The cycle of six working days and one for worship and rest, though the legacy of Hebrew history, has in time prevailed throughout almost all the world. In fact, Jewish and Christian worship find their concrete expression in one day, recurring weekly, wherein adoration of God is made possible and more meaningful by the interruption of secular activities.
In recent times, however, our society has undergone much radical transformation, because of its technological, industrial, scientific and spatial achievements. Modern man, as Abraham Joshua Heschel asserts, "lives under the tyranny of things of space." (1) The growing availability of leisure time, caused by shorter work weeks, tends to alter not only the cycle of six days of work and one of rest, but even traditional religious values, such as the sanctification of the Lord’s day. The Christian today therefore is tempted to consider time as a thing that belongs to him, something which he may utilize for his own enjoyment. Worship obligations, if not totally neglected, are often reduced to easy dispensability according to the whims of life. The Biblical notion of the "holy Sabbath," understood as a time to cease from secular activities in order to experience the blessings of creation-redemption by worshiping God and by acting generously toward needy people, is increasingly disappearing from the Christian view. Consequently, if one contemplates the pressure that our economic and industrial institutions are exerting to obtain maximum utilization of industrial plants–by programming work shifts to ignore any festivity— it is easy to comprehend how the pattern transmitted to us of the seven day week, with its recurring day of rest and worship, could undergo radical changes.
|The problem is compounded by a prevailing misconception of the meaning of God’s "holy day." Many well-meaning Christians view Sunday observance as the hour of worship rather than as the holy day of the Lord. Having fulfilled their worship obligations, many will in good conscience spend the rest of their Sunday time engaged either in making money or in seeking pleasure. |
Some people, concerned by this widespread profanation of the Lord’s day, are urging for a civil legislation that would outlaw all activities not compatible with the spirit of Sunday. (2) To make such legislation agreeable even to non-Christians, sometimes appeal is made to the pressing need of preserving natural resources. One day of total rest for man and machines would help safeguard both our power resources and the precarious environment. (3) Social or ecological needs, however, while they may encourage resting on Sunday, can hardly induce a worshipful attitude.
Might not more hopeful results be expected from educating our Christian communities to understand both the Biblical meaning and experience of God’s "holy day"? To accomplish this, however, it is indispensable first of all to articulate clearly the theological ground for Sunday observance. What are the Biblical and historical reasons for Sunday keeping? Can this day be regarded as the legitimate replacement of the Jewish Sabbath? Can the fourth commandment be rightly invoked to enjoin its observance? Should Sunday be viewed as the hour of worship rather than the holy day of rest to the Lord? (4)
To provide an answer to these vital issues it is indispensable to ascertain, first of all, "when," "where," and "why" Sunday rose as a day of Christian worship. Only after reconstructing this historical picture, and having identified the main factors which contributed to the origin of Sunday, will it be possible to proceed with the task of reassessing the validity and significance of Sunday observance.
The Problem and Objectives of this Study
The problem of the origin of Sunday observance in early Christianity has aroused in recent times the interest of scholars of differing religious persuasions. The numerous scientific studies, including several doctoral dissertations, which have appeared over the last two decades are clear evidence of renewed interest and effort put forth to find a more satisfactory answer to the ever intriguing question of the time, place and causes of the origin of Sunday keeping. (5)
The tendency in recent studies, however, has been to make Sunday observance either an exclusive and original creation of the apostolic community of Jerusalem (6) or a too-pagan adaptation of the "dies solis—Sun-day" with its related Sun-worship. (7) But any investigation and conclusion which takes into account only a few causal factors is patently unilateral and poorly balanced. If we recognize, as J. V. Goudoever does, that of "all parts of liturgy the feasts are perhaps the most enduring: it is practically impossible to change the day and form of festival," (8) we should expect that only complex and deep motives could have induced the majority of Christians to abandon the immemorial and prominent Jewish tradition of Sabbath keeping in favor of a new day of worship. In any attempt therefore to reconstruct the historical process of the origin of Sunday, attention ought to be given to the greatest number of possible contributory factors—theological, social, political and pagan—which may have played a minor or greater role in inducing the adoption of Sunday as a day of worship.
