by W.E.Straw

Originally Published by
Review and Herald Publishing Association 1939

Chapters nine to twelve


1 Did Gentile Converts Keep the Sabbath?
2 What Was Done Away by Christ?
3 Sunday in the Early Church
4 The Lord's Day
5 Gnosticism
6 Sunday at Alexandria in the Second Century
7 Sunday in Asia in the Second Century
8 Events and Changes in the Second Century
9 Sunday in the Third Century
10 Sunday in the Fourth Century
11 Pagan and Christian Rituals
12 Heathen Customs and the Church
13 How Sunday Came Into the Church
Appendix -The Epistles of Ignatius

9. Sunday in the Third Century

In our study thus far we have learned that during the first two centuries there developed two separate and distinct types of Christian worship. The one in Syria and Asia Minor held to the old orthodox ways of life, and adhered to the Sabbath and primitive Christianity as handed down by the apostles. The other from Alexandria and Egypt allowed many Gnostic and foreign sentiments to enter, and with them Sunday worship and other foreign practices unknown in the apostolic church and opposed by the early apostles.

Of the men of the latter group who had Gnostic tendencies, there were Barnabas, Justin Martyr, and Clement. This is the group that gives us our first information about Sunday observance. Then, during the last part of the second century a school was established at Alexandria to train ministers and bishops for mission, evangelistic, and pastoral work in the churches. This school had in it men with Gnostic tendencies. The last of that group was Clement, a teacher there, who was imbued with Greek philosophy and Gnostic ideas.


Clement's pupil and successor in this school was Origen. He was born during the last half of the second century, and was brought up by Christian parents. He was a great student of philosophy, and attended the lectures of Ammonius Saccas, the founder of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy. He carried the Philonic method of allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures to greater lengths than any of the Fathers before him, and developed a conception of God like that of Plotinus, the great Neoplatonist. Origen shows a bitterness toward the Jews and their ritual similar to that of Barnabas and Justin before him. He objected to Sabbath observance and to the regulations which were in any way like those of the Jews, because he was opposed to interpreting the Scriptures literally. His method of interpretation was the allegorical.

His attitude is shown by the following: “Jesus, then, is the Son of God, who gave the law and the prophets; and we, who belong to the church, do not transgress the law, but have escaped the mythologizing of the Jews, and have our minds chastened and educated by the mystical contemplation of the law and the prophets.” [1] 'Was it impious to abstain from corporeal circumcision, and from a literal Sabbath, and literal festivals, and literal new moons, and from clean and unclean meats, and to turn the mind to the good and true and spiritual law of God?” [2]

He believed in the Lord's day, but only in a spiritual way. He wrote, “If it be objected to us on this subject that we ourselves are accustomed to observe certain days, as for example the Lord's day, the preparation, the Passover, or Pentecost, I have to answer that to the perfect Christian, who is ever in his thoughts, words, and deeds serving his natural Lord, God the Word, all his days are the Lord's and he is always keeping the Lord's day.” [3]

“We do not regulate our lives like the Jews, because we are of opinion that the literal acceptation of the laws is not that which conveys the meaning of the legislation.” 4

A Division of Sentiment

But Origen admitted that his opinions were by no means universal in the church, which again confirms what has been said before that the church was divided in its teaching. He says,---Let it be admitted, then, that there are amongst us some who deny that our God is the same as that of the Jews. . . . Let it he admitted also, that there is a third class who call certain persons 'carnal' and others 'spiritual.' Let it be admitted further, that there are some who give themselves out as Gnostics. . . . Let it be admitted, moreover, that there are some who accept Jesus, and who boast on that account of being Christians, and yet would regulate their lives, like the Jewish multitude, in accordance with the Jewish law. “ [5] So Origen, another of the teachers at Alexandria, repudiates the Sabbath and everything Jewish.


