We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

Thursday, December 8, 2022

A Process Perspective of the Human Anatomy on the Nano Level



​A Process Perspective of the Human Anatomy

by R.E. Slater

Years ago I watched YouTube's animation videos of our human body at the nano-scale. I was fascinated as I tried to imagine "the reality of the reality" I was seeing. More than that... it was absolutely surreal !

These vids came to mind this week when watching the movie "Strange World"... an illustration of the small and how it works together with itself and the world of the large. Without ruining the storyline let me just say I grew up in the worlds of my grandfather and my father who addressed life in their own ways even as I now have been adopting a newer view of life. A view which I hope I am passing down to Generations X, Y (my kid's ages), and now Z (ages 14 and younger).

Strange World
by Walt Disney Animation Studios


Which Strange Worlds I'd like to speak to here... along with help from my online friend Jay McDaniel whose helpful article you'll find at the end of this post. In it you'll find a far fuller discussion to what I will mention briefly here:

First, I've been replacing my Western Analytic Philosophy with AN Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism, as he named it in the early 1900s... now known as Process Philosophy (which is all the rage throughout science, theology, and eco-civilization discussions whether they know it or not). One of Whitehead's students was Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr. (now, age 98, and very active in the process communities he has been spawning). Dr. Cobb took Whitehead's ideas and applied them to the bible and his Christian faith (built upon the Reformed tradition). What resulted is Process Theology which means the same thing to me as when I use my own term Process Christianity.

A couple things to know:

1 - Process Philosophy is an Integral philosophy which means, all other philosophies, disciplines, and -isms, are but parts of the overall makeup of the universe we live in. A process universe once might describe as a process "reality" whatever that may mean. For Whitehead, it meant a book title, "Process and Reality" which is a must read. In the topical indexes to the right you'll find many resources to help you along (sic, "Index - Process...").

2Process Philosophy speaks to the cosmos as metaphysically alive; that it operates more as an organism than as a machine. This moves us from Plato, Medieval concerns, Newtonian Enlightenment, etc into the quantum age of all things. Things which operate processually like evolution, the human body, societies, economics... even God!

3 - Since we don't live in a binary, machine-like cosmology we may confidently state that we want to have an organic processual philosophy and theology (sic, religion of some kind; here, I prefer any process-based religion such as Process Christianity).

4 - Since everything is related to everything else we may thus describe the cosmology we live in as relational and may use terms such as panexperiential, panrelational, and panpsychic to describe this living organism we know as nature and the universe.

5 - Lastly, for those Christians asking this question, my own background comes out a deeply fundamental Baptist tradition which eventually heaved up into evangelicalism. This latter has recently split since the 1980s into conservative vs. progressive evangelical readings and understandings of the bible.

As process theology in naturally liberal and progressive I have simply uplifted my Christian faith (aka, Reformed) by removing bad theologies and replacing them with better, more expansive theology.

Love is the Center. A Loving God is its heart. Jesus is still the atoning, resurrected Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit is still enlightening our beggarly hearts :) ... but rather than building on Platonic/Hellenaic/Western-American evangelicalism I've removed it as a foundation and am building upon Process Philosophy and Theology. When doing this it removes a lot of problems theologians have created for themselves over the millennia.

That's it, watch the vids. Enjoy the processual wonders of the human body. Learn to think organically, relationally, and interconnectively. Read Jay's article on the bottom to learn more. And follow through across the many articles you may find here. It's not meant to be hard but it may be helpful.

Blessings,

R.E. Slater
December 8, 2022

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Human Cell, DNA, and Other Animations


DNA animation (2002-2014)
by Drew Berry and Etsuko Uno
wehi.tv

Friday, December 2, 2022

Divine Processual Synchronicity is How the World Works...



Divine Processual Synchronicity
Is How the World Works...

A Process Theology of Reality
as we know it and live it

by R.E. Slater


In the theology I've been developing over the years - most recently, process relational theology - I've added concepts which were foreign to my biblical training. One of these is what I call "divine processual synchronicity" (DPS).

Here, I extend the idea of a divine miracle to be a common, everyday, moment-by-moment experience of the would. Having read Mitch Albom's book on the five stones in the river, or William Powell's "Shack," (sic, the chapter entitled, "The Garden") or dozens of other titles old and new, it finally dawned on me that not only is our God everywhere present but also everywhere experiencing and reacting to not only ours, but creation's everywhere experience of the present.

