4th edition



Chapter XVIII

This chapter
(406-408)... Sunday the Universal, Legal Weekly Holiday
(409-410)... Canons of the council of Laodicea
(411-412)... Sunday Fasting Anathematized
(412-414)... Civil Legislation--Laws of Valentinian, Valaens, Theodosius (Sen.)
(413-414)... Councils troublesome occasions
(414-)......... Agitation for the Change of the Heathen Name
(414-415)... Church Attendance and Communion Service Enforced on Sunday
(415-418)... Attendance at Shows Forbidden
(418-420)... Athanasius
(420-422)... Macarius, Hilary, Epiphanius, Basil and Gregory of Nyassa
(422).........Ambrose and Nazianzen
(422-423)... Jerome
(423-427)... Augustine
(427-429)... Chrysostom
(429-430)... Apostolic Constitutions
(430-432)...Paganized Christian Worship
(432-433)... Christmas
(433)......... Wilberforce on Sunday Evolution
(434-435)... Court sessions of the “Rightly” Called Lord’s Day Sacrilegious


By the almost simultaneous enactments of state and church, Sunday, hitherto voluntarily observed in honor of the rising sun and as a memorial of the resurrection, was transformed into a weekly legal holiday, and a binding religious ordinance, in which the rests of pagan and Catholic were made to synchronize. In the eyes of the pagan the day of the sun, in its weekly recurrence, was henceforth venerable unto him by his highest civil and ecclesiastical authority. In the eyes of the Catholic it was the weekly holiday enjoined by the imperial law, and sanctioned by an ordinance of the general council. Thus the highest civil and ecclesiastical authorities enforced Sunday as the universal legal weekly holiday for all the subjects of the vast empire. But these legal holidays were only regarded as rest days from the common vocations of life in so far as the enacted laws demanded.

Influenced by Gnostic theology, which had spiritualized the law and the Sabbath into a no-law and no-day theory, the church Fathers had hitherto “usually explained the Sabbath of the commandment as meaning the new era, which had been introduced by the advent of Christ, and interpreted the rest enjoined as cessation from sin.”1
Accordingly, the members of their flock, after having attended the early morning assembly, would follow their occupation. Constantine’s Sunday laws only paved the way for services during the day, and yet he ordained markets, let the country people work, and put no restraint on the pursuit of pleasure. Furthermore, as the church Fathers had spiritualized the “rest” into ceasing from sin, the Catholic could be urged to rest on Sunday only to that degree prescribed by the civil and ecclesiastical laws.

As to the manner in which the pagans spent their holidays, we had occasion to note the complaints of Tertullian as to the excesses committed by them on their feast-days, and how the Christians were influenced by them to join them in their pleasures. With the declining empire, and the increasing apostasy of the church, the succeeding church Fathers were caused to lament this pleasure-seeking tendency more and more. As there was no divine command advanced demanding rest, the only seeming remedy was to be sought in the increase of state and church Sunday legislation.

Again, asceticism had steadily increased, and with it, fasting had become a standing custom with some. This was especially true of sects of Gnostic tendency, such as the Cerdonians, Marcionites, Priscillianists, Manicheans, etc. As Sunday had become a church ordinance of a joyous nature, upon which fasting was forbidden, this tendency to observe no day, and to fast upon any day, had to be restrained by church councils pronouncing anathemas against Sunday fasting.

Further, since the day of the sun was the heathen designation of the first day of the week, used also by the pagan state in its civil laws, there would naturally accompany the increasing sanctity of the day and the change into a “Christian” empire, an agitation in favor of conferring some legal Christian title upon it.

Finally, the believers I the binding claims of the true Sabbath would, constrained by God’s law and Sprit, continue to rest upon it according to the commandment, unless they were restrained from doing so by civil and ecclesiastical laws of human origin. The matter relating to the Sabbath, we shall set forth in the next chapter, and ample evidence will be forthcoming establishing what we have just asserted about Sunday.

That the sanctification of Sunday was not commanded by the church before the fourth century, is thus attested by a standard Catholic Church lexicon: “The sanctification of Sunday appears as a commandment of the church in the beginning of the fourth century.” 2


The first general council legislating on Sunday was that of Nicaea, held only four years after the enactment of the first Sunday law. The next authentic council is that of Laodicea, held between 343 and 381 A.D. The following canons of this council touch both Sabbath and Sunday:--

The following comment of Hefele is helpful to a full understanding of canon 16: “It was also the custom in many provinces of the ancient church to observe Saturday as the feast of creation,” 4

A careful reading of the four canons reveals that stress is laid upon “especially” honouring Sunday (canon 29), and, “as being Christians,” they “shall, if possible, do no work on that day.” An anathema is placed upon him who strictly rests on the Sabbath -- he is to be excommunicated. On the other hand, to make the transition somewhat easier to those who feared this excommunication, Saturday is to enjoy the same privileges as Sunday, even during Lent, bread can be offered upon it, and the memorial services of the saints may be held. Yea, being as yet observed by many as the “feast of creation,” the Holy Scriptures are still to be read upon it. The Sabbath is tolerated as a holy day on an equal footing with Sunday, but it dare not be kept as a rest day.. Thus Sunday is elevated, and the Sabbath degraded. This furnishes another positive proof that Sunday was not regarded as the Sabbath.

“Dr. Heurtley, in commenting on the words ‘if possible,’ observes that probably the early Christians were not masters of their own time,” 5 This tells the whole tale: a holy day in memory of the resurrection worked no hardship, since imperial law had sanctioned it as such, and it was popular even among the pagans; but a rest day at that time would have worked hardship, since the civil law had not as yet made provision for it.

