Origin of the Papal Sunday

Origin of the Papal Sunday—No. 1

The Ecclesiastico-Historical Phase

By WILLIAM G. WIRTH, Professor, College of Medical Evangelists

From a personal letter by the author, we take the liberty of abstracting the following sentences which throw light upon the spirit and intent of these ex­cellent articles: "This is by no means a complete presentation. I have meant it to be suggestive and stimulative of further study along this line. Many are too content with superficial proofs, such as Con­stantine's law and a few other ecclesiastical happen­ings, to set forth the change of the day. There is vastly more to this question than is ordinarily con­ceived by our men.”—Editor

We read in I Peter 3:15 that we ought to be able to give "a reason" for our faith to "every man that asketh,"—a "reason," we take it, that is both sound and accurate, one that is adequate to explain the given doctrine. Since Seventh-day Adventists hold to the seventh-day, Biblical Sabbath as one of their cardinal beliefs, superficial state­ments regarding its change are not sufficient to satisfy either the world or ourselves. When we maintain that prophecy indicates that the Papacy changed the day of rest, we should know in what sense this is true,—the back­ground out of which this papal ratification of Sunday, not origination, sprang.

When we approach the prophetic study of this question, we are struck by a significant trio of predictions which reveal the eccle­siastico-historic aspect of the change. The first aspect is found in Acts 2o:28ff. Here Paul was making a serious appeal because he thought he was speaking to the Ephesian elders for the last time. Because of this, he would naturally impart to them his fears of future dangers to the church. These dangers were to be crystallized in the appearance of the great apostasy. Paul's inspired certainty of this ecclesiastical menace is witnessed by his emphatic "I know" (Greek ego). What made the matter more painful to the apostle was that this falling away from gospel truth was to emanate from "among your own selves," from the "bishops" ("overseers" in the King James Version).

Paul's choice of the word "bishops" in this connection is freighted with ecclesiastical meaning, and demands that we pause to eluci­date a bit. In apostolic times the church leader­ship was of a simple kind, that of either elders (presbyteroi) or bishops (episcopoi). "Elder" and "bishop" were absolutely synonymous terms, as shown in this very chapter of Acts, verses 17 and 28. Below the elders or bishops were the deacons (see Acts 7). It was never intended in the divine order that there should be any distinction between elder and bishop. Both were to be of equal rank and office in the church. However, after apostolic times, when Christianity became more popular, an ominous distinction did begin to manifest it­self between these two offices. The bishop took higher rank than the presbyter, or elder, and the church leadership was contained in the episcopoi and not in the presbyteroi.

Episcopal Summit of Power

" Human pride, human ambition, which is always the germ seed of apostasy, was begin­ning to appear. Logically this pride and am­bition led not only to un-Biblical ecclesiastical organization, but to un-Biblical teachings on the part of various bishops; and so Paul's "perverse things" came to fulfillment. The result of all this focused in the endeavor of certain bishops to "draw away the disciples after them." One has to have only a super­ficial acquaintance with church history in post-apostolic times to see how truly Paul's words met striking fulfillment. Those times furnish a shameful record of ambitious prelates, the bishops of this place and that striving for the mastery through the championing of "perverse things" in teaching, or the "drawing away" after them of followers in ecclesiastical au­thority. In such struggle of ambition and pride, it is not difficult to see how the bishops over the more important churches in the more important cities prevailed over their ecclesias­tical brothers placed in less fortunate geo­graphical centers. Of all the centers, Rome as the capital of the empire stood supreme politically. Hence, the bishop of the church in Rome came to stand supreme ecclesias­tically.

If Acts 20 gives us the general episcopal back­ground of the apostasy, just as certainly does 2 Thessalonians 2:1ff. give us the second phase, the particular papal setup of the apostasy. In­deed, we must have the episcopoi before we can have the papae. When it is realized that the Thessalonian letters are generally con­ceded by scholars to be the first of the New Testament writings, is it not again significant that Paul should in these first writings dwell on the coming apostasy? In a word, the apos­tle affirms that the falling away will be headed by one man,—"the man of sin," or, better, "of lawlessness." This "lawlessness" quite logi­cally proceeded from a wrong emphasis on church organization, as previously shown in Acts 20.

