methinks I hear the Creature speaking such like words as these unto me. Thou seest the night hath gained his utmost length, and ceaseth now to run out, or to be extended any further, but as it were to retreat. Take notice then, that now to run out, or to be extended any further, but as it were to retreat. Take notice then, that now the dishonest night of sin, having increased itself as far as it was possible, and reached the extreme point of ungodliness, was this day prohibited to reach any further, and hereupon became shorter and shorter. Thou seest the Sun to shine longer then it did the days before, and to appear higher in the heavens then it was wont; take notice then of the true light that at this time sprung up among us, and by the beams of the gospel enlightens every one that comes into the world. And St. Jerome seconds him, saying, that the day kept in memory of our Lords Nativity, is the day on which the ancient report is, he was born.
The next is, Aurelius Prudentius, who in his Cathemerinon gives us a carol, a divine hymn by him penned and made in honor of Christ, who was born that day. I shall give you it both in Latin and English, that it may be like Moses his song, Deut 31:28 a record against them that keep not the day, which the old Father so devoutly merry did 1200 years ago so much honour with a piece of Divine ______. His strains follow.
[ poem in PDF document untranscribed at present ]
The next is Chrysostom, who lived at the same time with Aurelius Predentius, about the year 398 of whom the Christians of Tau__ Cilicia, were wont to say, that it was better that the Sun should now withdraw his shining, then that Chrysostom’s mouth should be stopped from speaking. He was first a priest of Antioch, after that Bishop of Constantinople, called Golden mouth, and not without cause; the Christians Demosthenes. He in a special manner spends his rhetoric in magnifying the celebration of this day, in a high strain as followeth; and first in his Oration De beato Philogonio saying,
Now that Feast is come, the most to be reverenced, and adored of all other feasts; But what feast is that ? The birthday of our Saviour Christ according to the flesh, which if any man shall call it the Metropolitan Feast, he is no way in an error; for from this day, made so illustrious in its observation, the feast of the epiphanie, passover, ascension, and pentecost, have their ground, and original; for if he had not been born according to the flesh, he had not been baptised, which is the feast of the theophanies, he had not been crucified, which is the feast of the passover; he had not sent down the holy ghost, which is the feast of pentecost. Therefore from this, those diverse rivlets do stream, as from their proper fountain; and from his birth those feasts have their birth and breeding.
Note here, that Justin Martyr, one of the most ancient of the fathers, who flourished in the year 150 in his second Apology, ad finem, and before him, Ignatius, St. Johns disciple, who flourished in the 171 year after Christ, in his Epistleto the Magnesians, and Irenaeus, who was famous about the year 180, writing to Victor the bishop of Rome, and Tertullian who writ in the year 203 Lib de Coronoa Militus, do witness, that the feast forementioned by Chrysostom, were generally observed and kept in their days, and therefore the Feast of the Nativity not mentioned in their writings not extant, must be then kept and observed also, it being according to the Father the foundation of them all.
This I thought good to note by the way, against them that build much of their hay and stubble, against the honor of his birthday that was born in the stable, upon the silence of the first Fathers. We now proceed with holy Chrysostom, who further adds, in the fore cited place.
But not only for this reason, is it thought meet that Christs birthday should be preferred before those of his baptism, passion, ascension and pentecost; but for that which was born thereupon it ought to be held more venerable then all other; for that Christ made man, should die who had contracted no sin; what can be added to this miracle but that he did assume a mortal body ? This is also wonderful, and to be admired. But that being God he should be made man, and so far debase himself, as cannot enter into the mind of man to conceive; this is of all the other, the most wonderful, and full of amazement, which Paul admiring cries out Great is the mystery of godliness, God manifested in the flesh; and again in another place, He took not upon him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham, that he might be made like to his brethren in all things
For this very reason, I love this day in a special manner, and propose unto you the love thereof; that I may make you partakers of this lovely medicine. Therefore, I exhort, and beseech you all that you will be present thereupon, with all endeavour, and all alacrity. But first of all, let everyone of us purge his own house, that we may see our Lord Christ lying in his swaddling cloths; For what excuse shall we make ? Or what plea shall we put in for our absence ? If that upon that day when he came down from heaven for our sakes, we should think much to go out of our own houses to worship him ? If when strangers, and barbarians did take a far journey out of Persia that they might see him lying in the manger, we should grudge to go a little way to church to enjoy that blessed sight. For without all doubt if we come hither by faith, we shall see him cradled in the manger, because the Lords Table supplies the place of that manger unto us.