This same council forbade participation in the festivities of the Jews and the pagans.


About this time the council of Gangra was held. It pronounced the anathema of the church against those who, on account of their pretended asceticism, made Sunday a day of fasting (for they were not Catholics at all, but savoured of the Manichean heresy), as well as against those who despised the house of God, and frequented schismatically assemblies. 6
The great effort the Catholic Church had to put forth to stop fasting on Sunday is best seen from Bingham’s long list of councils, church Fathers, and popes who condemned the practise, beginning with Tertullian (A.D. 200) and extending down to the Trullan council in A.D. 692. 7
The reason for not fasting appears form the Constitutions:--

“Every Sabbath save one, viz., the great Sabbath before Easter, and every Lord’s day, you shall keep as a festival. For whoever fasts on the Lord’s day (the day of his resurrection), or whoever makes Pentecost or the Lord’s day a day of sorrow, is guilty of sin; for upon those days we ought to rejoice, and not to mourn.” 8

Cassian (360-435) gives the same reason for this, and adds that “our forefathers, out of respect to the resurrection of the Lord, have handed down the custom not to fast or to bend the knee on the Lord’s day.” 9

A few more samples of the work of these councils wills suffice. The fourth council of Carthage (A.D. 398) declares in canon 64: “He who fasts on Sunday is not accounted a catholic.” And in canon 65: “Easter must be celebrated everywhere at the same time.” 10
The council of Braga (about 411 A.D.) canon 4, “anathematizes the Cerdonians, Marcionites, Priscillianists, and Manicheans for their perverseness in this particular.” 11 To these, the Eustathians are to be added.

While the Catholic Church spared no effort to anathematize those who, true to their spiritualising Gnostic idea, esteemed no day in particular, and refused to honor the Catholic memorial of the resurrection by not fasting, yet, as we shall see in the next chapter this same Catholic Church turned about and degraded the Sabbath by converting it into a fast-day -- a day of mourning -- instead of joy in the Lord. It was then and there that the Trullan council (A.D. 692, in Canon 55 or 56) reminded the Roman Church that it should revive that ancient canon which says: “If any clergy man be found to fast on the Lord’s day or on the Sabbath, one only excepted, let him be deposed; if a layman, let him be excommunicated,: 12


The civil laws, however, furnish the true keynote to the changed tone in Sunday legislation. Over forty years elapse before emperors Valentinian and Valens issue the following law. (A.D. 368):--

“On the day of the sun, which for some time has been considered as a good omen, we do not wish any Christian to be summoned by the exactors; this our statute forbids, under penalty of law, to those who dare to do it.” 13

In A.D. 386 these two laws were issued by Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius, Sen,:--

“On the day of the sun, let none of the judges permit public shows to the people, and let him not confound the divine veneration by arranging entertainments.” 14
“On the day of the sun, which our forefathers rightly called the Lord’s day, let all prosecutions of causes, controversial business, and disputes be wholly laid aside: let no one demand either a public or a private debt: let there be no hearing of causes either before arbitrators appointed y law, or voluntarily chosen, And let him be accounted not only infamous, but sacrilegious also, whosoever departs from the rule and custom of our holy religion.” 15

In A.D. 389 another law, given by Valentinian, Theodosius, and Arcadius, confirmed all this, but its prohibition reckons as judicial holidays, exempt from business, four weeks of harvesting and four weeks of vintage, the calends of January, and the days on which Rome and Constantinople were founded; then the seven days before and after Easter, the weekly recurring day of the sun, the feast of the Nativity and of Epiphany, and the birthday of the emperor, and the anniversary of the beginning of the empire -- in all, there were one hundred twenty-four judicial holidays. 16

These three laws serve as an excellent comment on the gradual change in Sunday legislation. They become more stringent, and the transgressor is already “accounted not only infamous, but sacrilegious also,” departing “from the rule and custom of our holy religion.”


Theodosius (380-395) labored for the supremacy of the Catholic religion. He issued a series of laws against all heretics, and prohibited the visiting of heathen temples, under heavy fines. 17
It was at this time that Gregory Nazianzen, then bishop of Constantinople, resigned (A.D. 381) the presidency of the council held there, saying: “Must we always be only derided as infallible, and be animated only by one thing--the spirit of strife? 18 “I never saw a council of bishops come to a good end,” “I salute them afar off, since I know how troublesome they are.” “I nevermore will sit in those assemblies of cranes and geese.” 19


Until A.D. 386 all the legal documents used the heathen designation “day of the sun”. Now that paganism has become the forbidden religion, and Catholicism has been established by the state, we find the adage, “which our fathers rightly called the Lord’s day.” Philastrius of Brescia, at the end of the fourth century, censures the heathen names of the week-days as heretical. 20
By the middle of the fifth century, Bishop Maximus, of Turin, writes: “The Lord’s day, called the day of the sun by the people of the world.” 21 In consequence of this agitation, the Romanic races, where the Latin Church was predominant, adopted for Sunday the term Dominicum, which is Domienica in the Italian, Domingo in the Spanish and Portuguese, and Dimanche in the French; while the Teutonic races have retained the ancient name, Sunday, Sonntag, etc; and in the Slavonic, it is called Voskresinje, “resurrection day,”

By the end of the fourth century, church and state combined had succeeded in elevating Sunday to the only legal weekly holiday, and placing it on a level with the annual holidays, such as Easter, Pentecost, etc. But human laws can not create a divine sanctity.


