26 January 2018


Next Sunday is Septuagesima Sunday.

Until the reformers of the 1960s abolished it, Septuagesima had, for a millennium and a half at least, pointed the Latin Church to the Pentateuch, and its structural centrality to Christian understanding and to the living of the Christian life. (I have written before about the history of the Gesima texts, and I presume my pieces are available to newer readers through the Search Engine attached to this blog). A proper respect for the Pentateuch is something that would come more easily to Catholics if we all had a deeper inculturation into our Jewish roots. Sadly, the the 'reformers' of the 1960s weakened this rather than enhancing it.

So: Septuagesima and its week give us Eve, and Adam, and their Creation; and their Fall. Members of the Anglican Patrimony do not need (but perhaps some others do) a recommendation to read an imaginative piece of theological fiction by the great Anglican apologist Professor C S Lewis: his novel Voyage to Venus, alternatively known as Perelandra. It constitutes an exended meditation on the Fall and on the strategies of the Enemy.

This morning, I would like to offer you a few sentences which seem to me to be highly useful solvents of "The Enlightenment" and of its demonic errors. And just the sort of thing which we need before opening the Word of God at the beginning of Genesis and submitting ourselves to what we find there. [I have made one or two tiny syntactical adjustments.]

" ... the triple distinction of truth from myth and of both from fact is purely terrestrial - part and parcel of that unhappy division betweeen soul and body which resulted from the Fall. Even on Earth the sacraments exist as a permanent reminder that the division is neither wholesome nor final. The Incarnation was the beginning of its disappearance ... The whole distinction between things accidental and things designed, like the distinction between fact and myth, is purely terrestrial. The pattern is so large that within the little frame of earthly experience there appear pieces of it between which we can see no connection, and other pieces between which we can. Hence we rightly, for our use, distinguish the accidental from the essential. But step outside that frame and the distinction drops down into the void, fluttering useless wings."

(S John Paul remarked that, in God's Providence, there are no such things as coincidences.)


Joshua said...

Here is a curious calendrical detail I came across some years ago: the (former) two feasts of the Chair of St Peter, on the 18th of January (called that of his cathedra at Rome) and 22nd of February (called that of cathedra at Antioch), mark the earliest and latest dates upon which Septuagesima can fall, and are hence called the "keys" of Septuagesima.

Septuagesima Sunday last fell on the 18th of January in 1818 (what a pleasing pattern of numbers!), and will next occur on that date in 2285, for in both years Easter falls on its earliest date of the 22nd of March.

More notably, Septuagesima Sunday can only occur on its latest possible date of the 22nd of February if Easter falls on the 25th of April (the feast of St Mark Evangelist), in a bissextile (or leap) year.

During the centuries when the Julian calendar was used by Rome, Septuagesima occurred on the 22nd of February twice, in 672 (during the interregnum between the death of St Vitalian and the election of Adeodatus II, and only seventy or eighty years after St Gregory the Great introduced this and the other pre-Lenten Sundays) and in 1204 (during the glorious reign of Innocent III, just months before the disastrous sack of Constantinople).

However, since the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, Septuagesima Sunday has not yet fallen on its latest possible date – and will not, until the 22nd of February 3784 (should this miserable and wicked world by God's forbearance endure that long) over two and a half millennia since it last did.

Septuagesima could occur on the 22nd of February yet a fourth time, in 4088; but by the forty-first century, the Gregorian calendar will be more than a day out by some computations, and, if the suggestion of Sir John Herschel be adopted, the year 4000 will be deprived of its leap day to correct this error, and then our present predictions of the far-future dates of Easter and hence of Septuagesima will be moot.

Mary Welch said...

So Lewis would deny freedom, and so sin?

If the distinction between the accidental and the essential - between an unconditioned freedom and a conditioned necessity - is merely a terrestrially induced illusion that would collapse when viewed from a more comprehensive “frame,” then either evil is an essential good that appears otherwise, or the good is an essential evil that appears otherwise.

Either way, it makes God out to be a monster.

B flat said...

Mary Welch:

Lewis doesn't say it is an illusion. He says the distinction is purely terrestrial. It is not only humanity that fell in Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden. All of Creation on earth was put out of kilter (disorderdered) but the reality of Truth was not affected. Truth took on human nature at the Incarnation, but those without Faith still question and doubt that this is a fact, or that it has any bearing on the reality of any human being, any more than any other myth.
If I understand Lewis at all in this, he is speaking from our viewpoint, not from the perspectiive of God's comprehension. He does not make God a monster, any more than predestination of the Virgin Mother in her Immaculate Conception makes Him a monster.
But perhaps I will be confounded by the many who are wiser than I. So be it.