DPS is different from the classic Calvinist idea of God "causing and directing" all things in that God doesn't cause or direct anything. Rather than saying God is "in control" it is more accurate to say God is participating with a wildly "out-of-control" freewill universe in all its chaotic, random, and consequential results in exercising the being of itself.

Synchronicity implies that the Creator God Redeemer does not abandon His creation but fully experiences and participates with it in every way possible by redirecting its urges and displays where possible towards beauty, benevolenvce, and generatively loving actions. This can occur when creation harkens to its Savior Redeemer's loving calls to learn to love and become love. It requires creational obedience in the theological arrangement described as the Divine-Human (sic creational) cooperative I here redescribe as the divine, processually evolving, experience and participation of God in our lives.

Synchronicity says we are not abandoned by God but have hope in evil and harm that God is with us, working about us as God can, and that even in death we are delivered from dark meaningless to processual goodness and beauty at its zenith. It extends the idea that God is 'with' us... not simply up there in the heavens judging and dealing out wrath... but genuinely, and lovingly, with us in the fullest of senses.

Without denying divine Otherness, or divine transcendence, DPS leans into divine immanence with extreme consequences - for a creation without a present and participating God is nonsense. But an uncontrolled - and uncontrollable - freewill creation WITH a present and participating God is a miracle. The kind which surprises, which can morph itself towards divine imagination and creativity, which utilizes the Imago Dei which is present everywhere in creation as its birthright. Which may redemptively re-enrgize a freewilled cosmos by God's more recent divine atonement in Jesus stating the obvious - that we were never alone nor would be left alone. That God is remaking the world, with the world's cooperative help, into become fully what it was meant to become rather than a future fireball aka dispensational teachings.

That is, God is spiritually healing a freewill creation to become what it inherently is having been birthed by God in God's Image and divine Self. Hans Christian Andersen, captured divine processual synchronicity perfectly by his simple phrase, "The whole world is a series of miracles but we're so used to them we call them ordinary things."


R.E. Slater
December 2, 2022

The Church's Most Radical Theology is Learning to Teach and Be Love



The Church's Most Radical Theology is
Learning to Teach and Be Love
in all it is, does, and preach

by R.E. Slater


The very best biblical hermeneutic to live in our lives is also the simplest and most effective.

True, a hermeneutic is how one reads the bible. More specifically, how one interprets the bible using exegetical tools of grammatical, historical, and contextual development of ancient oral traditions collected in their recitement by the temple of Israel and the early Christian church and passed along in their generations to both the peoples of the OT (the Hebrew Scriptures) and NT (the Christian Scriptures which include the Hebrew Scriptures).

However, as studies and earnest converts to the Christian faith we live out the hermeneutics we have learned. And if we are looking for outcomes of faith it must error towards love and not simply truth.

Why? Because is a God of love first and foremost. And secondly, because what we grasp as "truth" is most often not truth but forms of folkloric traditions we believe are truth.

Many examples abound across the history of science and the church as each struggled with the other in defining what truth means to any given situation. This struggle hasn't lessened but as I have discussed on multiple occasions here, with the right kind of theology, the epistemological traps of both church and science can be overcomed. All this can be found in the science section of the topical list on the right (and in the Index lists found within the topical list).

From reading the bible we know that within it are hundreds of stories written around the word "love's" power to change things. As can truth when contextualized in its epistemological parlance. But for many faith keepers we speak best when we love. To speak truth, as we often try to do, but shows to us much of our failure in this task. Thus, as a Christian, I would wish the church lean towards love rather than use "truth" as its marker of faith. Not to discount the importance of truth but to honestly say that Christians seem to be particularly terrible at distinguishing truth from fakery, fakerers, and false teaching.

