ENGLISH DISSENTERS: Sabbatarians
The Sabbath, or Shabot in Hebrew literally means to rest. The early Christians observed the Jewish Sabboth until the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 364) banned the practice on pain of excommunication. Sunday worship was established as the norm.
Sabbatarianism is a specific Christian belief in the nature of and the observance of the Jewish Sabbath as the the Day of Rest. Sabbatarians have observed various Jewish traditions related to the Jewish Sabbath on Saturday rather than the Christian Sunday. Sabbatarianism developed out of the Radical Reformation, and was most popular in Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
An early center of Sabbatarianism was the Socinianism (Unitarian) congregations of Hungary during the late 16th century. An early effort was made to stamp out the practice, while it spread into the Reformed Church.
The practice spread westward finding converts in many denominations including the Roman Church. Some Sabbatarians practiced in the public, while others practiced in private. Large numbers of congregations were often converted in some regions, which caused great concerns at the State level.
Sabbatarianism was not an organized sect, but rather a general belief in maintaining many of the traditional Jewish laws and observances associated with the early Church. Some argued on a scriptural basis that Sunday worship had been imposed by the Roman Church, and not by the Scriptures.
The level of observance varied from group to group. Some groups were accused of reverting to an early form of Judaism. Some members only observed the Jewish Sabbath rather than Sunday, and followed some included the Jewish dietary rules. Some Sabbatarians also practiced "believers' baptism".
By the early seventeenth century, Sabbatarianism had spread throughout most of Europe to some degree. Sabbatarians of various persuasions were showing up within many Protestant denominations, and sects.
Sabbatarians were known in England from the time of Elizabeth 1 (1558-1601). Some Dutch Anabaptists embraced Sabbatarianism, and may have helped to introduce these beliefs into England. Socinians and Reformed Church members were also know to hold Sabbatarian beliefs.
Sabbatarian views were also to be found within the Church of England in one form or another. Even the puritans were known to harbor Sabbatarian views. Access to an English Bible allowed scriptural study and questioning of Church doctrines including the Christian Sunday.
English Sabbatarianism is
generally associated with two individuals:
Traskites were an English
sect of the followers of
John Traske was born in East Coker, Somerset. He had been a schoolteacher by profession until his ordination ca. 1611 in Salisbury. He probably held Sabbatarian views before his ordination.
Traske was known for his preaching abilities and was successful in winning converts. A strong dose of Calvinism with his emphasis on the Jewish Sabbath prompted a contemporary to describe Traske as "a puritan minister lately grown half a Jew".
Traske moved to London about 1615, and published his work: A Pearle for a Prince, or a Princely Pearl on baptism. He was sent to Newgate Prison for his writing.
In 1617, Traske
established a Traskite Sabbatarian congregation in London. 1617 was an
important year for Traske, he married his second wife
Traskite Sabbatarians generally held the the following beliefs: 1) a literal Fourth Commandment; 2) Christ did not change the Sabbath; 3) God had created the Seventh day to rest. There also observed many of the Mosaic Laws especially in regards to dietary laws. Traske may have initially observed Sunday worship, and than changed about 1617.
In 1618, the Court of High Commission had Traske arrested and imprisoned. He than appeared before the Star Chamber, and was given a severe sentence. He seems to have escaped the full impact his sentence when he recanted his views in 1619. Traske tried to reinstate himself within the Church.
The period from 1620-30
is a little vague. John Traske was active as an itinerant preacher spreading
the virtues of Calvinism and his Sabbatarians views in and around Devonshire.
Traske became so busy that he ordained four men to assist him in his ministry.
He also spent part of this period as the private chaplain to the household of
By 1630 if not earlier, John Traske had returned to London and joined the Jacob-Lathrop congregation until his death in 1636. He would seem to had renounced his Sabbatarian views. He was arrested by the High Court of Commission in 1636 regarding Sabbatarian organizations in England but renounced any dealings with them. After a short period in Poultry Counter (Prison) in London, Traske became ill and died a short time later from poor health.
