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§ 60. The Lord’s Day.



The celebration of the Lord’s Day in memory of the resurrection of Christ dates undoubtedly from the apostolic age.299299    The original designations of the Christian Sabbath or weekly rest-day are: ἡ μία orμία σαββάτων, the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 21:1; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2), and ἡ ἡμέρα κυριακή, the Lord’s Day, which first occurs in Rev. 1:10, then in Ignatius and the fathers. The Latins render it Dominicus or Dominica dies. Barnabas calls it the eighth day, in contrast to the Jewish Sabbath. After Constantine the Jewish term Sabbath and the heathen term Sunday (ἡμέρα τοῦ ἡλίου, dies Solis)were used also. In the edict of Gratian, a.d. 386, two are combined: "Solis die, quem Dominicum rite` dixere majores." On the Continent of Europe Sunday has ruled out Sabbath completely; while in England, Scotland, and the United States Sabbath is used as often as the other or oftener in religious literature. The difference is characteristic of the difference in the Continental and the Anglo-American observance of the Lord’s Day.99 Nothing short of apostolic precedent can account for the universal religious observance in the churches of the second century. There is no dissenting voice. This custom is confirmed by the testimonies of the earliest post-apostolic writers, as Barnabas,300300    Ep., c. 15: "We celebrate the eighth day with joy, on which Jesus rose from the dead, and, after having appeared [to his disciple, ;], ascended to heaven." It does not follow from this that Barnabas put the ascension of Christ likewise on Sunday.00 Ignatius,301301    Ep. ad Magnes. c. 8, 9.01 and Justin Martyr.302302    Apol. I. 67.02 It is also confirmed by the younger Pliny.303303    "Stato die, ’ in his letter to Trajan, Ep. X. 97. This " stated day, "on which the Christian, in Bithynia assembled before day-light to sing hymns to Christ as a God, and to bind themselves by a sacramentum, must be the Lord’s Day.03 The Didache calls the first day "the Lord’s Day of the Lord."304304    Ch. 14: Κυριακὴ κυρίου, pleonastic. The adjective in Rev. 1:10.04

Considering that the church was struggling into existence, and that a large number of Christians were slaves of heathen masters, we cannot expect an unbroken regularity of worship and a universal cessation of labor on Sunday until the civil government in the time of Constantine came to the help of the church and legalized (and in part even enforced) the observance of the Lord’s Day. This may be the reason why the religious observance of it was not expressly enjoined by Christ and the apostles; as for similar reasons there is no prohibition of polygamy and slavery by the letter of the New Testament, although its spirit condemns these abuses, and led to their abolition. We may go further and say that coercive Sunday laws are against the genius and spirit of the Christian religion which appeals to the free will of man, and uses only moral means for its ends. A Christian government may and ought to protect the Christian Sabbath against open desecration, but its positive observance by attending public worship, must be left to the conscientious conviction of individuals. Religion cannot be forced by law. It looses its value when it ceases to be voluntary.

The fathers did not regard the Christian Sunday as a continuation of, but as a substitute for, the Jewish Sabbath, and based it not so much on the fourth commandment, and the primitive rest of God in creation, to which the commandment expressly refers, as upon the resurrection of Christ and the apostolic tradition. There was a disposition to disparage the Jewish law in the zeal to prove the independent originality of Christian institutions. The same polemic interest against Judaism ruled in the paschal controversies, and made Christian Easter a moveable feast. Nevertheless, Sunday was always regarded in the ancient church as a divine institution, at least in the secondary sense, as distinct from divine ordinances in the primary sense, which were directly and positively commanded by Christ, as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Regular public worship absolutely requires a stated day of worship.

