I. The ancient Liturgies; the Acts of Councils; and the ecclesiastical writers of the period.
II. The archeological and liturgical works of Martene, Mamachi, Bona, Muratori, Pelicia, Asseman, Renaudot, Binterim, and Staudenmeier, of the Roman Catholic church; and Bingham, Augusti, Siegel, Alt, Piper, Neale, and Daniel, of the Protestant.
74. The Revolution in Cultus
The change in the legal and social position of Christianity with reference to the temporal power, produced a mighty effect upon its cultus. Hitherto the Christian worship had been confined to a comparatively small number of upright confessors, most of whom belonged to the poorer classes of society. Now it came forth from its secrecy in private houses, deserts, and catacombs, to the light of day, and must adapt itself to the higher classes and to the great mass of the people, who had been bred in the traditions of heathenism. The development of the hierarchy and the enrichment of public worship go hand in hand. A republican and democratic constitution demands simple manners and customs; aristocracy and monarchy surround themselves with a formal etiquette and a brilliant court-life. The universal priesthood is closely connected with a simple cultus; the episcopal hierarchy, with a rich, imposing ceremonial.
In the Nicene age the church laid aside her lowly servant-form, and put on a splendid imperial garb. She exchanged the primitive simplicity of her cultus for a richly colored multiplicity. She drew all the fine arts into the service of the sanctuary, and began her sublime creations of Christian architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry, and music. In place of the pagan temple and altar arose everywhere the stately church and the chapel in honor of Christ, of the Virgin Mary, of martyrs and saints. The kindred ideas of priesthood, sacrifice, and altar became more fully developed and more firmly fixed, as the outward hierarchy grew. The mass, or daily repetition of the atoning sacrifice of Christ by the hand of the priest, became the mysterious center of the whole system of worship. The number of church festivals was increased; processions, and pilgrimages, and a multitude of significant and superstitious customs and ceremonies were introduced. The public worship of God assumed, if we may so speak, a dramatic, theatrical character, which made it attractive and imposing to the mass of the people, who were as yet incapable, for the most part, of worshipping God in spirit and in truth. It was addressed rather to the eye and the ear, to feeling and imagination, than to intelligence and will. In short, we already find in the Nicene age almost all the essential features of the sacerdotal, mysterious, ceremonial, symbolical cultus of the Greek and Roman churches of the present day.
This enrichment and embellishment of the cultus was, on one hand, a real advance, and unquestionably had a disciplinary and educational power, like the hierarchical organization, for the training of the popular masses. But the gain in outward appearance and splendor was balanced by many a loss in simplicity and spirituality. While the senses and the imagination were entertained and charmed, the heart not rarely returned cold and hungry. Not a few pagan habits and ceremonies, concealed under new names, crept into the church, or were baptized only with water, not with the fire and Spirit of the gospel. It is well known with what peculiar tenacity a people cleave to religious usages; and it could not be expected that they should break off in an instant from the traditions of centuries. Nor, in fact, are things which may have descended from heathenism, to be by any means sweepingly condemned. Both the Jewish cultus and the heathen are based upon those universal religious wants which Christianity must satisfy, and which Christianity alone can truly meet. Finally, the church has adopted hardly a single existing form or ceremony of religion, without at the same time breathing into it a new spirit, and investing it with a high moral import. But the limit of such appropriation it is very hard to fix, and the old nature of Judaism and heathenism which has its point of attachment in the natural heart of man, continually betrayed its tenacious presence. This is conceded and lamented by the most earnest of the church fathers of the Nicene and post-Nicene age, the very persons who are in other respects most deeply involved in the Catholic ideas of cultus.
In the Christian martyr-worship and saint-worship, which now spread with giant strides over the whole Christian world, we cannot possibly mistake the succession of the pagan worship of gods and heroes, with its noisy popular festivities. Augustine puts into the mouth of a heathen the question: “Wherefore must we forsake gods, which the Christians themselves worship with us?” He deplores the frequent revels and amusements at the tombs of the martyrs; though he thinks that allowance should be made for these weaknesses out of regard to the ancient custom. Leo the Great speaks of Christians in Rome who first worshipped the rising sun, doing homage to the pagan Apollo, before repairing to the basilica of St. Peter. Theodoret defends the Christian practices at the graves of the martyrs by pointing to the pagan libations, propitiations, gods, and demigods. Since Hercules, Aesculapitis, Bacchus, the Dioscuri, and many other objects of pagan worship were mere deified men, the Christians, he thinks, cannot be blamed for honoring their martyrs — not making them gods but venerating them as witnesses and servants of the only, true God. Chrysostom mourns over the theatrical customs, such as loud clapping in applause, which the Christians at Antioch and Constantinople brought with them into the church. In the Christmas festival, which from the fourth century spread from Rome over the entire church, the holy commemoration of the birth of the Redeemer is associated — to this day, even in Protestant lands — with the wanton merriments of the pagan Saturnalia. And even in the celebration of Sunday, as it was introduced by Constantine, and still continues on the whole continent of Europe, the cultus of the old sun-god Apollo mingles, with the remembrance of the resurrection of Christ; and the widespread profanation of the Lord’s Day, especially on the continent of Europe, demonstrates the great influence which heathenism still exerts upon Roman and Greek Catholic, and even upon Protestant, Christendom.
75. The Civil and Religious Sunday
Geo. Holden: The Christian Sabbath. Lond. 1825 (see ch. v.). John T. Baylee: History of the Sabbath. Lond. 1857 (see chs. x.-xiii.). James Aug. Hessey: Sunday, its Origin, History, and present Obligation; Bampton Lectures preached before the University of Oxford. Lond. 1860 (Patristic and high-Anglican). James Gilfillan: The Sabbath viewed in the Light of Reason, Revelation, and History, with Sketches of its Literature. Edinb. and New York, 1862 (The Puritan and Anglo-American view). Robert Cox: The Literature on the Sabbath Question. Edinb. 1865, 2 vols. (Latitudinarian, but very full and learned).
The observance of Sunday originated in the time of the apostles, and ever since forms the basis of public worship, with its ennobling, sanctifying, and cheering influences, in all Christian lands.
