December 20, 2017

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The scholar Stephanie R. Derrick tells about discovering two previously unknown essays by C. S. Lewis, including “A Christmas Sermon for Pagans.”

In an article for Christianity Today entitled Christmas and Cricket: Rediscovering Two Lost C. S. Lewis Articles After 70 Yearsshe summarizes the two articles that were published in The Strand in the late 1940s.  Because that magazine was not indexed until 1983, which was after the standard Lewis bibliographies had been compiled, they were not included in bibliographies or collections of his works.

Dr. Derrick says of the Christmas essay that the editor of The Strand gave Lewis the topic of preaching about Christmas to modern “pagans.”  But Lewis, as he does elsewhere, pointed out the difference between modern day secularists and actual pagans.

Lewis proceeded to use his Christmas “sermon” as an occasion to draw distinctions between the true Pagans or Heathens of old—“the backward people in the remote districts who had not yet been converted, who were still pre-Christian”—and modern people in Britain who have ceased to be Christians, who are sometimes referred to as “pagans.” To confuse these categories, Lewis says, is “like thinking … a street where the houses have been knocked down is the same as a field where no house has yet been built. … Rubble, dust, broken bottles, old bedsteads and stray cats are very different from grass, thyme, clover, buttercups and a lark singing overhead.”

Real Pagans differ from post-Christians, Lewis continued, firstly in that they were actually religious: “To [the Pagan] the earth was holy, the woods and waters were alive.” Secondly, they “believed in what we now call an ‘Objective’ Right or Wrong,” that is, that “the distinction between pious and impious acts was something which existed independently of human opinions.” Finally, Pagans, unlike “post-Christian man,” had “deep sadness” because of their knowledge that they did not obey the moral code perfectly. To compensate for this shortcoming, the Pagan developed a wealth of ceremonies to “take away guilt.”

Lewis goes on to unfavorably compare the enchanted worldview of ancient paganism to today’s “universe of colourless electrons.” Dr. Derrick quotes Lewis’s conclusion:

It looks to me, neighbours, as though we shall have to set about becoming true Pagans if only as a preliminary to becoming Christians. … For (in a sense) all that Christianity adds to Paganism is the cure. It confirms the old belief that in this universe we are up against Living Power: that there is a real Right and that we have failed to obey it: that existence is beautiful and terrifying. It adds a wonder of which Paganism had not distinctly heard—that the Mighty One has come down to help us, to remove our guilt, to reconcile us.

Indeed, a remedy has been provided for the “deep sadness” brought onto the world by sin. The very Pagan thing we do on December 25 of “singing and feasting because a God has been born” just may be, Lewis suggests, our “way back not only to Heaven, but to Earth too.”

This essay, “A Christmas Sermon for Pagans,” which had also been discovered by Christopher Marsh in 2015, will be published in its entirety in VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center in January 2018.

Dr. Derrick also found another essay attributed to Lewis, “Cricketer’s Progress,” on the career of the famous cricket player Maurice W. Tate, turning into a reflection on the prospects for servicemen adjusting to life after the war.  This author of this piece was given as “Clive Hamilton,” which was a pseudonym sometimes used by Lewis.  But it is about sports, a topic Lewis was notoriously uninterested in!  Dr. Derrick raises questions about whether Lewis actually wrote this piece, despite the Strand indexer’s attribution to him, though she decides that Lewis is just playing with the genre of sports-writing.

At any rate, it’s good to have more C. S. Lewis, and we can receive his “Christmas Sermon” as a Christmas present.

Photo, books by C. S. Lewis by Bill Smith via Flickr, Creative Commons License

December 25, 2014

Touchstone has reposted its most popular article, the scholarly treatment by historian William J. Tighe from 2003 about why the birth of Jesus is celebrated on December 25.  And, as he definitively shows, it has nothing to do with any pagan festival. (more…)

December 24, 2012

In his continuing series that we’ve been blogging about exploding the myth that Christmas was based on a pagan holiday, Rev. Joseph Abrahamson takes on the view recently pushed on the History Channel that Christmas, along with customs like singing carols, doing things for children, and gift-giving, grew out of the Roman solstice feast of Juvenalia:

The claim about Juvenalia is usually that it was the Roman solstice or early January holiday where the celebration of the youth, singing carols, and gift giving came from. Claims like this are usually made by people who watched the History Channel’s programs and their views of Juvenalia:

“Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome.” HC

Juvenalia was actually instituted in A.D. 59 by Emperor Nero to celebrate his first shave at the age of 21.

In other words, he was no longer a child, but an adult. Juvenalia was not a celebration of youth, but of coming out of adolescence to be a real man.

