A History of the Sabbath and Sunday
10 Corruption Rises Early in the Church 40
11 Sunday and the Church Fathers 41
12 Origin of Sunday Observance 47
13 Sunday During the Dark Ages 52
14 Sunday Since the Reformation 57
15 Sunday in Colonial America 59
16 Current Sunday Observance 62
SUNDAY HISTORY THROUGH
By John Kiesz
The Gospels and the Book of Acts portray the most accurate history of the beliefs, practices, and forms of worship of the early apostolic church. During the apostolic period the church preserved, to a great extent, the purity of life and doctrine as taught by its Founder.
But immediately after the apostolic period, the historical records are rather meager and obscure. And when once more we pick up the characteristics of the church, we find a greatly changed situation. During the second century the inrush of ideas from other than Christian sources, brought over by heathen converts and pagan philosophers, show surprisingly little of the believers' stamp.
It had been predicted by the prophet Daniel and by the apostle Paul that during this period grievous wolves would enter the early church, not sparing the flock, and that there would be a falling away, as well as changes effected in the laws and precepts of the Most High (Acts 20:28-31; 11 Thessalonians 2:1-7; Daniel 7:24, 25).
In this compilation we propose to show from the Scriptures, as well as from secular and church history, that among the numerous changes made in the doctrines and practices of the apostolic church, the day of worship was included.
Corruption Rises Early in the Church
"There is scarcely anything which strikes the mind of the careful student of ancient ecclesiastical history with greater surprise than the comparatively early period at which many of the corruptions of Christianity which are embodied in the Romish system took their rise" (Dr. Dowling in History of Romanism, Book 2, Chapter 1).
"This tendency on the part of Christians to meet paganism half way was very early developed. Upright men tried to stem the tide, but despite all their efforts, the apostasy went on till the church, except a small remnant, was submerged under pagan superstition" (Alexander Hislop in The Two Babylons, p. 93, 1945 ed.).
"The pagans had been accustomed to numerous and splendid ceremonies from their infancy, and they saw the new religion destitute of temples, altars, victims, priests, and all the pomp which the pagans supposed to be the essence of religion; for the unenlightened persons are prone to estimate religion by what meets the eyes. To silence this accusation, the Christian leaders thought they must introduce some of the rites and ceremonies which would strike the senses of the people. . . .
"Before the second century was half gone, before the last of the apostles had been dead forty years, this apostate, this working of the 'Mystery of Iniquity,' had so largely spread over the East and the West, that it is literally true that a large part of the Christian observances and institutions, even in this century, had the aspect of the pagan mysteries" (Mosheim in Ecclesiastical History, Century 2, part 2, chapter 4, paragraph 1).
The foregoing quotations from historians show how accurately Paul's predictions were fulfilled. In the light of the "mystery of iniquity" coming to fruition, through compromising and sacrificing scriptural principles and truths, it is easy to see how the change of the divinely-instituted day of rest and worship came about. Many moderns are of the opinion that the writings of the so-called Church Fathers prove that the original apostles changed the day of worship. We are now ready to consider some of these, besides other records, while we at the same time keep in mind the teachings of the Bible itself.
Sunday and the Church Fathers
After the time of the apostles the foremost leaders in the church were the apostolic or so-called Church Fathers. They were supposed to have been students who had been taught personally by the original apostles. Later Church Fathers were supposed to have been students of some of the earlier ones. What are called the Ante-Nicene Fathers are those writers who flourished after the time of the apostles, and before the time of the Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325.
There are those who accept the writings of the Church Fathers on an equal basis, or nearly so, with the inspired writers of the Bible. No doubt the Fathers left behind many historical elements worthy of our consideration, but doctrinally, in many instances, they went along with the times or trends of that day. The unreliable nature of the Fathers may be noticed by Dr. Adam Clark's testimony:
"We should take heed how we quote the Fathers in proof of the doctrines of the gospel; because he who knows them best, knows that on many of these subjects they blow hot and cold" (Commentary on Proverbs 8).
As we study some of the letters of the early Church Fathers, we learn that many forgeries abound. The apocryphal gospels and epistles were flourishing in those days. And it is from these writings that some try to prove that Sunday is the Lord's Day, claiming that the term can be traced back to the disciples of John, and in turn to John himself. So let us examine a few of these excerpts.
Clement of Rome (ca. 30-100)
About year A.D. 95 a serious disturbance is said to have occurred in the church at Corinth. Two years later, in 97, Clement, leading elder in the church at Rome, wrote his first epistle to the Corinthian church, which has been assigned the most prominent place among the writings of the apostolic Fathers in recent times because it is thought to be the earliest Christian writing apart from the books of the New Scriptures.