The Christian Sabbath is, on the one hand, the continuation and the regeneration of the Jewish Sabbath, based upon God’s resting from the creation and upon the fourth commandment of the decalogue, which, as to its substance, is not of merely national application, like the ceremonial and civil law, but of universal import and perpetual validity for mankind. It is, on the other hand, a new creation of the gospel, a memorial of the resurrection of Christ and of the work of redemption completed and divinely sealed thereby. It rests, we may say, upon the threefold basis of the original creation, the Jewish legislation, and the Christian redemption, and is rooted in the physical, the moral, and the religious wants of our nature. It has a legal and an evangelical aspect. Like the law in general, the institution of the Christian Sabbath is a wholesome restraint upon the people, and a schoolmaster to lead them to Christ. But it is also strictly evangelical: it was originally made for the benefit of man, like the family, with which it goes back beyond the fall to the paradise of innocence, as the second institution of God on earth; it was “a delight” to the pious of the old dispensation (Isa_58:13), and now, under the new, it is fraught with the glorious memories and blessings of Christ’s resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Christian Sabbath is the ancient Sabbath baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost, regenerated, spiritualized, and glorified. It is the connecting link of creation and redemption, of paradise lost, and paradise regained, and a pledge and preparation for the saints’ everlasting rest in heaven.
The ancient church viewed the Sunday mainly, we may say, one-sidedly and exclusively, from its Christian aspect as a new institution, and not in any way as a continuation of the Jewish Sabbath. It observed it as the day of the commemoration of the resurrection or of the now spiritual creation, and hence as a day of sacred joy and thanksgiving, standing in bold contrast to the days of humiliation and fasting, as the Easter festival contrasts with Good Friday.
So long as Christianity was not recognized and protected by the state, the observance of Sunday was purely religious, a strictly voluntary service, but exposed to continual interruption from the bustle of the world and a hostile community. The pagan Romans paid no more regard to the Christian Sunday than to the Jewish Sabbath.
In this matter, as in others, the accession of Constantine marks the beginning of a new era, and did good service to the church and to the cause of public order and morality. Constantine is the founder, in part at least, of the civil observance of Sunday, by which alone the religious observance of it in the church could be made universal and could be properly secured. In the year 321 he issued a law prohibiting manual labor in the cities and all judicial transactions, at a later period also military exercises, on Sunday. He exempted the liberation of slaves, which as an act of Christian humanity and charity, might, with special propriety, take place on that day. But the Sunday law of Constantine must not be overrated. He enjoined the observance, or rather forbade the public desecration of Sunday, not under the name of Sabbatum or Dies Domini, but under its old astrological and heathen title, Dies Solis, familiar to all his subjects, so that the law was as applicable to the worshippers of Hercules, Apollo, and Mithras, as to the Christians. There is no reference whatever in his law either to the fourth commandment or to the resurrection of Christ. Besides he expressly exempted the country districts, where paganism still prevailed, from the prohibition of labor, and thus avoided every appearance of injustice. Christians and pagans had been accustomed to festival rests. Constantine made these rests to synchronize, and gave the preference to Sunday, on which day Christians from the beginning celebrated the resurrection of their Lord and Saviour. This and no more was implied in the famous enactment of 321. It was only a step in the right direction, but probably the only one which Constantine could prudently or safely take at that period of transition from the rule of paganism to that of Christianity.
For the army, however, he went beyond the limits of negative and protective legislation, to which the state ought to confine itself in matters of religion, and enjoined a certain positive observance of Sunday, in requiring the Christian soldiers to attend Christian worship, and the heathen soldiers, in the open field, at a given signal, with eyes and hands raised towards heaven, to recite the following, certainly very indefinite, form of prayer: “Thee alone we acknowledge as God, thee we reverence as king, to thee we call as our helper. To thee we owe our victories, by thee have we obtained the mastery of our enemies. To thee we give thanks for benefits already received, from thee we hope for benefits to come. We all fall at thy feet, and fervently beg that thou wouldest preserve to us our emperor Constantine and his divinely beloved sons in long life healthful and victorious.”
Constantine’s successors pursued the Sunday legislation which he had initiated, and gave a legal sanction and civil significance also to other holy days of the church, which have no Scriptural authority, so that the special reverence due to the Lord’s Day was obscured in proportion as the number of rival claims increased. Thus Theodosius I. increased the number of judicial holidays to one hundred and twenty-four. The Valentinians, I. and II., prohibited the exaction of taxes and the collection of moneys on Sunday, and enforced the previously enacted prohibition of lawsuits. Theodosius the Great, in 386, and still more stringently the younger Theodosius, in 425, forbade theatrical performances, and Leo and Anthemius, in 460, prohibited other secular amusements, on the Lord’s Day. Such laws, however, were probably never rigidly executed. A council of Carthage, in 401, laments the people’s passion for theatrical and other entertainments on Sunday. The same abuse, it is well known, very generally prevails to this day upon the continent of Europe in both Protestant and Roman Catholic countries, and Christian princes and magistrates only too frequently give it the sanction of their example.
Ecclesiastical legislation in like manner prohibited needless mechanical and agricultural labor, and the attending of theatres and other public places of amusement, also hunting and weddings, on Sunday and on feast days. Besides such negative legislation, to which the state must confine itself, the church at the same time enjoined positive observances for the sacred day, especially the regular attendance of public worship, frequent communion, and the payment of free-will offerings (tithes). Many a council here confounded the legal and the evangelical principles, thinking themselves able to enforce by the threatening of penalties what has moral value only as a voluntary act. The Council of Eliberis, in 305, decreed the suspension from communion of any person living in a town who shall absent himself for three Lord’s Days from church. In the same legalistic spirit, the council of Sardica, in 343, and the Trullan council of 692, threatened with deposition the clergy who should unnecessarily omit public worship three Sundays in succession, and prescribed temporary excommunication for similar neglect among the laity. But, on the other hand, the councils, while they turned the Lord’s Day itself into a legal ordinance handed down from the apostles, pronounced with all decision against the Jewish Sabbatism. The Apostolic Canons and the council of Gangra (the latter, about 450, in opposition to the Gnostic Manichaean asceticism of the Eustathians) condemn fasting on Sunday. In the Greek church this prohibition is still in force, because Sunday, commemorating the resurrection of Christ, is a day of spiritual joy. On the same symbolical ground kneeling in prayer was forbidden on Sunday and through the whole time of Easter until Pentecost. The general council of Nicaeea, in 325, issued on this point in the twentieth canon the following decision: “Whereas some bow the knee on Sunday and on the days of Pentecost [i.e., during the seven weeks after Easter], the holy council, that everything may everywhere be uniform, decrees that prayers be offered to God in a standing posture.” The Trullan council, in 692, ordained in the ninetieth canon: “From Saturday evening to Sunday evening let no one bow the knee.” The Roman church in general still adheres to this practice. The New Testament gives no law for such secondary matters; the apostle Paul, on the contrary, just in the season of Easter and Pentecost, before his imprisonment, following an inward dictate, repeatedly knelt in prayer. (Act_20:36; Act_21:5) The council of Orleans, in 538, says in the twenty-eighth canon: “It is Jewish superstition, that one may not ride or walk on Sunday, nor do anything to adorn the house or the person. But occupations in the field are forbidden, that people may come to the church and give themselves to prayer.”
