Baring-Gould’s Lives of the Saints – Circumcision of Our Lord

Article

This festival is celebrated by the Church in order to commemorate the obedience of our Lord in fulfilling all righteousness, which is one branch of the meritorious cause of our redemption, and by thai means abrogating the severe injunctions of the Mosaic law, and placing us under the grace of the Gospel. God gave to Abraham the command to circumcise all male children on the eighth day after birth, and this rite was to be the seal of covenant with Him, a token that, through shedding of the blood of One to come, remission of the original sin inherited from Adam could alone be obtained. It was also to point out that the Jews were cut ofif, and separate, from the other nations. By circumcision, a Jew belonged to the covenant, was consecrated to the service of God, and undertook to believe the truths revealed by Him to His elect people, and to hold the commandments to which He required obedience. Thus, this outward sign admitted him to true worship of God, true knowledge of God, and true obedience to God’s moral law. Circumcision looked forward to Christ, who, by His blood, remits sin. Consequently, as a rite pointing to Him who was to come, it is abolished, and its place is taken by baptism, which also is a sign of covenant with God, admitting to true worship, true knowledge, and true obedience. But baptism is more than a covenant, and therefore more than was circumcision. It is a Sacrament; that is, a channel of grace. By baptism, supernatural power, or grace, is given to the child, whereby it obtains that which by nature it could not have. Circumcision admitted to covenant, but conferred no grace. Baptism admits to covenant, and confers grace. By circumcision, a child was made a member of God’s own peculiar people. By baptism, the same is done ; but Gods own people is now not one nation, but the whole Catholic Church. Christ underwent circumcision, not because He had inherited the sin of Adam, but because He came to fulfil all righteousness, to accomplish the law, and for the letter to give the spirit.

It was, probably, the extravagances committed among the heathen at the kalends of January, upon which this day fell, that hindered the Church for some ages from proposing it as an universal set festival. The writings of the Fathers are full of invectives against the idolatrous profanations of this day, which concluded the riotous feasts in honor of Saturn, and was dedicated to Janus and Strena, or Strenua, a goddess supposed to preside over those presents which were sent to, and received from, one another on the first day of the year, and which were called after her, strense; a name which is still preserved in the etreiines, or gifts, which it is customary in France to make on New Year’s Day.

But, when the danger of the heathen abuses was removed, by the establishment of Christianity in the Roman empire, this festival began to be observed; and the mystery of our Blessed Lord’s Circumcision is explained in several ancient homilies of the fifth century. It was, however, spoken of in earlier times as the Octave of the Nativity, and the earliest mention of it as the Circumcision is towards the end of the eleventh century, shortly before the time of Saint Bernard, who also has a sermon upon it. In the Ambrosian Missal, used at Milan, the services of the day contain special cautions against idolatry. In a Gallican Lectionary, which is supposed to be as old as the seventh century, are special lessons “In Circumcisione Domini.” Ivo, of Chartres, in 1090, speaks of the observance of this day in the French Church. The Greek Church also has a special commemoration of the Circumcision.

MLA Citation

  • Sabine Baring-Gould. “Circumcision of Our Lord”. Lives of the Saints, 1897. CatholicSaints.Info. 23 December 2013. Web. 17 August 2017. <>