THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST, OR CHRISTMAS DAY
THE world had subsisted about four thousand years, and all things
were accomplished which, according to the ancient prophets, were
to precede the coming of the Messias, when Jesus Christ, the
eternal Son of God, having taken human flesh in the womb of the
Virgin Mary, and being made man, was born of her for the
redemption of mankind. The all-wise and all-merciful providence of
God had, from the fall of our first parents, gradually disposed
all things for the fulfilling of his promises, and the
accomplishing the greatest of all his mysteries, the incarnation
of his divine Son. Had man been restored to grace as soon as he
had forfeited it, he would not have been sufficiently sensible of
the depth of his horrible wounds, nor have had a just feeling of
the spiritual blindness, weakness, and wretchedness in which he
lay buried under the weight of his guilt Neither would the
infinite mercy, power, and goodness of God, in saving him, have
appeared in so great lustre. Therefore man was left grovelling in
his miseries for the space of so many thousand years, only
enjoying a glimpse of his future redemption in the promise and
expectation of it; which still was sufficient to raise those to it
who did not shut their eyes to this light. God always raised
several faithful servants, and even when most nations, from
following the bent of their passions, fell into the most
deplorable spiritual blindness, and abandoned his knowledge and
true worship to transfer his honour to the basest of creatures and
the most criminal objects, he reserved to himself a peculiar
people among which he was known and served, and many were saved
through faith and hope in this promised Redeemer, then to come.
All this time the saints never ceased with sighs and tears to beg
that this "Desired of all Nations " might speedily make his
appearance; and by these inflamed desires they both disposed
themselves to receive the fruit of his redemption, and moved Gad
to hasten and most abundantly to pour forth his mercy.
God, who with infinite wisdom brings things to maturity and
perfection in their proper season, disclosed this to men partially
and by degrees. He gave to Adam a promise and some knowledge of
it. He renewed the same to Abraham, limiting it to his seed.
He confirmed it to Isaac and Jacob. In the prophecy of this
latter it was fixed in the tribe of Judah. It was afterwards
clearly determined to belong to the posterity of David and
Solomon; which was repeated in all the succeeding prophets. In
these all the particular circumstances of Christ's birth, life,
death, and spiritual kingdom in his church are expressed; the
whole written law which was delivered to Moses consisted of types
expressive of the same, or alluding to him. The nearer the time
approached the fuller was the revelation of him. The prophecy of
turning "swords into ploughshares, and lances into pruning-
hooks," &c., expressed that a profound peace in which the world
should be was to be an emblem of the appearance of the "Prince of
Peace." According to the prophecy of Jacob, the sceptre was to
be removed from the tribe of Judah' to show the establishment of
the new spiritual kingdom of the Messiah, which is to endure to
the end of the world. According to Aggaeus, and Malachi, the
Messiah was to appear whilst the second temple stood, which was
thee of Solomon, restored after the captivity. Daniel foretold the
four great empires which succeeded one another, the first of which
were to be destroyed by the latter, viz.: of the Medes,, Persians,
Macedonians, and Romans, each marked by very distinguishing
characters. The seventy weeks of years predicted by Daniel
determine the time of the coming of the Messias and of his death.
For from the order of King Artaxerxes Longimanus for the
rebuilding of Jerusalem seven weeks were to pass in the execution
of that work in difficult times; and sixty-two more, that is, with
these seven, sixty-nine to the manifestation of Christ, who was to
be slain in the middle of the seventieth week, and his death was
to be followed by the destruction of the city and temple; it was
to expiate , to establish the reign of eternal
, and to accomplish the visions and prophecies. The
Gentiles had also received some glimmerings of this great event;
as from the prediction of Balaam foretelling a star to arise from
Jacob All over the East, at the time of our Saviour's birth, a
great deliverer of mankind was firmly expected, as the pagan
historians expressly affirm. Suetonius writes as follows:
"There had prevailed all over the East an ancient and constant
notion that the fates had decreed that about that time there
should come out of Judea those who should obtain the empire of the
world." And Tacitus says, "A firm persuasion had prevailed
among a great many that it was contained in the ancient sacerdotal
books that, about this time, it should come to pass that the East
should prevail, and that those who should come out of Judea should
obtain the empire of the world." Josephus, the Jewish historian,
took occasion from hence to flatter Vespasian, as if he had been
the Messias foretold by the prophets; "and the great number of
impostors who pretended to this character among the Jews in that
and the following century is a clear proof of this belief amongst
them about the time.
When Jesus Christ was born, the seventy weeks of Daniel were near
being accomplished, and the sceptre was departed from the house of
Judah, whether we restrain this to that particular tribe, or
understand it of the whole Jewish nation, so as to give a main
share only to that tribe. For Herod, though a Jew by religion, was
by birth an Idumean, as Josephus, whose testimony is
unexceptionable, informs us, relating how his father, Antipas, who
chose rather to be called by the Greek name Antipater, was made,
by King Alexander Jannae us, governor of his own country, Idumea.