The Apostolic Canons threaten excommunication to any one celebrating Easter with the Jews, or attending divine service without partaking of the Lord’s supper; the synods of Antioch (A.D. 341), Toledo (A.D. 400), and the fourth synod of Carthage (A.D. 436) do the same, while, in canon 24, the last mentioned synod adds, :Whoever leaves the church during the sermon of the priest, shall be excommunicated.”
In A.D. the council of Sardica directly specifies that if any one neglects divine service for three Lord’s days in succession, he is to be excommunicated. 22

Schaff’s comments are to the point:--

“Many a council here confounded the legal and the evangelical principles, thinking themselves able to enforce by threatening penalties what has moral value only as a voluntary act.” 23


We have found that Tertullian already complained that the Christians would attend the heathen amusements. This had increased to such and extent by the fourth century that Chrysostom (347-395) threatened excommunication to those who would attend public games, which he styles “the conventions of Satan” 24

The fourth council of Carthage (canon 88) decreed:

“He who neglects divine service on the festivals, and goes instead to the theater, shall be excommunicated.” 25
The fifth Carthaginian council (A.D. 401) decreed (canon 5): “On Sundays and feast-days, no plays maybe performed,” 26
And because “the people congregate to the circus rather than to the church,” the same council petitioned Emperor Honorius “that the public shows might be transferred from the Christian Sunday and from feast-days to some other days of the week,” 27

However, Honorius did not grant this petition, but he did issue (A.D. 409) a very humanitarian Sunday law, which ordained that the judges, under the penalty of a heavy fine for disobedience, should visit the prisons to see whether the jailers had denied the prisoners any office of humanity, and to give the jailer sufficient means to provide food for the poor. The inmates of the prison should enjoy the privilege of a bath or a wash outside the prison, on Sunday. The bishops were to remind the judges of their duty. 28

But the request of the fifth council of Carthage was granted by the successor of Honorius, in the law passed by Theodosius, Jun., and Valentinian, A.D. 425:--

“On the Lord’s day (which is the first day of the whole seven), also on the feast of the Nativity, the Epiphany of Christ, and the days of Pentecost, let the people throughout all the towns be refused all the pleasure of the theaters and of the circus, and let all the minds of the Christian believers be occupied with the worship of God. And if some, through inconsiderateness of Jewish impiety or through the error of stolid paganism, are captivated by senseless entertainments, let them know that there is a time for prayer and a time for pleasure.” 29

The following comment from Neander is significant:--

“First, in the year 425, the exhibition of spectacles on Sunday, and on the principal feast-days of the Christians, was forbidden, in order that the devotion of the faithful might be free from all disturbance. In this way, the church received help from the state for the furtherance of her ends, which could not be obtained in the preceding period. But had it not been for that confusion of spiritual and secular interests, had it not been for the vast number of mere outward conversions thus brought about, she would have needed no such help. The spirit of church fellowship could effect more in those ancient times than all which the outward force of political law and a stricter church discipline could now do, towards restraining or expelling such a had never been brought to feel the inward power of that spirit; and the church of those times could well dispense, therefore, with the outward support.” 30

As a fitting conclusion to this part of the subject, we quote the law of emperor Leo, A.D.469:--

“We do not wish that the festival days dedicated to the highest Majesty, be occupied with pleasure, nor profaned by any vexations caused by judicial exactions. Likewise do we decree that the Lord’s day be ever revered as so honourable that it should be exempted from all compulsory processes: let no summon urge any man; let no one be required to give security for the payment of a fund held by him in trust; let the sergeants of the court be silent; let the pleader cease his labours; let that day be a stranger to trials; let the harsh voice of the crier be unheard; let the litigants have breathing time and an interval of truce; let the rival disputants have an opportunity of meeting without fear-- of comparing the arrangement made in their name, and arranging the terms of compromise.

“However, that the rest of this religious day be not relaxed, we suffer not that it be filled with obscene pleasures. Let nothing vindicated stage plays on that day, or games of the circus, or the lamentable hunting down of wild beasts. And if it happens that nay of our birthdays fall upon Sunday, let it be changed. The loss of military rank and the forfeiting of patrimony are the penalties if any one attends these games on this feast-day, or if any officer of the judicial court, under the pretense of public or private business, dares to despise these enactments.” 31

The following from a church historian on all the post-Constantine Sunday laws is to the point:--

“Hereafter, this outward rest from all occupation on the said day was ever confirmed by emperors and other Christian princes, and it has continued until our day-- partially with increased rigor, and partially amidst many abuses -- without having anywhere attained its main object, except with a few Christians.” 32


After having so fully discussed the imperial laws and the ecclesiastical canons of the fourth and fifth centuries in favor of Sunday, the statements of the church Fathers of that period remain to be considered. Following the spiritualising method of the early Fathers, the later ones spare no effort in manufacturing new, fanciful rhetorical phrases to surround Sunday with greater luster, and to cause the Sabbath to fade out of sight.


Athanasius, of Alexandria (A.D. 326), gives us a fair sample. The sixth psalm is said to be upon the Sheminith (the eighth), an instrument for the eighth key. This is seized upon by Athanasius as a proof for Sunday: “What else could this octave be, but the resurrection day of Christ?” Then again, speaking of Ps. 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord has made“. “What day can this be but the resurrection day of the Lord. ..which has received its name from him, to wit, the Lord’s day? 33

A treatise ascribed to him says that the Sabbath, the end of the old creation, has deceased, and that the Lord’s day, the commencement of the new creation, has set in. “The Sabbath” instead of being instituted for the sake of mere inactivity, “is the gnosis of the Creator and rest from the form of this creation,” ie, rest from sin. 34
A passage from another work attributed to him is sometimes quoted: “The Lord has transferred the day of the Sabbath to the Lord’s day,”

Hessey remarks:

