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CHAPTER IV.-A Testimony Against some other Superstitions.


CHAPTER IV.-A Testimony Against some other Superstitions.

James Dodson

Concerning New-years-gifts. Candlemas. Shrove-Tuesday. The Vanity of making Cakes on such a Day. The Heathenism and Barbarity of Cock Scalers. The Superstition of Dedicating Days to Saints. A Lamentation that ever things of this nature should be practised in New-England.

IT is a Custom amongst some, to send Gifts one to another on the First of January. These were by the Romans called Strenae. Amongst the Heathen of old, the First of January was a great Holiday, when they began their New Year, and worshipped their God Janus. And that in their New-years-gifts they intended some Honour to the Goddess [V. Austin de Civit. Dei. L. 4. cap. 11. & 16. Stuckius Antiq. Conviv. p. 132.] Strenua, is manifested from the name; as also from the Practice of Tatius, who first began the Custom by gathering some sacred Branches out of Strenua her Grove. I find that the Ancients (in special [De Idol. cap. 14.] Tertullian and [In Ephes.] Jerom) have reprehended this Custom amongst Christians as a Paganish Rite. That Boniface, whom some have called the Apostle of Germany, when he reproved the Germans for observing New-years-day after the manner of the Heathen, they objected to him, that it was so done in Rome; whereupon he wrote an Epistle to Pope Zachary, desiring that no such Paganish Custom might be used amongst those that called themselves Christians. In the Turonensian Synod, Anno 554. It was declared, That such as observed the Kalends of January (i.e., New-years-day) should not be accounted Christians. In the Synod at Antisiodorum, this Custom is severely condemned. Yea, they call New-years-gifts Strenus Diaboli. And so does Alcuinus. Our famous Perkins, in an Epistle to the President and Fellows of Christ’s College in Cambridge, Condemns New-years-gifts as impious, because they are Consecrated with the Name of Janus.

Concerning Candlemass, besides that the Name has Superstition written in the Forehead of it, I shall only add, that the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary [V. Hospinian, de fest. Christianorum p. 33.] was taken up in imitation of the Festival of the Goddess Februa, to whom Pagans did in the beginning of February offer burning Tapers, as the Papists now offer to the Virgin Mary on this Day at Evening Candles. Let such as retain any of this Superstition, consider whether it be meet for Protestants thus to Imitate Papists and Pagans. The like is to be affirmed of Shrove-Tuesday. It smells both of Popish and of Paganish Superstition. Why does it bear the Name of Shrove-Tuesday, but because on that Evening deluded Papists go to the Priest to be shrieved, or to make Auricular Confession. The Italians [See Minshews Guide in to the Tongues.] call Shrove-Tuesday by the Name of Bacchanali. The Spaniards, Fiestas de Baco, and the French, Bacchanaleries, which shews that this Carnival comes in the room of the old Bacchanalia and Dionisia of the Gentiles; and indeed is kept after the same manner, [V. Hospinian ubi supra, p. 37, 38. Stuckius Antiq. Conviv. p. 129.] especially in some places. We see it is celebrated with the Observation of sundry Heathenish Vanities. When persons single out that Day to make Pancakes in, it is an Heathenish Vanity. The Prophet Jeremy speaks of some that did knead their Dough to make Cakes to the Queen of Heaven, Jer. 7:18. Shall Christians do any thing which shall look like unto a Symbolizing with such Heathenism? The old Pagan Romans [Stuckius de Sacrificiis Gentilium p. 50. Pollux, Lib. 6.] made little Cakes as a Sacrifice to their Gods, these they called Liba. And the Heathen Greeks made (Popana) Pancakes as an Offering to their Idols. Especially they did practise this at the time when they celebrated the Feast of Bacchus, which (as we have proved) was the Heathens Shrove-Tide. Arnobius [Lib. 7.] of old did zealously testify against this Heathenism. Quid Fritilla? Quid Assiria? Quid Gratilla? Quid Conspolium? Quid Cubula? What’s the meaning (saith he) of your Pultises, of your Pancakes, of your Fritters,& c. And again, Quid cum Pultibus Deo fit, quid cum Libis? Do you think that God is pleased with your Superstitious Cakes?

