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a law of Christianity, having been instituted, if not by our Saviour himself, at least by his Apostles, and since confirmed by the constant practice of the Church.
When the early Fathers addressed the Gentiles, they scrupled not to call the Lord's day, Sunday, that being the name by which it was commonly distinguished among the Greeks and Romans. This is done among others, by JUSTIN MARTYR, and TERTULLIAN, in their respective apologies ; though it is observable that the latter, when he writes to Christians, commonly uses the name of the Lord's day, and especially when he would distinguish it from the Jewish Sabbath.
The religious observance of the Lord's day has been uniformly recognised by Christians of every age and sect. Yet for the first three centuries it
appears, that as soon as the celebration of the public worship was finished, the congregation usually returned to their ordinary occupations. We are not, however, thence to draw any argument as to the lawfulness of working on the Sabbath-day; for till the Christian Religion had obtained some countenance from the civil power, its professors were obliged to comply with the existing laws of the empire. CONSTANTINE, the first emperor that publicly professed Christianity, was likewise the first that made civil regulations respecting the observation of Sunday. By an imperial edict he commanded his Pagan as well as Christian subjects, all who lived under the Roman empire, to rest on the weekly return of the day dedicated to the Saviour. The soldiers of his army were some of them
Heathens and some Christians. The Christians he directed to frequent the public Service of the Church, and exempted them from every other employment during the whole of the day. The Heathens he ordered to assemble in the open fields, and at a signal given, to lift up their hands and eyes towards heaven, and to make their supplications to the Almighty, in a form of prayer composed by himself.
Till this time the magistrates, the judges, and other officers of state, had, on the Lord's day, and even in the time of Divine Service, been obliged to attend to the duties of their respective stations. That they might have an opportunity of frequenting public worship, and not be the means of detaining others from it, the Emperor ordained, that “on this day “ all legal proceedings should be suspended, that ar“tificers and labourers should lay aside their own * business to attend to that of the Lord.” To perform acts of charity or of necessity was allowed by the imperial edicts. Thus in cities the judges might take cognizance of a civil cause, relating to the manumission of slaves, and in the country agriculture was occasionally permitted *.
About the end of the reign of CONSTANS, the son and successor of CONSTANTINE, the Council of Laodicea renewed the order for resting from labour on Sunday in all cases whatever, excepting only those of very urgent or absolute necessity; and about an hundred years after, the Emperor Leo prohibited, under severe penalties, all public shews and amusements on this day. From this time Sunday was every where more strictly employed in the duties of public worship, and the due observance of it was one of the first laws, which the Church imposed upon the converts from Paganism to Christianity.
* Rure tamen positi liberè licenterque agriculturæ inserviant, quoniam frequenter evenit, ut non aptius alio die, frumenta sulcis, vineta scrobibus mandentur.
THEODORE, who, in the seventh century, was deputed from Rome to be Archbishop of Canterbury, made many new regulations in the Church of England; and wished to introduce such an observation of Sunday, as was practised by the Greeks
whom he had long resided. He tells us, that “on this day
they never put to sea, rode on horseback, or baked “ bread; that none travelled in a carriage, but those “ who wished to attend the Service of the Church, “ and were unable to walk.” The regulations of THEODORE, concerning the observance of Sunday, were sanctioned by several subsequent Councils : and it is admitted, that the Lord's day has been kept with greater solemnity in England than in any other part of the Catholic Church. “ The usage of sanctifying
Sunday” (says an able French writer, who was evidently no friend to our Reformation) “ was so strongly
engraven in the hearts of Englishmen, that even heresy and schism could not efface it *."
Besides the weekly festival of the Lord's day, the ancient Christians celebrated annual festivals in honour of our Saviour, such as the Nativity and Epiphany, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. The antiquity of these holidays, the reason of their institution, and the manner in which they were solemnized, will be shewn more particularly, when each is separately considered. At present it will be sufficient to remark, that these days were solemnly observed throughout the whole Christian Church.
Other annual festivals were likewise instituted at an early era, in commemoration of the Apostles and of Martyrs, by whose exertions or sufferings Christi anity had been propagated and maintained. At what precise period these festivals began to be observed cannot, I apprehend, be ascertained; but it is certain that they were solemnized in the second century. “ The memories of the Martyrs, and the “ annual observance of the days on which they suf“ fered martyrdom,” are frequently mentioned by CYPRIAN and TERTULLIAN: and before either of them the circular letter of the Church of Smyrna, on the martyrdom of POLYCARP their Bishop, who suffered in 168, had informed their fellow Christians, that “after, “the body was burned, they collected and decently “ interred his bones," which, they observed, were “to " them more valuable than gold and diamonds. At
“ the place of interment,” they add, “ we mean, as “ soon as God will permit, with joy and triumph to “ assemble, in order to solemnize his birth-day *, not
only in honour of the memory of the Martyrs de“parted, but as an example and encouragement to " those that are to come.”
At their first institution, the festivals of Martyrs were not, like the annual festivals of our Lord, universally observed by the whole body of the Catholic Church. They were usually celebrated only in those particular Churches where the Martyrs had lived or suffered; where they had been best known, and their memory was held in the highest veneration. Thus the birth-day of POLYCARP was observed at Smyrna, and that of St. CYPRIAN at Carthage, of which places they had respectively been Bishops: and it is probable that the festivals of St. Paul and St. Peter f, who are reported to have both suffered martyrdomi at Rome, were observed at first only by that Church, or at most only by the Churches' to which they had written or preached. These festivals are styled by JEROM, seasons appointed in honour of the Martyrs,
The festivals of Martyrs were, in the language of the Church of that age, their birth-days; on which they were born to a new life, the life of immortality and glory. “When you hear of " the birth-day of a Saint, think not," says CHRYSOLOGUS, “ that “ it means the day on which he was born on earth in the flesh; “ but the day on which he was born from earth to heaven, from “ labour to rest, from torment to delight, from misery to happiness.” 1 + Whether Peter was ever at Rome has been doubted by some learned moderns.