Note, that the Collect appointed for every Sunday, or for any Holy-day that hath a Vigil or Eve, shall be said at the Evening Service next before.
THE Principal Holy-days as Christmas, Easter, and Whitsunday, have some days appointed to attend upon them: some to go before, some to come after: as it were to wait upon them for their greater solemnity.
Before Christmas are appointed four Advent-Sundays, so called because they are to prepare us for Christ his Advent or coming in the flesh. These are to Christmas-day, as S. John Baptist to Christ forerunners to prepare for it, and point it out.
The Gospel S. Matth. 21. 1. seems at first more proper to Christs Passion than his Birth; yet is it read now principally for those words in it, Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord. That is, Blessed is he for coming in the Flesh, the cause of all our joy, for which we can never say enough, Hosanna in the Highest.
The Epistle labours to prepare us to behold with joy this rising Sun, bidding us awake from sleep, according to the Prophet Esay 60. 1. Arise, and shine, for thy light is come.
The Collect is taken out of both, and relates to both, the first part of it is clearly the words of the Epistle, That we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, That which follows, In the time of this mortal life, in the which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us, in effect is the same with that in the Epistle: Let us put off the works of darkness, &c. because the night is spent, the day is at hand, and our salvation is near; that is, our Saviour Christ, the light of the world is coming into the world to visit us in great humility, according to the Prophet, Zach. 9. 9. which the Gospel records, Tell ye the daughter of Sion (to her great joy) that behold Her King comes unto her, meek, (or in great humility) sitting upon an Asse.
C. First Sunday in Advent.] The first initiation of our Saviour into the office of a Mediator was His manifestation in the flesh, and incarnation; a thing promised all along, from the very fall of wretched man, until, as the Apostle said, “the fulness of time was come,” Gal. iv. 4. And the more remote from this time, the more obscure the prophecies ; the nearer the more explicit. First, Gen. u., “the seed of the woman shall break the serpent’s head.” Goon to Abraham, Gen. xii. 3, “in thy seed” (declaring specificatively in whose) Gen. 22. “shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Go on toDavid, “ of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne,” Psalm cxxxii. 11. Proceed to Esay, the prophecy is more apodeictical, more demonstrative, “ behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and she shall call His name Emanuel,” chap. vii. ver. 14. Go nearer to the approaching of this time, still more Ecce’s, “ behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus,” Luke i. 31. And the Virgin Mary to herself, ‘ behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” ab. ν. 48. All this to keep up the hope of the long looked for theophany, and the Messias’s appearance in the flesh. God Himself having thus led in the nativity of our Saviour, with such a train of anteceding predictions to assure man that He would come, the Christian Church thought it also expedient that the day of commemoration, that ‘ He is come,” should be somewhat more than ordinarily attended. And upon this very account she hath assigned to this great festival the four Sundays preceding, (the first beginning always next before, or after, or on St. Andrew’s day,) which are as it were one Christmas Eve, or as so many heralds to proclaim the approaching of His feast, and are therefore called Advent Sundays as fore-speaking Christ’s birthday; and therefore the ancient author of the Nativity Sermon ascribed to St. Cyprian begins it with adest diu expectata nativitas, i. e. “the long looked for nativity which we expected all this time of Advent is come at length.” And upon this account proper lessons taken out of the evangelist, or gospel prophet Esay, agreeable to their design are allotted them.
This Collect is to be repeated every day, with the other Collects in Advent, until Christmas-Eve.
The Gospel treats of Christs second coming to judgment, an excellent meditation to prepare us for the welcome and joyful entertainment of Christs first coming. A Saviour must needs be welcome to him that is afraid of damnation.
The Epistle mentions the first coming of our Lord for the Salvation even of the Gentiles, that is of us, for which all praise is by us, to be given to him. Praise the Lord all ye Gentiles, and laud him all ye nations together.
The Collect is taken out of the Epistle; and though it seems not to relate to the day, yet is it an excellent prayer for all times, and so not unseasonable for this.
The Epistle mentions the second coming of Christ; the Gospel, the first. The Collect prayes for the benefit of this light. This week is one of the four Ember weeks, concerning which see after the first Sunday in Lent.
The Epistle and Gospel set Christ, as it were, before us, not prophesied of, but being even at hand, yea standing among us; pointing him out as S. John Baptist did to the people; Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. The Collect Prayes most earnestly and passionately to him, to succour us miserable sinners.
THE Epistle, Gospel, and Collect are plainly suitable to the day, all mentioning the birth of Christ. Besides, this Feast hath proper Psalms, in which some Verses are peculiar to the day, as will appear, if they be well considered. The First Psalm for the Morning Service, is the 19. The heavens declare the glory of God; very suitable to the Feast, for at His Birth a new Star appeared which declared his Glory and Deity so plainly, that it fetcht the Sages of the East to come and worship him, S. Matt. 2. Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his Star in the East, and are come to worship him.
