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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 80. The Cycle of Pentecost.


The whole period of seven weeks from Easter to Pentecost bore a joyous, festal character. It was called Quinquagesima, or Pentecost in the wider sense,753753   Πεντεκοστή. Comp. the author’s Hist. of the Apost. Ch. § 54. and was the memorial of the exaltation of Christ at the right hand of the Father, His repeated appearances during the mysterious forty days, and His heavenly headship and eternal presence in the church. It was regarded as a continuous Sunday, and distinguished by the absence of all fasting and by standing in prayer. Quinquagesima formed a marked contrast with the Quadragesima which preceded. The deeper the sorrow of repentance had been in view of the suffering and dying Saviour, the higher now rose the joy of faith in the risen and eternally living Redeemer. This joy, of course, must keep itself clear of worldly amusements, and be sanctified by devotion, prayer, singing, and thanksgiving; and the theatres, therefore, remained closed through the fifty days. But the multitude of nominal Christians soon forgot their religious impressions, and sought to compensate their previous fasting with wanton merry-making.

The seven Sundays after Easter are called in the Latin church, respectively, Quasimodo-geniti, Misericordia Domini, Jubilate, Cantate, Rogate, (or, Vocem jucunditatis), Exaudi, and Pentecoste. In the Eastern church the Acts of the Apostles are read at this season.

Of the fifty festival days, the fortieth and the fiftieth were particularly prominent. The fortieth day after Easter, always a Thursday, was after the fourth century dedicated to the exaltation of Christ at the right hand of God, and hence named Ascension Day.754754   Dies ascensionis; ἑορτὴ τῆς ἀναλήψεως. The fiftieth day, or the feast of Pentecost in the stricter sense,755755   Dies pentecostes; πεντεκοστή, ἡμέρα τοῦ Πνεύματος. was the kernel and culminating point of this festival season, as Easter day was of the Easter cycle. It was the feast of the Holy Ghost, who on this day was poured out upon the assembled disciples with the whole fulness of the accomplished redemption; and it was at the same time the birth-day of the Christian church. Hence this festival also was particularly prized for baptisms and ordinations. Pentecost corresponded to the Jewish feast of that name, which was primarily the feast of first-fruits, and afterward became also the feast of the giving of the law on Sinai, and in this twofold import was fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Ghost and the founding of the Christian church.” Both revelations of the divine law,” writes Jerome to Fabiola, “took place on the fiftieth day after the passover; the one on Sinai, the other on Zion; there the mountain was shaken, here the temple; there, amid flames and lightnings, the tempest roared and the thunder rolled, here, also with mighty wind, appeared tongues of fire; there the sound of the trumpet pealed forth the words of the law, here the cornet of the gospel sounded through the mouth of the apostles.”

The celebration of Pentecost lasted, at least ultimately, three days or a whole week, closing with the Pentecostal Octave, which in the Greek church (so early as Chrysostom) was called The Feast of all Saints and Martyrs,756756   κυριακὴ τῶν ἁγίων πάντων μαρτυρησάντων. The Western church kept a similar feast on the first of November, but not till the eighth century. because the martyrs are the seed and the beauty of the church. The Latin church, on the contrary, though not till the tenth century, dedicated the Sunday after Pentecost to the Holy Trinity, and in the later times of the Middle Age, further added to the festival part of the church year the feast of Corpus Christi, in celebration of the mystery of transubstantiation, on the Thursday after Trinity. It thus invested the close of the church year with a purely dogmatic import. Protestantism has retained the feast of Trinity, in opposition to the Antitrinitarians; but has, of course, rejected the feast of Corpus Christi.

In the early church, Pentecost was the last great festival of the Christian year. Hence the Sundays following it, till Advent, were counted from Whitsunday.757757   So in the Roman church even after the introduction of the Trinity festival. The Protestants, on the contrary, as far as they retained the ecclesiastical calendar (Lutherans, Anglicans, &c.), make the first Sunday after Pentecost the basis, and count the First, Second, Third Sunday after Trinity, instead of the First, Second, etc., Sunday after Whitsunday. The number of the Sundays in the second half of the church year therefore varies between twenty-seven and twenty-two, according to the time of Easter. In this part of the year we find even in the old lectionaries and sacramentaries some subordinate, feasts in memory of great men of the church; such as the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the founders of the church (June 29); the feast of the chief martyr, Laurentius, the representative of the church militant (August, 10); the feast of the archangel Michael, the representative of the church triumphant (September 29).



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