In this article I am listing sources instead of copying the quotes because they are long, but please don’t gloss over what the source says. Go to it and read it. Read each of them.

We can go back to Tacitus (AD 56 – 117), the earliest historian who recorded the invention of Juvenalia. Tacitus was 2 or 3 years old when Nero celebrated his Juvenalia.

Tacitus records Nero’s creation of Juvenalia in his Annales, XIV.15-16 [English/Latin Parallel] XV.33 [English/Latin Parallel] XVI.21 [English/Latin Parallel]

Again, no particular date, nothing about a childhood celebration or gift giving. Nero did command his people to sing or perform lewd songs and acts in the theaters he had constructed for this occasion.

Next is Suetonius (c. AD 69 – c. 122) [roughly contemporary with Tacitus], who wrote in his The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, [English/Latin] but gives only a very brief account, stating nothing about the date of Nero’s beard shaving party, nor about any child’s gathering or gift giving.

Born almost 100 years after the Nero invented Juvenalia, Cassius Dio (AD c. 150 – 235) gives a description that is more detailed than that of Tacitus or Seutonius in his Roman History 62.19-21 [Greek Text][English Text] Found in Vol. VIII of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1925 LXI:19-21, pp. 77-82.

No date for Nero’s Juvenalia is mentioned by Cassius Dio. He does mention that Nero had theaters constructed for the event. He also mentions that Nero forced people from the high end of society in to humiliating and lewd acts in honor of the emperor’s first shave, which they did because they had a not unreasonable fear that Nero would kill them if they displeased him.

Dio also writes that Domitian (AD 51 – 96, emperor from 81-96)gave Juvenalia games but assigns no date.

So, now we are 175 years after Nero instituted Juvenalia, and we have no date of the year, no mention that this festival is for the good of children, and no mention of gift giving. We do have the fact that Nero constructed theaters for this celebration and commanded performances that included a singing competition. And, of course, Nero was declared the best singer of all.

The choice of December 25th and January 6th for the Christmas observance is already established by the end of the 2nd century AD.

via Steadfast Lutherans » Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Pagan Solstice Celebrations 2.

December 21, 2012

In another in his series on the historical roots of Christmas (see our post on why he says it takes place on December 25), Pastor Joseph Abrahamson explodes the scholarly myth that Christmas was a Christian attempt to co-opt the pagan feast of the sun god known as Sol Invictus.

The claim is that Sol Invictus “Invincible Sun” is a more ancient pagan holiday in Rome celebrated on December 25th. The claim assumes that this pagan holiday was so popular and dangerous that the Christian Church sought to suppress it by establishing the celebration of Christ’s Nativity on December 25th. By doing this, the claim continues, the Christians adopted the pagan day and some of the practices of that pagan festival to make the celebration of Christmas more appealing to pagans. . . .

While pagan worship of the sun certainly existed in Rome before the spread of the fulfillment of that promise in Christ came to the city; the celebration of Sol Invictus as a god in Rome actually came as pagans attempted to suppress Christianity. This early attempt as suppressing Christianity by means of the pagan worship of Sol is found in the Historia Augusta, a pagan history of Rome compiled in the fourth century AD.

The Historia Augusta in The Life of Elagabalus (1.3) relates events from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, a particularly twisted man, who reigned from 218-222 AD. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus came to be called Elagabalus after the name of the Syrian sun god, and was himself initiated as a priest of that false god. He viewed himself as the personal manifestation of the Syrian sun god. After coming to Rome and being established as emperor at the age of 14, the Historia states:

4 Elagabalus [established himself] as a god on the Palatine Hill close to the imperial palace; and he built him a temple, to which he desired to transfer the emblem of the Great Mother, the fire of Vesta, the Palladium, the shields of the Salii, and all that the Romans held sacred, purposing that no god might be worshipped at Rome save only Elagabalus. 5 He declared, furthermore, that the religions of the Jews and the Samaritans and the rites of the Christians must also be transferred to this place, in order that the priesthood of Elagabalus might include the mysteries of every form of worship. [Latin]

And, coincidentally, very shortly after Elagabalus tried to establish worship of the Syrian sun god, Sol Invictus, he was thought to be too licentious and was assassinated by his own people, pagan Romans, at the age of 18 years old.

From that time there is no mention of the celebration of Sol Invictus in Roman history until the rule of Aurelian (A.D. 270-275). Aurelian did try to re-introduce the worship of Sol Invictus by decree in the year 274. But there is no record of this festival being held on December 25th. “The traditional feast days of Sol, as recorded in the early imperial fasti, were August 8th and/or August 9th, possibly August 28th, and December 11th.”(Hijmans, p. 588 )

Aurelian did declare games to Sol every four years. But there is no record from the period or early historiographers that these games were associated with December 25th in any way. The best evidence suggest that the games were held October 19-22 of their calendar. Anyway, on another coincidence, a year after Aurelian declared these games in honor of Sol Invictus, he was assassinated by his own pagan Roman officers out of fear he would execute them based on false charges.

