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8. Festivals in Memory of the Martyrs

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XXI. Sacred Seasons, Festivals and Fasts

8. Festivals in Memory of the Martyrs

These festive occasions are often styled the birth days of the martyrs, *, natilitia. They never relate, however, to their natural birth, but to their deaths at which they were born to a new and nobler life above. Nemo, ante obitum, beatus, was an established maxim of the church. "When you hear of the birth day of a saint," says Peter Chrysologus, think not that it relates to his carnal birth on earth, but to the day when he was born from earth to heaven, from toil to rest, from labor to repose, from trials to joys unfading and eternal; from earthly vanities to a crown of glory. 

The earliest festival of this kind was that of Polycarp. Another which was observed with great solemnity, was the feast of the Maccabees, founded on the heroic death of the mother and her seven sons. These festivals were preceded by vigils, and celebrated around the graves of the martyrs, where their lives were read, and eulogies pronounced, the sacrament administered, and public entertainments given gratuitously by the rich. But these entertainments became, in time, the occasion of shameful excesses, and were suppressed. It is worthy of note that the fathers indignantly repel the charge of paying religious honors to the martyrs, and assert that they only celebrate these festivals to provoke the living to emulate the deeds of the sainted dead, and to follow after those who, through faith and patience, inherited the promises. 

J. P. Schwabe, de insigni veneratione quae obtinuit erga Martyres in primitiva eccl. 1 748. 4.
(No tag #1 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Serm. in Cyprian Mart. p. 129.

Gregor. Naz. Orat. 22. de Maccab. torn. i. p. 397: Augustin. Serm. de Divers. S. 300. torn. v. p. 1221.

Schroeckh's christl. Kirchengesch. Th. ix. S. 154–232: Neander K. Gesch. ii. b. S. 712.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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