  • Now some may call LOVE radical while others hardly mention it at all as a bastion of Christianity. Yet, in the bible, as well as in the stories of the world, whole stories of redemption are written around LOVE.
  • Large words are used to describe LOVE - atonement, propitiation, expiration, transformation, renewal, rebirth, even resurrection. But all the best stories can be captured by this word's four simple letters... LOVE.
  • LOVE is the most humble of words. The most simple, most often overlooked word. 
  • LOVE can aptly be described as overlooking itself while bearing all.
  • All the best theologies are underlaid by LOVE's essence.
  • All the best faiths and churches are centered around LOVE.
  • Whole seasons and holidays are dedicated to LOVE.
  • So when entering any faith or belief remember to look for LOVE's centrality.
  • If LOVE is only a cursory subject to that faith's foundations and messaging than walk away from all such people and institutions whose own words have replaced it with other words.
  • Without LOVE as the keystone, lodestone, or cornerstone to one's life animus, life force, or life energies, no other stones are equal to its grace, power and ability to heal, or provide soul nourishing constructs.
  • More simply, LOVE is God and is of God.
  • God's imparted Imago Dei is our own inner construct however conflicted by our own lives and experiences.
  • LOVE begins when it is unlocked by God's Self through Jesus. This faith experience of Godly grace and forgiveness has gone on to revolutionize everything. Except, of course, it's very simple frame usually becomes lost around other words promising power and meaning.
  • Inside the breast of everyone man and woman can be found LOVE as displayed by our passion and zeal for the things which motivate us... both the good things in this life as well as the bad things, the addictions, the drives for money and power, the lust for power, dictate, and harm. Underneath these drives is the driving force of LOVE gone bad.
  • At the last we must learn to re-see LOVE. To recenter around it. To lean into it in all we do. For without LOVE we are but shells to life's energies. But with LOVE, it can change everything we do... beginning with ourselves.

R.E. Slater
December 2, 2022



Speaking for the Generation to Come... Why Christianity Can't Get Out of Its Own Way: "3 Short Shorts"



Speaking for the Generation to Come... 

Why Christianity Can't Get Out
of Its Own Way:

"3 Short Shorts"
by R.E. Slater

Short 1

The best of Christianity seems to lie in it's many imaginations of itself calling its deeply rooted traditions holy and beyond questioning. An acknowledgement which I, as a Christian, cannot make with my brethren in the uptake of watching present day Christianity (from the 1980s through to the Trumpian years of 2020+) blow itself up with socially unjust doctrinaires and unbiblical proposals of who God is and how God acts through its indiscriminate, myopic, literal readings of the bible.

However, like Christianity's former socio-politico histories as Philip Jenkins and other authors like him have reminded us, it is in the realm of faith imputation and impartation where we must disentangle the church's religious unGod-like core from its knotted ungodly past in order to move forward from itself.

Herein, I am finding Process Christianity the post-evangelical and progressive knot-wrangler which can best lead the world from itself to more generative healing forces underlying human social and ecological reconstruction. For more on this subject select appropriate "Indexes" from out of the topical list to the right of this blog.

R.E. Slater
December 2, 2022


amazon link

 

The Fifth-Century Political Battles That Forever Changed the Church. In this fascinating account of the surprisingly violent fifth-century church, Philip Jenkins describes how political maneuvers by a handful of powerful characters shaped Christian doctrine. Were it not for these battles, today’s church could be teaching something very different about the nature of Jesus, and the papacy as we know it would never have come into existence. Jesus Wars reveals the profound implications of what amounts to an accident of history: that one faction of Roman emperors and militia-wielding bishops defeated another.

* * * * * * * 

 


Short 2

I do count myself as:
1 - A conscientious objector to my inherited evangelical faith;

2 - A "positive" deconstructionists to evangelicalism's biblically strayed faith, acts, and thinking. And,

3 - Unabashedly sympathetic to the “nones and dones" who have "left" the Christian faith to wander in a wide wilderness of similarly lost sheep.
I now move within the complicated relationship of my past towards a clearer-eyed understanding of where it must go when utilizing a progressive version of post-evangelicalism as I continually revise past evangelical doctrines, beliefs and practices to become more expansive, loving, and generatively healing in all the right directions. Present day evangelical teaching is a bundle of disproportionate teachings and practices misapprehending God, mankind, and very creation itself. 

This newer version of post-evangelicalism I am describing as Process Christianity which finds me more content and eager to embrace my inherited Jesus faith once again having removed the cultural blinders from my eyes by the Spirit of God's help and assistance. I can now begin to see, hear, feel, read, and experience greater involvement with the ancient struggles for Christian faith by recovering its past in more positive directions than its past sermonic theologies had taught or are teaching today.