As to the private opinions of the principal fathers on this subject, they all favor the sanctification of the Lord’s Day, but treat it as a peculiarly Christian institution, and draw a strong, indeed a too strong, line of distinction between it and the Jewish Sabbath; forgetting that they are one in essence and aim, though different in form and spirit, and that the fourth commandment as to its substance — viz., the keeping holy of one day out of seven — is an integral part of the decalogue or the moral law, and hence of perpetual obligation. Eusebius calls Sunday, but not the Sabbath, “the first and chief of days and a day of salvation,” and commends Constantine for commanding that “all should assemble together every week, and keep that which is called the Lord’s Day as a festival, to refresh even their bodies and to stir up their minds by divine precepts and instruction.” Athanasius speaks very highly of the Lord’s Day, as the perpetual memorial of the resurrection, but assumes that the old Sabbath has deceased. Macarius, a presbyter of Upper Egypt (350), spiritualizes the Sabbath as a type and shadow of the true Sabbath given by the Lord to the soul — the true and eternal Sabbath, which is freedom from sin. Hilary represents the whole of this life as a preparation for the eternal Sabbath of the next. Epiphanius speaks of Sunday as an institution of the apostles, but falsely attributes the same origin to the observance of Wednesday and Friday as half fasts. Ambrose frequently mentions Sunday as an evangelical festival, and contrasts it with the defunct legal Sabbath. Jerome makes the same distinction. He relates of the Egyptian coenobites that they “devote themselves on the Lord’s Day to nothing but prayer and reading the Scriptures.” But he mentions also without censure, that the pious Paula and her companions, after returning from church on Sundays, “applied themselves to their allotted works and made garments for themselves and others.” Augustine likewise directly derives Sunday from the resurrection, and not from the fourth commandment. Fasting on that day of spiritual joy he regards, like Ambrose, as a grave scandal and heretical practice. The Apostolical Constitutions in this respect go even still further, and declare: “He that fasts on the Lord’s Day is guilty of sin.” But they still prescribe the celebration of the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday in addition to the Christian Sunday. Chrysostom warns Christians against sabbatizing with the Jews, but earnestly commends the due celebration of the Lord’s Day. Leo the Great, in a beautiful passage — the finest of all the patristic utterances on this subject — lauds the Lord’s Day as the day of the primitive creation, of the Christian redemption, of the meeting of the risen Saviour with the assembled disciples, of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, of the principal Divine blessings bestowed upon the world. But he likewise brings it in no connection with the fourth commandment, and with the other fathers leaves out of view the proper foundation of the day in the eternal moral law of God.
Besides Sunday, the Jewish Sabbath also was distinguished in the Eastern church by the absence of fasting and by standing in prayer. The Western church, on the contrary, especially the Roman, in protest against Judaism, observed the seventh day of the week as a fast day, like Friday. This difference between the two churches was permanently fixed by the fifty-fifth canon of the Trullan council of 692: “In Rome fasting is practised on all the Saturdays of Quadragesima [the forty days’ fast before Easter]. This is contrary to the sixty-sixth apostolic canon, and must no longer be done. Whoever does it, if a clergyman, shall be deposed; if a layman, excommunicated.”
Wednesday and Friday also continued to be observed in many countries as days commemorative of the passion of Christ (dies stationum), with half-fasting. The Latin church, however, gradually substituted fasting on Saturday for fasting on Wednesday.
Finally, as to the daily devotions: the number of the canonical hours was enlarged from three to seven (according to Psa_119:164: “Seven times in a day will I praise thee”). But they were strictly kept only in the cloisters, under the technical names of matina (about three o’clock), prima (about six), tertia (nine), sexta (noon), nona (three in the afternoon), vesper (six), completorium (nine), and mesonyctium or vigilia (midnight). Usually two nocturnal prayers were united. The devotions consisted of prayer, singing, Scripture reading, especially in the Psalms, and readings from the histories of the martyrs and the homilies of the fathers. In the churches ordinarily only morning and evening worship was held. The high festivals were introduced by a night service, the vigils.
76. The Church Year
R. Hospinian: Festa Christian. (Tiguri, 1593) Genev. 1675. M. A. Nickel (R.C.): Die heil. Zeiten u. Feste nach ihrer Entstehung u. Feier in der Kath. Kirche, Mainz, 1825 sqq. 6 vols. Pillwitz: Geschichte der heil. Zeiten. Dresden, 1842. E. Ranke: Das kirchliche Pericopensystem aus den ältesten Urkunden dargelegt. Berlin, 1847. Fr. Strauss (late court preacher and professor in Berlin): Das evangelische Kirchenjahr. Berl. 1850. Lisco: Das christliche Kirchenjahr. Berl. (1840) 4th ed. 1850. Bobertag: Das evangelische Kirchenjahr, etc. Breslau, 1857. Comp. also Augusti: Handbuch der Christlichen Archaeologie, vol. i. (1836), pp. 457-595.
After the fourth century, the Christian year, with a cycle of regularly recurring annual religious festivals, comes forth in all its main outlines, though with many fluctuations and variations in particulars, and forms thenceforth, so to speak, the skeleton of the Catholic cultus.
The idea of a religious year, in distinction from the natural and from the civil year, appears also in Judaism, and to some extent in the heathen world. It has its origin in the natural necessity of keeping alive and bringing to bear upon the people by public festivals the memory of great and good men and of prominent events. The Jewish ecclesiastical year was, like the whole Mosaic cultus, symbolical and typical. The Sabbath commemorated the creation and the typical redemption, and pointed forward to the resurrection and the true redemption, and thus to the Christian Sunday. The passover pointed to Easter, and the feast of harvest to the Christian Pentecost. The Jewish observance of these festivals originally bore an earnest, dignified, and significant character, but in the hands of Pharisaism it degenerated very largely into slavish Sabbatism and heartless ceremony, and provoked the denunciation of Christ and the apostles. The heathen festivals of the gods ran to the opposite extreme of excessive sensual indulgence and public vice.
