Redeeming Christian Holy Days: Halloween Resources pt. 1

October 31st, 2013 Post by

Resources on the History of Halloween

Part 1. Origins of All Saint’s Day and the Origins of Samhain
This article is an effort to gather together resources on the origin and historical development of Halloween. The intent is to supplement the previous article not only with resources so readers can dig into the topic themselves, but also to add some information on a couple of topics that are relevant some other modern claims against the Christian origin of All Saints’ Day. I tried to find  these resources in online versions to make it easier for the reader to go through the original documents. But many of the resources are in print editions only.
This is a chronologically arranged annotated/narrated bibliography. The next article will deal with the documentary origins of witchcraft/witch-hunts, modern Wicca, Neo-Paganism, and the Wheel of the Year.

Documented Origins of All Saints’ Day

Earliest record of an annual commemoration of martyrs.

The earliest surviving record of an annual commemoration of a saint or saints dates to the 2nd century A.D. There is no reference to any pagan festival. The purpose of the day is to remember the testimony to faith in Christ that the saints gave with their lives and deaths. Polycarp’s martyrdom ties together both Rome and Smyrna on the southwestern edge of modern Turkey.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp, c. 150 AD

of Smyrna, on the western coast of Turkey.
Ante-Nicene Fathers I, p. 43
[http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.iv.iv.xviii.html]

Origins of annual commemoration of martyrs in the East

Through the persecutions of the early centuries so many Christians were killed because of their faith, that churches in different areas began setting aside a particular day of the church year dedicated to All the Saints and Martyrs.

Gregory Thaumaturgus before 270 AD
of Neo-Caesarea a city in Tokat Province, Turkey.

Sermon on the Festival of All Saints Ante-Nicene Fathers VI, p. 72 [http://ecmarsh.com/fathers/anf/ANF-06/anf06-28.htm#P1299_353736]

Ephrem the Deacon 306-373 AD of Edessa, Syria

Ephrem’s Nisibene Hymn 6:30f mentions an annual feast of Martyrs/Champions that co-occurred with the Feast of the Ascension. NPNF-2:13 p. 176
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf213.iii.iv.vii.html

According to the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia Ephrem notes the observance of an annual Festival of All Saints’ in Edessa on the thirteenth of May. We are looking for an English translation.
Mershman, F. (1907). All Saints’ Day. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 30, 2013 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01315a.htmEphrem’s works http://www.doaks.org/research/byzantine/resources/syriac/brock/ephrem

The Synod of Gangra 340 AD,
modern Çankırı, capital city of Çankırı Province, in Turkey

Council of Laodicea 363-364 AD

  • Canon 51 established that the annual commemoration of Saints’ days (their nativities) that take place during Lent should be held on the Sabbath or Sunday following so that they can be commemorated with the full Liturgy rather than with the partial liturgies that were prescribed for weekdays in Lent.
    NPNF2-14: p. 156 [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.viii.vii.iii.lvi.html]

St. Basil of Caesarea 379 AD a city in Central Anatolia, Turkey.

Also noted in the Catholic Encyclopedia, though the year is recorded there as 397. Probably that was a typographical error in transposition of the numbers. Basil chose a day when the churches of his bishopric would honor the memories of all Saints known, and unknown, alive or in heaven. We are looking for the reference.
Mershman, F. (1907). All Saints’ Day. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 30, 2013 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01315a.htm

John Chrysostom, died 407 AD of Constantinople.

The Reference typically given is to his 74th Homily, or his Homily for the First Sunday after Pentecost. In this referenced sermon Chrysostom wrote that a festival of All Saints was observed on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Constantinople during his episcopate.
See especially;
2006    John Chrysostom: The Cult of the Saints: Select Homilies and Letters. Introduced, translated and annotated by Wendy Mayer and Bronwen Niel, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
[This book is helpful in understanding how important and widespread in the Church the commemoration of the martyred Saints had become at such an early date.]

The African Code 419 AD at Carthage

Council in Trullo (The Quinisext Council) 692 AD in Constantinople

Documented celebrations of the festival in the West

Readers should be aware that the East and the West were not isolated from each other. Even before Polycarp’s martyrdom, he and others before him had traveled to Rome. And others from the West had traveled to places in the East. We find documents from Rome that the annual celebration of an All Saint’s day which was widespread in the East was also the practice in Rome and the West.