The passage which a few defenders of Sunday observance have referred to is from chapters 40 and 41. The passage, which with its contents in part is supposed to infer that offerings are to be taken up on Sunday, is as follows:
"Seeing then these things are manifest unto us, it will behoove us to take care that, looking into the depths of the divine knowledge, we do all things in order whatsoever our Lord has commanded us to do; and particularly, that we perform our offerings and service to God at their appointed seasons for these he has commanded to be done, not by chance and disorderly, but at certain determinate times and hours; and therefore he has ordained, by His supreme will and authority, both where and by what persons, they are to be performed; so that all things being done piously unto him well-pleasing, they may be acceptable unto Him" (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Chapters 40, 41, Wake's Translation, of Volume 1, p. 16, 1953 editon).
Obviously, there is nothing in the foregoing quotation which even remotely infers that Sunday was the determined time and hour when offerings were to be received.
Polycarp to the Philippians
Polycarp (ca. A.D. 70-155), who was a disciple of the apostle John and a bishop of Smyrna for many years, is said to have written his letter to the Philippians in answer to one from them, in about I 1 0. He exhorted them to virtuous living, good works, and stedfastness, but is silent concerning Sunday.
Ignatius of Antioch to Syria
Ignatius (ca. 20-107) has been credited with about fifteen epistles, and the one written to the Magnesians is supposed to indicate a Sunday Lord's Day. We quote from chapters VIII and IX:
"Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace.
"... If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death" (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Wake's Translation, of Volume 1, p. 62, 1953 edition).
Facts relative to this quotation need to be considered: (1) The epistles of Ignatius are acknowledged by various writers to be spurious. (2) The epistle to the Magnesians would say nothing of a day, were it not that the word was fraudulently inserted. Dr. Killen speaks as follows concerning these epistles:
"In the sixteenth century, fifteen letters were brought out from beneath the mantle of a hoary antiquity, and offered to the world as the productions of the pastor of Antioch. Scholars refused to receive them on the terms required, and forthwith eight of them were admitted to be forgeries. In the seventeenth century, the seven remaining letters, in a somewhat altered form, again came forth from obscurity, and claimed to be the works of Ignatius. Again discerning critics refused to acknowledge their pretensions; but curiosity was aroused by this second apparition, and many expressed an earnest desire to obtain a light of the -real epistles" (Ancient Church, Section 2, Chapter 3, pp. 413, 414).
Catholic Epistle of Barnabas
In our previous writing we discussed the prophesied events of the degradation of the primitive church following the apostolic age, and we also discussed the writings of several of the early Church Fathers. Now we shall continue in the same vein regarding several more of these, beginning with the so-called Epistle of Barnabas.
This letter, or epistle, is often referred to as Pseudo-Barnabas because it was evidently written much later and by someone other than the Barnabas of the New Testament who was a companion of the apostle Paul. It is believed by some that it was written about A.D. 130 by someone from Alexandria, Egypt.
Whoever wrote it was trying to persuade his readers that the law of Moses should not be observed. He constantly allegorized in order to derive the meaning wanted to convey from the Old Testament Scriptures, which did much harm to sound interpretation of the Bible. The passage quoted in favor of Sunday observance reads as follows:
"... Further, He says then, 'Your new moons and your sabbaths I cannot endure.' Ye perceive how He speaks: 'Your present sabbaths are not acceptable to me, but that is which I have made, [namely this] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is a beginning of another world.' Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens" ( The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Chapter XV, p. 147, 1953 edition).
Neander the historian speaks thus of this epistle:
"It is impossible that we should acknowledge this epistle to belong to that Barnabas who was worthy to be the companion of the apostolic labors of St. Paul."
And Eusebius, who was the earliest of the church historians, places this epistle in the catalogue of spurious writings.
"Among the spurious must be numbered both the books called, 'The Acts of Paul,' and that called, 'Pastor,' and 'The Revelation of Peter.' Besides these the books called 'The Epistle of Barnabas,' and what are called, 'The Institutions of the Apostles' " (Ecclesiastical History, Book 111, Chapter XXV).
Pliny's Letter to Trajan
Pliny the Younger, then Roman governor of Bythinia, wrote to the Emperor Trajan early in the second century, asking advice as to how he should deal with the Christians. And he wrote about them, in part:
"They affirmed that the whole guilt of error was that they met on a certain stated day, before it was light, and addressed themselves in a form of prayer to Christ, as to some God, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery; never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then re-assemble to eat in common a harmless meal" (Coleman's Ancient Christianity, pp. 35, 36).
This statement that they met "on a certain stated day" is evidence that those Christians kept a day as holy time, but it is not stated whether it was the last or the first of the week. If the saints or the elect were converts through Peter's labors, as appears from I Peter 1: 1, 2, then we may be assured that the "certain stated day" was the seventh of the week.
Justin Martyr was the foremost apologist during the second century. Born of pagan parents near Shechem, he was brought up under pagan philosophies. It is said that he was the first of the Fathers who made a systematic reading of Christianity in terms of Greek culture and philosophy. Failing to find spiritual satisfaction in any of the systems, he studied the Christian system, and professed to have there found the true philosophy, which contained the essence of all truth.