Herod was raised to the throne by the Romans, excluding the
princes of the Asmonean or Jewish royal family, whom Herod
entirely cut off; as he did also the principal members of the
Sanhedrim, or great council, by which that nation governed itself
by its own laws under its kings. This tyrant, moreover, stripped
that people of all their other civil rights. Soon after, they were
made a Roman province; nor we. it long before their temple was
destroyed and their whole nation dispersed, so that the Jews
themselves are obliged to confess that the time foretold by the
prophets for the coming of the Messias is long since elapsed.
Christ was born at the time when the Roman or fourth empire,
marked by Daniel, was exalted to its zenith by Augustus, who
reigned fifty-seven years from his first command of the army at
nineteen years of age: and forty-four from the defeat of Antony,
his partner in the empire, in the battle of Actium. God had
preordained the greatness of the Roman empire for the more easy
propagation of the gospel over so many nations which formed one
monarchy. Augustus had then settled it in peace. A decree was
issued by Augustus, and published all over the Roman empire,
ordaining that all persons, with their estates and conditions,
should be registered at certain places, according to their
respective provinces, cities, and families. It was the custom at
Rome to make a census or registration of all the citizens every
five years, which term was called a lustrum. This general register
of all the subjects of the empire, with the value of their
estates, was probably ordered that the strength and riches of each
province might be known. It was made in Syria and Palestine by
Cyrinus. Quintilius Varus was at that time proconsul of Syria, on
whom the procurator or governor of Judea in some measure depended
after it was made a Roman province. Cyrinus succeeded Varus in the
government of Syria about ten years after Herod's death, when his
son Archelaus was banished and Judea made a province of the
empire. Cyrinus then made a second register; but he made the first
in the time of Varus, in which he might act as extraordinary
deputy, at least for Palestine, then governed by Herod; or this
enregistration is all attributed to him because it was finished by
him afterwards. This decree was given by the emperor for political
views of state; but proceeded from an overruling order of
providence that, by this most authentic public act, it might be
manifest to the whole world that Christ was descended of the house
of David and tribe of Judah. For those of this family were ordered
to be registered at Bethlehem, a small town in the tribe of Judah,
seven miles from Jerusalem to the south-west. This was called
David's-town; and was appointed the place where those that
belonged to his family were to be enrolled. Joseph and Mary
were perhaps natives of this place, though they then lived at
Nazareth, ninety miles almost north from Jerusalem. Micheas had
foretold that Bethlehem (called by the Jebusites who first
built it, Ephrata) should be ennobled by the birth of Christ.
Mary, therefore, though with child, by the special direction of
providence, undertook this tedious journey with her husband in
obedience to the emperor's order for their enrolment in that city;
and it is believed that with St. Joseph, also Mary and her infant
Jesus were enrolled; of which Origen, St. Justin,
Tertullian, and St. Chrysostom make no doubt. All other
characters or marks of the Messias, mentioned by the prophets,
agree to Jesus Christ.
To show the divine Jesus's descent from David and Judah, the
evangelists, St. Matthew and St. Luke, give his pedigree-but
designedly different, that this noted character of the Messias
might be demonstrated by his double genealogy. The reason of this
difference was at that time public and known to everyone, and so
was not mentioned. It seems most probable that St. Luke gives the
natural and St. Matthew the legal line of Joseph, who had been
adopted into the latter by the frequent case specified in the law
of Moses. St. Chrysostom puts us in mind to take notice of the
astonishing mercy and humility of our divine Redeemer in this
circumstance, that he did not disdain, in order to save sinners,
to choose a pedigree in which several notorious sinners are named;
so much did he humble himself to satisfy for, and to cure our
vanity and pride. The same father, upon reading the exordium of
St. Matthew's gospel and of this pedigree, breaks out into this
vehement pathos "What cost thou say, O evangelist? Thou hast
promised to speak of the only begotten Son of God, and cost thou
name David? Admire that the natural Son of God, who is without a
beginning, would suffer himself to be called the son of David,
that he might make you the Son of God." The circumstances of the
great mystery, and the wonderful manner in which it was performed,
ought to attract our whole attention, and be the object of our
pious meditations and devotions, particularly on this holy
The Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, after a painful journey of at
least four days in a mountainous country, arrived at Bethlehem.
There they found the public inns, or caravansaries (such as is
customary in the East), already full; nor were they able to
procure any lodgings in the town, every one despising and
rejecting their poverty. Do we spiritually invite Jesus into our
hearts and prepare a lodging for his reception in our affections?