The Second Psalm for the Morning is 45. Which at the beginning of it is a Genethliack or Birth-song of Christ, The fairest of the children of men, v. 3. And of his mighty success in subduing the Devil and the world by the word of truth, of meekness and righteousness, vers. 5. &c.
The third is Psal. 85. which is principally set for the Birth of Christ. For it is a thanksgiving to God for sending a Saviour, which should save his people from their sins, the greatest captivity that is; and therefore cannot properly be meant of any but Christ, who was therefore call'd Jesus, because he should save his people from their sins, S. Matt. 1. 21. And so the Primitive Church understood it, and therefore selected it out as a part of their Office for this day, as being proper and pertinent to the matter of the Feast: For the meeting here specified, ver.10. 11. of Mercy and Truth, Righteousness and Peace, was at Christs birth, who said of himself, that he was the Truth; who as he had a birth from Heaven, to wit, his Divine nature, so had he another as Man from Earth from the Virgin; which birth drew Righteousness to look from Heaven, upon poor sinners with a favourable look, and made righteousness and peace kiss, for the delivering of sinners from their captivity. True it is, the Prophet in the first Verses speaks of this delivery as of a thing past, Lord thou hast turn'd away the captivity of Iacob.
Yet for all this it may be a prophesie of our salvation by the coming of Christ hereafter: for as S. Peter sayes, Acts 2. 30. David being a Prophet, and seeing this before, spake of Christs Nativity, as if it were already past.
The Evening Psalms are 89, 110, 132. The first and last of which are thankful commemorations of Gods merciful promise of sending our Lord Christ into the world, that seed of David, which he had sworn to establish, and set up his Throne for ever. For which, O Lord, the very heavens shall praise thy wondrous works, and thy truth in the congregation of the Saints, v. 5. Psal. 89. The Church was in affliction now, as is plain in both these Psalms: but such was the joy that they were affected with, at the promise of Christs birth and coming into the world, that they could not contain, but even in the midst of their misery, break forth into Thanksgiving for it: and how can the Church excite us better to Thanksgiving to God for the birth of Christ, upon the day, then by shewing us how much the promise of it afar off wrought upon the Saints of old? The 110. Psalm expresly mentions the birth of Christ, ver. 3. The dew of thy birth, is of the womb of the Morning; as the morning dew brings, forth innumerable fruit, so shall the birth of Christ bring forth innumerable faithful people: and therefore the Prophet here does, as we should this day, adore and praise the goodness of God for the birth of Christ, the cause of so much good.
It is admirable to behold the frame of the Churches holy Office and Service this day. In the First Lessons, she reads us the prophesie of Christs coming in the flesh: in the Second Lessons, Epistle and Gospel, she gives us the History of it. In the Collect, she teaches us to pray, that we may be partakers of the benefit of his birth: In the proper Preface for the day, as also in the proper Psalms, she sets us to our duty of Adoring and Glorifying God for his mercy. In the Lessons and Gospels appointed, holy Church does the Angels part, brings us glad tydings of our Saviours Birth, Behold I bring you glad tydings of great joy, for unto you is born this day a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord, S. Luke 2. 10. In pointing the special Hymns and Psalms, she calls upon us to do the Shepherds part, to glorifie and Praise God for all the things that this day we hear and see, ver. 20. And to sing with the Angels, Glory to God in the highest, for this good will to Men.
For the Antiquity of this day, many testimonies might be brought out of the Ancients; but, because I intend brevity, I shall be content with two beyond exception. S. Augustine, Ep. 119. witnesses, that it was the custome of holy Church to keep this day: And upon the five and twentieth of December, in Psalm 132.S. Chrysostom makes a Sermon to prove that the keeping of Christmas-day was ancient, even from the first times; and that the Church kept the true day. In the same sermon he sayes, It is a godly thing to keep this day. Nay further, that the keeping of this day was one of the greatest signs of our love to Christ. Amongst other Arguments which he uses there, to perswade his hearers to keep this day, he brings this, that the custome of keeping this day was religious, and of God, or else it could never have been so early spread over the whole World, in spight of so much opposition. Orat. in Natal. Dom. Tom. 5. Edit. Savil.
D Christmas day.] This anniversary solemnity cannot be denied to be as old as up to Gregory Nazianzen’s time, he and his great intimate St. Basil having each an excellent homily upon it, τὰ δὲ viv θεοφάνια ἡ πανήγυρις, εἴτ᾽ οὖν γενέθλια, saith one”, “this celebrity is called God’s appearance, or His nativity.” Ὄνομα θώμεθα τῇ ἑορτῇ ἡμῶν θεοφάνια, saith the other’, “we name this our festival the theophany. Nor is there in either homily one syllable inferring the either usage or institution of that day to have commenced then, wherefore we may presume it was existent long before ; indeed, Nicephorus sadly tells us so, relating no less than twenty thousand Christians massacred by fire on that day, being assembled at church, under the Dioclesianic persecution. A matter not incredible, for if it be true, as little doubt is to be made of it, what Gildas reports of us Britons, that after that persecution ceased, “the Christians began again to repair their churches, and celebrated festivals,” why should not this great day make one? What rational argument can be opposed to dissuade us that we should not think it of as long duration as any other festival (the Lord’s day excepted) whatsoever, considering that even Christianity itself resulteth from it?