During the middle of the second century he addressed his first apology to the Emperor Antoninus Pius and his adopted sons in behalf of the persecuted Christians. Apparently he sought to soften the fury of pagan persecutors by claiming a similarity between heathenism and Christianity. In him we find the first direct authentic reference to Sunday observance by Christians of that day. The passage usually referred to follows:
"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country, gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. ... But Sunday is -the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world, and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For he was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday), and on the day after Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration" (Clark's Ante-Nicene Library, Chapter LXVII, p. 185, 1953 edition).
Other Church Fathers
Others among the list of early writers are Irenaeus, who lived during the last quarter of the second century; Tertullian, who was born in the later years of the second century; Clement of Alexandria, who died about the beginning of the third century; Origin, considered one of the most distinguished, born, probably at Alexandria, about 182; and Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who died a martyr at Carthage in 258.
Irenaeus taught that to commemorate the resurrection, the knee must not be bent on Sunday, and mentions nothing else as essential to its honor.
The Sunday festival in Tertullian's time was essentially the German festival of Sunday, a day for worship and for recreation.
Clement of Alexandria treats of a mystical eighth day or Lord's Day. His reasons for Sunday observance are found outside the Scriptures.
Origin was a pupil of Clement, whose ideas exerted themselves concerning the question of Sunday observance.
Cyprian, who was influenced evidently by both Justinian's and Tertullian's ideas, contented himself with the idea that circumcision on the eighth day was a type of spiritual circumcision on the first day of the Sabbath, the Lord's Day.
Some of the early Church Fathers had been heathen philosophers, and unfortunately brought with them many of the old notions and practices. To have observed a different day after their conversion would evidently have seemed inconvenient. They hoped, no doubt, to facilitate the conversion of the Gentiles by keeping the same day they had observed, and by permitting them to continue in other pagan practices as well. Justin Martyr stands out as a prominent representative of anti-nomianism as regards the Sabbath.
Origin of Sunday Observance
The festival of Sunday is much more ancient than the Christian religion. Baal worship is the same as sun worship. This practice can be traced to remote times - to the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and other ancient nations.
Even the Israelites at times went so far as to do the same as the heathens (II Kings 23:4, 5; Ezekiel 8:13-16). In Rome, also, the sun was being worshiped by many people. Constantine the emperor being one of them in the fourth century.
Webster's Unabridged Dictionary defines Sunday: "Sunday: so called because this day was anciently dedicated to the sun or to its worship. The first day of the week; the Christian Sabbath; a day consecrated to rest from secular employment, and to religious worship; the Lord's day."
"Sunday (Dies Solis of the Roman Calendar, the day of the sun; because dedicated to the sun), the first day of the week, was adopted by the early Christians as a day of worship. The 'Sun' of Latin adoration, they interpreted as the Sun of Righteousness" (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, old edition).
The Persian Mithras was one of the gods which were brought to Rome. Mithraism contested with Christianity for the religious hegemony of the Roman world. The Church Fathers were astounded at the resemblances. It is said that Roman roads were dotted with Mithraic sanctuaries, attested by inscriptions like Soli invicto Mithroe, "to the sun, invincible Mithra."
H.G. Wells says of this theocrasia: "It would seem the Christians adopted Sun-day as their chief day of worship instead of the Jewish Sabbath from the Mithraic cult" ( The Outline of History, p. 543).
"Opposition to Judaism introduced the particular festival of Sunday very early indeed in place of the Sabbath. . . . The festival like all other festivals, was always only a human ordinance and it was far from the intention of the apostles to establish a divine command in this respect, far from them, and from the early apostolic church to transfer the laws of the Sabbath to Sunday. Perhaps by the end of the second century, a false application of this kind had begun to take place, for men appear by that time to have considered laboring on Sunday sin" (Neander's Church History, p. 168, old edition, translated by Rose).
Constantine's Sunday Legislation
Soon after Constantine became a Roman Emperor (A.D. 306-337), he made the Christian "cross" his battle standard. He had been led to adopt this emblem when once he prayed to his sun-god about an impending battle, and there appeared a cross over the setting sun with this inscription above it: In hoc signo vinces, "In this sign conquer." Obedient to this celestial vision, Constantine and his soldiers marched to victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge.
This constituted a turning point in the history of the Roman Empire, as well as that of the church. Up until then a non-military spirit had characterized the followers of the lowly Nazarene, but all this was then changed (See Myer's Ancient History, 1904, pp. 524-527). Among the various edicts Constantine issued was that concerning Sunday, in A.D. 321, as follows:
"Let all the judges and town people, and the occupation of all trades, rest on the venerable day of the sun; but let those who are situated in the country, freely and at full liberty, attend to the business of agriculture because it often happens that no other day is so fit for sowing corn and planting vines lest the critical moment being let slip, men should lose the commodities granted them by heaven" (Corpus Juries Civilis Cod. Liv. 3, Tit. 12:30).
