Next to the practice of Gods Church, reason comes in as an armed man, to confirm the truth, and to maintain the particular observation of the fore mentioned day. The reasons are many, for brevity sake we shall only for the present allege three, which Zanchie, that great treasurer of learning, and religion, doth prompt unto us in the fore cited place.
His first reason is drawn, because it is praise worthy to observe this day, grounded upon the chief ends for which feasts were instituted among the Jews, which are three, as Thomas Aquinas recites them, 2 parte summa, quest 102 art. 4
The first, that they might remember the works of the Lord, and the blessings that at such times they had received.
The second, to give God thanks for them.
The third, That at such times they might freely offer large gifts, for the relief of the priests, and poor people.
If therefore ( saith he ) for the commemoration of such benefits and blessings at such times bestowed by God, feasts were instituted among the Jews; why then should any man dare to affirm that the Church of Christ may not also institute and keep the feasts that we have mentioned, that by observing those solemn days, those blessings may be kept in mind, which we have received from the bounty of Jesus Christ, and the famous works which he upon those days did perform for us, the certain historical relation whereof we have in the evangelists.
Therefore, upon such festival days, seeing they are to be kept holy in remembrance of such benefits received from Christ, and of all that he did and suffered for us, the histories of those particulars ought to be read and explained to the people, which the ancient primitive church was always wont to do; wherefore ( saith he ) I do utterly condemn those ministers, who upon such days do strictly prosecute their ordinary texts, that if upon Easter day a text of Christs Passion, do come in their way, they will explain that, and will by no means choose any of those that make mention of the resurrection.
His second reason is drawn, We ought to solemnize the feast of our Saviour’s Nativity, and those other of his Resurrection, etc. Because it is a point of honesty so to do; for if that be honest ( as Cicero defines it ) which though it be not actually praised, yet it is praise worthy it must needs follow, that it is a point of honesty, to solemnize those feasts which the ancient church graced with a solemnity before us; because it is a point of honesty, and praise worthy to follow antiquity in things not evil in themselves, but indifferent; for it ought to be our judgement, that the ancients had a sufficient, and a well grounded cause for the doing of such things, especially in the instituting and, appointing of such festival days.
His third reason, is drawn, We ought ( saith he ) to keep the holy birthday of our Saviour, and his other feasts, by reason of the great profit that accrues unto us, and others in the observation of the same: For it is not ( saith he ) in the tongue of man to express what great profit the common people do gain by the due observing of those days, and coming to church to give God thanks thereupon; whereupon the passages of those things that were done by our Saviour, for the good and salvation of their souls, are read and explained unto them, and a treasure of good things are begot in them. Let me add, all the articles of the creed, are in a manner every year more and more made known unto them; and they upon every festival built up in their most holy faith; and that increased by the annual exposition, and confirmation, they being taught to believe in God, that made Heaven and Earth, by his Son, by whom he made the world, Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord who as conceived by the Holy Ghost, upon the day of the annunciation, upon which day the world was created.
To believe that he was Born of the Virgin Mary, upon the feast of his Nativity.
That he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, and descended into hell, upon the day of his passion.
That the third day he rose again from the dead, and that we by virtue of his resurrection shall rise again at the last day, and have everlasting life after death, upon the feast of his resurrection.
That he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, and shall come again to judge both the quick and dead, upon the feast o f his Ascension.
That he sent down the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, to gather unto him an Holy Catholic Church, in which he would establish a forgiveness of sins, and a communion of saints, upon the feast of Pentecost.
Behold the form of the sound words, which we are to hold fast, and the body of that saith without which our souls cannot be saved, delivered upon those festivals; so that by the labor and industry of Orthodox and painful ministers, Christ Jesus may day by day be formed in the hearts and souls of their people, they yearly with St. Paul, travelling in Birth of them, may make them so grow in grace, and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus, that they may bring them up at last to be perfect men and women in him. Begetting them at the conception, bringing them forth new creatures upon the nativity, cutting of the foreskin of their hearts at the circumcision, enlightening their minds, and bringing them out of darkness into his marvelous light, upon the epiphany; teaching them to crucify their affections an d lusts on Good Friday, and to rise to newness of life on Easter day; to set their affections upon things above where Christ sits at the right hand of God upon Holy Thursday, that he may send down the Holy Ghost into their hearts, to lead them into all truth,upon the day of Pentecost, and into this truth above others, that they kiss the Son of God, upon the day of his Nativity, and so they perish not from the right way, ( which with grief of heart I write it ) too many have done that they have neglected the celebration of this blessed day. Alas, alas! how many poor, unlearned people are there, that cannot read anything concerning Christ, or what they are to believe concerning him, not to hear anything of Christ, but when they come to church upon such festival days.
Let me add another reason also, that we should keep these days holy, and that a grand one; It is that we may give no offence to the weaker brethren, who if the observation of these days should be laid aside, and we should condemn and despise the keeping of them, those poor ignorant souls would be verily persuaded that we did not care for, nor regard those great things that Christ either did or suffered for us, and that we did not count them worth the thanksgiving.
I conclude my reasons with the words of St. Augustine; Next after the holy scriptures, we are to observe those rites and customs, which came either from the apostles, by tradition, or are judged to be decreed by general counsels; such are those feasts of the ancient and purer Church, annually observed over the whole world, all which were kept in the honor of Jesus Christ: to wit, the Lords Day, Easter, Pentecost, Ascension, Passion, Supper of the Lord, and the Nativity.
Give me leave to add the words of worth Zanchie, concerning the particular Feast of the Birthday of every particular Man, how mean soever, especially of princes and great ones, as of Herod, of which we read in the gospel, and that not without reason, for it is a special blessing that anyone created by God, in the womb of his Mother, should be brought alive into this world; therefore as God would have the sabbath to be kept holy, in remembrance of the creation of the world, that thanks might be given to the creator for so great a benefit: so it must needs be a piece of great thank fullness too, and well accepted of Almighty God, that any man shall keeping memory the day that he was born, and regard and honor it more than other days, in rejoicing thereupon, giving thanks to God, soberly feasting with his neighbors, and giving more largely to the poor, then at other times.
How much more ought the day of our Saviours Birth, in a more excellent, devout, and rejoicing manner, annually to be observed and kept by all that bear the name of Christian, and hope for salvation by that blessed Babe, that now came into the world to save sinners, whereof they must needs be the chief that despise the day of so great Salvation; work and follow their callings when it should be their only work to remember what the Lord Jesus upon this day did for them, and sing praise to his name.