Again, the same Father in his second tome, and the third homily. preached upon the day of our Saviours Nativity, speaking of the different keeping of the day by the Christians in Armenia, Egypt and all the rest of the world besides, they observing the sixth of January, on the day of the Epiphany, when he was baptized, and these the twenty fifth of December thus ends the controversy.
Let us meditate in our hearts that as upon this day ( to wit, December the twenty fifth ) Christ was born: Others are of the opinion, that he was born upon the day of the Epiphany; We do not condemn other mens opinions, yet we will follow our own doctrine; Let every man be resolved in his own mind and may be the Lord will also reveal this particular t every man. For both they that think our Saviour Christ to be born at that time, and we that maintain him to be born as this day, do worship the same Lord, and embrace the same Babe. But let us consider whose ground is the stronger. Our reason reprehends not others, it justifies ourselves. The words we speak, are not ours, they are the definitive sentence of our ancestors. The whole world speaks against the opinion of that one province; The apostles are for us, their tradition takes our part, and we say that Christ was born as upon this day, and born again upon the Ephiphany. The world is our witness, the Creature doth testify with us, to this day the nights increase, from this do decrease. Truth comes in the place of error. This day the Sun of righteousness rose upon us.
Once more, for the time, the Father adds in the foresaid homily, that the annunciation and the conception of our Lord was upon the eight of the calends of April, and that he was born in the month of December, in the winter time, upon the eight of the calends of January, upon the day of the winter solstice.
I now laugh to think how the ignorant opponent doth begin to insult upon these seeming contradictions, and calls the old father dotard, and is ready to dance a gig for joy, if he had but a Scottish bagpipe; but they that are wise know that he betrays but his own ignorance in Chronology, and shows himself a fool; for the day of the winter solstice, and the twenty fifth of December, and the eight of the calends of January, will prove all one day, if we call but to mind what we noted before, that in our Saviours time, the vernal equinox was upon the 25th of March, according to our English and Julian account, which was the eighth of the calends of April, according to the account of the Hebrews; their Nisa, their first month in the year, beginning in then middle of our March, and having in it fourteen days of our April, so that the twenty fifth of March, and having in it fourteen days of our April, so that the twenty fifth of March with us, is the eight of April, according to them; and the eight of January with them, the twenty fifth of December with us, and the twenty fifth of December then ( when Christ was born ) was the day of the winter solstice. As Vallerius Bellanensis, in his Compendium on the Spheare, p. 244 doth witness in these words, the shortest day was on the 25th of December, on which day Christ our Redeemer was born. See also Julian and Roman Calendars, in Baronius (?), Genebrard Chron. lib 3. Gusltertus, , Tab. Chron. Gorden Lesmer, Chron.
Note one thing more, and that is the great zeal of the Christians in those days, almost 1300 years ago, and their strictness in computing and observing the very day of the birth of our Saviour Christ, and keeping it holy, appearing especially in this, that they would not allow the Armenians, or Egyptians, an eleven days difference; Yea, so heinous a thing it was accounted to keep it on any other day but on the twenty fifth of December, that their doctors, those bright lights of the primitive church, both writ and preached against it, and the whole world did withstand it.