Pope Boniface IV in 610 A.D.

All Saints Day commemoration celebrated May 13 at the dedication of Sancta Maria ad Martyres

There was also liturgical contact between Rome and England. Under Boniface IV, Mellitus, the first Bishop of London, went to Rome “to consult the pope on important matters relative to the newly established English Church”  Bede, H. E., II, iv.]

Standardizing the Date in the Western Church

While an annual celebration of All Saints was widespread throughout the east and the west from very early, the dates chosen for this festival differed. The documentary evidence we have shows a movement  as early, and possibly before 740 AD to celebrate the festival on November 1.

Pope Gregory III, died 741 AD

Gregory dedicated a chapel in Saint Peter’s, Rome, for the relics “of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.”

["All Saints Day," The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd edition, ed. E. A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 41-42
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. 1911 "All Saints, Festival of". Encyclopædia Britannica 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/All_Saints,_Festival_of ]

There are several other sources listed by Todd Granger in his article on “All Saints’ Day,” a similar list is given in Hutton’s The Stations of the Sun, p. 364.  [http://forallsaints.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/all-saints-day/] These include

  • Arno, bishop of Salzburg (†821), had it adopted by a synod in the year 798.
  • Alcuin (†804) mentions the date in a letter of that year,
  • Manuscripts of the Martyrology of Bede have it on November 1st as marginal addition at about the same time.
  • A November commemoration of All Saints was already widespread in Frankish lands during Charlemagne’s reign (†814).
  • Pope Gregory the Fourth, under Gallican influence, ordered the observance of the first of November as a feast of All Saints,
  • Early ninth century an English calendar (of Oxford) on November 1st ranks the day as a principal feast.  There were over twelve hundred ancient church dedications to All Saints in England,

In Ireland

Saint Óengus of Tallaght ( Oengus the Culdee) died c. 824 AD

  • Félire Óengusso (The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee)  8th or 9th century

A metrical martyrology ascribed to Oengus which contains a note on  All Martyrs on the seventeenth of April and of All Saints of Europe on the twentieth of April.
The earliest Manuscript for this from the early 15th century. Internal evidence, the names of the particular kings listed, indicates the text was originally written before 833 AD.
[Irish text http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/G200001/]
[Bilingual text https://archive.org/stream/martyrologyofoen29oenguoft#page/106/mode/2up ]

  • The Martyrology of Tallaght 8th or 9th century

A narrative martyrology ascribed to Oengus which also confirms the practice of this festival in Ireland before the end of the first millennium.

1857 Calendar of Irish saints, the martyrology of Tallagh, with notices of the patron saints of Ireland, and select poems and hymns (Google eBook) Matthew Kelly, Tallaght abbey, J. Mullany,
http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wbUCAAAAQAAJ&dq=Martyrology%20of%20Tallaght%20kelly&pg=PR21#v=onepage&q=martyrs&f=false

All Saints’ Day is included in the Anglican  Book of Common Prayer, from 1549.

Documentary History of Samhain

In the first article I pointed out that the ancient Celtic calendars that we actually have and know about are luni-solar. That is, the months were lunar months tied to the phases of the moon, and that an extra batch of days was added at the end to tidy up with the solar year. Because the calendar was based on the phases of the moon the claim that October 31 must be historic Samhain is patently false.

Samhain as Part of the Ancient Celtic Calendar

The oldest fairly complete ancient Celtic calendar we have that includes a mention of something like Samhain is the Colingy Calendar. The Colingy Calendar was found at Colingy, Ain, France in 1887 and is now held at the Gallo-Roman Museum in Lyon, France.

The Calendar itself is dated to the late 2nd century AD on the basis of its linguistic features.

The wikipedia article on the Colingy Calendar has a good bibliography for extended research. You can see the calendar and how Archaeologists, Historians, and Linguists have worked to interpret the text at the Roman Britain Organisation’s website by Kevan White, as well as at John Bonsing’s website.

