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I found this quote of Origen condemning birthdays as the practice of the gentile sinners.

...of all the holy people in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on his birthday. It is only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod) who make great rejoicings over the day on which they were born into this world below (Origen, in Levit., Hom. VIII, in Migne P.G., XII, 495) (Thurston H. Natal Day. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to Margaret Johanna Albertina Behling Barrett. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

The writings of the late third century Catholic theologian Arnobius show that, even that late, Catholics objected to the celebration of birthdays as he wrote:

...you worship with couches, altars, temples, and other service, and by celebrating their games and birthdays, those whom it was fitting that you should assail with keenest hatred. (Arnobius. Against the Heathen (Book I), Chapter 64. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 6. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1886. Online Edition Copyright © 2005 by K. Knight).

Can you quote the full context of Origen (and Arnobius) quotes, and any responses or discussion on this view by others, within the third century in English and Greek? I need to know the reasons for his views.

Background:

  • The Encyclopedia Judaica could not be more blunt: “The celebration of birthdays is unknown in traditional Jewish ritual.” In fact, it says, the only birthday party mentioned in the Bible is for Pharaoh! (Genesis 40:20). Birthdays, Jewishly

  • History of celebration of birthdays in the West:

“It is thought that the large-scale celebration of birthdays in Europe began with the cult of Mithras, which originated in Persia but was spread by soldiers throughout the Roman Empire. Before this, such celebrations were not common; and, hence, practices from other contexts such as the Saturnalia were adapted for birthdays. Because many Roman soldiers took to Mithraism, it had a wide distribution and influence throughout the empire until it was supplanted by Christianity.”

“Christmas is also relevant because December 25th was the day of celebration of the birthday of the sun-god Mithra. Perhaps it should also be mentioned that one of the key features of Mithraism was Sunday observance. The reason that this seems to be relevant is that the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to make a profession of Christ, was also the first Emperor to make Sunday laws–which he began to do on March 7, 321. Also, a few years later, the Council of Nicea that Constantine convened in 325 A.D. declared Sunday to be the “Christian day” of worship (for more information, please see the article Europa and the Book of Revelation).” Pagan Origins of Birthdays

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    You quote from The Encyclopedia Judaica which says birthday celebrations are unkknown in Jewish ritual. However, sources in Stack Exchange Mi Yodyea show that Jewish birthday celebrations are acceptable, especially for boys who reach 13 and girls who reach 12. Also, age 70 is significant (human lifespan of three score years and ten) and can be celebrated. Blowing out candles on a birthday cake is not allowed, though, because of pagan origins. I can't help you with anything Origen may or may not have said, but Jews don't seem to have a problem celebrating a birthday.
    – Lesley
    Jan 8, 2023 at 17:09
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    That quote must be referring to Jewish context within the biblical history, it is absent/unknown. The Jews of today may have a Rabbinic new tradition that is different. The tradition of personal birthday is really absent in the bible, and only shown in pagan Romans. That's what Origen said. He also dont mention that Jews of his day have that tradition of birthdays.
    – Michael16
    Jan 9, 2023 at 11:16
  • Origen said lots of things, much of which remains acceptable to mainstream Christianity. He is attributed (alongside Athanasius and the 3 Cappadocian 'fathers') with playing a major part in establishing the basis of the Trinity doctrine in his era of the mid-200s. Yet the Greek Orthodox came to view him as heretical (re. dualism)! This cannot contribute to an answer but it's worth remembering that it's what scripture says that should be The authority. Does holy scripture oppose birthday celebrations?
    – Anne
    Jan 10, 2023 at 14:56
  • Origen being from Egypt, Alexandria could represent the authentic beliefs of the religion, since Alexandria is known as the best location for authentic bible transmission. His words definitely align with the Jewish/Xian though if he opposed the Romans.
    – Michael16
    Jan 10, 2023 at 15:59
  • Herod killed john the baptist during a feast on his birthday in Matthew 14:6
    – Adam
    Jan 13, 2023 at 13:40

1 Answer 1

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Why did Origen oppose birthdays?

In part it was because it was a pagan custom and in part it was because there was no ancient Hebrew tradition of celebrating one’s birthday on a yearly anniversary basis. He had a great respect for the Jewish people.

