Adventists abusing Socrates

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Icon of Christ Crucified, chapel of San Damiano, near Assisi

Icon of Christ Crucified, chapel of San Damiano, near Assisi

There are two well-known quote from Socrates’ Ecclesiastical History.  I am sure most Adventists and those who have come across what they teach are familiar with them.  I was recently referred to the Sabbath Truth (sic) website, where the argument for the Christian observance of the Sabbath is weak, and where truth is even weaker.

The first quote:

“The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria.” – Socrates, “Ecclesiastical History,” Book 7, chap.19.  [Quoted here, and is actually Sozamen, not Socrates]

And this:

“For although almost all churches throughout The World celebrated the sacred mysteries (the Lord’s Supper) on the Sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, refuse to do this.” – Socrates, “Ecclestical History,” Book 5, chap. 22, p. 289. [Quoted here]

This is used to pretend that all Christians, except those at Rome and Alexandria, kept the Sabbath.

But the context is conveniently left out.

Here are the source documents that you can read to see the context:

The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen,  book 7, chapter 19
The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus, book 5, chapter 22

The context of the latter passage (Socrates) is what follows.  I quote a broader section in blue, and the limited quote usually given by Adventists is in red.  Important qualifiers are underlined.

And among various nations there are other usages, for which innumerable reasons are assigned. Since however no one can produce a written command as an authority, it is evident that the apostles left each one to his own free will in the matter, to the end that each might perform what is good not by constraint or necessity. Such is the difference in the churches on the subject of fasts. Nor is there less variation in regard to religious assemblies. For although almost all churches throughout the world celebrate the sacred mysteries on the sabbath of every week, yet the Christians of Alexandria and at Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, have ceased to do this.The Egyptians in the neighborhood of Alexandria, and the inhabitants of Thebaïs, hold their religious assemblies on the sabbath, but do not participate of the mysteries in the manner usual among Christians in general: for after having eaten and satisfied themselves with food of all kinds, in the evening making their offerings they partake of the mysteries.

So the passage is NOT telling us that all the Christians, except those at Rome and Alexandria, kept the Sabbath.  It is telling us that the Christians believed that they were free to follow Romans 14:5-6, and worship God in spirit, not bound to a specific day.  They chose to continue a custom (even called a custom by Socrates – see the bold underlined section in the first quote of Socrates from Adventists above) that only resembles Jewish/Adventist sabbath observance.

In fact, the part of the longer quote from Socrates, showing context, shows that the difference between the Alexandrians and other Christians is that the Alexandrians did not observe a Saturday fast!  Other Christians did.  So it was not a case of observing the Sabbath and not Sunday – it was a case of whether or not they fasted on Saturday like most Christians.

And now notice the kicker – chapter 22 is all about Easter:

As we have touched the subject I deem it not unreasonable to say a few words concerning Easter. … But that the time of keeping Easter in various places is dependent on usage, I infer from this, that those who agree in faith, differ among themselves on questions of usage. And it will not perhaps be unseasonable to notice here the diversity of customs in the churches. The fasts before Easter will be found to be differently observed among different people. Those at Rome fast three successive weeks before Easter, excepting Saturdays and Sundays. …
[the part quoted above, the part cited by Adventists, is located here in the text]
… At Alexandria again, on the Wednesday in Passion week and on Good Friday, the scriptures are read … I have also known of another peculiarity in Thessaly, which is, that they baptize there on the days of Easter only … The Novatians, as I have stated, were divided among themselves on account of the feast of Easter

The entire section is about observances related to Easter.  Most Christians celebrate the Eucharist on Holy Saturday but fasted on that day; Egyptian Christians celebrated the Eucharist and did not fast; Roman and Alexandrian Christians fasted and did not celebrate the Eucharist.

You will find many references like this that are used by Adventists to make it seem as if early Christians observed the Sabbath because they believed it was binding on them.  But context always proves the Adventist claims wrong.  In every case, what is really happening is that Christians continued with customs they inherited from the Jews, but knowing that their only purpose was to give God glory, and they could do that with any day.

I’d conclude that this website has not dealt honestly with the evidence.  Why not?  What does it have to hide?  What doesn’t it want us to know about the reality of what Saturday meant to the early Christians?  Why pretend it meant more than it did?

Let’s take a look at Sozamen now.

He starts off as Socrates did:

We have now described the various usages that prevailed in the celebration of the Passover.

