“De solstitiis et aequinoctiis” (CPL 2277) – now online in English!

I’ve written before about this interesting 4th century text, De solstitiis et aequinoctiis (On the solstices and equinoxes), here and on posts linked here, including creating an electronic text.  The author is unknown, but the work is one of the few ancient texts that labels the 25 December as the “birthday of the sun”.  It also explains why Christmas is on the 25 December – it demonstrates from a calculation that the solstices and equinoxes are the days of the birth and death of John the Baptist and Jesus.  It is the fundamental text for the “calculation theory” of why 25 December is the birthday of Christ.  But for all that it has never really been edited properly – Botte did print a text as an appendix -, and it has never been translated into any modern language.

Last year Dr Isabella Image came across my posts and very kindly offered to translate the text into English.  This she has now done, and here it is!  She has also kindly made the result public domain, so please copy it freely and use it for any purpose.

These are also accessible at Archive.org here.

It is wonderful to have this online!  Thank you, Dr Image, for generously doing this for us all!


From my diary

The big news is that Dr Isabella Image has today very kindly sent me a rather wonderful draft translation of an anonymous 4th century text, De solstitiis et aequinoctiis, about which I have written before.  It’s never been translated before into any modern language, and it is full of interesting things.  The author suggests that Christ and John the Baptist were conceived and born on the solstices and equinoxes, and argues this from the bible.  The argument made is not entirely convincing to modern eyes, but it is very revealing of 4th century thinking.  I hope to make this available online very soon.

The other news is that the postman brought me a copy of a French PhD thesis which I ordered from the ANRT last weekend.  It comes handsomely bound, in standard softback academic book format.  It’s certainly a huge step up from the pile of letter-sized photocopies that ProQuest send out.  Indeed it is almost worth the huge sum that I paid for it.  It contains an unpublished translation, about which I will post further another time.  I wish I could have had a PDF, tho.

I’ve also placed my first inter-library loan for some time, for a volume of Charles W. Jones on Bede.  This apparently contains a discussion of the manuscripts of the Irish computus forgeries.  This was a loose end from my post a little while back about “Theophilus of Caesarea”, and I’ll post if I find something interesting.  It will be interesting to see if ILL’s are working again.  It will also be interesting to see what they charge me!


The text of De Solstitia et De aequinoctia (CPL 2277)

I’ve written a couple of posts already on this obscure late-antique text.  The text was first printed in 1530 as part of the works of Chrysostom – it is, indeed, transmitted in Latin as part of a collection of 38 sermons attributed to him.  The only other edition is that of Botte in 1932, printed as an appendix to Les origenes de la Noel et de l’Epiphanie.  This is not a critical edition, but rather is based on three early manuscripts, and the 1530 text – all that Botte had accessible to him.

I had I’m not going to have time to do more with this interesting text.  I had originally thought to prepare a translation, but in reality I am already overcommitted in that area.  But I thought that I would make available what I have prepared.  My first step is always to prepare an electronic Latin text: in this case I ended up with two.

Botte, 1932

  • Botte-Les_origines_de_la_noel_et_de_lepiphanie-1932-de_solstitia (PDF) – pages 88-105 of Botte’s book, containing the text and his comments upon it.  He mistakenly says that the Troyes 523 manuscript contains the name of Pontius Maximianus – we have already seen that it is Pontius Maximus.
  • De solstitia (.docx) – a transcription of Botte’s text, with a few modifications.  I have restored the capital letters for proper names, and also added into the text the commas from the 1530 edition.  These two tweaks make the text infinitely easier to read.
  • De solstitia (PDF) – the same file saved as a PDF, for those who can’t read a .docx.

Erasmus, 1530

I hope that these will be useful!  One day, perhaps, I may come back to these myself!

Update (5th February 2022): An English translation has now been made!  Find it here.


From my diary

Happy New Year, everyone.

I’ve created an electronic Latin text of the De solstitia et aequinoctia from the 1530 Froben edition.  This probably has some OCR errors in it, as I have already spotted one.  I’m waiting for a more modern edition to appear by inter-library loan.  I understand that the modern edition s not a critical edition:  it was just printed as an appendix to a book on something else, and based on three older manuscripts.  But I will know more when I have seen it.  Of course the 1530 edition was probably printed from a random late manuscript that Froben happened to have on hand.

