Facts of Faith
Constantine had been watching, he said, those Caesars who had persecuted the Christians, and found that they usually had a bad end, while his father, who was favorable toward them, had prospered. So, when he and Licinius met at Milan in 313, AD., they jointly prepared an edict, usually called “The Edict of Milano,” which gave equal liberty to Christians and pagans. Had Constantine stopped here, he might have been honored as the originator of religious liberty in the Roman Empire, but he had different aims in view. The Roman Empire had been ruled at times by two, four, or even six Caesars jointly, and in his ambition to become the sole Emperor, Constantine, as a shrewd statesman, soon saw that the Christian church had the vitality to become the strongest factor in the empire. The other Caesars were persecuting the Christians. If he could win them without losing the good will of the pagans, he would win the game. He therefore set himself to the task of blending the two religions into one. As H. G. Heggtveit (Lutheran) says: FAFA 109.1
“Constantine labored at this time untiringly to unite the worshippers of the old and the new faith in one religion. All his laws and contrivances are aimed at promoting this amalgamation of religions. He would by all lawful and peaceable means melt together a purified heathenism and a moderated Christianity.... His injunction that the ‘Day of the Sun’ should be a general rest day was characteristic of his standpoint... Of all his blending and melting together of Christianity and heathenism none is more easy to see through than this making of his Sunday law. ‘The Christians worshipped their Christ, the heathen their sun-god; according to the opinion of the Emperor, the objects for worship in both religions were essentially the same. “Kirkehistorie ” (Church History), pp. 233, 234. Chicago: 1898. FAFA 109.2
Constantine’s Sunday law of 321 A. D. reads as follows: FAFA 109.3
“On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country, however, persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain-sowing or for vineplanting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost. (Given the 7th day of March, Crispus and Constantine being consuls each of them for the second time.” — “Codex Justinianus, lib. 3, lit. 12, 3”; translated in “History of the Christian Church,” Philip Schaff, D. D, (7-vol. ed.) Vol. III, p. 380. New York: 1884.
Dr. A. Chr. Bang (Lutheran bishop, Norway), says: FAFA 110.1
“This Sunday law constituted no real favouritism towards Christianity.... It is evident from all his statutory provisions, that the Emperor during the time 313-323 with full consciousness has sought the realization of his religious aim: the amalgamation of heathenism and Christianity.” — “Kirken og Romerstaten” (“The Church and the Roman State”), p. 256. Christiania: 1879.
That Constantine by his Sunday law intended only to enforce the popular heathen festival is acknowledged by Professor Hutton Webster, Ph.D. (University of Nebraska), who says: FAFA 110.2
“This legislation by Constantine probably bore no relation to Christianity; it appears, on the contrary, that the emperor, in his capacity as Pontifex Maximus, was only adding the day of the sun, the worship of which was then firmly established in the Roman Empire, to the other ferial days of the sacred calendar.” — “Rest Days,” p. 122. New York: 1916.
A. H. Lewis, D. D., who spent years of study and research on this subject, declares, that “the pagan religion of Rome had many holidays, on which partial or complete cessation of business and labor were demanded,” and that Constantine by his Sunday law was “merely adding one more festival to the festi of the empire.” — “A Critical History of Sunday Legislation from, 321 to 1888 A. D,” pp. 8, 12. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1888. FAFA 110.3
This is clearly seen when we carefully examine all the circumstances presented by Dr. Lewis: FAFA 110.4
1. Constantine’s Sunday edict was given March 7, 321. The very next day he issued an edict commanding purely heathen superstition. We quote: FAFA 110.5
“The August Emperor Constantine to Maximus: FAFA 111.1
“If any part of the palace or other public works shall be struck by lightning, let the soothsayers, following old usages, inquire into the meaning of the portent, and let their written words, very carefully collected, be reported to our knowledge.” — Id., p. 19.
2. The Caesars for over a century had been worshippers of the sun-god, whose weekly holiday was Sunday. Dr. Lewis says: “The sun-worship cult had grown steadily in the Roman Empire for a long time.” — Id., p. 20. He then quotes the following from Schaff in regard to Elagabalus, a Roman Caesar of a century before Constantine’s time: FAFA 111.2
“The abandoned youth, El-Gabal or Heliogabalus (218-222), who polluted the throne by the blackest vices and follies, tolerated all religions in the hope of at last merging them in his favorite Syrian worship of the sun with its abominable excesses. He himself was a priest of the god of the sun, and thence took his name.” — Id., pp. 20, 21. FAFA 111.3
Dean H. H. Milman says: FAFA 111.4
“It was openly asserted that the worship of the sun, under the name of Elagabalus, was to supersede all other worship. If we may believe the biographies in the Augustan history, a more ambitious scheme of a universal religion had dawned upon the mind of the emperor. The Jewish, the Samaritan, even the Christian, were to be fused and recast into one great system, of which the Sun was to be the central object of adoration.” — “History of Christianity,” Vol. II, Book 2, chap. 8, par. 22, p. 178,179. New York: 1881.
