The Pope Trumpets Sunday


In August, Pope Benedict xvi made Germany the destination of his first trip abroad. On Sunday, August 21, as part of the World Youth Day celebration, the pontiff conducted a mass with over 1 million people where he stressed the importance of Sunday worship: “Sunday is a free day …. Yet this free time is empty if God is not present,” he said. “Sometimes our initial impression is that having to include time for mass on a Sunday is rather inconvenient. But if you make the effort, you will realize that this is what gives a proper focus to your free time” (International Herald Tribune, August 22).

These comments came just a few months after similar statements at a mass celebrating the closing of the 24th National Eucharistic Congress on May 29. In front of 200,000 in the Italian city of Bari, Benedict declared that the reinforcement of Sunday worship is fundamental to his mission.

To students of history, this focus represents a return to the papacies of old, the papacies of that ever-recurring imperial European power, the Holy Roman Empire.

Pope Benedict perceives the secularist moral vacuum that has plagued Europe since the time of the Enlightenment. Now, after resounding rejections of the European Constitution by both France and the Netherlands in referenda earlier this year, European unification appears to be in disarray.

But it seems Benedict wants to fill that vacuum—the old Roman way. That way was never sympathetic to the idea of the public voluntarily accepting its tenets. Rather, as even a cursory study of history will reveal, it was imposed by force.

This pope’s dream coincides with that of his predecessor, John Paul ii. It is a huge vision—a vision of a Europe united from the North Sea in the west to the Ural Mountains in the east.

But here is the trouble: The only times throughout history this vision has been fully realized is when Rome imposed its religion. Since Charlemagne’s “conversion” in the eighth century, the Roman Empire, with its common religious ideology, was able to hang together in repeated resurrections and wreak havoc on those who resisted it.

As Texas-based think tank Stratfor said, “Europe, for geopolitical reasons, cannot be unified except beneath the heel of a conqueror” (June 2).

Pope Benedict is committed to reinstating the active observance of the Roman Catholic Church’s chief icon: Sunday. He knows that to popularize religion in Europe, he has to reintroduce a means of promoting what marketers call brand loyalty. The most historic brand the pope can offer to bond the people together is the ancient day of worship, fashionable since Babylon, the old day of the sun—Sunday. Hence his promotion of that old Roman brand in his recent addresses.

If we understand how the church has enforced this day in its past history, we should be very alarmed.

Who Changed the Sabbath?

The Bible commands worship on a seventh-day Sabbath. Who changed the Sabbath to the first day of the week?

Here is what Herbert W. Armstrong wrote on this subject: “Where did Sunday originate? Not with the Roman Catholic Church, but with the pagan religion of the Roman Empire, long before there was any Catholic Church! It is the day on which the ancient pagans assembled at sunrise, faced the east (as they do Easter Sunday morning today), and worshiped the rising sun. It was Constantine, emperor of the Roman Empire, not a pope, who made Sunday the official so-called ‘Christian day of rest.’ But it was enforced—people were caused to accept it universally—by the Roman Catholic Church!” History proves Mr. Armstrong to be absolutely correct!

Sunday observance was initiated by Constantine, not a pope—but it was enforced by the Roman Catholic Church. According to The History of Roman Catholicism (1836), “The accession of Constantine the Great to the throne of the caesars and his subsequent conversion to Christianity, forms a most important era in the history of the church.” It is important, as the writer points out, because this began the intimate relationship the Roman Empire developed with the Roman Church—a relationship that lasted for many centuries.

Constantine changed the official day of worship to Sunday during the Nicene Council of a.d. 325.

In a letter regarding the council, Constantine spoke of the enforcement of Sunday worship for Easter services: “At this meeting the question concerning the most holy day of Easter was discussed, and it was resolved by the united judgment of all present that this feast ought to be kept by all and in every place on one and the same day.” This statement was directed at those who kept the Passover—one of God’s seven annual festivals commanded in Scripture—rather than Easter, and kept it several days before Easter. “[F]irst of all, it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews. … Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd …. [I]t has been determined by the common judgment of all, that the most holy feast of Easter should be kept on one and the same day” (emphasis mine throughout).

In other words, Easter was to be kept on Sunday, and the “Jewish” Passover—which is actually God’s biblically commanded assembly—was expressly forbidden!

In another letter, specifically regarding Sabbath worship, Constantine wrote, “Forasmuch, then, as it is no longer possible to bear with your pernicious errors, we give warning by this present statute that none of you henceforth presume to assemble yourselves together. We have directed, accordingly, that you be deprived of all the houses in which you are accustomed to hold your assemblies: and our care in this respect extends so far as to forbid the holding of your superstitious and senseless meetings, not in public merely, but in any private house or place whatsoever. Let those of you, therefore, who are desirous of embracing the true and pure religion, take the far better course of entering the Catholic Church …. [F]rom this day forward none of your unlawful assemblies may presume to appear in any public or private place. Let this edict be made public.”