In the article "Sunday," The Encyclopaedia Britannica, seventh edition, 1842, says: "It was Constantine who first made a law of the proper observance of Sunday; and who, according to Eusebius, appointed that it should be regularly celebrated throughout the Roman Empire."
This imperial law designated the day as a heathen festival, which it really was, but within four years after its enactment, Constantine (at the Council of Nicaea) had become not merely a professed Christian, but in many respects the practical head of the church, as the course of the proceedings at the council showed.
This pagan Sunday law was henceforth enforced in behalf of the day as a Christian festival. This law gave to the Sunday celebration a Sabbatic character for the first time. Eusebius, biographer and admirer of Constantine, in his Commentary on The Psalms, as quoted in Cox's Sabbath Literature, Volume 1, p. 361, indicates that from the time of Constantine's Sunday edict, the sanctity of the Sabbath was transferred to the first day of the week: "And all things whatsoever that it was duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord's Day, as more appropriately belong to it, because it has a precedence and is first in rank, and more honorable than the Jewish Sabbath."
Since, admittedly, all the Church of God kept the seventh-day Sabbath in apostolic days and until about A.D. 140, when we perceive for the first time that some began to observe the first day of the week, the question naturally arises: Why was this changeover accomplished? We have previously noted that some of the reasons given were because pagan converts, which included some of the early Church Fathers, brought some of their pagan beliefs and practice along, among which was Sunday observance. Other reasons given were that the Messiah was supposed to have been raised from the dead on the first day of the week, and the so-called "eighth day" played a role with some; another that we may note here is that of which Doctor Neander treats, as previously noted: "Opposition to Judaism introduced the particular festival of Sunday, very early indeed, into the place of the Sabbath."
Another historian presented a similar reason for the change: "The best time for the Easter festival would have been the ancient day of the Jewish Passover. It was opposed merely by a whim of Constantine, because, as a Roman, he hated the nation which his country had long detested and persecuted, that is, the Jews." He then quotes from a letter of Constantine to the bishops of the world who could not attend the Council of Nicaea. It was declared improper to follow the customs of the Jews in the celebration of this holy festival.
"Let us, then, have nothing in common with the Jews, who are our adversaries. . . . Therefore this irregularity must be corrected, in order that we may no more have anything in common with the parricides and murderers of our Lord" (Dean Dudley, in History of the Council of Nice, with a "Life of Constantine," pp. 4, 5, 112).
The Catholic Church, too, subsequently made laws and regulations in the matter of Sunday observance. The following is a quotation from the Council of Laodicea, A.D. 364: "Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord's Day, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be Judaizing, let him be anathema from Christ" (as quoted in A History of the Church Councils, by Charles J. Hefele, Volume 11, p. 316).
Catholic Priest T. Enright, one-time president of Redemptorist Father's College (Kansas City), in one of his lectures, as published in the Industrial American, Harlan, Iowa, referred to this decision made at the Council of Laodicea in the following excerpt:
"My brethren, look about the various wrangling sects and denominations. Show me one that claims or possesses the power to make laws binding on the conscience. There is but one on the face of the earth -the Catholic Church -that has the power to make laws binding upon the conscience, binding before God, binding under the pain of hellfire. Take, for instance, the day we celebrate - Sunday. What right have the Protestant churches to observe that day? None whatever. You say it is to obey the commandment, 'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.' But Sunday is not the Sabbath according to the Bible and the record of time.
"Everyone knows that Sunday is the first day of the week, while Saturday is the seventh day, and the Sabbath, the day consecrated as a day of rest. It is so recognized in all civilized nations. I have repeatedly offered $1,000 to anyone who will furnish proof from the Bible that Sunday is the day we are bound to keep, and no one has called for the money. If any person in this town will show any Scripture for it, I will tomorrow evening publicly acknowledge it and thank him for it. It was the Holy Catholic Church that changed the day of rest from Saturday to Sunday, the first day of the week. And it not only compelled all to keep Sunday, but at the Council of Laodicea, A.D. 364, anathematized those who kept the Sabbath and urged all persons to labor on the seventh day under penalty of anathema.
"Which church does the whole civilized world obey? Protestants call us every horrible name they can think of - anti-Christ, the scarlet-colored beast, Babylon, etc., and at the same time profess great reverence for the Bible, and yet by their solemn act of keeping Sunday, they acknowledge the power of the Catholic Church" (December 19, 1889).
We have previously noticed the relationship between the Roman Emperor Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church. A second great autocrat who also contributed the shaping upon the Catholic church a distinctly authoritative character, was Theodosius the Great, who ruled from A.D. 379 to 395.
