17. Traces of Early Sabbath Keeping

HAVING traced the Sunday Sabbath from its first beginnings through the Dark Ages to its full adoption by the Protestant churches, we now return to the true Sabbath, to notice briefly its status since the Roman Catholic Church caused it to be discontinued where it had the power to do so. It will be remembered that we gave clear proof that it was kept in the early church for centuries, even till the Catholic Council of Laodicea, in A.D. 364, abrogated it by an anathema. From that time forward it gradually disappeared from view in those countries where the Catholic Church had supreme influence. That church has made the most persistent efforts, in every way possible, to crush out the ancient Sabbath, seeming to realize that those who clung to it struck at the very foundation of her claims.

Sunday stands upon the authority of tradition; the Sabbath stands upon the authority of the commandments of God. When Sunday is observed, one really recognizes the ground-work of Catholic authority, viz., tradition, and, logically speaking, would be bound to accept her other festivals, ordinances, etc., which stand on precisely the same authority. But when a person ignores Sunday and keeps the Sabbath of the Lord, he sets aside every scrap of Catholic tradition, so that the whole Catholic stock in trade is gone, together with their strongest hold on Protestants. Hence we shall ever find Catholics stoutly opposed to the true Sabbath.

We shall now inquire whether the Sabbath did not continue to be observed in various places where the Roman Church had not influence enough to suppress it. If this be so, it will afford strong additional evidence that the change of the Sabbath was wrought by the power of the Catholic Church. We shall be able to give only brief historical references in proof of this point, referring those who wish to investigate the matter thoroughly to the work before noticed, Andrews’s “History of the Sabbath.”

The Culdees

We first notice the early Christians of Great Britain who were not connected with Rome before the mission of Augustine in A.D. 596. These were a pious, humble class of people, and were in an eminent degree Bible Christians.

“An Irish presbyter, Columba, feeling himself stirred with missionary zeal, and doubtless knowing the wretched condition of the savage Scots and Picts, in the year 565 took with him twelve other missionaries and passed over to Scotland!” (M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia, Vol. II, page 601.)

They were called Culdees, and settled and made their headquarters on the little isle of Iona. They had, for the most part, “a simple and primitive form of Christianity” very different from the pomp of Romanism.

Two eminent Catholic authors speak of Columba as follows:

“Having continued his labors in Scotland thirty-four years, he clearly and openly foretold his death, and on Saturday, the ninth of June, said to his disciple Diermit, ‘This day is called the Sabbath, that is, the day of rest, and such will it truly be to me. For it will put an end to my labors.’” (Butler’s Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, art. St. Columba, A.D. 597.)

“Today is Saturday, the day which the Holy Scriptures call the Sabbath, or rest. And it will truly be my day of rest, for it shall be the last of my laborious life.” (The Monks of the West, Vol. II, page 104.)

This language proves that Columba believed that Saturday was the true Bible Sabbath. It also shows his satisfaction in the fact, in view of his immediate death. We have never known an observer of Sunday to have any feelings of pleasure on his death bed in view of the fact that Saturday was the Bible Sabbath. Hence we conclude that this man of God, the leader of these missionaries, was an observer of the ancient Sabbath.

The Waldenses

There has been no class of dissenters from the Catholic Church more worthy of regard than the Waldenses, or Vaudois, whose principal settlement was in the valleys of the Alps in Piedmont, though at times there were companies of them scattered in many of the countries of Europe. Their locating in these valleys occurred between the time of Constantine and the full development of the Roman Catholic Church. There is some confusion among the various authorities as to the exact time. It seems to be a settled fact among historians that the cause of their seeking these retired valleys was their desire to maintain the purity of their religion, and to escape the corrupting influences so prevalent in the more thickly populated portions of the country. So they retired from public view.

They had a translation of the Bible in their own tongue, and taught it with great diligence to their children. Catholic writers declare that some of them could repeat nearly the whole of the Holy Scriptures. They sent out missionaries to all parts of Europe during the darkest days of the papacy, many of whom witnessed for the truth with their lives. Multitudes of them died in the various persecutions by the Catholics. Time after time they were driven from their homes into the mountains and caves, and many thousands of men, women, and children were put to death, and their property and homes confiscated and destroyed.

There is conclusive evidence that a portion, at least, of the Waldenses observed the ancient Sabbath in the days of their greatest purity. A considerable portion of this people were called by the significant designation of Sabbati, Sabbatati, or Insabbatati. Mr. Robinson, the historian, quotes out of Gretser the words of Goldastus, a learned Swiss historian and jurist, born in 1576, and a Calvinist writer of note, as follows:

“Insabbatati [they were called] not because they were circumcised, but because they kept the Jewish Sabbath.” (Ecclesiastical Researches, chap. 10, page 303.)