In the determination of the precise and true day, antiquity itself hath been to seek, as well as modern times. Clemens Alexandrinus, who flourished about the end of the second century, saith that οἱ περιεργόTepot, “the most curious inquisitors after the year and day of Christ’s nativity, have fixed it, some on the twenty-fifth of the month of Pachon,” (our May,) “and some on the twenty-fifth of Pharmouthi,” (our April). The Churches of Egypt observed it constantly upon the sixth of January, celebrating both it and His baptism on the same day, which they called the Epiphany. The Asiatic Grecians, and Syrians, turned over His baptism to another day, retaining still the sixth of January for His nativity. The Church of Rome, pretending to a more perfect information from the censual rolls of Augustus Cesar, kept close to the twenty-fifth of December: from thence it was first transported to Antioch, as is evident from St. Chrysostom’s homily preached there upon that day, where he declareth the darkness of uncertainty wherein those Christians were in before, and from whence they were enlightened to the notion of the true day. Not long after, either convinced that this was the very day of Christ’s nativity, or that none truer could be assigned, it became, about anno 500, the general observation of the Catholic Church.
Since that, and near home to our times, an opinion hath possessed some very learned men that our Saviour was born in September: in such variety of judgments it is not safe dogmatically to determine one way or the other. Nihil opus est ut ea cum discrimine definiantur, que absque crimine nesciuntur, “ What necessity is there of positively defining that whereof it is no fault to be ignorant?” And the best is, there is nothing in this particular cogent to it. The exact notion of the day precise is no concernment of the duty, which consists not in observing the day, but a day. God standeth not upon punctilios with man, no, not in ceremonials of His owndesignation, wherein He dispenseth with the Church’s liberty to vary, necessity or just occasion inviting. The celebration of the blessed Eucharist is, by universal usage, mistimed from its first institution, now in the morning, then at night. So is the Lord’s day, beginning in the Apostles’ times at the evening preceding ; with us at one in the morning: why may not then the memorial of our Saviour’s nativity be celebrated on a day varying from its true original, especially considering that it is not yet infallibly discovered which it is? And if so, why may we not, conforming to the practice of the Catholic Church, observe the twenty-fifth of December, as our Church enjoineth? To stand upon such niceties is but a peevish kind of devotion, mere superstition, and the next way to bring the great mystery of our Saviour’s ἐνσάρκωσις and incarnation, first into contempt, and next into oblivion.
And whereas we are upbraided with the practice of reformed Churches, which have discontinued the solemnization of this day, not to repeat what I have instanced before out of the Churches of Helvetia and Bohemia, out of Bucer and Zanchy ; and to reach the very vitals of this objection, I must tell the opponents, that for Geneva, the place so urged against us, Mr. Calvin himself blusheth at her reformation, and is so concerned, so moved with the blemishes of it in this point, as he passionately apologizeth thus: Sancte testari possum, me inscio, ac ne optante quidem, hanc rem fuisse transactam; “I can solemly protest, that the abrogation of this festival was transacted without my knowledge, nay, against my wish.” And again, Ex quo revocatus sum hoc temperamentum quesivi, ut Christi natalis celebraretur vestro more: “from the very first of my return to this place I endeavoured this moderation, that Christ’s birthday should be observed after your custom.” If Calvin’s judgment, because single, will not be listened to, what say they to the very remarkable practice of the synod of Dort, for which in other relations they have so high a friendship? Festum natalis Domini nostri Jesu Christi instabat, propter cujus celebrationem actiones synodi, per aliquot gam dies interrumpende essent; “ the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ was now at hand, in order to whose celebration, the actions of the synod were, for some few days, to be interrupted :” which was actually done, the session being intermitted from December the twenty-second to the twenty-eighth, as appeareth by the acts of that synod. And, lest it should be thought this was done only to compliment our British divines, I shall produce the warrant itself of its establishment from the very canons of that Church.
Ecclesie observabunt, preter diem Dominicum, etiam diem nativitatis Domini, Pascha item et Pentecosten, cum die insequente ; et quoniam in plerisque urbibus, ac regionibus Belgie insuper observantur festa circumcisionis, ac ascensionis Christi; allaborabunt ministri, quibuscunque locis id nondum est usu receptum, ut volente magistratu, hac in parte reliquis accedant : “the several Churches shall observe, over and besides the Lord’s day, the day also of Christ’s nativity, Easter also and Whitsunday, with the day following; and because in many places and cities of Belgia, moreover the feasts of Christ’s circumcision and ascension are celebrated also, the minister shall use his best endeavour, that the magistrates’ consent first obtained, they, in such places where these days are not yet received into use, would conform to the practice of others.”