I’ve looked a little at some of the online manuscripts, and already observed an interesting difference to the 1530 text.  This reads at one point:

cum praecepta eius servaverimus

But I find that the Laud misc. 452, f.79, and the St Gall 103, both 9th century, read instead:

cum praecepta eius observaverimus

which is much more comprehensible.  It will be most interesting to see the modern edition.

I did start to think about translating De solstitia et aequinoctia, but I realised that I already have two Latin translations in flight – an early Life of St George, and the short Life of St Cuthman.  I decided to leave De solstitia for now.  I will upload the electronic text when I am ready anyway.

In the meantime I have returned to St Cuthman.  I’m working on it, while adding extra information to my QuickLatin Latin parser.  I added some material explaining the Supine, for instance.  I’m also finding errors.  I discovered today a problem with pronoun handling, which will have to be fixed.  So the translation and the Latin coding are moving forward together, albeit both slowly.  At some point I must package up the new version of QuickLatin and release it.  There is so much to do.

I also want to get back to work once my illness has completely faded away; that is, if my client still wants my services.  I suspect that I’ll be ready in about three weeks, and there is some six weeks of paid work there.  It will be good to finish that up.  Meanwhile I can get back into working, if only at my home computer!


Some notes on “De solstitiis et aequinoctiis” (CPL 2277)

There are very few sources for a Roman festival of the sun on 25th December.  The main one is the entry in the Chronography of 354, in the Philocalian Calendar, labelling the day as “Natalis Invicti”, the birthday of Sol Invictus, the state sun-god.[1]  Next to it is a 13th century scholiast on Dionysius bar-Salibi.  But the third is an obscure homily generally referred to as De solstitiis et aequinoctiis, (or De solstitia et aequinoctia) which contains, towards the end, the following aside:

Sed et dominus noster nascitur mense decembris . . . VIII Kal. Ian. . . . Sed et invicti natalem apellant.  Quis utique tam invictus nisi dominus noster qui mortem subactam devicit?  Vel quod dicant solis esse natalem, ipse est sol iustitiae de quo malachias propheta dixit: “orietur vobis timentibus nomen ipsius sol iustitiae et sanitas est in pennis eius.”

But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December . . . the eighth before the calends of January [25 December] . . . But they also call it the “Birthday of the invincible one” (Invictus). But who then is as invincible as our lord who defeated the death he suffered?  Or if they say that this is the birthday of the sun, well He Himself is the Sun of Justice of whom the prophet Malachi said (4:2), “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of justice shall arise, and health is in his wings.”[2]

The implication of this is that Christ as Sol Justitiae is a deliberate replacement for the pagan Sol Invictus.  It is a key piece of evidence in the “Calculation” theory of the origins of Dec. 25 as Christmas.[3]

So it’s an interesting passage.  Yet there is a remarkable vagueness in most articles which reference this text, as to what it is and where it may be found.

In the article quoted above, the author tells us that the full title of the work is De solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis Domini Nostri Iesu Christi et Iohannis Baptistae (“On the solstice and equinox of the conception and birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ and John the Baptist”).

The work is in fact listed in the Clavis Patrum Latinorum as CPL 2277.   The date of composition is  uncertain.  The bible citations suggest an African origin, but there are also two terms which are Syriac.[4]

It is actually part of a collection of 38 sermons in Latin, all attributed to John Chrysostom, whose existence was documented for the first time by Dom André Wilmart in 1918.[5]  It is the 17th item in that collection.  Wilmart gives the following details:

Title: Iterum de natiuitate domini et Iohannis Baptistae et conceptionis de solistitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et natiuitatis domini nostri Iesu Christi et Johannis Baptistae.
Opening words: Nescio an quisquam ausus sit arcanum, fratres, ante Christi natiuitatem intellegere uel terminasse cursum horarum dierum ac noctium per quos solistitia et aequinoctia cognoscere possit.
Closing words:  ….Migrauerat enim gratia et ueritas a Iudaeis quia “lex per Moysen data est, nam gratia et ueritas per Iesum Christum facta est”. In Christo Iesu domino nostro qui uiuit et regnat cum patre et spiritu sancto per immortalia saecula saeculorum amen

Wilmart (p.306) gives a list of 25 copies of this collection of homilies, all with the same content in the same order, beginning in the 9th century.  Among the 9th century copies is Saint-Gall 103, which is online here.  Our text is pp. 176-191.  It begins on p. 176:

St Gall 103, p.176.

