18. What Catholic Authorities Say About Sunday

IN considering questions of importance, like the subject under discussion, it is certainly reasonable that the parties accused should have the privilege of testifying for themselves. We have said very plainly that the papists, during the long continuance of the great apostasy, which resulted in the development of their church, changed the Sabbath from the day which the Holy Scriptures required to another day, without the slightest Bible authority for so doing. Do they admit this charge to be true, or do they deny it? This is a question of real importance, one which we wish fairly and candidly to examine. We will quote Catholic authorities alone on this point.

The Roman Decretalia

The pope is the head of the Catholic Church; the head directs the body. The Roman Decretalia is an authoritative work in the Roman ecclesiastical law. Each pope, when invested with the “succession,” declares the papal decretals to be true. The Decretalia ascribes power to the pope to change God’s law or any other law. Thus:

“He can pronounce sentences and judgments in contradiction to the right of nations, and to the law of God and man . . . He can free himself from the commands of the apostles, he being their superior, and from the rules of the Old Testament,” etc.

“The pope has power to change times, to abrogate laws, and to dispense with all things, even the precepts of Christ.” (Decretal de Translat. Episcop. Cap.)

“The pope’s will stands for reason. He can dispense above the law, and of wrong make right by correcting and changing laws.” (Pope Nicholas, Dis. 96.)

“The pope is free from all laws so that he cannot incur any sentence of irregularity, suspension, excommunication, or penalty for any crime.” (Dis. 40.)

Surely the pope is a wonderful personage. He can be no other than the embodiment of that power which was to “think to change times and the law.” Daniel 7:25. Here we see claims of plentitude of power sufficient to make any changes whatever which he might desire to make. What do papists say about changing the Sabbath?


In the “Catholic Catechism of Christian Religion” we have the following questions and answers:

“Question—What does God ordain by this commandment?

“Answer—He ordains that we sanctify, in a special manner, this day on which he rested from the labor of creation.

“Question—What is this day of rest?

“Answer—The seventh day of the week, or Saturday; for he employed six days in creation, and rested on the seventh. Genesis 2:2; Hebrews 4:1, etc.

“Question—Is it, then, Saturday we should sanctify in order to obey the ordinance of God?

“Answer—During the old law, Saturday was the day sanctified; but the church, instructed by Jesus Christ, and directed by the Spirit of God, has substituted Sunday for Saturday; so now we sanctify the first, not the seventh day. Sunday means, and now is, the day of the Lord.

“Question—Had the church power to make such a change?

“Answer—Certainly; since the Spirit of God is her guide, the change is inspired by the Holy Spirit.”

In another Catholic work, called the Abridgement of Christian Doctrine, page 58, the Catholic Church asserts its power to change the law, in the following manner:

“Question—How prove you that the church hath power to command feasts and holy days?

“Answer—By the very act of changing the Sabbath into Sunday, which Protestants allow of; and therefore they fondly contradict themselves, by keeping Sunday strictly, and breaking most other feasts commanded by the same church.

“Question—How prove you that?

“Answer—Because by keeping Sunday they acknowledge the church’s power to ordain feasts, and to command them under sin; and by not keeping the rest by her commanded, they again deny, in fact, the same power.”

In the “Catholic Christian Instructed,” page 202, is presented the following list of feast-days, which all rest upon the same foundation, namely, the authority of the Catholic Church. Of these, Sunday takes the lead.

“Question—What are the days which the church commands to be kept holy?

“Answer—1. The Sunday, or our Lord’s Day, which we observe by apostolic tradition, instead of the Sabbath. 2. The feasts of our Lord’s nativity, or Christmas day. His circumcision, or New Year’s day; the Epiphany, or twelfth day; Easter day, or the day of our Lord’s resurrection; the day of our Lord’s ascension; Whitsunday, or the day of the coming of the Holy Ghost; Trinity Sunday; Corpus Christi, or the feast of the Blessed Sacrament. 3. We keep the days of the Annunciation, and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. 4. We observe the feast of All-Saints; of St. John Baptist; of the holy apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul. 5. In this kingdom [Britain-Ireland] we keep the feast of St. Patrick, our principal patron!”

From pages 202, 203 of the work last quoted, we take the following additional testimony, which also has a very important bearing on the question of the Sabbath, as the points referred to are vital ones in this issue:

“Question—What warrant have you for keeping the Sunday preferably to the ancient Sabbath, which was the Saturday?

“Answer—We have for it the authority of the Catholic Church, and apostolical tradition.

“Question—Does the Scripture anywhere command the Sunday to be kept for the Sabbath?