This is the entertainment he is infinitely desirous of, and which
he came from heaven to seek. By spiritual nakedness, coldness,
sloth, or sin, a Christian soul refuses him admittance. Of such
treatment he will justly complain much more than of the people of
Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary, in this distress, retired into a cave
made on the side of a rock, which is called a stable, because it
served for that purpose, perhaps for the use of those who lodged
at the caravansary. It is a common tradition that an ox and an ass
were in it at that time. This circumstance is not mentioned in
holy scripture, but it is supported by the authority of St.
Jerome, St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and
Prudentius produced by Baronius; and if the blessed travellers
came not on foot, they must have had their own ass with them. In
this place the holy mother, when her time was come, brought forth
her divine Son without the pain of other mothers; remaining both
in and after his conception and birth a pure virgin. With what joy
and holy respect did she behold and adore the newborn infant; the
Creator of all things made man for us! She wrapped him in
swaddling-clothes, such as her poverty had allowed her to prepare,
and with holy awe laid him in the manger. "With what solicitude
did she watch him!" says St. Bonaventure. "With what reverence
did she touch him whom she knew to be her Lord! In like manner are
we to admire, with St. Bernard, "How the holy man Joseph would
often take him upon his knees, smiling at him." We ought also to
contemplate how the choirs of angels, descending from above in
raptures of astonishment, adore their God in this new wonderful
state to which mercy and love have reduced him, and salute him
with hymns of praise. We are invited to join them in the persons
of the holy shepherds. God was pleased that his Son, though born
on earth with so much secrecy, and in a state of the most
astonishing humiliation, should be acknowledged by men, and
receive the first fruits of their homages and devotion upon his
first appearance among them. Who are they that are favored with
the honour of this heavenly call? The great ones of the world are
passed over on this occasion. They are chosen whose character, by
their very station, is simplicity and humility; and whose
obscurity, poverty, and solitude removed them from the principal
dangers of worldly pride' and were most agreeable to that love and
spirit of retiredness, penance, and humility which Christ came to
recommend. Nor can we doubt but they adorned their state with the
true spirit of this simplicity and devotion. These happy persons
were certain shepherds who, being strangers to the sensuality and
pride of the world, were at that time keeping the watches of the
night over their flock. Whilst the sensual and the proud were
asleep in soft beds, or employed in pursuits of voluptuousness,
vanity, or ambition, an angel appeared to these humble poor men,
and they saw themselves encompassed with a great brightness. They
were suddenly seized with exceeding great fear, but the heavenly
messenger said to them, "Fear not: for behold I bring you good
tidings of exceeding "teat joy, that shall be to all the people.
For this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in
the city of David. And this shall be a sign to you: you shall find
the child wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger."
Suddenly then appeared with the angel a multitude of heavenly
spirits praising God and saying, "Glory be to God in the highest;
and on earth peace to men of good-will." After the departure of
the angels, the wondering shepherds said one to another, "Let us
go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to
pass, which the Lord hath showed to us." They immediately hastened
thither and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the
manger. Here they did homage to the Messias as to the spiritual
king of men, and then returned to their flocks, glorifying and
praising God. Mary was very reserved amidst these occurrences
and continued silent in her deportment, but observe I all these
things, with secrecy pondering them in her heart.
The angel calls this wonderful mystery a subject of great joy to
all the people. Indeed, our hearts must be insensible to all
spiritual things if they do not overflow with holy joy at the
consideration of so glorious a mercy, in which is displayed such
an excess of the divine goodness, and by which such inestimable
benefits and so high an honour accrue to us. The very thought and
foreknowledge of this mystery comforted Adam in his banishment
from Paradise. The promise of it sweetened the laborious
pilgrimage of Abraham. The same encouraged Jacob to dread no
adversity, and Moses to brave all dangers and conquer all
difficulties in delivering the Israelites from the Egyptian
slavery. All the prophets saw it in spirit with Abraham, and they
rejoiced. If the expectation of it gave the patriarchs such joy,
how much ought the accomplishment to create in us! Joy is defined
the delight of a rational creature arising from the possession of
a desired object. It must then be proportioned to the nature of
the possession; consequently, it ought to be as much greater in us
as the fruition of a good surpasses the promise, possession the
hope, or fruit the blossom. This St. Peter Chrysologus illustrates
with regard to this difference of the Old and New Law as follows:
"The letter of a friend," says he, "is comfortable, but his
presence is much more welcome; a bond is useful, but the payment
more so; blossoms are pleasing, but only till the fruit appears.