“Even admitting, which we can not, the treatise to be genuine, the words need mean, when taken with the context, no more than this: “The Sabbath. . . is no more. The truth, and the Lord of truth, have been manifested, and are commemorated in the lord’s day.’” 35 Cox says that “undue importance” has often been attributed to this statement, which means to say only that Christ, by rising on the first day of the week, gave occasion to such a transfer being made later. “The early Fathers give no support, direct or indirect, to the notion that the Sabbath had been transferred at all; but it is not surprising that those who wrote after the enactment by Constantine that Sunday should be kept as a Sabbath were more apt to discover reasons for such and observance of it than their predecessors had been while the imperila edict had no existence.” 36


MACARIUS, AN Egyptian presbyter, A.D. 350, spiritualizes the Sabbath almost in the words of Justin Martyr: “It was a type and shadow of the true Sabbath given by the Lord to the soul,” “The Lord, when he came, gave man the true and eternal Sabbath, and this is freedom form sin,” “they who rest from sin, keep a true, delightsome, and holy Sabbath.” 37

HILARY, of Poitiers (A.D. 350) commenting on Psalm 92, makes the whole of this life a preparation for the eternal Sabbath of the next, just as Friday was the preparartion day for the Sabbath. In his preface to the Psalms he remarks: “As there is constituted in the seventh day both the name and the observance of the Sabbath, yet we rejoice in the festivity of a perfect Sabbath on the eighth day, which is also the first..” 38

EPIPHANIUS, of Cyprus, I A.D. 368, claims that the apostles instituted Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday as festivals. The Sabbath he terms the “one in the law, the small Sabbath,” in contrast with the “great Sabbath,” which is Christ himself. The Sabbath was allegorical of rest form sin. 39

BASIL, of Caesarea, in Cappadocia (A.D. 370), also claims to find Sunday, that is, the first day, yet mentioned as the eighth day, in the titles of the Psalms. The Lord’s day sets forth the condition of things after this life is ended, “the day never to cease.” “The church prays on it standing,” and also “toward the east, in recollection of Eden, as a very ancient tradition.” As he dwells considerably “on the unwritten mysteries of the church,” this very likely is one of them. 40

GREGORY of Nyssa (A.D. 372), caps the climax in allegorical phrases, when, in his first Easter sermon, he thus speaks of the resurrection day and the Sabbath preceding it:--

“Behold in this the blessed Sabbath of the first creation! Recognize in that Sabbath this Sabbath. Upon this the only begotten God rested indeed, when he in the gospel plan of death observed the Sabbath after the flesh, and when returning to what he was before, he raised with him everything that was lying down, and became to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, life, resurrection, dawn, and day.” “This is the day which God mad; it differs from the days which God made at the creation to measure time. It marks the beginning of a new creation. Then on this day God created a new heaven and a new earth -- the firmament of faith in Christ, and the good soil of the heart.” “Sabbath-keeping implies inactivity with reference to evil. 41


AMBROSE, of Milan (A.D. 374) in his funeral oration in honor of Theodosius, makes death “the great Sabbath rest, in which the saints are lifted above earthly feeling and knowing, and wholly absorbed in the knowledge of the heavenly secrets, belonging only to God. This is the rest of that Sabbath, where God really rests from all works of the world,” He frequently speaks of Sunday as a festival-- those who fast upon it are heretical, as the Manichean. In contrasting the Lord’s day with the Sabbath, he gives the prerogative to the former. 42

GREGORY NAZIANZEN (A.D. 372) “has a curious discussion on the qualities of the number seven,” as revealed in oration 41, “On Pentecost,” in Select Library 7, 378:--

“Let us reason a little about the festival, that we may keep it spiritually. Thus the veneration paid ot the number seven gave use also to the veneration of Pentecost. For seven being multiplied by seven generates fifty all but one day, which we borrow from the world to come, at once the eighth and the first, or rather one and indestructible. For the present sabbatism of our souls can find its cessation there, that a portion may be given to seven and also to eight.”


JEROME (A.D. 3920 wants to have the law understood spiritually. We are not to be of the six days, ie, we are not to be men of this world. We are to keep the Sabbath in its true sense by abstaining from sin. 43

On Galatians 4, he remarks:--

“Lest the congregations of the people without good order should diminish the faith in Christ, therefore certain days were appointed, wherein we should come together: not that this day is holier than the others in which we come together, but that whatsoever day we assemble in, there might arise greater joy by the sight of one of us to another.” 44

That he thus regarded Sunday himself, appears from the way he describes his Sunday recreations, when he, as a youth, penetrated the catacombs. 45 And that Sunday was thus regarded even by pious Catholics of his time, is seen from his statement about the abbess Paula:--

“Only on the Lord’s day they went to church, lying near their dwelling. Every company followed their own matron, and, returning in like manner, they zealously continued the work apportioned to them, and made clothes either for themselves or for others.” 46


AUGUSTINE (A.D. 395) wrote a mine of information in his numerous writings as to the current theology of the age, including the law, the Sabbath, and Sunday. We select but a few of the most striking passages on these topics.