Ignatius was the first who contrasted Sunday with the Jewish Sabbath as something done away with.305305    Ep. ad Magna. c. 8, 9 in the shorter Greek recension (wanting in the Syriac edition).05 So did the author of the so-called Epistle of Barnabas.306306    Cap. 15. This Epistle is altogether too fierce in its polemics against Judaism to be the production of the apostolic Barnabas.06 Justin Martyr, in controversy with a Jew, says that the pious before Moses pleased God without circumcision and the Sabbath,307307    Dial c. TryPh. M. 19, 27 (Tom. I. P. II. p. 68, 90, in the third ed. of Otto).07 and that Christianity requires not one particular Sabbath, but a perpetual Sabbath.308308    Dial. 12 (II, p. 46):σαββατίζειν ὑμᾶς (so Otto reads, but ἡμᾶς would be better) ὁ καινὸς νόμος διὰ παντὸς (belong to σαββατίζειν)ἐθέλει. Comp. Tertullian, Contra Jud. c. 4: "Unde nos intelligimis magis, sabbatizare nos ab omni opere servili semper debere, et non tantum septimo quoque die, sed per omne tempus."08 He assigns as a reason for the selection of the first day for the purposes of Christian worship, because on that day God dispelled the darkness and the chaos, and because Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his assembled disciples, but makes no allusion to the fourth commandment.309309    Apol. I. 67 (I. p. 161):Τὴν δὲ τοῦ ἡλίου ἡμέραν κοινῇ πάντες τὴν συνέλευσιν ποιούμεθα, ἐπειδὴ πρώτη ἐστὶν ἡμέρα, ἐν ᾗ ὁ θεὸς τὸ σκότος καὶ τὴν ὕλην τρέψας , κόσμον ἐποίησε, καὶ Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς ὁ ἡμέτερος σωτὴρ τῇ αυτῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀνέστη. κ.τ.λ.09 He uses the term "to sabbathize" (σαββατίζειν), only of the Jews, except in the passage just quoted, where he spiritualizes the Jewish law. Dionysius of Corinth mentions Sunday incidentally in a letter to the church of Rome, a.d., 170: "To-day we kept the Lord’s Day holy, in which we read your letter."310310    Eusebius, H. E. IV. 23.10 Melito of Sardis wrote a treatise on the Lord’s Day, which is lost.311311    Περὶ κυριακῆς λόγος. Euseb. IV. 26.11 Irenaeus of Lyons, about 170, bears testimony to the celebration of the Lord’s Day,312312    In one of his fragments περὶ τοῦ πάσχα, and by his part in the Quartadecimanian controversy, which turned on the yearly celebration of the Christian Passover, but implied universal agreement as to the weekly celebration of the Resurrection. Comp. Hessey, Bampton Lectures on Sunday. London, 1860, p. 373.12 but likewise regards the Jewish Sabbath merely as a symbolical and typical ordinance, and says that "Abraham without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths believed in God," which proves "the symbolical and temporary character of those ordinances, and their inability to make perfect."313313    Adv. Haer. IV. 16.13 Tertullian, at the close of the second and beginning of the third century, views the Lord’s Day as figurative of rest from sin and typical of man’s final rest, and says: "We have nothing to do with Sabbaths, new moons or the Jewish festivals, much less with those of the heathen. We have our own solemnities, the Lord’s Day, for instance, and Pentecost. As the heathen confine themselves to their festivals and do not observe ours, let us confine ourselves to ours, and not meddle with those belonging to them." He thought it wrong to fast on the Lord’s Day, or to pray kneeling during its continuance. "Sunday we give to joy." But he also considered it Christian duty to abstain from secular care and labor, lest we give place to the devil.314314    De Orat. c. 23: "Nos vero sicut accepimus, solo die Dominicae Resurrectionis non ab isto tantum [the bowing of the knee], sed omni anxietatis habitu et officio cavere debemus, differentes etiam negotia, ne quem diabolo locum demus." Other passages of Tertullian, Cyprian, Clement of Alex., and Origen see in Hessey, l.c., pp. 375 ff.14 This is the first express evidence of cessation from labor on Sunday among Christians. The habit of standing in prayer on Sunday, which Tertullian regarded as essential to the festive character of the day, and which was sanctioned by an ecumenical council, was afterwards abandoned by the western church.

The Alexandrian fathers have essentially the same view, with some fancies of their own concerning the allegorical meaning of the Jewish Sabbath.

We see then that the ante-Nicene church clearly distinguished the Christian Sunday from the Jewish Sabbath, and put it on independent Christian ground. She did not fully appreciate the perpetual obligation of the fourth commandment in its substance as a weekly day of rest, rooted in the physical and moral necessities of man. This is independent of those ceremonial enactments which were intended only for the Jews and abolished by the gospel. But, on the other hand, the church took no secular liberties with the day. On the question of theatrical and other amusements she was decidedly puritanic and ascetic, and denounced them as being inconsistent on any day with the profession of a soldier of the cross. She regarded Sunday as a sacred day, as the Day of the Lord, as the weekly commemoration of his resurrection and the pentecostal effusion of the Spirit, and therefore as a day of holy joy and thanksgiving to be celebrated even before the rising sun by prayer, praise, and communion with the risen Lord and Saviour.

Sunday legislation began with Constantine, and belongs to the next period.

The observance of the Sabbath among the Jewish Christians gradually ceased. Yet the Eastern church to this day marks the seventh day of the week (excepting only the Easter Sabbath) by omitting fasting, and by standing in prayer; while the Latin church, in direct opposition to Judaism, made Saturday a fast day. The controversy on this point began as early as the, end of the second century


Wednesday,315315    Feria quarta.15 and especially Friday,316316    Feria sexta, ἡ παρασκευή16 were devoted to the weekly commemoration of the sufferings and death of the Lord, and observed as days of penance, or watch-days,317317    Dies stationum of the milites Christi.17 and half-fasting (which lasted till three o’clock in the afternoon).318318    Semijejunia.18



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