This study has two well definable objectives. First, it proposes to examine the thesis espoused by numerous scholars who attribute to the Apostles, or even to Christ, the initiative and responsibility for the abandonment of Sabbath keeping and the institution of Sunday worship. Consideration will be given to Christ’s teachings regarding the Sabbath, to the resurrection and the appearances of Christ, to the eucharistic celebration and to the Christian community of Jerusalem, in order to determine what role, if any, these played in establishing Sunday observance. Our purpose will be to ascertain whether Sunday worship originated during the lifetime of the Apostles in Jerusalem or whether it started sometime later somewhere else. This verification of the historical genesis of Sunday keeping is of great importance, since it may explicate not only the causes of its origin, but also its applicability to Christians today. If Sunday indeed is the Lord’s day, all Christians, yes, all mankind should know it.
Secondly, this book designs to evaluate to what extent certain factors such as anti-Judaic feelings, repressive Roman measures taken against the Jews, Sun-worship with its related "day of the Sun," and certain Christian theological motivations, influenced the abandonment of the Sabbath and the adoption by the majority of Christians of Sunday as the Lord’s day.
This study, then, is an attempt to reconstruct a mosaic of factors in a search for a more exact picture of the time and causes that contributed to the adoption of Sunday as the day of worship and rest. This is in harmony with C. W. Dugmore’s suggestion that "it is sometimes worth reconsidering what most people regard as a chose jugee, even if no startling conclusions can be definitely proved." (9) To reexamine accepted solutions and hypotheses, submitting them anew to critical scrutiny, is not a simple academic exercise, it is rather a duty to be performed in the service of truth.
Our study does not concern itself with the liturgical or pastoral aspects of Sunday observance in primitive Christianity, inasmuch as such problems have already been treated exhaustively in recent monographs. (10) We shall examine solely those texts which can help to establish the time and the causes—formal and material, immediate and remote—of the origin of Sunday worship. Our concern is limited to the problem of origins.
With the exception of a few incidental references to later texts, the documents we shall examine fall within the first four centuries of our era. Patristic testimonies will be examined until this late a period, in order to verify the historical validity of the motivations which appear in the scanty documents of the earlier part of the second century. This is the period in which Sunday worship moved from a nebulous beginning to an established practice. This being the period in which ecclesiastical institutions are still in an embryonic stage, the student who reads the few available documents with later ecclesiological criteria, may easily be led astray.
The sources have been analyzed by taking into account chronological, historical and geographical factors. Significant passages have been submitted to careful scrutiny, since often their textual and contextual problems have been either bypassed or interpreted unilaterally. This creates the unwarranted impression, for instance, that there exists, as stated by N. J. White, "an unbroken and unquestioned Church usage" of the phrase "Lord’s day— kuriake hemera" to refer to Sunday since the earliest apostolic times. (11)
The documents available for the present research are of a heterogeneous nature such as letters, homilies, and treatises. Their derivation, authenticity and orthodoxy are not always certain, but since they are all that we have, everything of value must be wrung from them. According to the canons of scientific rigor, objection could be made to the use of a document such as, for instance, Pseudo-Barnabas. However, if one should limit himself only to the analysis of archival documents, of archeological monuments and other pieces of undisputed authenticity, it would be impossible to make any real progress, owing to their scarcity. It is therefore necessary to examine the rich patristic and apocryphal literature while keeping in mind its limitations.
To make the present study accessible also to the lay reader, both the New Testament and Patristic texts have been quoted in English from reputable translations. The Revised Standard Version has been used, but when necessary the Greek text of E. Nestle and K. Aland has been inserted. In the case of patristic texts of particular relevance, various available critical editions have been examined. Where an English edition is not available or is unsatisfactory, the author has translated. Significant Greek or Latin words have been placed within brackets.
The frequent references to the recent monographs of W. Rordorf, F. A. Regan and C. S. Mosna are symptomatic of their importance as well as of the necessity that was felt to challenge some of their conclusions. Undoubtedly the working hypotheses which have made possible the present research, after having undergone the sieve of the critics, will necessitate in their turn modifications and emendations.