Dr. Lewis further says that Aurelian, who reigned from 270-276 A. D., embellished the temple of the Sun with “above fifteen thousand pounds of gold.” — “History of Sunday Legislation,” p. 23. Diocletian, who reigned from 284 to 305, “appealed in the face of the army to the all-seeing deity of the sun.” — Id., p. 24. FAFA 111.5
“Such were the influences which preceded Constantine and surrounded him when he came into power. The following extract shows still plainer the character of Constantine and his attitude toward the sun-worship cults, when the first ‘Sunday edict’ was issued: FAFA 112.1
“‘But the devotion of Constantine was more peculiarly directed to the genius of the Sun, the Apollo of Greek and Roman mythology.... The sun was universally celebrated as the invincible guide and protector of Constantine.’” — Id., pp. 26, 27. FAFA 112.2
“These facts combine to show that Sunday legislation was purely pagan in its origin. ” — Id., p. 81. FAFA 112.3
“In this law he only sought to give additional honor to the ‘venerable day’ of his patron deity, the sun -god.” — Id., p. 32. FAFA 112.4
“His attitude toward Christianity was that of a shrewd politician rather than a devout adherent.”- Id., p. 6. FAFA 112.5
Dr. Lewis quotes from Dr. Schaff a very fitting conclusion to his remarks regarding Constantine: FAFA 112.6
“And down to the end of his life he retained the title and dignity of pontifex maximus, or high-priest of the heathen hierarchy. His coins bore on the one side the letters of the name of Christ, on the other the figure of the sun-god, and the inscription ‘Sol invictus.’” — Id., p. 10. FAFA 112.7
That the Christians at this time were still keeping the Sabbath can be seen from the following statement of Hugo Grotius, quoted by Robert Cox, F. S. A. Scot.: FAFA 112.8
“He refers to Eusebius for proof that Constantine, besides issuing his well-known edict that labor should be suspended on Sunday, enacted that the people should not be brought before the law courts on the seventh day of the week, which also, he adds, was long observed by the primitive Christians as a day for religious meetings.... And this, says he, ‘refutes those who think that the Lord’s day was substituted for the Sabbath - a thing nowhere mentioned either by Christ or His apostles.”’ - “Opera Omnia Theologica,” Hugo Grotius (died 1645), (London: 1679); quoted in “Literature of the Sabbath Question,” Cox, Vol. I, p. 223. Edinburgh: Maclachlan and Stewart, 1865. FAFA 112.9
Pope Sylvester co-operated with Constantine to bring paganism into the Christian church (especially Sunday-keeping). This caused the true Christians to have repugnance for him. The Waldenses believed he was the Antichrist. Dr. Peter Allix quotes the following from a prominent Roman Catholic author regarding the Waldenses: FAFA 113.1
“‘They say that the blessed Pope Sylvester was the Antichrist, of whom mention is made in the Epistles of St. Paul, as being the son of perdition, who extols himself above every thing that is called God; for, from that time, they say, the Church perished.... ‘ FAFA 113.2
“He lays it down also as one of their opinions, ‘That the Law of Moses is to be kept according to the letter, and that the keeping of the Sabbath ... and other legal observances, ought to take place.”’ - ” Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Churches of Piedmont,” p. 169. Oxford: 1821. Page 154 in the edition of 1690. FAFA 113.3
Having obtained a glimpse of the opposition of God’s people to this failing away, let us now return to our subject, to get a view of the novel means Constantine employed to make converts in accordance with his amalgamation scheme. Edward Gibbon says: FAFA 113.4
“The hopes of wealth and honours, the example of an emperor, his exhortations, his irresistible smiles, diffused conviction among the venal and obsequious crowds which usually fill the apartments of a palace..., As the lower ranks of society are governed by imitation, the conversion of those who possessed any eminence of birth, of power, or of riches, was soon followed by dependent multitudes. The salvation of the common people was purchased at an easy rate, if it be true that, in one year, twelve thousand men were baptized at Rome ... and that a white garment, with twenty pieces of gold, had been promised by the emperor to every convert.” — “Decline and Fall,” chap. 20, par. 18. FAFA 113.5
Constantine gave the following instruction to the bishops at the Council of Nicea, which shows his constant policy: FAFA 113.6
“‘In all ways unbelievers must be saved. It was not every one who would be converted by learning and reasoning. Some join us from desire of maintenance; some for preferment; some for presents: nothing is so rare as a real lover of truth. We must be like physicians, and accommodate our medicines to the diseases, our teaching to the different minds of all.’” — “Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church,” Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, D. D., Lecture 5, p. 271. New York: 1875. FAFA 114.1
The bishops were often too willing to follow the emperor’s instruction, and the result was disastrous to the church. J. A. W. Neander in the following paragraph gives us some of the results of this policy: FAFA 114.2
“Such were those who, without any real interest whatever in the concerns of religion, living half in Paganism and half in an outward show of Christianity, composed the crowds that thronged the churches on the festivals of the Christians, and the theatres on the festivals of the pagans.” — “History of the Christian Religion and Church,” Vol. II, Sec. 3, Part 1, Div. 1, par. 1, p. 223. Boston: 1855. FAFA 114.3
No wonder Rev. H. H. Milman exclaims: FAFA 114.4
“Is this Paganism approximating to Christianity, or Christianity degenerating into Paganism?” — “History of Christianity,” pp. 341, 342. He answers this question later by saying: “With a large portion of mankind, it must be admitted that the religion itself was Paganism under another form.” — Id., p. 412.
Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, and an admirer of Constantine, co-operated with him in bringing “the venerable day of the sun” into the Christian church. Speaking of Pope Sylvester, Constantine, and himself, he says: FAFA 114.5
“All things whatsoever that it was duty to do on the Sabbath these we have transferred to the Lord’s day, as more appropriately belonging to it, because it has a precedence and is first in rank, and more honourable than the Jewish Sabbath. For on that day in making the world, God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.” — “Commentary on the Psalms”; quoted in “Literature on the Sabbath Question,” Robert Cox, Vol. I, p. 361. FAFA 114.6
Eusebius evidently used the strongest argument he knew as proof for Sunday-keeping; but advocates of this new holiday had probably not yet conceived the idea that Christ’s resurrection would be an argument in favor of Sunday-keeping, so he used creation instead. FAFA 115.1