The ancient fathers received God's letters, we enjoy his presence;
they had the promise, we the accomplishment; they the bond, we the
payment." Christians who rejoice with a worldly, vain, or carnal
mirth are strangers to the Spirit of God and his holy joy. Some
exterior marks of this joy are allowed, provided they be not
sought for themselves, but such as suit a penitential state and
Christian gravity, both by their nature and extreme moderation
that is held in them; and, lastly, provided motives of virtue
sanctify them, and they express and spring from an interior
spiritual joy, which is altogether holy. If sensuality have any
share in our festivals, they are rather heathenish Bacchanals than
Christian solemnities, and on them we feed and strengthen those
passions which Christ was born only to teach us to subdue. To
sanctify this feast we ought to consecrate it to devotion, and
principally to the exercises of adoration, praise, and love. This
is the tribute we must offer to our newborn Saviour when we visit
him in spirit with the good shepherds. With them we must enter the
stable and contemplate this mystery with a lively faith, by which,
under the veils of this infant body, we discover the infinite
majesty of our God.
To contemplate immensity shut up in a little body, omnipotence
clothed with weakness, the eternal God born in time, the joy of
angels bathed in tears, is something far more wonderful than to
consider God creating a world out of nothing, moving the heavens,
and weighing the universe with a finger This is a mystery
altogether unutterable; to be adored in silence and in raptures of
admiration not to be declared by words. "How can anyone speak of
the wonder which is hero wrought amongst us?" says St.
Fulgentius "A man of God, a creature of his Creator, one who
is finite, and was born in time, of Him who is immense and
eternal." Another eminent servant of God cries out upon this
mystery "O Lord our God, how admirable is thy name over all
the earth! Truly thou art a God working wonders. I am not now
astonished at the creation of the world, at the heavens, at the
earth, at the succession of days and seasons; but I wonder to see
God inclosed in the womb of a virgin, the Omnipotent lain in a
manger, the eternal Word clothed with flesh." The eternal Father,
when he brought his Son into the world, laid on them his commands,
saying, "Let all the angels of God adore him." Though they
neither wanted invitation nor command, their own devotion being
their prompter. O! what must have been their sentiments when they
saw a stable converted into heaven by the wonderful presence of
its king, and beheld that divine infant, knowing his weak hands to
be those which framed the universe and bordered the heavens with
light; and that by Him both the heavens and the earth subsist? Are
they not more astonished to contemplate him in this humble hidden
state than seated on the throne of his glory? Shall not man, for
whom this whole mystery is wrought, and who is so much favoured
and so highly privileged and ennobled by the same, burn with a
holy ardour to perform his part in this duty, and make the best
return he is able of gratitude, adoration, and praise? To these
exercises we ought to consecrate a considerable part of our
devotions, especially on this festival, repeating with fervour the
psalms which chiefly consist of acts of divine praises, the hymn
of thanksgiving used by the church, commonly ascribed to St.
Ambrose and St. Austin, and the angelical hymn, "Glory and praise
be given by all creatures to God alone in the highest heavens; and
peace (or pardon, reconciliation, grace, and all spiritual
happiness) to men of goodwill." In our devotions, also, acts of
love ought to challenge a principal part, the Incarnation of the
Son of God being the mystery of love; or, properly, a kind of
ecstasy of love in which God strips himself, as it were, of the
rays of his glory to visit us, to become our brother, and to make
himself in all things like to us.
Love is the tribute that God challenges of us in a particular
manner in this mystery: this is the return which he requires of us
for all he has done and suffered for us. He says to us, "Son, give
me thy heart." To love him is our sovereign happiness, and the
highest dignity and honour to which a creature can aspire. But we
are bound to it upon the title of the strictest justice. God,
being infinite in all perfections, is infinitely worthy of our
love, and we ought to love him with an infinite love if we were
capable of it. We are also bound to love him in gratitude,
especially for the benefit of his Incarnation, in which he has
given us himself, and this in order to rescue us from extreme
miseries and to bestow on us the most incomprehensible graces and
favours. Man had sinned and was become the associate of the devil.
Almost all the nations of the earth had, by blindly following
their passions, at length fallen into a total forgetfulness of God
who made them, and deified first inanimate stars and planets,
afterwards dead men, the most impious and profligate of the human
race; also the works of their own hands, often beasts, monsters,
and their own basest passions: the most infamous crimes they
authorized by the sanction of pretended religious rites; and from
every corner of the earth vice cried to heaven for vengeance. The
Jews, who had been favoured by God above all other nations, and
declared his peculiar people, were nevertheless abandoned to envy,
jealousy, pride, and other vices; so that even amongst them the
number of privileged souls which remained faithful to God appeared
to be very small. Such was the face of the earth when the Son of
God honoured it with his divine presence and conversation. Who
would not have imagined when he heard that God was coming to visit
the earth that it must have been to destroy it by fire from
heaven, as he had done Sodom, and to bury its rebellious
inhabitants in hell? But no: whilst the world was reeking with
blood and oppressions, and overrun with impiety, he came to save
it. How does the ingratitude and baseness of man set off his lover
At the sight of our miseries his compassion was stirred up the
more tenderly and his bowels yearned toward us. He came to save
us, when we deserved nothing at his hands but eternal torments.