This study largely represents an abridgement of a doctoral dissertation presented in Italian to the Department of Ecclesiastical History at the Pontifical Gregorian University, in Rome. The material has been substantially condensed and rearranged. This re-elaboration has been motivated by the desire to make the study comprehensible even to lay readers. To achieve this often the discussion of technical questions has been placed in footnotes.
It is the hope that the present work may furnish for theologians indispensable historical data necessary for reflections on the significance of Sunday, and that it may arouse also the interest of historians to reconsider the question of the origin of Sunday in the attempt to come nearer to "truth." It is also the hope that earnest readers may be stimulated through a better understanding of the meaning of God’s holy day to search for a deeper fellowship with the "Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28).
Abraham Joshua Heshel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man,
1951, p. 10. The same author underlines the notion that "Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time" (ibid., p. 8).
(2) On the historical development of the Sunday legislation see: H. Huber, Geist und Buchstabe der Sonntagsruhe, 1958, who traces this development until the Middle Ages. A similar treatment is provided by J. Kelly, Forbidden Sunday and Feast-Day Occupations, dissertation, Catholic University of America, 1943. For the Puritan view, see J. Bohmer, Der Christliche Sonntag nach Ursprung und Geschichte, 1951. Ronald Goetz, "An Eschatological Manifesto," The Christian Century 76 (Noverse 2, 1960): 1275, argues that the principle of separation of church and state is overlooked by the advocators of Sunday laws (cf. John Gilmary Shea, "The Observance of Sunday and Civil Laws for its Enforcement." The American Catholic Quarterly Review, 8, (1883): 152ff.
(3) Harold Lindsell comes close to proposing Sunday as a national rest day in his editorial in Christianity Today of May 7, 1976, entitled "The Lord’s Day and Natural Resources." He argues that the only way to achieve the dual objective of Sunday observance and the conservation of energy would be "by force of legislative fiat through the duly elected officials of the people." The opposition to the editorial by Sabbatarians, who view Lindsell’s proposal as a violation of the rights guaranteed to Americans under the First Amendment, apparently induced the editor to come up with a counterproposal in another editorial in the same journal of November 5, 1976. According to Lindsell’s new proposal, Saturday rather than Sunday should be enforced as a day of rest for all people. Seventh-day Adventists emphatically rejected even the latter proposal, on the ground that the forced observance of any day of the week would bring hardship and deprive of religious freedom some segments of population (cf. Leo R. Van Dolson, "Color the Blue Laws Green," Liberty, 72 : 30).
(4) W. Rordorf, Sunday: The history of the day of rest and worship in the earliest centuries of the Christian Church, 1968 (hereafter cited as Sunday), p. 296, holds that "right down to the fourth century the idea of rest played absolutely no part in the Christian Sunday." Since in Rordorf’s opinion Sunday rest was not an original or indispensable component of Sunday worship but an imperial imposition (p. 168), he raises the question "whether it is an ideal solution for the day of rest and the day of worship to coincide" (p. 299). He prefers to assign to Sunday an exclusive cultic function which can be realized in the gathering of the Christian community, in any moment of the day, for the eucharistic celebration.