So this canon, confirmed with the rest, by the synodical act of Dort, anno 1619; confirmed, I say, by a ratification superinducted to a former establishment, as is evident by the Greek and Latin edition of those canons, set forth by Jacobus Revius.
To be short, let our adversaries be in their declamations against other festivals, as obstreperous and loud as they please; such clamours we can both hear and pity; but when they decry with so much noise this grand festival, together with that of our Saviour’s resurrection and ascension, and the descent of the Holy Ghost, to our Christian charity they stand obliged, if we do not justly suspect, in good earnest, some design dangerous even to Christianity itself, considering that the main fundamentals of our faith have such direct and immediate reference to those feasts, and that the yearly celebration of them is but a tacit anniversary rehearsal of the chief articles of our creed.
IMmediately after Christmas follow as attendants upon this high Festival S. Stephen. S. John, and Innocents; not because this was the very time of their suffering, but because none are thought fitter attendants on Christs Nativity, than the blessed Martyrs, who have laid down their lives for him, from whose birth they received spiritual life. And there being three kinds of Martyrdom; 1. In will and deed, which is the highest. 2. In will, but not in deed. 3. In deed, but not in will: in this order they attend; S. Stephen first, who suffered both in will and deed. Next S. John, who suffered Martyrdom in will, but not in deed, being miraculously delivered out of boyling Cauldron, into which he was put before Port-Latin in Rome. Lastly, the holy Innocents who suffered in deed, but not in will: yet are reckoned amongst the Martyrs, because they suffered for Christ: whose praise these his witnesses confest and shewed forth not in speaking but in dying. [Collect for the day.]
The reason of the choice of the Epistles, Gospels and Collects for these dayes is plain, these being all priviledged dayes, that is, days which have in Scripture their peculiar histories. But for the Collect for S. Stephens day we may note in particular, That as the Church offers up some of her Collects directly to the Second Person of the Trinity, so one of them is this for S. Stephens day, and very properly; For as S. Stephen in the midst of his Martyrdom prayed to Jesus saying, Lord Jesus receive my spirit, and, Lord lay not this sin to their charge; so the Church in imitation of this blessed Proto-Martyr upon his day calls upon the Lord Jesus also desiring of him such a spirit as that of S. Stephen, to love and pray for our Enemies, which is that Heroical and Transcendant vertue which is peculiar to Christian Religion.
Before we endeavour to shew the antiquity of these days in particular, it will not be amiss to give some account of the ancient observation of Saints dayes in general.
That the observation of Saints days was very ancient in the Church will appear by these testimonies following. The Councel of Carthag. 3. c. 47. tells us that the Church did celebrate the Passions and Anniversaries of the Martyrs. This Counc. was held in S. Augustines time. S. Aug. in Psal. 88. Attend therefore my Dearly Beloved; All of you unanimously hold fast God your Father and the Church your Mother. Celebrate the Saints Birthdays (so they Anciently called the dayes of their Death and Martyrdom) with sobriety, that we may imitate them that have gone before us, that they may joy over us, who pray for us, that so the Blessing of God may remain upon us for ever. Amen, Amen.
Chrys. Hom. 66. ad. Pop. Antioch, The sepulchres of the Saints are honourable, and their dayes are known of all, bringing a festival joy to the world.
Before these S. Cyprian, l. 4. ep. 5. We celebrate the Passions of the Martyrs and their days with an anniversary commemoration. And before him Anno 147. the Church of Smyrna says the same Euseb. Hist. l. 4. c. 15.
If it be demanded why the Church kept the days of the Saints deaths, rather than of their Birth or Baptism? The answer may be: 1. Because at their deaths they are born Citizens of Heaven, of the Church triumphant, (which is more than to be born either a man or a Christian, a member of the Church Militant) whence (as above said) these days were usually styled by the Ancients, Their Birth-days. 2. Then do they perfectly triumph over the Devil and the world, by which the Church Militant hath gained, to her comfort, an example of persevering constancy and courage, and the Church Triumphant hath gained a new joy by the addition of a new member. For surely if the Saints and Angels in heaven joy at the conversion of a sinner, much more do they joy at the admission of a Saint into Heaven.
Thus much of the Saints days in general. For these three holy days in particular, that they are ancient, S. Augustine shews us, who hath Sermons upon all these days, Tom. 10. And Chrysol. who hath Sermons upon S. Stephen, and Innocents: And Origen in his Comment upon these words, A voice was heard in Rama, tells us, the Church did, and did well in it to keep the Feast of Innocents, and there is as much reason for the keeping of S. Stevens day, who was the first Martyr, and of S. Johns the beloved Disciple and Evangelist, as for the keeping of Innocents, and therefore it is to be thought, that the Church did then as well observe them as this, since, as we have proved, she did keep the days of Martyrs.
