It could just be the “time of year” but this topic is coming up enough to warrant a written response. This will be a high-level view of the topic because to correctly cover this would require a minimum of an hour of discussion and would necessitate a degree of Biblical history knowledge on the learner's part. If I appear to go into a territory, you are not familiar with — please make time to conduct an in-depth study on your own. Remember that I always encourage others to not take my word as the truth. You MUST prove all things to yourself or you will never honestly believe. Before beginning this “fly-over” I wish to state up-front that all that will be written is from multiple sources over many years making citations extremely difficult — but I’ll try.
The church was born and legalized in 313 A.D. However, we need to briefly cover some back-story leading up to the date and event. The persecution of Christians did not end with the deaths of Jesus' Disciples and the Apostles. Anyone, man, woman, child, wealthy, poor, who called themselves, “Christian” were persecuted. That is a nice word for harassed, hunted down, and usually tortured and put to death in some horrific manner. The three main periods of persecution occurred from 64 – 95 CE (Emperor Nero to Emperor Domitian), 112 CE – 250 CE (Emperor Trajan to Emperor Decius), and 250 – 311 CE (Emperor Valerian to Diocletian). Generally, people of all “religions” were tolerated within the Roman Empire. The Romans had many gods and generally adopted the gods of any conquered peoples. For the Empire to operate, efficiently and profitably, social order had to be maintained at all costs. The early Christians would not glorify, worship and sacrifice to the Emperor though. This caused considerable friction with Roman authorities. Christian persecution became a high priority. All troublesome elements were eliminated as a warning to others about challenging the absolute authority of Rome and the emperors that were seeing themselves as a god.
John S. Knox, Ph.D. wrote, “Although not every Roman emperor was merciless in their treatment of Christians, several rulers stand out because of their severity or cruelty. Emperor Nero, who reigned from 54 CE – 68 CE, was emotionally unstable, involved in several conspiracies, a poor administrator, and used the Christians as a distraction of his imperial failings and frustrations. Emperor Domitian, who ruled from 81 CE – 96 CE, was said to be “a thoroughly nasty person, rarely polite, insolent, arrogant, and cruel.” A black-and-white thinker, he introduced anti-Jewish and anti-Christian laws and demanded Christians worship him as a god (people were to refer to him as dominus et Deus - —‘master and god’). Emperor Decius, who ruled from 249 CE – 251 CE, also issued royal edicts to suppress Christianity, demanding that all Christian bishops offer sacrifices to him.”
Fast-forward to Emperor Diocletian (born Diocles). Diocles, who would become known to history as Diocletian, was born of humble origins on December 22, 245 CE in the Balkan province of Dalmatia. Diocletian was the Roman emperorfrom 284 to 305 CE. After the defeat and deathof the Romanemperor Philip the Arab in 249 CE, the empire endured over three decades of ineffective rulers. The once-powerful empire suffered both financially and militarily. When Diocletian became emperor, he assumed the name Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletian. Despite the sadistic inhuman cruelty of Nero, perhaps the greatest persecutions of all happened during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, who reigned from 284 CE – 305 CE. Diocletian was a fanatic of Paganism. He believed that the waning of Roman power was more due to Christianity than bad governorship. According to Donald Wasson, Diocletian issued the strongest anti-Christian proclamations of all the emperors, commanding that all Christian churches were to be burned, all Christians were to be deprived of political office, all Christian scriptures and bibles were to be burned, and all private and public worship of Jesus was to cease, and Christian leaders where to be dismissed (killed if possible). Christians became entertainment (or a warning to all who would also create conflict or rebellion in Roman society) in the Roman Circus or at other various gladiatorial arenas in the empire, wherein they could be crucified, burned alive, thrown to lions or other wild beasts without weapons of defense, beheaded, impaled on pikes or spears, hanged, drawn and quartered, or killed by gladiators. How many Christians were killed during these persecutions is unknown; however, many scholars believed it numbered in the thousands. Some martyrs (one who dies for the faith) were leaders in the still–growing Church, but most others were mere grassroots followers in the Jesus movement. Diocletian ordered gruesome tortures and deaths as his approach to trying to curtail the growing family of Christians.
History records a series of bad decisions made by Diocletian after becoming emperor. Diocletian understood that a major problem in ruling territory the size of the Roman Empire was its huge size. Diocletian believed it was far too large to be ruled by just one person, so one of the first actions taken by the new emperor was to split the empire into two parts.
Note: For a full understanding of this part of the narrative, I strongly suggest you research this part of the history. You will better understand how Emperor Constantine came into power. In addition, Diocletian was not all bad. If you research him you will find where he came up with some very good ideas.
