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					                                   HISTORY OF EPIPHANY
Brief History (Christian)

January 6 is known on the Christian calendar as Epiphany. It is sometimes called the "Twelfth
Night" being the 12th Day of Christmas. It signifies the event of the Magi, or Wise Men visiting the
baby Jesus, and is known in certain Latin cultures as Three Kings Day. In the Eastern (Orthodox
and Oriental) churches it is known as the Theophany, "God manifest" commemorating Jesus'
baptism. Note, the Magi did not visit the baby Jesus in the Manger. The Gospel of Matthew says
they visited the "house" and saw the "young child", not an infant. Jesus could have been up to 2
years old by this time, as evidenced by King Herod's order to kill all children under that age.

So, the "12 Days of Christmas" don't end at Christmas, Advent does. Instead, the 12 days start
with Christmas, and end with Epiphany, sometimes called Christmastide. The "season" of
Epiphany lasts from January 6 through the day before Lent.

Epiphany is a Greek word that means manifestation, appearance, or showing forth. Historically,
Epiphany began in the eastern Church as the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. As the
celebration of Christmas spread eastward, Epiphany changed to its present meaning. Indeed, the
Church of Rome had, by the year 354, separated out the commemoration of Christ’s Birth from
Epiphany and transferred it to December 25.

In the Western churches (Protestants, Catholics, and Anglicans) Epiphany commemorates the
"adoration" of the Christ Child by the Magi as they presented their gifts, thereby "revealing" Jesus
to the world as Lord and King. In some traditions, the "Twelfth Night" party on January 5 is followed
by the exchange of gifts on January 6th. The Russian church's "Feast of the Nativity," Christmas, is
celebrated at this time.

We rarely hear of the 12 Days of Christmas any more, except by way of Shakespeare's "Twelfth
Night" play, or the words to the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

HISTORY (From the Roman Catholic Church)

As its name suggests, the Epiphany had its origin in the Eastern Church. There exists indeed a
homily of Hippolytus to which (in one manuscript only) is affixed the lemma ieis ta hagia
theophaneia [not epiphaneia: Kellner]; it is throughout addressed to one about to be baptized, and
deals only with the Sacrament of Baptism. It was edited by Bonwetsch and Achelis (Leipzig, 1897);
Achelis and others consider it spurious. The first reference about which we can feel certain is in
Clement (Strom., I, xxi, 45, in P.G., VIII, 888), who writes: "There are those, too, who over-curiously
assign to the Birth of Our Saviour not only its year but its day, which they say to be on 25 Pachon
(20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus. But the followers of Basilides celebrate the day of
His Baptism too, spending the previous night in readings. And they say that it was the 15th of the
month Tybi of the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. And some say that it was observed the llth of the
same month." Now, 11 and 15 Tybi are 6 and 10 January, respectively. The question at once
arises; did these Basilidians celebrate Christ's Nativity and also His Baptism on 6 and 10 January,
or did they merely keep His Baptism on these days, as well as His Nativity on another date? The
evidence, if not Clement's actual words, suggests the former. It is certain that the Epiphany festival
in the East very early admitted a more or less marked commemoration of the Nativity, or at least of
the Angeli ad Pastores, the most striking "manifestation" of Christ's glory on that occasion.
Moreover, the first actual reference to the ecclesiastical feast of the Epiphany (Ammianus
Marcellinus, XXI, ii), in 361, appears to be doubled in Zonaras (XIII, xi) by a reference to the same
festival as that of Christ's Nativity. Moreover, Epiphanius (Haer., li, 27, in P.G., XLI, 936) says that
the sixth of January is hemera genethlion toutestin epiphanion, Christ's Birthday, i.e. His Epiphany.
Indeed, he assigns the Baptism to 12 Athyr, i.e. 6 November. Again in chapters xxviii and xxix
(P.G., XLI, 940 sq.) he asserts that Christ's Birth, i.e. Theophany, occurred on 6 January. as did the
miracle at Cana, in consequence of which water, in various places (Cibyra, for instance), was then
yearly by a miracle turned into wine, of which he had himself drunk. It will be noticed, first, if
Clement does not expressly deny that the Church celebrated the Epiphany in his time at
Alexandria, he at least implies that she did not. Still less can we think that 6 January was then
observed by the Church as holy. Moreover, Origen, in his list of festivals (Contra Celsum, VIII, xxii,
P.G., XI, 1549), makes no mention of it.