Our next man is Tertullian, a lawyer from North Africa. He was born before Origen, but was not converted until the very last of the second century, about the time of Origen. This throws them together as contemporaries in their Christian work, although there was a difference in their ages.

Tertullian was not from Alexandria. He was a lawyer from Carthage and was brought up a Stoic philosopher. In his writings he had a tendency to allegorize the Sabbath, but apparently he observed both Sabbath and Sunday. When writing to Marcion, the Gnostic, he emphasized the importance of the Sabbath, and when writing to the Jews he spiritualized it away. To Marcion he wrote, “Christ did not at all rescind the Sabbath: He kept the law .... He exhibits in a clear light the different kinds of work .... which from the beginning He had been consecrated by the benediction of the Fathers.” [6]

When writing to the Jews, he said, “The Jews say, that from the beginning God sanctified the seventh day, by resting on it from all His works which He made; and that thence it was likewise, that Moses said to the people: 'Remember the day of the Sabbaths, to sanctify it; every servile work you shall not do therein, except what pertains unto life.' Whence we (Christians) understand that we still more ought to observe a Sabbath from all servile work always, and not only every seventh day, but through all time.” [7] “We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord's day to be unlawful,” [8] but “we make Sunday a day of festivity.” [9]

Alexandrian Influence Extends

Here we now find a man away from Alexandria who reveals Alexandrian characteristics. How can this be accounted for? Evidently the influence of Alexandria is now being felt in other parts. She has existed for a good many years, and is no longer the unheard of and un-influential church that she once was. Her students are now active in other parts as priests and bishops, and her influence has thus been extended and is felt in many places.

The clear line of demarcation between the Alexandrian section of the church and that of the East, so apparent in the second century, is no longer visible. Communication between the different churches with the varying sentiments had been carried on for a hundred years. Students from the Alexandrian school were now bishops in Asia and the East, and in other parts of the empire. Origen himself did considerable traveling and taught for a while in Palestine. During this century Alexandria, which before was obscure, has become popular, and her bishops prominent. This influence has spread, bringing in a more tolerant spirit toward others of different opinions. During this century we find that the Fathers still do not agree, but the differences are no longer sectional. There is considerable opposition to Jewish ritual; yet both Sabbath and Sunday seem to be recognized and observed in most places, with pagan influences and practices becoming apparent.

The Position of Some Not Clear

During this century we find some few people still standing for the principles upheld by the churches of Asia and the East. But on the whole, there is a modification of the extremes and more of a blending of sentiment. From several of the Fathers it is impossible to learn how they stood on the question of days, for in their writings they do not mention it at all. For example: Hippolytus, a spiritual son of Irenaeus, mentions neither Sabbath nor Sunday. Cyprian, called the Ignatius of the West, writes of a new law and new covenant, but does not mention the Sabbath or Sunday. Dionysius, a pupil of Origen, and later bishop of the church of Alexandria, in a letter to Basilides of Libya, mentions the resurrection of Christ on the first day of the week, and speaks of the Sabbath in that connection; then he goes on to the question of fasts, but gives no clue whatsoever as to days of worship. [10]

The Sabbath Still Kept

The “Apostolic Constitutions” contain a series of regulations for the church. When this was written and by whom, it is not known; but it is supposed to have been drawn up about the third century. I give below a few statements from it on the subject of Sabbath keeping:
“Have before thine eyes the fear of God, and always remember the ten commandments of God.... Thou shalt observe the Sabbath, on account of Him who ceased from His work of creation.” [11] “Keep the Sabbath, and the Lord's day festival; because the former is the memorial of creation, and the latter of the resurrection.” [12]

“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 and piety.” [13] This gives some idea of the times and of the practice of observing two days.