So much for Chrysostom, and to much for any Scottish piper to play No ____ matter. Yet we have as pregnant witnesses as he, among whom Augustine that famous father bishop of Hippo, in Africa, we may name the chief, who flourished in the year 420 and hath four and twenty sermons in print, preached upon the very day of Christs birth in which he witnesseth diverse times, that in his time this day was set aside by all Christians, throughout the whole world, for such holy exercises, as preaching, prayer, receiving of the sacrament, thanksgiving, and rejoicing, and that it was consecrated, set a part, and sanctified to that end not by the visible sun of this world, but by the invisible creator thereof; in his nineteenth sermon, de tempore, being the fifteenth upon the day and more plainly in his twelfth sermon, de tepore, and the eight upon the day, saith,
The Son of God, and the same the Son of man, one person, born of his Father without a Mother, created every day, born of his Mother without a Father, consecrated this day; Invisible in his birth Divine, visible in his birth human, wonderful in both.
2. That he was born upon the shortest day of the year, that is the day of the winter solstice, that was then upon the twenty fifth of December, he doth answer in his sixteenth sermon, de temopre, and the twelfth upon the day, giving the reason why he was born upon this day, then which no shorter shines upon Earth, because,saith he, he humbled himself into the meanest condition; therefore he chose the meanest and shortest day to be born upon.
3. That that day that he was born upon was then the first day of the week, or our Sunday : in the night foregoing ( the night being before the day, according to the Scriptures computation, Gen 1 December the twenty fifth, he testifieth in hi s commentary upon the 132 Psalm, in his fourth book, de Trin. cap. 5 and in the end of his ninteenth sermon, de tempore, he gives the reason thereof in these words, Christ the light chose that day to be created, or born upon, in which he created the light itself. And after him, of the same opinion is Nicephorus, Eccl. bist l. I. c. 12 Dominus Antonius ia parte bist. tip. 5. cap. 10 Bonavent de vita Christsti, Petrus de Natalibus, Lucidus, and divers others.
4. That the day of Christ’s birth was every year to be kept holy by all Christians in his time, and that upon that day they were bound by special duty to receive the sacrament of the Lords Supper, he doth most vehemently testify, and is line upon line and precept upon precept, throughout his works to exhort them thereunto, as in his sixth and eight sermons, them thereunto, as in his sixth and eight sermons, de Natalitijs Christi, his 26 de tempore, but in his 119 epistle to Januarius, he is more peremptory, for having spoken of keeping the feasts of Easter, and Pentecost before, as if he were angry for forgetting the chief of all, he lays on with an It is our duty more than upon any day, to receive the sacrament every year upon the Lords Birthday, and to keep that day festival and holy. And further in his first Sermon, de tempore, he bids the day and gives the people warning to come to church thereupon, and to prepare themselves in a special manner, then, to receive the sacrament of his body and blood. The form of his bidding follows.
Most Dear Brethren, the most sacred solemnity now approaching, wherein our Saviour mercifully vouchsafed to be born among us; consider more attentively: how we ought to prepare ourselves for the advent of so great a power, that we may be counted worthy to receive our Lord with joy, and rejoicing, with glory and praise, and in his fight surmount in giving thanks in the midst of those happy assemblies of the saints, rather then suffering his repulse for our fitness, deserve eternal confusion among sinners.
Therefore I exhort and give warning, that we labor with Gods help to our utmost power, upon that day to come to the Lords Table with a sincere and pure conscience, a clean heart, a chaste body, that we may be worthy to receive his body and blood, not to condemnation, but for our own souls health, ( and then a little after.)
Though at all times we ought to be adorned, and beautified with good works, yet especially upon the day of our Lords Nativity, as we are taught in the Gospel, ought our lights to shine before men, that they seeing our works may then glorify our Father in Heaven.
The father preacheth on, and I cannot choose but take the notes, and present them to you, they are so sweet.