Owing no doubt to the vagueness of the name Epiphany, very different manifestations of Christ's
glory and Divinity were celebrated in this feast quite early in its history, especially the Baptism, the
miracle at Cana, the Nativity, and the visit of the Magi. But we cannot for a moment suppose that in
the first instance a festival of manifestations in general was established, into which popular local
devotion read specified meaning as circumstances dictated. It seems fairly clear hat the Baptism
was the event predominantly commemorated. The Apostolic Constitutions (VIII, xxxiii; cf. V, xii)
mention it. Kellner quotes (cf. Selden, de Synedriis, III, xv, 204, 220) the oldest Coptic Calendar for
the name Dies baptismi sanctificati, and the later for that of Immersio Domini as applied to this
feast. Gregory of Nazianzus identifies, indeed, ta theophania with he hagia tou Christou gennesis,
but this sermon (Orat. xxxviii in P.G., XXXVI. 312) was probably preached 25 Dec., 380; and after
referring to Christ's Birth, he assures his hearers (P.G., 329) that they shall shortly see Christ
baptized. On 6 and 7 Jan., he preached orations xxxix and xl (P.G., loc. cit.) and there declared
(col. 349) that the Birth of Christ and the leading of the Magi by a star having been already
celebrated, the commemoration of His Baptism would now take place. The first of these two
sermons is headed eis ta hagia phota, referring to the lights carried on that day to symbolize the
spiritual illumination of baptism, and the day must carefully be distinguished from the Feast of the
Purification, also called Festum luminum for a wholly different reason. Chrysostom, however, in
386 (see CHRISTMAS) preached "Hom. vi in B: Philogonium" where (P.G., XLVIII, 752) he calls
the Nativity the parent of festivals, for, had not Christ been born, neither would He have been
baptized, hoper esti ta theophania. This shows how loosely this title was used. (Cf. Chrys., "Hom.
in Bapt. Chr.", c. ii, in P.G., XLIX, 363; A.D. 387). Cassian (Coll., X, 2, in P.L., XLIX; 820) says that
even in his time (418-427) the Egyptian monasteries still celebrated the Nativity and Baptism on 6

At Jerusalem the feast had a special reference to the Nativity owing to the neighbourhood of
Bethlehem. The account left to us by Etheria (Silvia) is mutilated at the beginning. The title of the
subsequent feast, Quadragesimae de Epiphania (Perigrin. Silviae, ed. Geyer, c.xxvi), leaves us,
however, in no doubt as to what she is describing. On the vigil of the feast (5 Jan.) a procession left
Jerusalem for Bethlehem and returned the following morning. At the second hour the services were
held in the splendidly decorated Golgotha church, after which that of the Anastasis was visited. On
the second and third days this ceremony was repeated; on the fourth the service was offered on
Mount Olivet; on the fifth at the grave of Lazarus at Bethany; on the sixth on Sion; on the seventh
in the church of the Anastasia, on the eighth in that of the Holy Cross. The procession to
Bethlehem was nightly repeated. It will be seen, accordingly, that this Epiphany octave had
throughout so strong a Nativity colouring as to lead to the exclusion of the commemoration of the
Baptism in the year 385 at any rate. It is, however, by way of actual baptism on this day that the
West seems to enter into connection with the East. St. Chrysostom (Hom. in Bapt. Chr. in P.G.,
XLIX, 363) tells us how the Antiochians used to take home baptismal water consecrated on the
night of the festival, and that it remained for a year without corruption. To this day, the blessing of
the waters by the dipping into river, sea, or lake of a crucifix, and by other complicated ritual, is a
most popular ceremony. A vivid account is quoted by Neale ("Holy Eastern Church", Introduction,
p. 754; cf. the Greek, Syriac, Coptic, and Russian versions, edited or translated from the original
texts by John, Marquess of Bute, and A. Wallis Budge). The people consider that all ailments,
spiritual and physical, can be cured by the application of the blessed water. The custom would
seem, however, to be originally connected rather with the miracle of Cana than with the Baptism.
That baptism on this day was quite usual in the West is proved, however, by the complaint of
Bishop Himerius of Tarragona to Pope Damasus (d. 384), that baptisms were being celebrated on
the feast of the Epiphany. Pope Siricius, who answered him (P.L., XIII, 1134) identifies the feasts of
Natalitia Christi and of his Apparitio, and is very indignant at the extension of the period for
baptisms beyond that of Easter and that of Pentecost. Pope Leo I ("Ep. xvi ad Sicil. episcopos", c.
i, in P.L., LIV, 701; cf. 696) denounces the practice as an irrationabilis novitas; yet the Council of
Gerona (can. iv) condemned it in 517, and Victor Vitensis alludes to it as the regular practice of the
(Roman-) African Church (De Persec. Vandal., II, xvii, in P.L., LVIII, 216). St. Gregory of Tours,
moreover (De gloriâ martyrum in P.L., LXXI, 783; cf. cc. xvii, xix), relates that those who lived near
the Jordan bathed in it that day, and that miracles were then wont to take place. St. Jerome
(Comm. in Ez., I, i, on verse 3 in P.L., XXV, 18) definitely asserts that it is for the baptism and
opening of the heavens that the dies Epiphaniorum is still venerable and not for the Nativity of
Christ in the flesh, for then absconditus est, et non apparuit -- "He was hidden, and did not appear."

