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ART. III. — FESTIVALS OF THE ANCIENT CHRISTIANS.*
It would be difficult to find a solitary corner or nook in the broad field of historical theology or religion, which has not been trodden by the Germans. The festivals of the Church have not been neglected. Augusti has devoted three of his twelve volumes on Christian Archäology, published between 1817 and 1831, to the subject. As this work is sometimes referred to as an authority, we will introduce what we have to say on the festivals of the ancient Christians by a few remarks upon its character and merits. It is not a critical work, nor was meant to be. It was not written for the learned, but to afford help to religious teachers, preachers especially, and to furnish the intelligent reader with such information as might subserve the purpose of devout culture. This fact explains its somewhat miscellaneous character, and the introduction in the first three volumes of a number of homilies of various degrees of merit, translated from the Greek and Latin fathers, from Venerable Bede, Bernard and others, rendering the volumes a sort of “magazine” for “ festival-preaching.” The object being thus entirely practical, the writer did not feel called upon to engage in any critical historical inquiries, or to attempt to settle disputed points of Christian antiquities. All this is honestly stated in the preface, and must be kept in view by the student of ecclesiastical history who may use the work, or he will seek in it what he will not find, especially if his researches relate to an early period of the Christian Church.
The work certainly has defects. The references are copious enough, but the author does not always give evidence of a very nice appreciation of the comparative value of the testimony he adduces, as affected by the time of the writer, or the suspicion of forgery or interpolation which attaches to the writing. Then again, he is not always careful to refer events and usages to the times to which they properly belong. In presenting the idea underlying the several festivals he refines and systematizes, we think, more than the simplicity of antiquity warrants. Nor does he sufficiently mark what may be called the different epochs of these festivals, or point out with sufficient clearness the distinction between their earlier and later character. This we regard as a defect certainly, and a similar defect is visible in other parts of the work. It is a defect incident, perhaps, to its plan and object; which led the author to look at the usages, ceremonies, and whatever else belongs to the Church, rather as they appeared when they had attained their highest point of completeness and perfection, than in their crude beginnings. As a consequence he unreasonably, as we think, extends the period included under the term antiquity. In a Text-book for Academical Lectures, published in 1819, on which the Archæology is a sort of commentary, he seems not quite so extravagant, but in the Archæology itself he comes down to the period of the Reformation. It is obvious that when the signification of the term is made thus comprehensive, much will be related as belonging to Christian antiquity which, so far as authority and precedent are concerned, is of little value, and the less informed reader will find himself sometimes perplexed and confused, and will be sometimes led into error.
* Denkwürdigkeiten aus der Christlichen Archaologie; mit beständiger Rucksicht auf die gegenwärtigen Bedürfnisse der Christlichen Kirche, von D. JOHANN CHRISTIAN WILHELM AUGUSTI. B. 12. Leipz. 1817–1831. - The author has given a double title to the first three volumes, which constitute a complete work in themselves. The appropriate title of the three volumes is “ Die Feste der Alten Christen. Für Religions-Lehrer und gebildete Leser aus allen Christlichen Confessionen," etc.
For ourselves, we should assign a much narrower limit to Christian antiquity, especially if we are to seek precedents in it. We take our stand much nearer to the
of the Apostles. We cannot allow a father of the fifth, and still less of the sixth or seventh century, to testify to early opinions and usages. He can be a witness only in what relates to his own times, and to a precedent taken from those times we do not attribute much importance, though we may find there helps to devout culture, if that be all we seek. A usage of the fourth, or even the third century, we do not call a primitive usage, nor do we take it as decisive evidence of what the primitive usage was. We should call those primitive Christians who belonged to the age of the Apostles and the disciples of the Apostles, and ancient Christians those who lived between that period and the early part of the third century. In a looser sense, indeed, we might use the term to embrace the period which terminated with the Council of Nice, A. D. 325, when Christianity became a State religion. We should certainly exclude from our list of earlier fathers those who wrote subsequently to that period. More than a hundred years before this, Christian usages had undergone great changes, and these and the changes which subsequently took place are not, as we have intimated, exhibited by Augusti with sufficient distinctness. But the work, we repeat, was not designed to be a critical one, and, learned as it is, therefore, he who should take it up without a previous acquaintance with the original writings of Christian antiquity would be liable to receive from it some erroneous impressions. Still the work is one of great merit, and the author is, no doubt, right in saying, that it is the first of the kind which, on a more comprehensive plan and with greater completeness, has been given to the public since the similar work of Bingham.* It has met with a favorable reception, and is said to have had an influence in reviving the study of ecclesiastical antiquity both in and out of Germany.
