Who Are the "Fathers"?—Their Relation to the Church—No Authority for Sunday Observance—The Reformation— The Council of Trent.

By professed Protestants who observe the sun festival instead of the Sabbath of the Lord, the "fathers" are often quoted in support of their practise. This leads us to ask, first, Who are these so-called fathers? and, secondly, What was their teaching concerning the Sabbath and Sunday?
    1. We have shown both from prophecy and history that Christianity was very early in this era corrupted by paganism, and that this was the origin of Roman Catholicism. These fathers
were not the leaders of the pure Christian thought of their times, but they were the leaders of that pago-Christian thought that developed into the Papacy. Many of them were pagan philosophers and teachers who accepted some parts of Christianity but who continued to wear their philosopher's garb until the day of their death. Had true Christianity overspread the world, they would have been looked back upon as pagans, or, at the best, as heretics. But when that pago-Christianity, now known as Roman Catholicism, by fraud and force and deceit triumphed and came to rule the world, these men were looked back upon as the founders of that kind of Christianity, and were called the "fathers of the church." They sustain the same relation to the great church of the apostasy as the apostles sustain to true Christianity. This shows how unreasonable it is for a Protestant to quote them in support of a doctrine not found in the Bible. We recall again the words of Mr. Dowling: "The Bible, I say, the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants. Nor is it of any account in the estimation of a genuine Protestant how early a doctrine originated, if it is not found in the Bible." "He who receives a single doctrine upon the mere authority of tradition [that is, on the testimony of the fathers], let him be called by what name he will, by so doing steps down from the Protestant rock, passes over the line which separates Protestantism from popery, and can give no valid reason why he should not receive all the earlier doctrines and ceremonies of Romanism upon the same authority."—History of Romanism, book 2, chapter I.
2. But these so-called fathers, even were their words authoritative to a Protestant, give no support to the present ideas concerning Sunday observance. "Chambers' Encyclopedia" speaks the truth when it says, "By none of the fathers before the fourth century is it [Sunday] identified with the Sabbath, nor is the duty of observing it grounded by them either on the fourth commandment or on the precept or example of Jesus or His apostles,"—Article Sabbath. Kitto says the same. "Nor do these writers [the fathers] in any instance pretend to allege any divine command or even apostolic practise in support of it."—Article Lord's Day.
How, then, are these writers now quoted by Protestants in support of their Sunday observance? The answer is easy. Their testimony is neither consciously nor unconsciously garbled. The same writers say ten times as much concerning the observance of the Sabbath among the early Christians. But these passages are passed by with religious (?) silence. Being the very persons who were betraying the church into the pagan apostasy, it is not strange that they should in some instances show some honor to the pagan sun festival. These are the passages quoted. Taken as a whole, however, their testimony, while not authoritative, bears unmistakable evidence that the sun festival was gradually substituted for the Sabbath, by the "pagan flood flowing into the church."

What Tertullian Says.

    Tertullian, one of these fathers, admits the truth concerning the origin of Sunday festivities in the church. To the pagans who accused the apostatizing Christians of worshiping the sun, lie retorts: "It is you, at all events, who have even admitted the sun into the calendar of the week; and you have selected its day [Sunday] in preference to the preceding day, as the most suitable in the week for either an entire absence of the bath, or for its postponement until evening, or for taking of rest, and for banqueting." —Ad Nationes, book I, chapter 13.
Why does not Tertullian say, as the modern divines do, that Christ and the apostles made the change? The answer is, No such idea was dreamed of then. Every one well knew that Sunday came from paganism. To deny this and assert the other at that time would have been a deliberate falsehood, which would have brought him only contempt.
    But if Sunday came into the church from paganism and stands only on tradition, why was it not repudiated by the Reformation of the sixteenth century? Why did not the church return then to the observance of the Sabbath of the Lord? God's plan is not to give a flood of light all at once, to blind men's eyes, but to lead men in a path that grows brighter and brighter "unto the perfect day." Nothing could be more gradual than the dawning of that Reformation. Luther at first was an enthusiastic papist. After having been professor in the university at Erfurth, he humiliated himself in monkish cowl, to beg his bread from house to house, in his ideas of popish penance, thinking this would be well pleasing to God. It was in a cell in the monastery at Erfurth that Luther ound an old Latin Bible, bound by a rusty chain to the stone wall—fit symbol this of how the Word of God had hitherto been bound in his mind and in the church. This old book contained the power which, set on fire by the Spirit, was to move the world. Still, while walking in the light, Luther never saw the perfect day. Who of us have seen it?
    The human mind, like a pendulum, oscillates from one extreme to the other. Horrified at the papistical idea of salvation by works of penance, Luther grasped the truth of salvation by faith alone. He did not, however, see clearly the fact that the true faith is that which works by love to obey God's law; that faith and works are not in antagonism, but that they stand related as cause and effect. He did not fully grasp the sublime truth that Christ is the end of the law only by so writing it in our hearts as the actuating principle of the life, that all external and commanding copies become needless. He could not see, therefore, the harmony and unity of the law and the Gospel. For the same reason he saw conflict between the Epistle to the Romans and the book of James, and repudiated the latter, declaring it to be an epistle of straw. For these reasons Luther did not recognize the claims of the Sabbath commandment; but while not claiming for Sunday any divine authority, he observed it as a custom of the church.
    Carlstadt, one of Luther's co-workers, and a man whom Luther acknowledged as his superior in learning, did see all these things clearly, and
he observed the seventh-day Sabbath. His views were more nearly right than Luther's in many ways. Luther rejected only those things which the Scriptures directly condemned. He said, "Tho Christ has not commanded the adoration of the host, neither has He forbidden it.'' So Luther retained this custom. Carlstadt saw that on this principle the church could be filled with the dead lumber of ritualism; so he said, "It is sufficiently against the Scriptures if you can find no ground for it in them." As was natural, the church in this followed the less radical leader. For the same reason the reformed churches followed Calvin instead of Luther in retaining the doctrine of inherent immortality, for Luther declared that this was one of the monstrosities of the "papal dunghill of decretals."

