Pope on Nativity: Wrong Year, No Animals, No Angels

Remembering St. Martin of Tours
November 24, 2012
American Metropolia Response to SiR Letter
November 28, 2012

Pope on Nativity: Wrong Year, No Animals, No Angels

Bah humbug!

Pope Benedict XVI claims in a new book that Christ was in fact born between 7 and 2 B.C. To further eradicate long-standing beliefs about the Nativity, or perhaps just to frustrate the sales of Nativity scenes, Benedict further made the claim that there were no animals present at Christ’s birth nor angels singing.

Traditional Orthodox iconography includes an ox and a donkey at the manger where Christ was born to represent the fulfillment of Isaiah 1:3: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood.” Benedict claims in his new book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, under the pen of his pre-Papal name, that the error comes from a miscalculation on the part of Dionysius Exiguus in 525.

The idea of Angels singing at Christ’s birth, a well-known tradition by at least the third century as in this passage from the sermons of St Gregory Thumaturgus (and also in the Nativity icon), was rejected by the Pope: Brethren, we behold now a great and wondrous mystery. Shepherds with cries of joy come forth as messengers to the sons of mankind, not on their hilly pastures with their flocks conversing and not in the field with their sheep frolicking, but rather in the city of David Bethlehem spiritual songs exclaiming. In the highest sing Angels, proclaiming hymns Archangelic; the heavenly Cherubim and Seraphim sing out praises to the glory of God: “Holy, Holy, Holy…”

The Gospel of Luke explicitly mentions the Angels singing the beginning of what has historically been called the Great Doxology, or the Gloria, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,   Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14

Besides laying out seriously debatable premises, Benedict has chosen to release this right at the head of the Advent season (Orthodox traditionally begin the Nativity Fast next Wednesday), following what appears to be the post-Vatican II general Papal policy of “please don’t trust anything Christianity has ever taught before”.

At the least, we don’t have to worry about this at least until January 1, 2013. Or 2020.

We think.


  1. Letterj Doe says:

    I would have to imagine that the pope probably has access to some very old texts that might cause a lot of people to question a lot of things. I see this as a positive step in the right direction. Religious scholars agree and know full well that Jesus wasn’t born December 25’th and Christianity in general was simply inserted into the Pagan Holiday Yuletide. Sorry folks, he isn’t the reason for the season. For that; you thank the heathens.

    • NFTU says:

      This is just ridiculous. Actual Christians know the Church has moved feasts for many years. I’m so glad the feast was moved to when it was. I think people grow depressed because they’re celebrating in a time they should be fasting. Thanks for your note.

  2. FrFinbar2009 says:

    Ah, yes, the Pope of Old Rome has access to secret knowledge available in hidden texts about which the rest of us can only guess — probably written in Latin which most yokels don’t read these days, and to boot the thoroughly modern pope has the assured results of scientific theology. Were any of such researchers there in Palestina at the time? I’ll be content with the ancient witnesses (such as the Christian Gospels) as closer to truth despite any difficulties cooked up by the more recent Johnnys-come-lately. As for the AD date, the Anno Domini is a dating system devised around 525, but was not widely used until
    after 800. Calculated by devout folk no doubt but neither were they there, so if the calculation is off by a few, big deal! No one knowledgeable says the calculation is absolutely precise, but it is an agreed and useful generalization. But then, folk will believe what they want to believe…or disbelieve what they don’t want to believe. Nothing new there thought Governor Pilot!

  3. Jonathan Gress says:

    Actually, my life of the Theotokos, published by Dormition Skete, acknowledges that Monk Dionysios’ calculations were probably wrong, and that our Lord was in fact probably born in 7BC. Honestly, I have no idea why people make such a big deal out of it.

  4. REALLY, that’s too funny…..Are you having a slow day and need something to complain about, hey Pope, work on world hunger, ending sex slavery, or any other humanitarian effort you choose. Other than paying lip service to how much you love the truth.

  5. HmkEnoch says:

    The Pope is a notorious modernist as is the majority of the Vatican organization. Many of its clergy, from my experience, don’t really have a firm belief in the Trinity, Atonement, Real Presence, or even the concept of absolute morality.

    Roman clergy I’ve spoken too generally deny the truth of the Virgin Birth and other fundamental doctrines.

  6. The pope did not say that there were no animals, only that the Gospel says nothing of animals. He then goes on to explain how the ox and the ass were adopted early on in Christian iconography as representing humanity itself at the scene of the Nativity, concluding the discussion by stating: “No representation of the crib is complete without the ox and the ass” (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p. 69). Regarding the angels, the pope affirms their presence and their song when he writes: “So, from that moment, the angels’ song of praise has not gone silent. It continues down the centuries in constantly new forms, and it resounds ever anew at the celebration of Jesus’ birth” (p. 73).

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