Annunciation (March 25th) is the day that the Church celebrates when the angel Gabriel came to announce to Mary that God conceived His eternally begotten Son in her virgin womb (Luke 1:26-38).
The day marks the celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God: the day the Church commemorates when the Eternal God came into His own creation as a human to redeem humanity from Satan, sin, and death.
This day of Christ’s conception is directly tied to the dating of all the Church celebrations surrounding Christ’s birth (Visitation, Advent, Christmas, Circumcision and Naming, Epiphany, Presentation, Purification) as well as the dates the Church commemorates the events of the life of John the Baptizer.
When the Date for Annunciation Is Known to Have Been Established
This is one of the earliest commemorations for which we have documentary evidence. The celebration of Annunciation on March 25 is common to the Eastern and Western Church. And the choice of the date is directly related to Easter and the calendar date of the year when the Church believed the world was created.
Up to now the earliest documentary evidence that March 25th was celebrated as the date on which Christ was conceived comes from Clement of Alexandria:
Clement of Alexandria wrote his “Stromata” during the period 193-215 AD: Clement wrote. [Stromata 1.21.145-146 ]
γίνονται οὖν ἀφ’ οὗ ὁ κύριος ἐγεννήθη
τό τε πάθος αὐτοῦ ἀκριβολογούμενοι φέρουσιν
ναὶ μήν τινες αὐτῶν φασι
From the birth of Christ, therefore,
And treating of his passion, with very great accuracy,
Indeed, others say
As noted in a previous article in this series on Christmas: The important line is τῇ γενέσει τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν “our Savior’s genesis.” The month of Pachon in the Egyptian calendar at that time corresponded to March in the Julian Calendar.Christ’s genesis, or conception on the 25th of Pachon was in what our calendar would equate with March 25th. ANF 2:333 translates “birth” rather than “conception”. The translation of “genesis” as conception is consistent with Clement’s usage of this word in other contexts, for example:
“It is not therefore frequent intercourse by the parents, but the reception of it [the seed] in the womb which corresponds with genesis.” (Clement of Alexandria Stromata 188.8.131.52)
Consider also Hippolytus’s use in Against All Heresies:
“They draw [a horoscope] from the genesis of the people who are being examined from unquestionably the depositing of the seed and conception or from birth.” (Against All Heresies 4.3.5)
For more information on the interpretation of γενέσει as “conception” see http://chronicon.net/blog/chronology/hippolytus-and-the-original-date-of-christmas/
This also is a bit of repetition from the articles on Christmas, but another example from the same period is Hippolytus of Rome (170 – 235).
Between the years 202 and 211 A.D. the Church Father Hippolytus wrote in his Commentary on Daniel (section 4.23.3) about the date of the birth of Christ: which would place the conception or Annunciation 9 months prior.
Ἡ γὰρ πρώτη παρουσία τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν ἡ ἔνσαρκος,
ἐν ᾗ γεγέννηται ἐν Βηθλεέμ,
ἐγένετο πρὸ ὀκτὼ καλανδῶν
τεσσαρακοστὸν καὶ δεύτερον ἔτος,
ἀπὸ δὲ Ἀδὰμ πεντακισχιλιοστῷ
καὶ πεντακοσιοστῷ ἔτει·
ἔπαθεν δὲ τριακοστῷ τρίτῳ ἔτει
πρὸ ὀκτὼ καλανδῶν ἀπριλίων,
ὀκτωκαιδεκάτῳ ἔτει Τιβερίου Καίσαρος
For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh,
when he was born in Bethlehem,
which happened eight days before the kalends
of January [December 25th],
on the 4th day of the week [Wednesday],
while Augustus was reigning
in his forty-second year,
but from Adam five thousand
and five hundred years.
He suffered in the thirty third year,
8 days before the kalends of April [March 25th],
the Day of Preparation
the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesaer
This evidence from Hippolytus of Rome shows that by the end of the 2nd century, the same era as Clement of Alexandria, Christians in Europe as well as Africa recognized March 25th as the date of Christ’s Conception or Incarnation.