Like other Early Church Fathers, Origen taught doctrine and defended Christianity against heresies. In doing this, their sole appeal for authority was Scripture. (Source)

Origen of Alexandria is well known for writing against pagan practices and customs, as well a honouring the ancient Scriptural customs of the Jewish people. For example Origen credits Jews with a special talent for exorcising demons (Against Celsus, book 4).

Certainly Origen was aware of the first century AD, Josephus writings that stated "the law does not permit us to make festivals at the births of our children, and thereby afford occasion of drinking to excess" (Against Apion, II.26).

Of the two birthday celebrations mentioned in Scriptures, both of them were accompanied with bloodshed!

Origen, wrote over two centuries after the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Origen was very passionate about preaching about the Book of Leviticus. In his Homilies on Leviticus, speaking on the aspect of birth, Origen states the following:

. . . not one from all the saints is found to have celebrated a festive day or a great feast on the day of his birth. No one is found to have had joy on the day of the birth of his son or daughter. Only sinners rejoice over this kind of birthday. For indeed we find in the Old Testament Pharaoh, king of Egypt, celebrating the day of his birth with a festival, and in the New Testament, Herod. However both of them stained the festival of his birth by shedding human blood. . . . But the saints not only do not celebrate a festival on their birth days, but, filled with the Holy Spirit, they curse that day, (after the example of Job, Jeremiah and David).

Your first link source states the following:

In their essay titled "Birthdays, Jewishly," Lisa Farber Miller and Sandra Widener point out that the Encyclopedia Judaica is very blunt on this topic:

"The celebration of birthdays is unknown in traditional Jewish ritual."

Did Early Christians Celebrate Birthdays? NO, only the Pagans did!

Yes this may be true, but there were birthdays that were traditionally celebrated amongst the Jews. Exceptions to this were when a child was weaned, his first hair cut and of course his Bar Miẓwah. In fact, the Jewish Encyclopedia explain this quite well and it acknowledges that the traces of celebrating Christ’s birth has its origin within the Early Church.

There are no positive data in the Bible or in rabbinical literature concerning birthday festivals among the ancient Jews. This silence on the subject is, however, no warrant for the conclusion that the Jews altogether abstained from following a custom which was general among the Egyptians (Gen. xl. 20), Persians (Herodotus i. 133), Syrians, and Greeks. Even if not common among the people, yet kings and princes probably practised it, following the custom of their heathen contemporaries. Birthday festivals were not considered by the Rabbis as "ḥukkot ha-goyim" (customs of the heathen; see Maimonides, Yad ha-Ḥazaḳh, 'Akkum we-Ḥuḳotehem, xi. 12), although Lightfoot held a contrary opinion ("Horæ Hebr." on Matt. xiv. 6).

Biblical References

A close study of the Biblical text shows that the Bible is not altogether wanting in references to the subject; for, while it lacks positive accounts, it contains passages from which it may be inferred that the custom of remembering birthday anniversaries was not wholly unknown among the Jews. "The day of our king" (Hosea vii. 5), on which the princes made the king sick with bottles of wine, and the king himself "stretched out his hand with scorners," alludes more probably to a birthday festival than to a solemn occasion, such as the anniversary of his installation, which would have been observed with more decorum (see Josephus, "Ant." xv. 9, § 6).

Birthdays might not have been celebrated by the common people with great solemnity, yet they did not pass wholly unnoticed, and were remembered by congratulations, as in modern times. Jeremiah not only cursed the day of his birth, but wished that it should not be blessed (Jer. xx. 14), as though such had been the custom.

It is said of Job, "and he cursed his day" (Job iii. 1). The emphatic and determining expression "his day" implies the idea that he, like everybody else, had a certain day of the year singled out for a certain purpose, which we learn further was the anniversary of his birth.

Weaning on Second Birthday

The second or third birthday of a child whose coming into the world was very much desired by his parents was usually made the occasion of a feast, because the child was then weaned, and had consequently passed the dangerous and uncertain stage of infancy. Abraham made a great feast on the day Isaac was weaned (Gen. xxi. 8). This occurred, according to Rashi, at the expiration of twenty-four months. Bishop Ely ("Holy Bible Com." l.c. on the passage) says: "By comparing I Sam. it would seem that this was very probably a religious feast." Hannah postponed the yearly family feast at Shiloh until she had weaned Samuel, in order to celebrate his birthday at the same time (I Sam. i. 23, 24). According to Rashi and Midr. R. Samuel, l.c., this also occurred at the end of twenty-four months. Yet from II Chron. xxxi. 16 it may be inferred that Samuel was weaned at the end of his third year; for only from that age were children admitted to the service of the Temple.

