ORIGIN OF FIRST-DAY OBSERVANCE
Sunday a heathen festival from remote antiquity - Origin of the name - Reasons which induced the leaders of the church to adopt this festival - It was the day generally observed by the Gentiles in the first centuries of the Christian era - To have taken a different day would have exceedingly inconvenient - They hoped to facilitate the conversion of the Gentiles by keeping the same day that they observed - Three voluntary weekly festivals in the church in memory of the Redeemer - Sunday soon elevated above the other two - Justin Martyr - Sunday observance first found in the church of Rome - Irenaeus - First act of papal usurpation was on behalf of Sunday - Tertullian - Earliest trace of abstinence from labor on Sunday - General statement of facts - The Roman church made its first great attack upon the Sabbath by turning it into a fast.
The festival of Sunday is more ancient than the Christian religion, its origin being lost in remote antiquity. It did not originate, however, from any divine command nor from piety toward God: on the contrary, it was set apart as a sacred day by the heathen world in honor of their chief god, the sun. It is from this fact that the first day of the week has obtained the name of Sunday, a name by which it is known in many languages. Webster thus defines the word:
And Worcester, in his large dictionary, uses similar language:
These lexicographers call Sunday the Christian Sabbath, etc., because in the general theological literature of our language, it is thus designated, though never thus in the Bible. Lexicographers do not undertake to settle theological questions, but simply to define terms as currently used in a particular language. Though all the other days of the week have heathen names, Sunday alone was a conspicuous heathen festival in the days of the early church. The North British Review, in a labored attempt to justify the observance of Sunday by the Christian world, styles that day, "THE WILD SOLAR HOLIDAY [i.e., festival in honor of the sun] OF ALL PAGAN TIMES."1
The same author thus speaks concerning the idols of our Saxon ancestors:
Jennings makes this adoration of the sun more ancient than the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. For, in speaking of the time of that deliverance, he speaks of the Gentiles as,
He represents them also as setting apart Sunday in honor of the same object of adoration:
The North British Review thus defends the introduction of this ancient heathen festival into the Christian church:
It would seem that something more potent than "patriotism" and "expediency" would be requisite to transform this heathen festival into the Christian Sabbath, or even to justify its introduction into the Christian church. A further statement of the reasons which prompted its introduction, and a brief notice of the earlier steps toward transforming it into a Christian institution, will occupy the remainder of this chapter. Chafie, a clergyman of the English Church, in 1652, published a work in vindication of first-day observance, entitled, "The Seventh-day Sabbath." After showing the general observance of Sunday by the heathen world in the early ages of the church, Chafie thus states the reasons which forbid the Christians attempting to keep any other day:
Thus it is seen that at the time when the early church began to apostatize from God and to foster in its bosom human ordinances, the heathen world - as they had long done - very generally observed the first day of the week in honor of the sun. Many of the early fathers of the church had been heathen philosophers. Unfortunately they brought with them into the church many of their old notions and principles. Particularly did it occur to them that by uniting with the heathen in the day of weekly celebration they should greatly facilitate their conversion. The reasons which induced the church to adopt the ancient festival of the heathen as something made ready to hand, are thus stated by Morer:-
In the time of Justin Martyr, Sunday was a weekly festival, widely celebrated by the heathen in honor of their god, the sun. And so, in presenting to the heathen emperor of Rome an "Apology" for his brethren, Justin takes care to tell him thrice that the Christians held their assemblies on this day of general observance.10 Sunday therefore makes its first appearance in the Christian church as an institution identical in time with the weekly festival of the heathen, and Justin, who first mentions this festival, had been a heathen philosopher. Sixty years later, Tertullian acknowledges that it was not without an appearance of truth that men declared the sun to be the god of the Christians. But he answered that though they worshiped toward the east like the heathen, and devoted Sunday to rejoicing, it was for a reason far different from sun-worship.11 And on another occasion, in defending his brethren from the charge of sun-worship, he acknowledges that these acts, prayer toward the east, and making Sunday a day of festivity, did give men a chance to think the sun was the God of the Christians.12 Tertullian is therefore a witness to the fact that Sunday was a heathen festival when it obtained a foothold in the Christian church, and that the Christians, in consequence of observing it, were taunted with being sun-worshipers. It is remarkable that in his replies he never claims for their observance any divine precept or apostolic example. His principal point was that they had as good a right to do it as the heathen had. One hundred and twenty one years after Tertullian, Constantine, while yet a heathen, put forth his famous edict in behalf of the heathen festival of the sun, which day he pronounced "venerable." And this heathen law caused the day to be observed everywhere throughout the Roman Empire, and firmly established it both in Church and State. It is certain, therefore, that at the time of its entrance into the Christian church, Sunday was an ancient weekly festival of the heathen world.
