This person wrote about A. D. 300. His bishopric was in Germany. Of his work on the “Creation of the World.” only a fragment is now preserved. In the first section he speaks thus of the sanctification of the seventh day:
“God produced that entire mass for the adornment of his majesty in six days; on the seventh to which he consecrated it [some words are here lost out of the text] with a blessing. For this reason, therefore, because in the septenary number of days both heavenly and earthly things are ordered, in place of the beginning. I will consider of this seventh day after the principle of all matters pertaining to the number seven.”
Victorinus, like some other of the fathers, held that the “true and just Sabbath should be observed in the seventh millenary.” He believed that the Sabbath was abolished by the Saviour. He was in sympathy with the act of the church of Rome in turning the Sabbath into a fast. He held to a two days weekly fast, as his words necessarily imply. He would have men fast on the sixth day to commemorate Christ's death, and on the seventh, lest they should seem to keep the Sabbath with the Jews, but on the so-called Lord's day they were to go forth to their bread with giving of thanks. Thus he reasons:
“On this day [the sixth] also, on account of the passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, we make either a station to God, or a fast. On the seventh day he rested from all his works, and blessed it, and sanctified it. On the former day [the sixth] we are accustomed to fast rigorously, that on the Lord's day we may go forth to our bread with giving of thanks. And let the parasceve [the sixth day] become a rigorous fast, lest we should appear to observe any Sabbath with the Jews, which Christ himself, the Lord of the Sabbath, says by his prophets that `his soul hateth;' which Sabbath he in his body abolished, although, however, he had formerly himself commanded Moses that circumcision should not pass over the eighth day, which day very frequently happens on the Sabbath, as we read written in the gospel. Moses, foreseeing the hardness of that people, on the Sabbath raised up his hands, therefore, and thus fastened himself to a cross. And in the battle they were sought for by the foreigners on the Sabbath day, that they might be taken captive, and as if by the very strictness of the law, might be fashioned to the avoidance of its teachings.” Section 4.
These statements are in general of little consequence, but some of them deserve notice. First, we have one of the grand elements which contributed to the abandonment of the Sabbath of the Lord, viz., hatred toward the Jews for their conduct toward Christ. Those who acted thus forgot that Christ himself was the Lord of the Sabbath, and that it was his institution and not that of the Jews to which they were doing despite. Second, it was the church of Rome that turned the Sabbath into a fast one hundred years before this in order to suppress its observance, and Victorinus was acting under its instructions. Third, we have a reference to the so-called Lord's day, as a day of thanksgiving, but no connection between it and the Sabbath is indicated; for in his time the change of the Sabbath had not been thought of. He has other reasons for neglecting the seventh day which here follows:
“And thus in the sixth psalm for the eighth day, David asks the Lord that he would not rebuke him in his anger, nor judge him in his fury; for this is indeed the eighth day of that future judgment, which will pass beyond the order of the sevenfold arrangement. Jesus also, the son of Nave, the successor of Moses, himself broke the Sabbath day; for on the Sabbath day he commanded the children of Israel to go round the walls of the city of Jericho with trumpets, and declare war against the aliens. Matthias also, prince of Judah, broke the Sabbath; for he slew the prefect of Antiochus the king of Syria on the Sabbath, and subdued the foreigners by pursuing them. And in Matthew we read, that it is written Isaiah also and the rest of his colleagues broke the Sabbath - that that true and just Sabbath should be observed in the seventh millenary of years. Wherefore to those seven days the Lord attributed to each a thousand years; for thus went the warning: `In thine eyes, O Lord, a thousand years are as one day.' Therefore in the eyes of the Lord each thousand of years is ordained, for I find that the Lord's eyes are seven. Wherefore, as I have narrated, that true Sabbath will be in the seventh millenary of years, when Christ with his elect shall reign.” Section 5.
This completes the testimony of Victorinus.
He evidently held that the Sabbath originated at the sanctification of the seventh day, but for the reasons here given, the most of which are trivial, and all of which are false, he held that it was abolished by Christ. His argument from the sixth psalm, and from Isaiah's violation of the Sabbath, is something extraordinary. He had an excellent opportunity to say that though the seventh-day Sabbath was abolished, yet we have the Christian Sabbath on the Lord's day to take its place. But he shows positively that he knew of no such institution; for he says, “That true and just Sabbath” will be “in the seventh millenary of years.”