That the Epiphany was of later introduction in the West than the Christmas festival of 25
December, has been made clear in the article CHRISTMAS. It is not contained in the Philocalian
Calendar, while it seems most likely that 25 December was celebrated at Rome before the sermon
of Pope Liberius (in St. Ambrose, De virg., iii, I, in P.L., XVI, 231) which many assign to 25 Dec.,
354. St. Augustine clearly observes Oriental associations in the Epiphany feasts: "Rightly", says he
(Serm. ccii, 2, in Epiph. Domini, 4, in P, L., XXXVIII, 1033), "have refused to celebrate this day with
us; for neither do they love unity, nor are they in communion with the Eastern Church, where at last
the star appeared." St. Philastrius (Haer., c. cxl, in P.L., XII, 1273) adds that certain heretics refuse
to celebrate the Epiphany, regarding it, apparently, as a needless duplication of the Nativity feast,
though, adds the saint, it was only after twelve days that Christ "appeared to the Magi in the
Temple". The dies epiphaniorum, he says (P.L., XII, 1274), is by some thought to be "the day of the
Baptism, or of the Transformation which occurred on the mountain". Finally, an unknown Syrian
annotator of Barsalibi (Assemani, Bibl. Orient., II, 163) boldly writes: "The Lord was born in the
month of January on the same day on which we celebrate the Epiphany; for of old the feasts of the
Nativity and Epiphany were kept on one and the same day, because on the same day He was born
and baptized. The reason why our fathers changed the solemnity celebrated on 6 January, and
transferred it to 25 December follows: it was the custom of the heathens to celebrate the birthday
of the sun on this very day, 25 December, and on it they lit lights on account of the feast. In these
solemnities and festivities the Christians too participated. When, therefore, the teachers observed
that the Christians were inclined to this festival, they took counsel and decided that the true birth-
feast be kept on this day, and on 6 Jan., the feast of the Epiphanies. Simultaneously, therefore,
with this appointment the custom prevailed of burning lights until the sixth day."

