|Young Pope St. Julius I|
|Old Pope St. Julius I|
The Arian controversy occupied too much attention for the early Church. It was fought over the question of the true nature of Jesus: God, Man, or Man-God? The Arians (the losing side) were strong in Alexandria, and they didn't like the bishop they had been given. Eusebius, Bishop of Nicomedia, sided with them. Pope Julius sided with the unpopular bishop, Athanasius. The Arians elected another bishop, Pistus, and the semi-Arians (equivocators) elected George. Julius defended his man, and in so doing, asserted papal supremacy over the appointment and removal of bishops. It was a bold power play, and though it cost a lot of time and energy, he won in the end.
But his lasting contribution was to agree that -- in the absence of any real knowledge about when Jesus was born -- the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas) would be celebrated on December 25. The selection of the day was not random, of course. The Roman festivals of Saturnalia and Juvenalia spanned the end of December to the beginning of January. The Persian Man-God Mithra's birthday, which many Roman aristocrats and soldiers celebrated, was also on December 25. The Norse festival Yule spanned the last couple of weeks of December, and the Jewish festival Chanukkah often fell around then. Above all, the winter solstice, an event without any divine or legendary genesis, comes just before then, perhaps giving rise to so many other festivals.
The Puritans famously rejected Christmas as a papal corruption of the faith. The corporate world famously embraced Christmas as the engine of the annual retail campaign for consumption and profitability. Pope Julius, I suspect, was much more indifferent to the holiday. He probably recognized that some sort of solstice party would be held with or without Church sanction and figured it would be better for the Church to get on the bus than to be left behind. Julius' feast -- without the incessant carols and the pressure to send cards, buy gifts, eat too much, and save the economy -- is a good time to think about it. These photos may or may not help to frame the question.