This father wrote about A. D. 306. In his “Canon 15” he thus sets forth the celebration of the fourth, the sixth, and the first days of the week:
“No one shall find fault with us for observing the fourth day of the week, and the preparation [the sixth day], on which it is reasonably enjoined us to fast according to the tradition. On the fourth day, indeed, because on it the Jews took counsel for the betrayal of the Lord; and on the sixth, because on it he himself suffered for us. But the Lord's day we celebrate as a day of joy, because on it he rose again, on which day we have received it for a custom not even to bow the knee.”
On this Balsamon, an ancient writer whose commentary is appended to this canon, remarks that this canon is in harmony with the 64th apostolical canon, which declares “that we are not to fast on the Sabbath, with one exception, the great Sabbath” [the one connected with the passover] “and to the 69th canon, which severely punishes those who do not fast in the Holy Lent, and on every fourth day of the week and day of preparation.” So, it appears that they were commanded by the canons to fast on the fourth and sixth days of the week, and forbidden to do this on the Sabbath and first-day.
Zonaras, another ancient commentator upon the canons of Peter, gives us the authority upon which these observances rest. No one of these three days is honored by God's commandment. Zonaras mentions the fasts on the fourth and sixth days, and says no one will find fault with these. But he deems it proper to mark Peter's reason for the Lord's day festival, and the nature of that festival. Thus he says:
“But on the Lord's day we ought not to fast, for it is a day of joy for the resurrection of the Lord, and on it says he, we have received that we ought not even to bow the knee. This word, therefore, is to be carefully observed, `we have received' and `it is enjoined upon us according to the tradition.' For from hence it is evident that long-established custom was taken for law. Moreover, the great Basil annexes also the causes for which it was forbidden to bend the knee on the Lord's day, and from the passover to Pentecost.”
The honors which were conferred upon this so-called Lord's day are specified. They are two in number. 1. It was “a day of joy,” and therefore not a day of fasting. 2. On it they “ought not even to bow the knee.” This last honor however applied to the entire period of fifty days between the passover and the Pentecost as well as to each Sunday in the year. So that the first honor was the only one which belonged to Sunday exclusively. That honor excluded fasting, but it is never said to exclude labor, or to render it sinful. And the authority for these two first-day honors is frankly given. It is not the words of holy Scripture nor the commandment of God, but “it is enjoined upon us according to the tradition. For from hence it is evident that long-established custom was taken for law.” Such is the testimony of men who knew the facts. In our days men dare not thus acknowledge them and therefore they assert that the fourth commandment has been changed by divine authority, and that it is sinful to labor upon the first day of the week.
This father wrote about A. D. 308, and suffered martyrdom in A. D. 312. A considerable portion of his writings have come down to our time, but in them all I find not one mention of the first day of the week. He held to the perpetuity of the ten commandments, for he says of the beast with ten horns:
“Moreover, the ten horns and stings which he is said to have upon his heads are the ten opposites, O virgins, to the decalogue, by which he was accustomed to gore and cast down the souls of many, imagining and contriving things in opposition to the law, `Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,' and to the other precepts which follow.” - Banquet of the Ten Virgins, Discourse viii. chap. xiii.
In commenting on the feast of tabernacles (Lev.23:39-42) he says:
“These things being like air and phantom shadows, foretell the resurrection and the putting up of our tabernacle that had fallen upon the earth, which at length, in the seventh thousand of years, resuming again immortal, we shall celebrate the great feast of true tabernacles in the new and indissoluble creation, the fruits of the earth having been gathered in, and men no longer begetting and begotten, but God resting from the works of creation.” Discourse ix. chap.1.
Methodius understood the six days of creation, and the seventh day sanctified by the Creator, to teach that at the end of 6000 years the great day of joy shall come to the saints of God:
“For since in six days God made the heaven and the earth, and finished the whole world, and rested on the seventh day from all his works which he had made, and blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, so by a figure in the seventh month, when the fruits of the earth have been gathered in, we are commanded to keep the feast to the Lord, which signifies that, when this world shall be terminated at the seventh thousand years, when God shall have completed the world, he shall rejoice in us.” Discourse ix. chap. i. sect. 4.