The dates the Church chose to commemorate the Annunciation and Christmas have been under attack from the time of the Puritans in the 17th century A.D. Increase Mather‘s attack on the dates of the Annunciation and of Christmas included the accusation that the date of Christmas was of pagan origin. However, as we have seen in previous articles, the attacks of the Puritans are shown to be false. The dates the Church chose to commemorate the Annunciation and Christmas were chosen earlier in history than most of the pagan practices listed by Mather can be shown to have existed. Some of the pagan practices listed by Mather were not related to the dates in any way and actually had no bearing on the choice of days for commemorating Annunciation or Christmas.
In the mid-19th century the attack against these Christian liturgical festivals was renewed by Bishop Alexander Hislop and other authors who tried through fake historical research to demonstrate that all liturgical practice and liturgical days of commemoration in the historic liturgical practices of the church were stolen from or derived from mystery religions in ancient Babylonia. Hislop and his followers were just as rabidly anti-Roman Catholic as their Puritan predecessors.
In the late 19th century and through the 20th century another movement based on Modernism tried to demonstrate that the historical liturgical practices of the Church were stolen or adapted or evolved from pagan sources through cultural and sociological factors of religious conquest, assimilation and syncretism. These authors generally follow after Joseph McCabe’s St. Augustine and His Age, p. 128 and Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough. These attacks are basically repetitions of Mather and Hislop. The only difference is the addition of secularism.
More recently, the iconography of the Annunciation has been used by Erich von Däniken and his followers in an effort to prove that the earth was visited or even seeded by space aliens.
Increase Mather (1687ff)
Mather (Testimony, ch. 3, §4) seems to conflate “incarnation” (i.e., “conception”) with “birth” in his reading of his selected sources. One of his main arguments against the traditional dates of Annunciation and Christmas is based on his ignorance of the climate in the region of Bethlehem. This applies to Mather’s claims both the shepherds and the timing of the census.
Mather’s main argument that Jewish Rabbis claim that the Messiah should be born sometime near the Feast of Tabernacles (Tishri 15=Gregorian: late September to late October), and that the rabbis make fun of Christians for thinking that the Messiah could have been born in December. This is conclusive evidence for Mather: i.e., since those Rabbis say so, it must be true. Therefore the Christ could not have been conceived in March or born in December.
But what is at issue here is not when the events actually happened. What is at issue is when did the Church first begin commemoration of these dates.
Mather’s objections include claims that December 25th was a pagan celebration usurped by the Church, but we have demonstrated elsewhere that each of Mather’s specific claims lack any historical merit.
March 25th has been established as the date of the Annunciation since the end of the 2nd century A.D.
Alexander Hislop (1853ff)
This man was so full of hatred for the Roman Catholic Church that he actually became heretical in how he wrote about Christ. His claims about Babylonian background for the liturgical practice of the church are purely fiction. The deciphering of Babylonian writing was only in its infancy when Hislop made these claims. Based on his fictitious Babylonian history he claimed to have demonstrated that Christ born of the Virgin Mary is a pagan invention from Babylon. He continued on the theme of the Annunciation in the following words:
There can be no doubt, then, that the Pagan festival at the winter solstice–in other words, Christmas–was held in honour of the birth of the Babylonian Messiah.
The consideration of the next great festival in the Popish calendar gives the very strongest confirmation to what has now been said. That festival, called Lady-day, is celebrated at Rome on the 25th of March, in alleged commemoration of the miraculous conception of our Lord in the womb of the Virgin, on the day when the angel was sent to announce to her the distinguished honour that was to be bestowed upon her as the mother of the Messiah. But who could tell when this annunciation was made? The Scripture gives no clue at all in regard to the time. But it mattered not. But our Lord was either conceived or born, that very day now set down in the Popish calendar for the “Annunciation of the Virgin” was observed in Pagan Rome in honour of Cybele, the Mother of the Babylonian Messiah. *
A couple of comments:
- Hislop states: “The Scripture gives no clue at all in regard to the time.” This is patently false. Luke 1:5-12 record that John the Baptizer’s father was of the family of Abijah, it was his turn to be in the temple to offer the incense.
- Hislop stated: “that very day now set down in the Popish calendar for the ‘Annunciation of the Virgin’ was observed in Pagan Rome in honour of Cybele, the Mother of the Babylonian Messiah.”
In response to this second claim, no dates for this festival are recorded in Ovid’s Fasti or any early Roman calendars that I could find. Even by the late 280s AD when the holiday is mentioned in the life of Severus Alexander in the Historia Augustana there is no mention of date. The Chronography of 354 AD. Part 6: the calendar of Philocalus is the earliest dating of the associated festival of Hilaria to March 25 I could find. However, the earliest sources which tie together Christ, Holy Week, Mary and Annunciation with Cybele and Attis appear to date from Damascius (458 AD died after 538 AD).