Consider my brethren, I beseech you, that when a great or noble man doth desire to solemnize his own or his sons birthday, with what eagerness he gives his servants order many days before to make clean what shall be found foul in his house, to cast out what shall be found unfitting, or undecent, to provide what shall be profitable or necessary. The walls are whited, pavements washed, and strewed with fine flowers of diverse forts, and whatsoever belongs to the merry making of the soul, or the delighting of the body, are procured with all care. And to what end is all this great preparations ( my beloved Brethren ) but to grace and glad the birthday of a mortal man ? If then thou preparest so great and gay things upon thine own birthday, or that of thy son, how much greater and far more excellent oughtest thou to prepare against the birthday of thy Lord ? If thou preparest such things to honour him that shall die, what manner of provision oughtest thou to make in honor of him that lives for ever ?
Therefore whatsoever thou wouldest be sorry to have found in thine own house in the day of thine own nativity, have a care that God may not find the like in thy soul, upon the birthday of his only son.
The father goes on, Certainly if an earthly King, or any housekeeper, should invite thee to the feast of his nativity, thou wouldest care to clothe thyself with such new, neat, and gallant attire, of which neither the oldness, coarseness, or foulness, might offend the eyes of him that invited thee. Do thou strive then, by the help of Christ, as much as possible thou canst, to adorn thy self with divers virtuous ornaments, as the jewels of simplicity, and the flowers of sobriety, against the great solemnity of the eternal king, that is to say the birthday of our Lord and Saviour; that thy soul may draw near with a safe conscience, purified by chastity, shining through charity, and made white with alms deeds. For if Christ thy Lord do know that thou being thus fitted, doest sanctify his birthday in this composure: he will come unto thee himself, and will not only vouchsafe to visit thy soul, but to take up his rest and dwell therein, and how happy is the soul of that man, who by Gods assistance, so orders his life, that he may be counted worthy to have Christ for his guest and inmate: So much shall suffice to have glaunced out of this holy father, for the clearing of this particular.
The next is Orosius, St. Augustines scholar, and afterwards a priest in Spain, about the year 425 who writ seven books of history, which he dedicated to his foresaid master, in the seventh and second chapter, affirming the very same things, concerning the honor, time and day of Christs birth, that his master did before him, that it was on the twenty fifth of December.
In the same age flourished Cassianus a priest of Massilia (?) in France, anno 440 who testifieth the very same, and agrees with the former; who further speaking of the Egyptians, who did ( as he affirms ) by ancient tradition, observe the day of the epiphany, in remembrance both of Christs birth and baptism, adds, that they did not disapprove the different custom of the western christians, who kept it on the 25th of December.
And with him accords Nicephorus, Hist. Eccl. lib 1. c 12. saying It was then the twenty fifth of December, when thou, O word of God, the unspeakable mystery of thy goodness and love towards mankind, and the exceeding great birth was accomplished. Following Maximus, Bishop of Tours in France, of the same time with Leo the Great, who hath six sermons preached upon the day, extant: And Chrysologus who hath one Sect. 172
Leo the Great, bishop of Rome in that time also, an holy and famous man, that sat at the stern of that Church for almost one and twenty years, even in those purer times, when Rome had not forsaken her first love, hath ten sermons preached upon the day; in the first whereof he proves the point, saying, Our Saviour was born this day, let us be glad: It is not lawful to give place to sadness on the birthday of life, which taking away the fear of death, prompts unto us the joy of promised eternity. Let no man dare to separate himself from the partaking of this days rejoicing, seeing there is the same universal ground of joy to all.
Again in his second sermon. Let us rejoice because this day of our redemption, ancient reparation, and eternal happiness, doth shine within our doors, for as this day, the sacrament or seal of our salvation is renewed unto us by the years revolution; which was promised in the beginning of time, performed in the fullness of time, and continued when time shall be no more. So much he, showing in his time the strict annual observation of the day.
In the same age, and at the same time did live and flourish.
- Cyrill of Alexandria, president of the council of Ephesus, against Nestorius Anno 430
- Theodoret of Cyprus
- Prosper of Aquitane, in the year 445
- Vigilius, who flourished about the year 425
In whose days the forementioned feast was kept universally, constantly, annually.