The peculiarity of the Christian year is, that it centres in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and is intended to minister to His glory. In its original idea it is a yearly representation of the leading events of the gospel history; a celebration of the birth, passion, and resurrection of Christ, and of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to revive gratitude and devotion. This is the festival part, the semestre Domini. The other half, not festal, the semestre ecclesiae, is devoted to the exhibition of the life of the Christian church, its founding, its growth, and its consummation, both is a whole, and in its individual members, from the regeneration to the resurrection of the dead. The church year is, so to speak, a chronological confession of faith; a moving panorama of the great events of salvation; a dramatic exhibition of the gospel for the Christian people. It secures to every important article of faith its place in the cultus of the church, and conduces to wholeness and soundness of Christian doctrine, as against all unbalanced and erratic ideas. It serves to interweave religion with the life of the people by continually recalling to the popular mind the most important events upon which our salvation rests, and by connecting them with the vicissitudes of the natural and the civil year. Yet, on the other hand, the gradual overloading of the church year, and the multiplication of saints’ days, greatly encouraged superstition and idleness, crowded the Sabbath and the leading festivals into the background, and subordinated the merits of Christ to the patronage of saints. The purification and simplification aimed at by the Reformation became an absolute necessity.
The order of the church year is founded in part upon the history of Jesus and of the apostolic church; in part, especially in respect to Easter and Pentecost, upon the Jewish sacred year; and in part upon the natural succession of seasons; for the life of nature in general forms the groundwork of the higher life of the spirit, and there is an evident symbolical correspondence between Easter and spring, Pentecost and the beginning of harvest, Christmas and the winter solstice, the nativity of John the Baptist and the summer solstice.
The Christian church year, however, developed itself spontaneously from the demands of the Christian worship and public life, after the precedent of the Old Testament cultus, with no positive direction from Christ or the apostles. The New Testament contains no certain traces of annual festivals; but so early as the second century we meet with the general observance of Easter and Pentecost, founded on the Jewish passover and feast of harvest, and answering to Friday and Sunday in the weekly cycle. Easter was a season of sorrow, in remembrance of the passion; Pentecost was a time of joy, in memory of the resurrection of the Redeemer and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. These two festivals form the heart of the church year. Less important was the feast of the Epiphany, or manifestation of Christ as Messiah. In the fourth century the Christmas festival was added to the two former leading feasts, and partially took the place of the earlier feast of Epiphany, which now came to be devoted particularly to the manifestation of Christ among the Gentiles. And further, in Easter the πάσχα σταυρώσιμον and ἀναστάσιμον came to be more strictly distinguished, the latter being reckoned a season of joy.
From this time, therefore, we have three great festival cycles, each including a season of preparation before the feast and an after-season appropriate: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. The lesser feasts of Epiphany and Ascension arranged themselves under these. All bear originally a christological character, representing the three stages of the redeeming work of Christ: the beginning, the prosecution, and the consummation. All are for the glorification of God in Christ.
The trinitarian conception and arrangement of the festal half of the church year is of much later origin, cotemporary with the introduction of the festival of the Trinity (on the Sunday after Pentecost). The feast of Trinity dates from the ninth or tenth century, and was first authoritatively established in the Latin church by Pope John XXII., in 1334, as a comprehensive closing celebration of the revelation of God the Father, who sent His Son (Christmas), of the Son, who died for us and rose again (Easter), and of the Holy Ghost, who renews and sanctifies us (Pentecost). The Greek church knows nothing of this festival to this day, though she herself, in the Nicene age, was devoted with special earnestness and zeal to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. The reason of this probably is, that there was no particular historical fact to give occasion for such celebration, and that the mystery of the holy Trinity, revealed in Christ, is properly the object of adoration in all the church festivals and in the whole Christian cultus.
But with these three great feast-cycles the ancient church was not satisfied. So early as the Nicene age it surrounded them with feasts of Mary, of the apostles, of martyrs, and of saints, which were at first only local commemorations, but gradually assumed the character of universal feasts of triumph. By degrees every day of the church year became sacred to the memory of a particular martyr or saint, and in every case was either really or by supposition the day of the death of the saint, which was significantly called his heavenly birth-day. This multiplication of festivals has at bottom the true thought, that the whole life of the Christian should be one unbroken spiritual festivity. But the Romish calendar of saints anticipates an ideal condition, and corrupts the truth by exaggeration, as the Pharisees made the word of God “of none effect” by their additions. It obliterates the necessary distinction between Sunday and the six days of labor, to the prejudice of the former, and plays into the hands of idleness. And finally, it rests in great part upon uncertain legends and fantastic myths, which in some cases even eclipse the miracles of the gospel history, and nourish the grossest superstition.
The Greek oriental church year differs from the Roman in this general characteristic: that it adheres more closely to the Jewish ceremonies and customs, while the Roman attaches itself to the natural year and common life. The former begins in the middle of September (Tisri), with the first Sunday after the feast of the Holy Cross; the latter, with the beginning of Advent, four weeks before Christmas. Originally Easter was the beginning of the church year, both in the East and in the West; and the Apostolic Constitutions and Eusebius call the month of Easter the “first month” (corresponding to the month Nisan, which opened the sacred year of the Jews, while the first of Tisri, about the middle of our September, opened their civil year). In the Greek church also the lectiones continuae of the Holy Scriptures, after the example of the Jewish Parashioth and Haphthoroth, became prominent and the church year came to be divided according to the four Evangelists; while in the Latin church, since the sixth century, only select sections from the Gospels, and Epistles, called pericopes, have been read. Another peculiarity of the Western church year, descending from the fourth century, is the division into four portions, of three months each, called Quatember, separated from each other by a three days’ fast. Pope Leo I. delivered several sermons on the quarterly Quatember fast, and urges especially on that occasion charity to the poor. Instead of this the Greek church has a division according to the four Gospels, which are read entire in course; Matthew next after Pentecost, Luke beginning on the fourteenth of September, Mark at the Easter fast, and John on the first Sunday after Easter.
So early as the fourth century the observance of the festivals was enjoined under ecclesiastical penalties, and was regarded as an established divine ordinance. But the most eminent church teachers, a Chrysostom, a Jerome, and an Augustine, expressly insist, that the observance of the Christian festivals must never be a work of legal constraint, but always an act of evangelical freedom; and Socrates, the historian, says, that Christ and the apostles have given no laws and prescribed no penalties concerning it.
