More on Sunday and Pope Sylvester I

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This is a follow-up to the posts entitled Constantine, the Papacy, and the real origins of Sunday and Pope Sylvester I – who changed the Sabbath?  There is a follow-up to this post at The Feriae of Pope Sylvester I.

Michael Schiefler has been trying to squeeze more water out of a stone on his anti-Catholic website.  I commented on it before.  He seems to think he has the name of the Pope that changed the Sabbath to Sunday nailed down – Pope Sylvester I. Scheifler is basing his claims on second-hand information based on what are probably spurious documents. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Pope Sylvester says the following:
This was the era of Constantine the Great, when the public position of the Church so greatly improved, a change which must certainly have been very noticeable at Rome; it is consequently to be regretted that there is so little authoritative information concerning Sylvester’s pontificate. At an early date legend brings him into close relationship wtih the first Christian emperor, but in a way that is contrary to historical fact. These legends were introduced especially into the “Vita beati Sylvestri” (Duchesne, loc. cit., Introd., cix sq.) which appeared in the East and has been preserved in Greek, Syriac, and Latin in the “Constitutum Sylvestri”-an apocryphal account of an alleged Roman council which belongs to the Symmachian forgeries and appeared between 501 and 508, and also in the “Donatio Constantini”. The accounts given in all these writings concerning the persecution of Sylvester, the healing and baptism of Constantine, the emperor’s gift to the pope, the rights granted to the latter, and the council of 275 bishops at Rome, are entirely legendary.
In the article on Sunday:
The Council of Elvira (300) decreed: “If anyone in the city neglects to come to church for three Sundays, let him be excommunicated for a short time so that he may be corrected” (xxi).
So there we have a formal decree on Sunday from prior to Sylvester, although not a Roman or ecumenical council, but it establishes the formal nature of Sunday in the Christian world.
The same article mentions Tertullian:

“We, however (just as tradition has taught us), on the day of the Lord’s Resurrection ought to guard not only against kneeling, but every posture and office of solicitude, deferring even our businesses lest we give any place to the devil” (“De orat.”, xxiii; cf. “Ad nation.”, I, xiii; “Apolog.”, xvi).


Tertullian establishes that Sunday was already used for rest in the early 200’s.

The same article says:

A Council of Laodicea, held toward the end of the fourth century, was content to prescribe that on the Lord’s Day the faithful were to abstain from work as far as possible. At the beginning of the sixth century St. Caesarius, as we have seen, and others showed an inclination to apply the law of the Jewish Sabbath to the observance of the Christian Sunday. The Council held at Orleans in 538 reprobated this tendency as Jewish and non-Christian.

So what Laodicea decided was nothing new – it had been going on for ages.  And what Rabanus Maurus reports of Pope Sylvester corresponds with later developments, after some controversy about viewing Sunday in terms of a Sabbath, and is in keeping with the time of the forgeries rather than the time of Sylvester.

There isn’t even certainty that the council of Laodicea fell within the lifetime of Sylvester … and Laodicea is also used by Adventists as the decree which changed the Sabbath to Sunday.  Can they not make up their minds?  If they had real evidence, why are they so confused?

Very little is known about what really happened in the reign of Sylvester, and nothing I can find online confirms this Sunday issue, apart from claims like Scheifler’s, either based on simple unsupported claims, or on questionable history.  (As are the Catholic bulletin clippings that Scheifler presents on his site.)

So Scheifler’s info is second hand, and probably based on legend derived from those forgeries, which were made to promote the authority of the pope.

That Sunday was being kept as the Lord’s Day is well-established by then – in both the Church Fathers and official gatherings of bishops.  That it was used as a day of rest was established in Tertullian’s time.  That it replaced the Sabbath as a Sabbath-like concept was not formally accepted for several centuries to come.  So did Sylvester do anything new?

If Sylvester DID simply confirm Sunday observance, it is meaningless in light of a well-established practice, as it would be nothing more than a mere mention, the way later councils and popes (such as HH Pope John Paul II) confirmed it.  Popes and Councils reiterate things many times, for various reasons, and never are repetitions considered to be an establishment of an idea or a rule.  Unless you really need to stretch a point, which is what Scheifler needs to do.

If Scheifler really wants to make his point stick, he’d have to go back in time and film the events or bring back documents for us to look at.  More practically, he’d need to quote Sylvester, not other people quoting later forged works, or he’d need to show that the discussion he quotes is not based on forged works … and he’d also need to show that Sylvester did more than just mention the day the way later popes/councils did, which in no way established the observance of the day as an official practice.

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