F. St. Stephen, St. John, St. Innocents.] Eopth τὴν ἑορτὴν διαδέχεται, τοῦ κυρίου τὰ θεοφάνεια καταλαμβάνει ἡ τοῦ δούλου τιμὴ, saith Proclus upon St. Stephen, “ here is one festival upon the neck of another, the servant’s honour attends his master’s birthday :” and this is the only account we have from antiquity of his waiting upon Christ’s nativity in his own solemnity. The Constitutions called Apostolical, reckon St. Stephen’s in the catalogue of holy days, τὴν ἡμέραν Στεφάνου τοῦ πρωτομάρτυρος ἀργείτωσαν, “let them cease from labour upon St. Stephen’s day ;” but when that his anniversary was to be celebrated, only Proelus informeth us. As for St. John, though there be no clear and express mention of his festival in elder times, yet considering that all the Apostles had their set days assigned, he is in all reason to be supposed to have had his share of honour equal to the rest. As for Innocents’ day, that homily upon Matt. which if not Origen’s, is yet very ancient, speaketh express, horum et memoria semper ut dignum est in ecclesia celebratur secundum integrum ordinem sanctorum, ut primorum martyrum pro Domino occisorum: “the memory of the Innocents also is always, as fit it is, celebrated in the Church, according to the order of the saints, as of those who were first slain for the Lord.”
This juncto of festivals are not here placed as evidences of the times of the death or sufferings of those persons. For if tradition faileth not, St. Stephen was stoned in August, and St. John died on the feast of St. John Baptist. Durandus, and from him other ritualists, why these feasts rather than others were ordered to accompany Christ’s nativity, assigneth this reason, “ There is,” saith he, “a threefold martyrdom ; in will and deed; in will, but not in deed; in deed, but not in will.” The first was undergone by St. Stephen, the second by St. John, the third by the Innocents; and who fitter to attend our Saviour than His martyrs? for if “right : dear in the sight of the Lord is the death of all His saints,” then most precious certainly to Him must the death of them be, who not only die in, but for Him. This reason of Durandus is founded upon the tradition that St. John was miraculously preserved in a caldron of boiling oil, to which he was condemned at Rome; might I interpose mine own thoughts, I should rather conceive that St. Stephen had the first place, because he was the proto-martyr of Christianity; St. John the second, because his death falling upon the festival of another John, the Baptist, and reason good they should be honoured with days apart ; no day could be assigned to this John more proper, that he might be nigh his Master, he being the disciple whom Jesus loved. And the Innocents might well pretend to the third, because as St. Cyprian saith, nativitas Domini a martyriis infantium statim cepit, “the slaughter of the Innocents was the first considerable consequent of His birth.” Nor will I omit what else seemeth a specious exposition upon the original of these three, viz. that martyrium, amor, innocentia, “martyrdom, love, and inno- cence,” are first to be magnified, as wherein Christ is most honoured.
Then shall follow the Collect of the Nativity, which shall be said continually unto New-year's Eve.
Then shall follow the Collect of the Nativity, which shall be said continually unto New-year's Eve.
Then shall follow the Collect of the Nativity, which shall be said continually unto New-year's Eve.
THis Sunday hath the Collect with Christmas-day; and the Epistle and Gospel treat about the same business, the birth of Christ; for we have not yet done with the Solemnity of Christmas. Thus great Solemnities have some days after them, to continue the memory of them, in prorogationem Festi.
THe Feast of the Circumcision is affirmed by Learned men to be of a later institution: for though many of the ancients mention the Octave of Christmas and Newyears-day, yet they do not mention or seem to keep it, say they, as a Feast of the Circumcision. But suppose it be so; yet surely it cannot be denied that there is reason enough for the keeping of this day solemn, as it is the Feast of Christs Circumcision: For as at Christmas CHRIST was made of a woman like us in nature, so this day he was made under the Law, Gal. 4. 5. and for us took upon him the curse of the Law; being made sin for us, and becoming a surety to the offended God, for us sinners. Which suretiship he seal'd, this day with some drops of that precious blood which he meant to pour out whole upon the Cross.
As by his Birth we received the adoption of Sons; so by his Circumcision, the redemption of the Law: and without this, his Birth had not availed us at all.
The Epistle, Gospel, and Collect are plainly fit for the day.