Lacking an heir, in November of 285 CE, shortly after acquiring the imperial throne for himself, he named an Illyrian officer (who happened to be his son-in-law) named Maximian as Caesar in the west. The new Caesar, who would be promoted to Augustus one year later, immediately assumed the name, Marcus AureliusValerius. Aside from the continued problems with finance and border security, Diocletian was concerned with the continuing growth of Christianity, a religion that appealed to both the poor and the rich. The Christians had shown themselves to be a thorn in the side of an emperor since the days of Nero. Diocletian wanted stability and that meant a return to the more traditional gods of Rome, but Christianity prevented this. Part of the problem also stemmed from Diocletian’s ego. He began to consider himself a living god, demanding people prostrate themselves before him and kiss the hem of his robe. This demand was completely unacceptable to Jews and Christians. In 303 CE Diocletian became seriously ill, eventually forcing him to give up the throne in 305 CE. Diocletian reportedly died in October of 311 CE. After years of war between successors, Constantius’ son Constantine reunited the empire after the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE.
Interesting Factoid: To date, there exists no complete copy of the Bible that predates the fourth century (around the date 336 A.D.) because he, Diocletian, was evidently completely successful in destroying all the Bibles! Do not be hung up on that fourth-century information…there was/is plenty of inspired writings to construct what is now our Holy Bible.
Fast-forward to Emperor Flavius Valerius Constantinus, also known as Constantine I the Great. Helena (later Saint Helena) gave birth to the future emperor Constantine Ion 27 February of an uncertain year soon after 270 (probably around 274 or 280 CE) – 337 CE). I, in honesty, am not comfortable with the historical reports of Constantine, so I recommend that you do some research on your own. Having said that, I will put forth my opinion based on my research and understanding so far.
Emperor Constantine had the thought, well actually many good thoughts, but with regard to this narrative, he decided to ease the tension between the Pagans and the Christians. I believe I once heard his way to resolve this as, if you can’t beat them — join them! By the 5th century CE, Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman Empire, leading to a dramatic change in how the faith played out in greater society. There is so much more to these stories that should be said…but as I stated at the beginning of this narrative — this is a high-level “fly over.” He accomplished his goal by combining paganism with Christianity. It appears he inherited from his father a membership in the sun-god cult of Helios and his first recorded religious act was to consult the oracle at the temple of Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, at Autun in 308 C.E. Borrowing from a writing by A.T. Jones — all paganism is at bottom a worship of nature in some form or other. The Egyptians are one of the earliest recorded cultures to fully embrace the sun as a deity. I say this knowing that man has revered the Sun for varied reasons since he first looked at it. I can easily understand how the sun became an object of worship. Cultures around the Mediterranean and across Europe observed feasts on or around December 25th, marking the winter solstice. The Jews had a festival of lights. Germans had a yule festival. Celtic legends connected the solstice with Balder, the Scandinavian sun god who was struck down by a mistletoe arrow. At the pagan festival of Saturnalia, Romans feasted and gave gifts to the poor. Drinking was closely connected with these pagan feasts(Source: christianity.com).
Sol Invictus Roman god
SolInvictus ("Unconquered Sun") is the official sun god of the later Roman Empire and a patron of soldiers. On 25 December 274 AD, the Roman emperor Aurelian made it an official cult alongside the traditional Roman cults. Sol Invictus (the official sun god) is the product of centuries of sun worship, including copious amounts of myth, legend, and lore for the time. By Biblical times, man had an amazing understanding of the movements of the celestial bodies. This is supported by worldwide archaeological discoveries. It is a known fact that December 25th started around 2500 B.C. around the Tower of Babel (a story for another time). By now you are probably wondering how all this connects with Christmas. Okay, this will be brief but all the essential information will be included with the hope that you will research all this more deeply and from multiple sources.
Each year, there are two solstices and two equinoxes and while they both signify a change of season, they are very separate and opposite each other. The biggest difference between the equinox and the solstice is that a solstice is a point during the Earth's orbit around the sun at which the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator, while during an equinox, it is at the closest distance from the equator. Because of this, one solstice is an extremely long day, and the other is an extremely short day. Stick with me here…those that studied the celestial bodies were well aware that during the winter solstice there was a very short day! In the time of the Babylonians, solar and lunar observations were studied and well known. The winter solstice occurred regularly on December 21st or 22nd. Being keenly aware the length of the day was getting shorter — they were able to determine the winter solstice with terrific accuracy. Again, this is the shortest day of the year because it is the day the earth is closest to the sun. Bear in mind that at the time sun worship was the base, or foundation, of religion. The shortness of the day became important, primarily because agriculture was the main concern.