He ends off still discussing Easter:

Similar motives must be attributed to those who observe different practices in the celebration of the feast which has led us into this long digression.

Between those two quotes is this:

In some churches the people fast three alternate weeks, during the space of six or seven weeks, whereas in others they fast continuously during the three weeks immediately preceding the festival. Some people, as the Montanists, only fast two weeks. Assemblies are not held in all churches on the same time or manner. The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath, as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria.

Adventists only quote the last sentence.  They omit the part about the fasting, just as they omit the part about fasting from their quote from Socrates.  It’s less clear in Sozamen that the last sentence deals with fasting, but the parallel sentence in Socrates clearly does.  Most Christians celebrate the Eucharist on Holy Saturday but fasted on that day; Egyptian Christians celebrated the Eucharist and did not fast; Roman and Alexandrian Christians fasted and did not celebrate the Eucharist.

So much for the butchering of historical sources to make Easter customs look like permanent, year-long sabbath observance.

I’ll use two more issues to briefly highlight the same tendency throughout the site:

St Patrick is imagined to be a Sabbath keeper (no evidence is provided, apart from a highly imaginative and speculative PDF file.)  The two writings we have of his, the Confession of St Patrick and his Letter to Coroticus, say nothing about the Sabbath.

Nothing Adventist or Sabbatarian about those letters – in fact they are quite Catholic.  Do you know of Adventist bishops?  Adventists who do penance?  Adventists monks and nuns?  He certainly didn’t believe in unconsciousness after death, awaiting the resurrection of the body.

The one minor thing Adventists can use to pretend he wasn’t Catholic was the fact that his father was a deacon, and his grandfather was a priest.  Their claim based on this?

“The absence of celibacy in the Celtic Church gives added proof to the fact that the believers had no connection with the church at Rome.” – Sabbath Truth (sic)

This is absurd.  Catholicism, and really only fully so in the West, practices celibacy as a discipline, not a doctrine of faith.  And what’s more, celibacy only became a rule in the 11th century.

Pope Adrian II was married.  Maybe he was an Adventist pope?  That was 867-872 AD.

Pope Hormisdas (pope from 514-523 AD) was married, and his son became Pope Silverius in 536 AD.  Were they Adventists?  This was long after Patrick in the 300’s AD.

Or is the Sabbath Truth site just misrepresenting the facts in order to push its agenda?

Lastly, a quote from the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles:

“Thou shalt observe the Sabbath, on account of Him who ceased from His work of creation, but ceased not from His work of providence: it is a rest for meditation of the law, not for idleness of the hands.” “The Anti-Nicene Fathers,” Vol 7,p. 413. From “Constitutions of the Holy Apostles,” a document of the 3rd and 4th Centuries. – source on Sabbath Truth (sic) site

What the Adventist teachers won’t easily show you are the following quotes from the same document:

Be not careless of yourselves, neither deprive your Saviour of His own members, neither divide His body nor disperse His members, neither prefer the occasions of this life to the word of God; but assemble yourselves together every day, morning and evening, singing psalms and praying in the Lord’s house: in the morning saying the sixty-second Psalm, and in the evening the hundred and fortieth, but principally on the Sabbath-day. And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s day, meet more diligently, sending praise to God that made the universe by Jesus, and sent Him to us, and condescended to let Him suffer, and raised Him from the dead. – book II, section LIX

Do you therefore fast, and ask your petitions of God. We enjoin you to fast every fourth day of the week, and every day of the preparation, and the surplusage of your fast bestow upon the needy; every Sabbath-day excepting one, and every Lord’s day, hold your solemn assemblies, and rejoice: for he will be guilty of sin who fasts on the Lord’s day, being the day of the resurrection, or during the time of Pentecost, or, in general, who is sad on a festival day to the Lord. For on them we ought to rejoice, and not to mourn. – book V, section XX

By taking away context, they hide the truth that these were not Sabbath keepers, but Sunday keepers.

At best, Adventists can argue that these were Sunday keepers who had retained the Sabbath as a custom.  Today such practices are ignored and such Christians lumped together as Sunday keepers, while such practices seen in the past are, without evidence, assumed to be cases of Jew-like and Adventist-like Saturday legalism.

However, that’s not what the section of the Constitutions that Adventists quote is telling us.  The section they quote is about the 10 commandments, and amongst the 10 commandments is the commandment about keeping the sabbath.  The document is not instructing Christians to keep the sabbath.  It’s citing the 10 commandments.  That’s not honest quoting on the part of Adventists.

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