The abuse of the festivals soon fastened itself on the just use of them and the sensual excesses of the pagan feasts, in spite of the earnest warnings of several fathers, swept in like a wild flood upon the church. Gregory Nazianzen feels called upon, with reference particularly to the feast of Epiphany, to caution his people against public parade, splendor of dress, banquetings, and drinking revels, and says: “Such things we will leave to the Greeks, who worship their gods with the belly; but we, who adore the eternal Word, will find our only satisfaction in the word and the divine law, and in the contemplation of the holy object of our feast.” On the other hand, however, the Catholic church, especially after Pope Gregory I. (the “pater caerimoniarum”), with a good, but mistaken intention, favored the christianizing of heathen forms of cultus and popular festivals, and thereby contributed unconsciously to the paganizing of Christianity in the Middle Age. The calendar saints took the place of the ancient deities, and Rome became a second time a pantheon. Against this new heathenism, with its sweeping abuses, pure Christianity was obliged with all earnestness and emphasis to protest.
The Reformation of the sixteenth century sought to restore the entire cultus, and with it the Catholic church year, to its primitive Biblical simplicity; but with different degrees of consistency. The Lutheran, the Anglican, and the German Reformed churches — the latter with the greater freedom — retained the chief festivals, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, together with the system of pericopes, and in some cases also the days of Mary and the apostles (though these are passing more and more out of use); while the strictly Calvinistic churches, particularly the Presbyterians and Congregationalists, rejected all the yearly festivals as human institutions, but, on the other hand, introduced a proportionally stricter observance of the weekly day of rest instituted by God Himself. The Scotch General Assembly of August 6th, 1575, resolved: “That all days which heretofore have been kept holy, besides the Sabbath-days, such as Yule day [Christmas], saints’ days, and such others, may be abolished, and a civil penalty be appointed against the keepers thereof by ceremonies, banqueting, fasting, and such other vanities.” At first, the most of the Reformers, even Luther and Bucer, were for the abolition of all feast days, except Sunday; but the genius and long habits of the people were against such a radical reform. After the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century the strict observance of Sunday developed itself in Great Britain and North America; while the Protestantism of the continent of Europe is much looser in this respect, and not essentially different from Catholicism. It is remarkable, that the strictest observance of Sunday is found just in those countries where the yearly feasts have entirely lost place in the popular mind: Scotland and New England. In the United States, however, for some years past, the Christmas and Easter festivals have regained ground without interfering at all with the strict observance of the Lord’s day, and promise to become regular American institutions. Good Friday and Pentecost will follow. On Good Friday of the year 1864 the leading ministers of the different evangelical churches in New York (the Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Dutch and German Reformed, Lutheran, Congregational, Methodist, and Baptist) freely united in the celebration of the atoning death of their common Saviour and in humiliation and prayer to the great edification of the people. It is acknowledged more and more that the observance of the great facts of the evangelical history to the honor of Christ is a common inheritance of primitive Christianity and inseparable from Christian worship. “These festivals” (says Prof. Dr. Henry B. Smith in his admirable opening sermon of the Presbyterian General Assembly, N. S., of 1864, on Christian Union and Ecclesiastical Re-union), “antedate, not only our (Protestant) divisions, but also the corruptions of the Papacy; they exalt the Lord and not man; they involve a public and solemn recognition of essential Christian facts, and are thus a standing protest against infidelity; they bring out the historic side of the Christian faith, and connect us with its whole history; and all in the different denominations could unite in their observance without sacrificing any article of their creed or discipline.” There is no danger that American Protestantism will transgress the limits of primitive evangelical simplicity in this respect, and ever return to the papal Mariolatry and Hagiolatry. The Protestant churches have established also many new annual festivals, such as the feasts of the Reformation, of Harvest-home, and of the Dead in Germany; and in America, the frequent days of fasting and prayer, besides the annual Thanksgiving-day, which originated in Puritan New England, and has been gradually adopted in almost all the states of the Union, and quite recently by the general government itself, as a national institution. With the pericopes, or Scripture lessons, the Reformed church everywhere deals much more freely than the Lutheran, and properly reserves the right to expound the whole word of Scripture in any convenient order according to its choice. The Gospels and Epistles may be read as a regular part of the Sabbath service; but the minister should be free to select his text from any portion of the Canonical Scriptures; only it is always advisable to follow a system and to go, if possible, every year through the whole plan and order of salvation in judicious adaptation to the church year and the wants of the people.
77. The Christmas Cycle
Besides the general literature given in the previous section, there are many special treatises on the origin of the Christmas festival, by Bynaeus, Kindler, Ittig, Vogel, Wernsdorf, Jablonsky, Planck, Hagenbach, P. Cassel, etc. Comp. Augusti: Archaeol. i. 533.
The Christmas festival is the celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God. It is occupied, therefore, with the event which forms the center and turning-point of the history of the world. It is of all the festivals the one most thoroughly interwoven with the popular and family life, and stands at the head of the great feasts in the Western church year. It continues to be, in the entire Catholic world and in the greater part of Protestant Christendom, the grand jubilee of children, on which innumerable gifts celebrate the infinite love of God in the gift of his only-begotten Son. It kindles in mid-winter a holy fire of love and gratitude, and preaches in the longest night the rising of the Sun of life and the glory of the Lord. It denotes the advent of the true golden age, of the freedom and equality of all the redeemed before God and in God. No one can measure the joy and blessing which from year to year flow forth upon all ages of life from the contemplation of the holy child Jesus in his heavenly innocence and divine humility.
Notwithstanding this deep significance and wide popularity, the festival of the birth of the Lord is of comparatively late institution. This may doubtless be accounted for in the following manner: In the first place, no corresponding festival was presented by the Old Testament, as in the case of Easter and Pentecost. In the second place, the day and month of the birth of Christ are nowhere stated in the gospel history, and cannot be certainly determined. Again: the church lingered first of all about the death and resurrection of Christ, the completed fact of redemption, and made this the center of the weekly worship and the church year. Finally: the earlier feast of Epiphany afforded a substitute. The artistic religious impulse, however, which produced the whole church year, must sooner or later have called into existence a festival which forms the groundwork of all other annual festivals in honor of Christ. For, as Chrysostom, some ten years after the introduction of this anniversary in Antioch, justly said, without the birth of Christ there were also no baptism, passion, resurrection, or ascension, and no outpouring of the Holy Ghost; hence no feast of Epiphany, of Easter, or of Pentecost.
The feast of Epiphany had spread from the East to the West. The feast of Christmas took the opposite course. We find it first in Rome, in the time of the bishop Liberius, who on the twenty-fifth of December, 360, consecrated Marcella, the sister of St. Ambrose, nun or bride of Christ, and addressed her with the words: “Thou seest what multitudes are come to the birth-festival of thy bridegroom.” This passage implies that the festival was already existing and familiar. Christmas was introduced in Antioch about the year 380; in Alexandria, where the feast of Epiphany was celebrated as the nativity of Christ, not till about 430. Chrysostom, who delivered the Christmas homily in Antioch on the 25th of December, 386, already calls it, notwithstanding its recent introduction (some ten years before), the fundamental feast, or the root, from which all other Christian festivals grow forth.