Concerning the Sabbath Commandment:--

“Therefore, among all the ten commandments this only that is spoken of the Sabbath is to be observed figuratively. It devolves upon us to understand the figure, but not to accustom ourselves to bodily idleness. For the Sabbath signifies spiritual rest. But we must observe all the other commandments literally, as they are commanded, without any figure of speech. . .The observance of the Sabbath is no commanded to us in a literal sense as abstinence from bodily labour, as the Jews understand it; and the very manner in which they observe the commandment according to the letter would be ridiculous, if it did signify another rest--the spiritual.” 47

Concerning Sunday:--

“That day which we now call Sunday is the first day of the week, as is clearly seen from the Gospels. The first day of the week is thus named as the day of the resurrection of the Lord, by all the four evangelists, and it is known that this is the day which was later called the Lord’s day. 48

“Sunday was not appointed for the Jews, but through the resurrection of the Lord, for Christians, and thence it began to have its festivity,” “The power of the resurrection symbolizes the eighth day, which is the same as the first because it does not do away with the rest, but glorifies it. While this spiritual signification was not as yet revealed--but was veiled, -- there was the Sabbath observance, the significance of which was foreseen by the Fathers who were filled with the spirit of prophecy: one psalm is entitled, ‘For the Octave’. Children are circumcised on the eighth day. And in Eccl. 11:2 the old and new covenants are distinguished in the words “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight.” 49

“We celebrate the Lord’s day and Easter, and other Christian festivities; but because we know to what they appertain, we observe not the times, but what is signified by the times,” “The difference of the two covenants we judge: in one are the burdens of slaves; in the other the glory of the free.” 50

On the rule of Faith, Augustine writes:--

“All such things that are not founded in the Scriptures, nor ordained in the council of the bishops, nor have attained force from the custom of the whole church, . . . Can, according to my opinion, be set aside without question, as far as ever possible,” 51

On Sunday Fasting, Augustine writes:--

“To fast on the Lord’s day is a great scandal, especially since resembling that detestable heresy, Manicheanism, which is decidedly opposed to the Catholic faith and the divine Scriptures.” “Its professors have in a way appointed it to their disciples as the regular day for fasting, and this fact makes it the more horrible to fast on that day,” 52

On the Eternal Sabbath, Augustine writes:--

“But in that Sabbath, in which it is said that God rested from all His works, in the Rest of God our rest was signified; because the Sabbath of this world shall be, when the six ages shall have passed away. The six days as it were of the world are passing away. One day hath passed away, from Adam unto Noe; another from the deluge unto Abraham; the third from Abraham unto David; the fourth from David unto the carrying away into Babylon; the fifth from the carrying away into Babylon unto the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now the sixth day is in passing. We are in the sixth age, in the sixth day. Let us then be reformed after the image of God, because that on the sixth day man was made after the image of God. What formation did then, let reformation of the inner man now effect in us, and what creation did there, let the second creation restore in us. After this day in which we now are, after this age, the rest which is promised to the saints and prefigured by the rest of God, shall come.” 53

A passage taken from a treatise entitled De Tempore, which is attributed to Augustine, and is often quoted in favor of the transference of the day, is now “universally admitted by scholars to be of doubtful, and probably of later authorship.” Dr. Pusey justly remarks that it is “later than the eighth century, since it incorporates a passage of Alcuin,” 54 Dr. Th. Zahn verifies this by saying that chapter 27 of the pseudo-Alcuin book De Divinis Officiis (Migne, ser. 2, tom, 101, p. 1226 sq.) seems to be quoted here word for word. 55 However, we shall quote it in substance, as then the forgery appears all the more glaring:--

It appears from the Sacred Scriptures that this day was a solemn one; it was the first day of the age, that is, of the existence of our world; in it the elements of the world were formed; on it the angels were created; on it Christ rose also from the dead; on it the Holy Spirit descended from heaven upon the apostles, as manna had done in the wilderness. For these and other such circumstances the Lord’s day is distinguished; and therefore the holy doctors of the church have decreed that lal the glory of the Jewish Sabbath is transferred to it. Let us therefore keep the Lord’s day as the ancients were commanded to do the Sabbath.”

Further, he admonishes them:-

“From the evening of the Sabbath to that of the Lord’s day they should abstain from their usual pursuits,--that they should not spend the day in hunting, that they should not engage even in rural occupations, -- but that they should attend the public worship of God,” 56

Such a supposed transference of the Sabbath to Sunday, and such requirements concerning its observance, do not fit Augustine’s time nay better than a law ascribed by a number of writers to Emperor Leo (A.D. 469): “that all, husbandmen as well as others, should forbear work on this day of our restoration,” Both of these breathe the spirit of the Middle Ages, and just as Cox and Hessey rightly assign this law to Emperor Leo the Philosopher (A.D. 910), so this passage from De Tempore belongs to pseudo Alcuin of the same period. 57

How anxiously Augustine sought for supposed reasons to make Sunday honourable, is seen from the fact that he supplied a number of new reasons, “very questionable” indeed: On the first day of the week, Israel was delivered from Egypt. On it Christ was born, circumcised, worshiped by the Gentiles, baptized, performed his first miracle, and manifested his glory; and on that day “we look for his appearance again when he shall come to judgement.” 58

But how little he satisfies Sunday Sabbatarians is indicated by the following words of Schaff: “Augustine likewise directly derives Sunday from the resurrection, and not from the fourth commandment”. 59


CHRYSOSTOM, of Constantinople, A.D. 398, completes the list.

Concerning the Sabbath Commandment:--

“When God formed man, he implanted within him from the beginning a natural law. And what then was this natural law? He gave utterance to conscience within us, and made the knowledge of good things, and of those which are the contrary, to be self-taught.” “For what purpose, then, I ask, did he add a reason respecting the Sabbath, but did no such thing in regard to murder?-- Because this commandment was not one of the leading ones. It was not one of those which were accurately defined of our conscience, but a kind of partial and temporary one; and for this reason it was abolished afterwards.” 60

“The Jews think that the Sabbath was given them for ease and rest: its true purpose, however, is not the, but that they may withdraw themselves from worldly affairs, and bestow all their study and labour upon spiritual things.” 61

The Sabbath is a Type of the Lord’s day, writes Chrysostrom-- “Now already from the beginning God offered us instruction typically, teaching us to dedicate and separate the one day in the circle of the week wholly to employment in things spiritual,: 62

