Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

Zanchi on Festivals (9)

Today we come to the last post in this series and, boy howdy, it’s a fascinating one. 

Zanchi moves on from the dominical festivals, of which he approves, to the feast days of apostles and martyrs.

These belong, in his view, to a lower rank. One way we know this is that they were not celebrated universally.

He then gives an account of the purpose for which they were originally instituted: out of respect, and for the sake of a good example. This he seems to think unobjectionable in and of itself. To validate his account of their original goal, he draws on Basil of Caesarea and the custom of the church’s prayers. By including the latter, he is able to show that the practice of invocation of the martyrs is an innovation: that is not how the prayers were constructed. Rather, they were addressed to God himself, gave thanks for the example of our Christian fathers, and asked for grace to imitate their piety.

Later, however, they were transformed into something else and became idolatrous, and thus they were removed in many places. Here he refers again to the example of Ezekiel mentioned in the previous post. And who does he refer to particularly with respect to their removal? John Calvin and Martin Bucer, both of whom he knew. It is of great significance that he notes their personal opposition to these festivals, but not to the festivals concerned with the life of Christ discussed previously.

But an objection arises: if abuse is a reason to rid the church of certain practices, shouldn’t the Lord’s Supper and baptism be eliminated as well? Zanchi draws a distinction. To be the church, the Supper and baptism must be present. That is not the case for martyrs’ days. Therefore, the latter can be safely removed, while the sacraments should be cleansed of corruptions and the “necessary festivals” (almost certainly the festivals in honor of Christ instituted by men but approved by the whole church–a sort of “middle” category) should be retained. This, he seems to believe, is the Bucerian-Calvinian position (both of whom, again, he knew); it is certainly his own (Protestant) position.

On the Festivals of Christians (Continued)

Later, there followed festivals of apostles and martyrs. Jerome discusses these in his commentary on Galatians 4. These differ from the ones treated above that have to do with Christ, because the latter were customarily celebrated everywhere, the former only where the martyrs died. But they had a double end: they were instituted (1) for the memory of those who had preceded them and (2) for the usefulness of those who followed them. First, their deeds, faith, and so on are proclaimed for the glory of God. Second, the people are thereby spurred to thanksgiving, and to imitation. Thus Basil on Psalm 114; thus the ecclesiastical prayers: “Grant, O God, that those whose birthdays1 we honor, we also imitate the actions of the same.” Therefore the martyrs themselves were not being invoked. About innumerable other festivals, which lack genuine testimony, it is vain to speak.

But why have those ancient festivals been eliminated in many places? I answer: Because they were turned into idolatry, abuses, ruin, and the corruption of morals. For these reasons, Bucer and Calvin followed the example of Ezekiel.

But by that reasoning, shouldn’t the Lord’s Supper and baptism also be eliminated? I answer: The examples are not of a similar kind, because these are in themselves necessary in the church, while the others are not. For that reason, it was enough to have purged the Supper and baptism of abuses, and to retain the necessary festivals.2

  1. I.e. the day of their martyrdoms.
  2. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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