Inconsistency of Reformers.

    Thus the reformed churches, while professing to reject tradition for the pure Word of God, were led to deny their own position, by accepting Sunday on the authority of tradition only, and tradition directly opposed to the divine Word. It was the weakness caused by thus practically denying their own position that more than any other one thing arrested the progress of the Reformation. Draper says: "Toward the close of Luther's life it seemed as if there was no other prospect for papal power than total ruin; yet at this day out of three hundred millions of Christians more than half owe allegiance to Rome. Almost as if by enchantment the Reformation suddenly ceased to advance. Rome was not only able to check its spread, but even to gain back a portion of what she had lost."—Intellectual Development, vol. 2, page 216.
At the Council of Trent, called by the Roman Catholic Church to deal with questions arising out of the Reformation, it was at first an apparent possibility that the council would declare in favor of the reformed doctrines rather than against them, so profound was the impression made thus far by the speeches and writings of Luther and the other reformers. The pope's legate actually wrote to him that there was "a strong tendency to set aside tradition altogether, and to make the Scripture the sole standard of appeal." The question was debated day after day, until the council was fairly brought to a standstill. Finally the archbishop of Reggio turned the council against the Reformation by the following argument:—

    The Protestants claim to stand upon the written Word only. They profess to hold the Scripture alone as the standard of faith. They justify the revolt by the plea that the church has apostatized from the written Word and follows tradition. Now, the Protestants' claim that they stand upon the written Word only is not true. Their profession of holding the Scripture alone as the standard of faith, is false. Proof: The written Word explicitly enjoins the observance of the seventh day as the Sabbath. They do not observe the seventh day, but reject it. If they do truly hold the Scripture alone as their standard, they would be observing the seventh day as is enjoined, in the Scripture throughout. Yet they not only reject the observance of the Sabbath enjoined in the written Word, but they have adopted and do practise the observance of Sunday, for which they have only the tradition of the church. Consequently, the claim of "Scripture alone as the standard," fails; and the doctrine of "Scripture and tradition as essential," is fully established, the Protestants themselves being judges. (See the proceeding's of the Council of Trent; Augsburg Confession; and "Encyclopedia Britannica," article Trent, Council of.)

    At this argument the party who had stood for Scripture alone, surrendered, and the council at once unanimously condemned Protestantism and the whole Reformation, and proceeded to enact stringent decrees to arrest its progress. It was by this means, and also by the denial of the other cardinal principle of the Reformation, the doctrine of soul liberty, by an appeal to force, that the glorious progress of truth was arrested as by a magic wand. Then the churches wrote their creeds, and so took the individual from the guidance of the Spirit, and delivered him over to the control and teaching of the organization, which must always be ultra conservative.
    Thus the light of the Sabbath truth did not shine clearly in the sixteenth century; but by the divine providence all this has been overruled. The
test is needed now, and now the truth in this matter is being proclaimed.


From Signs of the Times, Vol. 25, No. 47, Nov. 22, 1899, pgs. 6-7.