In the fifth chapter of this discourse he speaks of the day of Judgment as “the millennium of rest, which is called the seventh day, even the true Sabbath.” He believed that each day of the first seven represented one thousand years, and so the true Sabbath of the Lord sets forth the final triumph of the saints in the seventh period of a thousand years. And in his work “On Things Created,” section 9, he refers to this representation of one day as a thousand years, and quotes in proof of it Ps.90:2,4. Then he says:
“For when a thousand years are reckoned as one day in the sight of God, and from the creation of the world to his rest is six days, so also to our time, six days are defined, as those say who are clever arithmeticians. Therefore, they say that an age of six thousand years extends from Adam to our time. For they say that the Judgment will come on the seventh day, that is, in the seventh thousand years.”
The only weekly Sabbath known to Methodius was the ancient seventh day sanctified by God in Eden. He does not intimate that this divine institution has been abolished; and what he says of the ten commandments implies the reverse of that, and he certainly makes no allusion to the festival of Sunday which on the authority of “custom” and “tradition” had been by so many elevated above the Sabbath of the Lord.
Lactantius was born in the latter half of the third century, was converted about A. D. 315, and died at Treves about A. D. 325. He was very eminent as a teacher of rhetoric, and was intrusted with the education of Crispus, the son of Constantine. The writings of Lactantius are quite extensive; they contain, however, no reference to the first day of the week. Of the Sabbath he speaks twice. In the first instance he says that one reason alleged by the Jews for rejecting Christ was,
“That he destroyed the obligation of the law given by Moses; that is, that he did not rest on the Sabbath, but labored for the good of men,” etc. - Divine Institutes, b. iv. chap. xvii.
It is not clear whether Lactantius believed that Christ violated the Sabbath, nor whether he did away with the moral law while teaching the abrogation of the ceremonial code. But he bears a most decisive testimony to the origin of the Sabbath at creation:
“God completed the world and this admirable work of nature in the space of six days (as is contained in the secrets of holy Scripture), and CONSECRATED the seventh day, on which he had rested from his works. But this is the Sabbath day, which in the language of the Hebrews received its name from the number, whence the seventh is the legitimate and complete number.” Book vii. chap. xiv.
It is certain that Lactantius did not regard the Sabbath as the memorial of the flight out of Egypt, but as that of the creation of the heavens and the earth. He also believed that the seven days prefigured the seven thousand years of our earth's history:
“Therefore, since all the works of God were completed in six days, the world must continue in its present state through six ages, that is, six thousand years. For the great day of God is limited by a circle of a thousand years, as the prophet shows, who says, `In thy sight, O Lord, a thousand years are as one day.' And as God labored during those six days in creating such great works, so his religion and truth must labor during these six thousand years, while wickedness prevails and bears rule. And again, since God, having finished his works, rested the seventh day and blessed it, at the end of the six thousandth year all wickedness must be abolished from the earth, and righteousness reign for a thousand years; and there must be tranquility and rest from the labors which the world now has long endured.” Book vii. chap. xiv.
TFS1st 10 TESTIMONY OF LACTANTIUS page 0108 paragraph 2 Thus much for Lactantius. He could not have believed in first-day sacredness, and there is no clear evidence that he held to the abrogation of the Sabbath. Finally we come to a poem on Genesis by an unknown author, but variously attributed to Cyprian, to Victorinus, to Tertullian, and to others.
“The seventh came, when God At his works' end did rest, DECREEING IT SACRED UNTO THE COMING AGES' JOYS.” Lines 51-53.
Here again we have an explicit testimony to the divine appointment of the seventh day to a holy use while man was yet in Eden the garden of God. And this completes the testimony of the fathers to the time of Constantine and the Council of Nice.