Perhaps the value of theology is in its loving outcome and direction. If so, I find progressive, post-evangelical, process theology the space I wish to inhabit and participate in regenerative healing efforts of race, society, and restructural post-apocalyptic world development when building a process-based Christian faith connecting people and habit to ecological civilizations and processual cultures as positive worldly outcomes.

R.E. Slater
December 2, 2022


Named one of the Top 10 Books of the Year in 2020 by the Academy of Parish Clergy
"Drawing on his own spiritual journey, David Gushee provides an incisive critique of American evangelicalism [and] offers a succinct yet deeply informed guide for post-evangelicals seeking to pursue Christ-honoring lives." ―Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Calvin University
Millions are getting lost in the evangelical maze: inerrancy, indifference to the environment, deterministic Calvinism, purity culture, racism, LGBTQ discrimination, male dominance, and Christian nationalism. They are now conscientious objectors, deconstructionists, perhaps even “none and done.” As one of America's leading academics speaking to the issues of religion today, David Gushee offers a clear assessment and a new way forward for disillusioned post-evangelicals.

Gushee starts by analyzing what went wrong with U.S. white evangelicalism in areas such as evangelical history and identity, biblicism, uncredible theologies, and the fundamentalist understandings of race, politics, and sexuality. Along the way, he proposes new ways of Christian believing and of listening to God and Jesus today. He helps post-evangelicals know how to belong and behave, going from where they are to a living relationship with Christ and an intellectually cogent and morally robust post-evangelical faith. He shows that they can have a principled way of understanding Scripture, a community of Christ’s people, a healthy politics, and can repent and learn to listen to people on the margins.

With a foreword from Brian McLaren, who says, “David Gushee is right: there is indeed life after evangelicalism,” this book offers an essential handbook for those looking for answers and affirmation of their journey into a future that is post-evangelical but still centered on Jesus. If you, too, are struggling, After Evangelicalism shows that it is possible to cut loose from evangelical Christianity and, more than that, it is necessary.


* * * * * * *




Short 3

It's easy to get lost in the Christian faith as its own history has shown... today, evangelicalism has destroyed itself from within once again and in its aftermath has birthed newer, post-evangelical groups asking good questions of themselves, their history, and of the directions they are going.

I have become one of those having internally dessented by moving away from evangelicalism's unbiblical tenets of God, people, and nature; and by purposely rebuilding and sharing my post-evangelical faith towards a more vibrant form of Process Christianity across all existing forms of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christianity.

There are other responses of course to evangelicalism's breakage ranging from atheism to mysticism but in a theological processuaI world-view I can find the best of evangelicalism in acts of rejection across its many unapologetic beliefs and practices and in so doing, when applying a similar effort of expansion to its heart, missions, and gospel. More simply, I didn't have to re-create the wheel but only adjust its faith journey and direction which led quite naturally to its update form of processual faith and journey.

Peace,

R.E. Slater
December 2, 2022

* * * * * * *


 

This stimulating history of early Christianity revisits the extraordinary birth of a world religion and gives a new slant on a familiar story.

The relevance of Christianity is as hotly contested today as it has ever been. A New History of Early Christianity shows how our current debates are rooted in the many controversies surrounding the birth of the religion and the earliest attempts to resolve them. Charles Freeman’s meticulous historical account of Christianity from its birth in Judaea in the first century A.D. to the emergence of Western and Eastern churches by A.D. 600 reveals that it was a distinctive, vibrant, and incredibly diverse movement brought into order at the cost of intellectual and spiritual vitality. Against the conventional narrative of the inevitable “triumph” of a single distinct Christianity, Freeman shows that there was a host of competing Christianities, many of which had as much claim to authenticity as those that eventually dominated. Looking with fresh eyes at the historical record, Freeman explores the ambiguities and contradictions that underlay Christian theology and the unavoidable compromises enforced in the name of doctrine.