In 1841 there was found another document in Syriac which contained mystic sentiments and Gnostic ideas, and mentioned heathen practices. It is supposed to have been written in the last part of the third century, but by whom, no one knows. It is called “The Teaching of the Apostles.” It refers to services on the eve of the Sabbath, and on the first day of the week; and it gives an explanation of why they followed the heathen practice of praying toward the cast. I quote, “The apostles therefore appointed: Pray you towards the east: because, 'as the lightning that lightens from the east and is seen even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of man be.' . . . The apostles further appointed: On the first (day) of the week let there be service, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures. . . . The apostles further appointed: On the eve (of the Sabbath), at the ninth hour, let there be service.” [14] This reveals a practice of observing both days, and with it a mingling of deep-seated heathen customs.

Gnosticism Seen in Archelaus

Then there is one more document that has come down to us from the last of the third century, called “The Acts of the Dispute of Archelaus With the Heresiarch Manes.” In this the author says, “As to the assertion that the Sabbath has been abolished, we deny that He has abolished it plainly: for He as Himself also Lord of the Sabbath. . . . And again, He did not actually reject circumcision; but we should rather say that He received in Himself and in our stead the cause of circumcision, relieving us by what He Himself endured, and not permitting us to have to suffer any pain to no purpose.” [15]

Then he expounds the Scriptures, “ 'Christ, who redeemed us from the curse of the law.' My view of this passage is that 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 work.... Yet in the sequel it, the new law, says, 'My Father works hitherto, and I work.' Does that mean, then, that He is still making heaven, or sun, or man, or animals, or trees, or 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 amongst 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.” [16]

Such are the ideas of some of the church Fathers by the end of the third century. During the second century Clement and his associates had been conducting a school in Alexandria. This work was continued by Origen, who was imbued with Gnostic ideas and pagan philosophy. All through these years their students were being sent out to take charge of churches in different parts of the empire. By the close of that century we find Alexandrian sentiments manifest in churches everywhere. Then the century closes with Archelaus trying to defend the faith against Manes by using Gnostic arguments.

10. Sunday In The Fourth Century

BY the time we reach the fourth century we meet with an effort to bring about uniformity of doctrine and practice in respect to Sunday. At first there was revealed a movement against Sabbath observance and an effort to bring Sunday to prominence. This continued for years. Finally, by the fourth century, there appears an effort to regulate Sunday observance.

Sunday Regulated

At the Council of Elvira in 305, it was decided that “if any one in the city neglects to come to church for three Sundays, let him be excommunicated for a short time so that he may be corrected.” [1] Sixteen years after that the emperor Constantine passed a law that the people of the empire were to rest on the “venerable day of the sun,” except the people in the country, who might continue the work of planting their crops on that day. [2]

Even as late as the third Synod of Orleans in 538 it was decided that it was a Jewish superstition to say that “it is unlawful to ride or drive on Sunday, or do anything for the decoration of the house or person. But field labors are forbidden, so that people may be able to come to church and worship. If anyone acts otherwise, he is to be punished.” 3

Although during those times people were observing Sunday by worshiping on that day, still the idea that no work should be done had not arisen. Here is Jerome's description of a Sunday at his monastery: ---On the Lord's day only they proceeded to the church beside which they lived, each company following its own mother superior. Returning home in the same order, they then devoted themselves to their allotted tasks, and made garments either for themselves or else for others.” [4]

The councils thus far were regulating church attendance rather than Sunday labor. At Elvira they dealt only with church attendance. Constantine, although he passed a law regarding labor, still allowed people in the country to continue their work on Sunday. At the Synod of Orleans they were commanded to stop work so that they could attend church.

Anti-Jewish Sentiments

We observed a series of steps in the first three centuries in recognizing Sunday as a day of worship in the church. Then we have another series regulating how it is to be observed. Finally we find another movement accompanying the others an anti-Jewish sentiment which tended to relegate Sabbath observance to the background. This started with the Jewish war and destruction of Jerusalem between the years 115 and 135 AD.