Commenting on I Cor. 16:2 Chrysostrom writes--

“Paul said not, ‘Let him bring it into the church,’ lest they might feel ashamed of the smallness of the sum; but ‘having by gradual addition swelled his contribution, let him then produce it when I am come; but for the present lay it up,’ said he, ‘at home, and make thine house a church, thy little box a treasury. Become a guardian of sacred wealth, a self-ordained steward of the poor.” 63

Chrysostrom on Sunday Observance:--

“You ought not, when you have retired from the church assembly, to involve yourselves in engagements contrary to the exercises with which you have been occupied, but immediately on coming home read the Sacred Scriptures and call together the family, wife and children, to confer about the things that have been spoken, and after they have been more deeply and thoroughly impressed upon the mind, then proceed to attend to such matters as are necessary for this life.” 64

THEOPHILUS, bishop of Alexandria, in the same year (398) issued his edict about the festival of Theophany, the beginning words of which we may quote here once more:

“Both custom and reason challenge from us that we honor and keep holy the Lord’s day, seeing on that day it was that our Lord Jesus completed his resurrection form the dead. Therefore, in the Holy Scriptures, it is called as well the first, because it is the beginning of our life, as also the eighth day, because it has excelled the Sabbath observance of the Jews.” 65


To this age belong also the so-called Apostolical Constitutions. They enjoin assembling for worship every day, “but principally on the Sabbath day. And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s day, meet more diligently, sending praise to God, etc. The object of assembling was “to hear the saving word concerning the resurrection,” to “pray thrice standing,” to have the prophets read, to have preaching, and also the supper. 66

Then in book 8, of the Apostolic Constitutions P. 33:--

I Peter and Paul do make the following constitutions. Let the slaves work five days; but on the Sabbath-day and the Lord's day let them have leisure to go to church for instruction in piety. We have said that the Sabbath is on account of the creation, and the Lord's day of the resurrection.”

They also give an idea of Sunday as a day of festivity:--

“Now we exhort you, brethren and fellow-servants, to avoid vain talk and obscene discourses, and jestings, drunkenness, lasciviousness, luxury, unbounded passions, with foolish discourses, since we do not permit you so much as on the Lord's days, which are days of joy, to speak or act anything unseemly.” 67 The passage from chapter 9, of the longer form of Ignatius’s epistle to the Magnesians, also belongs to this age:-- “After the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord’s day as a festival, the resurrection day, the queen and chief of all the days.” 68

Lastly, we quote the author of the Syriac Documents concerning Edessa:--

“on the first (day) of the week, let there be service, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the oblation,” 69


Our investigation has brought us to the fifth century. The Christian religion is not only the favored religion, but the exclusive religion of the empire. The theocracy of Constantine, as Eusebius himself had to admit, resulted in indescribable hypocrisy, many giving themselves out as Christians only for temporal advantage.

As the Christian religion became, under Constantine, the favored one, the gradual change which had thus far been going on in an unobserved manner now became fully manifest, in its paganized cult. What mighty effect the change in the legal and social position of Christianity had on its forms of worship, is thus attested by Schaff:--

In the Nicene age the church laid aside her lowly servant-form, and put on a splendid imperial garb. She exchanged the primitive simplicity of her cultus for a richly colored multiplicity. She drew all the fine arts into the service of the sanctuary, and began her sublime creations of Christian architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry, and music. In place of the pagan temple and altar arose everywhere the stately church and the chapel in honor of Christ, of the Virgin Mary, of martyrs and saints. The kindred ideas of priesthood, sacrifice, and altar became more fully developed and more firmly fixed, as the outward hierarchy grew. The mass, or daily repetition of the atoning sacrifice of Christ by the hand of the priest, became the mysterious centre of the whole system of worship. The number of church festivals was increased; processions, and pilgrimages, and a multitude of significant and superstitious customs and ceremonies were introduced.

The public worship of God assumed, if we may so speak, a dramatic, theatrical character, which made it attractive and imposing to the mass of the people, who were as yet incapable, for the most part, of worshipping God in spirit and in truth. It was addressed rather to the eye and the ear, to feeling and imagination, than to intelligence and will. In short, we already find in the Nicene age almost all the essential features of the sacerdotal, mysterious, ceremonial, symbolical cultus of the Greek and Roman churches of the present day. This enrichment and embellishment of the cultus was, on one hand, a real advance, and unquestionably had a disciplinary and educational power, like the hierarchical organization, for the training of the popular masses. But the gain in outward appearance and splendor was balanced by many a loss in simplicity and spirituality. While the senses and the imagination were entertained and charmed, the heart not rarely returned cold and hungry. Not a few pagan habits and ceremonies, concealed under new names, crept into the church, or were baptized only with water, not with the fire and Spirit of the gospel. It is well known with what peculiar tenacity a people cleave to religious usages; and it could not be expected that they should break off in an instant from the traditions of centuries.

Nor, in fact, are things which may have descended from heathenism, to be by any means sweepingly condemned. Both the Jewish cultus and the heathen are based upon those universal religious wants which Christianity must satisfy, and which Christianity alone can truly meet. Finally, the church has adopted hardly a single existing form or ceremony of religion, without at the same time breathing into it a new spirit, and investing it with a high moral import. But the limit of such appropriation it is very hard to fix, and the old nature of Judaism and heathenism which has its point of attachment in the natural heart of man, continually betrayed its tenacious presence. This is conceded and lamented by the most earnest of the church fathers of the Nicene and post-Nicene age, the very persons who are in other respects most deeply involved in the Catholic ideas of cultus.

