15. Sunday Down to the Reformation

HAVING noticed quite carefully the steps by which Sunday reached an influential position in the time of Constantine, it will not be necessary to cite many more authorities. We will give only a few evidences showing, how the Roman Church still carefully fostered this favorite child, and left nothing undone that it could do to render it still more sacred.

It will be remembered that the important decree by Constantine, which was the first command in behalf of Sunday requiring any one to rest on the first day of the week, gave permission to those engaged in agriculture to work on that day. It was not long until this permission was set aside, and all were commanded to rest on the venerable Sunday.

Pope Leo took certain steps in the fifth century to make up the deficiencies in the Sunday laws, and add to the honor of this favorite institution. He required that all ordinations should be conferred on this day and no other. Heylyn says:

“A law [was] made by Leo, then pope of Rome, and generally since taken up in the Western church, that they should be conferred upon no day else.” (History of the Sabbath, part 2, chapter 4, section 8.)

According to Dr. Justin Edwards, this same pope made this decree in behalf of Sunday: “We ordain, according to the true meaning of the Holy Ghost, and of the apostles as thereby directed, that on the sacred day wherein our own integrity was restored, all do rest and cease from labor.” (Sabbath Manual, page 133.)

Emperor Leo, A.D. 469, put forth the following decree in behalf of Sunday:

“It is our will and pleasure, that the holy days dedicated to the most high God, should not be spent in sensual recreations, or otherwise profaned by suits of law, especially the Lord’s Day, which we decree to be a venerable day, and therefore free it of all citations executions, pleadings, and the like avocations . . . If any will presume to offend in the premises, if lie be a military man, let him lose his commission: or if other, let his estate or goods be confiscated . . . We command, therefore, all, as well husbandmen as others, to forbear work on this day of our restoration.” (Dialogues on the Lord’s Day, pages 259, 260.)

Here we see, first, the pope ordaining that—All cease from labor on Sunday. Then the emperor steps in and supports this action. Full human authority is now given to rest on Sunday. All classes must obey, on penalty of fines or confiscation of all their property. We do not wonder, then, that in that age, when few had Bibles and tradition was generally followed, Sunday came to be generally observed. We learn that just previous to this time, however, Sunday was riot very strictly observed as a rest day. Kitto says:

“Chrysostom (A.D. 360) concludes one of his homilies by dismissing his audience to their respective ordinary occupations.” (Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, article Lord’s Day.)

Heylyn bears witness concerning St. Chrysostom, that he:

“Confessed it to be lawful for a man to look unto his worldly business on the Lord’s Day, after the congregation was dismissed.” (History of the Sabbath, part 2, chapter 3, section 9.)

St. Jerome, in his commendation of the very pious lady Paula, speaks thus of Sunday labor:

“Paula, with the women, as soon as they returned home on the Lord’s Day, they sat down severally to their work, and made clothes for themselves and others.” (Dialogues on the Lord’s Day, page 234.) The bishop of Ely thus testifies:

“In St. Jerome’s days, and in the very place where he was residing, the devoutest Christians did ‘ordinarily work upon the Lord’s Day, when the service of the church was ended.’” (Treatise of the Sabbath Day, page 202.)

There is a vast difference between divine and human authority. The latter cannot control the conscience as the former can. These persons knew very well that the Sunday rested upon only human authority. It was a gradual process, taking quite a space of time before Sunday gained the position it now holds. Dr. Heylyn bears the following testimony concerning the status of Sunday during the fifth and sixth centuries:

“The faithful being united better than before, became more uniform in matters of devotion; and in that uniformity did agree together to give the Lord’s Day all the honors of an holy festival. Yet was not this done all at once, but by degrees, the fifth and sixth centuries being well nigh spent before it came into that height which bath since continued. The emperors and the prelates in these times had the same affections; both [being] earnest to advance this day above all other; and to the edicts of the one, and ecclesiastical constitutions of the other, it stands indebted for many of those privileges and exemptions which it still enjoys.” (History of the Sabbath, part 2, chapter 4, section 1.)

Here we see the same solicitude in behalf of Sunday on the part of the “prelates” of the church, which has appeared all along since apostasy and corruption first entered after the days of the apostles. They were “earnest to advance this day above all other.” This change of the Sabbath was really the work of the Roman Catholic Church. It was this that influenced the emperors and civil rulers.

Sunday First Called Sabbath

There was one honor, however, still belonging to the seventh day, which Sunday had not acquired. Thus the bishop of Ely says:

“When the ancient Fathers distinguish and give proper names to the particular days of the week, they always style the Saturday, Sabbatum, the Sabbath, and the Sunday, or first day of the week, ‘Dominicum, the Lord’s Day.’”(Treatise of the Sabbath Day, page 202.)