The earliest calendar to mention that Invictus as a specified date for Roman religious life comes from a text of the Philocalian Calendar, VIII Kal recorded in an illuminated 4th Century manuscript called The Chronography of 354. In this late manuscript the date is listed in Mensis December (The Month of December) as N·INVICTI·CM·XXX.

Many scholars through the years have assumed that INVICTI in this calendar must mean “Sol Invictus.” This is possible. However, elsewhere the calendar does not hesitate to make explicit mention of festivals to Sol, for example: on SOLIS·ET·LVNAE·CM·XXIIII (August 28th) and LVDI·SOLIS (October 19-22).

Even if INVICTI does refer to Sol Invictus on December 25th of this calendar, all this shows is that the celebration of Sol Invictus was placed on December 25th after Christianity had already widely accepted and celebrated December 25th as the Nativity of Christ.

There are many historians and people following them who will still assert that December 25th is Sol Invictus in ancient Rome. Some will even claim that another religion, Mithraism, has close connection to this December 25th celebration. In actual fact there is no ancient documentation tying Mithraism to December 25th or Sol Invictus. The Christian celebration of the Nativity of Christ as December 25th predates anything in the earliest actual documentation for Sol Invictus on December 25th.

via Steadfast Lutherans » Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies — Christmas and Sol Invictus.

December 27, 2010

[It’s still Christmas. . . .]

Ray Hartwig, who holds the office of the Secretary of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, draws attention to a Christmas account in the Bible that gets hardly any notice.  It’s in the Book of Revelation:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.  (Revelation 12:1-6)

So what do you make of this?  The child is pretty obviously  Christ.  The woman is often interpreted as the Church, but the Church does not bring forth Christ, but the reverse.  Besides, the Church is His bride, not His mother.  Others say the woman is Israel, which is a possibility.  Others say she is the Virgin Mary, which seems most likely.  What does this account teach us about the meaning of Christmas?

UPDATE:  I had always heard that the veneration of the Virgin Mary was a displacement of pagan goddess worship, with one evidence being that in Roman Catholic iconography, the depictions of Mary as the Queen of Heaven showed her wearing a crown of twelve stars and standing on the moon.  Supposedly, this was how Diana the moon goddess was depicted.  But this text, with Roman Catholics do ascribe to Mary, shows that the imagery is Biblical.

And yet the text is also problematic to Roman Catholic Mariology. The woman is “crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.”  But according to  Roman Catholicism, Mary was blessed with an immaculate conception, so that she did not inherit original sin.  Thus, she was spared Eve’s curse of enduring pain in bearing children.  And, indeed, this is how Roman Catholic accounts depict the birth of Christ.

I suppose the best interpretation is that the woman represents “God’s people”–both in the sense of Israel and the Church as the new Israel–which is what the Lutheran Study Bible says, but that, as Al Colver adds in Carl’s link,  both are represented in the historical Virgin Mary (who does bear the curse of the Fall, so that Christ can fully bear humanity’s Original Sin so as to atone for it).

If I don’t have the Roman Catholic position right, I’m open to correction.

December 24, 2010

As I keep posting about, Christmas on December 25 is NOT due to there being a pagan holiday on that day.  Repeat:  Christmas is NOT based on the Roman festival of Sol Invictus.  Substantial scholarship has shot down that theory, but we keep hearing it–in the press, in books that try to debunk Christianity, in churches that oppose following the church year, and even in some comments on this blog.

Now the authoritative Biblical Archaeology Review weighs in, citing more evidence debunking the pagan origin of Christmas myth, showing how it got started, and–most interestingly–tracing how the December 25 date did get set aside as the date of Jesus’s birth.

To put it simply, the date is nine months after the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrating the appearance of the angel to the Virgin Mary announcing her conception by the Holy Spirit.  That date is March 25.  The reason for that date is the belief that great prophets died on the date of their conception.  We do know historically the date when Jesus died, since it is tied to the Jewish passover.   The church determined that date to be March 25, before Good Friday and Easter became floating holidays that always fall on the weekends.  The article in BAR cites how widely the attested in Jewish and rabbinic literature is the association between conception date and death date, and how this was also well known in the early church.

Please join me in correcting the myth of the pagan origins of Christmas whenever you hear it.

HT: Joe Carter




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