Saturnalia — According to Mark Cartwright, “[was] an enduring Roman festival dedicated to the agricultural god Saturn which was held between the 17th and 23rd of December each year during the winter solstice. Originating from archaic agricultural rituals the Roman festivities came to include a general round of gift-giving, merrymaking, and role-reversals so that it became one of the most popular celebrations in the calendar and certainly the jolliest. Cartwright goes on to suggest the focus of the Saturnalia and the god who gave his name to the festival was Saturn (or Saturnus), who is something of a mysterious figure in Roman religion. Depictions of the god in surviving art have him wearing a veil and brandishing either a sickle or a pruning knife suggesting a close relation with agriculture and especially seed growing or seed-corn. With links to indigenous Italian deities and perhaps, too, a version of the Greek god Kronos, he was regarded as a primordial deity who had taught humanity important agricultural skills. (Emphasis and italics added).
Briefly, the winter solstice would either be on December 21st or 22nd. If it was the 21st, the shortest day would be 3 to 4 days afterward being the 24th or 25th. If the solstice was the 22nd, then 3 to 4 days afterward would make it the 25th or 26th. Thus, the commonality would make it December 25th. Saturnalia was/became a 2-week festival. All the sun worshippers started building bonfires daily leading up to the solstice (week 1) in order to “help out the sun” because they knew the short day was coming which — would affect agriculture. Then for days after the solstice (week 2), they continued to build the bonfires until they were convinced that the sun could handle it alone and the days were getting longer again. It is important to remember how serious and widespread worship of the sun was to the people back then. What would later be named Christmas was started about 336 A.D. It is agreed upon by scholars that a “Christmas time” worship of Christ Jesus also started about 336 A.D. I find it interesting that the word Christmas was first found in the church liturgy — that being the RCC (Roman Catholic Church) in 1038 A.D. (I digress - sorry).
The rest of all the Christmas traditions are a VERY simple search and really interesting to read about. Bear in mind that there is most likely a fair amount of lore and legend attached to the traditions. Still, I will mention some of my favorites:
· Christmas, or Christ's Mass. Christmas (in old English, Cristes maesse) is a festival celebrated on Dec. 25, commemorating the Incarnation of the Word of God in the birth of Jesus Christ. In the BCP, it is also called The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the United States, it is also a popular secular holiday (Source: episcopalchurch.org)
· The word "Christmas" is itself, an unholy mixture of Christ and Mass. "Christ" means "anointed" from the Greek word "Cris-tos". To Christians, it refers to Jesus as The Christ, but to the Roman Catholic, it may refer to the Pope as the Vicar of Christ. Popery has declared, the pope ... "holds upon the earth the place of God Almighty,... is Christ in office, jurisdiction and power and ... in clinging to thee (pope) we cling to Christ...." (Vatican Council of 1870). There is good cause to wonder to whom glory is given during the mass. (While the pope of Rome expects his followers to bow or kneel before him, the apostle Peter, whom the Roman Catholic church believes was the “first pope”, forbid anyone to bow before him: “And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man”(Acts 10:25, 26; source: angelfire.com)
· The word "mass" comes from the Latin root "mittere" (to send) and derives from "missa" (to dismiss). Could "merry christ-mas" actually mean to merrily dismiss Jesus as Christ? (to replace the historical Biblical Christ with the Roman Catholic Christ?) (source: angelfire.com)
· The tree evolved from the 9th to the 16th century. The Goths (Germans) were a thorn in the side of the Roman Empire since day one. Rome and the Goths were seemingly always in a battle somewhere. Rome was never able to fully “conquer” the Goths (Germania) but the Goths certainly sacked Rome. The Goths had a thing for the oak tree. They would decorate one and center festivals on them. Fast-forwarding to Martin Luther, he reportedly decided he liked the idea but an oak was not going to work for his purpose. Instead, he took an evergreen indoors and decorated it with candles (supposedly representing heavenly bodies) and reflecting the light and glory of Christ Jesus. Fast-forwarding again - The modern Christmas tree was not introduced to this country by Germans until the 19th century.
· Santa Claus is a 16th-century Dutch import to America. It is generally agreed that Santa Claus was a 4th century Bishop in biblical Asia (modern-day Turkey) by the name of Nicolas. At this point, I will just recommend that you read about him on your own because the stories are varied and numerous.
· Puritans and Pilgrims in America even outlawed it (Christmas) in the 1600s, and as late as 1855 Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists refused to recognize it as a holiday. Public schools in Boston were still open for classes on December 25th as late as 1870. In fact, Webster's Dictionary tells us that as late as 1913 many States did not even recognize it as a legal holiday (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913 Ed., p. 253). Christmas did not begin to be a legal holiday anywhere in the United States of America until the 19th century when Alabama became the first state to succumb to its spellbinding influence in 1836 (source: angelfire.com).