Some of the things learned from this Celtic calendar are pointed out by Kevan White;

1. “The Celtic month started at the full-moon, rather than the new-moon, probably because the full-moon is easier to observe and record. Each month alternately contained 29 or 30 days, making a Celtic year 354 days in length.
2. “The calendar took into account the differing time periods taken by the moon and the sun to circle the earth (prevalent geocentric terminology used), and reconciled the differences by inserting an extra month on a regular cycle. This method of intercalation meant that most years contained twelve months, and approximately every third year contained thirteen months. This extra month was called Mid Samonios, and was intercalated between Cutios and Giamonios in the calendar.
3. “The month was divided into two parts, a ‘light’ half, and a ‘dark’ half, each approximately of two week’s duration; the division marked by the word Atenoux ‘returning night’ on the Coligny fragments. This confirms that the new-moon also played a part in the Celtic calendar, and very likely had some religious significance. This also bears-out the impression we get from the traditional Celtic folk-stories which maintain that the normal period of Celtic timekeeping was the fortnight.”

Both White and Bonsing have done calendar calculations attempting to synchronize this ancient Celtic calendar with our current system. A very important point to note is that for the years worked out 24 AD to 54 AD the first day of Samhain never occurred on October 31. It occurred on November 1 only once in that span of years in 38 AD.
Also, there is no mention of or description of any calendrical festival cycle that would in any way compare to the Neo-Pagan and modern Wiccan “Wheel of the Year”.

Bonsing, John

2007    The Celtic Calendar.
http://caeraustralis.com.au/celtcalmain.htm

White, Kevan

The Colingy Calendar at The Roman Britain Organisation
http://www.roman-britain.org/celtic/coligny.htm
http://www.roman-britain.org/celtic/cycle.htm

See also the bibliography on the Colingy Calendar at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coligny_calendar

Finally, there is no explicit mention of a holiday called Samhain in this calendar. No such holiday is mentioned until 1,000 years later.

Medieval Celtic References to Samhain

The Laws of Hywel Dda ca 1285 AD

Harleian MS 4353 (V) with emendations from Cleopatra A XIV (W)
http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/laws_hywel_dda.html
Welsh King Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) reigned 880 AD to 950 AD. The earliest copies of laws attributed to his rule are from 1285 AD. In this calendar the “calends of winter” = Samhain is used to fix an end to an economic activity. No festival is mentioned. Of course, King Hywel Dda lived in a time after the festival of All Saints’ Day had been introduced to the British Isles. The manuscript comes from well after the November 1st date had been established in the region.

Tochmarc Emire (“The Wooing of Emer“) maybe 10th century AD, certainly older than the 15th c.

from the Ulster Cycle in Irish mythology.
The earliest manuscript is from the 15th or 16th century A.D. Some scholars conjecture that the story may go back to the 10th or 8th century AD. But there is no manuscript evidence for this. In any event, this is after the Christianization of Ireland and after the celebration of All Saints’ Day had been introduced in that land. In this document the word Samhain is understood to mean “the end of summer.” While this document describes druids working ritual at Beltane, there is nothing mentioned of ritual at Samhain. Even if the story goes back to the 10th century this is still after the festival of All Saints’ Day had been established on November 1st in the region.
http://www.ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/ctexts/emer.html
http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/G301021/ [paragraph 27]

Serglige Con Culainn (“The Sick-Bed of Cú Chulainn”), written maybe the 10th or 11th century A.D.

Also known as Oenét Emire (“The Only Jealousy of Emer:) is a narrative from the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. This is the oldest reference from the medieval period and it comes from a 12th century AD manuscript. Note that this is well after All Saints’ Day is established on November 1st in the region.

This text mentions a festival in connection with Samhain:
“EVERY year the men of Ulster were accustomed to hold festival together; and the time when they held it was for three days before Samhain, the Summer-End, and for three days after that day, and upon Samhain itself. And the time that is spoken of is that when the men of Ulster were in the Plain of Murthemne, and there they used to keep that festival every year; nor was there an thing in the world that they would do at that time except sports, and marketings, and splendours, and pomps, and feasting and eating; and it is from that custom of theirs that the Festival of the Samhain has descended, that is now held throughout the whole of Ireland.”
http://www.luminarium.org/mythology/ireland/cuchulainnsick.htm
http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/G301015/index.html 

Sanas Cormaic (“Cormac’s narrative” “Cormac’s Glossary”) manuscripts from early 15th c. AD

An early Irish glossary with  etymologies and explanations for more than 1,400 words.

