Leo I and sun-worshippers at Christmas

I see that the stale old anti-Christian legends are going around again this Christmas.  I’ve just seen one misrepresentation and had to look it up.

In fact, it is recorded that Pope Leo the Great, in the fifth century, had to tell Church members to stop worshiping the Sun.

Note the lack of verbatim citation and the lack of reference.  Such omissions should always make us suspicious.  So what does Leo say?  It’s in his Sermon 27, the 7th sermon on the feast of the nativity.  The NPNF translation is here:

IV. The Foolish Practice of Some Who Turn to the Sun and Bow to It is Reprehensible.

From such a system of teaching proceeds also the ungodly practice of certain foolish folk who worship the sun as it rises at the beginning of daylight from elevated positions: even some Christians think it is so proper to do this that, before entering the blessed Apostle Peter’s basilica, which is dedicated to the One Living and true God, when they have mounted the steps which lead to the raised platform, they turn round and bow themselves towards the rising sun and with bent neck do homage to its brilliant orb. We are full of grief and vexation that this should happen, which is partly due to the fault of ignorance and partly to the spirit of heathenism: because although some of them do perhaps worship the Creator of that fair light rather than the Light itself, which is His creature, yet we must abstain even flora the appearance of this observance: for if one who has abandoned the worship of gods, finds it in our own worship, will he not hark back again to this fragment of his old superstition, as if it were allowable, when he sees it to be common both to Christians and to infidels?

So … in this case the quotation is fair.  


2 thoughts on “Leo I and sun-worshippers at Christmas

  1. Since St. Peter’s (thanks to the landscape) was one of the few Christian churches which faced west, and since the usual Christian prayer position was toward the east, in the direction of the Bridegroom’s coming, it’s possible that people were just trying to get their praying to the east urge taken care of. (And indeed, it seems from what the Pope says, that they said that’s what they were doing.)

    But… I’m sure it did look bad, and there was a very nasty passage in Ezekiel about people worshiping the Sun right in front of the Temple, sooooo….

  2. This is kinda funny, when you think of all the Christian morning hymns about watching the sun come up. Maybe there was some friction between people who prayed the Hours pre-dawn and those who prayed at dawn?

    What kind of view to the east would St. Peter’s Basilica have had from the steps in Leo I’s time? Surely, sunrise looking back over Rome and the Tiber was quite a sight back then….

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