NATIONAL SUNDAY LAW CRISIS
4: UNITING Church and State
The beginning of the end came March 7, 321 A.D., when Emperor Constantine issued the first National Sunday Law in history. This was the first "blue law" to be issued by a federal government. Here is the test of Constantine’s Sunday law decree:
"Let all judges and townspeople and occupations of all trades rest on the venerable of the sun [Sunday]; nevertheless, let those who are situated in the rural districts freely and with full liberty attend to the cultivation of the fields because it frequently happens that no other day may be so fitting for plowing grains or trenching vineyards, lest at the time the advantage of the moment granted by the provision of heaven be lost. Given on the Nones (seventh) of March, Crispus and Constantine, being counsuls each of them, for the second time."—The Code of Justinian, Book lll, title 12, law 3.
Five additional Sunday laws were to be issued, within a very few years, to buttress this, his basic one.
It is of interest that, at the very time that Constantine was issuing these Sunday laws, he was embellishing the Temple of the Sun in Rome: and, in the same year that he proclaimed his first Sunday law, he made several decrees maintaining pagan practices. Pagan priests decided the most superstitious practices. The day after enacting his first Sunday law, quoted above, Constantine decreed that priestly examination of the entrails of freshly killed chickens should help determine government decisions.
It is also significant that a close examination of this first Sunday law, of Constantine, does not mention Christianity but does use the Mithraic expression, "venerable day of the sun" (venerabili die solis), which was one of the hollowed Mithraic titles for their sacred day, Sunday, the first day of the week. It was one of the mystical names for the day of the sun god. Both the heathen and the Christians well-knew this.
Constantine was a compromiser, determined to bring the religions together while, at the same time, maintaining close ties with all of them. The objective was ecumenism—unite the various religious beliefs in the most acceptable way. And, in Sundaykeeping, he hoped to unite the nation in an enduring religious unity. The first step was to require—by a national decree—one day in the week when worship would be offered to the various gods. Although this first Sunday law spoke of a weekly rest day from employment and did not mention religion or worship, yet the purpose was clearly there and the objective was fully met.
In another of his six Sunday laws, Constantine commanded that all the troops be marched out each Sunday morning for a sunrise service. As the sun was coming up in the east, they were to face it and recite a prayer composed by the emperor. This government prayer was worded in such a way that it could be addressed to any god. Stricter requirements for weekly worship services on Sunday were to follow.
Although Sunday morning sunrise services are still held in our own day, it is well to know that the practice is not Biblical but is another gift from Mithraic worship. Carefully read Ezekiel 8:5:6, 14-18 if you would know what Heaven thinks of this sun-worship custom. We mentioned earlier that sun worship was the earliest idolatry. It was also one of the most widespread religions of heathenism.
"He [Constantine] sent to the legions, to be recited upon that day [Sunday], a form of prayer which could have been employed by a worshiper of Mithra, of Serapis, or Apollo, quite as well as by a Christian believer. This was the official sanction of the old custom of addressing a prayer to the rising sun."—Victor Duruy, History of Rome, Vol. 7, 489.
Constantine’s Sunday law decree was seen as a great victory by the leaders of the Christian church in the large cities of the Western empire. And so it proved to be. The world flocked into the church. The way to the top—politically, socially, and otherwise—was now through the church. Hundreds and thousands quickly joined the church. Although beliefs and standards decayed rapidly, the church leaders were pleased with the apparent increase in prestige and power that they now enjoyed as a result of the Sunday legislation. They now had power to influence those making the laws of the land. And terrible persecution would be the result.
It was several decades before the faithful believers fully realized what had taken place. But, by then, it was too late. Constantine had won, the faithful had lost, and the church was taken over by the world.
And what was the next step? Persecution of believers on a scale never before imagined possible. Beginning slowly at first, it gradually swelled with the passing years, and continued for centuries. In fact, by the time of Martin Luther, nearly everyone in Europe was Catholic. For more than a thousand years, the leaders of the established church had worked intently to crush anyone who had differing views. And they very nearly succeeded.
But we are still looking for the key to the puzzle. How could a "National Sunday Law" have such an effect on an entire nation? Here is the answer: What Constantine and the church leaders at Rome had actually done was to unite church and state. In the act of getting the federal government to require Sunday worship, the church and the state had united! It is as simple as that.