In Post-Biblical Times

Two instances of birthday celebrations are mentioned in post-Biblical literature, from which it may be assumed that this was customary in the Herodian family. They used to celebrate birthdays with great pomp, and in the same manner as the Egyptian kings had done more than 2,000 years earlier (Gen. xl. 20), by extensive public entertainments, which were made the occasions of granting favors to friends and pardons to those in disgrace. Agrippa I. solemnized his birthday anniversary by entertaining his subjects with a festival, and decreed the recall of his banished general Silas, which recall, by the way, the latter stubbornly declined (Josephus, "Ant." xix. 7, § 1). Herod the Tetrarch celebrated his birthday with a great feast, at which the daughter of Herodias danced before the guests, the king promising "to give her whatsoever she would ask" (Matt. xiv. 6).

The Bar Miẓwah

The Jewish people in general may have had reasons to avoid feasting on birthdays in the times of the Tannaim and Amoraim: first, because they had been at one time grievously offended on such festivals (according to II Macc. vi. 7, the Jews were forced, in the time of Antiochus, to eat of the sacrifices which were offered "in the day of the king's birth every month"); secondly, because no "Talmid ḥakam" would attend as a guest at such a feast, since the Rabbis condemn the Talmid ḥakam who partakes of a meal or feast which is not a "se'udat miẓwah" (commendable meal). And to the son of him who frequented feasts were applied opprobrious epithets, such as "son of an oven-heater," "son of a market-dancer," etc. Since the fifteenth century (Löw, "Lebensalter," p. 210) the thirteenth birthday of a boy has been made the occasion of a family feast because it coincides with his religious majority (Bar Miẓwah).

Special Birthdays of Scholars. In modern times the widely spread custom of celebrating some particular birthday of a great man by a banquet or by some literary production has enriched Jewish literature with many gems of Hebrew learningand poetry. Jewish scholars of great renown have become the recipients of marks of deference and homage on the part of their friends and admirers on their seventieth or eightieth or ninetieth birthday by the publication of a jubilee-book, to which scholars from far and near have contributed some of their best work.

About the meaning of of the Mishnah, which seems to correspond with ἡμέρα γενεσεώς (LXX., Gen. xl. 20), some doubts have been raised because, by the side of ("birthday of the king") mention is also made of ("the day of birth and the day of death"). In the Babylonian Talmud ('Ab. Zarah 10a) the decision is reached in favor of as meaning "the day of coronation." It is accepted by Maimonides (see Commentary to the Mishnah, and Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah, 'Akkum we-Ḥukotehem, ix. 5). The glossary "Kesef Mishneh," ad loc., thinks that Maimonides may have read ("assembly") for. Rasḥi explains as equivalent to "the birthday of the king"; while the Talmud Yerushalmi ('Ab. Zarah i. 39) explains as "birthday." This agrees with the use made of the word in many instances (Gen. R. lxxxviii.; Ex. R. xv.; Yer. R. H. iii. 8; Yalḳ., Job. 584; Compare Rashi, Gen. xl. 20). Graetz (in "M. G. Y." 230) is of the opinion that means the day of death of the king.

All these difficulties and differences may be obviated if be explained as indicating Christian festivals of the early Church. By may be understood the Nativity, or Christmas, and by Easter, or the Resurrection. Cave (in "Primitive Christianity," part 1, vii. 194, cited in McClintock and Strong's "Cyclopedia," s.v. "Christmas ") traces the observance of Christmas to the second century, about the time of the emperor Commodus. According to David Ganz ("Ẓemaḥ David," i., year 3881), Commodus reigned 183-185, at the time of Rabbi Meïr of the Mishnah, who counted those days as legal holidays. - Birthday

The 2nd-century patristic writer St. Irenaeus of Lyon regarded the conception of Jesus as 25 March coinciding with the Passion. Tertullian believed also that March 25th was Christ’s Conception and Death. Thus a Conception leads to a December 25th birthday!

