On the Nativity of Our Lord

PREFACE: The following is an original translation of mine from the Golden Legend (Legenda Aurea).

The Golden Legend was one of the most popular books of the Middles Ages; it is a collection of stories about the lives of the saints as well as other events associated with the feasts of the liturgical year compiled by Blessed Jacobus de Voragine (~1230-1298), the Archbishop of Genoa. It must be noted that the hagiographies which he presents, collected from various sources, are not intended to simply be historical accounts, as many are quite obviously fanciful, even from a medieval perspective. Rather, the Golden Legend’s purpose is to inspire its readers to grow in devotion to God and His saints. The Latin text is freely available online.

In particular, these passages are from the chapter on the Nativity (as you can tell by the title). I have included what I found to be interesting; much of what was left out was either explanatory material or tangential historical information. I have lightly adapted and edited the text to suit my formatting, but it is largely faithful to the Latin (so forgive the clunkiness in some places).

More translations from the Golden Legend and other works can be found at my personal blog.

Have a Merry Christmas; and remember to keep both parts: Christ and Mass!

On the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to the Flesh

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh happened when Octavian was Emperor, as some say, 5228 years after Adam, or, according to others, 6000 years, or, according to Eusebius of Cæsarea in his Chronicle, 5900 years. The calculation of 6000 years was found by Methodius mystically rather than chronologically.

When the Son of God Himself was coming in the flesh, the whole world was rejoicing with so much peace, since one Emperor of the Romans ruled peacefully over the entire globe. He was called Octavian by first application, Cæsar from Julius Cæsar, of whom he was a nephew, Augustus since he augmented the Republic, and Emperor by honor of his merit – he was the first distinguished by this name which differentiated him from the other kings. For God willed to be born in order to grant us temporal and eternal peace; so He willed, a temporal peace that shined no less than a sunrise.

Therefore, Cæsar Augustus, ruling the world, wished to know how many provinces, cities, fortresses, villages, and men there were in his Empire. And he ordered, so that it may be written in the histories of scholars, that all men go to the city from which they originated, and pay a silver denarius to the governor of the province to acknowledge their subjection to the Roman Empire.  For the coin bears Cæsar’s image and name.

Joseph, since he was of the line of David, proceeded from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And since the birth of the child was approaching for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he did not know when he would return, Joseph took her up with him to Bethlehem, not wanting to send the gift God committed to him to the hands of strangers, but to keep watch during the night with care, waiting for Him. Thereafter, when she approached Bethlehem (as brother Bartholomew testifies in his compilation, and claimed by the Book of the Infancy of the Savior), the Blessed Virgin saw some of the people rejoicing, and others lamenting; which the angel explained to her: “The people rejoicing are of the gentiles, who shall receive eternal blessing in the seed of Abraham. Those lamenting are people of the Jews, rejected by God for their deeds.”

Then the two came to Bethlehem, and because they were poor they could not find lodging at any of the inns, for they were filled by others who came for the same purpose, so they lodged in a public passage, which (according to Scholastic history) was between two houses, having a roof, under which citizens came to meet either for conversing in their free time or for a shelter against bad weather. There Joseph made a crib for his ox and ass, or perhaps it was there already, constructed by the locals for their animals when they went to market.

At midnight, on Sunday, the Blessed Virgin gave birth to her Son and laid Him in the manger upon some hay. Saint Helena afterwards brought this hay to Rome, as the ox and ass had abstained from eating it. Let us note that the Nativity of Christ was miraculous; firstly, because Mary was a virgin both before and after the birth…

Moreover, on the night of the Nativity, the darkness of night turned into the clarity of day. In Rome (as Orosius and Pope Innocent III attest), a fountain of water changed into olive oil and overflowed into the Tiber and did so bountifully for the whole day. For the Sibyl had prophesied that when a fountain of oil shall flow out, a Savior would be born. Also on that same day of the Nativity, according to the account of the ancients (as said St. John Chrysostom), as Magi were praying on a certain mountain, a star appeared near them, which possessed the form of a most beautiful boy with a cross shining on his head. He hailed the Magi and said that they should hasten into Judæa and there they would find a boy, the Savior, who had just been born. Still on that day, three suns appeared in the east, which gradually fused into one body; by this it signified the notion that God, Three and One, was near the world, or and that He was born in which three, soul, flesh, and divinity, convened in one person.

Furthermore, (as Pope Innocent III said) after Emperor Octavian pleased the Senate by having subjugated the whole world to Roman authority, they wanted to honor him as a god. But the wise Emperor, knowing that he was a mortal, did not wish to assume the name of an immortal. He invoked the prophetess, the Sibyl, wanting to know through divine announcement whether a greater man than he would be born into the world. Therefore, on the day of the Nativity of the Lord, he assembled concerning this, and the Sibyl was alone in the Emperor’s chamber pursuing prophecies; in the middle of the day a golden ring appeared around the sun and in the middle was a most beautiful virgin, holding a boy in her bosom. At that moment, the Sibyl quickly showed this to Cæsar, and when the Emperor was wondering greatly at the meaning of this vision, he heard a voice saying to him: “This woman is the Altar of Heaven!” And then the Sibyl said to him: “This boy is greater than thou, thus, adore him!” The same chamber was dedicated in honor of Holy Mary, and to this day is called Sancta Maria de Ara Cœli [Holy Mary of the Altar of Heaven, a basilica in Rome]. The Emperor knew that this boy was greater than himself, and he offered up incense to Him and refused to be called a god henceforth.