But notice how easily it all began, almost casually. A single national law required a weekly day of rest from employment. Legislators talked about the health of the people and the need for fewer working hours per week. No mention was made, at first, of required worship on that day. But soon afterward, additional laws were passed requiring such worship.
What that first National Sunday Law led to was a single unified church system—one of the most intense, continual persecution of dissenters in the history of mankind. No one knows how to catch and kill genuine Christians as effectively as apostate Christians. This persecution was to continue over a thousand years. The church could now enforce its demands through the State, and the territory controlled by the State was vast. It included a large part of Europe and the East. The church had inherited the empire, and the result was moral collapse of church leadership and zealous persecution of all who refused to bow to its mandates. Political power always corrupts church leaders. Always.
Historians are well-aware of the fact that there was no real "papacy" until Constantine’s nationwide Sunday law was passed, uniting church and state. This is due to the fact that the papacy is itself a union of church and state. It began with Constantine and has continued down as such to our own time. Even today, it continues to be a combination of a secular state and a worldly church. For centuries, in the different countries in the world, whenever the Vatican has been able to get a civil government to do its bidding, most terrible persecution of faithful Christians have followed.
"The Church of Rome is one monarchy over all the kingdoms of the earth and is among temporal bodies as the mind or soul of the body of men or as God in the world. Therefore, the Church of Rome must not only have spiritual power but also the supreme temporal power."—Encyclical of Pope Leo XXIII, 1879.
The uniting of church and state gave the church the power to enforce its dogmas. But, as we see from the above ex cathedra (and therefore, "infallible") quotation by a pope of Rome, it also gave it the idea that it had the obligation to enforce those decrees.
"That the Church of Rome has shed more innocent blood than any other institution that has ever existed among mankind will be questioned by no Protestant who has competent knowledge of history . . It is impossible to form a complete conception of the magnitude of her victims; it is quite certain that no powers of imagination can adequately realize their sufferings."—W. E. H. Lecky, History of the Rise and influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, Vol. 2, 32 (an excellent, though lengthy, article explaining, in detail, the right of the Roman Catholic Church to persecute heretics will be found in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, 266).
"For professing faith contrary to the teachings of the Church of Rome, history records the martyrdom of more than one hundred million people. A million Waldenses and Albigenses [French and Swiss Protestants] perished during a crusade proclaimed by Pope Innocent III in 1208. Beginning from the establishment of the Jesuits in 1540 to 1580, nine hundred thousand were destroyed. One hundred and fifty thousand perished by the Inquisition in thirty years. Within the space of thirty-eight years, after the Edict of Charles V against the Protestants, fifty thousand persons were hanged, beheaded, or burned alive for heresy. Eighteen thousand perished during the administration of the Duke of Alva in five and a half years."—Brief Bible Readings, 6.
When Constantine began passing his National Sunday Laws, and for decades thereafter, there were Christians in the empire who attempted to placate the authorities by keeping both the holy day of Mithra, the Sunday on the first day of the week, and the Bible Sabbath which God commanded long ages before (in Scripture), on the seventh day of the week. But soon papal decrees were issued, condemning efforts to keep the Bible Sabbath.
"Christians shall not Judaize [‘Bible-ize,’ they really meant] and be idle on Saturday [in the original Latin of this decree, Sabbato is used: ‘shall not be idle on the Sabbath’], but shall work on that day; but the Lord’s day they shall especially honour, and as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out [anathema, or excommunicated] from Christ."—Council of Laodicea, Canon 29, quoted in C. J. Hefele, A History of the Councils of the Church, Vol. 2, 316.
From what we have already learned, it should come as little surprise that the above church council decree was issued in A.D. 336—only 15 years after Constantine’s first State Sunday Law decree. This Council of Laodicea was the second church council to be held during Constantine’s lifetime (the first was the Council of Nicea in 325)—and yet, in the short space of but 15 years, this new church-state union had journeyed all the way from a mild "For the sake of health and rest, let’s take Sunday as a holiday from regular employment" to "If you do not keep Sunday or if you attempt to keep the Bible Sabbath on Saturday—you will be excommunicated!"
But the matter did not end merely with church disfellowshipping. The Council of Laodicea marked the beginning of a new era. Persecution, imprisonment, and violent death were soon to follow.
What you are reading here is the story of men and women of earlier centuries who were losing something precious, something they loved. Rather, it was taken from them by force, on pain of death. It was the precious Bible Sabbath—the only weekly rest day that God ever hallowed in Scripture. They valued it; they needed it.
