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Zanchi on Festivals (1)

In clearing out some old papers, I came across something I had meant to do here, but didn’t get around to it; so I’m doing it now.

That “something” is a series on an interesting bit of Girolamo Zanchi’s commentary on Colossians: an excursus De Festis (“On Festivals”) in his comments on Col. 2.17. I’m going to translate this brief dissertatio, which does not currently exist in English, as a representative example of much magisterial Reformed thought on the topic in the sixteenth century. (I’ve looked at it before in a short series on Niels Hemmingsen’s comments on the same passage.)

In this first installment, Zanchi sets up what he is going to discuss concerning Jewish festivals and their relation to Christian festivals, and then begins to deal with the first question (i.e., whether the church has or should have festivals). 

The way he does this is instructive of the Protestant strain of scholasticism, as Zanchi states an objection, and then gives a response (respondeo, “I answer”). This post includes only the first part of his response.

Finally, this brief section contains a salutary reminder of the standard Reformed teaching that the Decalogue is identical in substance with the natural law. Thus, for Zanchi, the sabbath commandment is perpetual precisely because the Ten Commandments are a “confirmation of the natural law.”

On Festivals

The apostle teaches three things about the festivals of the Jews. First, he teaches that the Jews had festivals, which were celebrated in their own sequence; second, he partly indicates their division; third, he says that these have been abrogated: much less, therefore, are the gentiles bound by them.

About us, therefore (that is, about the church of Christ), the following questions arise. First, whether the church has, or ought to have, festivals; second, what they are; third, whether it is bound to sanctify them–where we will also have to treat what it means to “sanctify” festivals.

On the First Question

Some people contend that it is not right for the church of Christ to have certain times at which it celebrates festivals, as Colossians 2 says: “Let no one judge you in respect to a feast day,” etc. And Galatians 4: “You observe days, and months, and times, and years”–for which Paul rebukes them. 

I answer: But they are deceived, because the apostle was treating of the festivals of the Jews. This is clear, because he adds, “which are shadows.” In addition, God instituted the sabbath by natural law, and this is perpetual. For even before Moses, because of the example of God resting from the works of creation, they were celebrating the seventh day and were sanctifying it. For that reason, he said in the Ten Commandments, “Remember the sabbath day, to sanctify it,” etc., where he confirmed the natural law. 

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.