Augustine's Christmas Sermons

The Nativity, December 25th,

and the Solstice


"Hence it is that He was born on the day which is the shortest in our earthly reckoning and from which subsequent days begin to increase in length. He, therefore, who bent low and lifted us up chose the shortest day, yet the one whence light begins to increase.” Sermon 194 

Augustine (A.D. 354-430) was biship of Hippo, north Africa. In his piece on the Trinity, Augustine states regarding the birth of Christ:

"He was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th."

Augustine’s Christmas sermons (Sermons 185-196) are short, usually only a few paragraphs; several  employ metaphors associating the birth of Christ and the gospel proclamation with the sun, the winter solstice, and the increase of light (Sermons 186, 188, 189, 190, 192, 194).

When Augustine wrote, the solstice occurred December 21st. The Julian calendar fixed the solar year at precisely 365 ¼ days. The actual length of the solar year is 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, 45 seconds, just better than eleven minutes shorter than the Julian year. This difference means that in the space of 131 years, the Julian year fell behind the solar year by one day, the solstices and equinoxes occurring a day before their civil date in the calendar. By A.D. 325, the solstice and equinox anticipated their civil dates by four days. Hence, to establish the uniform observance of Easter (Pasche), which is regulated by the vernal equinox, the Council of Nicaea fixed the ecclesiastical date of the spring equinox at March 21st to coincide with the actual astronomical event. But since the four points of the year stand in fixed relation to one another, the winter solstice necessary occured four days earlier at December 21st .

This means that when Augustine preached his Christmas sermons, actual connection between December 25th and the winter solstice had ceased to exist as much as four hundred years earlier.  Selden (Theanthropos) takes this as evidence that belief in the December 25th birth of Christ must have originated very early on, in apostolic times, while the association of the solstice with December 25th was still popularly retained, long before Nicaea when the distance between these events was widely known and understood. In other words, it is at the point where these three coincided – the Nativity, December 25th, and the solstice–that the association must have risen, not in later centuries when these three had grown progressively further apart.  

Sermon 184

Sermon 185

Sermon 186

Sermon 187

Sermon 188

Sermon 189

Sermon 190

Sermon 191

Sermon 192

Sermon 193

Sermon 194

Sermon 195

Sermon 196



Adoration of the Shepherds


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