Tuesday, August 2, 2011


LIGHTS. For utilitarian purposes lights were needed in the worship of the early Church (Acts xx. 7, 3). Pliny describes the Christians as meeting “before it was light” and Tertullian speaks of their assemblies “held before dawn.” In the Catacombs artificial light was always necessary. But it was not till the fourth century after Christ that lights began to be employed for ritual or symbolical purposes. The Christian Apologists ridiculed the practices of the heathen in this very matter. Tertullian, A.D. 192, denounces the practice of “exposing useless candles at noon” and by that means “encroaching on the day.” “Let them,” he says, “who have no light, kindle their lamps every day” (Apol., xlvi. xxxv.).“They kindle lights to God,” says Lactantius, A.D. 303, “as if He dwelt in darkness .... Is he then to be thought in his right mind, who offers for a gift the light of candles and wax tapers to the Author and Giver of light ? But light of another kind He does require of us, and that not smoky, but, as the poet sings, liquid and clear, to wit, that of the mind” (Div. Inst., vi. 2, and Epitome, cap. 58). Gregory Nazianzen, A.D. 370: “Let not our houses blaze with visible light . . . for this is indeed the custom of the Greek Holy Moon . . . but with . . . lamps that light up the whole body of the Church, I mean with divine contemplations and thoughts” (Orat., v. 35). Yet, on occasions of jubilee an illumination seemed appropriate as the mere expression of rejoicing and festival. The last-named writer mentions as the custom of his day for the newly baptized to light lamps, which he couples with the parable of the Virgins meeting the Bridegroom. Baptism itself was called photismos, the “Illumination,” the light of the Holy Spirit, being given to the adult convert on his admission into the “household of God.” In the East, St. Jerome tells us, they had a custom, then unknown in the West, that “when the Gospel is about to be read, lights are lit at noonday, not to disperse the darkness, but to show gladness ... so that under the type of a corporal light, that light might be shown concerning which we read in the Gospel, Thy word, O Lord, is a lantern unto my feet and a light unto my paths”(Contra Vigilant. 467). This Oriental usage was adopted in Spain in the seventh century. Isidore of Seville wrote, “Those who in Greek are called acolytes, are in Latin called ceroferarii, from their carrying wax candles when the Gospel is to be read, or the sacrifice to be offered;” the practice being for light-bearers to precede the bishop on his going to the Lord’s Table, the lights being afterwards set down on the floor, or in the case of the gospel lights, extinguished at the close of the reading. For convenience, the extinguished lights were set behind, or at the back of the “altar.” “In course of time,” says Romsee, “it seemed more convenient to set the candlesticks with the candles on the slab of the altar, and to burn the candles.” In this way the modern altar-lights originated.

At funerals, from the time of Constantine at least, processional lights were used: the day of the Christian’s death being regarded as his birthday into life arid immortality. Hero-worship soon sprang up, for the immense influx of adult pagans into the (now fashionable) Church brought with them the habits and modes of thought of their previous lifetime. Cardinal Baronius admits (Annals, p. 551) that the cultus of images by means of lights burning before them was taken directly from the idolaters—“the venerable ecclesiastical antiquity brought it to pass that what used to hang before the idols should be providently converted to the worship of God.” A clergyman named Vigilantius complained to St. Jerome that, “Under the pretext of religion we see a custom introduced into the churches which approximates to the rites of the Gentiles, namely, the lighting of multitudes of tapers while the sun is yet shining. And everywhere they kiss in adoration a small quantity of dust folded up in a little cloth, and deposited in a little vessel. Men of this stamp give great honour, forsooth, to the most blessed martyrs, thinking with a few insignificant wax-tapers to glorify those whom the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, enlightens with all the brightness of His Majesty.”

St. Jerome in reply denied that it was the practice of the Church. He said: “We do not light candles in the daylight as you falsely accuse us, but we do so that we may alleviate the darkness of the night by this comfort.” Yet he admitted that the Ritualists were beginning the practice complained of: “But what if some do so, in honour of the martyrs through the ignorance and simplicity of secular men or even of religious women (of whom we may in truth say, I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge), what loss do you thereby sustain?” (Epist. contra Vigilantium, xxxvii.)

Yet he ends by admitting the pagan origin of the custom, saying, “That was done to the idols, and therefore to be detested: this is done to the martyrs, and therefore may be received.” In vain had the laws of Theodosius forbidden under severe penalties to “light candles, burn incense, or hang up garlands to senseless images.” Not only did these pagan observances be come more and more fashionable, but at length the Second Synod of Nicaea, A.D. 787, decreed as of faith that “To these (i.e. the likenesses of our Lord and His blessed ones) as to the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, and to the Book of the Gospels, and to other holy objects, incense and lights may be offered according to ancient pious custom, for the honour which is paid to the image passes on to that which the image represents, and he who reveres the image reveres in it the subject represented” (Mr. Athelstan Riley’s translation).

