Bah, Humbug!

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If the Wall Street Journal wishes to give its readers a Christmas gift next year, how about retiring “In Hoc Anno Domini,” the pseudo-scriptural holiday editorial tapped out by Vermont Royster in 1949 and published by the newspaper on or about December 24 every year since. Historically confused, intellectually incoherent, and by now virtually incomprehensible, it has long outlived whatever useful service it might have done amidst the watch fires of the Cold War. After 60 appearances, enough already!
“In Hoc” begins with Paul on the road to Damascus, and Rome in charge of the “known world.” That world was peaceful, yes, but the price was oppression for all who were “not the friends of Caesar.” People with odd thoughts were persecuted. Tribes who came not from Rome were enslaved. Disdained were those who lacked “the familiar visage” (the Roman nose?). Everywhere was contempt for human life. Oh yeah, and taxes were too high (ah, Journal). But then came a Light out of Galilee who said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” Which somehow added up to defiance of Caesar because it meant that there were those who believed that salvation lay not with “the leaders.” But Paul was afraid that new Caesars and/or prophets would arise, such that books would be burned and men would think only of food and raiment. And lest such darkness settle, he spake unto the Galatians, saying, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
Let’s see. The Roman order was a pretty good deal for lots and lots of people around the empire, including Paul, the Jew with the odd thoughts, who (according to Acts 22) used his Roman citizenship to avoid a flogging by the authorities. Revolting against the authorities was a big no-no, to be sure, which is why the early Christians were at such pains to emphasize (in contrast to the Jews) their own obedience to Caesar (see “Render” above, Romans 13, etc.) The bondage that Paul was referring to was the Jewish law; and specifically, circumcision. The idea that he feared the emergence of some kind of Soviet regime is sheer anachronistic fantasy. If anyone was to bring the hammer down on freedom of thought in the known world’s future, it was the Christians themselves, who, once they got charge of the Caesars’ religion, set about proscribing paganism (see Ambrose, Saint) and hedging in Judaism. &cetera.
If the WSJ must indulge in a perennial piece of editorial prose this time of year–and really, who wants to have write the damn Christmas editorial this time–let them print Francis P. Church’s 1897 reply to the query of little Virginia O’Hanlon in the New York Sun. Treacly as it is, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” is at least an honest bit of sentiment, expressed coherently and in the prose of its own time, with even a dollop of truth.

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