"But near the Aquila on 6 September, 394, once more the Christian Laborum triumphed over the banner of the ancient gods; Theodosius entered Rome sole Master of the now finally Christian empire. Further laws enforced the keeping of Sunday and the disabilities of Pagans, Jews, and heretics" (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV, p. 479).
Chrysostom, Post-Nicene Church Father, Patriarch of Constantinople, who died about 402 A.D., in his commentary on Galatians 2:17, says:
"For though few are now circumcised, yet by fasting and observing the Sabbath of the Jew, they equally exclude themselves from grace.... Wherefore dost thou keep the Sabbath, and fast with the Jews? ... A fear to omit the Sabbath plainly shows that you fear the law as still in force" (Library of the Fathers, Volume 6, p. 42, Oxford, 1840).
Thus we see that in the fifth century there were still Sabbathkeepers, but Chrysostom, Augustine, and others contended for the abolition of the Sabbath, and for the observance of the "Lord's Day," as Sunday was often called, incorrectly, of course. (The true Lord's Day of scriptural authority is the seventh day, our Saturday, Sabbath. See Isaiah 58:13, Mark 2:28.)
Sunday During the Dark Ages
The opening of the sixth century witnessed the further development of the apostasy and the elevation of the bishop or pope of Rome to be the head of all the churches. Justinian, the restorer of the fallen Roman Empire in the west, in A.D. 531, decreed and enforced by arms the subjugation of the whole church to the Roman Pope, and about 532 bestowed upon him the title of Rector Ecclesiae, or lord of the church (A manual of Church History, by A. H. Newman, 1933, p. 403; Justinian's Code, Book 1, Title 1, Baronius' Annals).
Since ecclesiastical laws were a part of Justinian's Code, the spiritual as well as the temporal power of the Papacy was strengthened. Ecclesiastical laws were enforced by the civil government. The final outcome of Justinian's decrees and enforcement of cannon laws was the establishment of a totalitarian church. Thus the Roman Church-began governing mankind after her own pretensions, under the idea of a "Holy Roman Empire," though it was not officially called that until the crowning of Charlemagne the Great by the pope in A.D. 800.
Hengstenbery, in his The Lord's Day, p. 58, gives us an insight into the existing state of the Sunday festival:
"The third council of Orleans, A.D. 538, says in its twenty-ninth canon; 'The opinion is spreading amongst the people, that it is wrong to ride, or drive, or cook, or do anything to the house, or the person on the Sunday. But since such opinions are more Jewish than Christian, that shall be lawful in the future, which has been so to the present time. On the other hand agricultural labor ought to be laid aside, in order that the people may not be prevented from attending church."'
Near the end of the sixth century, Pope Gregory exhorted the people of Rome to "expiate on the day of our Lord's resurrection what was remissly done for the six days before" (Morer's Dialogues on the Lord's Day, p. 282). In the same epistle, according to Doctor Twisse, London, 1641, he gives Gregory's words as follows:
"Revelation is made unto me that certain men of a perverse spirit, have sown among you some corrupt doctrines contrary to our holy faith; so as to forbid any work to be done on the Sabbath day; these men we may call the preachers of Antichrist."
This shows the intolerant feeling of the Papacy toward the Sabbath, even when joined with the observance of Sunday. It also shows that there were Sabbathkeepers even in Rome at that time.
About the middle of the seventh century, at Chalons, a city in Burgundy, there was a provincial synod which confirmed what had been done by the third council of Toledo in Spain, which sat about A.D. 681, forbade the Jews to keep their own festivals, but decreed that they should observe the Lord's Day as to do no manner of work on it (Morer's Dialogues on the Lord's Day).
We find Sunday appearing on the statute books in England during the last decade of the seventh century. Ina, king of the west Saxons, decreed in A.D. 692, "If a servant do any work on Sunday by his master's order, he shall be free, and the master pay thirty shillings; but if he went to work on his own head, he shall be either beaten with stripes or ransom himself with a price. A freeman, if he works on this day, shall lose his freedom, or pay sixty shillings; if he be a priest, double" (Morer's Dialogues on the Lord's Day, p. 283).
During the eighth century a council of the English clergy, in 747, made a constitution, ordering that the Lord's Day be celebrated with due veneration. In 772 an ecclesiastical statute was enacted at Dingesolinum in Bavaria, which decreed, "If any man shall work his cart on this day, or do any such common business, his team shall be presently forfeited to the public use, and if the party persists in his folly, let him be sold for a bondman."
In A.D. 791, Charles the Great summoned the bishops to Friuli, Italy, where they decreed that all the people should, with due reverence and devotion, honor the Lord's Day (Morer's Dialogues).
During the ninth century Charlemagne called the councils of Mentz, Rheims, Tours, Chalons, and Arles. At the council of Chalons they entreated the help of secular power to provide for the strictest observation of Sunday. Pope Eugenius, in a council or synod held at Rome about A.D. 826, gave directions that the parish priest should admonish the offenders to go to church and say prayers, lest they bring some great calamity upon themselves (Morer's Dialogues).
