Augustine on pagans at Christmas

Here’s an excerpt from one of Augustine’s Christmas sermons, delivered on 25 December 401:

Stop these latest sacrileges,  stop this craze for vanities and pointless games, stop these customs, which no longer take place in honour of demons but still follow the rites of demons … Yesterday, after vespers, the whole city was aflame with stinking fires; the entire sky was covered with smoke!  If you make little of the matter of religion, think at least of the wrong that you do to the community.  We know, brothers, that it is kids who have done this, but the parents must have let them sin.[1]

The tone of the sermon tells us that few of his hearers were more than nominal Christians.  The purpose of all these fires, according to Heim, was ostensibly to help the dying sun rekindle its fires.  The real purpose, of course, was fun!

1.  Frangipane 8, 5 = PL 46, 996.  See Dom Morin, Miscellanea agostiniana, Rome, 1930, p. 223-4.  All quoted from F. Heim, Solstice d’hiver, solstice d’ete dans la predication chretienne du ve siecle.  Latomus 58 (1999), p. 640-660, p. 649.

2 Responses to “Augustine on pagans at Christmas”


  1. Ken Egbert

    Utterly hilaious. Sounds like my neighborhood in the Bronx, New York City, last night. One would have thought it was New Year’s Eve. Possibly both Einstein and Holger Bech Nielsen, PhD. of the University of Copenhagen are correct: it can be argued that there is no such thing as the passage of time! No doubt the clock industry is doing what it can to kep that under the rug. A cheerful Boxing Day, in the meantime.

  2. Roger Pearse

    Happy new year to you, and everyone reading.

    Yes, I think the urge to build fires on dark winter evenings is a natural human one. Guy Fawkes is merely a pretext, and no doubt Sol Invictus was the same.



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