Cyprian wrote about A. D. 255. I find only two references to Sunday in his works. The first is in his thirty-second epistle (the thirty-eighth of the Oxford edition), in which he says of one Aurelius that "he reads on the Lord's day" for him. But in the second instance he defines the meaning of the term, and gives evidence in support of his application of it to the first day of the week. He is arguing in behalf of infant baptism, or rather in controverting the opinion that baptism should be deferred till the child is eight days old. Though the command to circumcise infants when eight days of age is one of the chief grounds of authority for infant baptism, yet the time in that precept according to Cyprian does not indicate the age of the child to be baptized, but prefigures the fact that the eighth day is the Lord's day. Thus he says:
"For in respect of the observance of the eighth day in the Jewish circumcision of the flesh, a sacrament was given beforehand in shadow and in usage; but when Christ came, it was fulfilled in truth. For because the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, was to be that on which the Lord should rise again, and should quicken us, and give us circumcision of the Spirit, the eighth day, that is, the first day after the Sabbath, and the Lord's day, went before in the figure; which figure ceased when by and by the truth came, and spiritual circumcision was given to us." - Epistle 1viii. sect.4; in the Oxford edition, Epistle 1xiv.
Circumcision is made to prove twin errors of the great apostasy, infant baptism, and that the eighth day is the Lord's day. But the eighth day in the case of circumcision was not the day succeeding the seventh, that is, the first day of the week, but the eighth day of the life of each infant, and therefore it fell on one day of the week as often as upon another. Such is the only argument addressed by Cyprian for first-day sacredness, and this one seems to have been borrowed from Justin Martyr, who, as we have seen, used it about one hundred years before him. It is however quite as weighty as the argument of Clement of Alexandria, who adduced in its support what he calls a prophecy of the eighth day out of the writings of the heathen philosopher Plato! And both are in the same rank with that of Tertullian, who confessed that they had not the authority of Scripture, but accepted in its stead that of custom and tradition!
In his "Exhortation to Martyrdom," section 11, Cyprian quotes the larger part of Matt.24, and in that quotation at verse 20, the Sabbath is mentioned, but he says nothing concerning that institution. In his "Testimonies against the Jews," book i., sections 9 and 10, he says "that the former law which was given by Moses, was about to cease," and that "a new law was to be given;" and in the conclusion of his "Treatise against the Jews," section 119, he says "that the yoke of the law was heavy which is cast off by us," but it is not certain that he meant to include in these statements the precepts of the moral law.
This father, who was one of Origen's disciples, wrote about A. D. 260. In the first canon of his "Epistle to Bishop Basilides" he treats of "the proper hour for bringing the fast to a close on the day of Pentecost." He has occasion to quote what the four evangelists say of the Sabbath and first-day in connection with the resurrection of Christ. But in doing this he adds not one word expressive of first-day sacredness, nor does he give it any other title than that of plain "first day of the week." The seventh day is simply called "the Sabbath." He also speaks of "the preparation and the Sabbath" as the "last two days" of a six days' fast, at the anniversary of the week of Christ's death.
This father wrote about A. D. 270. He participated in the discussion of the question whether the festival of Easter or passover should be celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month, the same day on which the Jews observed the passover, or whether it should be observed on the so-called Lord's day next following. In this discussion he uses the term Lord's day, in his first canon once, quoting it from Origen; in his seventh, twice; in his tenth, twice; in his eleventh, four times; in his twelfth, once; in his sixteenth, twice. These are all the instances in which he uses the term. We quote such of them as shed any light upon the meaning of it as used by him. In his seventh canon he says: "The obligation of the Lord's resurrection binds to keep the paschal festival on the Lord's day." In his tenth canon he uses this language: "The solemn festival of the resurrection of the Lord can be celebrated only on the Lord's day." And also "that it should not be lawful to celebrate the Lords mystery of the passover at any other time but on the Lord's day, on which the resurrection of the Lord from death took place, and on which rose also for us the cause of everlasting joy." In his eleventh canon he says: "On the Lord's day was it that light was shown to us in the beginning, and now also in the end, the comforts of all present and the tokens of all future blessings." In his sixteenth canon he says: "Our regard for the Lord's resurrection which took place on the Lord's day will lead us to celebrate it on the same principle."
