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The Golden Legend: The Ember Days
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The Ember Days.
The fasting of the Quatretemps, called in English Ember days, the Pope Calixtus
ordained them. And this fast is kept four times in the year, and for divers reasons. For
the first time, which is in March, is hot and moist. The second, in summer, is hot and
dry. The third, in harvest, is cold and dry. The fourth in winter is cold and moist. Then
let us fast in March which is printemps for to repress the heat of the flesh boiling, and
to quench luxury or to temper it. In summer we ought to fast to the end that we chastise
the burning and ardour of avarice. In harvest for to repress the drought of pride, and in
winter for to chastise the coldness of untruth and of malice. The second reason why we
fast four times; for these fastings here begin in March in the first week of the Lent, to
the end that vices wax dry in us, for they may not all be quenched; or because that we
cast them away, and the boughs and herbs of virtues may grow in us. And in summer also, in
the Whitsun week, for then cometh the Holy Ghost, and therefore we ought to be fervent and
esprised in the love of the Holy Ghost. They be fasted also in September tofore
Michaelmas, and these be the third fastings, because that in this time the fruits be
gathered and we should render to God the fruits of good works. In December they be also,
and they be the fourth fastings, and in this time the herbs die, and we ought to be
mortified to the world. The third reason is for to ensue the Jews. For the Jews fasted
four times in the year, that is to wit, tofore Easter, tofore Whitsunside, tofore the
setting of the tabernacle in the temple in September, and tofore the dedication of the
temple in December. The fourth reason is because the man is composed of four elements
touching the body, and of three virtues or powers in his soul: that is to wit, the
understanding, the will, and the mind. To this then that this fasting may attemper in us
four times in the year, at each time we fast three days, to the end that the number of
four may be reported to the body, and the number of three to the soul. These be the
reasons of Master Beleth. The fifth reason, as saith John Damascenus: in March and in
printemps the blood groweth and augmenteth, and in summer coler, in September melancholy,
and in winter phlegm. Then we fast in March for to attemper and depress the blood of
concupiscence disordinate, for sanguine of his nature is full of fleshly concupiscence. In
summer we fast because that coler should be lessened and refrained, of which cometh wrath.
And then is he full naturally of ire. In harvest we fast for to refrain melancholy. The
melancholious man naturally is cold, covetous and heavy. In winter we fast for to daunt
and to make feeble the phlegm of lightness and forgetting, for such is he that is
phlegmatic. The sixth reason is for the printemps is likened to the air, the summer to
fire, harvest to the earth, and the winter to water. Then we fast in March to the end that
the air of pride be attempered to us. In summer the fire of concupiscence and of avarice.
In September the earth of coldness and of the darkness of ignorance. In winter the water
of lightness and inconstancy. The seventh reason is because that March is reported to
infancy, summer to youth, September to steadfast age and virtuous, and winter to ancienty
or old age. We fast then in March that we may be in the infancy of innocency. In summer
for to be young by virtue and constancy. In harvest that we may be ripe by attemperance.
In winter that we may be ancient and old by prudence and honest life, or at least that we
may be satisfied to God of that which in these four seasons we have offended him. The
eighth reason is of Master William of Auxerre. We fast, saith he, in these four times of
the year to the end that we make amends for all that we have failed in all these four
times, and they be done in three days each time, to the end that we satisfy in one day
that which we have failed in a month; and that which is the fourth day, that is Wednesday,
is the day in which our Lord was betrayed of Judas; and the Friday because our Lord was
crucified; and the Saturday because he lay in the sepulchre, and the apostles were sore of
heart and in great sorrow.
The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine,
Archbishop of Genoa, 1275. First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William
Caxton, First Edition 1483, Edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (Reprinted 1922,
This chapter is from: Volume 1: The Ember Days.
Scanned by Robert Blackmon. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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© Paul Halsall, September 2000