The First Civil Sunday Law

The First Civil Sunday Law No. 2

Part two of our exploration of the first Sunday law.


Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, personal friend, flatterer, biographer, and adviser of the emperor, praised Constantine highly for appointing "one suitable day for prayers to be regarded, the truly chief, and first, and really Lord's and saving (day), and also that of light, and of life, and of immortality, and of every good thing named." ' And he asks:

"Who else has commanded those inhabiting the great globe of earth, and those through land and sea, that they should regard the Lord's day in every week, and upon it should celebrate a festivity, and build up their bodies, and fur­nished an incentive to their souls for divinely inspired instructions; and what god or hero having been opposed as has been our deliverer, has gathered the spoils of victory from the enemy?" "

In another work Eusebius describes Con­stantine's Sunday legislation more at length, saying:

"And also he ordained a suitable day for prayers, the truly chief, and first, and really Lord's and saving (day). And deacons and ministers consecrated to God, men both sober of life and adorned with every virtue, he appointed custodians of all his house. The faithful spearmen and bodyguards, equipped with  the arms of virtue and faith, had for a teacher of piety none other than the emperor himself; and they failed not to honor the Lord's and saving day, offering up among themselves gracious prayers for the emperor. And the blessed (prince) labored to make all men do this, as  it were making a vow itself, to make all men little by little religious." Wherefore, to all those governed under the Roman Empire he commanded to be made a rest on the days named for the Saviour;  and likewise also those of the-Sabbath to honor, " it appears to me, with respect to a memorial of the things remembered to have been done on these (days) by the common Saviour.

"And the saving day, which also happens to be named in honor of the light and of the sun, he, earnestly teaching all the army to honor, gave to those partaking of the faith in God leis­,ure to attend the church of God unhindered, in honor of whom to devote to prayers without any one being an impediment to them.

"And for those not as yet partaking of the divine word, he commanded in a second law that they be marched on the Lord's days to the 'open field before the camp, and there, at a given signal, offer up together with one accord , a prayer to God. For neither in spears, nor in full armor, nor in strength of bodies should they fix their hope, but above all in knowing God, the giver of all good things, even of vic­tory itself, to whom it is fitting to offer prayers while the hands are raised aloft toward heaven, and the eyes of the mind pass on beyond to the heavenly King, and in prayer calling upon the Saviour, giver of victory, the guardian and helper. And he was a teacher of prayer for all the soldiers, exhorting them all to say together in the Latin tongue thus:

" 'Thee alone we acknowledge as God; and Thee we reverence as King. We invoke Thee as our helper; and to Thee we owe our vic­tories. By Thee we have put down our enemies. We thank Thee for the good things of the past; and in Thee we hope for the future. We are all become Thy supplicants; and we earnestly be­seech Thee to preserve to us our emperor Con­stantine and his divinely beloved sons in long life of health and victory.' "20

It will be observed that the language was so adapted that the prayer might be offered to any one of the many gods in vogue at that time, although it was evidently framed by some clergyman, and intended, as Eusebius implies, to be to the true God.

The same writer adds: "And to the gov­ernors of the empire likewise was issued a law to honor the Lord's day; and by command of the emperor they honored the days of the martyrs and the ecclesiastical seasons and festivals." "

A modern writer has well said: "It was in behalf of the Sunday that popery first asserted its arrogant claims; and its first resort to the power of the state was to compel the observ­ance of Sunday as the Lord's day.' "22

Not only did Constantine allow agricultural labors to be performed on Sunday, as already noted, but -he-also-appointed it-a, -market day. An inscription on a Slavonian bath rebuilt by the emperor says: "By provision of his piety, he ordained that markets be held on the day of the sun perpetually throughout the year."

Sunday marketing continued uninterrupted throughout the centuries until Charlemagne (768-814 A. D.), at the instigation of the clergy, forbade it to be done!' The practice is still followed in some parts of Europe!'

If a man's religion is known by its fruits, it may be safely asserted that Constantine's con­version was only nominal. The mingling of heathen superstition and Christian rites in the building of Constantinople, and the celebration of the anniversary of its founding, cannot be mentioned here for lack of space.'

"Many of the coins of this prince," says Duruy, "bore on the reverse side the inscrip­tion: Soli Invicto (to the Invincible Sun); and some, of the time of the alliance with Licinius, have added the words: Comiti Augustorum (companion [or counselor] of the August Em­perors). (Eckhel, Vol. VIII, p. 74.) Others represented Constantine himself with the attri­butes of the sun, his head surrounded by rays. (Cohen, Vol. VI, p. 108, fig. 100.) And in one of his discourses, Julian makes Jupiter say to Apollo: 'Why hast thou not struck with thy sharp darts that daring mortal, deserter of thy worship?' "—Seventh Contra Heraclius, par. 17.

Duruy says further of the Constantine coins:

"There existed so many of them with the figure of Jupiter, Mars, Victory, and especially of the sun, and even with the inscription: 'To the Geniis of the Roman People' or 'of the Prince,' that for the great numismatologist Eckhel the whole monetary history of that reign was one of a pagan emperor. (Vol. VIII, p. 88.) That doctrine could no longer be sus­tained after they found a number of Constan­tine's coins of the Christian type and of others where, upon the same piece, the two cults are associated, the inscription, for example, Marti Patri Conservatori (to Father Mars, Protector) together with the cross. (See W. Madden, The Numis. Chron., Vol. 22, p. 242ff.) The writers who certify the ardor of the Christian zeal of the emperor in the year 312 A. D., refuse to recognize this confusion, for them outrageous; but impartial history sees in this the demon­stration of that policy which was happily in­spired by circumstances rather than by princi­ples of religious belief.""