Also the manner in which he came to visit us shows yet in a more
astonishing manner the excess of his goodness and charity for us.
To engage our hearts more strongly, he has made himself like to us
taking upon him our nature. "God was seen upon earth, and has
conversed with men The word was made flesh." a God is born
an infinite babe, the Eternal is become a young child, the
Omnipotent is made weak, he who is essentially infinite and
independent is voluntarily reduced to a state of subjection and
humbled beneath his own creatures. It is love, and the love of us
sinful men, that hath done all this.
St. Francis of Assisi appeared not able to contain himself through
excessive tenderness of love when he spoke of this mystery and
named the Little Babe of Bethlehem. St. Bernard says, "God on the
throne of his majesty and greatness commands our fear and our
homages: but in his littleness especially our love." This father
invites all created beings to join him in love and adoration, and
to listen in awful silence to the proclamation of the festival in
honour of this mystery made in the Roman Martyrology: "Hear ye
heavens," says he, "and lend your ears, O earth. Stand in raptures
of astonishment and praise, O you whole creation. but you chiefly,
O man. 'Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, was born in
Bethlehem of Judah.' O short word of the Eternal Word abridged for
us! but filled with heavenly sweetness. The affection of this
melting sweetness struggles within, earnestly labouring widely to
diffuse its teeming abundance, but finds not words. For such is
the grace and energy of this speech that it relishes less if one
in it be changed." In another sermon, having repeated the
same words, he adds, "At these words my soul melts and my spirit
boils within me, hastening with burning desire to publish to you
this exultation and joy. If this love were kindled in our
breast, nothing were sweeter to us than to abide in spirit at the
feet of Jesus, pondering the motive, that is, the excess of divine
love, which brought him from heaven, and contemplating the other
circumstances of this mystery, HOW ought we to salute and adore
those sacred hands which are weakened, wrapped in clouts, or
stretched on the manger, for love of us, but which move the
heavens and uphold and govern the universe Also those divine feet
which will undergo so many fatigues, and at length be bored on the
cross for us. That blood which purples his little vein' and dyes
his blessed cheeks, but which is the price of our redemption, and
will be one day poured out upon the cross. How is this sweet
countenance, which is the joy of angels, now concealed! But it
will one day be buffeted, bruised, and covered with filthy phlegm.
How ought we respectfully to honour it! His holy flesh, more pure
than angels, even now begins to suffer from the cold and other
hardships: do we not desire to defend it from these injuries? But
this cannot be allowed. Nor could anyone oppose the work of our
redemption. Sin is the cause of all that he Buffers, and shall not
we detest and shun that monster?. The loving eyes of the divine
Jesus pierce our souls. They are now bathed in tears; though, as
St. Bernard says, "Jesus weeps not as other children, or at least
not on the same account." They cry for their wants and weakness,
Jesus for compassion and love for us. May these precious tears
move the heavenly Father to show us mercy; and may they soften,
wash, and cleanse our souls "These tears excite in me both grief
and shame," says the same father, "when I consider my own
insensibility amidst my spiritual miseries," But nothing in this
contemplation will more strongly move us than to penetrate into
the interior employment of this divine Saviour's holy soul, and to
consider the ardour of his zeal in the praises of his Father, and
in his supplications to Him on our behalf; his compassion for us,
and the constant oblation which he made of himself to obtain for
us mercy and grace. Such meditations and pious entertainment, of
our souls will have great force in kindling the fire of holy love
in our hearts. But all endeavours would be weak so long as we do
not labour effectually to remove all obstacles to this holy love
in our affections. To cure these disorders is the chief cod of the
birth of Christ.
Christ's actions are no less instructions to us than his
discourses. His life is the gospel reduced to practice. It is
enough to study it to understand well his doctrine: and to become
perfect we must imitate his example. By this he instructs us in
his very nativity, beginning first to practice, then to preach
Hence the manger was his first pulpit, and in it he teaches us the
cure of our spiritual maladies. He is come such as the holy
prophets had desired and foretold, such as our miseries required,
our true Physician and Saviour. He wanted not on earth honours or
sceptres; he came not to taste of our vanities: riches and glory
he abounded with, He came among us to seek our miseries, our
poverty, our humiliation, to repair the injuries our pride had
offered to the Godhead, and to apply a remedy to our souls.
Therefore he chose not a palace or a great city; but a poor
mother, a little town, a stable. He who adorns the world and
clothes the lilies of the fields beyond the majesty of Solomon in
hi' glory, is wrapped up in rags and laid in a manger. And this he
chose to be the great sign of his appearance. "And this shall be a
sign to you," said the angel to the shepherds, "you shall find the
child wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger." Are
then rags and a manger the wonderful sign of our God appearing on
earth? Are these the works of the great Messiah, of whom the
prophets spoke so glorious things? This it was that scandalized
the Jews in his birth." Take from us those clouts and that
manger," said Marcion, unjustly prepossessed against the humility
of such an appearance. But this is a sign which God himself hath
chosen and set up for his standard; a sign to be the contradiction
to our pride, covetousness, and sensuality. And do not we wonder
at the stupendous virtue and efficacy of this sign, so shocking to
the senses and passions, when we see how it drew to it the little
and great, the magians and the shepherds, who knew their Saviour
by it, and returned glorifying God? How many have enrolled
themselves under the same standard!