Tracing the astonishing transformation that the early Christian church underwent—from sporadic niches of Christian communities surviving in the wake of a horrific crucifixion to sanctioned alliance with the state—Charles Freeman shows how freedom of thought was curtailed by the development of the concept of faith. The imposition of "correct belief," religious uniformity, and an institutional framework that enforced orthodoxy were both consolidating and stifling. Uncovering the difficulties in establishing the Christian church, he examines its relationship with Judaism, Gnosticism, Greek philosophy and Greco-Roman society, and he offers dramatic new accounts of Paul, the resurrection, and the church fathers and emperors.



Conclusion

The end of the story is that we learn to support those generations coming after us in our voting, acts, behaviors, words, and deeds. I may not understand Gens X, Y and Z but I know my generation's answers have fallen far short of the needs of the young families and children coming after us.

We must learn to hear again through the eyes of the disenfranchised other and to stop listening through the megaphones of those who would keep us to all the old ills of our cultural societies.

There is value in listening and deeper value in connecting. The way is through love, peace, kindness, and thoughtfulness. None of which we do well at. Even those who claim a loving God and Savior, myself included. We are broken people who can - and must - do a better job in our faith, our conduct, and along our paths through life.

Each day must be a working day in which we seek more peaceful, cooperative solutions with one another. Solutions which may not appear readily but can come when we learn to listen and cooperate. Which, for myself, also means distinguishing my present from the future I wish to go using resistence, education, expanding my biases, and creating a wider world from which I was birthed.

This is my imagined new faith both of a loving God who is intricately involved with us and creation around us and of one another when seeking the best solutions to world needs in crisis and calamity, in peacetime and war.

Let us not give up but let us neither give in.

Blessings,

R.E. Slater
December 2, 2022


Wednesday, November 23, 2022

BAS - How December 25 Became Christmas


How December 25 Became Christmas

by Andrew McGowan
July 23, 2022


On December 25, Christians around the world will gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Joyful carols, special liturgies, brightly wrapped gifts, festive foods—these all characterize the feast today, at least in the northern hemisphere. But just how did the Christmas festival originate? How did December 25 come to be associated with Jesus’ birthday?
bruegel-bethlehem

A blanket of snow covers the little town of Bethlehem, in Pieter Bruegel’s oil painting from 1566. Although Jesus’ birth is celebrated every year on December 25, Luke and the other gospel writers offer no hint about the specific time of year he was born. Photo: Scala/Art Resource, NY.

The Bible offers few clues: Celebrations of Jesus’ Nativity are not mentioned in the Gospels or Acts; the date is not given, not even the time of year. The biblical reference to shepherds tending their flocks at night when they hear the news of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8) might suggest the spring lambing season; in the cold month of December, on the other hand, sheep might well have been corralled. Yet most scholars would urge caution about extracting such a precise but incidental detail from a narrative whose focus is theological rather than calendrical.

The extrabiblical evidence from the first and second century is equally spare: There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c. 130–200) or Tertullian (c. 160–225). Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices—a strong indication that Jesus’ birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time.1 As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point.

This stands in sharp contrast to the very early traditions surrounding Jesus’ last days. Each of the Four Gospels provides detailed information about the time of Jesus’ death. According to John, Jesus is crucified just as the Passover lambs are being sacrificed. This would have occurred on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan, just before the Jewish holiday began at sundown (considered the beginning of the 15th day because in the Hebrew calendar, days begin at sundown). In Matthew, Mark and Luke, however, the Last Supper is held after sundown, on the beginning of the 15th. Jesus is crucified the next morning—still, the 15th.a

Easter, a much earlier development than Christmas, was simply the gradual Christian reinterpretation of Passover in terms of Jesus’ Passion. Its observance could even be implied in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:7–8: “Our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the festival…”); it was certainly a distinctively Christian feast by the mid-second century C.E., when the apocryphal text known as the Epistle to the Apostles has Jesus instruct his disciples to “make commemoration of [his] death, that is, the Passover.”

Jesus’ ministry, miracles, Passion and Resurrection were often of most interest to first- and early-second-century C.E. Christian writers. But over time, Jesus’ origins would become of increasing concern. We can begin to see this shift already in the New Testament. The earliest writings—Paul and Mark—make no mention of Jesus’ birth. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke provide well-known but quite different accounts of the event—although neither specifies a date. In the second century C.E., further details of Jesus’ birth and childhood are related in apocryphal writings such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Proto-Gospel of James.b These texts provide everything from the names of Jesus’ grandparents to the details of his education—but not the date of his birth.