· The Yule log — the custom of burning the Yule Log goes back to, and before, medieval times. It was originally a Nordic tradition. Yule is the name of the old Winter Solstice festivals in Scandinavia and other parts of northern Europe, such as Germany. The Yule Log was originally an entire tree that was carefully chosen and brought into the house with great ceremony. The largest end of the log would be placed into the fire hearth while the rest of the tree stuck out into the room! The log would be lit from the remains of the previous year's log, which had been carefully stored away and slowly fed into the fire through the Twelve Days of Christmas. It was considered important that someone with clean hands carried out the re-lighting process (source: whychristmas?com).
If God had wanted us to celebrate Christ Jesus’ birthday, one would think that at least one Bible verse would mention it. The closest and only part of our Holy Bible that can even be considered, as resembling “Christmas” are the words of Matthew and of Luke as they describe the birth of Christ Jesus. When the Roman Emperor, Constantine “The Great” used the corrupt manuscripts of Eusebius (A.D. 260-340) and Origin (A.D. 184-254) to merge Paganism with Christianity in the fourth century, the Roman church quite naturally incorporated pagan customs and rituals into her many unscriptural doctrines (praying to saints, use of images in worship, purgatory, Mary worship, Sunday sacredness, celibacy of the clergy, etc.). And, unlike the disciples in the New Testament who suffered rejection and persecution for the word of God and their faithfulness to the Scriptures (1 Peter 4:3,4), many apostate Christians simply accepted these false doctrines and teachings and chose to observe anti-biblical pagan holy days (holidays), thus limiting or avoiding persecution altogether (Source: angelfire.com). I currently cannot find where too very much has changed. Especially with regard to the apostate Christians!
My disclaimer: I do not mean to intentionally demean any particular religion or denomination. I do believe it is important for Christians to know the TRUE history of the Roman Catholic Church. Pay attention to the name. Roman (well that is easy because this all occurred in the Roman empire. The second word, Catholic, because the word is capitalized, identifies it as a denomination.This is confusing to many people because most people when hearing or saying the word catholic are referring to the Roman Catholic religion. If the word catholic is capitalized then you are correct in assuming it is the Roman Catholic religion. However, if the word catholic is not capitalized then one means universal. You can find a good example of this in The Apostle's Creed document.
What about Christmas? I believe that too many choose to observe anti-biblical pagan holy days (holidays), only to limit or avoid criticism, embarrassment, turmoil, ridicule, and forms of persecution, etc. For as long as there has been a Christmas, there has been friction between true Christians and others. So you ask…what about Christmas? Take a page from Constantine’s playbook and find ways to make it work! Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Look, Christmas is here. We might as well live with it and take the opportunity to exalt Christ.” I will be the first to admit that breaking a life-long tradition like Christmas is extremely difficult. Do I have a tree? Yes. Do I have lights, decorations, poinsettias, etc? Yes. Do I celebrate Christmas? Yes and no (huh?). I do not participate in the traditional Christmas — Christmastime (holiday) that the vast majority of the world celebrates. Following a suggestion from a lecture, I watched on DTBM onlinevideotraining, and taking Spurgeon’s outlook on Christmas…It has been decided in my life that Christmas will be used for Christ Jesus’ Glory! While others are caught up in the traditional pagan festival(research Emperor Constantine and the history of the Roman Catholic Church), it is a wonderful opportunity to exalt Christ Jesus. It is a perfect opportunity to share the true history of Christmas with those that want to hear it. It is a perfect opportunity for others to see why only four chapters of our Holy Bible are dedicated to the birth of Christ Jesus but 20 chapters are dedicated to His death, burial, and resurrection. I get to explain and/or demonstrate how I use Christmas as a perfect “primer” leading up to what God deemed pivotal in belief and faith. It is a perfect opportunity to repent! It is a great time to start your own, or your family's “Christmas” traditions. I have enjoyed explaining the history of Christmas to friends and family. Once I have shared the truth…the responsibility no longer rests on me. Either one decides to be a disciple of Christ Jesus (which is difficult but not impossible) or one decides not to. There is NO other choice. God does not accept excuses from His creation, His children. Praise God!
I will be happy to go into greater depth, in other articles or even in an email if requested. As I stated at the beginning of this narrative, it could just be the time of year, but this topic has been surfacing a lot. There is an abundance of factual, verifiable evidence with regard to Christmas. It is fascinating to research and in the course of discovering the truth about Christmas…one will discover the TRUTH about so much more!
I have included the following link that might help your understanding or to provide “jump-off” points for your research efforts.