Christ set up this mark for us: it is our powerful instruction.
"The grace of God the Saviour hath appeared to all men,
instructing us," says the apostle. All men, the rich and the
poor, the great and the small, all who desire to have a share in
his grace, or in his kingdom. And what breast can be so stony as
not to be softened at this example? Our inveterate diseases seemed
almost unconquerable. But Christ is come, the omnipotent
Physician, to apply a remedy to them. Our disorders flow from
three sources. "All that is in the world, is the concupiscence of
the flesh, and the concupiscence of eyes, and the pride of
life." What is concupiscence of the flesh but the inordinate
inclination to gratify the senses? Christ, to encourage us to
renounce this love of sensual pleasures, and to satisfy his
justice by his own sufferings for our offences in this way, begins
to suffer as soon as he begins to live. At his very birth he
exposes his delicate body to the inclemency of the severest season
of the year, to the hard boards of the manger for a cradle, to
hunger, and to a privation of the most ordinary conveniences and
necessaries of human life. His tender and divine limbs tremble
with cold, his eyes stream with tears, and he consecrated the
first moments of his life to suffering and pain. He who directs
the seasons, governs the universe, and disposes all things, has
ordained everything for this very end. Yet we study in all things
to flatter our senses, to pamper our bodies in softness and every
gratification, and to remove everything that is hard or painful.
Is this to imitate the model of penance and mortification that is
set us? Christ, by these sufferings, and this privation of all
things, shows us that he came to satisfy the justice of his
Father, and to repair the injury done to his glory by our sins.
But by the same he teaches us the remedies of our disorders, and
shows us how they are to be applied to our souls; as he came to
instruct us in all we want to know and do in order to save our
souls and to reform all our irregular passions and manners. Could
he have preached this more powerfully than he has done by the
example of his birth? How comes it, notwithstanding, that we are
not yet sufficiently persuaded that we cannot be saved at a
cheaper rate than by a constant practice of self-denial and
By concupiscence of the eyes is understood the love of riches; the
second root of the disorders which reign in the world, and the
foundation of its false maxims. This our Saviour teaches us to
root out of our hearts by embracing the most austere poverty, and
consecrating it in his divine body, to use the expression of St.
Bernard. He shows us the danger of riches, and the crime and
disorder of a love or eager pursuit of them. Riches are good in
the designs of providence; and what is more noble than to have the
means of relieving the distresses of others? This motive all
pretend in amassing riches; but seek in them only the interest of
self-love. The rich and the poor adore them in their desires. This
is the disorder. Men may be poor in spirit in the midst of riches.
But this is truly an extraordinary grace. Those that are blessed
with riches must fear them, lest they find admittance into their
hearts. They are, moreover, most frequently either the effect or
the cause of iniquity; faulty either in their acquisition or their
use. In their acquisition, in which injustices are so frequent,
that Seneca says, "Every rich man is either unjust, or the heir of
one who was unjust." And the organ of the Holy Ghost declares, "He
that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent." At least
a desire of riches usually attends the acquisition, which is in
many ways inordinate; and is always a spiritual fever which
destroys the relish of heavenly-goods, and consumes the very
vitals of the interior life. It is an idolatry, as St. Paul calls
it, and the same master who commanded the idols to be banished
out of the world, obliges us to banish the love of riches out of
our hearts. The least reserve draws on us the curse of heaven.
This desire in the rich is insatiable. The prophet Isaiah said to
them "Woe to you that join house to house, and lay field to
field, even to the end of the place: shall you alone dwell in the
midst of the earth? "And the Roman satirist reproached one that
seemed to design to make all Rome a single house for himself. The
rich are anxious for superfluities, and are tormented by
extravagant desires. The poor have here often as much to correct;
the desire of possessions is as criminal as an attachment to the
possession; it often exposes to a thousand injustices, under
subtle disguises, and shuts the heart to divine grace. Lee all
labour in the world, but not for the world; and let all inordinate
desires and anxiety be cut off. Let the poor place themselves
nearest to Jesus Christ and, learning from him the happiness of
their condition, study their own sanctification in it. Let the
rich look upon their possessions as a burden hard to bear well,
and labour to sanctify them by a good use, and by imitating Christ
our model in a perfect spirit of disengagement and poverty. Is not
the life of a Christian to be penitential? Where is that of the
rich such? Vicious inclinations are roused and strengthened by
riches; and by incentives and opportunities the passions often
reign in the heart of the rich with uncontrollable empire. To
other dangers we must add the misfortune that the rich are
surrounded by flatterers, and that others artfully conspire to
blind and betray them amidst their dangers. How often does it
happen that ministers of God deceive them, calling evil good, and
good evil; soothing their passions or disguising their
obligations. But without entering into this detail, do not the
curses of Christ suffice to make all Christians tremble at the
dangers of this state? By this means, though Christ declares
riches one of the most dangerous obstacles of grace, many saints
have changed them into the means of their salvation, joining with
their possession a spirit of poverty and disengagement, and making
them the instruments of justice and charity. It is therefore
neither to riches nor to poverty that Christ promises the kingdom
of heaven; but to the disengagement of the heart from the love of
riches in whatever state persons live.