From this point these Gnostic tendencies began to penetrate the church under the Alexandrian influence. It is interesting to note that although Sabbath and Sunday observance continued side by side during the third and fourth centuries, yet the opposition to the Sabbath and the advocacy of Sunday came from men with Gnostic sympathies and tendencies and anti-Jewish feelings.

Here are a few men who opposed the Sabbath:
Cyril of Jerusalem said, “Stand aloof from all observance of Sabbath, and from calling any indifferent meats common or unclean. [5]

Victorinus wrote, “On the seventh day He [God] rested from all His work, and blessed it, and sanctified it. On the, former day [the Sabbath] we are accustomed to fast rigorously that on the Lord's day we may go forth to our bread with giving of thanks. And let the parasceve become a rigorous fast, lest we should appear to observe any Sabbath with the Jews, which Christ Himself, the Lord of the Sabbath, says by His prophets that 'His soul hates;' which Sabbath He in His body abolished In Thine eyes, 0 Lord, a thousand years are as one day.' Therefore in the eyes of the Lord each thousand of years is ordained, for I find that the Lord's eyes are seven. Wherefore, as I have narrated, that true Sabbath will be in the seventh millennium of years, when Christ with His elect shall reign.” [6]

John of Damascus wrote: “For the purpose of securing leisure to worship God in order that they might, both servant and beast of burden, devote a very small share to Him and be at rest ' the observance of the Sabbath was devised for the carnal that were still childish and in the bonds of the elements of the world, and unable to conceive of anything beyond the body and the letter.” The Sabbath, moreover, is the cessation from sin. “Since the law therefore enjoined that the seventh day should be spent in rest from carnal things and devoted to spiritual things, it was a mystic indication to the true Israelite who had a mind to see God, that he should through all time offer himself to God and rise higher than carnal things.” [7]

At the Synod of Laodicea, held about 365 AD., it was decided: “Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday [Sabbath in the original], but shall work on that day; but the Lord's day they shall especially honor, and, as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ,” [8]

Still this resolution did not mean that they were to have no more religious services on Sabbath, for at this same synod they passed several laws concerning Sabbath services. Canon 16 reads: “The Gospels are to be read aloud on the Sabbath with the other Scriptures.” Canon 49: “During Lent the bread must not be offered except on the Sabbath day and on the Lord's day only.”

The Sabbath Still Observed

Although there were many advocating these anti-Jewish and anti-Sabbath sentiments for many years, yet in spite of it both Sabbath and Sunday continued to be observed in most places down to the close of the fourth century. Gregory of Nyssa, in Asia, writes, ---It was now past six o'clock, and the bath had been well prepared, and the banquet was being spread and the day was the Sabbath, and a martyr's commemoration.” [9]

John Cassius, the great missionary to Gaul, wrote, “There are no public services among them in the day except on Saturday and Sunday, when they meet together at the third hour for the purpose of holy communion.” [10]

Chrysostom said, “There are many among us now who fast on the same day as the Jews, and keep the Sabbaths in the same manner; and we endure it nobly, or rather, ignobly and basely.” [11]

Socrates, the historian of that time, wrote, “Almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries [the Lord's supper] on the Sabbath of every week, yet the Christians at Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this.” [12]

And Sozomen, a contemporary, confirms this by saying, “The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome, or at Alexandria.” [13]

Many False Impressions Given

In view of this information, how can people say that Sabbath observance was done away with by the apostle Paul? Here we have all this evidence that in spite of strong opposition that grew in force as the years went by, the Sabbath continued to be observed.

At the close of the fourth century two of the great historians who lived at that time stated that it was observed everywhere, with two notable exceptions, Alexandria and Rome. Why these exceptions? As it happens, these are the two cities in which the Gnostic and radical elements were so strong. We have already shown how this was the case at Alexandria. Now what about Rome?

The great Gnostic, Valentinus, went to Rome and labored for several years during the second century. This led Polycarp of Asia to follow and reclaim many who were led astray by him. After this Justin Martyr went there and labored for some years. Then Marcion, another leading Gnostic, and finally Plotinus--- the great Neoplatonist, went to Rome. This will explain the similarity of practice in the two cities.