Finally, in about 200 C.E., a Christian teacher in Egypt makes reference to the date Jesus was born. According to Clement of Alexandria, several different days had been proposed by various Christian groups. Surprising as it may seem, Clement doesn’t mention December 25 at all. Clement writes: “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20 in our calendar] … And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth [March 21]; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi [April 21] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi [April 15] the Savior suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].”2

Clearly there was great uncertainty, but also a considerable amount of interest, in dating Jesus’ birth in the late second century. By the fourth century, however, we find references to two dates that were widely recognized—and now also celebrated—as Jesus’ birthday: December 25 in the western Roman Empire and January 6 in the East (especially in Egypt and Asia Minor). The modern Armenian church continues to celebrate Christmas on January 6; for most Christians, however, December 25 would prevail, while January 6 eventually came to be known as the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem. The period between became the holiday season later known as the 12 days of Christmas.

The earliest mention of December 25 as Jesus’ birthday comes from a mid-fourth-century Roman almanac that lists the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs. The first date listed, December 25, is marked: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae: “Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”3 In about 400 C.E., Augustine of Hippo mentions a local dissident Christian group, the Donatists, who apparently kept Christmas festivals on December 25, but refused to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, regarding it as an innovation. Since the Donatist group only emerged during the persecution under Diocletian in 312 C.E. and then remained stubbornly attached to the practices of that moment in time, they seem to represent an older North African Christian tradition.

In the East, January 6 was at first not associated with the magi alone, but with the Christmas story as a whole.

So, almost 300 years after Jesus was born, we finally find people observing his birth in mid-winter. But how had they settled on the dates December 25 and January 6?

There are two theories today: one extremely popular, the other less often heard outside scholarly circles (though far more ancient).4

The most loudly touted theory about the origins of the Christmas date(s) is that it was borrowed from pagan celebrations. The Romans had their mid-winter Saturnalia festival in late December; barbarian peoples of northern and western Europe kept holidays at similar times. To top it off, in 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas, the argument goes, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals. According to this theory, early Christians deliberately chose these dates to encourage the spread of Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman world: If Christmas looked like a pagan holiday, more pagans would be open to both the holiday and the God whose birth it celebrated.

Despite its popularity today, this theory of Christmas’s origins has its problems. It is not found in any ancient Christian writings, for one thing. Christian authors of the time do note a connection between the solstice and Jesus’ birth: The church father Ambrose (c. 339–397), for example, described Christ as the true sun, who outshone the fallen gods of the old order. But early Christian writers never hint at any recent calendrical engineering; they clearly don’t think the date was chosen by the church. Rather they see the coincidence as a providential sign, as natural proof that God had selected Jesus over the false pagan gods.

It’s not until the 12th century that we find the first suggestion that Jesus’ birth celebration was deliberately set at the time of pagan feasts. A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday.5 In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible scholars spurred on by the new study of comparative religions latched on to this idea.6 They claimed that because the early Christians didn’t know when Jesus was born, they simply assimilated the pagan solstice festival for their own purposes, claiming it as the time of the Messiah’s birth and celebrating it accordingly.

More recent studies have shown that many of the holiday’s modern trappings do reflect pagan customs borrowed much later, as Christianity expanded into northern and western Europe. The Christmas tree, for example, has been linked with late medieval druidic practices. This has only encouraged modern audiences to assume that the date, too, must be pagan.

There are problems with this popular theory, however, as many scholars recognize. Most significantly, the first mention of a date for Christmas (c. 200) and the earliest celebrations that we know about (c. 250–300) come in a period when Christians were not borrowing heavily from pagan traditions of such an obvious character.

Granted, Christian belief and practice were not formed in isolation. Many early elements of Christian worship—including eucharistic meals, meals honoring martyrs and much early Christian funerary art—would have been quite comprehensible to pagan observers. Yet, in the first few centuries C.E., the persecuted Christian minority was greatly concerned with distancing itself from the larger, public pagan religious observances, such as sacrifices, games and holidays. This was still true as late as the violent persecutions of the Christians conducted by the Roman emperor Diocletian between 303 and 312 C.E.