Archbishop Usher acknowledges that many understood they were called by these names because they kept the Jewish Sabbath, though he thought it was for another reason.

Just before the great Protestant Reformation,

“Louis XII, king of France, being informed by the enemies of the Waldenses inhabiting a part of the province of Provence, that several heinous crimes were laid to their account, sent the Master of Requests a certain doctor of the Sorbonne, who was confessor to His Majesty, to make inquiry into the matter. On their return they reported that they had visited all the parishes where they dwelt, had inspected their places of worship, but they had found there no images nor signs of the ornaments belonging to the mass nor any of the ceremonies of the Roman Church. Much less could they discover any traces of those crimes with which they were charged. On the contrary, they kept the Sabbath day, observed the ordinance of baptism according to the primitive church, instructed their children in the articles of the Christian faith and the commandments of God. The king, having read the report of his commissioners, said with an oath that they were better men than himself or his people!” (Jones’s Church History, Vol. II, chap. 5, sec. 4.)

“The respectable French historian De Thou says that the Vaudois keep the commandments of the decalogue, and allow among them of no wickedness, detesting perjuries, imprecations, quarrels, seditions, etc.” (History of the Vaudois, by Bresse, page 126.)

The Passaginians

One portion of the Waldenses were called Passaginians, probably because they lived high up in the passes of the Alps. Thus Mosheim speaks of them:

“In Lombardy, which was the principal residence of the Italian heretics, there sprung up a singular sect, known, for what reason I cannot tell, by the denomination of Passaginians, and also by that of the Circumcised. Like the other sects already mentioned, they had the utmost aversion to the dominion and discipline of the Church of Rome; but they were at the same time distinguished by two religious tenets which were peculiar to themselves. The first was a notion that the observance of the law of Moses in everything except the offering of sacrifices, was obligatory upon Christians; in consequence of which they circumcised their followers, abstained from those meats the use of which was prohibited tinder the Mosaic economy, and celebrated the Jewish Sabbath.” (Ecclesiastical History, century 12, part 2, chap. 5, sec. 1.4.)

But Mr, Benedict, in his History of the Baptist Denomination, speaks of them as follows:

“The account of their practicing circumcision is undoubtedly a slanderous story, forged by their enemies, and probably arose in this way: Because they observed the seventh day, they were called, by way of derision, Jews, as the Sabbatarians are frequently at this day. And if they were Jews, it followed, of course, that they either did, or ought to, circumcise their followers. This was probably the reasoning of their enemies; but that they actually practiced the bloody rite is altogether improbable.” (Vol. II, page 414, edition 1813.)

Such has ever been the conduct of the Roman Church to blacken the character of its enemies by false reports. It is nothing uncommon at the present day for even Protestant ministers to make such charges upon Sabbatarians that they are Jews, and keep all the law of Moses, because they observe the Sabbath. They might know, if they cared to, that Sabbatarians make a great distinction between the moral law of Ten Commandments, which requires the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, and the ceremonial law of types, shadows, circumcision, etc. The former they believe to be binding on all. The latter was abolished at the cross of Christ.

The Petrobruslans

The Petrobrusians were a sect of French Christians who, in the twelfth century, witnessed for God in opposition to the papacy. They were also observers of the Sabbath. This is stated by Dr. Francis White, lord bishop of Ely, who was appointed by the king of England to write against the Sabbath, in opposition to Mr. Brabourne, a Sabbatarian. He says:

“In St. Bernard’s days it was condemned in the Petrobruysans.” (Treatise of the Sabbath Day, page 8.)

The Sabbath-keepers of the eleventh century were of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the pope. Gregory VII, one of the most lordly, domineering popes that ever occupied the papal chair, was at that time ruling the church with an iron hand. Dr. Heylyn says that:

“Gregory, of that name the seventh [about A.D. 1074], condemned those who taught that it was not lawful to do work on the day of the Sabbath.” (History of the Sabbath, part 2, chapter 5, section 1.)

This is clear evidence that there was still a respectable number of Sabbath-keepers, even in those countries where that church had authority; for surely the pope would not pronounce a curse upon them unless such persons existed. Thus we see the Sabbath still existing among those opposed to the Catholic Church, even in Italy itself, where the pope’s power was greatest. We now look abroad to countries where the pope never had jurisdiction, in search of those who still revere the Sabbath of the Lord.