How the Sabbath Was Finally Eliminated

How was it that the Sabbath was finally obliterated? We have noticed that its opponents were always anti-Jewish Gnostics. The great leaders of Gnosticism were men from Alexandria and Rome. We have learned that their influence was so strong that these two cities led the world in their opposition to the Sabbath, while the rest were still observing it.

Now the situation so shaped itself that during the fourth and fifth centuries, when the great church counsels were in progress, the two cities which had the greatest influence were these two cities Alexandria and Rome. Now if these two cities had already ceased to observe the Sabbath at that time, and they were the ones having the greatest influence in the world, no doubt this accounts for the final elimination of Sabbath observance from the church in other places. At any rate, 'BY the eighth century the Alexandrian theology was accepted by the whole Christian world, east and west.” [14] Then when the Alexandrian theology was accepted everywhere, naturally Sabbath observance ceased to have a place in the church.

11. Pagan and Christian Rituals

There are a few other questions that should be considered, while we are studying the introduction of Sunday observance. How did Easter and Christmas get into the church? Who introduced the use of holy water, the worship of the virgin, etc? We look in vain for these at the time of the apostles. It is a well attested fact that the Christian church today has many practices, ceremonies, and beliefs that were foreign to the church at the time of Christ and the apostles. Therefore they did not come from the apostles. From where did they come?

Professor Sayce answers, “We are the religious heirs of the builders and founders of the Egyptian temples. Many of the theories of Egyptian religion, modified and transformed no doubt, have penetrated into the theology of Christian Europe, and form, as it were, part of the woof in the web of modern religious thought. Christian theology was largely organized and nurtured in the schools of Alexandria!' [1]

In our study of these practices and customs, we shall find among the heathen in the empire in the early days of the Christian Era customs such as we find practiced by Christians in the church at a later time.


In the time of the apostles there was no Easter service such as we have today. The early church celebrated the Passover of the Jews, but not Easter. The very name “Easter” indicates a foreign and heathen ancestry. In those early times there was celebrated in the empire a great heathen festival in honor of spring, personified by Attis, very similar to the Easter of a later time.

Professor Franz Cumont says, “The Emperor Claudius introduced a new cycle of holidays that were celebrated from March 15th to March 27th, the beginning of spring at the time of the revival of vegetation, personified in Attis.... On March 25th there was a sudden transition from the shouts of despair to a delirious jubilation, the Hilaria. With springtime Attis awoke from his sleep of death, and the joy created by his resurrection burst out in wild merrymaking, wanton masquerades, and luxurious banquets.... Under a constant rain of flowers the silver statue of Cybele was taken to the river Almo and bathed and purified according to an ancient rite.” [2] This ceremony, many believe, had a profound effect on the establishment of the Easter season, coming as it did about the time of the Jewish Passover and the resurrection of Christ.


There was no Christmas celebration in the early church.

'The Roman winter solstice.... as celebrated on December 25 in connection with the worship of the sun-god Mithra, appears to have been instituted in this special form by Aurelian about 273 AD., and to this festival the day owes its apposite name of “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.” With full symbolic appropriateness, though not with historical justification, the day was adopted in the Western Church, where it appears to have been generally introduced by the fourth century, and whence in time it passed to the Eastern Church as the solemn anniversary of the birth of Christ, Christmas Day. As a matter of history no valid or even consistent early Christian tradition vouches for it.' “ [3] Chrysostom says that Christmas was introduced into the East about 378 AD.

The Priestly Ritual and Holy Water

In the pagan Egyptian service and ritual we have practically a counterpart of the service in the Christian church during the Middle Ages, and perhaps the very ritual that was taken over. Professor Dill writes, “The daily ritual of Isis, which seems to have been as regular and complicated as that of the Catholic Church, produced an immense effect on the Roman mind.