This Holy day hath no fast before it, the Reason we shall shew: and to save trouble, we will here once for all shew:
Why some Holy-dayes have Fasts before them: and then, Why this and some other have none. For the first. It was the religious custom of the primitive times to spend the night (or a greater part of it) before the Holy-dayes, in watching and prayers and tears, partly to prepare them for the more solemn and religious observation of the Holy-day following; partly to signifie that we should be as the blessed Saints were, after a little time of mortification and affliction, translated into glory and joy, according to the Psalm, Heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.] Thus after a Vigil comes a Holy-day. These Vigils, or night-watches, being in continuance of time, abused by the wickedness of some, who under colour of those holy nightly exercises stole a liberty of intemperance, lust and other villany, were, say some, by the wisdom of holy Church, to avoid scandal, turn'd into Fasts, which still retain the old name of Vigils. The truth of this Assertion I question; for neither do I find any decree of holy Church forbidding these Vigils: (the 35. Can. of the Counc. of Eliber; and the fifth Can. of the Counc. of Altisiodorum or Auxeres, which are usually produced to this purpose, coming far short of such a prohibition) nor is it so probable, that the Church should, for some particular mens abuse, forbid a practice so religious, commanded by our Saviour, S. Matth. 25. 13. commended to us by his practice at Gethsemaine, S. Matth. 26. 38. S. Luke 6. 12. earnestly urged by the Fathers of the Primitive times. I therefore rather think, that, whereas it was the ancient custome to fast the day and watch the night before the Holy-day, as S. Bernard tells us. Ser. de Vigil S. Andrei: in time, as charity and devotion grew cold, through sloth and restiness, this more troublesome part of devotion, the nightly watches were laid aside, and the Fast only retained, and that but slenderly observed. But it were to be wished, that, as the Fast might be retained, and more strictly observed, so the holy Vigils might be in part at least revived. For the night was not made only for sleep. Tradesmen, Mariners, Merchants, will tell you so much; they spend a good part of the night in watching for gain; will not you do as much for your soul? Besides, the darkness and silence of the night, are helps to compunction and holy sorrow; helps to meditation and contemplation: the soul is the more free from outward distraction. The sight of men lying a-sleep in their beds, like dead men in the grave, suggests a meditation of Doomsday. Let me therefore perswade men and women; Bend your knees, sigh, watch and pray in the night, Blessed is he, whom our Lord when he cometh shall find so doing: and because we know not what hour he will come, watch therefore. See Chrys. Hom. 26. in Act. This for the first; why some Holy-dayes have Fasts before them.
Now why this Feast of CIRCUMCISION, and some other have no Fasts, the reason is double. First, because sometimes the signification of the Vigil or Fast, mentioned above, ceases: and the signification or mystery failing, the Vigil or Fast is omitted. For example, S. Michael upon this account hath no Fast, because the Angels did not by sufferings and mortifications, enter into their joy, but were created in the joy they have. But then secondly, though this signification and Mystery of Vigils and Fasts holds good in S. Mark, S. Philip and S. Iacob, and some other, yet they have no Fasts for another reason; because they fall either betwixt Easter and Whitsunday, or betwixt Christmas and Epiphany, which holy Church held for such high times of joy and Festivity, that they would not have one day among them sullied by pensive sorrow and fasting: Con. Turon. 2. c. 13. Epiph. in brevi expos. Fidei.
If the Fast for a Holy-day, fall upon a Holy-day; that is, if the day before the Holy-day upon which the Fast regularly is to be kept, be it self also a Holy-day, then the Fast must be kept the day before that. Decretal. l. 3. Tit. 46.
G. The Feast of Circumcision.] I dare not affix any remote antiquity to this holyday. The first mention of it under this title occurreth in Ivo Carnotensis, who lived about the year 1090, a little before St. Bernard, and who hath a sermon upon it: under the name of the Octave of Christ’s nativity, we find it in Isidorus four hundred years before. The reason why it was not then observed was, as I conceive, because it fell upon the calends of January, which were solemnized among the heathens with such disorder, revellings, and profane appendants of idolatry, that St. Chrysostom’ called it ἑορτὴν διαβολικὴν, “ the devil’s festival,’ and the sixth general council absolutely interdicted the observation of them. Τὰς λεγομένας καλένδας καθάπαξ ἐκ τῆς τῶν πιστῶν πολι- τείας περιαιρεθῆναι βουλόμεθα, “we decree that the feast called the Calends, be utterly taken away from the custom and society of the faithful.”
THis Greek Word signifies Manifestation, and hath been of old used for Christmass-day, when Christ was manifested in the flesh; and for this day, wherein the Star did appear to manifest CHRIST to the Wise men: as appears by Chrys. and Epiphan. Upon this identity of the word, some unskilful ones were misled, to think that anciently the Feasts of Christmas and Epiphany were one and the same: but plain it is by Chrys. Epiphan. Nazianzen in their Sermons upon this day, that these two Feasts were observed, as we do, upon several days. Nazianzen calls this day on which Christ was baptized, [The holy lights of Epiphany; which to day we celebrate, says he, having already celebrated the holy Feast of Christmas.] S. Chrysostome says the day of Christs birth is not so usually and properly called Epiphany, as the day of his Baptism.
This Feast is called in Latin Epiphaniae, Epiphanies, in the plural; because upon this day we celebrate three glorious apparitions or manifestations, all which happened upon the same day, though not of the same year. Chrys. Serm. 159.
The first manifestation was of the Star, (mentioned in the Gospel) the Gentiles guide to Christ. The Second Epiphany or manifestation was that of the glorious Trinity at the baptism of Christ, mentioned in the second Lesson at morning prayer. S. Luke 3. 22. The third was of Christ's glory or Divinity, by the miracle of turning water into wine, mentioned in the second Lesson at Evening prayer, S. John 2.
