The Origin of the Post-Nativity Commemorations

in Vigiliae Christianae
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On a number of fourth and fifth century calendars, a block of feasts commemorating Stephen, James, John, Peter, and Paul immediately follows 25 December. Contemporary studies have lost sight of the rationale for its position. This paper defends a proposal of Hans Lietzmann and suggests that the community that created the block recognized Christmas as the starting point of the sanctoral cycle. This community elected to place the memorials of Christianity’s earliest confessors at the head of this annual order, symbolizing their historical priority over other martyrs. Stephen occupied the first of these dates precisely so his commemoration could precede that of every other confessor on the calendar, a position that illustrates the intensity of his cult in the late fourth-fifth centuries. The study proceeds to develop this insight into a framework capable of explaining similar commemorations on other early Christian calendars.

The Origin of the Post-Nativity Commemorations

in Vigiliae Christianae




C. Erbes“Das syrische Martyrologium und der Weihnachtsfestkreis I” in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 25 (1904) 330. A full listing of the local churches cited in the Syriac Martyrology appears in: Mariani 1956 6-9.


Richard Morton Nardone“The Church of Jerusalem and the Christian Calendar,” Standing before God: Studies on Prayer in Scriptures and in Tradition with Essays in honor of John M. Oesterreichered. Asher Finkel and Lawrence Frizzell (New York: Ktav House. 1981) 242.


Talley 19918085. The first entry of the Depositio Martirum (Chronography of 354) reads “VIII kal. Ian. [25 December] natus Christus in Betleem Iudeae” (Chronica Minora vol. 1 Momumenta Germaniae Historica ed. T. Mommsen [Berolini. 1892] 71).


Hans LietzmannPetrus und Paulus in Rom: liturgische und archäologische Studien (Bonn: Marcus und Weber1915) 95-96.


Aster. Amas.“A Homily on Stephen the First Martyr” 2-3.


Adapted from Burkitt 1923310-11. Also compare the order of the Assyrian post-Epiphany commemorations described in Duchesne 1919 266.


Uthemann 1994119.


Talley 1991140-141.


Roll 1995174. Talley 1991 138.


Talley 1991137-38.


Nardone 1981242-43. In In Diem Natal. Chrysostom indicates that the feast was introduced to Antioch only ten years before: c. 375 ce (PG 49351). See discussion in Talley 1991 138. This is the most serious oversight of Nardone’s discussion.


Talley 199185-87. This is also the testimony of Chrysostom: “this [feast] which has been from of old to the inhabitants of the West and has now been brought to us” (PG 49351).


Charles K. Riepe“Beginning the Church Year,” Worship 35 (1960) 147.


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