Posted by: mattcolvin | November 2, 2013

Constantine and the Sabbath

I am not a Sabbatarian, and I enjoyed Gary North’s appendix to Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law on “The Ethics of Sabbath-Keeping”, in which he points out the wide gulf that separates modern Christian Sabbatarian practice from the OT’s much more serious and consistent practice.

The origin of Sabbatarianism is usually traced to Constantine, but an inspection of his decree concerning Sunday reveals something different, and more moderate:

On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.

Agricultural labor was, for the OT sabbath laws, work par excellence. For Constantine to permit it means that his position is not Puritan or Westminsterian Sabbatarianism, but something more like the Heidelberg Catechism’s position: Christians should worship on Sunday, but are not forbidden from doing work.


  1. I think I remember reading somewhere that they provided worship for the slaves on Wednesday when they couldn’t get to worship on Sunday, is that true?

    • I would love to know more about that, too, Pr. Jones.

  2. Omnes iudices urbanaeque plebes et artium officia cunctarum venerabili die solis quiescant. Ruri tamen positi agrorum culturae libere licenterque inserviant, quoniam frequenter evenit, ut non alio aptius die frumenta sulcis aut vineae scrobibus commendentur, ne occasione momenti pereat commoditas caelesti provisione concessa.

    According to the law, most people are, in fact, forbidden from doing work (the urbanae plebes and artisans working in all the workshops outnumbered the farmers); the important point is the exception to the principle: the latifundia remain open. The political class had several interests in their being open, since many aristocrats and emperors owned latifundia, and the Roman grain supply was essential to the maintenance of the empire.

    This law actually reinforces the miserable condition of the Roman slave: he is deprived of the rest afforded to others, and can be exploited as he had always been–corn isn’t harvested on its own!

    • Yowch.

  3. Are you in the Philippines? Stay safe during the hurricane.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: