Sunday Legislation



The first legislation in behalf of Sunday was that by Constantine; and it originated in the church and was enacted solely upon the initiative and the demand of the bishops. This is certain, not only from the provisions of the legislation itself, but also from all the facts and circumstances of the legislation, and from the whole history of the time, as well as of the legislation. SLOC 3.6

The first Iegislation on the subject was about the year A. D. 314, and included Friday as well as Sunday. And the intent of the legislation was specifically religious, for it provided and ordered that on Friday and on Sunday “there should be a suspension of business at the courts and in other civil offices, so that the day might be devoted with less interruption to the purposes of devotion.” SLOC 4.1

Such is Neander’s paraphrase of the statement of Sozomen respecting this first of all legislation in behalf of Sunday observance; and it shows that the only intent of the legislation was religious. But Sozomen’s words themselves, as we have there in English in Professor Walford’s translation, really intensify the religious character of the legislation. Here they are: SLOC 4.2

“He [Constantine] also enjoined the observance of the day termed the Lord’s day, which the Jews call the first day of the week, and which the Greeks dedicate to the sun, as likewise the day before the seventh, and commanded that no judicial or other business should be transacted on these days, but THAT GOD SHOULD BE SERVED WITH PRAYERS AND SUPPLICATIONS.—Sozomen’s “Ecclesiastical History,” Book I. Chap. VIII. SLOC 4.3

This puts it beyond all question or contrivance that the intent of the first legislation ever in the world in behalf of Sunday as a day of cessation from certain business and other common occupations was religious wholly and solely. SLOC 5.1

In the second step in Sunday legislation, in the law of Constantine issued A. D. 321, Friday was dropped and Sunday stood alone. The scope of the law was now extended to include not only courts and other State offices, but also the “people residing in cities” and “such as work at trades.” And still the intent of it was unqualifiedly the same for Eusehius, one of the bishops who had most to do with the legislation, says of it: SLOC 5.2

“He [Constantine] commanded too, that one day should be regarded as a special occasion FOR RELIGIOUS WORSHIP.”—“Oration in Praise of Constantine,” Chap. IX. SLOC 5.3

And when in A. D. 386 the scope of the legislation was made universal and “civil transactions of every kind on Sunday were strictly forbidden,” the same exclusively religious character still attached to it; for “whoever transgressed was to be considered in fact, as guilty of sacrilege.”—Neander. SLOC 5.4

“Sacrilege,” is not in any sense a civil, but in every sense only a religious, offense. SLOC 6.1

Thus on the face of the legislation itself it is perfectly plain that there was neither in it, nor about it, in any way, any other than an exclusively religious intent. Yet we are not Ieft with only this evidence, all-sufficient as it would be in itself. By the very ones who initiated and promoted and secured the legislation, there is given the positive assurance that the intent of the legislation was exclusively religious, and specifically so. Again, Bishop Eusebius is the one who assures us of this, as follows, referring to Constantine in this connection: SLOC 6.2

“Who else has commanded the nations inhabiting the continents and islands of this mighty globe to assemble weekly on the Lord’s day and to observe it as a festival, NOT indeed for the PAMPERING OF THE BODY, BUT for the comfort and invigoration of the SOUL by instruction in divine truth.”—Id. Chap. XVII. SLOC 6.3

All this is confirmed by the course of Constantine himself in connection with the law. As the interpreter of his own law, showing what he intended that its meaning should he, he drew up the following prayer which he had his soldiers repeat in concert at a given signal every Sunday morning: SLOC 6.4

“We acknowledge Thee the only God; we own Thee as our King and implore Thy succor. By Thy favor have we gotten the victory; through Thee are we mightier than our enemies. We render thanks for Thy past benefits and trust Thee for future blessings. Together we pray to Thee and beseech Thee long to preserve to us, safe and triumphant, our Emperor Constantine and his pious sons.”—“Life of Constantine,” Book IV, Chap. XX. SLOC 7.1

If, however, there should yet be in the mind of any reasonable person any lingering doubt as to whether the original Sunday legislation was religious only, with no thought, much less any intent, of its having any other than an exclusively religious character, even such lingering doubt must be effectually removed by the indisputable fact that it was by virtue of his office and authority as pontifex maximus, and not as Emperor, that the day was set apart to the uses signified; because it was the sole prerogative of the pontifex maximus to appoint holy days. In proof of this there is the excellent authority of the historian Duruy in the following words: SLOC 7.2

“IN DETERMINING WHAT DAYS SHOULD BE REGARDED AS HOLY, and in the composition of a prayer for national use, CONSTANTINE EXERCISED ONE OF THE RIGHTS Of LONGING TO HIM AS PONTIFEX MAXIMUS, and it caused no surprise that he should do this.”—“History of Rome,” Chap. CII, Part I, par. 4 from end. SLOC 8.1

So much for the exclusively religious origin and character of Sunday legislation as it is in itself. Now what for SLOC 8.2