Every day there were two solemn offices, at which white-robed, tonsured priests, with acolytes and assistants of every degree, officiated. The morning litany and sacrifice was an impressive service. The crowd of worshipers thronged the space before the chapel at the early dawn. The priest ascending by a hidden stairs, drew apart the veil of the sanctuary, and offered the holy image to their adoration. He then made the round of the altars, reciting the litany, and sprinkling the holy water 'from the secret spring.'' [4]

The Mother and Child Cult in Egypt

We hear nothing about the “Queen of Heaven, the Mother of God,” in the early days of the church. The first we hear of this is in connection with Isis and Horus, the mother and son in the Egyptian religion. But in the early part of the fourth century the church was shaken to its foundation over the question of “Mary, the mother of God,” which was urged on the church by Egyptian leaders of the church. This resulted in a split in the church and the banishing of Nestorius, who refused to subscribe to that theology.

Here is the origin of these ideas, according to the noted scholar, Flinders Petrie, who wrote, “The most popular form of Isis in the later centuries ... was that of Isis the Mother nursing Horus the Child.... Thus we see that there had been growing for many centuries an ardent devotion to the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of God, the Patroness of sailors in Italy, and thence over all the Roman world. In the third and fourth centuries this worship was especially directed to the type of the mother and son. Then in the fifth century the names utterly disappear; and immediately there appears devotion hitherto entirely unknown in Christianity, a devotion to precisely the same figures with the same attributes, but with other names. The transformation is unmistakable. The new importation into Christianity was Isis and Horus, whose names alone had been banished.” [5] “And Isis' devotees passed quietly over to the worship of another mother.” [6]

We might continue quite at length in showing the similarity of religious forms in the Oriental worship at the beginning of the Christian Era to those of the later Christian church. But that seems to be pretty well understood. There were the great ascetics in the Hindu religion, and monks with shaven crowns, and the rosary. There was the burning of candles in the worship of Mithra, the sun god, with mysteries in the service, and all sorts of ritual similar to that of the church of a later time, but unknown at the time of the apostles. How did these get into the church? Not from the apostles or their immediate successors. They came when the church opened its doors to Gnosticism and heathenism. At that time and from this same group came Sunday observance into the church, for sun worship and Sunday observance were also prevalent in the Roman world at that time.

12. Heathen Customs and the Church

We have learned that Alexandria became the melting pot for the various philosophies and religions of the East. At this place these religions had a great influence upon the Christian church, and men in the church there accepted the tenets of those religions. When the emperor Hadrian visited that place, he said that even the bishops of the church worshiped Serapis, and all the people were astrologers and soothsayers. At this place Clement and Origen, teachers in the school in which ministers and priests were trained, were enamored with Neoplatonic philosophy and believed there was much good in all religions.

At first the men of the East sounded an alarm against this thing, and it seems that they were, for the greater part of the century, to quite an extent successful. Still the Gnostics were at work in other parts. Valentinus went from Alexandria to Rome and succeeded in gaining a considerable following. Polycarp followed him from Asia there, and Irenaeus says, “He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus, caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles.” [1]

Heathen Ideas Enter the Church

For a time the East was able to counteract this influence, but when bishops and preachers like Dionysius, Gregory Thaumaturgus (the Wonder-Worker), and scores of others were poured out from this school to take charge of the churches, their influence spread through the churches every where. The marvels of the work of Gregory have often been mentioned-how he began work in a church in Pontus with only seventeen members, and in a few years the whole country except seventeen were Christians. How was this accomplished? “When Gregory perceived that the ignorant multitude persisted in their idolatry, on account of the pleasures and sensual gratifications which they enjoy at the pagan festivals, he granted them a permission to indulge themselves in the like pleasures.” [2]

How many other teachers there were like this we do not know, but undoubtedly there were some; and as time went on there probably were many. And “crowds of ignorant, undisciplined heathen were flocking into the church, bringing their heathen taint with them.'' [3] Therefore, “it was inevitable that many persons steeped in that world of ideas and coming under the influence of the gospel should try to combine the two things.”