“Answer—The Scripture commands us to hear the church (Matthew 18:17; Luke 10:16), and to hold fast the traditions of the apostles. II Thessalonians 2:15. But the Scripture does not in particular mention this change of the Sabbath. St. John speaks of the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10); but he does not tell us what day of the week this was, much less does he tell us that this day was to take [the] place of the Sabbath ordained in the commandments. St. Luke also speaks of the disciples meeting together to break bread on the first day of the week. Acts 20:7. And St. Paul (I Corinthians 16:2) orders that on the first day of the week the Corinthians should lay by in store what they designed to bestow in charity on the faithful in Judea; but neither the one nor the other tells us that this first day of the week was to be henceforward the day of worship, and the Christian Sabbath;—so that truly, the best authority we have for this is the testimony and ordinance of the Church. And therefore, those who pretend to be so religious of the Sunday, whilst they take no notice of other festivals ordained by the same church authority, show that they act by humor, and not by reason and religion. Since Sundays and holy days all stand upon the same foundation; viz., the ordinance of the church.”

The Doctrinal Catechism, pages 174, 352 offers proof that Protestants are not guided by the Scriptures. We present two of the questions and answers:

“Question—Have you any other way of proving that the church has power to institute festivals of precept?

“Answer—Had she not such power, she could not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her, she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday, the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday, the seventh day, a change for which there is no Scriptural authority.”

“Question—When Protestants do profane work upon Saturday, or the seventh day of the week, do they follow the Scripture as their only rule of faith do they find this permission clearly laid down in the Sacred Volume?

“Answer—On the contrary, they have only the authority of tradition for this practice. In profaning Saturday, they violate one of God’s commandments, which he has never clearly abrogated, ‘Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day.’”

Then follows a statement and refutation of the arguments which Protestants usually rely on to prove the change of the Sabbath, such as the resurrection of Christ, the pouring out of the Spirit, the Lord’s Day of Revelation 1:10; Acts 20:7, and I Corinthians 16:2, showing that these Scriptures contain no evidence of the institution of Sunday observance, but that the practice rests solely upon the authority of the Catholic Church.

In a Roman Catholic work entitled The Shortest Way to End Disputes about Religion, by the Revelation Dr. Manning, approved by the Right Reverend Bishop Fitzpatrick, Coadjutor of the Diocese of Boston, Mass., page 19, we find the following:

“As zealous as Protestants are against the church’s infallibility, they are forced to depend wholly upon her authority in many articles that cannot be evidently proved from any text of Scripture, yet are of very great importance.

“1. The lawfulness for Christians to work upon Saturday, contrary, in appearance, to the express command of God, who bids us ‘keep the Sabbath holy,’ and tells us the seventh day of the week is that day.”

“2. The lawfulness and validity of infant baptism, whereof there is no example in Scripture.”

Clifton Tracts

In accordance with the instruction given in the catechisms from which the foregoing quotations were, made, a work entitled The Clifton Tracts (Catholic), Vol. IV, chap. 4, under the title, “A Question for all Bible Christians,” makes a precise statement of the positions held respectively by Catholics and Protestants on this question, in the following forcible language:

“I am going to propose a very plain and serious question, to which I would entreat all who profess to follow ‘the Bible, and the Bible only,’ to give their most earnest attention. It is this: Why do you not keep holy the Sabbath day?

“The command of Almighty God stands clearly written in the Bible in these words: ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shall not do any work.’ Exodus 20:8, 9. Such being God’s command, then, I ask again, Why do you not obey it? Why do you not keep holy the Sabbath day?

“You will answer me, perhaps, that you do keep holy the Sabbath day; for that you abstain from all worldly business, and diligently go to church, and say your prayers, and read your Bible at home, every Sunday of your lives.

“But Sunday is not the Sabbath day; Sunday is the first day of the week; the Sabbath day was the seventh day of the week. Almighty God did not give a commandment that men should keep holy one day in seven. But he named his own day, and said distinctly, Thou shall keep holy the seventh day; and he assigned a reason for choosing this day rather than any other, a reason which belongs only to the seventh day of the week, and cannot be applied to the rest. He says, ‘For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.’

“Almighty God ordered that all men should rest from their labor on the seventh day, because he too had rested on that day; he did not rest on Sunday, but on Saturday. On Sunday, which is the first day of the week, he began the work of creation, he did not finish it; it was on Saturday that he ‘ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.’ Genesis 2:2, 3. Nothing can be more plain and easy to be understood than all this, and there is nobody who attempts to deny it; it is acknowledged by everybody that the day which Almighty God appointed to be kept holy was Saturday, not Sunday. Why do you, then, keep holy the Sunday, and not the Saturday?

“You tell me that Saturday ‘Was the Jewish Sabbath, but that the Christian Sabbath has been changed to Sunday.’ Changed! But by whom? Who has authority to change an express command of Almighty God? When God has spoken, and said, Thou shall keep holy the seventh day, who shall dare to say, Nay, thou may work, and do all manner of worldly business on the seventh day; but thou shall keep holy the first day in its stead? This is the most important question, which I know not how you can answer.

