Constantine, the Papacy, and the real origins of Sunday

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This is an e-mail I wrote in response to a request for commentary got from Robert Sanders, who has a ministry for Adventists at his website Truth or Fables – his words are in green, my reply is in black.

Thanks for offering me the chance to explain how we Catholics feel about the Sabbath / Sunday “change.”

If I understand the Catholic position correctly, they say the Pope did not change the Seventh Day Sabbath to Sunday. They contend this was done by the Apostolic Church and there is no record of a “Pope” making the change, but it was done on authority of the Catholic Church.

Yes, that is pretty much the Catholic position summed up. We do, however, also hold to the idea that Sunday observance is biblical, and the origins are referenced in the New Testament (texts like Heb 4, Col 2, Rom 14, Gal 4, Acts 20, 1 Cor 16 and others.)

One must just be careful in defining one’s terms.

One person might say, “The Catholic Church changed the Sabbath” and another might say, “The Apostles changed the Sabbath” and depending on their background, they might mean the same thing, or they might be disagreeing with each other.

Some terms, as used by Catholicism in general, of interest:

– Catholic Church – this refers to the Church as begun by Christ and led by the Apostles after Pentecost
– Apostolic Church – this is a synonym for the Catholic Church during the time when the Apostles were alive
– post-Apostolic Church – the Catholic Church once the last Apostle had died
– papacy – the office of Peter instituted in Matt 16:18, and continued in his successors
– pope – the occupant of the papacy, beginning with Peter in the first century

I do not expect you to AGREE with these terms or accept the theology we Catholics accept. All I ask is that when you read Catholic texts written by Catholics, you TRY to understand what we are saying, instead of applying YOUR definitions for these words to something WE have written.

For instance, if a Catholic said, “SUNDAY IS A CATHOLIC INSTITUTION” (quotes from the original e-mail I am responding to) then this needs to be understood using Catholic definitions, in order to know what the Catholic means and understands. He is, therefore, NOT saying that Sunday observance began in 300 AD or 600 AD or whenever it might be that a Protestant feels the “Roman Catholic Church” <incorrect name, in fact> came into existence. What the Catholic is actually saying with “SUNDAY IS A CATHOLIC INSTITUTION” is that Sunday observance is something that came from the Catholic Church – without specifying era – and he would, in good conscience, say EXACTLY the same of the decision in Acts 15 about circumcision – he would claim that THAT TOO was a “Catholic institution” because that IS how he sees the early Christian Church – as Catholic.

What often happens, then, is that Catholics claim authorship to Sunday observance because they believe the Apostles began Sunday observance and they view the Apostles as the first Catholic leaders, but when Adventists hear these words, they grab them and remove their context and actual meaning, and make it seem as if the Catholic Church is claiming that Sunday observance was begun by a group which the Adventists define as the Catholic Church, and NOT the Apostolic Church.

That said, I must differentiate between THREE types of texts that can be used as evidence.

1. Statements by Catholics that a) agree with Catholic teaching but b) are not official sources of Catholic teaching
2. Statements by Catholics that disagree with Catholic teaching
3. Statements that constitute official Catholic teaching

I have almost NEVER seen Adventists quote official Catholic teaching on the issue of the Sabbath. (Simply because it would destroy what they want people to believe we teach.) On the rare occasion, one will quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and even more rarely, they will quote it in context. Virtually ALL of the quotes they offer to support their view, are quotes of type 2 (not real Catholic teaching) or type 1 quotes where context and the author’s intent have been abused.

Examples of texts of type 3 (official Catholic teaching) include:
– the Bible (Catholics DO view the Bible as an official source of truth)
– the Catechism of the Catholic Church
– papal encyclicals
– Council documents (e.g. from the Council of Nicaea, or the Council of Trent) – these include catechisms, decrees, canons, letters, etc produced by the council in question
– other official Vatican documents intended to convey or explain Catholic teaching

Examples of texts of type 1 (agree with Catholic teaching but the text itself is not authoritative) include:
– ALL Catholic newspapers
– ALL Catholic periodicals not published by the Vatican (and most which are, e.g. their tax report)
– books with “Imprimatur” printed in front (this is only permission to print, and says nothing about accuracy of content)
– books with “Nihil obstat” printed in front (this means that the book is considered to be faithful to Catholic teaching by the local bishop, NOT that the book is an official source of Catholic doctrine)
– many books whose titles contain the word “Catechism”
– my website (hopefully, I try to make it agree with Catholic teaching as far as I can)

Examples of type 2 texts, which disagree with Catholic teaching, include:
– the abundant quotes referenced from the Catholic Mirror newspaper
– other similar texts

Note: I have, on record, Adventist pastors who tell me that the Bible contains errors, that a lot of what Paul said we need not obey, that it was merely opinion. I have Adventist pastors who have told me that Ellen White is indeed infallible and has not erred, that she was inspired by God and that her writings CAN RIGHTLY be used to interpret difficult passages in the Bible (and by logical extension, faulty ones if the Bible contains error.) Do THESE quotes constitute “official Adventist teaching” just because they come from the mouth of an Adventist pastor? I doubt it. These statements would fall into the type 2 category I described above. By taking type 1 and type 2 statements and removing context, a strong straw-man case can be made for the opposing position – as long as the reader is kept ignorant of the true nature of these texts, and never shown any type 3 (official) texts which show authentic teaching of the respective denomination. I will send, just after this, a case study I have put together on this, which will hopefully demonstrate the error in the pseudo-Catholic propaganda that many Sabbatarians spread.

For a full view of Catholic teaching on the origins of the observance of Sunday, and the removal of the Sabbath observance, I recommend you read the papal encyclical Dies Domini, written by Pope John Paul II.

If this is true, then Ellen White is wrong in saying it was changed by “THE POPE.”

Ellen White would have defined the term “the pope” differently to Catholics – she would likely have meant someone other than the Apostle Peter, someone who lived much later in Christian history. She should name him, and she does not.

It is interesting that the SDA Church cannot put a name on the Pope that made the change.

That IS interesting :-> Certainly it shows that they are prepared to make claims, but can’t give details when the claims are questioned by informed questioners.

Updates on the pope who (didn’t) change the Sabbath

Pope Sylvester I – who changed the Sabbath?
More on Sunday and Pope Sylvester I
The Feriae of Pope Sylvester I

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