That this heathen festival was upon the day of Christ's resurrection doubtless powerfully contributed to aid "patriotism" and "expediency" in transforming it into the Lord's day or Christian Sabbath. For, with pious motives, as we may reasonably conclude, the professed people of God early paid a voluntary regard to several days, memorable in the history of the Redeemer. Mosheim, whose testimony in behalf of Sunday has been presented already, uses the following language relative to the crucifixion day:
And of the second century, he says:
Dr. Peter Heylyn says of those who chose Sunday:
Of the comparative sacredness of these three voluntary festivals, the same writer testifies:
And besides these three weekly festivals, there were also two annual festivals of great sacredness. These were the Passover and the Pentecost. And it is worthy of special notice that although the Sunday festival can be traced no higher in the church than Justin Martyr, A.D. 140, the Passover can be traced to a man who claimed to have received it from the apostles. See chapter thirteen. Among these festivals, considered simply as voluntary memorials of the Redeemer, Sunday had very little pre-eminence. For it is well stated by Heylyn:-
Domville bears the following testimony, which is worthy of lasting remembrance:
"Patriotism" and "expediency," however, erelong elevated immeasurably above its fellows that one of these voluntary festivals which corresponded to "the wild solar holiday" of the heathen world, making that day at last "the Lord's day" of the Christian church. The earliest testimony in behalf of first-day observance that has any claim to be regarded as genuine is that of Justin Martyr, written about A.D. 140. Before his conversion, he was a heathen philosopher. The time, place, and occasion of his first Apology or Defense of the Christians, addressed to the Roman Emperor, is thus stated by an eminent Roman Catholic historian. He says that Justin Martyr
Of the works ascribed to Justin Martyr, Milner says:
If the writings ascribed to him are genuine, there is little propriety in the use made of his name by the advocates of the first-day Sabbath. He taught the abrogation of the Sabbatic institution; and there is no intimation in his words that the Sunday festival which he mentions was other than a voluntary observance. Thus he addresses the emperor of Rome:
This passage, if genuine, furnishes the earliest reference to the observance of Sunday as a religious festival in the Christian church. It should be remembered that this language was written at Rome, and addressed directly to the emperor. It shows therefore what was the practice of the church in that city and vicinity, but does not determine how extensive this observance was. It contains strong incidental proof that apostasy had made progress at Rome; the institution of the Lord's supper being changed in part already to a human ordinance; water being now as essential to the Lord's supper as the wine or the bread. And what is still more dangerous as perverting the institution of Christ, the consecrated elements were sent to the absent, a step which speedily resulted in their becoming objects of superstitious veneration, and finally of worship. Justin tells the emperor that Christ thus ordained; but such a statement is a grave departure from the truth of the New Testament.
