December 24, 1896
AMS this number of our paper is dated the day before Christmas, it might be expected that we should have something to say about the institution.
If such be the expectation of any, they shall not be disappointed. We are willing to contribute what we may for the benefit of those who would celebrate this universal festival.
We say this universal festival, not because we would be understood to say that Christianity is universal; but because the period now referred to as the “Christmas season” has been celebrated from time immemorial by all nations.
That which is now particularly celebrated as the Christmas, is the remains of the ancient festival whose celebration covered a longer period of time. This festival season was celebrated in honor of the Sun; and December 25 especially in gladness and rejoicing at his annual birth and the beginning of his return victorious over the powers of darkness or night.
In the reigns of Domitian and Trajan, Rome formally adopted from Persia the feast of the Persian sun-god Mithras, with December 25 as the birth festival of the unconquered sun—Natales invicti Solis. In the Louvre at Paris is the original of a mythological representation of this, which was found at Rome in a vault under the Capitol. It is entitled “Mithra Sacrificing the Bull.” The central object of the piece is Mithra in a cavern sacrificing a bull. As already stated, Mithra represented the Sun; the bull was the symbol of the powers of night. The blood of the bull was to impart the power of regeneration. At the right hand in the cavern stands the Genius of Night with his torch turned down, extinguished. At the left stands the Genius of Day, with his torch held up, aflame. An inscription on the body of the bull reads: “To Mithra, the invincible Sun-God.” The piece is intended to represent the victory of the Sun over the powers of darkness. This sacrifice was made annually at the winter solstice—the period that is now Christmas-time. Thus this annual festival was an established thing in the State and City of Rome.
About the middle of the fourth century, the church of Rome adopted this festival, making the birthday of the Sun, December 25, the birthday of Christ. And in a few years the celebration of this festival of the sun had spread among the churches throughout the whole empire—east as well as west. In one of the homilies of Chrysostom, supposed to have been delivered on this festival day in A.D. 386, he expresses his own pleasure and “congratulates the people upon the progress made, through their zeal in establishing this new festival, which they had borrowed from the Western Church“; and “seems to speak of it as a custom imported from the West within ten years.” The perverse-minded clergy readily sanctioned the practice and relieved all doubts, with the assurance that the festival which had been formerly celebrated as the birth of the real sun was a type of the festival of the birth of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. And thus was established the Church festival of Christmas.
There are other items connected with the celebration of the day, whose origin and meaning are also worth mentioning. One of these is the Christmas tree. Just as the day itself and its celebration were adopted from pagan Rome, the use of the tree was adopted from the pagan Germans. And just as the day is a relic of sun-worship, so also is the tree. In The Ladies Home Journal, for December, Mrs. Lyman Abbott says of “The Christmas Tree“: “A German friend tells me that the true Christmas tree is ‘not a mere show, decorated for the momentary amusement of children. It is a sublime symbol of the soul life of the Germanic people for a thousand years.’ … The tree itself ‘is the celestial sun-tree.’”
Another item is the decoration of the houses and churches with vines, branches of trees, etc. This is derived from the sun-worshiping Druids of Britain. An early English writer says that the “trimmyng of the temples with hangyngs, flowers, boughs, and garlands, was taken of the heathen people, whiche decked their idols and houses with suche array.” The ivy particularly was used in honor of Bacchus.
Thus it is that Christmas day, the celebration of the day, and the appurtenances thereto, are all heathen and only relics of sun-worship.
OUR readers will remember an article by Dr. H. L. Wayland, which not long ago was reprinted in the SENTINEL, from the Independent, in which he criticised the Canadian Sunday law by which some Seventh-day Adventist preachers were fined and imprisoned. Dr. Wayland rightly enough spoke of it as religious persecution.
Dr. W. H. Withrow, of Toronto, in a letter to the Independent, undertakes to defend the Canadian Sunday law, and to justify the persecutions that were inflicted by it. He says of the preachers who were fined and imprisoned, that “their religion had nothing to do with it. It would have been the same if they had been agnostics or Jews. The law simply forbids Sunday labor, and the law must be obeyed whether men are barbers, saloon-keepers, or Seventh-day Adventists.”
This is the argument that is usually made in such cases; but instead of being in any sense a legitimate argument, it is a sheer subterfuge. This is not to say that all who use it have thought enough upon it, intentionally to use it as a subterfuge. Though it is quite clear that many of them have not cared to think enough on the subject to know whether it is a subterfuge or not. They know that such is the law, and that it enforces exactly what they believe religiously; and that is as far as they care to inquire. Yet all that any person needs to do in order to see that it is not only a subterfuge but one of the meanest subterfuges that was ever employed, is only to think about two steps from where he professes proudly to stand.