Ascribed to Cormac mac Cuilennáin (d. 908).
Significant because the glossary does mention Beltane and the rituals around it, but does not mention Samhain at all.

Due to the fact it describes some detail of pagan practice at Beltane it is not likely that Samhain was left out of the glossary out of religious prejudice.
Here we would expect to find something if there were because of the nature of the work and its contents. But we find nothing on Samhain.
http://www.ucd.ie/tlh/text/ws.tig.001.text.html

 

Samhain in the Early Folklorists

Seathrún Céitinn, known in English as Geoffrey Keating, c1569-c1644
Irish Roman Catholic priest, poet and historian from County Tipperary
Keating wrote what looks like an observation of folk customs:

“there the Fire of Tlachtgha was instituted, at which it was their custom to assemble and bring together the druids of Ireland on the eve of Samhain to offer sacrifice to all the gods. It was at that fire they used to burn their victims; and it was of obligation under penalty of fine to quench the fires of Ireland on that night, and the men of Ireland were forbidden to kindle fires except from that fire; and for each fire that was kindled from it in Ireland the king of Munster received a tax of a screaball, or three-pence, since the land on which Tlachtgha is belongs to the part of Munster given to Meath.” (p. 247)

Keating’s account of the Feast of Tara and his treatment of Samhain has been found to be creative anachronistic fiction by Daniel Binchy (pp 129-130 of his 1958 ‘The Fair of Tailtu and the Feast of Tara’, Eriu, 18:113-38).

Foras Feasa ar Éirinn: the history of Ireland D. Comyn and P.S. Dineen (eds.) 4 vols. Irish Texts Society, London 1902-14.
Irish: http://celt.ucc.ie/published/G100054/index.html
English: http://celt.ucc.ie/published/T100054/index.html

Grimm, Jacob 1785-1863
German philologist, jurist and mythologist who was very creative in his association of ideas and imaginative in his conclusions.

1883    Teutonic Mythology, Volume 2, Tr. James Steven Stallybrass, from the 4th ed. 1877,  George Bell and Sons.,
-p. 614 in his discussion of religious fire his claim is based on sources which repeat Keating;
-p. 627 where Grimm claims that the Yule Log and Samhain are equivalent religious expressions without regard to cultural, seasonal, and regional differences.
https://archive.org/stream/teutonicmytholo02grim#page/614/mode/2up
See also the supplement volume 4 p. 1465f
https://archive.org/stream/teutonicmytholog04grimuoft#page/n201/mode/2up

Rhys, John 1840-1915
First Professor of Celtic at Oxford University.
Citing Keating and his experience in contemporary folklore was the first to suggest that Samhain was the ‘Celtic’ new year celebration. But there is no concept of “The Wheel of the Year” yet.

1886    Lectures on the origin and growth of religion as illustrated by Celtic heathendom (1892 ed)
https://archive.org/stream/lecturesonorigin00rhys#page/514/mode/2up

Hutton notes two recent authors who have revived Keating’s fiction.

Gantz, Jeffrey.

1981    Early Irish Myths and Sagas. London: Penguin Books picks up Keating’s story and conjectures about a possible ancient mythological nature of Samhain.

MacCana, Proinsias

1970    Celtic Mythology. New York: Hamlyn, bases some mythological conclusions on the same discredited evidence.
[Hutton, Stations of the Sun, 361f, 508]

Frazer, James 1854-1941
Scottish social anthropologist very influential in the early stages of the modern studies of folklore,  mythology and comparative religion, especially with respect to his 1890 publication, The Golden Bough.

Frazer was the first to suggest that Samhain was an ancient pan-Celtic festival of the dead that had been taken over by the Church. Still no suggestion of a ‘Celtic’ “Wheel of the Year.”

1907     Adonis, Attis, Osiris: studies in the history of oriental religion, 2d ed., rev. and enl., Macmillan and co., limited in London . Pages 301-18  particularly p. 315 to 318.
https://archive.org/stream/cu31924098822574#page/n341/mode/2up

Frazer’s comparative religion and folklore research methods and analytical methods have been largely discredited today.