This would change only after Constantine converted to Christianity. From the mid-fourth century on, we do find Christians deliberately adapting and Christianizing pagan festivals. A famous proponent of this practice was Pope Gregory the Great, who, in a letter written in 601 C.E. to a Christian missionary in Britain, recommended that local pagan temples not be destroyed but be converted into churches, and that pagan festivals be celebrated as feasts of Christian martyrs. At this late point, Christmas may well have acquired some pagan trappings. But we don’t have evidence of Christians adopting pagan festivals in the third century, at which point dates for Christmas were established. Thus, it seems unlikely that the date was simply selected to correspond with pagan solar festivals.

The December 25 feast seems to have existed before 312—before Constantine and his conversion, at least. As we have seen, the Donatist Christians in North Africa seem to have known it from before that time. Furthermore, in the mid- to late fourth century, church leaders in the eastern Empire concerned themselves not with introducing a celebration of Jesus’ birthday, but with the addition of the December date to their traditional celebration on January 6.7

There is another way to account for the origins of Christmas on December 25: Strange as it may seem, the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover. This view was first suggested to the modern world by French scholar Louis Duchesne in the early 20th century and fully developed by American Thomas Talley in more recent years.8 But they were certainly not the first to note a connection between the traditional date of Jesus’ death and his birth.

The baby Jesus flies down from heaven on the back of a cross, in this detail from Master Bertram’s 14th-century Annunciation scene. Jesus’ conception carried with it the promise of salvation through his death. It may be no coincidence, then, that the early church celebrated Jesus’ conception and death on the same calendar day: March 25, exactly nine months before December 25. Kunsthalle, Hamburg/Bridgeman Art Library, NY

Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus diedc was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar.9 March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception.10 Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.d

This idea appears in an anonymous Christian treatise titled On Solstices and Equinoxes, which appears to come from fourth-century North Africa. The treatise states: “Therefore our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March [March 25], which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on that day he was conceived on the same he suffered.”11 Based on this, the treatise dates Jesus’ birth to the winter solstice.

Augustine, too, was familiar with this association. In On the Trinity (c. 399–419) he writes: “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since. But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”12

In the East, too, the dates of Jesus’ conception and death were linked. But instead of working from the 14th of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar, the easterners used the 14th of the first spring month (Artemisios) in their local Greek calendar—April 6 to us. April 6 is, of course, exactly nine months before January 6—the eastern date for Christmas. In the East, too, we have evidence that April was associated with Jesus’ conception and crucifixion. Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis writes that on April 6, “The lamb was shut up in the spotless womb of the holy virgin, he who took away and takes away in perpetual sacrifice the sins of the world.”13 Even today, the Armenian Church celebrates the Annunciation in early April (on the 7th, not the 6th) and Christmas on January 6.e

Thus, we have Christians in two parts of the world calculating Jesus’ birth on the basis that his death and conception took place on the same day (March 25 or April 6) and coming up with two close but different results (December 25 and January 6).

Connecting Jesus’ conception and death in this way will certainly seem odd to modern readers, but it reflects ancient and medieval understandings of the whole of salvation being bound up together. One of the most poignant expressions of this belief is found in Christian art. In numerous paintings of the angel’s Annunciation to Mary—the moment of Jesus’ conception—the baby Jesus is shown gliding down from heaven on or with a small cross (see photo above of detail from Master Bertram’s Annunciation scene); a visual reminder that the conception brings the promise of salvation through Jesus’ death.

The notion that creation and redemption should occur at the same time of year is also reflected in ancient Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud preserves a dispute between two early-second-century C.E. rabbis who share this view, but disagree on the date: Rabbi Eliezer states: “In Nisan the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; on Passover Isaac was born … and in Nisan they [our ancestors] will be redeemed in time to come.” (The other rabbi, Joshua, dates these same events to the following month, Tishri.)14 Thus, the dates of Christmas and Epiphany may well have resulted from Christian theological reflection on such chronologies: Jesus would have been conceived on the same date he died, and born nine months later.15