Others tell it differently, and say that Octavian climbed the Capitol, and anxiously asked of the gods who would govern the Republic after him; and he heard a voice saying to him: “A heavenly boy from the living God, begotten without time; there is not much longer until God shall be born a man without stain from a spotless virgin.” After he heard this, Octavian built an altar there, on which he wrote the inscription: This is the altar of the Son of the living God.

Likewise, in the very hour of the Nativity, shepherds were watching over their flock, as they were accustomed to do twice a year during the longer and shorter nights; for it was the custom of the people of that time to keep vigils on account of the sun during the solstices (that is to say, in the summer near the feast of St. John the Baptist, and in the winter near the Nativity of the Lord). An angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and announced the birth of the Savior and how they might find Him. A multitude of angels came with him, singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will!” And the shepherds went as the angel told them and found Him.

In another way, the Nativity was manifested through the Sodomites, who all perished throughout the whole world that night, as St. Jerome tells us: “such a great light was arisen for them which extinguished all who labor with that vice, and Christ did this, to root them all out, so that such a great foulness might not be found in the nature which He assumed henceforth.” And as St. Augustine says: “God, seeing this vice so contrary to nature being in human nature, nearly stopped the Incarnation.”

Let us now consider how the Nativity was profitable for us; first, for the confusion of demons. For now the enemy is not able to prevail over us as before, as it is written, that St. Hugh, the Abbot of Cluny, on Christmas Eve saw the Blessed Virgin holding her Son, saying: “The day has come in which the words of the prophets are fulfilled! Now where is the enemy, who prevailed against men before this day?” At this voice, the Devil broke out of the ground, to taunt the Lady’s words, but his wickedness deceived him. Now when he tried to disrupt the works of the brothers, from devotional prayer, from the refectory reading, from the dormitory with cheap thatch, and from the chapter-room, each monk rejected him patiently. Also in the book of Peter of Cluny it is read that on Christmas Eve, the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Hugh holding her Son in her bosom and playing with him, who said: “Our Mother, because of the day of my birth, the Church celebrates with a dance of great praise; and now where is the power of the Devil, what can he say or do?” Then the Devil seemed to rise out of the ground, and he said: “Since they are in the church singing Thy praises, I cannot enter, but I shall go into the chapter-room, dormitory, and refectory!” But when he tried to go into the great door of the chapter-room, it was too narrow for him, and the door of the dormitory too low, and the door of the refectory was blocked with great obstacles, which were the charity of the monks, the desire of hearing readings, and their sobriety in eating and drinking. Confused, he vanished just like that.

Second, for the commandment of forgiveness, whence it is read in some book of examples that after some event, a slimy woman eventually repented, and despaired on account of forgiveness; for she reflected on the judgment, and herself being damned to hell, unclean for heaven, and ungrateful for the Passion. But she thought it easier to please a boy, so she begged Christ through His infancy and heard a voice telling her that her sins were forgiven.

Third, for the cure of our weaknesses; about this benefit of the Nativity, St. Bernard says: “Mankind suffers with a threefold sickness, in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end; that is, birth, life, and death. Birth is unclean, life perverse, and death perilous. But Christ came, and against this threefold illness, brought a threefold remedy. He was born, He lived, and He died. His birth purified ours, His life corrected ours, and His death destroyed ours.”

Fourth, for the humbling of our pride, for St. Augustine says: “The humility of the Son of God, which He revealed to us in His Incarnation, was an example, consecration, and medicine for us; as a most fit example which man imitates, a profound consecration which loosens the shackle of our sin, and greatest medicine which heals the swelling of our pride.”

For the pride of the first man was cured through the humility of Christ. And note that humility fittingly corresponds with a Savior, and pride with a traitor. For the pride of the first man was contrary to God, because it was against His precept which He commanded, that they not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Also, it was in accordance with God, because it was in accordance with the Divine Will, believing what the Devil had said: “You shall be as Gods.” And it was beyond God, as St. Anselm says: “by willing what God did not want him to will.” For then man’s will has been able to be beyond the will of God and the Son of God.

According to St. John Damascene, God humbled himself for men, not against men, in accordance with men, and beyond men; for men because it is for their benefit and salvation, in accordance with men through a very similar method of birth, and beyond men through a dissimilar method. For His Nativity was similar to ours in some ways, because He was born of a woman and entered through the same gate, and dissimilar to ours in some ways, since He was born of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.

Testis Gratus

Catholic, reactionary, traditionalist — "Ego vox clamantis in deserto: dirigite viam Domini"

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