Yes, the Scriptures do not say anything about celebrating the Birth of Christ as we commonly say as Christmas, but the Sacred Scriptures do not directly forbid it either.

Tertullian held that Christ’s conception and death were on March 25th, exactly nine months prior to December 25th.

But where did he get this idea from, that the crucifixion was on the 8th day before the kalends of April, March 25?

There is a lunar calendar on the statue of Hippolytus in the Vatican Library. Apparently a note within this indicates the “Passion of Christ” was on Friday March 25.

Tertullian, Adversus Judaeos 8:18:

Quae passio Christi [huius exterminium] intra tempora LXX ebdomadarum perfecta est sub Tiberio Caesare, consulibus Rubellio Gemino et Rufio Gemino mense Martio temporibus paschae, die octavo Kalendarum Aprilium, die primo azymorum quo agnum occiderunt ad vesperam, sicut a Moyse fuerat praeceptum.

And the suffering of this “extermination” was perfected within the times of the lxx hebdomads, under Tiberius Caesar, in the consulate of Rubellius Geminus and Fufius Geminus, in the month of March, at the times of the passover, on the eighth day before the calends of April, on the first day of unleavened bread, on which they slew the lamb at even, just as had been enjoined by Moses. - March 25 – the date of the annunciation, the crucifixion, and the origin of December 25 as the date of Christmas?

If the birth of Christ was not celebrated in the Early Church, at least the foundations were obviously there, even if Origen, being in Egypt was unaware of this.

Wikipedia has an interesting note about the Festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti:

Festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

The Philocalian calendar of AD 354, part VI, gives a festival of natalpubeis invicti on 25 December. There is limited evidence that this festival was celebrated before the mid-4th century. The same Philocalian calendar, part VIII, also mentions the birth of Jesus Christ, stating that the "Lord Jesus Christ was born eight days before the calends of January" (that is, on December 25).

Since the 12th century, there have been theories that the near-solstice date of 25 December for Christmas was selected because it was the date of the festival of dies natalis solis invicti, but historians of late antiquity make no mention of this, and others speculate Aurelian chose December 25 to shadow early Christian celebrations already on the rise.

Aurelian also built a new temple for Sol, which was dedicated on 25 December 274, and brought the total number of temples for the god in Rome to four.

Since I cannot interrogate Origen to discern exactly what he meant by, “the saints not only do not celebrate a festival on their birth days, but, filled with the Holy Spirit, they curse that day”, for saints were all born as sinners, stained with original sin*. Scriptures also declares that one himself who is born whether male or female is not "clean from filth although his life is of one day.” And that you may know that there is something great in this and such that it has not come from the thought to any of the saints; not one from all the saints is found to have celebrated a festive day or a great feast on the day of his birth.

Yet, Jesus was like men in all things yet without sin. Thus the the theological underlined basis for celebrating Christ’s birthday can be seen here. To say that ”others believing in Christmas is not relevant, they must be later and disconnected with the religion”, in not congruent with understanding of the theology of Jesus’s conception and birth, from the Church’s point of view. Whether or not December 25th is the actual birthday of Jesus, is not important, what the Church is doing is celebrating the birth of the God-man in his human nature and making a statement to those who deny his incarnation and two natures and being united to the Father and the Holy Spirit within the Most Holy Trinity.

Besides, Origen has never been canonized by either the Orthodox or Catholic Churches.

The following articles may be of interest to some:

  • Natal Day

  • John Chrysostom - Homily on the Date of Christmas ”This day was known from the beginning to those in the West: now it has been brought to us and before the passing of many years, has swiftly shot up, bearing such fruit as you now see – the precincts full and the church packed with the crowd who have gathered together.”

  • Was the date of Jesus' birthday chosen from a pagan celebration? ”Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.”

  • Patrologiae cursus completus, Pages 491-508 contain Origen’s complete Homily 8 on Leviticus in Latin.

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    Outstanding research! Especially with regard to the dates concerning Jesus' conception, his birth and his death.
    – Lesley
    Jan 10, 2023 at 12:28
  • Can you add the link to Greek text of the full Origen quote? Others believing in Xmas is not relevant, they must be later and disconnected with the religion.
    – Michael16
    Jan 12, 2023 at 3:29

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