This statement of reasons for Sunday observance is particularly worthy of attention. He tells the emperor that they assembled upon the day called Sunday. This was equivalent to saying to him, We observe the day on which our fellow-citizens offer their adoration to the sun. Here both "patriotism" and "expediency" discover themselves in the words of Justin, which were addressed to a persecuting emperor in behalf of the Christians. But as if conscious that the observance of a heathen festival as the day of Christian worship was not consistent with their profession as worshipers of the Most High, Justin bethinks himself for reasons in defense of this observance. He assigns no divine precept nor apostolic example for this festival. For his reference to what Christ taught his disciples, as appears from the connection, was to the general system of the Christian religion, and not to the observance of Sunday. If it be said that Justin might have learned from tradition what is not to be found in the New Testament relative to Sunday observance, and that after all Sunday may be a divinely-appointed festival, it is sufficient to answer, 1. That this plea would show only tradition in favor of the Sunday festival. 2. That Justin Martyr is a very unsafe guide; his testimony relative to the Lord's supper differs from that of the New Testament. 3. That the American Tract Society, in a work which it publishes against Romanism, bears the following testimony relative to the point before us:
Justin assigns the following reasons in support of Sunday observance: "That being the first day in which God set himself to work upon the dark void in order to make the world, and in which Jesus Christ our Saviour rose again from the dead." Bishop Jeremy Taylor most fittingly replies to this:
It is to be observed, therefore, that the first trace of Sunday as a Christian festival is found in the church of Rome. Soon after this time, and thenceforward, we shall find "the bishop" of that church making vigorous efforts to suppress the Sabbath of the Lord, and to elevate in its stead the festival of Sunday.
It is proper to note the fact also that Justin was a decided opponent of the ancient Sabbath. In his "Dialogue with Trypho the Jew" he thus addressed him:
This reasoning of Justin deserves no reply. It shows, however, the unfairness of Dr. Edwards, who quotes Justin Martyr as a witness for the change of the Sabbath;25 whereas Justin held that God made the Sabbath on account of the wickedness of the Jews, and that he totally abrogated it in consequence of the first advent of Christ; the Sunday festival of the heathen being evidently adopted by the church at Rome from motives of "expediency" and perhaps of "patriotism." The testimony of Justin, if genuine, is peculiarly valuable in one respect. It shows that as late as A.D. 140 the first day of the week had acquired no title of sacredness; for Justin several times mentions the day: thrice as "the day called Sunday;" and twice as "the eighth day;" and by other terms also, but never by any sacred name.26
The next important witness in behalf of first-day sacredness is thus presented by Dr. Edwards:
This testimony is highly valued by first-day writers, and is often and prominently set forth in their publications. Sir Wm. Domville, whose elaborate treatise on the Sabbath has been several times quoted, states the following important fact relative to this quotation:
It is a remarkable fact that those who quote this as the language of Irenaeus, if they give any reference, cite their readers to Dwight's Theology instead of referring them to the place in the works of Irenaeus where it is to be found. It was Dr. Dwight who first enriched the theological world with this invaluable quotation. Where, then, did Dwight obtain this testimony which has so many times been given as that of Irenaeus? On this point Domville remarks:
Domville states another fact which gives us unquestionably the origin of this quotation:
Such, then, is the end of this famous testimony of Irenaeus, who had it from Polycarp, who had it from the apostles! It was furnished the world by a man whose eyesight was impaired; who in consequence of this infirmity took at second hand an interpolated passage from an epistle falsely ascribed to Ignatius, and published it to the world as the genuine testimony of Irenaeus. Loss of eyesight, as we may charitably believe, led Dr. Dwight into the serious error which he has committed; but by the publication of this spurious testimony, which seemed to come in a direct line from the apostles, he has rendered multitudes as incapable of reading aright the fourth commandment, as he, by loss of natural eyesight, was of reading Irenaeus for himself. This case admirably illustrates tradition as a religious guide; it is the blind leading the blind until both fall into the ditch.
