March 25th: Creation, Annunciation, & Calvary

In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger writes about the connection between creation, the cross and Christ’s conception:

“Jewish tradition gave the date of March 25 to Abraham’s sacrifice, this day was also regarded as the day of creation, the day when God’s word decreed: ‘Let there be light.’ It was also considered, very early on, as the day of Christ’s death and eventually as the day of his conception. The mysterious words in Revelation 13:8 about the ‘Lamb slain from the beginning of the world’ could also perhaps be interpreted in the same way. … These cosmic images enabled Christians to see, in an unprecedented way, the world-embracing meaning of Christ.”

According to this tradition, the date of the Annunciation coincided with a number of significant events in salvation history. March 25 was not only the day on which Christ was conceived in Our Lady’s womb; it was also the day of the creation of the world, the day Adam and Eve fell, the day Abraham (nearly) sacrificed his son Isaac, the day the Israelites were set free from Egypt, and the day of the crucifixion.

In the Roman Martyrology, both the Annunciation and the feast of the Good Thief are assigned to March 25. Feast days for saints are usually assigned on the day of death, the day of the Good Thief’s crucifixion. Because that is the solemn feast of the Annunciation, the Good Thief’s feast day is never observed — one might say that it is “stolen” from him every year.

In the third chapter of the Gospel, Luke gives his version of Jesus’ genealogy, which begins with Jesus and works its way backward through His ancestors. This genealogy ends with the words “the son of Adam, the son of God.” In calling Jesus the “Son of God,” then, Luke is not only pointing to Christ’s relationship with the Father; he is also portraying Christ as the New Adam.

This interpretation of Luke’s Gospel goes as far back as the second century Church Father St. Irenaeus. In his Adversus Haereses, Irenaeus shows how not only Christ, but also Mary played a central role in undoing the sin of Adam and Eve:

In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word. But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin… Wherefore also Luke, commencing the genealogy with the Lord, carried it back to Adam, indicating that it was He who regenerated them into the Gospel of life, and not they Him. And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith. (Adv. Haer. 3.22.4)

This traditional interpretation of the Annunciation as a reversal of the Fall also found its way into the arts. Many of Blessed Fra Angelico’s paintings of the Annunciation, for example, include a depiction of Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden, reminding us of the plight to which the incarnation is the solution.

St. Dionysius of Alexandria had earlier emphatically quoted mystical justifications for the choice of March 25 as the start of the year:

March 25 was considered to be the anniversary of Creation itself. It was the first day of the year in the medieval Julian calendar and the nominal vernal equinox (it had been the actual equinox at the time when the Julian calendar was originally designed). Considering that Christ was conceived at that date turned March 25 into the Feast of the Annunciation which had to be followed, nine months later, by the celebration of the birth of Christ, Christmas, on December 25.

The Alexandrian Era of March 25, 5493 BC was adopted by Church Fathers such as St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Theophanes the Confessor

St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom says clearly in his Homily “On the Cross and the Thief“, that Christ: “opened for us today Paradise, which had remained closed for some 5000 years.”[24]

St. Isaac the Syrian

St. Isaac the Syrian writes in a Homily that before Christ: “For five thousand years five hundred and some years God left Adam (i.e. man) to labor on the earth.”[25]

St. Augustine

St Augustine writes in the City of God (written AD 413-426):

“Let us omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race…They are deceived by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousands of years, though reckoning by the sacred writings we find that not 6,000 years have passed.”[26]

Augustine goes on to say that the ancient Greek chronology “does not exceed the true account of the duration of the world as it is given in our documents (i.e. the Scriptures), which are truly sacred.”

St. Hippolytus

St. Hippolytus of Rome (ca.170-235) maintained on Scriptural grounds that the Lord’s birth took place in 5500 AM, and held that the birth of Christ took place on a Passover day, deducing that its date was March 25. He gave the following intervals:

“…from Adam to the flood 2242 years, thence to Abraham 1141 years, thence to the Exodus 430 years, thence to the passover of Joshua 41 years, thence to the passover of Hezekiah 864 years, thence to the passover of Josiah 114 years, thence to the passover of Ezra 107 years, and thence to the birth of Christ 563 years.”

In his Commentary on Daniel, one of his earlier writings, he proceeds to set out additional reasons for accepting the date of 5500 AM:

First he quotes Exod. xxv. 10f. and pointing out that the length, breadth and height of the ark of the covenant amount in all to 5 1/2 cubits, says that these symbolize the 5,500 years from Adam at the end of which the Saviour was born. He then quotes from Jn. xix. 14 ‘it was about the sixth hour ‘ and, understanding by that 5 1/2 hours, takes each hour to correspond to a thousand years of the world’s life[27]

Around AD 202 Hippolytus held that the Lord was born in the forty-second year of the reign of Augustus[28] and that he was born in 5500AM. In his Commentary on Daniel he did not need to establish the precise year of the Lord’s birth; he is not concerned about the day of the week, the month-date, or even the year; it was sufficient for his purpose to show that Christ was born in the days of Augustus in 5500 AM.

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