The reader may be curious to know why a controversy should have arisen respecting the proper day for the celebration of the passover in the Christian church when no such celebration had ever been commanded. The explanation is this: The festival was celebrated solely on the authority of tradition, and there were in this case two directly conflicting traditions as is fully shown in the tenth canon of this father. One party had their tradition from John the apostle, and held that the paschal feast should be celebrated every year "whenever the fourteenth day of the moon had come, and the lamb was sacrificed by the Jews." But the other party had their tradition from the apostles Peter and Paul that this festival should not be celebrated on that day, but upon the so-called Lord's day next following. And so a fierce controversy arose which was decided in A. D. 325, by the council of Nice, in favor of Saint Peter, who had on his side his pretended successor, the powerful and crafty bishop of Rome.
The term Lord's day is never applied to Sunday till the closing years of the second century. And Clement who is the first to make such an application, represents the true Lord's day as made up of every day of the Christian's life. And this opinion is avowed by others after him.
But after we enter the third century the name Lord's day is quite frequently applied to Sunday. Tertullian who lived at the epoch where we first find this application, frankly declares that the festival of Sunday to which he gives the name of Lord's day had no Scriptural authority, but that it was founded upon tradition. But should not the traditions of the third century be esteemed sufficient authority for calling Sunday the Lord's day? The very men of that century who speak thus of Sunday strenuously urge the observance of the feast of the passover. Shall we accept this festival which they offer to us on the authority of their apostolic tradition? As if to teach us the folly of adding tradition to the Bible as a part of our rules of faith, it happens that there are even from the early part of the second century two directly conflicting traditions as to what day should be kept for the passover. And one party had theirs from Saint John, the other had theirs from Saint Peter, and Saint Paul! And it is very remarkable that although each of these parties claimed to know from one or the other of these apostles that they had the right day for the passover and the other had the wrong one, there is never a claim by one of these fathers that Sunday is the Lord's day because John on the isle of Patmos called it such! If men in the second and third centuries were totally mistaken in their traditions respecting the passover, as they certainly were, shall we consider the traditions of the third century sufficient authority for asserting that the title of Lord's day belongs to Sunday by apostolic authority?
This person was a native of Africa, and does not appear to have even held any office in the Christian church. He wrote about A. D. 270. The only allusions made by him to the Sabbath are in the following words addressed to the Jews:
"There is not an unbelieving people such as yours. O evil men! in so many places, and so often rebuked by the law of those who cry aloud. And the Lofty One despises your Sabbaths, and altogether rejects your universal monthly feasts according to law, that ye should not make to him the commanded sacrifices; who told you to throw a stone for your offense." - Instructions in favor of Christian Discipline, sect.40.
This statement is very obscure, and there is nothing in the connection that sheds any light upon it. His language may have reference to the ceremonial sabbaths, or it may include also the Sabbath of the Lord. If it includes the Sabbath made for man it may be intended like the words of Isa.1:13,14, to rebuke the hypocrisy of those who profess to keep it rather than to condemn the institution itself.
He makes only one use of the term Lord's day, and that is as obscure as is his reference to the subject of the Sabbath. Here it is:
"Neither dost thou fear the Lord, who cries aloud with such an utterance; even he who commands us to give food even to our enemies. Look forward to thy meals from that Tobias who always on every day shared them entirely with the poor man. Thou seekest to feed him, O fool, who feedeth thee again. Dost thou wish that he should prepare for me, who is setting before him his burial? The brother oppressed with want, nearly languishing away, cries out at the splendidly fed, and with distended belly, What sayest thou of the Lord's day? If he have not placed himself before, call forth a poor man from the crowd whom thou mayest take to thy dinner. In the tablets is your hope from a Christ refreshed." Section 61.