Sabbath-Keepers in Africa

The gospel extended its influence all through Northern and Central Africa in the early part of the Christian dispensation. There were many Christian churches on that continent. Africa indeed “stretched out her hands to God.”

But after the conquest of the northern portions of that country by the Mohammedans, and for a long time before that, the Christians of Abyssinia were lost to the rest of the Christian world. Says Gibbon:

“Encompassed on all sides by the enemies of their religion, the Ethiopians slept near a thousand years, forgetful of the world, by whom they were forgotten.” (Decline and Fall, chap. 47, par. 38.)

But after the great discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, they became known again to the Christian world. They were found observing the ancient Sabbath, although they were greatly affected by the pagan and Mohammedan errors so long surrounding them, as might be expected. Yet it is a fact of no little significance in the consideration of this subject, that this large body of Christians, which had been so long separated from the influence of the Catholic Church, were found after a thousand years still observing the seventh day. At the time of their separation from the rest of the Christian world they, with others, were observing both Sunday and Sabbath. When found nearly a thousand years later, they were doing the same, as Mr. Geddes says:

“They deny purgatory, and know nothing of confirmation and extreme unction; they condemn graven images; they keep both Saturday and Sunday.” (Church History of Ethiopia, pages 34, 35.)

The ambassador of the king of Ethiopia, at the court of Lisbon, gave the following reasons for keeping the Sabbath:

“Because God, after he had finished the creation of the world, rested thereon. Which day, as God would have it called the holy of holies, so the not celebrating thereof with great honor and devotion seems to be plainly contrary to God’s will and precept, who will suffer heaven and earth to pass away sooner than his word. And that, especially, since Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. It is not, therefore, in imitation of the Jews, but in obedience to Christ and his holy apostles, that we observe that day.” (Church History of Ethiopia, pages 87, 88.)

This account was given by the ambassador in 1534. In the beginning of the next century the emperor of Abyssinia was induced to submit to the pope in these words:

“I confess that the pope is the vicar of Christ, the successor of, St. Peter, and the sovereign of the world. To him I swear true obedience, and at his feet I offer my person and kingdom.” (Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap. 47, par. 39.)

Let the reader now mark what followed: As soon as the emperor had thus submitted himself, he was obliged to put forth a decree forbidding the observance of the Sabbath. Geddes says he: “Set forth a proclamation prohibiting all his subjects, upon severe penalties, to observe Saturday any longer.” (Church History of Ethiopia, pages 311, 312.)

Gibbon expresses the edict thus:

“The Abyssinians were enjoined to work and play on the Sabbath.” (Decline and Fall, chap. 47, par. 39.)

Thus we see the Roman Church never missed a chance to give the ancient Sabbath a thrust when the opportunity presented itself. This one desire has marked its course throughout. After a space of time the tyranny of the Catholics brought a terrible struggle, which caused their overthrow, and the Abyssinians returned to the observance of the Sabbath, and have continued to do so ever since. These facts present a striking evidence of the hatred of the Roman Church toward the Sabbath. It also conclusively proves the existence of the Sabbath in the Church where the popish power could not abrogate it.

The Armenians

We next notice the Armenians of the East Indies. Here was quite a large body of Christians who had had little or no connection with the churches of Europe for many centuries. So they were preserved from many of the false doctrines of the great apostasy. Mr. Massie describes them as follows:

“Separated from the Western world for a thousand years, they were naturally ignorant of many novelties introduced by the councils and decrees of the Lateran. And their conformity with the faith and practice of the first ages laid them open to the unpardonable guilt of heresy and schism, as estimated by the church of Rome. ‘We are Christians, and not idolaters,’ was their expressive reply when required to do homage to the image of the Virgin Mary . . . La Croze states them at fifteen hundred churches, and as many towns and villages. They refused to recognize the pope, and declared they had never heard of him; they asserted the purity and primitive truth of their faith since they came, and their bishops had for thirteen hundred years been sent, from the place where the followers of Jesus had first been called Christians.” (Continental India, Vol. II, pages 116, 117.)

Mr. Yeates hints at the Sabbatarian character of these Christians. He says that Saturday:

“Among them is a festival day, agreeable to the ancient practice of the church.” (East Indian Church History, pages 133, 134.)