“You are a Protestant, and you profess to go by the Bible, and the Bible only; and yet in so important a matter as the observance of one day in seven as a holy day, you go against the plain letter of the Bible, and put another day in the place of that day which the Bible has commanded. The command to keep holy the seventh day is one of the Ten Commandments; you believe that the other nine are still binding; who gave you authority to tamper with the fourth? If you are consistent with your own principles, if you really follow the Bible, and the Bible only, you ought to be able to produce some portion of the New Testament in which this fourth commandment is expressly altered, or, at least, from which you may confidently infer that it was the will of God that Christians should make that change in its observance which you have made. . . .

“The present generation of Protestants keep Sunday holy instead of Saturday, because they received it as a part of the Christian religion from the last generation, and that generation received it from the generation before, and so on backward from one generation to another, by a continual succession, until we come to the time of the (so called) Reformation, when it so happened that those who conducted the change of religion in this country, left this particular portion of Catholic faith and practice untouched.

“But, had it happened otherwise. Had some one or other of the reformers taken it into his head to denounce the observance of Sunday as a popish corruption and superstition, and to insist upon it that Saturday was the day which God had appointed to be kept holy, and that he had never authorized the observance of any other—all Protestants would have been obliged, in obedience to their professed principle of following the Bible, and the Bible only, either to acknowledge this teaching as true, and to return to the observance of the ancient Sabbath, or else to deny that there is any Sabbath at all. And so, in like manner, any one at the present day who should set about, honestly and without prejudice, to draw up for himself a form of religious belief and practice out of the written word of God, must needs come to the same conclusion. He must either believe that the Sabbath is still binding upon men’s consciences, because of the divine command. Thou shall keep holy the seventh day; or he must believe that no Sabbath at all is binding upon them, because of the apostolic injunction, Let no man judge you in respect of a festival day, or of the Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is Christ’s. Either one or the other of these conclusions he might honestly come to. But he would know nothing whatever of a ‘Christian Sabbath,’ distinct from the ancient, celebrated on a different day and observed in a different manner, simply because Holy Scripture itself nowhere speaks of such a thing.

“Now mind, in all this you would greatly misunderstand me if you supposed I was quarreling with you for acting in this manner on a true and right principle, in other words, a Catholic principle, viz., the acceptance, without hesitation, of that which has been handed down to you by an unbroken tradition. I would not tear from you a single one of those shreds and fragments of divine truth which you have retained. God forbid! They are the most precious things you possess, and by God’s blessing may serve as clues to bring you out of that labyrinth of error in which you find yourselves involved, far more by the fault of your forefathers, three centuries ago, than by your own. What I do quarrel with you for is, not your inconsistency in occasionally acting on a true principle, but your adoption, as a general rule, of a false one. You keep the Sunday, and not the Saturday. And you do so rightly; for this was the practice of all Christians when Protestantism began. But you have abandoned other Catholic observances, which were equally universal at that day, preferring the novelties introduced by the men who invented Protestantism to the unvarying tradition of above fifteen hundred years.

“We blame you, not for making Sunday your weekly holiday, instead of Saturday, but for rejecting tradition, which is the only safe and clear rule by which this observance can be justified. In outward act, we do the same as yourselves in this matter we too, no longer observe the ancient Sabbath, but Sunday, in its stead; but then there is this important difference between us, that we do not pretend, as you do, to derive our authority for so doing from a book; but we derive it from a living teacher, and that teacher is the church. Moreover, we believe that not everything God would have us to know and to do is written in the Bible, but that there is an unwritten word of God, which we are bound to believe and obey. Just as we believe and obey the Bible itself, according to that saying of the apostle, ‘Stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word or by our epistle.’ II Thessalonians 2:14 [Douay Bible].

“We Catholics, then, have precisely the same authority for keeping Sunday holy, instead of Saturday, as we have for every other article of our creed, namely, the authority of ‘the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth’ (I Timothy 3:15). Whereas, you who are Protestants have really no authority for it whatever; for there is no authority for it in the Bible, and you will not allow that there can be authority for it anywhere else. Both you and we do, in fact, follow tradition in this matter; but we follow it, believing it to be a part of God’s word, and the church to be its divinely appointed guardian and interpreter; you follow it, denouncing it all the time as a fallible and treacherous guide, which often makes the commandment of God of none effect.”

