Why it is called Quadragesima, when the fast is only kept for thirty-six days.
But further, as mans carelessness dropped out of sight the reason of this, this season when, as was said, the tithes of the year are offered by fasts for thirty-six days and a half, was called Quadragesima, 2209 a name which perhaps p. 515 they thought ought to be given to it for this reason; viz., that it is said that Moses and Elijah and our Lord Jesus Christ Himself fasted for forty days. To the mystery of which number are not unsuitably applied those forty years in which Israel dwelt in the wilderness, and in like manner the forty stations which they are said to have passed through with a mystic meaning. Or perhaps the tithe was properly given the name of Quadragesima from the use of the custom-house. For so that state tax is commonly called, from which the same proportion of the increment is assigned for the kings use, as the legal tribute of Quadragesima, which is required of us by the King of all the ages for the use of our life. At any rate, although this has nothing to do with the question raised, yet I think that I ought not to omit the fact that very often our elders used to testify that especially on these days the whole body of monks was attacked according to the ancient custom of the people opposed to them, and was more vehemently urged to forsake their homes, for this reason, because in accordance with this figure, whereby the Egyptians formerly oppressed the children of Israel with grievous afflictions, so now also the spiritual Egyptians try to bow down the true Israel, i.e., the monastic folk, with hard and vile tasks, lest by means of that peace which is dear to God, we should forsake the land of Egypt, and for our good cross to the desert of virtues, so that Pharaoh rages against us and says: “They are idle and therefore they cry saying: Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord our God. Let them be oppressed with labours, and be harassed in their works, and they shall not be harassed by vain words.” 2210 For certainly their folly imagines that the holy sacrifice of the Lord, which is only offered in the desert of a pure heart, is the height of folly, for “religion is an abomination to a sinner.” 2211
Cassian here gives three suggestions why the fast of thirty-six days duration was called Quadragesima. (1) As roughly corresponding to the forty days fast of Moses, Elijah, and the Lord Himself, (2) because “forty” is the number associated with a time of probation in Scripture, and (3) because of the analogy of a legal tribute of “Quadragesima” paid to the Sovereign. It is certainly a curious and difficult question why the name Quadragesima should have been so universally applied to the fast, when there is no evidence of its having been kept for forty days till sometime after the date of Gregory the Great, when Ash Wednesday and the three following days were prefixed to the six weeks expressly for the purpose of making the number forty. The name however, had as we see from Socrates, Sozomen, Cassian himself, and many other writers, existed long before this; and on the whole it appears probable that it originated in none of the reasons given above by Cassian but that in the first instance it was connected “with the period during which our Lord yielded to the power of death, which was estimated at forty hours; viz., from noon on Friday till 4 A.M. on Sunday.” See Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, Vol. ii. p. 973; and cf. Irenæus Ep. ad Victor. in Euseb. V. xxiv.; and Tertullian De Orat. c. 18; and De Jejuniis c. ii. and xiii.515:2210
Exod. 5:8, 9.515:2211