Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Origen of Alexandria – commentary on the celebration of birthdays

In combox of my previous post, I linked to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry: Christmas. From that entry, we read:

Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday...(Vol. III, page 724 in the 1908 printed edition)

I have a copy of Gary Wayne Barkley’s English translation of the above passage—the following selection is the germane portion to our topic at hand:

But Scripture also declares that one himself who is born whether male or female is not "clean from filth although his life is of one day.” And that you may know that there is something great in this and such that it has not come from the thought to any of the saints; not one from all the saints is found to have celebrated a festive day or a great feast on the day of his birth. No one is found to have had joy on the day of the birth of his son or daughter. Only sinners rejoice over this kind of birthday. For indeed we find in the Old Testament Pharaoh, king of Egypt, celebrating the day of his birth with a festival, and in the New Testament, Herod. However, both of them stained the festival of his birth by shedding human blood. For the Pharaoh killed "the chief baker,” Herod, the holy prophet John "in prison’” But the saints not only do not celebrate a festival on their birth days, but, filled with the Holy Spirit, they curse that day. (Origen, Homilies on Leviticus, trans. Gary Wayne Barkley; Catholic University of America Press – 1990, p. 156)

The above contribution is not the only time Origen commented on birthdays; from his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel we read:

And on birthdays, when the lawless word reigns over them, they dance so that their movements please that word. Some one of those before us has observed what is written in Genesis about the birthday of Pharaoh, and has told that the worthless man who loves things connected with birth keeps birthday festivals; and we, taking this suggestion from him, find in no Scripture that a birthday was kept by a righteous man. For Herod as more unjust than that famous Pharaoh ; for by the latter on his birthday feast a chief baker is killed ; but by the former, John... (Origen’s Commentary on Matthew, trans. John Patrick; Charles Scribner and Sons, 5th ed. 1906, ANF 9.428, 429)

Quite interesting…

Grace and peace,


Friday, December 25, 2020

Joseph F. Kelly – Catholic scholar and author of The Origins of Christmas


An online article—“The Birth of Christmas” (link)—by Joseph F. Kelly, that I had read a little over a week ago, prompted me to order a book referenced therein by the same author: The Origins of Christmas.

I received the above book earlier this week and finished reading it this morning. The book—as too the aforementioned article—validates a number of elements concerning Christmas that I had been taught as a child and young adult. The elements of which I speak include: Jesus beyond any reasonable doubt WAS NOT born on December 25th; speculation on when Jesus was born did not start until the 3rd century; from the writings of the 3rd century that have survived only one undisputed author mentioned Dec. 25th as the possible date of Jesus’ birth—Sextus Julius Africanus; Dec. 25th was most likely adopted by Christians in the 4th century to compete with/counter three pagan feasts—the cult of Deus Sol Invictus, that of the Persian deity Mithra, and the feastival of Saturnalia which honored Saturn, the god of prosperity.

From past experience, I suspect few Christians will take the time to delve into Dr. Kelly’s research. Personally speaking, I have spent a considerable amount of time studying the origins of Christmas, and to date, have found no substantial data to negate Dr. Kelly’s assessments.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, December 5, 2020

Proverbs 8:22 and Pope Dionysius of Rome

Back on December 30, 2015 I published a post that delved into the interpretation of Proverbs 8:22 by a number of Church Fathers (LINK). I opened the post with the following:

In the 4th century, one Old Testament text, Proverbs 8:22, became a heated point of contention during the Arian controversy. Interestingly enough, two of the factions involved in the debate—the pro-Arians and the pro-Nicene Church Fathers—introduced interpretations of the text that went against an almost universal understanding by the pre-Nicene Church Fathers who cited it. Though all three parties applied the passage to Jesus Christ, each did so differently. The pro-Arians believed the passage taught that the pre-existent Jesus was created ex nihilo (out of nothing) by God the Father. Some of the pro-Nicene Fathers believed that the passage was a reference to Jesus' human nature only, and had nothing to do with his pre-existence (for an early example of this interpretation see Athanasius', Expostio Fidei, circa 328 A.D. - NPNF - Second Series 4.85). Both of these interpretations ran contrary to the pre-Nicene Fathers who taught that the passage did in fact refer to Jesus' pre-existent causation by God the Father (to date, I have found only one explicit exception), while clearly rejecting the pro-Arian novelty that this causation was ex nihilo.