The Christmas festival was probably the Christian transformation or regeneration of a series of kindred heathen festivals — the Saturnalia, Sigillaria, Juvenalia, and Brumalia — which were kept in Rome in the month of December, in commemoration of the golden age of universal freedom and equality, and in honor of the unconquered sun, and which were great holidays, especially for slaves and children. This connection accounts for many customs of the Christmas season, like the giving of presents to children and to the poor, the lighting of wax tapers, perhaps also the erection of Christmas trees, and gives them a Christian import; while it also betrays the origin of the many excesses in which the unbelieving world indulges at this season, in wanton perversion of the true Christmas mirth, but which, of course, no more forbid right use, than the abuses of the Bible or of any other gift of God. Had the Christmas festival arisen in the period of the persecution, its derivation from these pagan festivals would be refuted by the then reigning abhorrence of everything heathen; but in the Nicene age this rigidness of opposition between the church and the world was in a great measure softened by the general conversion of the heathen. Besides, there lurked in those pagan festivals themselves, in spite of all their sensual abuses, a deep meaning and an adaptation to a real want; they might be called unconscious prophecies of the Christmas feast. Finally, the church fathers themselves confirm the symbolical reference of the feast of the birth of Christ, the Sun of righteousness, the Light of the world, to the birth-festival of the unconquered sun, which on the twenty-fifth of December, after the winter solstice, breaks the growing power of darkness, and begins anew his heroic career. It was at the same time, moreover, the prevailing opinion of the church in the fourth and fifth centuries, that Christ was actually born on the twenty-fifth of December; and Chrysostom appeals, in behalf of this view, to the date of the registration under Quirinius (Cyrenius), preserved in the Roman archives. But no certainty respecting the birthday of Christ can be reached from existing data.
Around the feast of Christmas other festivals gradually gathered, which compose, with it, the Christmas Cycle. The celebration of the twenty-fifth of December was preceded by the Christmas Vigils, or Christmas Night, which was spent with the greater solemnity, because Christ was certainly born in the night. (Luk_2:8)
After Gregory the Great the four Sundays before Christmas began to be devoted to the preparation for the coming of our Lord in the flesh and for his second coming to the final judgment. Hence they were called Advent Sundays. With the beginning of Advent the church year in the West began. The Greek church reckons six Advent Sundays, and begins them with the fourteenth of November. This Advent season was designed to represent and reproduce in the consciousness of the church at once the darkness and the yearning and hope of the long ages before Christ. Subsequently all noisy amusements and also weddings were forbidden during this season. The pericopes are selected with reference to the awakening of repentance and of desire after the Redeemer.
From the fourth century Christmas was followed by the memorial days of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Dec. 26), of the apostle and evangelist John (Dec. 27), and of the Innocents of Bethlehem (Dec. 28), in immediate succession; representing a threefold martyrdom: martyrdom in will and in fact (Stephen), in will without the fact (John), and in fact without the will, an unconscious martyrdom of infanthe innocence. But Christian martyrdom in general was regarded by the early church as a heavenly birth and a fruit of the earthly birth of Christ. Hence the ancient festival hymn for the day of St. Stephen, the leader of the noble army of martyrs: “Yesterday was Christ born upon earth, that to-day Stephen might be born in heaven.” The close connection of the feast of John the Evangelist with that of the birth of Christ arises from the confidential relation of the beloved disciple to the Lord, and from the fundamental thought of his Gospel: “The Word was made flesh.” The innocent infant-martyrs of Bethlehem, “the blossoms of martyrdom, the rosebuds torn off by the hurricane of persecution, the offering of first-fruits to Christ, the tender flock of sacrificial lambs,” are at the same time the representatives of the innumerable host of children in heaven. More than half of the human race are said to die in infancy, and yet to children the word emphatically applies: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The mystery of infant martyrdom is constantly repeated. How many children are apparently only born to suffer, and to die; but in truth the pains of their earthly birth are soon absorbed by the joys of their heavenly birth, and their temporary cross is rewarded by an eternal crown.
Eight days after Christmas the church celebrated, though not till after the sixth or seventh century, the Circumcision and the Naming of Jesus. Of still later origin is the Christian New Year’s festival, which falls on the same day as the Circumcision. The pagan Romans solemnized the turn of the year, like the Saturnalia, with revels. The church teachers, in reaction, made the New Year a day of penance and prayer. Thus Augustine, in a sermon: “Separate yourselves from the heathen, and at the change of the year do the opposite of what they do. They give each other gifts; give ye alms instead. They sing worldly songs; read ye the word of God. They throng the theatre, come ye to the church. They drink themselves drunken; do ye fast.”
The feast of Epiphany on the contrary, on the sixth of January, is older, as we have already observed, than Christmas itself, and is mentioned by Clement of Alexandria. It refers in general to the manifestation of Christ in the world, and originally bore the twofold character of a celebration of the birth and the baptism of Jesus. After the introduction of Christmas, it lost its reference to the birth. The Eastern church commemorated on this day especially the baptism of Christ, or the manifestation of His Messiahship, and together with this the first manifestation of His miraculous power at the marriage at Cana. The Westem church, more Gentile-Christian in its origin, gave this festival, after the fourth century, a special reference to the adoration of the infant Jesus by the wise men from the east, (Mat_2:1-11) under the name of the feast of the Three Kings, and transformed it into a festival of Gentile missions; considering the wise men as the representatives of the nobler heathen world. Thus at the same time the original connection of the feast with the birth of Christ was preserved. Epiphany forms the close of the Christmas Cycle. It was an early custom to announce the term of the Easter observance on the day of Epiphany by the so-called Epistolae paschales, or γράμματα πασχάλια. This was done especially by the bishop of Alexandria, where astronomy most flourished, and the occasion was improved for edifying instructions and for the discussion of important religious questions of the day.
78. The Easter Cycle
Easter is the oldest and greatest annual festival of the church. As to its essential idea and observance, it was born with the Christian Sunday on the morning of the resurrection. Like the passover with the Jews, it originally marked the beginning of the church year. It revolves entirely about the person and the work of Christ, being devoted to the great saving fact of his passion and resurrection. We have already spoken of the origin and character of this festival, and shall confine ourselves here to the alterations and enlargements which it underwent after the Nicene age.
