Advent is here, which means that it is about time for the annual reposting of William Tighe’s article Calculating Christmas:
It is true that the first evidence of Christians celebrating December 25th as the date of the Lord’s nativity comes from Rome some years after Aurelian, in A.D. 336, but there is evidence from both the Greek East and the Latin West that Christians attempted to figure out the date of Christ’s birth long before they began to celebrate it liturgically, even in the second and third centuries. The evidence indicates, in fact, that the attribution of the date of December 25th was a by-product of attempts to determine when to celebrate his death and resurrection.
How did this happen? There is a seeming contradiction between the date of the Lord’s death as given in the synoptic Gospels and in John’s Gospel. The synoptics would appear to place it on Passover Day (after the Lord had celebrated the Passover Meal on the preceding evening), and John on the Eve of Passover, just when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Jerusalem Temple for the feast that was to ensue after sunset on that day.
Solving this problem involves answering the question of whether the Lord’s Last Supper was a Passover Meal, or a meal celebrated a day earlier, which we cannot enter into here. Suffice it to say that the early Church followed John rather than the synoptics, and thus believed that Christ’s death would have taken place on 14 Nisan, according to the Jewish lunar calendar. (Modern scholars agree, by the way, that the death of Christ could have taken place only in A.D. 30 or 33, as those two are the only years of that time when the eve of Passover could have fallen on a Friday, the possibilities being either 7 April 30 or 3 April 33.)
The end of the article references The Origins of the Liturgical Year by Thomas J. Talley. I can also attest that it is excellent if you’re interested in this sort of thing.
TL;DR Christmas was not borrowed from pagan Rome; evidence strongly suggests it was the other way around.
Having some fun with Bing and Dall-E. It doesn’t do well with text, these were the least-gibberish it produced.
It’s been a hot minute or two since the last update. First, the big news: another grandson! He was born on Monday, and everyone is - as you would expect - properly bonkers. His older brother - at a hoary not-quite-2 years old - was a little neutral at first but seems to be warming to him fast. Everyone is doing very well; praise God from whom all blessings glow.
A few of us are in the homestretch for this online Evangelization and Catechesis class, which has largely focused on the cultural landscape. This section’s readings have focused on Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, which struck all sorts of chords when it came out a while back. Victor Frankl is on deck next, which wraps up the readings so we can pivot to final projects. As I was stretching at the end of a run the other day, my project idea came all at once, and I had to hustle to the car to get it down in an iPhone note before I forgot it.
Our in-person class next weekend concludes a Christology/Mariology sequence. The final presentation and paper are both in the can, so I can focus on studying for the written exam. And I ordered the books for next month’s liturgical practicum - the Roman Missal and Rite of Baptism for Children. This one is taught by our vicar general, who we love because he is awesome. I think we also have him for canon law next year.
Finished Loki. Started The Last Kingdom. Still working through Absalom, Absalom and a few other things. There’ll be a bit of a break as we head into December, which I will use to get caught up on personal reading and maybe fit in some Factorio or OpenTTD.
I hope and pray that you are well. When I pray the morning office, I always add two extra intercessions - one for the Church at work in the vineyard of Nashville and another for my family, friends, co-workers, and the larger community. That’s you, the one reading this.
It is possible that we will never meet this side of the veil of death. No matter. You were remembered this morning and will be again tomorrow and again the day after that. If God wills my ordination, I will carry you with me whenever I approach the altar or lift the chalice. If you pray, remember me and my brethren as well.
Bill-a-palooza continues….currently reading: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner 📚
Finished reading: Snopes by William Faulkner 📚
Smoking some briskets, drinking beer, and sitting around the pool listening to Jimmy Buffet. He made it to the Labor Day weekend show. 🏝️🍹🍔🦈🌴⛵️🎶🍺
Guilty, defiant, and ejected from the pool…for their own safety since the salt and chlorine will do them in. Back to the wild with you.
…in August in Mississippi there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a soft, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and—from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere. It lasts just for a day or two, then it’s gone. . .the title reminded me of that time, of a luminosity older than our Christian civilization.
— William Faulkner
I was glad to stumble across this quote; I’ve seen the light he describes and have been chasing a way to describe it for years. The shadows fall just a certain way and the light takes on a sort of golden rosiness. It’s natural counterpart is a similar moment in an afternoon of late winter, and only in the woods. The lowering sun will illuminate some patch of moss, brilliant gold light on intense green against all the brown earth, snow and ice around it. It might still be frigid cold, but here’s the barest hint of spring and rebirth. Heading into fall there’s that one day you look up and the sky is has taken on that cobalt blue of fall, no matter how warm it still is outside. For spring it’s usually the first time I spot an insect; some tiny thing flying into a new world.
These little moments - almost like thin places, but in time - speak to us clearly in their silence and beauty, as if some ancient part of us reads these signs and responds in kind. This, we think, is what that poem or song was talking about. Here’s what that painter was trying to capture just so. Of course it is.
Enjoying the last bit of relative calm before classes resume this weekend. I’m ahead of the game on the reading and am very keen to stay that way. This will be the last time I will have to double up with an online class in parallel with in-person courses. After this semester, things will be serial-only and life will be good.
I wish I had more hours in the day. The preparatory reading for one class takes a glancing blow off of Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, and as much as I’d like to read it in its entirety, I don’t have the bandwidth at present for another ~900 pages. Perhaps over the holidays there will be some downtime. For the other course, I’m getting familiar with the role of supportive counseling and its associated models and goals. This one should be interesting.
This past weekend, we had a chance to meet the incoming cohort of men who are beginning their formation. It was a little weird being the “upperclassmen,” but there you have it. They seem like a good group and I look forward to getting to know them all.
Please pray for us, and for all who are discerning vocations of any kind.
Our parish celebrated our patroness today with a procession - this is one of the designs our students chalked on part of the route. A hot but joyous day!
Currently reading: Snopes by William Faulkner 📚