A bit later, I cited nine pre-Nicene Church Fathers’ understanding(s) of Proverbs 8:22. All but one of those CFs applied the passage to the pre-existent Jesus Christ. I would now like to provide one more CF who sided with the eight who constituted the majority—Dionysius of Rome. Athanasius, in his Defence of the Nicene Definition, provided the following from Dionysius:

“Next, I may reasonably turn to those who divide and cut to pieces and destroy that most sacred doctrine of the Church of God, the Divine Monarchy, making it as it were three powers and partitive subsistences and godheads three. I am told that some among you who are catechists and teachers of the Divine Word, take the lead in this tenet, who are diametrically opposed, so to speak, to Sabellius's opinions ; for he blasphemously says that the Son is the Father, and the Father the Son, but they in some sort preach three Gods, as dividing the sacred Monad into three subsistences foreign to each other and utterly separate. For it must needs be that with the God of the Universe, the Divine Word is united, and the Holy Ghost must repose and habitate in God ; thus in one as in a summit, I mean the God of the Universe, must the Divine Triad be gathered up and brought together, For it is the doctrine of the presumptuous Marcion, to sever and divide the Divine Monarchy into three origins,—a devil's teaching, not that of Christ's true disciples and lovers of the Saviour's lessons. For they know well that a Triad is preached by divine Scripture, but that neither Old Testament nor New preaches three Gods. Equally must one censure those who hold the Son to be a work, and consider that the Lord has come into being, as one of things which really came to be; whereas the divine oracles witness to a generation suitable to Him and becoming, but not to any fashioning or making. A blasphemy then is it, not ordinary, but even the highest, to say that the Lord is in any sort a handiwork. For if He came to be Son, once He was not ; but He was always, if (that is) He be in the Father, as He says Himself, and if the Christ be Word and Wisdom and Power (which, as ye know, divine Scripture says), and these attributes be powers of God. If then the Son came into being, once these attributes were not ; consequently there was a time, when God was without them ; which is most absurd. And why say more on these points to you, men full of the Spirit and well aware of the absurdities which come to view from saying that the Son is a work? Not attending, as I consider, to this circumstance, the authors of this opinion have entirely missed the truth, in explaining, contrary to the sense of divine and prophetic Scripture in the passage, the words, 'The Lord created me a beginning of His ways unto His works.'

For the sense of 'He created,' as ye know, is not one, for we must understand 'He created' in this place, as 'He set over the works made by Him,' that is, ‘made by the Son Himself,’ And 'He created' here must not be taken for 'made,' for creating differs from making. 'Is not He thy Father that hath bought thee? hath He not made thee and created thee?' says Moses in his great song in Deuteronomy. And one may say to them, O reckless men, is He a work, who is 'the First-born of every creature, who is born from the womb before the morning star,' who said, as Wisdom, 'Before all the hills He begets me?' And in many passages of the divine oracles is the Son said to have been generated, but nowhere to have come into being ; which manifestly convicts those of misconception about the Lord's generation, who presume to call His divine and ineffable generation a making'. Neither then may we divide into three Godheads the wonderful and divine Monad ; nor disparage with the name of 'work' the dignity and exceeding majesty of the Lord ; but we must believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Christ Jesus His Son, and in the Holy Ghost, and hold that to the God of the universe the Word is I united. For 'I,' says He, 'and the Father are one ;' and, 'I in the Father and the Father in Me.' For thus both the Divine Triad, and the holy preaching of the Monarchy, will be preserved." (NPNF - Second Series - 4.167, 168, bold emphasis mine – link to PDF; Migne's Greek text HERE.)

I found Dionysius’ statement that, "'He created' here must not be taken for 'made,' for creating differs from making” to be quite interesting…

Grace and peace,