Sue Sims said...

Mary Welch: I've read your comment five times now, and still fail to see any relevance whatsoever to what Lewis wrote. Could you please explain to this Bear of Very Little Brain? Or possibly just re-read the passage that Fr H. quotes on the assumption that Lewis isn't a heretic?

Thomas said...

Would perceived difficulties with Lewis' text be resolved if we read "coincidental" instead of "accidental"?

One of my favourite passages from Perelandra is the long and beautiful speech/meditation/hymn by what is in effect one of the planetary guardian angels at the end of the story:

"Never did he make two things the same; never did He utter one word twice. After earths not better earths but beasts; after beasts not better beasts but spirits. After a falling, not recovery but a new creation. Out of the new creation not a third, but a change that will change all for ever. Blessed be He.

It is loaded with justice as when a tree bows down with fruit. All is righteousness, yet all are not equal - not as when stones lie together side by side, but as when stones support and are supported in an arch - such is His order; rule and obedience, begetting and bearing, heat glancing down, life growing up. Blessed be He.

And it was all made that He might come down into it. For though the healing of what was wounded and the straightening of what was bent is a new dimension of glory, yet the straight was not made that it might be bent, nor the whole that it might be wounded. Yet it was in the Fallen World that He prepared for Himself a body and was united with the Dust and made it glorious for ever. This is the end and final cause of all creating and so the sin whereby it came about is called Fortunate and this world is the center of all worlds. Blessed be He.

The tree that was planted in tears bears fruit for all. The fountain that sprang with mingled blood flows everywhere now with life and healing. For where He is there is the center. And there is no way out of the center except into the Bent Will that casts itself into the Nowhere.

Each thing was made for Him, so each of us is at the center. When He died He died for each as much as for all. If each one had been the only one he would have done no less, for each thing from the single grain of dust to the strongest angel is the end and final cause of all creation, the mirror in which the beam of his brightness comes to rest and so returns to Him. Blessed be He.

In the Plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design. Thus each is equally at the center, yet some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small things by their smallness, the great by their greatness, and all the patterns are linked and looped together by the union of kneeling in a sceptered love. Blessed be He.

He has immeasurable use for each thing that He has made, that His love and splendour may flow forth like a string river which has need of many watercourses and fills alike the deep pools and the little crannies; and when all are filled it overflows to make new channels. We also have need beyond measure of everything that He has made. Love one another then for you are infinitely necessary to each other. Blessed be He.

He has no need of anything that is made. An angel is nor more needful to him than a grain of dust. And we also have no need of anything but Him. So love each other because you are infinitely superfluous, and you love will be like his, born neither of your own need, nor of others deserving, but a plain bounty. Blessed be He.

All things are by Him and for Him. He utters Himself also for His own delight and sees that He is good. He is His own begotten and what proceeds from Him is Himself and Himself. Blessed, Blessed, Blessed be He."

Joshua said...

PS A more recent suggestion is, because the Gregorian calendar will be nearly a day behind by 3200, the leap day ought be omitted that year - which means that the predicted occurrence of Septuagesima on 22nd February 3784 won't happen, if this particular reform be adopted. I suppose we needn't worry overmuch.

In any case, the occurrence of Septuagesima on the 22nd of February is clearly the rarest of all liturgical events.

Peregrinus Toronto said...

Rarest except perhaps for the liturgical celebration of the reconciliation of the Anglican Communion with the Holy See. Let us hope and pray not!

Mary Welch said...

@Sue Sims

Dear Sue Sims,

When the good Samaritan passed by just when he did, some might say that that was providential. But presumably he, the Samaritan, could have freely chosen to not help the victim; indeed he may very well have chosen to throttle him and finish him off.
Some might say that, in his prevision, God may have chosen the Samaritan to pass by just then, knowing that he would freely choose to help the victim. But if this is the case, it also follows that God, in his prevision, also chose the robbers to happen upon the victim, knowing that they would freely choose to beat and rob him.

So what I am saying, Sue Sims, is that if freedom (the accidental, the contingent) is conflated with the essential (the necessary) then God has nowhere to hide. He is the author of evil.

Mary Welch said...

@B Flat
So be it.

Mary Welch said...


Fr John Hunwicke said...

Lewis believed and taught that the relationship between free will and predestination or prevision was something that would be comprehensible if we were able to contemplate more than the infinitesimally tiny fragment of the web of causality to which we have access.

I think this particular debate has gone on for long enough.

Rubricarius said...


Absolutely fascinating. I was unaware of the 'Keys of Septuagesima'. Thank you for such a detailed and interesing explanation.