In the Christian martyr-worship and saint-worship, which now spread with giant strides over the whole Christian world, we cannot possibly mistake the succession of the pagan worship of gods and heroes, with its noisy popular festivities. Augustine puts into the mouth of a heathen the question: "Wherefore must we forsake gods, which the Christians themselves worship with us?" He deplores the frequent revels and amusements at the tombs of the martyrs; though he thinks that allowance should be made for these weaknesses out of regard to the ancient custom. Leo the Great speaks of Christians in Rome, who first worshipped the rising sun, doing homage to the pagan Apollo, before repairing to the basilica of St. Peter.

Theodoret defends the Christian practices at the graves of the martyrs by pointing to the pagan libations, propitiations, gods, and demigods. Since Hercules, Aesculapitis, Bacchus, the Dioscuri, and many other objects of pagan worship were mere deified men, the Christians, he thinks, cannot be blamed for honoring their martyrs—not making them gods but venerating them as witnesses and servants of the only, true God. Chrysostom mourns over the theatrical customs, such as loud clapping in applause, which the Christians at Antioch and Constantinople brought with them into the church. In the Christmas festival, which from the fourth century spread from Rome over the entire church, the holy commemoration of the birth of the Redeemer is associated—to this day, even in Protestant lands—with the wanton merriments of the pagan Saturnalia. And even in the celebration of Sunday, as it was introduced by Constantine, and still continues on the whole continent of Europe, the cultus of the old sun-god Apollo mingles, with the remembrance of the resurrection of Christ; and the widespread profanation of the Lord’s Day, especially on the continent of Europe, demonstrates the great influence which heathenism still exerts upon Roman and Greek Catholic, and even upon Protestant, Christendom.70

This statement speaks volumes. The evil seed sown bears its harvest of tares. The policy of adapting pagan rites and festivals to Christian usages to gain large accessions, ends in an apostate church, burdened with endless feats and ceremonies. The tendency to seek the favor of the state and to secure its support against heretics, ends in an intolerant false theocracy and Papacy. Sunday legislation only suppresses the voluntary observance of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, and substitutes for it a forced regard paid to a merry festival based on civil and religious laws. But as even the church writers themselves had to admit, divine punishment followed in the overthrow of the Roman empire, by the inroads of the barbarians in the West, and by the conquests of the Mohammedans in the East.


The introduction of the annual pagan birth-festival of the unconquered sun as the feast of the birth of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, furnishes a striking evidence of how, in the early days of Christianity, the venerable day of the sun became a weekly commemoration day of the resurrecton. An ample array of facts is furnished us by the sermons preached on Christmas by Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Chrysostom, and especially Pope Leo the Great.

Pope Leo even had to warn against this hazardous experiment to win the pagans. But the climax of the proof is reached in the admission by this very Pope, that many of the Christianized pagans, as they ascended the steps of St. Peter’s Church and reached the spacious platform, would, before entering the cathedral to honor Christ as the Sun of Righteousness, first pay obeisance to the rising sun, as they had been accustomed to do from lofty eminences while they were still pagans. 71


Wilberforce, archdeacon of Westminster, thus testifies to the same evolution:--

“The evolution of this Arcadian Sabbath, this Saturn’s unlucky day, through the Jewish Sabbath into the Christian Sunday, was obvious and simple. The early Christian church, whether wisely or unwisely is questionable, in their earnest desire to elevate pagan worship, adopted, as far as possible, the sacred days of the older cults, and grafted on to them Christian commemorations.” 72


We have now carefully investigated all the testimonies of the Fathers until the fifth century and we have considered the civil and ecclesiastical legislation until that time. And, with Hessey, we can say that there is in no clearly genuine passage of the church Father, or in any public document, ecclesiastical or civil, a reference to the fourth commandment as a basis for the observance of the first day of the week. There is not a single allusion to Rev. 1:10 as a reason for calling Sunday the “Lord’s day,” The seventh day of the week is everywhere termed “the Sabbath,” as a perfectly distinct day from Sunday. When, at the instigation of the bishops, Constantine declared the venerable day of the sun to be the legal holiday of the empire, then it is only Eusebius who suggests the idea of transference of the day, but of “spiritual Sabbaths according to the spiritual law,” disclaiming in positive terms any relation to the “Jewish Sabbath” or to the Decalogue. It was reserved for the Papacy during the Middle Ages to claim an actual change of the fourth commandment by the power of the church.

As to the observance of Sunday, it was considered to be the observance of a church ordinance, enforcing attendance at the assemblies and communion, and of a legal holiday, forbidding law proceedings, and also amusements unseemly for a Christian on any day. Both placed no restrictions on agricultural work, or on the pursuance of necessary duties. Sabbath rest, in the sense of the fourth commandment, was decried as “Judaizing:” Sunday was only a “spiritual rest,” the chief object of whose observance was cessation from sin.

A bishop’s decree had openly declared that custom and reason challenge us to observe Sunday. Councils and imperial edicts had set their seal to this custom, and stamped tradition as quasi-divine. The edict of Theodosius had definitely sanctioned the use of the term “Dominicum” for Sunday as being “rightly” applied, and the councils had adopted it; so that it thus became the term used by all the Latin races. Yea, this Theodosian decree stamped court proceedings on Sunday not only as infamous, but also as sacrilegious, because the transgressor was departing from the rule and custom of the “holy Catholic religion.”

