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§ 86. The Christian Calendar. The Legends of the Saints. The Acta Sanctorum.


This is the place for some observations on the origin and character of the Christian calendar with reference to its ecclesiastical elements, the catalogue of saints and their festivals.

The Christian calendar, as to its contents, dates from the fourth and later centuries; as to its form, it comes down from classical antiquity, chiefly from the Romans, whose numerous calendars contained, together with astronomical and astrological notes, tables also of civil and religious festivals and public sports. Two calendars of Christian Rome still extant, one of the year 354, the other of the year 448,859859   The latter is found in the Acta Sanct. Jun. tom. vii. p. 176 sqq. show the transition. The former contains for the first time the Christian week beginning with Sunday, together with the week of heathen Rome; the other contains Christian feast days and holidays, though as yet very few, viz., four festivals of Christ and six martyr days. The oldest purely Christian calendar is a Gothic one, which originated probably in Thrace in the fourth century. The fragment still extant860860   Printed in Angelo Mai, Script. vet. nova collect. tom. v. P. 1, pp. 66-68. Comp. Krafft, Kirchengeschichte der germanischen Völker. Vol. i. Div. 1, pp. 385-387. contains thirty-eight days for November and the close of October, among which seven days are called by the names of saints (two from the Bible, three from the church universal, and two from the Gothic church).

There are, however, still earlier lists of saints’ days, according to the date of the holiday; the oldest is a Roman one of the middle of the fourth century, which contains the memorial days of twelve bishops of Rome and twenty-four martyrs, together with the festival of the birth of Christ and the festival of Peter on the twenty-second of February.

Such tables are the groundwork of the calendar and the martyrologies. At first each community or province had its own catalogue of feasts, hence also its own calendar. Such local registers were sometimes called diptycha861861   From δίπτυχος, folded double. (δίπτυχα), because they were recorded on tables with two leaves; yet they commonly contained, besides the names of the martyrs, the names also of the earlier bishops and still living benefactors or persons, of whom the priests were to make mention by name in the prayer before the consecration of the elements in the eucharist. The spread of the worship of a martyr, which usually started from the place of his martyrdom, promoted the interchange of names. The great influence of Rome gave to the Roman festival-list and calendar the chief currency in the West.

Gradually the whole calendar was filled up with the names of saints. As the number of the martyrs exceeded the number of days in the year, the commemoration of several must fall upon the same day, or the canonical hours of cloister devotion must be given up. The oriental calendar is richer in saints from the Old Testament than the occidental.862862   The Roman Catholic saint-calendars have passed, without material change, to the Protestant church in Germany and other countries. Recently Prof. Piper in Berlin has attempted a thorough evangelical reform of the calendar by rejecting the doubtful or specifically Roman saints, and adding the names of the forerunners of the Reformation and the Reformers and distinguished men of the Protestant churches to the list under their birthdays. To this reform also his Evangelischer Kalender is devoted, which has appeared annually since 1850, and contains brief, popular sketches of the Catholic and Protestant saints received into the improved calendar. Most English and American calendars entirely omit this list of saints.

With the calendars are connected the Martyrologia, or Acta Martyrum, Acta Sanctorum, called by the Greeks Menologia and Menaea.863863   From μήνmonth; hence, month-register. The Greek Menologies, μηνολόγιαare simply the lists of the martyrs in monthly order, with short biographical notices. The Menaea, μηναῖα, are intended for the public worship and comprise twelve folio volumes, corresponding to the twelve months, with the officia of the saints for every day, and the proper legends and hymns. There were at first only “Diptycha” and “Calendaria martyrum,” i.e., lists of the names of the martyrs commemorated by the particular church in the order of the days of their death on the successive days of the year, with or without statements of the place and manner of their passion. This simple skeleton became gradually animated with biographical sketches, coming down from different times and various authors, containing a confused mixture of history and fable, truth and fiction, piety and superstition, and needing to be used with great critical caution. As these biographies of the saints were read on their annual days in the church and in the cloisters for the edification of the people, they were called Legenda.

