The war on Christmas, as that expression is usually understood, denotes the recent North American phenomenon in which progressive forces, in the name of diversity, tolerance, multiculturalism and all those other words which serve little other purpose than to hide the spirit of Stalinist totalitarianism behind a smiley face, have sought to re-brand Christmas into a generic “holiday season”. This war is conducted on many fronts and with varying degrees of intensity, ranging from the replacement of the traditional “Merry Christmas” greeting with “Happy Holidays” or something similar to the more heavy-handed attempts by lobby groups and civil liberties organizations to drive nativity scenes and any other Christmas imagery that has a direct and obvious connection to Christianity from the public square. Back in the 1990s, Peter Brimelow and John O’Sullivan began a war against Christmas contest in National Review, to see who could find the most outrageous example of an attempt to suppress the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and put a cheap generic imitation in its place and Brimelow has continued this tradition on his immigration reform website VDare. VDare has done an excellent job of documenting this sort of thing and so we will here turn to look at the other war on Christmas, i.e., that conducted by those who consider themselves to be the faithful, against Christmas, in the name of what they consider to be a sound interpretation of the Bible.
The roots of this other war on Christmas go back to the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. The Reformation began as a response to corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Leo X had authorized a campaign in which indulgences would be offered in return for funds that would go to the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica. This crass effort to sell the grace of God, offended Dr. Martin Luther of the University of Wittenberg, who challenged not only the vulgar indulgence peddling of Johann Tetzel, but the theology that lay behind the very idea of indulgences, on the grounds of the Pauline doctrine of justification by grace through faith, and, when summoned by the Church to defend himself against charges of heresy, insisted that it is to the Holy Scriptures, as the written Word of God, that the teachings and traditions of the Church must be held accountable.
Dr. Luther had nothing against Christmas, or against most of the traditions of the Church for that matter, but the ball he started rolling picked up momentum which carried it much further than he had ever intended. The Reformation divided Western Europe, in which nation-states had begun to develop in the earlier Renaissance period. Of these, for the most part those with a Latin-based language, like French, Italian, and Spanish, remained Roman Catholic while the national churches in the northern states, with German-based languages, tended to follow one or the other of the Protestant Reformers. There were Protestants, however, who were convinced that Luther, Calvin, and even Zwingle had not gone far enough, who condemned Christendom and its traditions and institutions as hopelessly corrupt, denouncing both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant national churches and who formed sects in which only those whom they considered to be pure in doctrine and lifestyle were welcome, regarding their own sects as God’s elect remnant, and everyone else as being corrupt.
Protestant sectarianism continued to develop further and further away from the mainstream of Christian tradition and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, radical Protestant sects developed, like the Rutherfordian Russellites and the Armstrongists which went so far as to reject Nicene Trinitarian orthodoxy itself, generally reviving one or another of the ancient heresies in the process. Both the Russellites and the Armstrongists condemned Christmas as a pagan invention of the “Catholic Church” which in their view was a counterfeit church created by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century.
This same anti-Christmas view had developed in radical Protestantism much earlier than this, however, by individuals who did not go so far as to reject the Trinity. In the sixteenth century, many of the English Protestants who had introduced moderate reforms in the Church of England during the reign of Edward VI, fled to Switzerland during the reign of the Catholic Mary, and there became much more radical in their Calvinism. When these returned to England, during the reign of Elizabeth I, who had restored the Edwardian reforms, they found these did not go far enough to please them. They demanded that every practice and institution from the pre-Reformation tradition of the Church for which they could not find a text in the Holy Scriptures commanding or authorizing its use be removed from the Church as superstition and popery. Against these fanatics, who came to be known as Puritans, the theologian Richard Hooker, defended the Elizabethan Church of England in his eight volume Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, arguing that the Church was at liberty to retain whatever traditional practices and institutions were not explicitly forbidden or condemned in the Holy Scriptures, a view far more compatible with the Pauline doctrine of Christian liberty than that of the Puritans, although the latter liked to think of themselves as the champions of Christian liberty against a “legalistic” Church. When neither Elizabeth I, nor her Stuart successors James I and Charles I, were willing to give in to their demands, they became increasingly seditious and in the 1640s their rebellion against King Charles I broke out into the English Civil War. They captured the king, had him put on trial before a Parliament from which all but their own supporters had been removed by military force, and executed him. They installed their general, Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of Britain, whose tyrannical regime lasted until his death in 1658, shortly after which the crown was restored to Charles II.