This statement, however, must not be taken as referring to an earlier writer than Tertullian. He first called it the Lord’s Day about A.D. 200. It is doubtless true of the later Fathers. Brerewood says:

“The name of the Sabbath remained appropriated to the old Sabbath, and was never attributed to the Lord’s Day, not of many hundred years after our Savior’s time.” (Learned Treatise of the Sabbath, page 73, edition 1631.)

Dr. Heylyn says of the term “Sabbath” in the ancient church:

“The Saturday is called among them by no other name than that which formerly it had, the Sabbath. So that whenever for a thousand years and upwards, we meet with Sabbatum in any writer of what name so ever, it must be understood of no day but Saturday.” (History of the Sabbath, part 2, chapter 2, section 12.)

Again he says:

“The first who ever used it to denote the Lord’s Day (the first that I have met with in all this search) is one Petrus Alfonsus—he lived about the time that Rupertus did [which was the beginning of the twelfth century]—who calls the Lord’s day by the name of Christian Sabbath.” (Idem, part 2, chapter 5, section 13.)

This is a striking fact which should never be forgotten in the investigation of this question. It was not until the middle of the Dark Ages that Sunday was ever called the Sabbath. The ancient Sabbath retained its own distinctive title for eleven hundred years after Christ, and no other day during all this period was known by this title but the seventh day. Not an instance can be found in history to the contrary.

Sunday steadily advanced in popular favor down to the beginning of the sixth century, becoming the usual day on which public meetings were held, and at least a partial rest day, but had never yet been called the Sabbath.

The next six or seven centuries from this time was an age of great barbarism and spiritual darkness. Men’s minds were controlled by the grossest superstitions. The power of the pope was almost supreme. Not one person in a hundred could read or write, and books were very few and expensive. The Bible was banished from the hands of the common people, and nearly every copy was in either Greek or Latin, languages which at this time were not spoken by the masses. Very few persons, comparatively, ever saw a Bible. During a part of this time, it was considered a great crime for a common person to be found reading the Bible, and the offense was punishment by the Inquisition.

It is not necessary that we should carefully note the steps by which Sunday attained to a higher power in such an age. We have already seen how, step by step, it stealthily advanced until that time, first asking only toleration, next claiming equality with the ancient Sabbath, and then taking a position above it as a joyous day, while the latter was made a fast day. Afterward it was called the Lord’s Day of apostolic times. Finally it was advanced by heathen emperor and Roman pope to the dignity of a day of partial rest. It cast the creation Sabbath aside by Catholic counsel, declaring that all who observed it were heretics, and placed them under a curse; and lastly, it was sustained by popes, emperors, and councils, claiming the whole field as its own. From this time forward, at every convenient occasion, a Catholic council would put forth a canon in behalf of the “venerable day of the sun,” striving to make the people observe it more sacredly.

Councils Favoring Sunday

It would weary the mind of the reader were we to give a list of all these, and what they said concerning this pet institution of the Church of Rome. We will, however, mention a few of the Roman Catholic councils.

The first Council of Orleans, A.D. 507, “obliged themselves and successors to be always at church on the Lord’s Day.” The third Council of Orleans, A.D. 538, required agricultural labor to be laid aside on the Lord’s Day, “in order that the people may not be prevented from attending church.”

In 538 another council was held at Mascon a town in Burgundy, because “Christian people very much neglect and slight the Lord’s Day,” giving themselves to common work etc. The bishops warned them against such practices, and commanded them to keep the Lord’s Day.

About a year later another council was held in Narbonne, which forbade all persons from doing any work on the Lord’s Day, on penalty of a “fine if a freeman,” or of “being lashed if a servant.”

In 654 a council was held at Chalons, another in England in 692, also one in 747, one in Bavaria in 772, again one in England in 784. Five councils were called by Charlemagne in the year 813, and one was held in Rome in 826. In all of these, strong efforts were made to build up the Sunday sacredness. Many others were also held for the same purpose.

But as these laws failed to accomplish all that the Catholics desired, and Sunday was still but poorly kept, they had recourse to miracles, a very popular argument with the Roman Church. Gregory of Tours, A.D. 570, furnishes several. A husbandman went out to plow on the Lord’s Day, and trying to clean his plow with an iron, “the iron stuck fast to his hand for two years . . . to his exceeding great pain and shame.” Some were killed by lightning for working on that day. Others were seized with convulsions.

Apparitions appeared to kings, charging them to enforce Sunday sacredness. A miller was at one time grinding corn on Sunday, and instead of the usual production of meal, a torrent of blood came forth. At another time a woman was trying to bake her bread upon this venerable day, but upon putting it in the oven, it remained only dough. It was said of the souls in purgatory that on every:

“Lord’s Day they were manumitted from their pains, and fluttered up and down the lake Avernus in the shape of birds.” (Heylyn’s History of the Sabbath, part 2, chapter 5, section 2.)