A major concern of the
High Court of Commission in 1636 was John Traske's wife
Theophilus Brabourne (1590-1662) was an Anglican priest ca. 1621-42. Unlike John Traske, Brabourne attempted to incorporate the Jewish Sabbath observances into the general practices of the Church of England. There is little indication of any attempts of starting another Sabbatarian sect.
Brabourne's major contribution to English Sabbatarianism was through his scholarly writings. Brabourne's writing reflects some of the earlier Puritan Sabbatarian influences. His first work: A Discourse upon the Sabbath Day; ... (1628) argued for the practice of Saturday Sabbath based on scriptural arguments to the Church of England.
His second work: A Defence Of that most Ancint and Sacred ordinance of GOD the Sabbath Day, ... (1632) was basically a revised and expanded second edition of his earlier work: A Discourse upon the Sabbath Day; ... (1628).
In 1634, he was being held at the Gatehouse (Westminster) for holding heretical views. The Court of High Commission was interested in his Sabbatarian writings. From later 1634 to early 1635, Brabourne had an extended conversation with officials of the Church over his agreed upon personal recantation. The final document was a rather carefully worded document acceptable to all parties concerned.
Brabourne soon found himself back in Norwich as a priest in 1635. Brabourne always held that his carefully worded recant was not a negative statement on Sabbatarians. His recent brush with the State resulted in a lowered public image from 1635-54.
After receiving a family inheritance in 1648, Brabourne left the Church to continue his research and to write. From 1654-60, Brabourne published at least seven religious works. One of his last works: Of the Seventh Day (1660) restated Brabourne's scriptural research on the Saturday Sabbath.
Brabourne's writings were a major source of scriptural research for later Sabbatarians. He was not the only author during this period, but his writings provided the scholarly research that was often lacking in other writers on the subject.
Other English religious sects embraced various levels of Sabbatarianism. Prominent among these were the General Baptists and the Particular Baptists. By 1650 a number of Seventh-Day Baptist congregations were established in London, and throughout England. A number of Independent congregations also embraced the Jewish Sabbath, and the Mosaic traditions to greater or lesser degrees.
The Mill Yard Church (London) is often considered one of the first established Sabbatarian congregations in London. Its exact beginnings are still unclear. It may have developed from a Seventh-Day Baptist congregation.
Dr. Peter Chamberlen, John More, or William Saller are often named as the first possible Elders. John James (d. 1660) was an Elder until his arrest, trial and rather cruel death at the hands of the Government in 1660. James was accused of being a Fifth Monarchy Man on marginal charges at best, but he became an object lesson of the Governmental anger.
The Lothbury Square (London) congregation (1652-54) in London was a short-lived endeavor. Peter Chamberlen and John More, or Moore, established a Sabbatarian congregation with possible connections with the earlier Mill Yard Church (London).
A prominent London pastor Henry Jessey (d. 1663), of the Jacob-Lathrop-Jessey congregation developed Sabbatarian leaning in the mid-1650s. He and his congregation would be linked with Sabbatarianism. Jessey became associated with the Fifth Monarchy Men until the Restoration (1660).
Some of the better-known Sabbatarian congregations in London were:
Coleman Street, Swan Alley (London) congregation to ca. 1661. The parish and church were heavily linked to the Fifth Monarchy Men. Arms and ammunition were found there in 1657. It was a favorite meeting place for Fifth Monarchists.
The Bell Lane (London) congregation (ca. 1662- ) of Particular/Calvinist Baptists under the leadership of John Belcher (d. 1695), or Bellchar. Belcher was a bricklayer by profession and itinerant preacher with Fifth Monarchist leanings. He was arrested with John Canne and Wentworth Day in Swan Alley in 1658 as Fifth Monarchy Men.
There was a close relationship from 1650-61 between Sabbatarians and the Fifth Monarchist movement. Many of these Sabbatarian congregations survived the Restoration (1660). Sabbatarianism would continue to grow and prosper in England into the eighteenth century.
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