In the end we are left with a question: How did December 25 become Christmas? We cannot be entirely sure. Elements of the festival that developed from the fourth century until modern times may well derive from pagan traditions. Yet the actual date might really derive more from Judaism—from Jesus’ death at Passover, and from the rabbinic notion that great things might be expected, again and again, at the same time of the year—than from paganism. Then again, in this notion of cycles and the return of God’s redemption, we may perhaps also be touching upon something that the pagan Romans who celebrated Sol Invictus, and many other peoples since, would have understood and claimed for their own, too.16


“How December 25 Became Christmas” by Andrew McGowan originally appeared in Bible Review, December 2002. The article was first republished in Bible History Daily in December 2012.


andrew-mcgowan

Andrew McGowan is Dean and President of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and McFaddin Professor of Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School. Formerly, he was Warden and President of Trinity College at the University of Melbourne, and Joan Munro Professor of Historical Theology in Trinity’s Theological School within the University of Divinity. His work on early Christian thought and history includes Ascetic Eucharists: Food and Drink in Early Christan Ritual Meals (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999) and Ancient Christian Worship (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerAcademic, 2014).


 Notes:

a. See Jonathan Klawans, “Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?” Bible Review, October 2001.

b. See the following Bible Review articles: David R. Cartlidge, “The Christian Apocrypha: Preserved in Art,” Bible Review, June 1997; Ronald F. Hock and David R. Cartlidge, “The Favored One,” Bible Review, June 2001; and Charles W. Hedrick, “The 34 Gospels,” Bible Review, June 2002.

c. For more on dating the year of Jesus’ birth, see Leonora Neville, “Origins: Fixing the Millennium,” Archaeology Odyssey, January/February 2000.

d. The ancients were familiar with the 9-month gestation period based on the observance of women’s menstrual cycles, pregnancies and miscarriages.

e. In the West (and eventually everywhere), the Easter celebration was later shifted from the actual day to the following Sunday. The insistence of the eastern Christians in keeping Easter on the actual 14th day caused a major debate within the church, with the easterners sometimes referred to as the Quartodecimans, or “Fourteenthers.”

1. Origen, Homily on Leviticus 8.

2. Clement, Stromateis 1.21.145. In addition, Christians in Clement’s native Egypt seem to have known a commemoration of Jesus’ baptism—sometimes understood as the moment of his divine choice, and hence as an alternate “incarnation” story—on the same date (Stromateis 1.21.146). See further on this point Thomas J. Talley, Origins of the Liturgical Year, 2nd ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991), pp. 118–120, drawing on Roland H. Bainton, “Basilidian Chronology and New Testament Interpretation,” Journal of Biblical Literature 42 (1923), pp. 81–134; and now especially Gabriele Winkler, “The Appearance of the Light at the Baptism of Jesus and the Origins of the Feast of the Epiphany,” in Maxwell Johnson, ed., Between Memory and Hope: Readings on the Liturgical Year (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), pp. 291–347.

3. The Philocalian Calendar.

4. Scholars of liturgical history in the English-speaking world are particularly skeptical of the “solstice” connection; see Susan K. Roll, “The Origins of Christmas: The State of the Question,” in Between Memory and Hope: Readings on the Liturgical Year (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), pp. 273–290, especially pp. 289–290.

5. A gloss on a manuscript of Dionysius Bar Salibi, d. 1171; see Talley, Origins, pp. 101–102.

6. Prominent among these was Paul Ernst Jablonski; on the history of scholarship, see especially Roll, “The Origins of Christmas,” pp. 277–283.

7. For example, Gregory of Nazianzen, Oratio 38; John Chrysostom, In Diem Natalem.

8. Louis Duchesne, Origines du culte Chrétien, 5th ed. (Paris: Thorin et Fontemoing, 1925), pp. 275–279; and Talley, Origins.

9. Tertullian, Adversus Iudaeos 8.

10. There are other relevant texts for this element of argument, including Hippolytus and the (pseudo-Cyprianic) De pascha computus; see Talley, Origins, pp. 86, 90–91.

11. De solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis domini nostri iesu christi et iohannis baptistae.

12. Augustine, Sermon 202.

13. Epiphanius is quoted in Talley, Origins, p. 98.

14. b. Rosh Hashanah 10b–11a.

15. Talley, Origins, pp. 81–82.

16. On the two theories as false alternatives, see Roll, “Origins of Christmas.”