It is simpler to say that, about the time of the diffusion of the December celebration in the East, the
West took up the Oriental January feast, retaining all its chief characteristics, though attaching
overwhelming importance, as time went on, to the apparition of the Magi. Epiphanius indeed had
said (loc. cit.) that not only did water in many places turn into wine on 6 Jan., but that whole rivers,
and probably the Nile, experienced a similar miracle; nothing of this sort is noted in the West. The
Leonine Sacramentary is defective here; but Leo's eight homilies on the Theophania (in P.L., LIV,
Serm. xxxi, col. 234, to Serm. xxxviii, col. 263) bear almost wholly on the Magi, while in Serm. xxxv,
col. 249, he definitely asserts their visit to be the commemoration for which the feast was instituted.
Fulgentius (Serm. iv in P.L., LXV, 732) speaks only of the Magi and the Innocents. Augustine's
sermons (cxcix-cciv in P.L., XXXVIII) deal almost exclusively with this manifestation; and the
Gelasian Sacramentary (P.L., LXXIV, 1062) exclusively, both on the vigil and the feast. The
Gregorian Sacramentary makes great use of Ps. lxxii (A. V. lxxiii), 10 and mentions the three great
apparitions in the Canon only. The Ambrosian, however, refers to all three manifestations in the
vigil-preface, and in the feast-preface to baptism alone. The "Missale Vesontiense" (Neale and
Forbes, The Anc. Liturgies of the Gallican Church, p. 228) speaks, in the prayer, of Illuminatio,
Manifestatio, Declaratio, and compares its Gospel of Matt., iii, 13-17; Luke, iii, 22; and John, ii, 1-
11, where the Baptism and Cana are dwelt upon. The Magi are referred to on the Circumcision.
The Gothic Missal (Neale and Forbes, op. cit., p. 52) mentions the Magi on the vigil, saying that the
Nativity, Baptism, and Cana make Christ's Illustratio. All the manifestations are, however, referred
to, including (casually) the feeding of the 5000, a popular allusion in the East, whence the name
phagiphania. Augustine (Serm. suppl. cxxxvi, 1, in P.L., XXXIX, 2013) speaks of the raising of
Lazarus (cf. day 5 of the Jerusalem ritual) as on an equality with the other manifestations, whence
in the East the name Bethphania occurs. Maximus of Turin admits the day to be of three miracles,
and speculates (Hom. vii, in epiph., in P.L., LVII, 273) on the historical connection of date and
events. Polemius Silvanus, Paulinus of Nola (Poem. xxvii; Natal., v, 47, in P.L., LXI) and Sedulius
(in P.L., LXXII) all insist on the three manifestations. The Mozarabic Missal refers mainly to the
Magi, using of their welcome by Christ the word Acceptio, a term of "initiation" common to
Mithraists and Christians. In 381, the Council of Sargossa (can. iv), read together with the
Mozarabic Missal's Mass in jejunio epiphaniae, makes it clear that a fast at this season was not
uncommon even among the orthodox. "Cod. Theod." (II, viii, 20; XXV, v, 2) forbids the circus on
this day in the year 400; "Cod. Justi." (III, xii, 6) makes it a day of obligation. In 380 it is already
marked by cessation of legal business in Spain; in Thrace (if we can trust the "Passio S. Philippi" in
Ruinart, "Acta", 440, 2) it was kept as early as 304. Kellner quotes the "Testamentum Jesu Christi"
(Mainz, 1899) as citing it twice (I, 28; IV, 67, 101) as a high festival together with Easter and

In the present Office, Crudelis Herodes alludes to the three manifestations; in Nocturn i, the first
response for the day, the octave, and the Sunday within the octave, deals with the Baptism, as
does the second response; the third response, as all those of Nocturns i and iii, is on the Magi. The
antiphon to the Benedictus runs: "To-day the Church is joined to her celestial spouse, because in
Jordan Christ doth wash her sins; the Magi hasten with gifts to the royal marriage-feast, and the
guests exult in the water turned to wine." O Sola refers to the Magi only. The Magnificat antiphon of
Second Vespers reads: "We keep our Holy Day adored with three miracles: to-day a star led the
Magi to the crib, to-day wine was made from water at the marriage, to-day in Jordan Christ willed to
be baptized by John to save us." On the Epiphany it was a very general custom to announce the
date of Easter, and even of other festivals, a practice ordered by many councils, e.g. that of
Orléans in 541 (can. i); Auxerre in 578 and 585 (can. ii), and still observed (Kellner) at Turin, etc.
Gelasius finally tells us (Ep. ad episc. Lucan., c. xii, in P.L., LIX, 52) that the dedication of virgins
occurred especially on that day.


The reason for the fixing of this date it is impossible to discover. The only tolerable solution is that
of Mgr. Duchesne (Orig. Chr., 262), who explains simultaneously the celebration of 6 January and
of 25 December by a backward reckoning from 6 April and 25 March respectively. The Pepyzitae,
or Phrygian Montanists, says Sozomen (Hist. Eccl., VII, xviii, in P.G., LXVII, 1473), kept Easter on
6 April; hence (reckoning an exact number of years to the Divine life) Christ's birthday would have
fallen on 6 January. But, it may be urged, the first notice we have of the observance of this date,
refers to Christ's Baptism. But this (if we may assume the Basilidians, too, to have argued from 6
April) will have fallen on the exact anniversary of tbe Birth. But why preeminently celebrate the
Baptism? Can it be that the celebration started with those, of whatever sect, who held that at the
Baptism the Godhead descended upon Christ? On this uncertain territory we had better risk no
footstep till fresh evidence, if such there be, be furnished us. Nor is this the place to discuss the
legends of the Three Kings, which will be found in the article MAGI. Kellner, Heortologie (Freiburg
im Br., 1906); Funk in Kraus, Real-Encyclopädie, s. v. Feste; Bingham, Antiquities of the Christian
Church (London, 1708-22), Bk. XX, c. iv; Usener, Religionsgeschichtliche Untersuchungen (Bonn,
1889). I.Cyril Martindale.