All those people profess to believe in religious freedom. They profess to hold that every man has the right to believe or dissent from any doctrine, dogma, ordinance, rite, or institution of any church, as he may choose for himself. They profess to be proud that they believe in such freedom as this. Yes, they even boast that they are the divinely-appointed conservators of such religious liberty as this.
Yet, while loudly professing to recognize this right as inalienable, under cover of this subterfuge they deny the right and actually  attempt to sweep it entirely away. This subterfuge is that they get church dogmas or institutions embodied in the law, and then demand obedience to the law, throwing upon the dissenter the odium of “lawlessness and disrespect for the constituted authorities,” while they pose as the champions of “law and order,” the “conservators of the State, and the stay of society”!
Of all the pretenses that were ever employed, this is perhaps the sublest [sic.]. By it throughout the Middle Ages, anything and everything that the church could invent was forced upon the people. Its slimy trail can be traced throughout the history of the “Protestant” sects, in thus forcing upon the people such peculiar institutions as were characteristic of the sect that could obtain controls of the law. And now it is made to flourish again, by all the sects together, in thus forcing upon the people the one thing in which they are all agreed, and in which they have obtained control of the law, the observance of Sunday, “the Christian sabbath.”
Sunday, not only according to their own showing, but by every other fair showing that can be made, is a religious institution, a church institution, only. This they all know as well as they know anything. And yet they work constantly to get this church institution fixed, and more firmly fixed, in the law, with penalties attached that are more worthy of barbarism than of civilization; and then, when anybody objects to it, they all cry out that “it is not a question of religion, it is simply a question of law. We are not asking any religious observance; all that we ask is respect for law”!!
The Christian and Protestant answer to all this is that neither the Sunday institution nor any other religious or ecclesiastical institution has any right to a place in the law. And even when it is put into the law, this does not take away the right of dissent. The divine right of dissent from religious or ecclesiastical institutions abides ever the same, whether the institution is out of the law or in the law. So long as the religious rite or institution is not in the law, they themselves acknowledge the inalienable right of every man to disregard it utterly. Whereas, as soon as they get the dogma fixed in the law, they deny the right of anybody to disregard it at all: though it is precisely the religious thing that it was before. But instead of the right to disregard it being taken away by this change of position of the church dogma, the truth is that when the institution is fixed in the law, the right of dissent then extends to that law. The subterfuge cannot destroy the right.
From the church organizations the courts have caught up this cry. And, though acknowledging that the Sunday institution is religious; that it is enacted and enforced at the will of the church; and that the logic of it is the union of Church and State; yet they insist that, as it is in the law, and the law is for the public good, no right of dissent can be recognized; but the dissenter “may be made to suffer for his defiance by persecutions, if you call them so, on the part of the great majority.”
This argument is as old as is the contest for the right of the free exercise of religious belief. It was the very position occupied by Rome when the disciples of Christ were sent into the world to preach religious freedom to all mankind. Religious observances were enforced by the law. The Christians asserted and maintained the right to dissent from all such observances, and, in fact, from every one of the religious observances of Rome, and to believe religiously for themselves, though in so doing they totally disregarded the laws, which, on the part of the Roman State, were held to be beneficial to the population. Then, as now, it was held that, though religious belief was the foundation of the custom, yet this was no objection to it, because it had become a part of the legal system of the government, and was enforced by the State for its own good. But Christianity then refused to recognize any validity in any such argument, and so it does now.
When paganism was supplanted by the papacy in the Roman Empire, the same argument was again brought forth to sustain the papal observances which were enforced by imperial law; and through the whole period of papal supremacy Christianity still refused to recognize any validity whatever in the argument.
In short, this argument—this “miserable excuse”—whether made by churches or by courts, is the same old serpent (Revelation 12:9, 12, 14) that tortured the Christians to death under pagan Rome; that burnt John Huss at Constance, and Michael Servetus at Geneva; that whipped, and banished the Baptists, and banished and hanged the Quakers, in New England. Whether used by the Roman State and the Catholic Church, or by other States and other churches; whether in the early centuries, or in these last years of the nineteenth century, of the Christian era; that argument is ever the same old serpent, and Christianity has always refused to recognize any validity whatever in it, and it always will.