(5) The following are some of the most recent and significant studies: W. Rordorf, Sunday; by the same author, "Le Dimanche, jour du culte et jour du repos dans l’Église primitive," Le Dimanche, Lex Orandi 39, 1965, pp. 91-111 (hereafter cited as "Dimanche"); Sabbat et dimanche dans l’Église ancienne (compilation and edition of texts), 1972 (hereafter cited as Sabbat); C. S. Mosna, Storia della domenica dalle origini fino agli inizi del V Secolo, Analecta Gregoriana vol. 170, 1969 (hereafter cited as Storia della domenica); J. Daniélou, "Le dimanche comme huitième jour," Le Dimanche, Lex Orandi 39, 1965, pp. 61-89; by the same author, The Bible and the Liturgy, 1964, pp. 222-286; Pacifico Massi, La Domenica nella storia della salvezza, saggio pastorale, 1967 (hereafter cited as La Domenica); Francis A. Regan, "Dies Dominica and Dies Soils. The Beginning of the Lord’s Day in Christian Antiquity," unpublished dissertation, Catholic University of America, 1961 (hereafter cited as Dies Dominica); H. Riesenfeld, "Sabbat et jour du Seigneur," New Testament Essays. Studies in Memory of T. W. Manson, 1959, pp. 210-218; the article appears with minor changes as a chapter "The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day," in The Gospel Tradition: Essays by H. Riesenfeld, 1970, pp. 111-137; C. W. Dugmore, "Lord’s Day and Easter," Neotestamentica et Patristica in honorem sexagenarii O. Cullmann, 1962, pp. 272-281; Y. B. Tremel, "Du Sabbat au Jour du Seigneur," Lumière et Vie 58(1962): pp. 2949; J. M. R. Tillard, "Le Dimanche, jour d’alliance," Sciences Religieuses 16 (1964): pp. 225-250; by the same author, "Le Dimanche," La Maison-Dieu 83 (1965); Le Dimanche, Lex Orandi 39, 1965; Ph. Delhaye-J.L. Lecat "Dinianche et sabbat," Mélanges de Science Religieuse (1966): 3-14 and 73-93; by the same author, "Le dimanche," Verbum Caro (1966); A. Verheul, "Du Sabbat au Jour du Seigneur," Questions Liturgiques et paroissiales (1970): 3-27; Pierre Grelot, "Du Sabbat juif au dimanche chr6tien" La Maison-Dieu 123, 124 (1975): 79-107 and 14-54; other studies will be cited in the course of the study.
(6) This exclusive approach is reflected, for instance, in the methodology of W. Rordorf, when he states: "There are in principle two possible solutions to this problem: either we conclude that the observance of Sunday originated in Christianity, in which case we have to ask what factors contributed to its emergence: or we are convinced that the Christian Church adopted its observance of Sunday from elsewhere. We must come to one conclusion or the other in our search for the origin of the Christian observance of Sunday, for it cannot have been both devised and adopted by Christians" (Sunday, p. 180). Rordorf tenaciously defends the first solution, but his method and conclusions are criticized even by C. S. Mosna, see below footnote 8. Similarly J. Daniélou writes: "Sunday is a purely Christian creation, connected with the historical fact of the Resurrection of the Lord" (Bible and Liturgy, pp. 222 and 242). This view is examined especially in chapters 3, 5 and 9.
(7) See, for instance, H. Gunkel, Zum religionsgeschichtlichen Verstandnis des Neuen Testaments, 19102, pp. 74f.; A. Loisy, Les Mystères paiens, 1930, pp. 223f; also Les Èvangiles synoptiques, 1907, I, pp. 177f.; R. L. Odom, Sunday in Roman Paganism, 1944; P. Cotton, From Sabbath to Sunday, 1933, pp. 130f.
(8) J. V. Goudoever, Biblical Calendars, 1959, p. 151. C. S. Mosna criticizes W. Rordorf for giving "to the rise of Sunday festivity a too-Christian origin, neglecting other useful elements and detaching it from its Jewish context" (Storia delia domenica, pp. 41 and 5).
(9) C. W. Dugmore (footnote 5), p. 274.
(10) For the pastoral aspects of Sunday observance see V. Monachino, La Cura pastorale a Milano, Cartagine e Roma nel secolo IV, Analecta Gregoriana 41, 1947; and S. Ambrogio e la cura pastorale a Milano nel secolo IV, 1973; C. S. Mosna, Storia della domenica, part IV, deals with the liturgical and pastoral aspect of Sunday both in the East and the West; for the question of Sunday rest, see H. Huber, Spirito e lettera del riposo domenicale, 1961; J. Duval, "La Doctrine de l'Église sur le travail dominical et son 5volution," La Maison-Dieu 83 (1965): 106f.; L. Vereecke, "Le Repos du dimanche," Lumière et vie 58 (1962): 72f. (11) A Dictionary of the Bible,
ed. James Hastings, 1911, s. verse "Lord’s Day," by N. J. White.