The Easter festival proper was preceded by a forty days’ season of repentance and fasting, called Quadragesima, at least as early as the year 325; for the council of Nice presupposes the existence of this season. This fast was an imitation of the forty days’ fasting of Jesus in the wilderness, which itself was put in typical connection with the forty days’ fasting of Moses (Exo_34:28) and Elijah, (1Ki_19:8) and the forty years’ wandering of Israel through the desert. At first a free-will act, it gradually assumed the character of a fixed custom and ordinance of the church. Respecting the length of the season much difference prevailed, until Gregory I. (590-604) fixed the Wednesday of the sixth week before Easter, Ash Wednesday as it is called, as the beginning of it. On this day the priests and the people sprinkled themselves with dust and ashes, in token of their perishableness and their repentance, with the words: “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and unto dust thou must return; repent, that thou mayest inherit eternal life.” During Quadragesima criminal trials and criminal punishments, weddings, and sensual amusements were forbidden; solemn, earnest silence was imposed upon public and private life; and works of devotion, penances and charity were multiplied. Yet much hypocrisy was practised in the fasting; the rich compensating with exquisite dainties the absence of forbidden meats. Chrysostom and Augustine are found already lamenting this abuse. During the days preceding the beginning of Lent, the populace gave themselves up to unrestrained merriment, and this abuse afterward became legitimized in all Catholic countries, especially in Italy (flourishing most in Rome, Venice, and Cologne), in the Carnival.
The six Sundays of Lent are called Quadragesima prima, secunda, and so on to sexta. They are also named after the initial words of the introit in the mass for the day: Invocabit (Psa_111:1-10:15), Reminiscere, (Psa_25:6), Oculi (Psa_34:15), Laetare (Isa_66:10), Judica (Psa_63:1), Palmarum (from Mat_21:8). The three Sundays preceding Quadragesima are called respectively Estomihi (from Psa_31:2) or Quinquagesima (i.e., Dominica quinquagesimae diei, viz., before Easter), Sexagesima, and Septuagesima; which are, however, inaccurate designations. These three Sundays were regarded as preparatory to the Lenten season proper. In the larger cities it became customary to preach daily during the Quadragesimal fast; and the usage of daily Lenten sermons (Quadragesimales, or sermones Quadragesimales) has maintained itself in the Roman church to this day.
The Quadragesimal fast culminates in the Great, or Silent, or Holy Week, which is especially devoted to the commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus, and is distinguished by daily public worship, rigid fasting, and deep silence. This week, again, has its prominent days. First Palm Sunday, which has been, in the East since the fourth century, in the West since the sixth, observed in memory of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem for His enthronement on the cross. Next follows Maundy Thursday, in commemoration of the institution of the Holy Supper, which on this day was observed in the evening, and was usually connected with a love feast, and also with feet-washing. The Friday of the Holy Week is distinguished from all others as Good Friday, the day of the Saviour’s death; the day of the deepest penance and fasting of the year, stripped of all Sunday splendor and liturgical pomp, veiled in the deepest silence and holy sorrow; the communion omitted (which had taken place the evening before), altars unclothed, crucifixes veiled, lights extinguished, the story of the passion read, and, instead of the church hymns, nothing sung but penitential psalms. Finally the Great Sabbath, the day of the Lord’s repose in the grave and descent into Hades; the favorite day in all the year for the administration of baptism, which symbolizes participation in the death of Christ. (Rom_6:4-6) The Great Sabbath was generally spent as a fast day, even in the Greek church, which usually did not fast on Saturday.
In the evening of the Great Sabbath began the Easter Vigils, which continued, with Scripture reading, singing, and prayer, to the dawn of Easter morning, and formed the solemn transition from the πάσχα σταυρώσιμον to the πάσχα ἀναστάσιμον, and from the deep sorrow of penitence over the death of Jesus to the joy of faith in the resurrection of the Prince of life. All Christians, and even many pagans, poured into the church with lights, to watch there for the morning of the resurrection. On this night the cities were splendidly illuminated, and transfigured in a sea of fire; about midnight a solemn procession surrounded the church, and then triumphally entered again into the “holy gates,” to celebrate Easter. According to an ancient tradition, it was expected that on Easter night Christ would come again to judge the world.
The Easter festival itself began with the jubilant salutation, still practized in the Russian church: “The Lord is risen !” and the response: “He is truly risen! Then the holy kiss of brotherhood scaled the newly fastened bond of love in Christ. It was the grandest and most joyful of the feasts. It lasted a whole week, and closed with the following Sunday, called the Easter Octave, or White Sunday, when the baptized appeared in white garments, and were solemnly incorporated into the church.
79. The Time of the Easter Festival
Comp. the Literature in vol. i. at §99; also L. Ideler: Handbuch der Chronologie. Berlin, 1826. Vol. ii. F. Piper: Geschichte des Osterfestes. Berlin, 1845. Hefele: Conciliengeschichte. Freiburg, 1855. Vol. i. p. 286 ff.
The time of the Easter festival became, after the second century, the subject of long and violent controversies and practical confusions, which remind us of the later Eucharistic disputes, and give evidence that human passion and folly have sought to pervert the great facts and institutions of the New Testament from holy bonds of unity into torches of discord, and to turn the sweetest honey into poison, but, with all their efforts, have not been able to destroy the beneficent power of those gifts of God.
These Paschal controversies descended into the present period, and ended with the victory of the Roman and Alexandrian practice of keeping Easter, not, like Christmas and the Jewish Passover, on a fixed day of the month, whatever day of the week it might be, but on a Sunday, as the day of the resurrection of our Lord. Easter thus became, with all the feasts depending on it, a movable feast; and then the different reckonings of the calendar led to many inconveniences and confusions. The exact determination of Easter Sunday is made from the first full moon after the vernal equinox; so that the day may fall on any Sunday between the 22d day of March and the 25th of April.
The council of Arles in 314 had already decreed, in its first canon, that the Christian Passover be celebrated “uno die et uno tempore per omnem orbem,” and that the bishops of Rome should fix the time. But as this order was not universally obeyed, the fathers of Nicaea proposed to settle the matter, and this was the second main object of the first ecumenical council in 325. The result of the transactions on this point, the particulars of which are not known to us, does not appear in the canons (probably out of consideration for the numerous Quartodecimanians), but is doubtless preserved in the two circular letters of the council itself and the emperor Constantine. The feast of the resurrection was thenceforth required to be celebrated everywhere on a Sunday, and never on the day of the Jewish passover, but always after the fourteenth of Nisan, on the Sunday after the first vernal full moon. The leading motive for this regulation was opposition to Judaism, which had dishonored the passover by the crucifixion of the Lord. “We would,” says the circular letter of Constantine in reference to the council of Nice, “we would have nothing in common with that most hostile people, the Jews; for we have received from the Redeemer another way of honoring God [the order of the days of the week], and harmoniously adopting this method, we would withdraw ourselves from the evil fellowship of the Jews. For what they pompously assert, is really utterly absurd: that we cannot keep this feast at all without their instruction …. It is our duty to have nothing in common with the murderers of our Lord.” This bitter tone against Judaism runs through the whole letter.