So, far from pre-dating the Church’s commemoration on March 25, the sources with specific dates actually come after the date had been selected.
This information makes the nature of Hislops deceptive “notes” more clear. His note on the above passage follows:
* AMMIANUS MARCELLINUS, and MACROB., Sat. The fact stated in the paragraph above casts light on a festival held in Egypt, of which no satisfactory account has yet been given. That festival was held in commemoration of “the entrance of Osiris into the moon.” Now, Osiris, like Surya in India, was just the Sun. (PLUTARCH, De Iside et Osiride) The moon, on the other hand, though most frequently the symbol of the god Hermes or Thoth, was also the symbol of the goddess Isis, the queen of heaven. The learned Bunsen seems to dispute this; but his own admissions show that he does so without reason. And Jeremiah 44:17 seems decisive on the subject. The entrance of Osiris into the moon, then, was just the sun’s being conceived by Isis, the queen of heaven, that, like the Indian Surya, he might in due time be born as the grand deliverer. Hence the very name Osiris; for, as Isis is the Greek form of H’isha, “the woman,” so Osiris, as read at this day on the Egyptian monuments, is He-siri, “the seed.” It is no objection to this to say that Osiris is commonly represented as the husband of Isis; for, as we have seen already, Osiris is at once the son and husband of his mother. Now, this festival took place in Egypt generally in March, just as Lady-day, or the first great festival of Cybele, was held in the same month in Pagan Rome. We have seen that the common title of Cybele at Rome was Domina, or “the lady” (OVID, Fasti), as in Babylon it was Beltis (EUSEB. Praep. Evang.), and from this, no doubt, comes the name “Lady-day” as it has descended to us.
One will look in vain for the specific passages to which Hislop pretends to refer. Notice that except for Jer 44:17, all of the references are made to large works without specifying book, chapter, paragraph, page, or edition. Hislop wanted to lend the appearance of studious scholarship but did not want to get caught. He gave no specific references. The names Hislop mentions are mentioned in Macrobius, Plutarch, Ovid, and Eusebeus. But there are no dates.
Hislop’s etymologizing “Isis is the Greek form of H’isha, ‘the woman,'” and “Osiris, as read at this day on the Egyptian monuments, is He-siri, ‘the seed.'” are complete fictions. It is also noteworthy that Hislop is not concerned about consistency in his own argument or with historical accuracy when he comes to etymologizing this name again to try to make Isis equal to Ishtar equal to Ashtora and equal to Easter.
Hislop also claims that “Osiris is at once the son and husband of his mother.“ Actually he was husband and brother of Isis; he was the son of Geb and Nut. And his wife/sister, Isis, bore his son not by means of virgin birth but by taking his dismembered body and reconstructing his membrum phallum to impregnate herself and bear Horus.
It should be fairly clear at this point that neither Mather nor Hislop had truth as their goal. Their goal was to discredit historical liturgical practices used by the Roman Church.
The Space Seed UFOlogists and the Annunciation
History Channel’s Ancient Aliens and other shows have given Erich von Däniken popularity again, when it finally seemed like the notion of prehistoric space aliens had finally worn out its welcome.
One of the lines of evidence used by the UFO hunters is the artwork of the Christian Church–particularly when there are things that look like lasers coming from the sky.
Any painting, image, or artwork that has a ray coming from heaven or a depiction of Jerusalem sitting on the clouds is automatically re-interpreted as evidence of UFOs and aliens.
Take particularly this example made at a UFO website: The Annunciation by Carlo Crivelli, 1486.
All of the symbols, the cloud, the ray of light, the dove with rays of light, and the bowed Virgin all are intended to represent the text of Luke 1. But the images are now re-interpreted as if the cloud is a spaceship, and the light is some kind of high tech ray beam.
What we have seen is that the date for the Annunciation was established very early, before the end of the 2nd century. That all the claims made by the Puritans and the later anti-Roman Catholic radicals are either inaccurate or deliberately false. And following the inventive fiction of Hislop today the UFO advocates are re-inventing their own fictive history about why Christian art about the Annunciation is painted with the symbolism it has.