Traverse City Record-Eagle


Christmas and Sol Invictus

Ed HahnenbergIn the early Church, there was no fixed date for the celebration of Christmas across the entire Church, or even agreement as to when Jesus was born.

The main reason early Christians chose December 25th for the date of Christmas relates to two dates that were bandied about: the date of the creation of the world, and the vernal equinox. According to some early writers, both events happened on March 25th. Early Christian writer Sextus Julius Africanus (220 AD) speculated that the world was created on March 25th, based on his chronology of Jewish and Christian history, contained in his Chronographia.

Julius Africanus suggested that Christ became incarnate on that date; this makes perfect symbolic sense, since at the Incarnation, the new creation began. Accordingly, since the Word of God became incarnate at His conception, this meant that, after nine months in the Virgin Mary’s womb, Jesus was born on December 25th. The Emperor Constantine (d. 337 AD) encouraged Christians to replace the winter solstice festivals, especially that of Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun), with the Christian festival, using the play on words of Filius Invictus (the unconquered Son of God) which had been speculated about somewhat convincingly for that time by Julius Africanus.

Pope Liberius codified Christmas to be celebrated on Dec. 25th; however, there were Christmas liturgical celebrations in Rome as early as 336, one year before Constantine’s death.

With all this history in mind, I have been doing some astrophotography of Sol Invictus, our sun. The first image is of flares taken with my H-alpha telescope and IS 41 camera on 12-12-12, running through an avi file of 900 images to sort out the best of the group. The sun is washed out in order to bring out the flares (or prominences).

The second image, also taken on 12-12-12, is one of surface sun spots (lighter patches) and plasmas (darker trails). It is cropped and artificially colored to reflect the orange-red color of the sun. Sunspots do not appear in random locations. They tend to be concentrated in two mid-latitude bands on either side of the equator. They begin appearing around 25 to 30 degrees north and south of the center. As the solar cycle progresses, new sunspots appear closer to the equator.  My image below appeared south of the sun’s equator.

It takes approximately eleven years for the sun to move through the solar cycle that is defined by an increasing and then decreasing number of sunspots. As it reaches the close of a cycle, new sunspots appear near the equator, while a new cycle produces sunspots in higher latitudes. The cycles overlap; sunspots from the previous cycle can still develop even after sunspots from the new cycle appear. So solar scientists have a very difficult time saying exactly when one cycle ends and the next begins.

As of early 2011, solar cycle 24 was under way, headed toward a peak of activity expected in 2013.

Our sun burns several hundred million tons of hydrogen per second, converting it to helium by nuclear fusion. This the source of the sun’s energy, and if the sun were consuming gas at less than this rate, then we would not get the required warmth to support life. However, there is no cause of alarm, because there is a HUGE amount of hydrogen in the sun.

The Romans and other older cultures had it almost right. The sun is, for now, Sol Invictus.

  • jeff4

    With the exception of the words “burns hydrogen” I’ll agree with your chemistry/physics lesson. You corrected yourself in the next sentence with the “fusion” reference. That’s some good science there Ed!!! As for Dec 25th, Mithra’s birthday, it sure was a great way to take the focus off pagan rituals!! Good move Catholic church.

    • Ed Hahnenberg

      J4…The Catholic Church did not specifically target Mithraism, nor did Mithraism hold chief place for worship around the winter solstice. Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun) was that god.

      Several gods and goddesses were worshiped in Rome around the third century AD, some public, some private. Janus was the god of the doorway, because of his two-headedness…thus January which looks back to the old year and forward to the new.

      The origin of the cult of Mithra dates from the time that the Hindus and Persians still formed one people, for the god Mithra occurs in the religion and the sacred books of both races. Mithraism was emphatically a soldier religion: Mithra, its hero, was especially a divinity of fidelity, manliness, and bravery; the stress it laid on good fellowship and brotherliness and its exclusion of women.

      Flip the discussion. E.g….Halloween (Eve of the Hallows) comes from the Christian feast of All Hallows (All Saints).

      • jeff4

        And you know that the Catholic Church didnt specifically target Mithraism or any other religion how?? Oh, wait, the Church probably said they didnt, that’s the truth. Come on Ed, of course they tried to squash other religions!!

        • Ed Hahnenberg

          J4…I don’t think you’ve studied World History in Rome in the 3rd century.

          • jeff4

            some atheists and pagans celebrate winter solstice on or around Dec 25, Jews celebrate Hannukah in the same time frame as catholics celebrate christmas, Kemetic Othodoxy celebrates a religious festival near Dec 25th. Zoroastrians have a holy day to remember the death of Zarathustra on Dec 25th, But the fact that MITRHA the god of the sun could be conveniently changed to Son of God and help squash that pagan ritual was sure the best best. At least that’s what my good Lutheran website says. READ THEORY 2 listed here

          • Ed Hahnenberg

            J4…Context, context, context. It is true that Pope Julius (337-353) set the date for Christmas on Dec. 25th., but this was AFTER the Roman Emperor Constantine had encouraged Christians to replace the winter solstice festivals with the Christian feast. Your Lutheran website’s theory 2 is correct in noting that December 25 was observed as “the birthday of the sun.” Where theory 2 in incorrect is its following statement: ” Because the sun god was identified with Mithra, a very popular god at the time…”

            That last comment lists only a reference from Clement A. Miles’ 1912 book on Christmas. Much later research has been done on the question of Mithra’s influence which was largely embraced by the Roman military. As I noted above, much about the cult of Mithras is only known from reliefs and sculptures.

  • poetman

    You need to watch Star of Bethlehem again.

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