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.