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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Ember Days

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These are days of fasting occurring quarterly, in commemorationi of'the seasons (Lat, quatuor temporum, whence by contraction the German Quatember, and the English Ember). We find them at an early period associated with. the invoking of God's blessing on each of the four seasons in turn, and the special striving by prayers and fasting to merit such blessings. They were celebrated at Nativity, Easter, Epiphany, and Pentecost. About the time of Gelasius they were selected as the most fitting for the ordination of the clergy. In the Eastern Church there is no trace whatever of an observance of the Ember seasons. The passage of Athanasius, which some have quoted in support of a different conclusion, merely proves the existence of a fast at Pentecost. As regards the Gallican Church, the Ember seasons do not seem to have been established much before the time of Charlemagne. The second Council of Tours (A.D. 567), in prescribing the fasts to be observed by monks, makes no mention whatever of the fasts of the four seasons.

The observance of the Ember days is purely a Western institution. It was, doubtless, at first a rite merely of the local Roman Church, whence it gradually spread throughout the West. The history of the development of the custom is probably thus: Fasts were celebrated at the times of Lent, Pentecost, and the Nativity; these periods would roughly correspond with three of the four seasons, and thus some bishop of Rome, Leo or one of his predecessors, may have conceived the idea of making them symbolize the return of the seasons, and so added the one necessary to complete the four. It would soon come to pass, then, that they would be spoken of as originally ordained with that view; the length of celebration settled, the fasts then became associated with the seasons, and were regarded as independent of Lent, etc. Thus they might occasionally fall outside of these seasons, and finally such irregularity may have caused the settlement of the matter as at present.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ember Days'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/e/ember-days.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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