Nor is this all that should be said in the case of Irenaeus. In all his writings there is no instance in which he calls Sunday the Lord`s day! And what is also very remarkable, there is no sentence extant written by him in which he even mentions the first day of the week!31 It appears, however, from several statements in ancient writers, that he did mention the day, though no sentence of his in which it is mentioned is in existence. He held that the Sabbath was a typical institution, which pointed to the seventh thousand years as the great day of rest to the church;32 he said that Abraham was "without observance of Sabbaths;"33 and yet he makes the origin of the Sabbath to be the sanctification of the seventh day.34 But he expressly asserts the perpetuity and authority of the ten commandments, declaring that they are identical with the law of nature implanted from the beginning in mankind, that they remain permanently with us, and that if any one does not observe them he has no salvation."35
It is a remarkable fact that the first instance upon record in which the bishop of Rome attempted to rule the Christian church was by AN EDICT IN BEHALF OF SUNDAY. It had been the custom of all the churches to celebrate the passover, but with this difference: that while the eastern churches observed it upon the fourteenth day of the first month, no matter what day of the week this might be, the western churches kept it upon the Sunday following that day; or rather, upon the Sunday following Good Friday. Victor, bishop of Rome, in the year 196,36 took upon him to impose the Roman custom upon all the churches; that is, to compel them to observe the passover upon Sunday. "This bold attempt," says Bower, "we may call the first essay of papal usurpation."37 And Dowling terms it the "earliest instance of Romish assumption."38 The churches of Asia Minor informed Victor that they could not comply with his lordly mandate. Then, says Bower:
The historian informs us that "not one followed his example or advice; not one paid any sort of regard to his letters, or showed the least inclination to second him in such a rash and uncharitable attempt." He further says:
The victory was not obtained for Sunday in this struggle, as Heylyn testifies,
Constantine, by whose powerful influence the Council of Nice was induced to decide this question in favor of the Roman bishop that is, to fix the passover upon Sunday, urged the following strong reason for the measure:
This sentence is worthy of notice. A determination to have nothing in common with the Jews had very much to do with the suppression of the Sabbath in the Christian church. Those who rejected the Sabbath of the Lord and chose in its stead the more popular and more convenient Sunday festival of the heathen, were so infatuated with the idea of having nothing in common with the Jews, that they never even questioned the propriety of a festival in common with the heathen.
This festival was not weekly, but annual; but the removal of it from the fourteenth of the first month to the Sunday following Good Friday was the first legislation attempted in honor of Sunday as a Christian festival; and as Heylyn quaintly expresses it, "The Lord`s day found it no small matter to obtain the victory.43 In a brief period after the Council of Nice, by the laws of Theodosius, capital punishment was inflicted upon those who should celebrate the feast of the passover upon any other day than Sunday.44 The Britons of Wales were long able to maintain their ground against this favorite project of the Roman church, and as late as the sixth century "obstinately resisted the imperious mandates of the Roman pontiffs."45
Four years after the commencement of the struggle just narrated, bring us to the testimony of Tertullian, the oldest of the Latin fathers, who wrote about A.D. 200. Dr. Clarke tells us that the fathers "blow hot and cold." Tertullian is a fair example of this. He places the origin of the Sabbath at the creation, but elsewhere says that the patriarchs did not keep it. He says that Joshua broke the Sabbath at Jericho, and afterward shows that he did not break it. He says that Christ broke the Sabbath, and in another place proves that he did not. He represents the eighth day as more honorable than the seventh, and elsewhere states the reverse. He states that the law is abolished, and in other places teaches its perpetuity and authority. He declares that the Sabbath was abrogated by Christ, and afterward asserts that "Christ did not at all rescind the Sabbath," but imparted "an additional sanctity" to "the Sabbath day itself, which from the beginning had been consecrated by the benediction of the Father." And he goes on to say that Christ "furnished to this day divine safeguards - a course which his adversary would have pursued for some other days, to avoid honoring the Creator's Sabbath."