During his mercifully brief dictatorship, Cromwell sought to remove everything that brought the slightest amount of colour, light, and earthly happiness into people's lives. He banned games and amusements on Sundays - the only day of the week people were not working from dawn to dusk, stripped the churches of ornamentation and beautiful organ music, forcing everyone to listen to horrible extra long sermons all Sunday morning, shut down theatres, and outlawed Christmas as pagan.
What was Cromwell's problem? Dr. Seuss once speculated concerning a fictional character who bore a remarkable resemblance to Cromwell "It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small." In the case of the real-life, seventeenth century Grinch, Cromwell, whatever role his head and shoes might have played, the problem was that his heart, soul, and spirit had been shrunk, frozen, and killed by a form of extreme Calvinism that combined a Pharisaical spirit regarding religion with a philistine attitude to culture in what was the most repulsive and vile, hell-spawned theology to claim the name of Christianity in vain, until theological modernism began to be spewed forth from the German schools of higher criticism and the North American "social gospel" movement in the nineteenth century.
Unfortunately, the spirit of Cromwellian Puritanism has survived in the misguided zealots who come out every year at this time to inform us that the first five verses of Jeremiah 10 condemn Christmas trees, even though anyone with an IQ over thirty can see that the reference to removing a tree from the forest and decking it with silver and gold is describing the construction of an idol, not something that is purely celebratory and decorative in purpose and function. They also like to remind us that December 25th was the day in which the Romans celebrated the birth of Sol Invictus at the conclusion of the pagan festival of lights, Saturnalia, concluding through some leap of reasoning that it was therefore pagan and idolatrous for the Church to have set the feast day celebrating the birth of the Son of the Living God on this same day. This sort of reasoning, however, would also condemn St. John the Apostle for introducing Jesus as the "Logos" in his Gospel. The idea of the Logos, the Divine Word or Reason, comes right out of pagan Greek philosophy. As the Hellenized first century Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria pointed out, there was a parallel concept in the "memra", the personalized Word or Wisdom of God of the Targum, the Aramaic rabbinic commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures, and it is quite in keeping with the New Testament concept that Christ abolished the division between Jews and Gentiles in establishing His Covenant and His Church, to understand the Logos of the Gospel to draw from both the Greek and Jewish antecedents. Interestingly, the Jews then, as now, also celebrated a "Festival of Lights", around the winter solstice, commemorating the rededication of the Temple, after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabean revolt that ensued. Jesus, according to the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, went to Jerusalem for this festival, also called the Feast of the Dedication or Hanukkah, even though this feast would be regarded as extra-scriptural by Puritan theology which does not accept the First and Second books of Maccabees as Holy Scriptures. If there is nothing wrong with St. John synthesizing the Greek logos and the Jewish memra in his doctrine of the pre-incarnate Christ as the Word Who was in the beginning with God, and Who was God, and through Whom all things were made, then there is nothing wrong with the Church deciding to celebrate the birth of God's Son, at a time of year which coincides with both the Roman and the Jewish festivals of lights. Indeed, it seems most appropriate.
There is a connection between the two wars on Christmas in that Puritanism, as Eric Voegelin pointed out, was an early stage of the modern revival of Gnosticism, of which the progressive liberalism of the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries are later stages. You can read all about that in Voegelin's The New Science of Politics. The original Gnostics, I would note, were the anti-Christs that St. John referred to in his epistles, who denied the doctrine of Christ, specifically the Incarnation, which, of course, is the theological event commemorated in Christmas. The war on Christmas, in its Puritan and progressive liberal forms, is ultimately a war on the Apostolic doctrine of Christ as defended and articulated by the orthodox in the Trinitarian confession of the Council of Nicaea.
So, let me conclude by wishing you all a very Merry Christmas in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
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