The Collect is plain. The Epistle and Gospel mention Christs manifestation to the Gentiles; for this was the day of the Dedication of the Gentiles Faith, Chrys. in diem.
For the antiquity of this day, we have already seen Nazianzen Chrysost. and Epiphan. to which I shall adde only S. August. de temp. Ser. 32. [The solemnity of this day known throughout all the world, what joy doth it bring us? But the Donatists, says he, will not keep it, both because they are Schismaticks and love not unity, and also because they hate the Eastern Church, where the Star appeared.]
H. The Epiphany.] This feast hath several appellations amongst the Greek fathers; sometimes it is called ta ἅγια φῶτα, so Gregory Nazianzen, “the day of sacred illumination,” this being in the eastern Church a day as signal for baptism as Easter or Pentecost in the western. Sometimes it is called τὰ θεοφάνεια, “the manifestations of God,” so Horolog. Grec. upon the sixth of January place τὰ ἅγια θεοφάvera; it is confessed this word very often imports Christ’s birthday, τὰ δὲ viv θεοφάνεια ἡ πανήγυρις, εἴτ᾽ οὖν γενέθλια, “now is the festival of the theophany, or Christ’s nativity,” saith Nazianzen ; yet sometimes they are evidently distinguished, as in that imperial constitution‘, ἄπρακτοι ἡμέραι, ἡ Χριστουγένα, καὶ τὰ θεοφανία, &c., “ the nativity of Christ, and the theophany, &c., are to be accounted for holy days.” Most clear is that of Epiphanius, πρώτη ἑορτὴ κατὰ σάρκα τοῦ Χριστοῦ γένησις, δευτέρα ἑορτὴ ἡ τῶν θεοφανίων : “the first festival is that of Christ’s birth, the next is that of the theophany ;” where not only this feast is manifestly differenced from the nativity, but the feast of circumcision, as I said before, remarkably excluded. But of all the names most usual and most frequently applied to it is this of Epiphany, which though the Egyptians, and such as were under the patriarchate of Alexandria communicated both to the nativity and baptism of Christ, (possessed with an opinion that He was baptized upon the anniversary of His birth,) yet in other places it passed only current for the day of His baptism; St. Chrysostom* puts a question to himself in these terms, τινὸς éveKEV, οὐχὶ ἡ ἡμέρα KAP ἥν ἐτέχθη ἀλλ᾽ ἡ ἡμέρα καθ᾽ ἣν ἐβαπτίσθη ᾿Επιφανεία λέγεται : “how comes it to pass that not the day of Christ’s birth, but of His baptism, is called the Epiphany?” and he resolveth it thus, ody’ ὅτε ἐτέχθη, τότε πάσιν ἐγένετο κατάδηλος, ἀλλ᾽ ὅτε ἐβαπτίζετο : “ because His birth was obscure, but at His baptism He manifestly appeared to all men.” The like hath St. Jerome’; Epiphaniorum dies huc usque venerabilis est,non (ut quidam putant) natalis in carne, tune enim absconditus est et non apparuit :“the day of the Epiphany is at this day venerable ; I mean not Christ’s nativity (as some suppose) for then He rather hid Himself and appeared not.”
By what hath been already said, the day is without all question of no late edition. Now for the grounds upon which the solemnity is founded? St. Augustine delivered them to be four, sive quod in celo stella ortus sui nuncium prebuit: sive quod in Cana Galilee in convivio nuptial aquam convertit in vinum: sive quod in Jordanis undis aquas ad reparationem humani generis suo baptismo consecravit : sive quod, de quinque panibus quinque millia hominum satiavit : “either because a star in the heavens became the nuncio of His birth; or because He turned water into wine at the marriage feast ; or because being baptized in the river of Jordan He consecrated the water for the regeneration of man; or because He fed five thousand men with five loaves.” The three first causes our Church seems to own in the conformity of her divine offices; the collect for the day mentions the coming of the wise men to worship our Saviour, by the convoy of the star, and the gospel is a narrative of the story. The second lesson at evening service being John ii., recounts the miracle wrought at the marriage feast; and the second lesson for morning prayer being Luke iv. is a relation of His baptism. But as for the first, though it be delivered by St. Augustine quoted before, and by Isidorus after him, to have been a con-cause of this day’s solemnity, yet I find the Greek fathers of another judgment, these celebrating the coming of the wise men and appearing of the star on the day of Christ’s nativity. So Nazianzen*, μετὰ τοῦ ἀστέρος δράμε, καὶ μετὰ μάγων δωροφόρησον : “ follow the guide, the star, and offer thy gifts with the wise men ;” applying the most remarkable occurrents of that day as incitements to rejoice upon it. Consonant is that of St. Basil, who reckoning the special events on Christ’s nativity, saith, ἄστερες διατρέχουσιν ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, μάγοι κινοῦνται ἐκ τῶν ἐθνῶν : “ the stars from heaven came to behold Him; the magicians among the Gentiles made haste to adore Him.”
