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Feast of the Holy Innocents: What I was Taught in Catholic School

An Air Warrior and devotee of Lord Krishna has published over 120 short stories and 15 books on fiction and 4 on military history.



I had my early education at the St. Marys Convent in Mumbai. We had a class every day on "Moral Science." Though given the nomenclature of Moral Science it was an unabashed pean to the Catholic faith. I have nothing against it but there is a lot of similarity in the philosophy taught with Indian religious philosophy. I have taken my stint in the Catholic school as a good learning experience.

For readers who are not acquainted with Christianity, I thought of writing this piece on the "Feast of Holy innocents".

One fact that we must understand is that Jesus Christ is the founder of Christianity. The Catholic faith, meaning the pure is the original pristine faith. Later different sects emerged, but the Catholic faith has remained the largest and omnipotent of all Christian sects and beliefs. The Catholic faith did not exist before the birth of Jesus.

The Feast of the Holy innocents is generally celebrated on 28/29 December every year. The difference of a day is because of perception between the western and eastern churches.

Catholics consider this a sacred day. On this day the first martyrs for Christianity were consecrated. The festival has undergone a metamorphosis and from about the fifth century the festival has its own significance. It is categorized as a feast. This day in most Catholic countries is observed as a day of merrymaking and Children are feted all around.


The Feast -origin

The seeds of this festival can be traced to the time when Herod ruled over Palestine. Herod I, also known as Herod the Great, was a Roman client king of Judea. He was born in 72BC and passed away in 4BC, just before the birth of Jesus.

The origin of this festival can be traced to the Bible. St. Matthew 2:16-18 in the Bible states a great massacre of children was ordered by Herod. As I have already pointed out Herod was the king who ruled the Jewish land at that time. But he was subservient to Rome and ruled as ‘The king of the Jews’. This mandate emanated from Rome.

St Mathew states that Herod was informed by wise men that a Jew would be born who would not only oust him from power but also kill him. He was a man who had a paranoid fear of death and it is reported that he ordered that all children who are of the age of two and below be done to death.

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A massacre reportedly commenced after he had passed his order. There is however no unanimity as to how many were put to the sword on his orders. Estimates range from 14000 to 144000. The children massacred by Herod are considered the first martyrs and the day is celebrated throughout the Catholic world.

The festival assumed its own significance from about the 5thcentury. It is now celebrated as an independent festival.



Herod’s reign is well chronicled. He is given the title 'great'. He erected palatial structures. History also reports that he was a tyrant and many accounts of his cruelty are available but we must bear in mind that in that particular age, what we now consider is cruelty was perhaps a routine.

Now coming to the unpalatable part of the tale. I must state that despite the mention by St Matthews of the massacre there are many people who have not been able to find any evidence that such a massacre took place. The reason is that outside the Bible, no other source confirms this massacre. Many famous historians regard the story as part of creative imagination. Among them Geza Vermes, E. P. Sanders, and Robert Eisenman are important. Robert Eisenman feels that the seeds of this story could lie in the fact that Herod killed his own sons. This is again a conjecture.

Another set of historians led by David Hill are of the opinion that such a massacre probably did take place. The reason is the character of Herod which was cruel and harsh. Many historians see the origin of the story from the Exodus account of the birth of Moses and the subsequent killing of all firstborn by the Pharaoh. In the world of fantasy and make-believe that existed at that time when myths were made and blown out of proportion, there is a possibility that the story drew inspiration from this episode of the Pharaoh and Moses, and later writers simply incorporated it in the Bible.

A point worth mentioning is that the Catholic Encyclopedia (1907–12) opined that keeping the population of Bethlehem in mind at that time, there is a probability that only between six and twenty children were killed in the town and another dozen in the surrounding areas. There is some element of truth in the Bible but the massacre is not the proper word. The incident is old and is given a color. However, like all religions, these myths have a definite place in the psyche of man.



This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 MG Singh emge

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