The episcopal theory of church polity, in the very nature of the case, makes the church, and not the Bible, the center of authority. It is here, let it be unfailingly noted, that we have the striking difference between the Pa­pacy and Protestantism. The true Protestant locus of authority is in the Word; the papal is in the church. If the church is to prevail, it has, of course, the right and prerogative of making its own ecclesiastical laws, which the canonical laws of the Papacy abundantly prove. It is in this sense, profoundly, that the apostasy is "the mystery of lawlessness." This "lawless" element is further indicated by Paul here in 2 Thessalonians through the sitting of "the man of sin" in the temple of God. With inspired accuracy Paul uses for "sitteth," kathisai, the very word from which ex cathedra comes, when it is indicated that the pope speaks infallibly on church doctrine and practice.

Domination and Persecution Follow

Having attained the summit, in 2 Thessa­lonians 2, of ecclesiastical power, Daniel 7—the third phase—presents the domination and persecution as the resultant of this assumption of power. The climb to the pinnacle through the Arian controversy and other channels did remove the "three horns" of opposition,—Van­dals, Ostrogoths, and Lombards. The halcyon days of Gregory VII, Innocent III, and Boni-face VIII are too well known to need com­ment. The domination came, and the Papacy did indeed enter into its veni, vidi, vici. All too disastrously did the medieval religious non­conformists feel the might of the papal vici in persecution.

With all things in its ecclesiastical grasp, with effective influence politically, the stage was all set for the endeavor to "change the times and the law" (not "laws" as erroneously given in the King James Version). Having developed into the grand compromise with paganism, and securing legislative strength through its canonical laws, the apostasy would naturally throw its support behind the "venerable day of the sun." The early Christian centuries were ripe for just that Sunday sponsoring by the apostate Christian church. The more crude sun worship of pre-Christian times had become sublimated in the refined sun worship of Mithraism, which had come into the West from the more philosophical East. Since Mithraism made the Roman emperor its divine reflection or king, of course the Roman emperors were glad to espouse its cause. Mithraism had its Sebaste (the days venerated for the emperor) ; why, contended the apostate Christians, should not Christianity have its days, venerated for the Lord Jesus? So it was that the first day of the week, the day of the sun, became kuriake, the Lord's day. Later, when the Roman Empire became definitely Christian, kuriake (the Lord's day), replaced the expression "sun's day" as the name for the first day of the week for all who spoke Greek or Latin.

In passing, this explains why today in Greece, Sunday is still called kuriake; in Spain it is called domingo (Lord's day), and in France dimanche (Lord's day)—the word in these respective Romance languages being but variations of the Latin dies dominica (Lord's day). Interestingly enough, in North­ern European countries, which did not fall directly under the imperial influence, the words used for the first day of the week have retained the distinctive sun influence, and so we have, in English, Sunday; in German, Sountag; in Sweden, Sondag.

Historical Setup of the Day

Corning to the direct historical setup of Sunday as the substitute for the Biblical sev­enth-day Sabbath, by the middle of the second century after Christ we find Ignatius, one of the early church fathers, speaking of Chris­tians' observing the first day of the week as the "Lord's day." The apocryphal Epistle of Barnabas, of about the same time, attaches special holiness to Sunday as, significantly, the "eighth day." It would be wrong to deduce from this that the seventh-day Sabbath was abolished. The "Apostolic Constitutions," for example, clearly show that for about three hundred years after Christ both the seventh-day Sabbath and the first-day Sunday were kept as holy days. Not until about the close of the eighth century was Sunday termed the Sabbath in any distinctive sense. Even up to the time of the Reformation, Sunday was not generally kept particularly as a rest day, but it had more or less the character of the Continental Sunday in Europe today—a day of recreation. Some may be surprised to know that the Scotch Reformer, John Knox, played bowls on Sunday. The "blue law" psychology connected with Sunday observance came out of the Puritanic spirit which cropped forth from the Reformation.

As is well known, the first official Sunday law, which gave the day of the sun political, ecclesiastical, and social sanction, was that of Constantine in 321, which applied to urban communities. Issued for the purpose of win­ning to his side both pagans and Christians in his progressive control of the Empire, Constantine's law was more a negative measure against the desecration of the dies solis, than a positive endeavor to assure the celebration of the dies domini. In 364, the provincial Council of Laodicea abolished seventh-day ob­servance rather generally, though it did permit the Scriptural Sabbath to be a festival, or day of worship. Theodosius the Great did his part, in 386, to further strengthen Sunday ob­servance by prohibiting all games in theater and circus and all legislation and litigation. In 538, the Council of Orleans completed the restrictions begun by Constantine, by forbid­ding rural work on the first day of the week. Sunday was firmly established as the general Christian day of worship by the Council of Macon in 585, which prohibited every kind of business to be carried on on Sunday.

___ To be concluded in March

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By WILLIAM G. WIRTH, Professor, College of Medical Evangelists

February 1938

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