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2. Of the Sabbath

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XXI. Sacred Seasons, Festivals and Fasts

2. Of the Sabbath

The primitive church observed both the Jewish and the christian sabbath. The Jewish converts considered the abrogation of the ceremonial law, and of the sabbath, to relate only to their exemption from its burdensome rites; and religiously observed the day as holy. Converts from paganism, on the contrary, contemplated Christianity as a dispensation altogether new, and the religion of the Jews as totally abrogated. The resurrection of Christ was to them a fixed point, the beginning of this new dispensation, the new passover from bondage to freedom, from death to life. This great event they refused to commemorate on the same day which the Jews observed for another end, and for this purpose they selected the first day of the week. The import of the christian sabbath they accounted more significant and important than that of the Jewish. The one commemorated the completion of the work of creation; the other, the beginning of a nobler work by the great Creator himself, who was light and life to all.

The silence of the writers of the New Testament relative to the christian sabbath, is no matter of surprise. It is in strict accordance with that law of liberty which is the basis of the christian dispensation. But there are various passages which evidently refer to this institution. The divine Word, by whom all things were made, is styled Light and Life, with evident reference to the work of creation. To this we may add Acts 20:7, 1 Cor. 16:2, Mark 16:2, 9, John 20:19, 26, and especially Rev. 1:10.

The author of the epistle of St. Barnabas introduces the Lord as saying, 'The sabbaths which you now keep are not acceptable to me; but those which I have made, when, resting from all things, I shall begin the eighth day, that is, the beginning of the other world.' "For which cause," he adds, "we observe the eighth day with gladness, in which Jesus rose from the dead, and, having manifested himself to his disciples, ascended into heaven." 

Justin Martyr, who lived in the fore part of the second century, says that they. Christians, neither celebrated the Jewish festivals, nor observed their sabbaths, nor practised circumcision. In another place he says that they, both those who lived in the city and they who lived in the country, were all accustomed to meet on the day which is denominated Sunday, for the reading of the Scriptures, prayer, exhortation, and communion. See chap. XVI. § 4. The assembly meet on Sunday, because this is the first day on which God, having changed the darkness, and the elements, *, created the world: and because Jesus our Lord on this day arose from the dead.

Pliny asserts that they, the Christians, were wont to meet on a certain day, stato die, and sing hymns to Christ as God. 

Ignatius, in the first century, exhorts the Magnesians, c. 9, no longer to sabbatize, i.e. observe the Jewish sabbaths, but to keep the Lord's day. Other authorities are quoted from Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus and Cyprian, from all which it must be admitted that the observance of the Christian sabbath had already become universal in the second century, as a usage enforced by common consent and the authority of tradition, agreeably to the declaration of Augustine. 

Athanasius, however, in the beginning of the third century, expressly declared that the Lord changed the sabbath into the Lord's day, and adds, "We observe the Lord's day because of the resurrection. 

The account which Eusebius gives of this subject is, that the Logos, the Word, in the New Testament, transferred the sabbath of the Lord God unto this day, i.e. to the christian sabbath, as the true image of divine rest, and the first day of light, when the Saviour, bursting the bars of death, completed a work more excellent than that of the six days of creation, and entered the gates of heaven, to enjoy his glorious rest. "This day," he observes, "Christians throughout the world celebrate, in strict obedience to the spiritual law. Like the Jews they offer the morning and evening sacrifice, with incense of sweeter odor;" referring to their confessions, supplications, and prayers, and the melody of their psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. The day, he also says, was universally observed as strictly as the Jewish sabbath, whilst all feasting, drunkenness, and recreation, was rebuked as a profanation of the sacred day. – Comment. in Ps. 91.

