This man was bishop of Rome from A. D. 236 to A. D. 250. The letters ascribed to Fabian were probably written at a considerably later date. We quote them, however, at the very point of time wherein they claim to have been written. Their testimony is of little importance, but they breathe the self-important spirit of a Roman bishop. We quote as follows:
"You ought to know what is being done in things sacred in the church of Rome, in order that, by following her example, ye may be found to be true children of her who is called your mother. Accordingly, as we have received the institution from our fathers, we maintain seven deacons in the city of Rome, distributed over seven districts of the state, who attend to the services enjoined on them week by week, and on the Lord's days, and the solemn festivals," etc. - Epistle First.
This pope is said to have made the following decree, which contains the only other reference to the so-called Lord's day to be found in the writings attributed to him:
"We decree that on each Lord's day the oblation of the altar should be made by all men and women in bread and wine, in order that by means of these sacrifices they may be released from the burden of their sins." - Decrees of Fabian, b. v. chap.vii.
In these quotations we see that the Roman church is made the mother of all churches, and also that the Roman bishop thinks himself the rightful ruler over all Christian people. And it is in fit keeping with these features of the great apostasy that the pope, instead of pointing sinful men to the sacrifice made on Calvary, should "decree that on each Lord's day" every person should offer an "oblation" of "bread and wine" on the altar, "that by means of THESE SACRIFICES they may be released from the burden of their sins"!
Origen was born about A. D. 185, probably at Alexandria in Egypt. He was a man of immense learning, but unfortunately adopted a spiritualizing system in the interpretation of the Scriptures that was the means of flooding the church with many errors. He wrote during the first half of the third century. I have carefully examined all the writings of every Christian writer preceding the council of Nice with the single exception of Origen. Some of his works, as yet, I have not been able to obtain. While, therefore, I give the entire testimony of every other father on the subject of inquiry, in his case I am unable to say this. But I can give it with sufficient fullness to present him in a just light. His first reference to the Sabbath is a denial that it should be literally understood. Thus he says:
"There are countless multitudes of believers who, although unable to unfold methodically and clearly the results of their spiritual understanding, are nevertheless most firmly persuaded that neither ought circumcision to be understood literally, nor the rest of the Sabbath, not the pouring out of the blood of an animal, nor that answers were given by God to Moses on these points. And this method of apprehension is undoubtedly suggested to the minds of all by the power of the Holy Spirit." - De Principiis, b. ii. chap. vii.
Origen asserts that the spiritual interpretation of the Scriptures whereby their literal meaning is set aside is something divinely inspired! But when this is accepted as the truth who can tell what they mean by what they say?
In the next chapter he quotes Isa.1:13,14, but with reference to the subject of the soul and not to that of the Sabbath. In chapter xi., alluding again to the hidden meaning of the things commanded in the Scriptures, he asserts that when the Christian has "returned to Christ" he will, amongst other things enumerated, "see also the reasons for the festival days, and holy days, and for all the sacrifices and purifications." So it seems that Origen thought the spiritual meaning of the Sabbath, which he asserted in the place of the literal, was to be known only in the future state!
In book iv., chapter i., he quotes Col.2:16, but gives no exposition of its meaning. But having asserted that the things commanded in the law were not to be understood literally, and, having intimated that their hidden meaning cannot be known until the saints are with Christ, he proceeds in section 17 of this chapter to prove that the literal sense of the law is impossible. One of the arguments by which he proves the point is, that men were commanded not to go out of their houses on the Sabbath. He thus quotes and comments on Ex.16:29:
" 'Ye shall sit, every one in your dwellings; no one shall move from his place on the Sabbath day,' which precept it is impossible to observe literally; for no man can sit a whole day so as not to move from the place where he sat down." Origen quotes a certain Samaritan who declares that one must not change his posture on the Sabbath, and he adds, "Moreover the injunction which runs, `Bear no burden on the Sabbath day,' seems to me an impossibility."
This argument is framed for the purpose of proving that the Scriptures cannot be taken in their literal sense. But had he quoted the text correctly there would be no force at all to his argument. They must not go out to gather manna, but were expressly commanded to use the Sabbath for holy convocations, that is, for religious assemblies. Lev.23:3. And as to the burdens mentioned in Jer.17:21-27, they are sufficiently explained by Neh.13:15-22. Such reasons as these for denying the obvious, simple signification of what God has commanded are worthy of no confidence. In his letter to Africanus, Origen thus alludes to the Sabbath, but without further remarking upon it:
"You will find the law about not bearing a burden on the Sabbath day in Jeremiah as well as in Moses."