The Church Bishops Teach Pagan Philosophy

Not only were the masses coming into the church from heathenism still retaining their tainted notions and holding to their old practices, but also the leaders were delving into heathen philosophies and adopting pagan ways. “There was in the third and fourth centuries so much friendly interchange of ideas between Christians and pagans, especially at Alexandria, that, as Harnack has recently shown, there is very little difference between Porphyry and his Christian contemporaries in their general view of life and duty.... Basil and the two Gregories are full of Plotinian ideas. But it is with Augustine that the stream of Neoplatonic influence flows strongly into Christian theology. Augustine was converted first to Platonism and came through Platonism to Christianity.” [5] “St. Augustine declares in his 'Confessions,' that at the time when he was a Manichean, he regarded Jesus only as the son of the sun.” [6]

Doctor Milinan, ill speaking of the Manicheans, one branch of Gnostics, says; ---1rhe Christ, the first afflux of the God of Light, would have been defined by the Manichean as in the Nicene creed, as Light of Light; He was self-subsistent, endowed with all the perfect attributes of the Deity, and His dwelling was in the sun. He was the Mithra of the Persian system; and the Manichean doctrine was Zoroastrianism under Christian appellations.... Prayers addressed to the sun, or at least with their faces directed to that tabernacle in which Christ dwell hymns to the great principle of light, exhortations to subdue the dark and sensual elements within, and the study of the marvelous book of Mani, constituted their devotion!' [7]

Edwyn Bevan says of Augustine, “He is the child of the past, awakened to spiritual aspirations by Cicero, steeped to his fingers' ends in Virgil, upon whom the right heritage of old pagan philosophy has come, and whom it stimulates to original thought. And then this same man became the Christian doctor who, according to Harnack, more than any other one man, shaped the theology and ruled the ecclesiastical practice of Western Europe in the Middle Ages.” “Now we see how the Christian belief has been grafted on to a Platonic stock.” [8]

Instead of the great mass of practices in the church coming from Christ, we learn that “the Christian Platonists of Alexandria led the way.... It is no paradox to say, with Eucken, that the pagan Plotinus has left a deeper mark upon Christian thought than any other single man.” [9]

We learn that this Neoplatonism of Clement, Origen, and Augustine has left a greater mark upon Christianity than anything else. Professor Cumont says, “Neo-Pythagoreanism and Neoplatonism insisted still more emphatically upon the sacred character of the luminary [the sun], which is the ever-present image of the intelligible God.” [10]

Comparison of “Son” and “Sun”

How was it possible for all these changes to take place, and the church members to follow these strange customs and still call themselves Christians? Professor Cumont answers, “The ecclesiastical writers reviving a metaphor of the prophet Malachi, contrasted the Sun of justice with the Invincible Sun, and consented to see in the dazzling orb which illuminated men a symbol of Christ, 'the light of the world. [11]

Notice this in the “Hymn on the Nativity,” by a Christian, Ephraim Syrus: “The Sun revealed in silence his worshipers to his Lord; it was grievous to him, a servant, to be worshiped instead of the Lord. Lo, creation is glad, that the Creator is worshiped.... When fools did reverence to the sun, in reverence to him they disgraced him. But now when all know he is a servant, in his course his Lord is worshiped.'' [12]

“The day of the All-Lightening exults in his birth; a pillar of radiance which drives away, by its beams, the works of darkness. After the type of that day. . . . the radiance of our Savior's birth, came in to sunder the darkness that was on the heart!' [13]