Divine Authority Claimed for Sunday

It seems a little strange to us to read of such things; but they were regarded as sober facts by the historians of those times, and as strong arguments for Sunday sacredness.

We must not fail to mention the roll “which came down from heaven,” in which the first authority from Christ is found in behalf of Sunday. The one great lack hitherto had been divine authority for it. None was claimed by the early Fathers. “Tradition” and “custom,” as we have seen, were all the authority for it which could be found until emperors and popes added theirs. But even in those dark ages the want of something more was needed. Council after council was held to enforce it, yet the people were not so impressed by them that they would wholly refrain from labor on the venerable Sunday. Something more must be obtained.

In the year 1200, Eustace, the abbot of Flaye, in Normandy, came to England, and labored very ardently in behalf of Sunday. But meeting with opposition in his efforts, he returned to Normandy. Although repulsed, he did not abandon the contest. After remaining there about a year, he returned with this remarkable roll. It was entitled:

“Which came from heaven to Jerusalem, and was found upon the altar of Saint Simeon, in Golgotha, where Christ was crucified for the sins of the world. The Lord sent down this epistle, which was found upon the altar of Saint Simeon, 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 a rose, 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 therein:

“I am the Lord who commanded you to observe the holy day of the Lord, and you 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.” Whereas I cause to be preached unto you repentance and amendment of life, you did not believe me, I have sent against you the pagans, who have shed your blood on the earth. And yet you have not believed; and because you did not keep the Lord’s Day holy, for a few days you suffered hunger, but soon I gave you fullness, and after that you did still worse again. Once more, it is my will that no one from the ninth hour on Saturday until sunrise on Monday, shall do no 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 scat, and by my throne, and by the cherubim who watch my holy seat, that I will give you my commands by no other epistle, but I will open the heavens, and for rain I will drop upon you stones, and wood, and hot water in the night, that no one may take precautions against the same, and so that 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 which 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 away to the tombs of the dead, and to hide yourselves for fear of the beasts. And I will take away the light of the sun from before your eyes, and will send darkness upon you, that not seeing, you may slay one another, and that I may remove from you my face, and may not show mercy upon you. For I will burn the bodies and the hearts of you, and of all those who do not keep as holy the day of the Lord.” (See Andrews, History of the Sabbath, Second Edition, pages 386-389; Matthew Paris, Historia Major, pages 200, 201, edition 1640; Heylyn’s History of the Sabbath, part 2, chapter 7, section 5; Morer’s Lord’s Day, page 288-290; Gilfillan’s The Sabbath, page 399, and many others.)

We have given over one half of this famous document, which in view of our brief space, will perhaps suffice. That such a document was actually brought into England at the time mentioned, and used with strong effect to enforce the observance of Sunday, does not admit of any doubt. It is substantiated by all the reliable historians of that age. To read such a document in this skeptical age, may appear to us a little ludicrous. But at the time it was written, the height of the Dark Ages, it was far different. That was the age of relics, an age when a nail or a piece of wood of the true cross was of inestimable value; when the bones, toe-nails, and other mementoes of the saints were considered of the highest worth. The credulity of the people knew no bounds, and the Romish priests took every advantage of it. It was by such means as this, that support was supplied and holiness ascribed to the “venerable day of the sun.”

There is no question but that this remarkable document came from the pope himself. This is stated on the authority of Matthew Paris, who, Dr. Murdoch says, “is accounted the best historian of the Middle Ages—learned, independent, honest, and judicious!” Mosheim also says that the first place was due to him as “a writer of the highest merit.” This writer says:

“But when the patriarch and clergy of all the Holy Land had diligently examined the contents of this epistle, it was decreed in a general deliberation that the epistle should be sent to the judgment of the Roman pontiff, seeing that whatever he decreed to be done, would please all. And when at length the epistle had come to the knowledge of the lord pope, immediately he ordained heralds, who, being sent through different parts of the world, preached everywhere the doctrine of this epistle, among whom the abbot of Flay, Eustachius by name, a devout and learned man, having entered the kingdom of England, did there shine with many miracles.” (Matthezu Paris, Historia Major, page 201.)

Innocent III was pope at that time, and no pontiff that ever sat in the papal chair exceeded him in efforts to elevate and strengthen the popish power. It was by such steps as these that the Roman Church advanced the interests of Sunday. Custom, tradition, the edicts of emperors, popes and councils, counterfeit miracles, and rolls manufactured by priestly craft, and palmed off as of heavenly origin, upon the ignorant, bigoted, and credulous multitude by the sanction of the pope and higher prelates, these are the foundations upon which the Sunday Sabbath rests.

It is stated by historians that the Lord’s Day was better observed because of this second roll, and the work of this zealous abbot in England. It had, doubtless, a strong influence in many places in that superstitious age.

Having thus traced the Sunday down to the middle of the Dark Ages, we will next notice it in the time of the Reformation.

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