At this point we are up to the 20th century and there is no real credible evidence that Samhain was any kind of ancient pan-Celtic festival of the dead, or that it was a new years celebration, or that it was even a fixed festival. There is definitely no evidence for a Celtic “Wheel of the Year.”

General Works

Hutton, Ronald

1996    Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain.
Probably the single best volume addressing seasonal holidays and the claims of pagan or Celtic origins by looking at actual parish and county records.






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  1. October 31st, 2013 at 18:48 | #1

    I have only glanced over your article and you may have included the following: in the Orthodox churches All Saints is the first Sunday after Pentecost which does make some sense as does Holy Trinity Sunday. fwiw.

  2. Pr. Abrahamson
    October 31st, 2013 at 19:35 | #2

    @Pr. Mark Schroeder #1
    Yes, I should have noted that back under the references from Chrysostom since the choice of that Sunday dates back to at least his time and probably before.
    Thanks

  3. Mrs. Dixon
    November 3rd, 2013 at 20:17 | #3

    Dear brother, that is an unbelievable amount of research! But where are the Bible verse references? Do we accept the practice of commemorating the dead saints based on the ordination of certain church fathers only? What about “Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia and Solus Christus ( Scripture Alone, Faith Alone,  Grace Alone, and Christ Alone)?

  4. March 22nd, 2014 at 16:25 | #4

    @Mrs. Dixon #3
    Sorry, I didn’t see this comment until now. I apologize for this being so long, both in time waited and in content.

    The way you word your response implies that the Solas of the Reformation would prohibit us from observing saints’ days–and indeed by the same argument extended–nor any other holy day. The appeal implies that it is necessary to prove from Scripture that we have an explicit command from God before we observe such days.

    What you suggest is in accord with the Westminster Confession Article 21 Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath-day, paragraph 1 which states:

    I. The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all the hearth, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.

    And what you wrote is consistent with the theology of many of the church bodies descended from the writers of that confession.

    The Lutheran Confessions differ with the above both on the matter of what constitutes true Christian worship, what constitutes true Christian Freedom.

    Augsburg Confession Article XV: Of Ecclesiastical Usages.

    1] Of Usages in the Church they teach that those ought to be observed which may be observed without sin, and which are profitable unto tranquillity and good order in the Church, as particular holy days, festivals, and the like.
    2] Nevertheless, concerning such things men are admonished that consciences are not to be burdened, as though such observance was necessary to salvation.
    3] They are admonished also that human traditions instituted to propitiate God, to merit grace, and to make satisfaction for sins, are opposed to the Gospel and the doctrine of faith. Wherefore vows and traditions concerning meats and 4] days, etc., instituted to merit grace and to make satisfaction for sins, are useless and contrary to the Gospel.

    Note the two Lutheran caveats: 1) these observances themselves must not be taught as though they are necessary for salvation, and 2) these observances may not be taught as if they somehow helped toward salvation.

    And Article XXVII Of Ecclesiastical Power

    53] What, then, are we to think of the Sunday and like rites in the house of God? To this we answer that it is lawful for bishops or pastors to make ordinances that things be done orderly in the Church, not that thereby we should merit grace or make satisfaction for sins, or that consciences be bound to judge them necessary services, and to think that it is a sin to break them 54] without offense to others. So Paul ordains, 1 Cor. 11:5, that women should cover their heads in the congregation, 1 Cor. 14:30, that interpreters be heard in order in the church, etc.
    55] It is proper that the churches should keep such ordinances for the sake of love and tranquillity, so far that one do not offend another, that all things be done in the churches in order, and without confusion, 1 Cor. 14:40; comp. Phil. 2:14 . 56] but so that consciences be not burdened to think that they are necessary to salvation, or to judge that they sin when they break them without offense to others; as no one will say that a woman sins who goes out in public with her head uncovered provided only that no offense be given.
    57] Of this kind is the observance of the Lord’s Day, Easter, Pentecost, and like holy-days and 58] rites. For those who judge that by the authority of the Church the observance of the Lord’s Day instead of the Sabbath-day was ordained as a thing necessary, 59] do greatly err. Scripture has abrogated the Sabbath-day; for it teaches that, since the Gospel has been revealed, all the ceremonies of Moses can be omitted. And 60] yet, because it was necessary to appoint a certain day, that the people might know when they ought to come together, it appears that the Church designated the Lord’s Day for this purpose; and this day seems to have been chosen all the more for this additional reason, that men might have an example of Christian liberty, and might know that the keeping neither of the Sabbath nor of any other day is necessary.
    61] There are monstrous disputations concerning the changing of the law, the ceremonies of the new law, the changing of the Sabbath-day,
    which all have sprung from the false belief that there must needs be in the Church a service like to the Levitical, and that Christ had given commission to the Apostles and bishops to devise new ceremonies as necessary to 62] salvation. These errors crept into the Church when the righteousness of faith was not taught clearly enough. 63] Some dispute that the keeping of the Lord’s Day is not indeed of divine right, but in a manner so. They prescribe concerning holy-days, how far it is lawful to work. What else 64] are such disputations than snares of consciences? For although they endeavor to modify the traditions, yet the mitigation can never be perceived as long as the opinion remains that they are necessary, which must needs remain where the righteousness of faith and Christian liberty are not known.