Thus have we proved by sufficient witness, whom none will or can deny, but they who believe none but themselves, the point in hand, for five hundred years after Christ, for which time the church of God continued a virgin, without any notable spot or blemish, and apostolical; now she began to be defiled, her beauty to be spotted, yet she did never so far fall away from her first love, Jesus Christ, in any place where she wandered as not to follow the example of those purer times, and forementioned Christians, and every year holily to observe the feast of our Saviours Nativity. Nay, I believe the thankless adversary will willingly grant so much, because he would make it like everything which his ignorance mislikes, a piece of popery; but what hath been said already hath prevented that objected sopperie (?).
It shall suffice the, for every hundred year following, to bring in one witness or two, til lthe time of the fathers be fulfilled, to prove the general continuance of this religious observance.
In the sixth century then, we met with Rupertus, the apostle of Bavaria, famous in the year 580 who in his third book, De divinis officiis, and cap.16. witnesseth the general observation of the day in that age, and saith, that Christ was born in the preceding night, or about the dawning of the Lords day. And the reason was, saith he, That upon that day he said, Let there be light, and there was light, in the night of that, light should spring out of darkness to the upright in heart, and the morning should visit us from on high, to give light to them that sat in darkness, and in the shadow of death. To this alludes that of St. John, even no doubt to the hour of Christs birth, The light shined in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.
In this age also, before him, flourished Fulgentius of Carthage, about the beginning of the century, who hath one sermon extant in honor of the day.
Isidorus, Junior, of Hispalis in Spain, after him, about the year 596 And
Evagrius Scholasticus, who writ his Ecclesiastical History, ending in the year 597 And
Gregory the Great, who lived at the same time to whose works I refer you. But especially, take notice that in this age about the year 523 Justin the emperor of the east, decreed that the feast of the holy nativity of Christ, should be observed, as Nicephorus observes, Hist Eccl. i. 7. c. 28. If any one object that therefore it was not kept before, he may as well argue, that the Lords day was never kept in England, before this parliament sat, because they have made a blessed act for the strict of the same.
For the next century, from the year 600 to 700 we shall produce Bede our own country man, who was famous in this age, and hate writ to the purpose in this particular; ( I mean venerable Bede) and so fully, that he hath delivered in a few words, all that hath been said before, especially concerning the same when Christ was born to give you a taste, which will relish well with a discreet palate
He in the nineteenth chapter, lib I. De natura rerum, relating that definitive sentence of his forefathers, that Christ was conceived in the Vernal Equinox, and born in the winter solstice, hath these words.
Concerning the equinox all, that they are to be placed on the eight of the calends of April, that is upon the 25th day of March, and upon the eighth of the calends of October, that is, upon the 24 day of September; and concerning the solstices, that they are to be placed, the one upon the eighth day of the calends of July, that is upon the 24 day of June, and the other upon the eighth day of the calends of January, that is upon the 25 day of December, is the definitive sentence of diverse doctors, both heathen and christian, over the whole world.
He then brings in, first the testimonies of Pliny and Hippocrates, those heathens, then adds, that all the famousest fathers of the church are of the same opinion, in affirming, that Christ our Lord was conceived upon the eight day of the calends of Avril, which is the same day with the 25th of our March the day of the vernal equinox, and that upon that very day he also suffered, and died, and that he was born upon the day of the winter solstice, upon the eight of the calends of January, that is to say, upon the twenty fifth day of our December.
As also, that John the Baptist, his forerunner, was conceived upon the eighth of the calends of October, which is all one with the twenty fourth of September, the day of the autumnal equinox, and was born upon the day of the summer solstice, being then upon the eight of the calends of July, according to that times account, which according to ours, is the 24th day of June, adding this exposition that it was meet that the author of light eternal, should both be conceived and born in the increase of light temporal: and that the preacher of repentance, who ought to be lessened with the lessening of the light, should at such time of diminution both be conceived and born, according to that saying of John himself, John 3:30 (?) He must increase but I must decrease.