They had to sit in silent grief and watch as the years passed and their children grew up, never having had it.
But there were others who resisted the deepening apostasy. And they paid the highest price for it. And there were still others who fled and sought to go into hiding in distant places, taking with them their beloved families, their Bibles, and the truths that meant so much to them.
Historians now know that Sylvester I, bishop (pope) of Rome (314-335), and Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (260-340), were two of the principle church leaders who worked closely with Constantine and influenced him to enact Sunday laws "in order to save the nation." Later, in one of his writings, Eusebius mentioned, with pride, the change in Bible teaching he had a part in carrying out:
"All things whatsoever it was duty to do on the Sabbath, these we have transferred to the Lord’s day."—Eusebius Pamphili, Commentary on the Psalms, in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, Vol. 23, col. 1171.
Alter working closely with Constantine on six National Sunday Laws, the official church edict on the subject was then issued at the Council of Laodicea in A.D. 336.
"Tertullian was probably the first to mention a cessation of affairs on the sun day; the Council of Laodicea issued the first conciliar legislation for that day; Constantine I issued the first civil legislation."—Priest Vincent J. Kelly, Forbidden Sunday and Feast Day Occupations, 203 [Roman Catholic].
Who was this Tertullian? He was one of the few Christians, before A.D. 300, who advocated Sundaykeeping. Writing between 196-220, he supplies careful instructions for keeping Sunday holy, and then adds to it another new idea of his: the sign of the cross, which, along with Sunday sacredness, he copied from Mithraite worship. Here, according to Tertullian, is the proper way to keep Sunday and every other day:
"At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at the table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life—we trace upon the forehead the sign of the cross."—Collected Writings of Tertullian.
In the Bible, Jesus warned His followers to beware of "tradition" (Matthew 15:3-9). Tradition is man-made inventions that have no warrant in Scripture. It is only as we stay by the teachings of the Bible that we are safe. By the beginning of the third century, tradition was already reshaping—and misshaping—apostolic Christianity. Tradition could indeed produce "unity," but not the right kind. By the year 400—sixty years after Constantine’s death—Christianity had so conformed to worldliness that Faustus, a non-Christian, was able to accuse the Christians of being little better than worldlings:
"You [Christians] appease the shades of the departed with wine and food. You keep the same holy days as the Gentiles. In your way of living you have made no change. Plainly you are a mere schism [an offshoot of us worldlings]; for the only difference from the original is that you meet separately."—Faustus, quoted by Augustine, in Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, Book 20, para. 4.
In every instance that the present writer can locate, the few Christians advocating Sundaykeeping, prior to A.D. 400, were the very ones who were introducing pagan heresies to the brethren in the Christian church! They got them all from the same sources: the heathen religions of Egypt, Persia, and Asia Minor.
For us today, there is help only in one line: Determine by the grace of God to live right yourself. Study the Bible, and obey it by the grace of Christ, your Lord and Saviour—at whatever cost. Only He can strengthen you to obey His written Word. Back in the Dark Ages, men and women were willing to die for what the Bible said. Are you willing to suffer today for the same truths? Will you stand for the faith of your fathers—the faith given you by the God of heaven in the Holy Bible.
In 337, Constantine died, and the new era that he had helped begin continued on for long centuries. Because of him, the church was henceforth able to get the State to enact religious legislation. Gradually, with the passing of time, additional Sunday law decrees were passed, restricting what could be done on Sunday and forbidding religious activities on the Bible Sabbath. Included here were governmental decrees in the years 365, 386, 389, 458, 468, 554, 589, 681, 768, 789, and onward. Also included were church council decrees in 343, 538, 578, 581, 690, and onward.
Each law became stricter; each penalty was more severe. But we can understand this when we recall that the Bible Sabbath was first given at the Creation of this world by the God of heaven (Genesis 2:1-3). It was part of His will for mankind, and Satan was determined to destroy it.
We are now seeing the pattern of church-state takeover more clearly. This same pattern has been repeated several times in history. And it will be repeated again. Now, amid deepening corruption and apostasy in our nation, we are rapidly moving in that direction ourselves! Let me explain.
"There is reason to believe, accordingly, that the old issue of church and state, or of church against state, will soon be upon us in a fury unknown for a thousand years. Are we ready to face that storm? Do we comprehend from how many quarters it is likely to blow?"—Paul Hutchinson, The New Leviathan, 19.
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