Though these allusions of Origen to the Sabbath are not in themselves of much importance, we give them all, that his testimony ma be presented as fully as possible. His next mention of the Sabbath seems from the connection to relate to Paul:
"Was it impious to abstain from corporeal circumcision, and from a literal Sabbath, and literal festivals, and literal new moons, and from clean and unclean meats, and to turn the mind to the good and true and spiritual law of God," etc. - Origen against Celsus, b. ii. chap. vii.
We shall soon get his idea of the true Sabbath as distinguished from the "literal" one. He gives the following reason for the "literal Sabbath" among the Hebrews:
"In order that there might be leisure to listen to their sacred laws, the days termed `Sabbath,' and the other festivals which existed among them, were instituted." Book iv. chap. xxxii.
What Origen mentions as the reason for the institution of the Sabbath is in fact only one of its incidental benefits. The real reason for its institution, viz., that the creation of the heavens and the earth should be remembered, he seems to have overlooked because so literally expressed in the commandment. Of God's rest-day he thus speaks:
"With respect, however, to the creation of the world, and the `rest [Sabbatismou] which is reserved after it for the people of God,' the subject is extensive, and mystical, and profound, and difficult of explanation." Book v. chap. 1ix.
Origen's next mention of the Sabbath, not only places the institution of the Sabbath at the creation, but gives us some idea of his "mystical" Sabbath as distinguished from "a literal" one. Speaking of the Creator's rest from the six days' work he thus alludes to Celsus:
"For he [Celsus] knows nothing of the day of the Sabbath and rest of God, which follows the completion of the world's creation, and which lasts during the duration of the world, and in which all those will keep festival with God who have done all their works in their six days, and who, because they have omitted none of their duties, will ascend to the contemplation [of celestial things], and to the assembly of righteous and blessed beings." Book vi. chap. 1xi.
Here we get an insight into Origen's mystical Sabbath. It began at creation, and will continue while the world endures. To those who follow the letter it is indeed only a weekly rest, but to those who know the truth it is a perpetual Sabbath, enjoyed by God during all the days of time, and entered by believers either at conversion or at death. And this last thought perhaps explains why he said before that the reasons for days observed by the Hebrews would be understood after this life.
But last of all we come to a mention of the so-called Lord's day by Origen. As he has a mystical or perpetual Sabbath like some of the earlier fathers in which, under pretense of keeping every day as a Sabbath, they actually labor on every one, so has he also, like what we have found in some of them, a Lord's day which is not merely one definite day of the week, but which embraces every day, and covers all time. Here are his words:
"For `to keep a feast,' as one of the wise men of Greece has well said, `is nothing else than to do one's duty;' and that man truly celebrates a feast who does his duty and prays always, offering up continually bloodless sacrifices in prayer to God. That therefore seems to me a most noble saying of Paul, `Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.'
"If it be objected to us on this subject that we ourselves are accustomed to observe certain days, as, for example, the Lord's day, the Preparation, the Passover, or Pentecost, I have to answer, that to the perfect Christian, who is ever in his thoughts, words, and deeds, serving his natural Lord, God the Word, all his days are the Lord's, and he is always keeping the Lord's day." Book viii., close of chapter xxi, and beginning of chapter xxii.
With respect to what he calls the Lord's day, Origen divides his brethren into two classes, as he had before divided the people of God into two classes with respect to the Sabbath. One class are the imperfect Christians who content themselves with the literal day; the other are the perfect Christians whose Lord's day embraces all the days of life. Undoubtedly Origen reckoned himself one of the perfect Christians. His observance of the Lord's day did not consist in the elevation of one day above another, for he counted them all alike as constituting one perpetual Lord's day, the very doctrine which we found in Clement of Alexandria, who was Origen's teacher in his early life. The keeping of the Lord's day with Origen as with Clement embraced all the days of his life and consisted according to Origen in serving God in thought, word, and deed, continually; or as expressed by Clement, one "keeps the Lord's, when he abandons an evil disposition, and assumes that of the Gnostic."
