When Catholic Apologists Differ

Patrick Madrid, a well-known lay Catholic apologist, has an article in the Boston Pilot claiming that Sunday can be proven from the Scriptures. He cites a number of Scriptures that are often used by Fundamentalists to assert the apostolic origin of Sunday observance. He says it wasn’t “changed” by the Catholic Church, but he says the apostles “transferred” the observance of Sabbath to Sunday.

He’s wrong in saying that Seventh-day Adventists claim the Catholic Church changed the day–Adventists merely cite notable Catholic writers who make the claim, and are proud of it.

Here’s what a very eminent Catholic apologist said on the subject–James Cardinal Gibbons was the Archbishop of Baltimore from 1877 to 1921, and is known best by later generations for his classic work of apologetics, The Faith of Our Fathers (still published today by TAN Books). Gibbons wasn’t a lay apologist like Madrid; he was an archbishop for 44 years–surely he knew Catholic history, theology, and Scriptural interpretation.

He said,

“You may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify.”

Other equally knowledgeable prelates put the imprimatur on generations of catechisms which taught young Catholics that indeed it was the church that changed it.

For example, Fr. Stephen Keenan, A Doctrinal Catechism, with the imprimatur of John Cardinal McCloskey (1864-1885), said that if Protestants were really believers in “Scripture alone,” they would change many of their practices.

They should, if the Scripture were their only rule, wash the feet of one another, according to the command of Christ, in the 13th chap. of St. John;—they should keep, not the Sunday, but the Saturday, according to the commandment, “Remember thou keep holy the SABBATH-day;” for this commandment has not, in Scripture, been changed or abrogated;…—they should not baptize infants, as there is no example in Scripture to justify such a practice.

There’s also The Convert’s Catechism of Catholic Doctrine, by Rev. Peter Geiermann, C.SS.R., an edition of which is also still published by TAN Books, which says not only that the Catholic Church changed it without Scriptural warrant, but also specifies the Council of Laodicea as the time (336 AD) and place of the change. This historical reference is omitted in later editions, but not the claim of the change by the authority of the Catholic Church.

Yet Madrid does make a valid point that can be substantiated further down. He gives as a reason for the “transfer”–“The early Christians sought to differentiate themselves from the Judaism [sic].”

That is very true. That was the thesis of an historical study on the subject done at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Samuele Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity, especially the fifth chapter, which has also been published separately as Anti-Judaism and the Origin of Sunday (Rome: Pontifical Gregorian University Press, 1975). Here’s an important historical book, published by a pontifical press with the imprimatur, that agrees with Madrid’s point that anti-Judaism was a major factor, while at the same time agreeing with these other Catholic authors that the change is not in Scripture, but can be dated to the 2nd century.

7 thoughts on “When Catholic Apologists Differ

  1. The earliest attestation of it is ca. 100-130, around the same time that Rome begins making an issue of the Sunday Easter (and the Quartodecimans start complaining). That latter controversy builds until Victor excommunicates the eastern bishops ca. 200 (to the chagrin of Irenaeus), but aspects of it are still hanging around until Nicea, when that controversy is settled; and not long after Nicea, Laodicea consolidates the Sunday vs. Sabbath issue for the eastern churches. So both issues are in flux from 100-360, with change starting in Rome and spreading eastward.

  2. Liam, I just found these comments of yours that were thrown in the spam pile.

    If the change is a change away from NT practice (as Catholics have in the past readily admitted), then how that such a change not be contrary to the NT?

  3. Some interesting points to ponder. When the change did happen was it during the time when a majority of people were still of semitic background? If so the the decision may have been made to differentiate them from Jewish ritual and is not strictly anti-Jewish. I am looking to see what our Lord or the Aposteles have to say about the issue. I hope I repersent the majority of people who are confused by the issue and what to do the right thing.

  4. It seems to have started in Rome, and worked its way east–starting in those areas that were overwhelmingly Gentile, and who wanted to distinguish themselves from Jews at a time when Jews were increasingly under fire from Rome–this is the period leading up to the second revolt, and the complete eradication of Jerusalem. Read Ignatius, Barnabas, Justin Martyr–two fold wanting to show that Christianity is a noble philosophy and wanting to show Christianity had no part in Jewish “superstition.” Quartodeciman controversy is playing out at the same time–do you celebrate Easter on 14 Nisan (eastern tradition) or Sunday (Rome)? And do you calculate it according to Passover (East) or without regard to Passover (West)? In the early phase, the pope excommunicated the eastern bishops who wouldn’t go along–and at the end, Constantine issued a letter declaring that Christians must not be obligated to Jews on any matter.

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