Whether Commodianus meant to charge his brethren to relieve the hungry on one day only of the week, or whether he held to such a Lord's day as that of Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others (namely one that includes every day of the life of him who refrains from sin), and so would have his brethren imitate Tobias who fed the hungry every day, must be left undetermined. He could not have believed that Sunday was the Lord's day by divine appointment, for he refers to the passover festival (which rests solely upon the traditions and commandments of men) as coming "once in the year" and he designates it as "Easter that day of ours most blessed." Section 75. The day of the passover was therefore in his estimation the most sacred day in the Christian church.
This person wrote about A. D. 277, or according to the other authorities he wrote not far from A. D. 300. He flourished in Mesopotamia. What remains of his writings is simply the record of his "Disputation with Manes," the heretic. I do not find that he ever uses the term "Lord's day." He introduces the Sabbath and states his views of it thus:
"Moses, that illustrious servant of God, committed to those who wished to have the right vision, an emblematic law, and also a real law. Thus, to take an example, after God had made the world, and all things that are in it, in the space of six days, he rested on the seventh day from all his works; by which statement I do not mean to affirm that he rested because he was fatigued, but that he did so as having brought to its perfection every creature which he had resolved to introduce. And yet in the sequel it (the new law) says: `My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.' Does that mean, then, that he is still making heavens, or sun, or man, or animals, or trees, of any such thing? Nay; but the meaning is, that when these visible objects were perfectly finished, he rested from that kind of work; while, however, he still continues to work at objects invisible with an inward mode of action, and saves men. In like manner, then, the legislator desires also that every individual among us should be devoted unceasingly to this kind of work, even as God himself is; and he enjoins us consequently to rest continuously from secular things, and to engage in no worldly sort of work whatsoever; and this is called our Sabbath. This he also added in the law, that nothing senseless should be done, but that we should be careful and direct our life in accordance with what is just and righteous." Section 31.
These words appear to teach that he held to a perpetual Sabbath like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and others. Yet this does not seem possible, inasmuch as, unlike Justin who despises what he calls days of "idleness," this writer says that we are "to engage in no worldly sort of work whatsoever; and this is called our Sabbath." It is hardly possible that he could hold it a wicked thing to labor on one or all of the six working days. Yet he either means to assert that it is sinful to work on a single one of the days, or else he asserts the perpetual obligation of that Sabbath which it is manifest he believed originated when God set apart the seventh day, and which he acknowledges on the authority of what "he added in the law." We shall shortly come to his final statement, which seems clearly to show that the second of these views was the one held by the writer.
After showing in this same section that the death penalty at the hand of the magistrate for the violation of the Sabbath is no longer in force because of forgiveness through the Saviour, and after answering the objection of Manes in sections 40, 41, 42, that Christ in healing on the Sabbath directly contradicted what Moses did to those who in his time violated the Sabbath, he states his views of the perpetuity of the ancient Sabbath in very clear language. Thus he says:
"Again, as to the assertion that the Sabbath has been abolished, we deny that he has abolished it plainly (plane); for he was himself also Lord of the Sabbath. And this (the law's relation to the Sabbath) was like the servant who has charge of the bridegroom's couch, and who prepares the same with all carefulness, and does not suffer it to be disturbed or touched by any stranger, but keeps it intact against the time of the bridegroom's arrival; so that when he is come, the bed may be used as it pleases himself, or as it is granted to those to use it whom he has bidden enter along with him." Section 42.
Three things are plainly taught. 1. The law sacredly guarded the Sabbath till the coming of Christ. 2. When Christ came, he did not abolish the Sabbath, for he was its Lord. 3. And the whole tenor of this writer's language shows that he had no knowledge of the change of the Sabbath in honor of Christ's resurrection, nor does he even once allude to the first day of the week.