In another Catholic work, called a Treatise of Thirty Controversies, we find the following cutting reproof:

“The word of God commands the seventh day to be the Sabbath of our Lord, and to be kept holy; you [Protestants], without any precept of Scripture, change it to the first day of the week, only authorized by our traditions. Divers English Puritans oppose against this point, that the observation of the first day is proved out of Scripture, where it is said, the first day of the week. Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10. Have they not spun a fair thread in quoting these places? If we should produce no better for purgatory, prayers for the dead, invocation of the saints, and the like, they might have good cause indeed to laugh us to scorn; for where is it written these were Sabbath days in which those meetings were kept? Or where is it ordained that they should be always observed? Or, which is the sum of all, where is it decreed that the observance of the first day should abrogate or abolish the sanctifying of the seventh day, which God commanded everlastingly to be kept holy? Not one of those is expressed in the written word of God.”

A Challenge

And finally, W. Lockhart, B. A., of Oxford, in the Toronto (Catholic) Mirror, offered the following “challenge” to all the Protestants of Ireland, a challenge as well calculated for this latitude as that. He says:

“I do, therefore, solemnly challenge the Protestants of Ireland to prove, by plain texts of Scripture, the questions concerning the obligation of the Christian Sabbath, 1. That Christians may work on Saturday, the old seventh day; 2. That they are bound to keep holy the first day, namely, Sunday; 3. That they are not bound to keep holy the seventh day also.”

Statements by Catholic Authors

In pursuing this subject further, we quote the language of John Gilmary Shea, LLD, a representative man among Catholics, and an accomplished writer:

“The Sunday, as a day of the week set apart for the obligatory public worship of Almighty God, to be sanctified by suspension of all servile labor, trade, and worldly avocations, and by exercises of devotion, is purely a creation of the Catholic Church.” “Nothing in the New Testament forbids work, travel, trade, amusement, on the first day of the week. There is nothing which implies such a prohibition. The day, as one especially set apart, had no authority but that of the Catholic Church; the laws requiring its observance were passed to enforce decrees of councils of the Catholic Church.” “For ages all Christian nations looked to the Catholic Church, and, as we have seen, the various states enforce by law her ordinances as to worship and cessation of labor on Sunday. Protestantism, in discarding the authority of the church, had no good reason for its Sunday theory, and ought, logically, to keep Saturday as the Sabbath, with the Jews and Seventh Day Baptists. For their present practice, Protestants in general have no authority but that of a church which they disown.” (The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Jan., 1883.)

James Blake, M. D., another Roman Catholic, in a debate with a Protestant, thus drove the latter to the wall:

“Christ never wrote, but God the Father did. He wrote the Ten Commandments on the tables of stone, and the only commandment he emphasized was that to keep the seventh day. ‘Remember to keep holy the seventh day;’ and there is no command so often repeated throughout the Old Testament. If the Bible alone be the gentleman’s rule of faith, he is bound by this commandment; but does he observe it? No, he does not. Why, then, does he not observe it? Because the church thought fit to change it. Here the gentleman admits the authority of the church to be superior to the handwriting of God the Father; and yet he will look you in the face, and declare that the Bible, without church authority, is his rule of faith.” (Review and Herald, Feb. 27, 1884.)

The following statements were made by a Catholic priest in the opera-house in Hartford, Kansas, Feb. 18, 1884, as reported in the Hartford Weekly Call of February 22:

“Christ gave to the church the power to make laws binding upon the conscience. Show me one sect that claims or possesses the power to do so save the Catholic Church. There is none, and yet all Christendom acknowledges the power of the church to do so, as I will prove to you. For example, the observance of Sunday. How can other denominations keep this day? The Bible commands you to keep the Sabbath day. Sunday is not the Sabbath day; no man dare assert that it is; for the Bible says as plainly as words can make it, that the seventh day is the Sabbath, i.e. Saturday; for we know Sunday to be the first day of the week. Besides, the Jews have been keeping the Sabbath day unto the present time. I am not a rich man, but I will give $1,000 to any man who will prove by the Bible alone that Sunday is the day we are bound to keep. No, it cannot be done; it is impossible. The observance of Sunday is solely a law of the Catholic Church, and therefore is not binding upon others. The church changed the Sabbath to Sunday, and all the world bows down and worships upon that day in silent obedience to the mandates of the Catholic Church. Is this not a living miracle that those who hate us so bitterly, obey and acknowledge our power every week, and DO NOT KNOW IT?”

The number of extracts from Catholic authorities might be much enlarged, but these ought to be sufficient to show any candid person the position taken by that church upon this point. It will be noticed that many of these come from catechisms and other doctrinal works which are officially issued by the Catholic Church itself. There can be no higher evidence of the position of a denomination than its doctrinal books put forth to teach its own people. Thus the papal church acknowledges point-blank that it has dared to change the law of God by “substituting Sunday for Saturday.” It puts forth this claim to all the Protestant world as the highest evidence of its authority.

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