It was the custom of the Egyptians to worship the sun in the east in the morning; and the Persians prostrated themselves before it as it rose. Tacitus tells of this practice in Vespasian's army when that general was conducting his conquest of the East. [14] But as early as the time of Tertullian the Christians were doing the same thing; but they used this excuse: Some -believe that the sun is our god. The idea no doubt has originated from our being known to turn to the cast in prayer. But you, many of you also under pretense sometimes of worshiping the heavenly bodies, move your lips in the direction of the sunrise. In the same way, if we devote Sunday to rejoicing, from a far different reason than sun worship, we have some resemblance to those of you who devote the day of Saturn to ease and luxury. [15]

Bible Quoted in Defense of Worship Toward the East

The records indicate that during the time of the apostles the Romans were following the customs of the Egyptians and Persians of worshiping the sun as it rose in the morning, and were also recognizing Sunday as of special importance. We also see that the church at Alexandria was the first (it was later followed in other parts) to follow the same custom. As a result, they were accused of following pagan customs, which necessitated an explanation. Tertullian, about 240 AD. acknowledged this similarity, but was unable to give a satisfactory reason for it. A century or so later the reason given was, “The apostles therefore appointed; Pray ye towards the east, because 'as the lightning that lightens from the east and is seen even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of man be. [16] Shortly after this, John of Damascus said, “It is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the east.... Since, therefore, God is spiritual -light, and Christ is called in the Scriptures, Sun of Righteousness and Dayspring, the east is the direction that must be assigned to His worship.” [17]

The very fact that these people were following the pagan practice of worshiping toward the east at sunrise like their neighbors, and recognizing Sunday, as they did, without giving adequate reason for the practice, and later gave reasons so divergent, strongly indicates that the practice came from another source than Christian. And then when we take into consideration the fact that Clement, the great teacher in the Christian school at Alexandria, where ministers and bishops were trained for their gospel work, actually believed that the worship of the heavenly bodies was not only legitimate, but really beneficial to mankind, we may be able to understand something of how this practice came into the church.

And Gregory Thaumaturgus (the Wonder-Worker) says of Origen, Clement's successor there, “To secure us against falling into the unhappy experience of most [people], he did not introduce us to any one exclusive school of philosophy; nor did he judge it proper for us to go away with any single class of philosophical opinions, but he introduced us to all, and determined that we should be ignorant of no kind of Grecian doctrine. And he himself went on with us, preparing the way before us and leading us by the hand as on a journey.” [18]

Such was the instruction given by the great teachers in the school of Alexandria. Is it at all strange, then, that the people who came in from heathen faiths continued in many of their old ideas and practices? And when the great influential rulers accepted Christianity, crowds of half-converted pagans swarmed into the church where they found practices very similar to those in their heathen temples. Dr. Gerhard Uhlhorn says that when Constantine accepted the Christian faith, “heathenism seemed to be annihilated at one blow, and now the heathen crowded in multitudes into the church.” [19]

He describes the religion of Constantine as follows, “He had not yet completely broken with heathenism, and his personal convictions contained a medley of heathen and Christian elements.” “The soldiers were conducted into the open country and there held a service of peculiar kind, but one entirely characteristic of the time of transition. It was not heathen, but it was also not as yet thoroughly Christian. . . . The general observance of Sunday wove a very firm bond between the life of the people and Christianity.... In this period many things not germane to Christianity, many plainly heathenish, existed side by side with Christianity. “ [20]

The Conclusion

And Professor Cumont adds, “In the fifth century, not only heretics, but even faithful followers, were still wont to bow their heads toward its dazzling disc [the sun] as it rose above the horizon, and to murmur the prayer, 'Have mercy upon US.” [21]

Tertullian may have desired to justify his church for the practice of worshiping toward the east, and endeavored to explain that they were not following heathen practice in so doing; yet the results in the end were heathen practice and heathen worship, simple, clear, and unadulterated.

And only a few years after this it was necessary for the state to pass laws concerning this. “A later decree issued by Justinian, probably in 531, threatens the punishment of death upon those who continue as pagans after having received baptism.'' [22]