Gibbon only erred by confusing "truth" with apostasy when he said:

"As he [Constantine] gradually advanced in the knowledge of the truth, he proportionately declined in the practice of virtue; and the same year of his reign in which he convened the Council of Nice, was polluted by the execution, or rather murder, of his eldest son." "

Not only did he murder his son Crispus, but also had his wife, the boy!s mother, suffocated by steam in a bath, according to many historians. At any rate, it is certain that, against his plighted word to his own sister, he had his seventy-year-old brother-in-law Licinius put to death without a just cause in 324 A. n.; and a little later Constantine had murdered the younger Licinius, his nephew. These crimes were committed three years after the promul­gation of the famous Sunday law.

The whole life of Constantine was bent to one end,—to become the sole lord of the Roman world. Once he had as many as five rivals for the coveted power, but his genius as soldier and politician enabled him to triumph over them all. It took eighteen years of war, bloodshed, and intrigue to become Rome's sole ruler. He put off openly professing Christ until he had satisfied every earthly ambition. This was no doubt done to avoid offending his pagan sub­jects, to whom he was ever their high priest.

Constantine died in 337 A. D. As his last day drew near, he called the ministers of the church to baptize him, saying to them: "Let there now be no more uncertainty." "

Such was Constantine, the father of civil Sunday legislation, the man who steered the world and the church into the abyss of politico-ecclesiastical despotism that was the curse and nightmare of civilization for more than a thou­sand years to come.

References and Footnotes

Eusebius, "De Laudibus Constantini" (On the Laudable Acts of Constantine), chap. 9. (See note 1, in the first article.)

 Idem, chap. 17.

Note the original Greek. Here we see the real objective of Constantine's Sunday legislation. It was hoped by those who proposed it that such legislation would promote the extension of Christianity.

"The day of the sun was reverenced by his [Con­stantine's] pagan subjects, and was honored by Chris­tians ; it was the emperor's policy to unite the conflict­ing interests of heathenism and Christianity. He was urged to do this by the bishops of the church, who. inspired by ambition and thirst for power, perceived that if the same day was observed by both Christians and pagans, it would promote the nominal acceptance of Christianity by pagans, and thus advance the power and glory of the church."—E, G. White, in "The Great Controversfy," p. 53.

In order not to offend his pagan subjects, the em­peror used the title "Day of the Sun," instead of "Lord's day," in his laws.

The Greek text of Eusebius plainly states "the Sabbath :"Accolcus Se eel rat ra 2appdrov renav- ( Eusebi us' "Life of Constantine," book 4, chap. 18.) And we know positively that the Sabbath was still honored among the churches at that time. Many commenta­tors, however, think that there has been some error in the transcription of the original text, and that it may have meant originally "the day before the Sab­bath," that is, Friday, which was then, and still is. an ecclesiastical fast day. This supposition of a cor­rupted text is based on the following statement from Sozomen, a historian of the fifth century :

"And that called the Lord's day, which the Hebrews call the first of the week, and which the Greeks devote to the sun ; and the (day) before the seventh. he [Constantine] commanded all the judges and others to make a rest, and in prayers and supplications to worship the Deity."—"Ecclesiastical History," Greek text, in Migne's "Patrologia Graeca," vol. 67, col. 881.

 Eusebius, "The Life of Constantine," book 4, chaps. 18-20. (See notes 1 and 4.)

Id., book 4, chap. 23.

E. G. White, "The Great Controversy," p. 53.

Janus Gruterus' "Inscriptiones Antiquae totius Orbis Roman" (Ancient Inscriptions of the Whole Roman World), Vol. I, p. 164, fig. 2. Amsterdam, 1707. 

Labbe's "Collectio Sacrorum Conciliorum" (Collection of the Holy Councils), Vol. XIV, Appendix with Capitularies. Florence, 1749.

In all, we know that Constantine promulgated six decrees referring to Sunday observance : (1) the law of 321, commanding courts, trades, and townspeople to rest on Sunday ; (2) later in the same year another concerning emancipation and manumission on that day ; (3) a law granting Christian soldiers freedom to attend religious services on the same ; (4) another law commanding the pagan troops to recite a prayer in the drill field that day ; (5) a decree establishing Sunday marketing perpetually on the day of the sun : and (6) a general decree sanctioning the decision of the Council of Nicaea that the Paschal (or Easter) service be celebrated by Christians only on Sunday, and thereby assured the triumph of the Roman Church in its pretensions so arrogantly asserted by the Ronan bishops since the time of Anicetus and Victor I in the second century. The lengthy epistle of Constan­tine in behalf of Easter Sunday may be found in Eusebius' "Life of Constantine," book 3, chap. 17ff. (See note 1.)

Victor Duruy's "Histoire des Romaines" (History of the Romans), Vol. VII, pp. 81-83. Paris, 1879. Anselmus Bandurus. "Antiquitatum Constantinopoli­tanarum" (of the Antiquities of Constantinople), edi­tion of 1711.

"Histoire des Romaines" (History of the Romans), Vol. VII, pp. 51, 81. Paris, 1879. Duruy states in the notes that there were then 138 small bronze coins of Constantine in the French Cabinet (or Museum), with the inscription Soli Invicto Comiti (To the In­vincible Sun, Companion for Counselor]). M. Felix Lajard presents one of Constantine as having written on it Deo Invicto Mithrae (To the Invincible God Mithra).—"Introduct. a L'Etude du Culte Publice et des Mysteres de Mithra en Orient et en Occident" (Introduction to the Study of the Public Worship and of the mysteries of Mithra in the East and 'In" the West), plate CII, fig. 21. Paris, 1847.

"Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," Vol. II, p. 272, Milman's edition, 1875.

Eusebius, "The Life of Constantine," book 4, chap. 62.

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November 1935

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