This was just what the heathen had always pleaded, and as the Buddhist now pleads, in defence of idolatry. The apostate Julian said, “We do not think them gods, but that through them we may worship the Deity: for we being in the body, ought to perform our service in a way agreeable to it.” Canon Robertson, the historian, says. “There was too much foundation for the reproach with which the Manichean Faustus assailed the Church: The sacrifices of the heathen you have turned into feasts of charity: their idols into martyrs, whom ye honour with the like religious offices” (Hist. Christian Church, ii. 43-45). The condition of Christian society which made this possible is depicted in Kingsley’s Hypatia, and in Dean Farrar’s Gathering Clouds. The character of the so-called Seventh General Council is described in Palmer’s Treatise of the Church, ii. 151-161, and by Robertson (Hist., iii. 55). In Perceval’s Roman Schism, p. 418, is given a long list of the Fathers who are anathematized by this “Seventh General Council.” Bishop Stillingfleet says, “Christianity became at last to be nothing else but reformed paganism as to its worship” (Works, v. 459). Baruch vi. 18, 19, Hislop’s Two Babylons, chap, v., or Middleton’s Letters from Rome, p. 27, illustrate the universal prevalence of candle-worship among all nations. For centuries the struggle went on within the Church to resist this deterioration. The Synod of Elvira, A.D. 306, condemned the use of pictures in the churches, and decreed “that candles be not burned during the day in cemeteries, for fear of troubling the spirits of the saints.” This canon was only one of a series directed against heathenish rites then calling for repression; yet Mr. Dale, in his interesting Essay on the Synod of Elvira (published by Macmillan), has shown (pp. 207-22) that the “Fathers” who condemned these rites were themselves infected by a belief in necromancy. So soon had “the fine gold become dim”! Dupin honestly says, “that the Fathers of this Council did not approve of the use of images, no more than that of wax candles lighted in full day light.”

Our English Bede, A.D. 730, tells us that the Feast of Candlemas merely replaced the pre-Christian lustrations “this custom the Christian religion did well to change when in the same month,” of February, the feast of the purification was celebrated (De Temp. Rat., 10).

This “relative worship” of inferior deities by means of tapers and lamps and torches naturally culminated in the worship of the Host when the doctrine of transubstantiation had been formally adopted, and Innocent III., the promulgator of that dogma at the Fourth Lateran Council, was the first to order two lights to be set burning upon the altar itself. Cardinal Langton, who took part in that Council, promulgated the Lateran Decrees at the Synod of Oxford, A.D. 1222, directing that “two candles, or at least one together with the lamp” (hanging before the reserved wafer), should be burning at mass, and ordering the laity to kneel to the corpus Domini as to “their Creator and Redeemer (Wilkins, i. 593).

All the Lateran Decrees were made binding as parts of the Canon Law duly published in this country. In addition to the recognition of the divinity of the wafer, it was claimed that “sacrificial fire” was indicated by the same symbol. Lyndwood, John de Burgh, Polydore Vergi], and Suarez, all give this, and refer to Lev. vi. 13 for scriptural warrant. In 1541 the Royal Injunctions of Henry VIII. ordered that “no offering or setting of lights or candles should be suffered except To the Blessed Sacrament.” In 1547 Edward’s Injunction repeated his father’s direction that, “no torches nor candles, tapers or images of wax to be set AFORE any image or picture, but only two lights upon the high altar, before the sacrament” (Doc. Ann, i. 7). It is important to remember that at that date (July 31, in the first year of Edward’s reign) the bloody act of the Six Articles was still in full force—no reformation of doctrine having been as yet even attempted. But so soon as the First Prayer Book had been enacted, the Royal Visitation Articles of 1549 ordered these Injunctions to be no longer read (Doc. Ann., 2nd edit., p. 25), and Ridley and Hooper accordingly forbade the (now illegal) lights to be anywhere placed upon the Lord s Table, and “that the ministers, in time of the Communion, do use only the ceremonies and gestures appointed by the Book of Common Prayer.” From that day forward, save during the reaction under Mary, no lights “before the sacrament” were anywhere seen in the Church of England; though Queen Elizabeth, for reasons of Statecraft, introduced a crucifix before which two candles were burned at evening service in her own chapel. Both the image and its attendant lights were unique, and designed to create an impression that the Queen was then hesitating whether to abandon the Reformation or not; but when they had served the purpose of mystifying the Spanish ambassador, the crucifix was broken and its lights allowed to stand idle. As Bishops Grindal and Horn reported in 1567, “the Church of England has entirely given up the use of a foreign tongue, breathings, exorcisms, oil, spittle, clay, lighted tapers, and other things of that kind which by Act of Parliament (ex legum prescripto) are never to be restored” (Zurich Letters, i. 178).

Smith’s Dict. Christian Antiq., ii. 993. Scudamor’s Notit. Eucharistica, 2nd ed. , p. 121. Dimock’s Christian Ritual, p. 34. Tomlinson’s Historic Grounds of Lambeth Judgment, pp. 75-104, and Tract on Altar Lights, their History and Meaning. [J. T. Tomlinson]

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