Pride being the third and principal source of our disorders, and
our deepest wound, humility is displayed in the most wonderful
manner in the birth of the Son of God. What is the whole mystery
of the Incarnation but the most astonishing humiliation of the
Deity? To expiate our pride, and to repair the injury offered to
the adorable Trinity by our usurpation, the eternal Son of God
divests himself of his glory and takes upon him the form of Man.
Who would not expect to hear, that when God descended upon earth,
the heavens would bend beneath him, the earth be moved at his
sight, and all nature arrayed with magnificence? "He came not,"
says St. Chrysostom," so as to shake the world at the presence
of his majesty: nor did he appear in thunder and lightning, as on
Mount Sinai; but he descended sweetly, no man knowing it." "While
all things were in deep silence, and the night was in the midst of
her course, thy Almighty Word came down from heaven, from thy
royal throne." No one of the great ones of the world is
apprized of this great mystery, Those few chosen persons to whom
he is pleased to reveal himself, are called to adore him in the
closest secrecy and silence. If this be the manner in which he
comes, what is the appearance which he makes among men? How comes
the King of heaven to make his appearance in such a state of
abasement, and so destitute of due honour and of every
convenience! His birth is, notwithstanding, the masterpiece of
infinite wisdom, mercy, and omnipotence. These perfections nowhere
shine more admirably than in this mystery; for he came thus to be
our Physician, to correct our mistaken judgment of things, to heal
our pride, to bring, and to encourage us to use the remedy to our
grievous maladies, and to overcome our reluctancy to its
bitterness by taking it first himself. Therefore humility was to
be his ensign, and the angel gave 0$ rags and manger to the
shepherds for the mark by which he was to be known." This shall be
to you a sign." What do we behold! A God poor, a God humbled, a
God suffering! And can we any longer entertain thoughts of
sensuality, ambition, or pride?
If this humility of a God be most astonishing, is not the
blindness and pride of man, after such an example, something, if
possible, still more inconceivable? Christ is born thus only to
atone for our pride, to shower us the beauty of humility, and to
plant it in our hearts. Humility is his standard; and the spirit
of sincere humility is the mark by which his disciples must be
known to be his. Can we profess ourselves his followers, can we
look upon the example which he has set us, and yet continue to
entertain thoughts of ambition and pride? To learn the interior
perfect spirit of humility and all other virtues, we cannot make
use of any more powerful means than serious and frequent
meditation on his nativity a divine life. Placing ourselves in
spirit at the manger, after the tender of our homages by acts of
adoration, praise, thanksgiving, and love, we must study in him
the lessons of all virtues, and must present to our newborn king
our earnest supplications to obtain of him all those gifts and
graces which he comes to bestow upon us. Let us learn humility
from the lowliness in which he appears, and from the humility of
his sacred heart. Let us learn meekness by beholding the sweetness
and patience with which this God-man receives all injuries from
men and from the elements. Let us learn resignation from the
indifference with which he bears cold, wants, wrongs, and whatever
is sent him. Let us learn obedience from the most perfect
submission of our blessed Saviour to the will of his heavenly
Father, from his birth ; himself without reserve, even
to the death of the cross. Let us learn charity from the ardour of
his divine love. Let us learn a contempt of the world and its
perishable goods from the extreme poverty which Christ made his
voluntary choice. Let not the spirit and maxims of the world reign
any longer in our hearts, since Christ has shown us such powerful
motives, and presented us such sovereign remedies against them.