At Nicaea, therefore, the Roman and Alexandrian usage with respect to Easter triumphed, and the Judaizing practice of the Quartodecimanians, who always celebrated Easter on the fourteenth of Nisan, became thenceforth a heresy. Yet that practice continued in many parts of the East, and in the time of Epiphanius, about a.d. 400, there were many, Quartodecimanians, who, as he says, were orthodox, indeed, in doctrine, but in ritual were addicted to Jewish fables, and built upon the principle: “Cursed is every one who does not keep his passover on the fourteenth of Nisan.” They kept the day with the Communion and with fasting till three o’clock. Yet they were divided into several parties among themselves. A peculiar offshoot of the Quartodecimanians was the rigidly ascetic Audians, who likewise held that the passover must be kept at the very same time (not after the same manner) with the Jews, on the fourteenth of Nisan, and for their authority appealed to their edition of the Apostolic Constitutions.
And even in the orthodox church these measures did not secure entire uniformity. For the council of Nicaea, probably from prudence, passed by the question of the Roman and Alexandrian computation of Easter. At least the Acts contain no reference to it. At all events this difference remained: that Rome, afterward as before, fixed the vernal equinox, the terminus a quo of the Easter full moon, on the 18th of March, while Alexandria placed it correctly on the 21st. It thus occurred, that the Latins, the very year after the Nicene council, and again in the years 330, 333, 340, 341, 343, varied from the Alexandrians in the time of keeping Easter. On this account the council of Sardica, as we learn from the recently discovered Paschal Epistles of Athanasius, took the Easter question again in hand, and brought about, by mutual concessions, a compromise for the ensuing fifty years, but without permanent result. In 387 the difference of the Egyptian and the Roman Easter amounted to fully five weeks. Later attempts also to adjust the matter were in vain, until the monk Dionysius Exiguus, the author of our Christian calendar, succeeded in harmonizing the computation of Easter on the basis of the true Alexandrian reckoning; except that the Gallican and British Christians adhered still longer to the old custom, and thus fell into conflict with the Anglo-Saxon. The introduction of the improved Gregorian calendar in the Western church in 1582 again produced discrepancy; the Eastern and Russian church adhered to the Julian calendar, and is consequently now about twelve days behind us. According to the Gregorian calendar, which does not divide the months with astronomical exactness, it sometimes happens that the Paschal full moon is put a couple of hours too early, and the Christian Easter, as was the case in 1825, coincides with the Jewish Passover, against the express order of the council of Nicaea.
80. The Cycle of Pentecost
The whole period of seven weeks from Easter to Pentecost bore a joyous, festal character. It was called Quinquagesima, or Pentecost in the wider sense, and was the memorial of the exaltation of Christ at the right hand of the Father, His repeated appearances during the mysterious forty days, and His heavenly headship and eternal presence in the church. It was regarded as a continuous Sunday, and distinguished by the absence of all fasting and by standing in prayer. Quinquagesima formed a marked contrast with the Quadragesima which preceded. The deeper the sorrow of repentance had been in view of the suffering and dying Saviour, the higher now rose the joy of faith in the risen and eternally living Redeemer. This joy, of course, must keep itself clear of worldly amusements, and be sanctified by devotion, prayer, singing, and thanksgiving; and the theatres, therefore, remained closed through the fifty days. But the multitude of nominal Christians soon forgot their religious impressions, and sought to compensate their previous fasting with wanton merry-making.
The seven Sundays after Easter are called in the Latin church, respectively, Quasimodo-geniti, Misericordia Domini, Jubilate, Cantate, Rogate, (or, Vocem jucunditatis), Exaudi, and Pentecoste. In the Eastern church the Acts of the Apostles are read at this season.
Of the fifty festival days, the fortieth and the fiftieth were particularly prominent. The fortieth day after Easter, always a Thursday, was after the fourth century dedicated to the exaltation of Christ at the right hand of God, and hence named Ascension Day. The fiftieth day, or the feast of Pentecost in the stricter sense, was the kernel and culminating point of this festival season, as Easter day was of the Easter cycle. It was the feast of the Holy Ghost, who on this day was poured out upon the assembled disciples with the whole fulness of the accomplished redemption; and it was at the same time the birth-day of the Christian church. Hence this festival also was particularly prized for baptisms and ordinations. Pentecost corresponded to the Jewish feast of that name, which was primarily the feast of first-fruits, and afterward became also the feast of the giving of the law on Sinai, and in this twofold import was fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Ghost and the founding of the Christian church.”Both revelations of the divine law,” writes Jerome to Fabiola, “took place on the fiftieth day after the passover; the one on Sinai, the other on Zion; there the mountain was shaken, here the temple; there, amid flames and lightnings, the tempest roared and the thunder rolled, here, also with mighty wind, appeared tongues of fire; there the sound of the trumpet pealed forth the words of the law, here the cornet of the gospel sounded through the mouth of the apostles.”
The celebration of Pentecost lasted, at least ultimately, three days or a whole week, closing with the Pentecostal Octave, which in the Greek church (so early as Chrysostom) was called The Feast of all Saints and Martyrs, because the martyrs are the seed and the beauty of the church. The Latin church, on the contrary, though not till the tenth century, dedicated the Sunday after Pentecost to the Holy Trinity, and in the later times of the Middle Age, further added to the festival part of the church year the feast of Corpus Christi, in celebration of the mystery of transubstantiation, on the Thursday after Trinity. It thus invested the close of the church year with a purely dogmatic import. Protestantism has retained the feast of Trinity, in opposition to the Antitrinitarians; but has, of course, rejected the feast of Corpus Christi.
In the early church, Pentecost was the last great festival of the Christian year. Hence the Sundays following it, till Advent, were counted from Whitsunday. The number of the Sundays in the second half of the church year therefore varies between twenty-seven and twenty-two, according to the time of Easter. In this part of the year we find even in the old lectionaries and sacramentaries some subordinate, feasts in memory of great men of the church; such as the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the founders of the church (June 29); the feast of the chief martyr, Laurentius, the representative of the church militant (August, 10); the feast of the archangel Michael, the representative of the church triumphant (September 29).