Home      Back to Epiphany




A Rationale upon the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England
By Anthony Sparrow, D.D.
first printed in London, 1655.
With thanks to the Project Canterbury Website for this contribution.


This Greek Word signifies Manifestation, and hath been of old used for Christmass-day, when Christ was manifested in the flesh; and for this day, wherein the Star did appear to manifest CHRIST to the Wise men: as appears by Chrys. and Epiphan. Upon this identity of the word, some unskilful ones were misled, to think that anciently the Feasts of Christmas and Epiphany were one and the same: but plain it is by Chrys. Epiphan. Nazianzen in their Sermons upon this day, that these two Feasts were observed, as we do, upon several days. Nazianzen calls this day on which Christ was baptized, [The holy lights of Epiphany; which to day we celebrate, says he, having already celebrated the holy Feast of Christmas.] S. Chrysostome says the day of Christs birth is not so usually and properly called Epiphany, as the day of his Baptism.

This Feast is called in Latin Epiphaniae, Epiphanies, in the plural; because upon this day we celebrate three glorious apparitions or manifestations, all which happened upon the same day, though not of the same year. Chrys. Serm. 159.

The first manifestation was of the Star, (mentioned in the Gospel) the Gentiles guide to Christ.

The Second Epiphany or manifestation was that of the glorious Trinity at the baptism of Christ, mentioned in the second Lesson at morning prayer. S. Luke 3. 22.

The third was of Christ's glory or Divinity, by the miracle of turning water into wine, mentioned in the second Lesson at Evening prayer, S. John 2.

The Collect is plain. The Epistle and Gospel mention Christs manifestation to the Gentiles; for this was the day of the Dedication of the Gentiles Faith, Chrys. in diem.

For the antiquity of this day, we have already seen Nazianzen Chrysost. and Epiphan. to which I shall adde only S. August. de temp. Ser. 32. [The solemnity of this day known throughout all the world, what joy doth it bring us? But the Donatists, says he, will not keep it, both because they are Schismaticks and love not unity, and also because they hate the Eastern Church, where the Star appeared.]

1. Sunday after Epiphany.
From Christmas to Epiphany, holy Churches design, is, to set forth Christs Humanity, to make Christ manifest in the flesh, which the offices do, as we have seen; but from Epiphany to Septuagesima, especially in the four next Sundays after Epiphany, she endeavours to manifest his glory and Divinity, by recounting some of his first miracles, and manifestations of his Deity, so that each Sunday is in this respect a kind of Epiphany.

The Gospel of this day mentions Christs manifestation to the Doctors of the Jews, astonishing all his hearers with his miraculous answers.

The Epistle exhorts us to make a spiritual use of the wisemens mysterious offerings, especially of Myrrhe; which signifies very rightly the mortifying of the flesh, and the offering of our bodies as an holy Sacrifice to God by Christ.

The Collect prayes for grace to enable us thereunto.

2. Sunday after Epiphany.
The Gospel mentions Christs turning water into wine, by which, he manifested both his glory by the miracle, and his goodness in ministring to the necessities of others: to which virtue, the Epistle exhorts us, that whatsoever gifts we have, we should use them as Christ did, to the good and benefit of others.

The Collect as divers others recommends to God the supplications of the people, &c. See more of the Collects in general.

3. Sunday after Epiphany.
The Gospel is concerning our Lords healing of the Leper that believed in him.

The Epistle at first sight seems not to agree to the Gospel; but yet, if rightly applyed, it suits well with it in the mystical sense. For the healing of the Leper, signifies, that Christ will heal us from the Leprosie of sin, if we believe in him, and come to him for cure as the Leper did.

The Epistle labours to prevent the most over-spreading leprous sins of pride (against which the first verse is directed: Be not wise in your own conceits) and wrath and revenge in the following words, rendring to no man evil for evil. Or rather, the Epistle doth remove the two great impediments of Christs cure of our sinful leprosie: namely pride, which God resists. S. Iames 4. 6. and malice or revenge which makes us unpardonable and uncurable, For unless we forgive, Christ will not forgive us, S. Matth. 6. 15.

The Collect prayes to God through Christ to heal us.

4. Sunday after Epiphany.
The Gospel treats of Christs miraculous stilling of the waves and the wind. By the tempest on the Sea, may be signified the tumultuous madness of the people, which endangers the peace of the Church, Christs ship: so the Psalm expounds it, Thou stillest the raging of the Sea, and the madness of the people: which would never be quiet, unless Christ by his word and power should command it to be still: And because he does now rule the peoples madness by Ministers of his vengeance to whom he gives his power: therefore the Epistle teaches and exhorts us to submit conscientiously to that power of Christ, that so the ship of the Church may be still and safe.

The Collect prayes to God to keep the Church safe amidst the many storms and waves that shake it.

5. Sunday after Epiphany.
The four precedent Sundayes have manifested Christs glory to us in part, by the miracles He wrought while He conversed with us on Earth: The Gospel for this day mentions his Second coming to judgement, when he shall appear in his full glory, and all the holy Angels with him: which glorious appearance, as it will be dreadful to those who have resembled the Tares, for they shall then be burned with unquenchable fire: So it will be a joyful appearance to such as the Epistle perswades us to be, viz. The Meek, and Gentle, and Charitable. And the Collect is for such, praying God to keep his Church and Houshold continually in the true Religion, &c.