In the eleventh century the Sunday festival gained a foothold also in Norway. In Spain, also, the work went forward. A council was held at Coy, A.D. 1050, under Ferdinand, king of Castile, in the days of Pope Leo IX, where it was decreed that the Lord's Day "was to be entirely consecrated to hearing of mass." In a council at Rome, A.D. 1070, Pope Gregory VII decreed that as the Sabbath had long been regarded as a fast day, those who desired to be Christians should on that day abstain from eating meat.
A crowning act of impious nonsense of the thirteenth century should be mentioned. Apparently Sunday sacredness had not been sufficiently established everywhere, so that it was promoted by a so-called divine warrant. Roger Hoveden, a historian of high repute, lived at the very time when this much-needed precept was furnished by the pope. We are informed that Eustace, the abbot of Flaye in Normandy, came to England in the year 1200 to preach the word of the Lord, and that his preaching was attended by many wonderful miracles. He inveighed against the desecration of Sunday, but was repulsed, so returned to Normandy from where he had come. In the following year, 1201, Eustace returned to England, and in his preaching forbade any person to hold a market of goods on sale on the "Lord's Day." He claimed that he had received an underwritten commandment for the observance of the "Lord's Day," come down from heaven.
"The Holy Commandments as to the Lord's Day"
"Which came down from Heaven to Jerusalem, and was found upon the altar of Saint Simeon, in Golgath, where Christ was crucified for the sins of the world. The Lord sent down this epistle and after looking upon which, three days and three nights, some men fell upon the earth, imploring mercy of God. And after the third hour, the patriarch arose, and Acharias, the archbishop, and they opened the scroll, and received the holy epistle from God. And when they had taken the same they found this writing there:
"I am the Lord, who commanded you to observe the holy day of the Lord, and ye have not kept it, and have not repented of your sins, as I have said in my gospel, 'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.'. . . Once more, it is my will, that no one from the ninth hour on Saturday until sunrise on Monday, shall do any work except that which is good.
"And if any person shall do so, he shall with penance make amends for the same. And if you do not pay obedience to this command, verily, I say unto you, and I swear unto you, by my seat and by my throne, and by the cherubim who watch my holy seat, that I will give you many commands by no other epistle, but I will open the heavens, and for rain I will rain upon you stones, and wood, and hot water, in the night, that no one may take precautions against the same, and that so I may destroy all wicked men.
"This do I say unto you; for the Lord's holy day, you shall die the death, and for the other festivals of my saints which you have not kept, I will send unto you beasts that have the heads of lions, the hair of women, the tails of camels, and they shall be so ravenous that they shall devour your flesh, and you shall long to flee to the tombs of the dead, and to hide yourselves for fear of the beasts. . . .
"Hear ye my voice, that ye may not perish in the land, for the holy day of the Lord. Depart from evil, and show repentance for your sins. For, if you do not do so, even as Sodom and Gomorrah shall you perish. Now, know ye, that you are saved by the prayers of my most holy Mother, Mary, and of my most holy angels, who pray for you daily. . . .
"I gave unto you a law in Mount Sinai, which you have not kept. I gave you a law with mine own hands, which you have not observed. For you I was born into the world, and my festive day ye knew not. Being wicked men, ye have not kept the Lord's day of my resurrection. By my right hand I swear unto you, that if you do not observe the Lord's Day, and the festival of my saints, I will send unto you the pagan nations, that they may slay you. And still do you attend to the business of others, and take no consideration of this? For this I will send against you still worse beasts, who shall devour the breasts of your women. I will curse those who on the Lord's day have wrought evil" (Hoveden, Volume 11, pp. 526-528).
We have quoted a part of the "heaven-sent" document to show what men will stoop to do in order to bolster up a doctrine or tradition for which they have no scriptural grounds. In such ridiculous forgeries did the Sunday rest of the Dark Ages culminate.
Sunday Since the Reformation
The theory which had been held so long - that the Sabbath was for the Jews only -was accepted by the continental reformers with little questioning. Being prejudiced against anything Jewish and having hatred toward the Romish doctrines of church-appointed holy days left some of the reformers with a no-Sabbath platform. It ought not to surprise us that while they pretended to reject the authority of the church, they nevertheless retained many of the old practices of the Catholic church. What follows next is a statement by Martin Luther:
"As for the Sabbath or Sunday, there is no necessity for its observance, and if we do so, the reason ought to be, not because Moses commanded it, but because nature likewise teaches us to give ourselves, from time to time, a day's rest, in order that man and beast may recruit their strength, and that we may go and hear the Word of God preached" (Michelet's Life of Luther, Hazlitt's translation, p. 271, London: 1846).