These things prove that Origen did not count Sunday as the Lord's day to be honored above the other days as a divine memorial of the resurrection, for he kept the Lord's day during every day in the week. Nor did he hold Sunday as the Lord's day to be kept as a day of abstinence from labor, while all the other days were days of business, for whatever was necessary to keeping Lord's day he did on every day of the week.
As to the imperfect Christian who honored a literal day as the Lord's day, Origen shows what rank it stood in by associating it with the Preparation, the Passover, and the Pentecost, all of which in this dispensation are mere church institutions, and none of them days of abstinence from labor. The change of the Sabbath on the seventh day to the first, or the existence of the so-called Christian Sabbath was in Origen's time absolutely unknown.
Hippolytus who was bishop of Portus, near Rome, wrote about A. D. 250. It is evident from his testimony that he believed the Sabbath was made by God's act of sanctifying the seventh day at the beginning. He held that day to be the type of the seventh period of a thousand years. Thus he says:
"And 6000 years must needs be accomplished in order that the Sabbath may come, the rest, the holy day on which God rested from all his works. For the Sabbath is the type and emblem of the future kingdom of the saints, when they shall reign with Christ, when he comes from Heaven, as John says in his Apocalypse: for a day with the Lord is as a thousand years. Since, then, in six days God made all things, it follows that six thousand years must be fulfilled." - \Commentaries on various Books of Scripture. Sect. 4, on Daniel.
The churches of Ethiopia have a series of Canons, or church rules, which they attribute to this father. Number thirty-three reads thus:
"That commemoration should be made of the faithful dead every day, with the exception of the Lord's day."
The church of Alexandria have also a series which they ascribe to him. The thirty-third is thus given:
"Of the Atalmsas (the oblation), which they shall present for those who are dead, that it be not done on the Lord's day."
The thirty-eighth one has these words:
"Of the night on which our Lord Jesus Christ rose. That no one shall sleep on that night, and wash himself with water."
These are the only things in Hippolytus that can be referred to the Sunday festival. Prayers and offerings for the dead, which we find some fifty years earlier in Tertullian, are, according to Hippolytus, lawful on every day but the so-called Lord's day. They grew up with the Sunday festival, and are of equal authority with it. Tertullian, as we have already observed, tells us frankly that there is no Scriptural authority for the one or the other, and that they rest on custom and tradition alone.
Novatian, who wrote about A. D. 250, is accounted the founder of the sect called Cathari, or Puritans. He tried to resist some of the gross corruptions of the church of Rome. He wrote a treatise on the Sabbath, which is not extant. There is no reference to Sunday in any of his writings. In his treatise "On the Jewish Meats," he speaks of the Sabbath thus:
"But how perverse are the Jews, and remote from the understanding of their law, I have fully shown, as I believe, in two former letters, wherein it was absolutely proved that they are ignorant of what is the true circumcision, and what the true Sabbath." Chapter i.
If we contrast the doctrine of the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath with the teaching of the Saviour, or with that of Isaiah in his fifty-eighth chapter, we shall not think Novatian far from the truth in his views of the Jewish people. In his treatise "Concerning the Trinity" is the following allusion to the Sabbath:
"For in the manner that as man he is of Abraham, so also as God he is before Abraham himself. And in the same manner as he is as man the `Son of David,' so as God he is proclaimed David's Lord. And in the same manner as he was made as man `under the laws,' so as God he is declared to be `Lord of the Sabbath.'" Chapter xi.
These are the only references to the Sabbath in what remains of the writings of Novatian. He makes the following striking remarks concerning the moral law:
"The law was given to the children of Israel for this purpose, that they might profit by it, and RETURN to those virtuous manners, which, although they have received them from their fathers, they had corrupted in Egypt by reason of their intercourse with a barbarous people. Finally, also, those ten commandments on the tables teach nothing new, but remind them of what had been obliterated - that righteousness in them, which had been put to sleep, might revive again as it were by the afflatus of the law, after the manner of a fire [nearly extinguished]." - On the Jewish Meats, chap.iii.
It is therefore certain that in the judgment of Novatian, the ten commandments enjoined nothing that was not sacredly regarded by the patriarchs before that Jacob went down into Egypt. It follows, therefore, that in his opinion the Sabbath was made, not at the fall of the manna, but when God sanctified the seventh day, and that holy men from the earliest ages observed it. The Sunday festival with its varied names and titles he never mentions.