From Christmas to Epiphany, holy Churches design, is, to set forth Christs Humanity, to make Christ manifest in the flesh, which the offices do, as we have seen; but from Epiphany to Septuagesima, especially in the four next Sundays after Epiphany, she endeavours to manifest his glory and Divinity, by recounting some of his first miracles, and manifestations of his Deity, so that each Sunday is in this respect a kind of Epiphany.
The Gospel of this day mentions Christs manifestation to the Doctors of the Jews, astonishing all his hearers with his miraculous answers. The Epistle exhorts us to make a spiritual use of the wisemens mysterious offerings, especially of Myrrhe; which signifies very rightly the mortifying of the flesh, and the offering of our bodies as an holy Sacrifice to God by Christ. The Collect prayes for grace to enable us thereunto.
The Gospel mentions Christs turning water into wine, by which, he manifested both his glory by the miracle, and his goodness in ministring to the necessities of others: to which virtue, the Epistle exhorts us, that whatsoever gifts we have, we should use them as Christ did, to the good and benefit of others. The Collect as divers others recommends to God the supplications of the people, &c. See more of the Collects in general.
The Gospel is concerning our Lords healing of the Leper that believed in him.
The Epistle at first sight seems not to agree to the Gospel; but yet, if rightly applyed, it suits well with it in the mystical sense. For the healing of the Leper, signifies, that Christ will heal us from the Leprosie of sin, if we believe in him, and come to him for cure as the Leper did. The Epistle labours to prevent the most over-spreading leprous sins of pride (against which the first verse is directed: Be not wise in your own conceits) and wrath and revenge in the following words, rendring to no man evil for evil. Or rather, the Epistle doth remove the two great impediments of Christs cure of our sinful leprosie: namely pride, which God resists. S. Iames 4. 6. and malice or revenge which makes us unpardonable and uncurable, For unless we forgive, Christ will not forgive us, S. Matth. 6. 15.
The Collect prayes to God through Christ to heal us.
The Gospel treats of Christs miraculous stilling of the waves and the wind. By the tempest on the Sea, may be signified the tumultuous madness of the people, which endangers the peace of the Church, Christs ship: so the Psalm expounds it, Thou stillest the raging of the Sea, and the madness of the people: which would never be quiet, unless Christ by his word and power should command it to be still: And because he does now rule the peoples madness by Ministers of his vengeance to whom he gives his power: therefore the Epistle teaches and exhorts us to submit conscientiously to that power of Christ, that so the ship of the Church may be still and safe.
The Collect prayes to God to keep the Church safe amidst the many storms and waves that shake it.
The four precedent Sundayes have manifested Christs glory to us in part, by the miracles He wrought while He conversed with us on Earth: The Gospel for this day mentions his Second coming to judgement, when he shall appear in his full glory, and all the holy Angels with him: which glorious appearance, as it will be dreadful to those who have resembled the Tares, for they shall then be burned with unquenchable fire: So it will be a joyful appearance to such as the Epistle perswades us to be, viz. The Meek, and Gentle, and Charitable. And the Collect is for such, praying God to keep his Church and Houshold continually in the true Religion, &c.
MAny reasons are given of this name; but in my apprehension the best is a consequentia numerandi, because the first Sunday in Lent is called Quadragesima, containing about forty dayes from Easter; therefore the Sunday before that being still farther from Easter, is called Quinquagesima, five being the next number above four; and so the Sunday before that Sexagesima, and the Sunday before that Septuagesima.
This and the two next Sundayes and weeks were appointed as preparatives to the Lenten Fast, that when it came, it might be the more strictly and religiously observed. And the Regulars and those of the strictest life did fast these weeks, though the common people began not their Fast till Ashwednesday. Bernard in Septuages.
The observation of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, are to be sure as ancient as GREGORY the Great.
The Epistle perswades us to works of penance and holy mortification; and lest we should shrink from these hardships, it encourages us by propounding the reward of these religious exercises; namely, an everlasting crown. The Gospel is much to the same purpose. It tells us that Gods vineyard is no place for idle loyterers; all must work that will receive any penny or reward.
The Epistle propounds the example of S. Paul, who was eminent for works of mortification, and Lenten Exercises: and lest we should think that there is no need of such strictness and holy violence in Religion, the holy Gospel tells us what danger we are in of coming short of heaven, how that scarce one of four that profess Religion, and hear the word, brings forth fruit to salvation, most losing it after they have received it, for want of due care and heed.
Septuagesima and Sexagesima Sundays have perswaded us to fasting and other exercises of mortification in the Lent following; and because all these bodily exercises profit little, unless we adde faith and charity, or faith working by love, therefore this day the Epistle commends charity, the Gospel faith in Christ, by which our darkness is enlightned, as the blind mans eyes were, who wisely desired that he may see, for in sight of God consists our happiness.