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Origin of the word The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days' fast preceding Easteroriginally meant no more than the spring season. This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste fortietha word formed on the analogy of Pentecost pentekostewhich last was in use for the Jewish festival before New Testament times.
This etymology, as we shall see, is of some little importance in explaining the early developments of the Easter fast. Origin of the custom Some of the Fathers as early as the fifth century supported the view that this forty days' fast was of Apostolic institution.
But the best modern scholars are almost unanimous in rejecting this view, for in the existing remains of the first three centuries we find both considerable diversity of practice regarding the fast before Easter and also a gradual process of development in the matter of its duration.
The passage of primary importance is one quoted by Eusebius Church History V. Irenaeus to Pope Victor in connection with the Easter controversy. There Irenaeus says that there is not only a controversy about the time of keeping Easter but also regarding the preliminary fast.
He also urges that this variety of usage is of ancient date, which implies that there could have been no Apostolic tradition on the subject. Rufinuswho translated Eusebius into Latin towards the close of the fourth century, seems so to have punctuated this passage as to make Irenaeus say that some people fasted for forty days.
Formerly some difference of opinion existed as to the proper reading, but modern criticism e. We may then fairly conclude that Irenaeus about the year knew nothing of any Easter fast of forty days. The same inference must be drawn from the language of Tertullian only a Taking notes for others years later.
When writing as a Montanisthe contrasts the very slender term of fasting observed by the Catholics i. On Prayer 18 ; etc. And there is the same silence observable in all the pre-Nicene Fathersthough many had occasion to mention such an Apostolic institution if it had existed.
We may note for example that there is no mention of Lent in St. Dionysius of Alexandria ed. Further, there seems much to suggest that the Church in the Apostolic Age designed to commemorate the Resurrection of Christnot by an annual, but by a weekly celebration see "The Month", Aprilsqq.
If this be so, the Sunday liturgy constituted the weekly memorial of the Resurrectionand the Friday fast that of the Death of Christ. Such a theory offers a natural explanation of the wide divergence which we find existing in the latter part of the second century regarding both the proper time for keeping Easterand also the manner of the paschal fast.
Christians were at one regarding the weekly observance of the Sunday and the Friday, which was primitive, but the annual Easter festival was something superimposed by a process of natural development, and it was largely influenced by the conditions locally existing in the different Churches of the East and West.
Moreover, with the Easter festival there seems also to have established itself a preliminary fastnot as yet anywhere exceeding a week in duration, but very severe in character, which commemorated the Passionor more generally, "the days on which the bridegroom was taken away". Be this as it may, we find in the early years of the fourth century the first mention of the term tessarakoste.
It occurs in the fifth canon of the Council of Nicea A. But we have to remember that the older word, pentekoste Pentecost from meaning the fiftieth day, had come to denote the whole of the period which we should call Paschal Time between Easter Sunday and Whit-Sunday cf.
TertullianOn Idolatry 14— "pentecosten implere non poterunt". In any case it is certain from the "Festal Letters" of St. Athanasius that in the saint enjoined upon his flock a period of forty days of fasting preliminary to, but not inclusive of, the stricter fast of Holy Weekand secondly that in the same Fatherafter having traveled to Rome and over the greater part of Europewrote in the strongest terms to urge this observance upon the people of Alexandria as one that was universally practiced, "to the end that while all the world is fastingwe who are in Egypt should not become a laughing-stock as the only people who do not fast but take our pleasure in those days".
Although Funk formerly maintained that a Lent of forty days was not known in the West before the time of St. Ambrosethis is evidence which cannot be set aside. Duration of the fast In determining this period of forty days the example of MosesEliasand Christ must have exercised a predominant influence, but it is also possible that the fact was borne in mind that Christ lay forty hours in the tomb.
On the other hand just as Pentecost the fifty days was a period during which Christians were joyous and prayed standing, though they were not always engaged in such prayerso the Quadragesima the forty days was originally a period marked by fastingbut not necessarily a period in which the faithful fasted every day.
Still, this principle was differently understood in different localities, and great divergences of practice were the result. In Romein the fifth century, Lent lasted six weeks, but according to the historian Socrates there were only three weeks of actual fastingexclusive even then of the Saturday and Sunday and if Duchesne's view may be trusted, these weeks were not continuous, but were the first, the fourth, and sixth of the series, being connected with the ordinations Christian Worship, Possibly, however, these three weeks had to do with the "scrutinies" preparatory to Baptismfor by some authorities e.
Maclean in his "Recent Discoveries" the duty of fasting along with the candidate for baptism is put forward as the chief influence at work in the development of the forty days.
But throughout the Orient generally, with some few exceptions, the same arrangement prevailed as St. Athanasius's "Festal Letters" show us to have obtained in Alexandrianamely, the six weeks of Lent were only preparatory to a fast of exceptional severity maintained during Holy Week.
This is enjoined by the "Apostolic Constitutions" V.Scientific American is the essential guide to the most awe-inspiring advances in science and technology, explaining how they change our understanding of the world and shape our lives.
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