1. Encyclopedia Britannica, ninth edition, vol, 22, p. 654 article, “Sunday”.Return>

2. Wetzer & Welter, Kirchenlexikon, article, “Kirchenjahr,” 7, 582 Return>

3. Hefele’s “Councils,” vol. 2,b.6, par.93. In all these quotations the English translator of Hefele has incorrectly used Saturday for “the Sabbath.” Return>

4. Id. Return>

5. Univ. Serm. On Lord’s Day, p. 15, quoted by Hessey, p. 316 note 230 Return>

6. Hefele’s Councils, vol. 1, p. 94 Return>

7. “Antiquities,” vol. 2, b. 20, chap. 2, sec. 5. Return>

8. Apostolic Constitutions, lib. 5, cap. 20 Return>

9. Coll. 21 cap. 20 Return>

10. “Konziliengeschichte,” vol. 2, par. 3, p. 74. Return>

11. Bingham’s Antiquities, vol. 2, b. 20 chap. 2, p. 293. Return>

12. Bingham, vol. 2, b. 20, chap. 3 p. 300 Return>

13. Cod. Theod, lib. 8 ti. 8, lex. I Return>

14. Cod, Theod 15,5,lex. 2 Return>

15. Cod Theod,.8, 8, I Return>

16. Id. 2,8,lex. 2 Return>

17. Schaff, “History of the Christian Church“, third period, vol. 1 par. 6, p. 63 Return>

18. Id., Vol. 2 par. 166, p. 919 Return>

19. Epist. 124, 136; Carm 17, 91 Return>

20. De haer., 113 Return>

21. Zeitschrift f. deutsche Wortforschung, Strassburg. 1901, p. 184 Return>

22. Hefele, “Konziliengeshichte,” vol. I, par. 56, pp 513, 514; par. 64, p. 592: Apostolic Canons, 8, 10; Anhang, pp. 802, 803; vol. 2, par. III, p. 71; par. 112, p. 79 Return>

23. “History of the Christian Church”, Third period, par. 75, p. 382 Return>

24. Hom., 6 in Gen. T. 2 p. 53 Return>

25. Councils, vol. 2, par. III Return>

26. Id., par. 113, p. 423 Return>

27. Neander’s Church History, vol. 2 p. 404 Return>

28. Cod. Theod., 9,3, lex. 7 Return>

29. Cod Theod., 15, 5, lex.5 Return>

30. Neander’s Church History, vol. 3, p. 405 Return>

31. Baron. Annal, eccl., year 469. Numb. 7,8 Return>

32. Schrockh Kirchengesch, 5, 101. Return>

33. Hessey, pp. 68-70; Kirchenvater, Athanasius, 2, 381. Return>

34. De Sabbatis et Circumcisione (Opera, tom.2, 42 Patav. 1777) Return>

35. Homil., de Semente (Opera I, 835,edition 1600) Hessey, lect. 3, p. 70 Return>

36. Cox. I, 257 Return>

37. Homil. 35, Kirchenvater, Markarius, pp. 348, 349 Return>

38. Hilary, Opera I, col. 270. Vernon, 1730; Prolegom., par. 12, tom. I, col.8 Return>

39. Epiphanius Expos. Fid. Cathol., c. 22, tom. I, p. 1104 Return>

40. Basil, Lib.de Spiritu Sancto., c. 27, 3, 56, par. 1730 Return>

41. Kirchenvater, Gregory, 5 Nyssa, 2, 1299-321 Return>

42. Kichenvater, Ambrosius, 2, 354: Epist. 23, par II, tom. 2, col. 936, Enarrat, ad Psalm 43, tom, 1, col. 887 Return>

43. In Isaiam, cap. 56, tom 4, p.656 Return>

44. Remains, 4, 232-3, quoted by Cox, vol. I, 135, 136. Return>

45. See Hessey, pp. 74,75 Return>

46. Kirchenvater, Hieronymus, 2, 128 Return>

47. To Januray, epist. 119; Kirchenvater, Augustinus 7, c. 22 p. 258 Return>

48. To Casulanus, epist. 28; Kirchenvater 7, 149 Return>

49. To January, epist. 119; Augustinus 7, c. 23, pp.259,260 Return>

50. Contra Adim., tom, 10, col. 162, 4th bass 1797-1807 Return>

51. To January, epist. 119; Augustinus 7, c. 36, p. 273 Return>

52. Epist. 36, ad Casulanum, cap. 12, tom. 2, col. 1651. Return>

53. Sermons on the New Testament, SERMON LXXV, par. 4, Return>

54. . Hessey, p. 307, note 202 Return>

55. Geshichte des Sonntags, p. 77, note 48 Return>

56. Augustini Opera, vol. 10. P. 397, quoted in Cox, “Sabbath Laws” p. 284 Return>

57. Cox. I. 422; Hessey, p. 89 Return>

58. August, opp., tom. 10, fol. 238b, edition 1531, quoted in Cox. I, p. 456 Return>

59. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, third period, par. 75, vol. I, p. 384 Return>

60. Homil, on the Statues, pp. 208,209 Oxford, 1842 Return>

61. Homil, 35, tom. 5, p. 227 Return>

62. Homil, on the Statues, Vol. 9, p. 209 Return>

63. Homil. To I cor., p. 606, Oxford, 1839 Return>

64. Homil. On Matt., part 2 Oxford 1844 Return>

65. See cap. 14, p. 13. Of this work Return>

66. “Apostolical Constitutions,” b. 2, sec. 7, par. 59 Return>

67. “Apostolical Constitutions,” b. 5, sec. 2, par. 10 Return>

68. Epist. To Magn., longer form, chap. 9 Return>

69. “Syriac Documents,” p. 38 Return>

70. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Third period, par. 74, pp. 375-378 Return>

71. Kirchenvater, Leo’s Reden, No. 26, p. 135; Neander, 3, 420 Return>

72. In Sunday Circle, Feb. 1, 1908 Return>

History of the Sabbath, Table of Contents