Have we not hitherto been idolaters of ourselves by pride,
idolaters of the world by vanity and avarice, and idolaters of our
flesh by living enslaved to our senses? These idols we renounce at
baptism; but have we not lived in a perfidious violation of these
vows? Unless we now sincerely renew these engagements, and banish
these idols out of our affections, Jesus can never be spiritually
born in our souls, and we can never inherit his spirit, which was
the end of his carnal nativity. He is meek, and the king of peace,
the lover of purity and of chaste affections, and the avowed enemy
to every spirit of pride, hatred, and revenge. We must earnestly
invite and entreat him who vehemently desires to be born in our
hearts, that he prepare our souls to receive him by his graces,
that he cleanse them by his mercy, and by inspiring us with
sincere compunction, that he banish every inordinate passion, fill
us with his holy spirit, and by it reign in all our affections,
thoughts, and actions; that as by his nativity he is become all
ours, so we may be altogether his. Without this condition we
frustrate in ourselves the end of his coming; he is not born for
us, unless by his spirit he be born in us. Let us conjure him by
the infinite love with which he came for this very purpose, that
he suffer us not wretchedly to defeat this his mercy. For this
happiness we ought ardently to repeat that petition which he
himself has put into our mouths, "Thy kingdom come."
The custom of one priest celebrating several masses on the same
day prevailed in many places on great festivals. Prudentius,
in his twelfth hymn, "On the Crowns of Martyrs," mentions that on
the feast of SS. Peter and Paul, the 29th of June, the pope said
mass first at the Vatican, and afterwards in the Church of St.
Paul without the city. The popes on Christmasday formerly said
three masses, the first in the Liberian basilica, the second in
the Church of St. Anastasia, the third in the Vatican, as Benedict
XIV proves from ancient Roman orders or missals. St. Gregory the
Great speaks of saying three masses on this day. This custom
of the popes was universally imitated and is everywhere retained,
though not of precept. Pouget says, that these three masses
are celebrated to honour the triple birth of Christ; the first, by
which he proceeds from his Father before all ages; the second,
from the Blessed Virgin Mary; and the third, by which he is
spiritually born in our souls by faith and charity. That Christ
was born on the 25th of December, Pope Benedict XIV proves by the
authority of St. Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Austin,
&c., and answers the objections of Scaliger and Samuel Basnage
He doubts not but the Greek church originally kept this festival
on the same day; and he takes notice, that among the principal
feats of the year it holds the next place after Easter and
1 Aggaeus ii. 7.
2 Gen. iii, 15.
3 Gen. xxii. 18.
4 Gen. xxvi. and xxviii.
5 Gen. xlix. 8.
6 Isa. ii. 4 Mich.. iv. 2.
7 Gen. xlix. 8, 10.
8 Aggaeus ii. 3
9 Malachi iii. I.
10 Dan. ii. 3 v. 20; viii. 3 See Rollin, or Mezengui, or Calmet.
11 Dan. ix. 21, &c. See Nouveau Comment. t. ix. p. 500.
12 Numb, xxiv, 17.
13 In Vespas.
14 Tacit, in Annal.
15 See the life of Josephus.
16 Acts v, 36; xxi, 28, Joseph, Ant. lib, xx. c. 2 et 6; lib.
viii. c. I. Idem. De Bello Jud. lib. vii. c. 31, &c. Read Dissert.
sur les Faux Messies, in the new Fr. Comment. t. xi. p. 21.
17 Luke ii. I. 2, 3.
18 Mich. ii. 2.
19 Orig. Hom. ii. in Luc.
20 St. Justin, Apol. i. vol. 2.
21 Tert. lib.. iv. cont. Marcion.
22 St. Chrys. in Mat. hic.
23 See Calmet's Diss. sur les Caracteres du Messie, suivant les
Juifs, at the head of his comm. on St. Matthew.
24 St. Chrys. Hom, 2, in Mat. t. vii. p. 21, ed. Ben.
25 St. Bonav. Vit. Christi, c. 10.
26 Luke ii. 9, 20.
27 St. Fulgentius, Serm, ii. de Nativ.
28 Arnoldus Bonnevallis, Serm. do Nativ. inter Opera St. Cypriani.
29 2 Heb. i. 6.
30 Baruch iii. 38.
31 John i. 14.
32 St. Bern. Serm. vi. in Vigil. Nativ p. 771.
33 Acts i. I.
34 Tit. ii. II.
35 I John ii. 16.
36 Prov. xxviii. 20.
37 Col. iii. 5.
38 Isa. v. 8.
39 St. Chrysost. in Ps.. 50, p. 536 t.v.
40 Wisd. xviii. 14, 15.
41 See Bona Rer. Liturg. lib. i. c. 18, n. 6; Joseph. Vicecomes,
De antiquis missae ritibus, lib. iii. c. 28 &c.
42 St. Greg. Hom. viii. in Evang.
43 Instit. Cathol. t.i.p. 814.
44 De Festis Christi D. c. 17, n. 45, p. 411. See F. Honore,
Regles de Crib. lib. iii. Diss. 2, Art. I, and Tillemont, note 4.
45 N. 67, loco cit. p. 422.
46 N. 57, p. 417.
(Taken from Vol. IV of "The Lives or the Fathers, Martyrs and
Other Principal Saints" by the Rev. Alban Butler.)
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