The Jewish Christians, while they observed the seventh day as the sabbath, did not omit the first day in commemoration of the resurrection. This would probably have been a forfeiture of the christian name. But the exhortations which were given against judaizing and sabbatizing, are directed apparently against an undue care in keeping the Jewish sabbath. This was uniformly censured as prejudicial to the freedom of christian worship; but no specific limitations were set to those things which might be done consistently with christian liberty and a good conscience in celebration of the Jewish sabbath. Neither did the decrees of councils and of emperors, relating to the observance of Sunday, interfere with the usages relating to the Jewish sabbath. It was even styled by Gregory Nazianzen the kindred of the christian sabbath. Both were observed as joyful festivals, on which it was forbidden to fast, with the exception of Easter eve, commemorative of that night when our Lord lay entombed in the sepulchre.

The rules relating to the observance of Saturday, or the Jewish sabbath, were chiefly of a negative and prohibitory character. Fasting and kneeling in prayer were forbidden, as on the sabbath. Labor was not prohibited, which is the more remarkable inasmuch as it was suspended even on other festivals. Neander erroneously asserts that the communion was administered on this day. But public worship was held, and the mysteries celebrated, as on the Lord's day. To this remark, however, the church at Rome and Alexandria are an exception. It was at a later period observed as an evening festival preparatory to the Lord's day, and was solemnized by vespers and vigils. This is the true import of the religious observance of Saturday. It was preparatory to the Lord's day, designed to lead on and rightly introduce this great day of our Lord. But the Roman and the Oriental churches differed essentially in their observance of the day. The former kept it as a fast the latter as festival. 

The Lord's day, however, was uniformly regarded as more sacred than Saturday. And after the fourth century was thus honored not only in the church, but also in the state. Ignatius says that all who loved the Lord kept the Lord's day as the queen of days, a reviving, life-giving day, best of all our days. Such epithets abound in the ancient homilies of the fathers. But the appropriate name of the day was the Lord's day. The name of Sunday, die solis, was rejected, because of its relation to idolatry; and when at length it was received into use, it was only in a metaphorical sense, in relation to Christ as the Light of the World and the Sun of Righteousness. It is also worthy of note that the first day was very generally called the eighth day.

The heretical sects of the day are severely censured by the fathers for their disregard of the sabbath. And yet it does not appear that any one absolutely neglected the day. It would seem rather that they were less scrupulous in the two cardinal points by which, in the view of the primitive Christians, the day was desecrated – fasting, and kneeling in prayer. To fast in token of sorrow on this glad day, and to kneel whilst commemorating the day when our Lord arose, was a violent impropriety, which failed not to awaken the sore displeasure of the church, and call forth the anathemas of her councils. It is not distinctly known whether these sects allowed labor to be performed on the Lord's day or not.

C. A. E. Becher's Abhandlung vom Sabbate der Juden und Sonntage der Christen. Halle 1775. 4: C. C. L. Franke Commentat. de diei Dominicl apud veteres Christianos celebratione, Hal. 1826. 8.
(No tag #1 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Ep. St. Barab. c. 15.

Dial. c. Tryph. p. 34.

Apol. 1. p. 222.
(No tag #4 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Plen. ep. x. 96.

Tertullian Adv. Jud. c. 4, 5: De fuga persev. c. 14. Apol. c. 16. Ad nat. c. 13. De cor. mil. c. 3.

Stromal, v. p. 138.

Cyprian ep. 38.

Augustin. ep. 118 ad Jan. c. 1.

Opp. torn. i. p. 1060.

Ignat. ad Magnes. c. 10.

Concil. Nic. A. D. 325.

Opp. tom. iii. 312.

A post. Const, lib. vii. c. 23. ii. c. 49. viii. c. 33.
(No tag #14 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Euseb. Vit. Const, lib. iv. c. 18.

Gesch. d. Rel. und Kirche, bk. ii. S. 635: Chrysost. de Resurr. Homil. 5.

Augustin. Epist. 36. al 86. ad Casulanum. § 31, 32.

Canon. Apost. 66.

Justin. M. Apol. 1. p. 225.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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