The twenty-eighth article of the Ausgburg Confession, drawn up by Melanchthon, and treating of the power of the church, takes up this question:
"Even such is the observance of the Lord's day, of Easter, of Pentecost, and the like holy days, and rites. For they that judge that, by the authority of the Church, the observing of Sunday instead of the Sabbath-day, was ordained as a thing necessary, do greatly err. The Scripture permits and grants, that the keeping of the Sabbath-day is now free; for it teaches that the ceremonies of Moses' law, since the revelation of the gospel, are not necessary. And yet, because it was needful to ordain a certain day, that the people might know when they ought to come together, it appears that the church did appoint Sunday, which day, as it appears, pleased them rather than the Sabbath day, even for this cause, that men might have an example of Christian liberty, and might know that the keeping and observance of either Saturday, or any other day, is not necessary" (Unaltered Augsburg Confession, Article 15, New York: 1850).
Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, has been quoted in the following words:
"The Sabbath, in so far forth as it is ceremonial, is abolished; and therefore, now we are not tied or bound to any certain times" (Brabourne, On the Sabbath, p. 277, London: 1630).
The Confession of the Swiss declared:
"The observance of the Lord's day is founded not on any commandment of God, but on the authority of the church; and, that the church may alter the day at pleasure" (Cox's Sabbath Laws, p. 287).
John Calvin, successor of Zwingli in his reformatory movements in Switzerland and France, also expressed his views regarding the Sabbath question in his writings:
"Sec. 34. However, the ancients have, not without sufficient reason, substituted what we call the Lord's day in the room of the Sabbath. For since the resurrection of the Lord is the end and consummation of the true rest, which was adumbrated by the ancient Sabbath, the same day which put an end to the shadows admonishes Christians not to adhere to a shadowy ceremony. Yet I do not lay so much stress on the septenary number that I would oblige the church to an invariable adherence to it; nor will I condemn those churches which have their solemn days for their assemblies, provided they keep at a distance from superstition" (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapter 8).
One of the most noted English reformers was William Tyndale, the translator. In this reply to Sir Thomas More, we find in part:
"And as for the Sabbath, a great matter, we be lords over the Sabbath, and may yet change it into the Monday, or any other day, as we see need; or may make every tenth day holy day, only if we see a cause why. We may make two every week, if it were expedient and one not enough to teach the people. Neither was there any cause to change it from the Saturday, than to put a difference between us and the Jews, and lest we should become servants of the day after their superstition. Neither needed we any holy day at all, if the people might be taught without it" (Tyndale's Answer to More, Book 1, Chapter XXV).
The Puritan Party in England, who wanted a greater reformation of the Church of England than that established by Elizabeth, separated from the established church. Since ail reforms generally find their first welcome among the masses, the Puritanic ideas found acceptance among them. The spirit of liberty demanded release from civil and ecclesiastical oppression. At first they pleaded for a better observance of Sunday as they continued to seek for a higher life of purity.
The established Church of England (the Episcopalians) required men to observe only Sunday and rejected the rest, because they were institutions of the church. Their inconsistency was pointed out, inasmuch as the same authority had ordained them all. Naturally, they would have to choose between giving up Sunday altogether or else maintain that divine appointment from God who separated it from the other festivals. They decided upon the latter. The Fourth Commandment enforces the observance of the seventh day from Creation to the Resurrection; since then a seventh-part-of-time theory replaced it.
Much of the Puritan theory concerning Sabbath and Sunday may be found in the writings of Nicholas Bounde in a book entitled, Sabbathum Veteris et Novi Testamentie, or The Doctrine of the Sabbath Plainly Laid Forth and Soundly Proven, 1595.
Sunday in Colonial America
About the beginning of the seventeenth century, because of their plight in England, certain dissenters fled from England to Holland, and for various reasons returned to England, and from there to the New World. They reached America in 1620 and settled at New Plymouth. Others followed later and joined them. That was the establishment of New England and of Puritanism in America. The laws for the new colony were an outgrowth of their religion, apparently very much based on the theocracy of the Hebrews. The result was a sort of union of church and state.
In our former section on "The Sabbath in America," we pointed out from historical data that among the Pilgrims were Sabbathkeepers. How they fared with their belief under strict Sunday laws is not known to this writer. Another thing, Sunday was generally referred to as the Sabbath and sometimes as the Lord's Day. At that time they seemed to have transferred strict Sabbathkeeping rules onto Sunday. A short sketch of history concerning Sunday of the early colonists follows.
In 1650 a court enacted that "whosoever shall profane the Lord's day by doing any servile work, or any such like abuse, shall forfeit for every such default ten shillings, or be whipped." In 1658, the court decided that travelers were to be apprehended by the constable and be fined twenty shillings or else set in the stocks four hours, unless they gave sufficient reason for their so doing. Similar laws were enacted in regard to non-attendance at the meeting house on "the Lord's Day," for smoking on that day, and for jesting, sleeping, and the like (Plymouth Colony Records, Volume XI, pp. 56, 58, 100, 122, 137, 140, 204, 224, 225).