    And the Formula of Concord, all of Article X on Church Rites, Commonly Called Adiaphora.
    And particularly these paragraphs:

    9] Therefore we believe, teach, and confess that the congregation of God of every place and every time has, according to its circumstances, the good right, power, and authority [in matters truly adiaphora] to change, to diminish, and to increase them, without thoughtlessness and offense, in an orderly and becoming way, as at any time it may be regarded most profitable, most beneficial, and best for [preserving] good order, [maintaining] Christian discipline [and for worthy of the profession of the Gospel], and the edification of the Church. Moreover, how we can yield and give way with a good conscience to the weak in faith in such external adiaphora, Paul teaches Rom. 14, and proves it by his example, Acts 16:3; 21:26; 1 Cor. 9:19.
    10] We believe, teach, and confess also that at the time of confession, when the enemies of God’s Word desire to suppress the pure doctrine of the holy Gospel, the entire congregation of God, yea, every Christian, but especially the ministers of the Word, as the leaders of the congregation of God, are bound by God’s Word to confess freely and openly the godly doctrine, and what belongs to the whole of pure religion, not only in words, but also in works and with deeds; and that then, in this case, even in such things truly and of themselves adiaphora, they must not yield to the adversaries, or permit these adiaphora to be forced upon them by their enemies, whether by violence or cunning, to the detriment of the true worship of God and the introduction and sanction of idolatry. 11] For it is written, Gal. 5:1: Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not again entangled in the yoke of bondage. Also Gal. 2:4f : And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage; to whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour, that the truth of the Gospel might continue with you. 12] Now it is manifest that in that place Paul speaks concerning circumcision, which at that time had become an adiaphoron (1 Cor. 7:18f.), and which at other occasions was observed by Paul (however, with Christian and spiritual freedom, Acts 16:3). But when the false apostles urged circumcision for establishing their false doctrine, (that the works of the Law were necessary for righteousness and salvation,) and misused it for confirming their error in the minds of men, Paul says that he would not yield even for an hour, in order that the truth of the Gospel might continue unimpaired.

    Our Lutheran understanding of the Scriptures listed means that we cannot allow consciences to be bound to the notion that observing holy days contributes to or is necesary for salvation. It also means that we cannot allow consciences to be bound to the notion that getting rid of them is more Godly and holy than using them as an opportunity to confess Christ’s work for us.

    Now, the Lutheran Confessions were written, mainly, against the backdrop of the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. But the abuses of later Reformed denominations like the Puritans, Calvinists, Arminians, Pentecostals and others are also to be understood in the same light.

    CFW Walther wrote:

    We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. The Roman antichristendom enslaves poor consciences by imposing human ordinances on them with the command: “You must keep such and such a thing!”; the sects enslave consciences by forbidding and branding as sin what God has left free. Unfortunately, also many of our Lutheran Christians are still without a true understanding of their liberty. This is demonstrated by their aversion to ceremonies.
    It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won’t accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them?

    (C. F. W. Walther, “Explanation of Thesis XVIII, D, Adiaphora, of the book The True Visible Church,” delivered at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, Beginning August 9, 1871, at the 16th Central District Convention; in Essays for the Church [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992], Vol. I, pp. 193 quote available at Lutheran Theology Website)

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