The same fact is also again hinted at by the same writer as follows:

“The inquisition was set up at Goa in the Indies, at the instance of Francis Xavier [a famous Roman saint], who signified by letters to the Pope John III, Nov. 10, 1545. ‘That THE JEWISH WICKEDNESS spreads more and more in the parts of the East Indies subject to the kingdom of Portugal, and therefore he earnestly besought the said king, that to cure so great an evil he would take care to send the office of the Inquisition into those countries.’ (Idem, pages 139, 140.)

There can be no reasonable doubt that the “Jewish wickedness” here referred to is the same as observing Saturday “agreeable to the ancient practice of the church,” spoken of above. We here have another evidence of the hatred of the Roman Church to the Sabbath. It must be put down by the inquisition, if found in existence where that church has authority.

In the East Indies

Since that time the East Indies have fallen under the dominion of Great Britain. Some years since, Mr. Buchanan, a distinguished minister of the Church of England, visited India for the purpose of becoming acquainted with this body of Christians. He says they have preserved themselves most free from Mohammedan and papal corruption, and that they have a translation of the Bible in the Armenian language, which has been pronounced the “queen of versions.” He says:

“They have preserved the Bible in its purity; and their doctrines are, as far as the author knows, the doctrines of the Bible. Besides, they maintain the solemn observance of Christian worship throughout our empire ON THE SEVENTH DAY, and they have as many spires pointing to heaven among the Hindoos as we ourselves.” (Buchanan’s Christian Researches in Asia, page 259.)

Purchas, a writer of the seventeenth century, also speaks of several sects of Eastern Christians, “continuing from ancient times,” as Syrians, Jacobites, Nestorians, Maronites, and Arhlenians. It seems evident that these are identical with those now known as Armenians. He says:

“They keep Saturday holy, nor esteem Saturday fast lawful but on Easter even. They have solemn service on Saturdays, eat flesh, and feast it bravely like the Jews.” (Purchas, his Pilgrimage, part 2, book 8, chap. 6, sec. 5.)

This writer, like many first day authors, Catholic and Protestant, even at the present time, speaks disrespectfully of those Christians who observed the Sabbath. But this testimony, with the others, seems to leave no possible doubt that the Armenians observed the Sabbath.

Andrews, in his History of the Sabbath, page 463, says concerning other Sabbath keepers:

“When the Reformation had lifted the vale of darkness that covered the nations of Europe, Sabbathkeepers were found in Transylvania, Bohemia, Russia, Germany, Holland, France, and England. It was not the Reformation which gave existence to these Sabbatarians. For the leaders of the Reformation, as a body, were not friendly to such views. On the contrary, these observers of the Sabbath appear to be remnants of the ancient Sabbath-keeping churches that had witnessed for the truth during the Dark Ages!”

He proceeds to cite various classes of these in the countries mentioned, and gives the authorities to prove it, which the inquiring reader can investigate in that valuable work.


In summing up the facts presented concerning these Sabbath-keeping bodies which continued through the Dark Ages, we reach the following conclusions:

1. The Waldenses (at least a large portion of them) who sought retired places in the valleys of the mountains, to be able to worship God according to the ancient practice of the Church and according to the Bible, kept the ancient Sabbath till persecuted by the Catholic Church and almost exterminated.

2. The Abyssinian Church, shut away from the papal Church for a thousand years, when discovered were found observing the seventh day of the week as the early Christians did. But as soon as the Catholics got power to do so, they at once abased the Sabbath, and would not allow it to be observed while they remained in the kingdom.

3. The Armenian Christians, also shut away from the Roman Church for the same length of time, when visited by Europeans, were found keeping the seventh day, or Saturday, according to the ancient practice of believers during the first centuries. But true to their hatred of the Sabbath, as soon as the Roman priests could do so, they had the cruel Inquisition brought in to abolish by torture the practice of keeping the ancient memorial of creation. So also was it in many other countries. It is the same old story in every instance.

We have now followed for fifteen centuries the work of the Roman Catholic Church in its continued, persevering effort to overthrow the Sabbath which God commanded, and to elevate the Sunday, the weekly memorial of sun worship. The first form of idolatry, into its place, transforming it into a Christian institution; and we see, but one purpose throughout. This work always centered at Rome, from the time the first step was taken turning the Sabbath into a fast to disgrace it. While making Sunday a joyful festival, till we reach the famous roll “which came down from heaven,” threatening destruction upon those who should “fail to keep the Lord’s Day;” yes, continuing even till the present day, since Protestants have joined in the same work of elevating Sunday. We cannot question the fact that the papal church changed the Sabbath. But lest any should think we have unfairly judged that church in thus speaking, we propose to give the testimony of many Catholic writers themselves on this subject.

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