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§ 64. The Epiphany


The feast of the Epiphany is of later origin.363363    ἡ ἐπιφάνεια, τὰ επιφάνια, ἡ θεοφάνεια, ἡμέρα τῶν φώτων: Epiphania, Theophania, Dies Luminum, Festura Trium Regum, etc. The feast is first mentioned by Clement of Alex. as the annual commemoration of the. baptism of Christ by the Gnostic sect of the Basilidians (Strom. I. 21). Neander supposes that they derived it from the Jewish Christians in Palestine. Chrysostom often alludes to it.63 It spread from the East towards the West, but here, even in the fourth century, it was resisted by such parties as the Donatists, and condemned as an oriental innovation. It was, in general, the feast of the appearance of Christ in the flesh, and particularly of the manifestation of his Messiahship by his baptism in the Jordan, the festival at once of his birth and his baptism. It was usually kept on the 6th of January.364364    Augustin, Serm. 202, § 2.64 When the East adopted from the West the Christmas festival, Epiphany was restricted to the celebration of the baptism of Christ, and made one of the three great reasons for the administration of baptism.

In the West it was afterwards made a collective festival of several events in the life of Jesus, as the adoration of the Magi, the first miracle of Cana, and sometimes the feeding of the five thousand. It became more particularly the "feast of the three kings," that is, the wise men from the East, and was placed in special connexion with the mission to the heathen. The legend of the three kings (Caspar, Melchior, Baltazar) grew up gradually from the recorded gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which the Magi offered to the new-born King, of the Jews.365365    Matt. 2:11. The first indistinct trace, perhaps, is in Tertullian, Adv., Jud. c. 9: "Nam at Magos reges fere habuit Oriens." The apocryphal Gospels of the infancy give us no fiction on that point.65

Of the Christmas festival there is no clear trace before the fourth century; partly because the feast of the Epiphany in a measure held the place of it; partly because of birth of Christ, the date of which, at any rate, was uncertain, was less prominent in the Christian mind than his death and resurrection. It was of Western (Roman) origin, and found its way to the East after the middle of the fourth century for Chrysostom, in a Homily, which was probably preached Dec. 25, 386, speaks of the celebration of the separate day of the Nativity as having been recently introduced in Antioch.



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