One thing is everywhere open to the reader's eye as he passes through these testimonies from the fathers: they lived in what may with propriety be called the age of apostatizing. The apostasy was not complete, but it was steadily developing itself. Some of the fathers had the Sabbath in the dust, and honored as their weekly festival the day of the sun, though claiming for it no divine authority. Others acknowledge the Sabbath as a divine institution which should be honored by all mankind in memory of the creation, and yet at the same time they exalt above it the festival of Sunday which they acknowledge had nothing but custom and tradition for its support. The end may be foreseen: in due time the Sunday festival obtained the whole ground for itself, and the Sabbath was driven out. Several things conspired to accomplish this result:
The progressive character of the work of apostasy with respect to the Sabbath is incidentally illustrated by what Giesler the distinguished historian of the church says of the Sabbath and first-day in his record of the first, the second, and the third centuries. Of the first century he says:
“Whilst the Christians of Palestine, who kept the whole Jewish law, celebrated of course all the Jewish festivals, the heathen converts observed only the Sabbath, and, in remembrance of the closing scenes of our Saviour's life, the passover (1Cor.5:6-8), though without the Jewish superstitions, Gal.4:10; Col.2:16. Besides these the Sunday as the day of our Saviour's resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1Cor.16:2; Rev.1:10, e kuriake emera, was devoted to religious worship.” - Giesler's Ecclesiastical History, vol. i. sect. 29, edition 1836.
Sunday having obtained a foothold, see how the case stands in the second century. Here are the words of Giesler again:
“Both Sunday and the Sabbath were observed as festivals; the latter however without Jewish superstitions therewith connected.” - Id. sect. 52.
This time, as Giesler presents the case, Sunday has begun to get the precedence. But when he gives the events of the third century he drops the Sabbath from his record and gives the whole ground to the Sunday and the yearly festivals of the church. Thus he says:
“In Origen's time the Christians had no general festivals, excepting the Sunday, the Parasceve (or preparation), the passover, and the feast of Pentecost. Soon after, however, the Christians in Egypt began to observe the festival of the Epiphany, on the sixth of January.” - Id. vol. i. sect. 70.
These three statements of Giesler, relating as they do to the first, second, and third centuries, are peculiarly calculated to mark the progress of the work of apostasy. Coleman tersely states this work in these words:
“The observance of the Lord's day was ordered while the Sabbath of the Jews was continued; nor was the latter superseded until the former had acquired the same solemnity and importance, which belonged, at first, to that great day which God originally ordained and blessed. . . .But in time, after the Lord's day was fully established, the observance of the Sabbath of the Jews was gradually discontinued, and was finally denounced as heretical.” - Ancient Christianity Exemplified, chap. xxvi., sect. 2.
We have traced the work of apostasy in the church of Christ, and have noted the combination of circumstances which contributed to suppress the Sabbath, and to elevate the first day of the week. And now we conclude this series of testimonies out of the fathers by stating the well-known but remarkable fact, that at the very point to which we are brought by these testimonies, the emperor Constantine while yet, according to Mosheim, a heathen, put forth the following edict concerning the ancient Sunday festival:
“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 by Heaven.”
By the act of a wicked man the heathen festival of Sunday has now ascended the throne of the Roman Empire. We cannot here follow its history through the long ages of papal darkness and apostasy. But as we close, we cite the words of Mosheim respecting this law as a positive proof that up to this time, as shown from the fathers, Sunday had been a day of ordinary labor when men were not engaged in worship. He says of it:
“The first day of the week, which was the ordinary and stated time for the public assemblies of the Christians, was, in consequence of a peculiar law enacted by Constantine, observed with greater solemnity than it had formerly been.” - Mosheim, century 4, part ii. chap. iv. sect. 5.
This law restrained merchants and mechanics, but did not hinder the farmer in his work. Yet it caused the day to be observed with greater solemnity than formerly it had been. These words are spoken with reference to Christians, and prove that in Mosheim's judgment, as a historian, Sunday was a day on which ordinary labor was customary and lawful with them prior to A. D. 321, as the record of the fathers indicates, and as many historians testify.
But even after this the Sabbath once more rallied, and became strong even in the so-called Catholic church, until the council of Laodicea A. D. 364 prohibited its observance under a grievous curse. Thence forward its history is principally to be traced in the records of those bodies which the Catholic church has anathematized as heretics.