In speaking, as we promised,t of the Festivals of the Ancient Christians, we have no intention of putting ourselves in an attitude of hostility towards any of our brethren in the faith of Jesus. We have no hostile feeling to gratify, and shall not write as sectarians, but simply narrate facts as they are. We are not opposed to Christian festivals as such. The primitive festivals were few, and putting the observance of them on the ground on which antiquity placed it, we have no objection to them. Nay more, we would willingly retain them.
We do not dislike the custom of, in some way, connecting the more important events of the Gospel histories with the exercises of Christian worship, at such seasons as were of old set apart for their commemoration. To our minds it seems a pleasant and hallowed custom. Without attributing any peculiar sanctity to such seasons, we may still
, with advantage, make some use of them. They furnish a
* In the “ Handbuch der Christlichen Archäologie," published by Augusti, in 1836, will be found some notice of the principal works on Christian Antiquities from the Reformation, when attention was first awakened to the subject, down to 1830.-Einleit. pp. 6-13. † Christ. Exam. 4th Ser. Vol. I.
370. VOL. XXXVIII. - 4TH S. VOL. III. NO. I.
sort of resting-place for the thoughts ; they help to bring before the mind more distinctly the great facts on which the truth of Christianity rests; they aid our conceptions, and call up pictures to the imagination; they touch the sensibility and awaken trains of thought we may be the better for pursuing. There is such a thing as making religion too exclusively a matter of the intellect, stripping it of its more affecting qualities and attributes, rendering it too abstract and metaphysical, too bare and unadorned. We are benefitted by going back to the personal history of Jesus and to the several touching incidents connected with it, to Bethlehem and Calvary, Gethsemane and the Mount of ascension. These, in the minds of Christians, are hallowed spots, and must ever continue such while the earth remains.
The circumstances connected with the Saviour's abode on earth, which we gather from our Bibles, furnish surely fit themes of meditation, and why should we not, occasionally, as the appropriate season comes round, avail ourselves of their help to deepen our penitential feelings, or rekindle our gratitude and love? Why should we refuse those aids to devout culture, in which millions of the good and holy, now rejoicing in heaven, once found a quickening power? There is one community of the faithful, there is an essential unity of Christians, and is it not desirable that this unity should be strengthened? And may it not be strengthened, at the same time that our consciences are stirred, by recalling the great facts which belong alike to all Christians, and on which past ages have meditated with so much profit and delight? Christians have been too much in the habit of fixing the eye on their differences. Would it not be well that they should oftener direct their attention to that in which they are agreed ? All the great facts of the Gospel are common to all, and the personal history of Jesus appeals alike to the hearts of all his followers.
The earliest and most signal festival of Christians was the weekly festival of Sunday. Whether or not any traces of the regular observance of this day are to be found in the New Testament, critics are not agreed. The passages generally adduced to support the affirmative are not wholly free from ambiguity, yet their most natural and obvious construction, we think, favors the supposition that the disciples were from the first, or during the Apostolic times, accustomed to meet for religious worship on the first day of the week. Certainly the oldest records in existence, after those of the New Testament, refer to this as a well known and established custom. The first day of the week was universally distinguished from other days, and it was observed as a day of joy, a festival day, on account of the Lord's resurrection on that day, hence called the Lord's day. That it was uniformly observed as a day of rejoicing there is no dispute; on this point all the old writers the Fathers – bear consenting testimony. We do not mean that it was a day devoted to sensuous pleasures. It was not; and King James's “ Book of Sports” would have been as offensive to the early Christians as it was to the Puritans. It was not a day to be given to levity and amusement. But it was to the original followers of Jesus truly a day of gladness, a day which brought with it not only holy and exalting, but in the strictest sense, joyous recollections, since it restored him to their sight after his death had prostrated their hopes and filled their hearts with sorrow, and they believed that they should see him no more. And this feature the day retained. It was always, by the ancient Christians, associated with the resurrection - the pledge of man's immortality.
On this day every thing which had the appearance of sorrow or gloom was banished as unfit. “On Sunday," says Tertullian, “we indulge joy."* So far did the ancient Christians carry their views, or their scruples, on this point, that they regarded it as a sin to fast, or to kneel in prayer on the Lord's day, or during any part of the interval of fifty days between the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. For this we have the express assertion of Tertullian. Though the Jewish Sabbath was originally a festival, yet it came, in after times, to be associated with many superstitious observances, which gave to it a somewhat grim aspect, and these the early Christians carefully avoided transferring to the first day of the week. I Thus
Apol. c. 16.
+ De Corona Mil. c. 3. † Originally labor did not cease on the first day of the week, but it seems to have been gradually discontinued, as circumstances permitted. At what time cessation from it became general, if it became so before the time of Constantine, when it was enjoined by law, except in agricultural