3 January 2018


The Breviary readings on December 4 recounted that S Peter Chrysologos preached a very fierce sermon against chaps in masks (personati) who took part in ludi with variis saltationibus on the Kalends of January.

His view was that people who wanted to fool around (iocari) with the Devil were not fit to rejoice with Christ. It reminded me rather of S Damasus' campaign aainst the Lupercalia.

Can anybody supply background to this?

UPDATE: following hints from kind correspondents, whom I thank, I was waiting outside Bodley yesterday morning as the portcullis went up after the midwinter absit doctrina break. 

For any who have any interest, I commend the Ninth Oration of the late pagan Greek rhetorician Libanius, a supporter of Julian the Apostate (332-363). Naturally, he defends the existence of this old pagan celebration ... though how old it can really be in the Greek world (it is commonly remarked that postponing something until the Greek Calends is a bit like PF setting up a Committee, since Greek Calends do not exist)? [I read it in the Teubner Edition, Vol 1 Fasc 2 pp 393-398. I don't know whither the Greekless could turn to find a crib. The Loeb volumes of Libanius do not include this Oration.]

More entertaining is a sermon by S Asterius, bishop of Amaseia, circa 350 to circa 410. [Migne Patrologia Graeca XL 216-226. Migne is on the Internet and includes a Latin crib of every text printed. Although in many cases, including this one, the 'translation' is more of a paraphrase.] S Asterius describes the Kalends of January as the relentless Argyrolatria of the 'Christmas Shopping period' in post-Christian Western 'civilisation'; as the often extortionate and menacing 'trick or treat' period around 'Hallow e'en'; and as a more-than-usually unwholesome 'Gay Pride' celebration: all arranged neatly together in harmonious disorder on the same day.

Perhaps that's why Chrysologus had his doubts about it. 


Oliver Nicholson said...

You might find help in M. Meslin La fête des kalendes de janvier dans l'empire romain (Collection Latomus 115, 1970). Libanius Oration IX defends the festival - despite it being Roman rather than Greek in origin.

Fr PJM said...

Wouldn't Guerangercomment?

Andreas Meszaros said...

Pater: Looks like you are referring to Sermo 155 “De kalendis Januarii quae varia gentium superstitione polluebantur”. A note in the text mentions that “profanorum ludorum consuetudo erat pecudum assumptis formis huc illucque discursare et petulantius se gerere.” Other authors (Augustinus, Prudentius, Ambrosius) wrote against the custom.

Banshee said...

Heh! Now I get to mention my friend Roger Pearse again!

Mischa Hooker translated "On the Roman Months" by John the Lydian. The section on the Kalends of January begins at Book 4, 3. Nothing about masks.

Here are the links to his newly revised edition, over at Roger's page.

However, in the month of Gamelion (January), there was a Greek festival called the Lenaia that was dedicated to Dionysus. It was one of the times they used to run plays. So maybe it was something of that nature? (If it was something Middle Eastern and pagan, I don't know where to look.)

Andreas Meszaros said...

Another note, related to this, in the Migne Patrologia Latina mentions the Fourth Council of Toledo which mandated that “prima die Januarii Alleluia non cantetur, et abstinentia a carnibus servetur, ut nihil Christianis cum superstitione Gentilium commune sit.”

Imagine that: abstinence on the 1st of January so that Christians won’t have anything in common with popular superstitions.

neilmac said...

I think that Chrysologos was referring to the Feast of Fools.

The best account of the Feast Fools that I have encountered is "Sacred Folly", Max Harris, Cornell University Press, 2011.

The whole subject is quite complicated, especially as Harris argues that a faction (of zealots?) in the Middle Ages, being determined to suppress it, waged what we might now call a propaganda war against it, using all sorts of dubious methods in their attacks. He further argues that many 19th and 20th historians have mistakenly accepted this propaganda as a true description of liturgical abuses, hence the distorted view many have of the Feast.

There is a further complication as the Boy Bishop Ceremonies are often regarded as being part and parcel of the Feast of Fools, when probably they were quite separate, although usually celebrated, like the Feast of Fools, in the Octave of the Nativity.

If you will forgive the plug...

I have written a detailed study of the Boy Bishop in my book which is the only comprehensive study of the subject.

"The Medieval Boy Bishops", Neil Mackenzie, 2014. ISBN 9781502924230 (2nd edition)

"The Medieval Boy Bishops", Neil Maxkenzie, Matador, 2011. 9781780880082 (1st edition)

Ivan said...

Regarding Libanius' edition, there is an English translation in the journal Archiv für Religionsgeschichte, Volume 13, Issue 1 (it is titled Appendix: Libanios, Oration IX: On the Kalends). It is behind a paywall, though, €30 for its 5 pages! https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/afgs.2012.13.issue-1/afgs.2012.205/afgs.2012.205.xml

There seems to be a French translation (Les Belles Lettres), Libanios, Tome II, Discours II-X. Interestingly, the présentation mentions each of the mentioned orations, except for the ninth. I do not know if this is just a mistake, or the ninth oration abest. I guess it is more likely that the former is true, since it would be really insincere for Les Belles Lettres to title the tome Discours II-X. https://www.lesbelleslettres.com/livre/531-discours-tome-ii-discours-ii-x

neilmac said...

Clumsy error!

In my last post I should have written -

"The Medieval Boy Bishops", Neil Mackenzie, Matador, 2011. ISBN 9781780880082 (1st edition)

E sapelion said...

Ahem.Father, you may well be right that S Damasus tried to suppress the Lupercalia, and the Emperor Gratian banned pagan celebrations in Rome soon after Damasus death. But it did not have full effect, since a century later S Galsius was trying again.
>>:- the senate protested that the Lupercalia was essential to Rome's safety and well-being. This prompted Gelasius' scornful suggestion that "If you assert that this rite has salutary force, celebrate it yourselves in the ancestral fashion; run nude yourselves that you may properly carry out the mockery."