Another Vanity attending Shrove-Tide, is that of Cock-scaling. It is agreed amongst Ancient Historians, that Cocks were brought out of Persia into Greece. [AElian. Histor.L. 2. c. 28. Demster, Rom. Antiq. Lib. 3. cap. 10.] For which cause after Themistocles had obtained a notable victory over the Persians, it was made a Law among the Athenians, that once in a year there should be a publick Cock-fight in Commemoration of that Victory. If this were the worst, it were more tolerable, for there is nothing of a Religious Nature in it. But I find that the [Stuckius ubi supra, p. 47.] Cock because of his fighting Quality was by the Old Gentiles dedicated to Mars. Hence Aristophanes calls him (Areos neotton) Mars his Bird. And the Lacedaemonians were wont to sacrifice a Cock to their God Mars. Our fore-fathers the Saxons, called the Third Day of the week Tuesday, [See Verstegan’s Antiquities p. 57.] in Devotion to their great Father and Leader Tuisco, whom after his Death they Idolized. The Germans now [Vide Minshew in Libro supra citato.] call it Dings-dagh, i.e., the Fighting Day. The Old Romans, and from them the Italians, French, Spaniard, and others, have given it the Name of Mars his Day. Whether the practice of slaughtering Cocks on Tuesday, or Mars his Day, have not in it some of the old Idolatrous Heathenism, let every Wise and Serious Christian judge. Besides all this, to delight in tormenting dumb Creatures, and to make a sport of their Miseries, is great inhumanity, and a scandalous Violation of the Sixth Commandment. No Creature belonging to this World would ever have been miserable, had not the Sin of Man caused it to be so. And the whole Creation groans to be delivered from that woeful Vanity which Man has subjected it unto. Wherefore for Men to make sport with the Griefs and Dolours of miserable Creatures, is such Barbarism, as a truly Christian Heart cannot but abhor. Such Cruelty is more suitable to be acted in the Bloody Theaters of Pagans, then to be seen in the Streets amongst men that call themselves Christians. I remember a serious Passage mentioned in the Life of that worthy Minister Mr. John Machin, &c. He on a time meeting some young men that were going to a Cock-fighting, said to one of them, [See Mr. Clarkes last Volume of Lives, p. 92.] Friends, our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, never came into the World to set up such sports as these. Which words struck like an Arrow in the Heart of that young man, and the issue was, that he repented, and there was a blessed change in his whole course of life. If the writing of these things shall have the like Effect on any Reader, my Labour will not be lost. The Lord grant that it may be so. More I need not add on this Subject, only that I find in the Ecclesiastical Discipline of the Reformed Churches in France, Cap. 14. Artic. 18. that the keeping of Shrove-Tuesday is expressly forbidden.

Concerning the Dedication of Days to the honour of Saints departed, suppose Valentin, St. Matthias, or any other, we have not one Example in the Scripture to warrant such a Practice. The Lord’s People of old did not so. There was no Holiday appointed to the honour of Moses or Joshua, or any of the Prophets in the Church of Israel. Nor was there a Saints-day known amongst Christians, until such time as the Antichristian Apostacy and Idolatry begun. Many learned men have proved by [Rivet summae controvers. Tract. 2. quest. 16.] Testimonies out of the Ancients, that the Superstition of consecrating Days to the Martyrs, was done in imitation of the Gentiles, who dedicated Days in Devotion to their Heroes, after their death, and Christians thought to bring the Heathens over to them, by appointing Festivals to the honour of Martyrs and other famous Saints. But this looks like worshipping Saints. And the Truth is, That the Superstition of praying to Saints departed, came in with that of Instituting Days to their Honour. And the Arguments made use of by Protestants against building Altars or Temples for the honour of Saints, are valid in this case. Religious worship is due to God only, Matth. 4:10. Now that a Festival or Holiday is a part of Religious Worship, is not only by Protestants asserted, but by some Papists (in particular by [Rationale Divin. l. 4. c. 39.] Durandus and [De Cultu Sanctorum, l. 4. cap. 16.] Bellarmin) acknowledged. How the Observers of such Days can wholly clear themselves from transgressing the Second Commandment, I confess my self unable to discern.

But my Design is not to enlarge on these things. What has been spoken may suffice for a Testimony against the impleaded growing Evils. It is deeply to be lamented, that there should be any need to Preach or to Write against any such Vanities here in New-England. I can remember the time, when for many years, not so much as one of all these Superstitious Customs was known to be practised in this Land. They are good no where; but in New-England they are a thousand times worse than in another place. Upon which account, there is sad cause to expect, that it will not be long before the Holy God will reveal his Displeasure from Heaven against them. This has been Immanuel’s Land. New-England was and over ought to be a Land of Uprightness. But shall men do such things in a Land of Uprightness, where the Word of God, and the Ministers of God have taught them better? Is it no Provocation to Defile the Lord’s Land? To my knowledge, the first Generation of Christians came into this Wilderness with hopes that their Posterity here would never be corrupted with such vain Customs. Ask such of the old Standers as are yet living, if it were not so. And the Printed [See Mr. Wilson’s Sermon on Jer. 29:8. p. 6, 8, 9. And Mr. Norton’s Sermon on Jer. 30:17. p. 12, 13.] Labours of sundry the most Eminent of the Fathers in these Churches, do in part declare it. But alas! that so many of the Present Generation have so early corrupted their doings! Methinks I hear the Lord speaking to New-England as once to Israel; I planted thee a Noble Vine, wholly a Right Seed; How then art thou turned into the Degenerate Plant of a Strange Vine unto me!