This last statement is very remarkable. The Saviour furnished additional safeguards to the Creator's Sabbath. But "his adversary" would have done this to some other days. Now it is plain, first, that Tertullian did not believe that Christ sanctified some other day to take the place of the Sabbath; and second, that he believed the consecration of another day to be the work of the adversary of God! When he wrote these words he certainly did not believe in the sanctification of Sunday by Christ. But Tertullian and his brethren found themselves observing as a festival that day on which the sun was worshipped, and they were, in consequence, taunted with being worshipers of the sun. Tertullian denies the charge, though he acknowledges that there was some appearance of truth in it. He says:
Tertullian pleads no divine command nor apostolic example for this practice. In fact, he offers no reason for the practice, though he intimates that he had one to offer. But he finds it necessary in another work to repel this same charge of sun-worship, because of Sunday observance. In this second answer to this charge he states the ground of defense more distinctly, and here we shall find his best reason. These are his words:
Tertullian, in this discourse, addresses himself to the nations still in idolatry. With some of these, Sunday was an ancient festival; with others, it was of comparatively recent date. But some of these heathen reproached the Sunday Christians with being sun-worshipers. And now observe the answer. He does not say, "We Christians are commanded to celebrate the first day of the week in honor of Christ`s resurrection." His answer is doubtless the best that he knew how to frame. It is a mere retort, and consists in asserting, first, that the Christians had done no more than their accusers, the heathen; and second, that they had as good a right to make Sunday a day of festivity as had the heathen!
The origin of first-day observance has been the subject of inquiry in this chapter. We have found that Sunday from remote antiquity was a heathen festival in honor of the sun, and that in the first centuries of the Christian era this ancient festival was in general veneration in the heathen world. We have learned that patriotism and expediency, and a tender regard for the conversion of the Gentile world, caused leaders of the church to adopt as their religious festival the day observed by the heathen, and to retain the same name which the heathen had given it. We have seen that the earliest instance upon record of the actual observance of Sunday in the Christian church, is found in the church of Rome about A.D. 140. The first great effort in its behalf, A.D. 196, is by a singular coincidence the first act of papal usurpation. The first instance of a sacred title being applied to this festival, and the earliest trace of abstinence from labor on that day, are found in the writings of Tertullian at the close of the second century. The origin of the festival of Sunday is now before the reader; the steps by which it has ascended to supreme power will be pointed out in their proper order and place.
One fact of deep interest will conclude this chapter. The first great effort made to put down the Sabbath was the act of the church of Rome in turning it into a fast while Sunday was made a joyful festival. While the eastern churches retained the Sabbath, a portion of the western churches, with the church of Rome at their head, turned it into a fast. As a part of the western churches refused to comply with this ordinance, a long struggle ensued, the result of which is thus stated by Heylyn:
Wm. James, in a sermon before the University of Oxford, thus states the time when this fast originated:
Thus it is seen that this struggle began with the third century, that is, immediately after the year 200. Neander thus states the motive of the Roman church:
By Judaism, Neander meant the observance of the seventh day as the Sabbath. Dr. Charles Hase, of Germany, states the object of the Roman church in very explicit language:
Lord King attests this fact in the following words:
Thus the Sabbath of the Lord was turned into a fast in order to render it despicable before men. Such was the first great effort of the Roman church toward the suppression of the ancient Sabbath of the Bible.
4 Jewish Antiquities, book iii. chap. i. See also McClintock and Strong's Cyclopedia, 4, 472, article Idolatry; Dr. A. Clarke on Job 1:26; and Dr. Gill on the same; Webster under the word Sabianism, and Worcester, under Sabian. <Return>39 History of the Popes, vol. i. p. 18. <Return>
47 Tertullian Ad Nationes, book i. chap. xiii. <Return>
48 History of the Sabbath, part 2, chap. ii. sect. 3. <Return>
49 Sermons on the Sacraments and Sabbath, p. 166. <Return>
50 Neander, p. 186. <Return>
51 Ancient Church History, part i. div. 2, A.D. 100-312. sect. 69. <Return>
52 Enquiry into the Constitution of the Primitive Church, part ii. chap.. vii. sect. 11. See also Schaff`s "History of the Christian Church," vol. i. p. 373 <Return>