Note how the title is singular, but has been corrected to plural by another hand.  Our passage is on page 190, and the work ends on page 191:

St Gall 103, p.191

There are still other copies in existence.  One of these, transmitted independently, attributes the work to an otherwise unknown author – Pontius Maximus. This is  given in a 12th century manuscript, today Troyes 523, fol.205v-210v, originally from Clairvaux as the colophon on fol. 210v makes clear.  It is online here.  The text is the last work in the manuscript, which also contains 15 treatises in Latin by Eusebius of Emesa , followed by 5 by Tertullian.

Ms. Troyes 523, folio 205v. Incipit of De Solstitia.

The red text tells us that, after the explicit for Tertullian, de paenitentia, the author is Pontius Maximus, and the title is de solstitiis et aequinoctiis…, i.e. plural.  I have also found an article that claims the work is “sometimes attributed to one Pontius Maximus or Pontius Maximianus, conjectured to be an African, but thought by others to be of anonymous Syrian origin.”[6]

There are only two editions of the text.

It was first printed in Divi Ioannis Chrysostomi Archiepiscopi Constantinopolitani opera, quae hactenus versa sunt, omnia, ed. Desiderius Erasmus (Vol. 2). Basel: Frobenius (1530), p. 336-342. (Online at Google Books).  No doubt this was printed from whatever manuscript happened to come to hand.  There are reprints of this, including a 1547 (col. 1285-1294) and a 1588 edition.  I’m not sure how late this was reprinted.

The only other edition is B. Botte, Les origines de la noël et de l’épiphanie (Series: Textes et études liturgiques 1). Louvain: Abbaye du Mont César (1932) who appended a version of the text on p. 93-105.  Hijmans states that this is not a critical edition, but is based on a collation of  a few manuscripts – somewhere I read that this was just three of the oldest.  The Botte edition text was also reprinted in the Patrologiae Latinae Supplementum vol. 1 (1959), pp.557-567.

I’ve tried to OCR the 1530 text, but it involves correcting every word!  So I’ve placed an interlibrary loan for the 1932 book, and I hope that we can at least get the Latin text online.

This is the sort of exercise that reminds us how much there is to do!


  • The 9th century Oxford Laud Misc. 452, originally at Lorsch, is also online here.  Our text is on f.77r-83r.
  • The 9-10th century Paris BNF lat. 12140 is online here, although in monochrome.  Our homily is on f.87v-98r.
  1. [1]Natalis may also mean the date of the founding of a temple, and other deities than Sol Invictus were called “invictus”, but this probably does refer to Sol Invictus.
  2. [2]Steven Hijmans, “Sol Invictus, the winter solstice, and the origins of Christmas,” in: Mouseion III.3 (2003), 377-398, esp. 379-80; also the Catholic Encyclopedia version.
  3. [3]See S. K. Roll, Towards the Origins of Christmas, p.97.
  4. [4]S. K. Roll, Towards the Origins of Christmas, p.97. “The text is generally thought to date from after the earliest notation of Christmas on the calendar, but before a feast was widely celebrated on that date, probably the early fourth century. The Latin text betrays certain African turns of phrase, but also two specifically Syriac terms.[173]” and “173. Botte, Origines, 91, and Engberding, “Der 25. Dezember,” 36, both explore these in some detail.” – H. Engberding, “Der 25. Dezember als Tag der Feier der Geburt des Herrn,” Archiv fur Liturgiewissenschaft 2 (1952), 25-43.  Unfortunately neither is accessible to me.
  5. [5]A. Wilmart, “La collection des 38 homélies latines de saint Jean Chrysostome,” in: Journal of Theological Studies 19 (1918), 305-327.  There is also a study that I have not seen in German: W. Wenk, Zur Sammlung der 38 Homilien des Chrysostomus Latinus (mit Edition der Nr. 6, 8, 27, 32 und 33), Wiener Studien Beiheft 10, Wien 1988.
  6. [6]R. Love, “Bede and John Chrysostom”, Journal of Medieval Latin 17 (2007) 72-87, p.77, identifying a quote from our work in Bede.