The Massachusetts Colony also had its own regulations after the Plymouth Colony became united to Massachusetts under a new charter. The first "general letter" from the governor and deputy of the company in England (1629) contained the following instructions:
"And to the end the Sabbath may be celebrated in a religious manner, we appoint that all that inhabit the plantation, both for the general and particular employments, may surcease their labor every Saturday throughout the year, at three of the clock in the afternoon, and that they spend the rest of the day in catechising, and preparations for the Sabbath, as the ministers may direct" (Massachusetts Colony Records, Volume 1, p. 395).
Among the "Answers of the Reverend Elders" to certain questions propounded to them, 1644, we find how strict they were: "The striking of a neighbor may be punished with some pecuniary mulct, when the striking of a father may be punished with death. So any sin committed with an high hand, as the gathering of sticks on the Sabbath-day, may be punished with death, when a lesser punishment might serve for gathering sticks privily, and in some need" (Massachusetts Colony Records, Volume 2, p. 93).
The history of Sunday laws in Connecticut shows that they were similar to those of Massachusetts. The penalties for the profanation of "the Lord's Day" were all the way from the cutting off the offenders' ears to their being put to death, "that all others may fear and shun such provoking, rebellious courses."
One would expect no law enforcing Sunday observance in the land of Roger Williams, yet all work or play was prohibited. Rhode Island's General Assembly, sitting at Newport (1673), enacted that although no one can be forced to worship God, or to keep holy or not to keep holy any day, yet to prevent "debaistness" they should be required not to do what is debasing, with penalties attached for disobedience (Rhode Island Colonial Records, Volume 2, pp. 503, 504).
The early settlers in what is now the state of New York the colony of the New Netherlands, as it was called - had no representative government, for it was administered by officers appointed in Holland. In 1647 Peter Stuyvesant was made leader of the colony. He was supposed to have been credited with making some rulings, as the following shows:
"Proclamations were immediately issued with a zeal and rapidity which promised to make a 'thorough reformation.' Sabbath-breaking, brawling, and drunkeness were forbidden. Publicans were restrained from selling liquors, except to travelers, before two o'clock in the evening" (History of New Netherlands, by Mr. Broadhead, first period, p. 466).
The early Sunday laws of Pennsylvania were less strict than those in the New England states. In 1700-1701 a general law was passed prohibiting servile work on Sunday, on pain of twenty shillings fine, but there were numerous exceptions under this provision. Various changes and modifications followed up to 1786, when the old laws were repealed and a new one enacted (Laws of Pennsylvania, Volume 2, Chapter 297, folio edition, 1792).
The early laws of Virginia had resemblances to those of the New England colonies. In 1614, the Cavaliers enacted a statute which provided that he who did not attend church on Sunday should pay a fine of two pounds of tobacco. This was the first law ever enacted in America, six years before the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock (Sabbath Doctrine No. 45, p. 15, New York).
Current Sunday Observance
Biblical history reveals that originally the first day of the week was a work day and the seventh day a Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3; Exodus 20:8-11). It was still so considered while the Messiah lived here on earth (Luke 4:16-19; 23:54-56). The apostles and the early church were all Sabbathkeepers (Luke 4:31-40; Acts 13:14, 42-44; 15:19-21; 16:11-13; 17:1-4; 18:1-4, 11).
The departure from the Sabbath commandment appears about the middle of the second century, beginning with the so called Church Fathers. The most ardent exponents of first-day festivities were converts from Grecian philosophy and paganism. The Sun's-day had been a leading weekly pagan festival for many centuries, and it naturally formed a common ground on which paganism and apostatizing Christianity could meet.
The gradual elevation of Sunday in place of the Sabbath was further enhanced by opposition to Judaism. The Emperor Constantine, who made his famous civil edict in A.D. 321 that men refrain from working on the first day of the week, the "venerable day of the Sun," declared at the Council of Nicaea (in A.D. 325): "Let us, then, have nothing in common with the Jews, who are our adversaries.... Therefore this irregularity must be corrected, in order that we may no more have anything in common with the parricides and murderers of our Lord."
Adding to this, the Roman Catholic Church at the 29th Canon of the Council of Laodicea (in A.D. 364) anathematized those who kept the Sabbath and urged all persons to labor on the seventh day of the week under penalty of a curse.
No wonder most of Christendom fell into the error of forsaking the Commandments of the Most High and accepting the traditions of men. Although there are several million Sabbatarians (besides the Jews) currently in the world, the fact remains that almost the entire world of professing Christians are either first-day or no-day religionists.
Some Sunday laws, or blue laws, which in recent years have not been well enforced, are still on the statute books in England and in America. Because of the laxness of Sunday observance in general, some movements have endeavored to bring about stricter legislation to force the public to observe Sunday as a day of rest and worship.
Friend, which day will you choose?