And again, in his homily upon the nativity of John the Baptist, he saith, that it is not without a great mystery that John was born when the day did decrease, and Christ when the day did increase; for Christ did increase, because it was to be known over all the world, that he was Christ. John did, and must decrease, because he was thought to be Christ, being only his forerunner: and by very good right it was, that the shortened day should gain length when Christ was born, because God before being only known in jury, now Christ appeared to be a light to lighten the gentiles, and to spread abroad the heat of his love over the whole earth.
And moreover, it is apparent, that though Bede in one place doth not seem to approve of the strictness of that sentence, as that our Saviour Christ should be precisely born on the day of the winter solstice, yet it is manifest that he doth not go from it by his words that follow, descanting upon the time.
At this time the Sun of this world did decline to the lowest point in the heavens, and Christ the Son of righteousness did descend into the manager, the meanest and lowest place on earth.
At this time the sun begins to return to us, and our days receive their increase of light. Upon the day of Christs Nativity, the Sun of righteousness came and arose upon us, and the light of grace received a great increase; John was not that light, he was a light indeed, but a decreasing one, mixt with darkness; but Christ was that light, that clear light, increasing unto perfect day.
So much our venerable countryman, making it clear unto us, that the day of the winter solstice, and the eight of the calends of January, and the twenty fifth day of December, were all one and the same day; that our Saviours was born thereupon, and that it was kept holy in the remembrance thereof, over the whole world, by God’s children in their several ages; and throughout the days that he lived in.
For the next century, we produced John Damascene, who flourished about the year 731 and is a witness of the general observation of this day, from 700 to 800 who was equal to Bede; and as Bede did witness of for the west, so he for the east.
For the next century, extending to the year 900 we shall produce
Rabanus Maurus, abbot of Fulda, and afterward Bishop of Mentz, and president of the Great Synod there, held under Losharius the emperor, for convicting of Godescalcus, anno 848.
Haymo, bishop of Halberstad, kinsman to Bede, and scholar to Alcuinus our countryman.
Theophylact, archbishop of Bulgaria, in his commentaries upon Luke, all which did flourish in this century.
For the next century, and the next following, till the year 1070 we bring in Oecumenius a Greek father, famous in that dark age.
For the next, ______ St. Bernard, the last of all the fathers, who though he lived in the time of the schoolmen, whose beginning we reckon from the year 1050 ( of whom Lanfranke, archbishop of Canterbury was the first ) yet he is reckoned for a father, and gives us a clear testimony of the due observance of the day, in a special manner for his time, in those many sermons that he preached thereupon.
As in his first sermon, Great ( my dearly Beloved ) is the solemnization of the day of our Lords Nativity. But the shortness of the day will compel me to make a short sermon; and no marvel, seeing the Father did as this day, shorten or abbreviate the WORD.
Again in his second sermon, he puts the question, why he was born in the winter, in the night, in such cold weather, in the dark ? Shall (saith he) we believe that it was only by chance ?
He answers, Other children do not choose the time when they shall be born, because they have no use of reason, liberty of choice, faculty of deliberation; but Christ although he was man, was in the beginning with the Father: He was then God, the same in wisdom and power that he is now, as being the power and wisdom of God; therefore he the Son of God, being about to be born, in whose power it was, to choose what time he pleased, he chose that which was most troublesome chiefly for a little child, and the son of a poor Mother, who scarce had any cloths to wrap him in, to show that he was not from the earth, but from Heaven.
Much more might be collected out of the works of this holy father, but so much may suffice.
Thus we have proved by the testimony of so many fathers, men famous in their generations, that for almost twelve hundred years, the day of Christs birth was kept constantly, annually universally, by all Christians over the whole world, religiously, holily, and that upon the twenty fifth day of December, according as it hath been the custom of the Church of England, following the ancient and laudable custom of the primitive church.
The corrupt time of the Church follows, from the forementioned time till the year 1517 when the Church began to be reformed in diverse nations, yet she did never in the time of her corruption, so far fall away from the love of her Saviour, as not to keep the day of his birth, though with diverse superstitions, as is willingly objected, and confessed.