The first Acts of the Martyrs come down from the second and third centuries, in part from eye-witnesses, as, for example, the martyrdom of Polycarp (a.d. 167), and of the martyrs of Lyons and Vienne in South Gaul; but most of them originated, at least in their present form, in the post-Constantinian age. Eusebius wrote a general martyrology, which is lost. The earliest Latin martyrology is ascribed to Jerome, but at all events contains many later additions; this father, however, furnished valuable contributions to such works in his “Lives of eminent Monks” and his “Catalogue of celebrated Church Teachers.” Pope Gelasius thought good to prohibit or to restrict the church reading of the Acts of the Saints, because the names of the authors were unknown, and superfluous and incongruous additions by heretics or uneducated persons (idiotis) might be introduced. Gregory the Great speaks of a martyrology in use in Rome and elsewhere, which is perhaps the same afterward ascribed to Jerome and widely spread. The presentMartyrologium Romanum, which embraces the saints of all countries, is an expansion of this, and was edited by Baronius with a learned commentary at the command of Gregory XIII. and Sixtus V. in 1586, and afterward enlarged by the Jesuit Heribert Rosweyd.

Rosweyd († 1629) also sketched, toward the close of the sixteenth century, the plan for the celebrated “Acta Sanctorum, quotquot toto orbe coluntur,” which Dr. John van Bolland († 1665) and his companions and continuators, called Bollandists (Henschen, † 1681; Papenbroek, † 1714; Sollier, † 1740; Stiltinck, † 1762, and others of inferior merit), published at Antwerp in fifty-three folio volumes, between the years 1643 and 1794 (including the two volumes of the second series), under the direction of the Jesuits, and with the richest and rarest literary aids.864864   When Rosweyd’s prospectus, which contemplated only 17 volumes, was shown to Cardinal Bellarmine, he asked: “What is the man’s age?” “Perhaps forty.” “Does he expect to live two hundred years?” More than 250 years have passed since, and still the work is unfinished. The relation of the principal authors is indicated in the following verse:
   “Quod Rosweydus praepararat,
Quod Bollandus inchoarat,
Quod Henschenius formarat,
Perfecit (?) Papenbroekius.”
This work contains, in the order of the days of the year, the biography of every saint in the Catholic calendar, as composed by the Bollandists, down to the fifteenth of October, together with all the acts of canonization, papal bulls, and other ancient documents belonging thereto, with learned treatises and notes; and that not in the style of popular legends, but in the tone of thorough historical investigation and free criticism, so far as a general accordance with the Roman Catholic system of faith would allow.865865   The work was even violently persecuted at times in the Romish Church. Papenbroek, for proving that the prophet Elijah was not the founder of the Carmelite order, was stigmatized as a heretic, and the Acta condemned by the Spanish Inquisition, but the condemnation was removed by papal interference in 1715. The Bollandists took holy revenge of the Carmelites by a most elaborate biography and vindication of St. Theresa, the glory of that order, in the fifty-fourth volume (the first of the new series), 1845, sub Oct. 15th, pp. 109-776. It was interrupted in 1773 by the abolition of the order of the Jesuits, then again in 1794, after a brief resumption of labor and the publication of two more volumes (the fifty-second and fifty-third), by the French Revolution and invasion of the Netherlands and the partial destruction of the literary, material; but since 1845 (or properly since 1837) it has been resumed at Brussels under the auspices of the same order, though not with the same historical learning and critical acumen, and proceeds tediously toward completion.866866   The names connected with the new (third) series are Joseph van der Moere, Joseph van Hecke, Bossue, Buch, Tinnebroek, etc. By 1858 five new folio volumes had appeared at Brussels (to the twenty-second of October), so that the whole work now embraces fifty-eight volumes, which cost from two thousand four hundred to three thousand francs. The present Bollandist library is in the convent of St. Michael in Brussels and embraces in three rooms every known biography of a saint, hundreds of the rarest missals and breviaries, hymnals and martyrologies, sacramentaries and rituals. A not very correct reprint of the Antwerp original has appeared at Venice since 1734. A new edition by Jo. Carnandet is now coming out at Paris and Rome, 1863 sqq. Complete copies have become very rare. I have seen and used at different times three copies, one in the Theol. Seminary Library at Andover, and two at New York (in the Astor Library, and in the Union Theol. Sem. Library). Comp. the Prooemium de ratione universa operis, in the Acta Sanctorum, vol. vi. for Oct. (published 1845). R. P. Dom Pitra: Etudes sur la Collection des Actes des Saintes, par les RR. PP. Jusuites Bollandistes. Par. 1850. Also an article on the Bollandists by J. M. Neale in his Essays on Liturgiology and Church History, Lond. 1863, p. 89 ff. This colossal and amazing work of more than two centuries of pious industry and monkish learning will always remain a rich mine for the system of martyr and saint-worship and the history of Christian life.



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