This was confirmed at the Council of Laodicea almost 40 years later in a.d. 363. At that conference, it was determined, “Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord’s Day. … But if any shall be found to be Judaizers, let them be anathema [cursed and excommunicated] from Christ.”

There you have it: historical proof of the enforced observance of Sunday. To assemble together on any other day for a religious observance was unlawful.

Today, many Sunday-observing “Christians” admit that the Sabbath was changed. Notice the question posed to the Catholic Church in the book Catholic Doctrinal Catechism, written by a Catholic priest with the intention of defending Catholic doctrine: “Question: Have you any other way of proving that the church has power to institute festivals of precept? Answer: Had she not such power, she should not have done that in which all modern religionists agree with her—she could not have substituted the observance of Sunday, the first day of the week, for the observance of Saturday, the seventh day, a change for which there is no scriptural authority.”

As Christians today, are we to heed what a great church has admittedly changed—or what is divinely inspired in the Bible?

Here is a quote from the Theological Dictionary, by Charles Buck, a Methodist minister: “Sabbath in the Hebrew language signifies rest, and is the seventh day of the week … and it must be confessed that there is no law in the New Testament concerning the first day.

And finally, here is what Isaac Williams wrote in Plain Sermons on the Catechism: “And where are we told in Scripture that we are to keep the first day at all? We are commanded to keep the seventh; but we are no where commanded to keep the first day … [T]he reason why we keep the first day of the week instead of the seventh is for the same reason that we observe many other things, not because the Bible, but because the church has enjoined it.”

God’s Church During the Middle Ages

When Constantine made his decree in a.d. 325 enforcing Sunday observance in the Roman Empire, a tribulation period began. Those saints who remained faithful to God’s Sabbath command were forced to flee into hiding for fear of their lives. Persecution against these people set in almost immediately.

God’s Church was revived during the last half of the 12th century by a man named Peter Waldo. After much study of the Scriptures, Waldo claimed that nowhere was Christian life observed as commanded by Christ. He quickly amassed thousands of followers. The Catholic Church considered him a great threat.

Pope Alexander iii made this stunning decree at the Council of Tours in a.d. 1163: “Whereas a damnable heresy has for some time lifted its head in the parts about Toulouse, and already spread infection through Gascony and other provinces, concealing itself like a serpent in its folds; as soon as its followers shall have been discovered, let no man afford them refuge on his estates; neither let there be any communication with them in buying and selling: so that, being deprived of the solace of human conversation, they may be compelled to return from error to wisdom.”

Notice that people were forbidden to buy or sell with these “heretics” because of what they believed. Bible prophecy says those who refuse a “mark” will be unable to buy or sell in the near future. (For more information, request our free booklet Germany and the Holy Roman Empire.)

The Waldensians grew nonetheless. Waldo devoted his life to making more copies of the Scriptures. Back then, very few people owned Bibles, and were thus forced to take the Catholic priests at their word regarding what the Scriptures said. With the rapid spread of Bibles came the increase of dissension. Many Waldensians began to meet privately in homes to discuss the Bible.

Pope Innocent iii ruled the Catholic Church in the early 1200s. Though he admitted it was all right for the common people to study the Scriptures themselves, he nevertheless warned, “It is not proper for you to hold your meetings in private, nor to act as preachers, nor to ridicule the priests. Remember that men must have a special training before they can understand the deep things of Holy Scripture. The priests are trained for this purpose. Listen to them. Respect even the most ignorant of them. Beware of thinking that you alone are correct, and despising those who do not join you” (History of the Christian Church, 1879).

As dissension grew, those who were reading the Scriptures for themselves began to be persecuted. The author of History of the Christian Church continued, “They were called Waldensians, as if that were a hard name. Force was applied to them. They were routed; their versions were burnt, so far as possible; their opinions rooted out. The priests of Metz breathed freely again, and went on in their old ways of ignorance, idleness and vicious selfishness. Like cases seem to have occurred at Auxerre, and various towns in France, until the Council of Toulouse, in 1229, forbade the laity to possess the books of the Old and New Testaments in any language ….”

That’s history. A great church actually forbade people to read the Bible. Throughout history, this church has spoken “great things.”

In any doctrinal controversy, we must believe the Bible, not men!

The followers of Peter Waldo were persecuted by the Roman Empire. The cause behind it was the Roman Church.

“We Cannot Live Without Sunday”

Note the terms Pope Benedict used in his May 29 mass to motivate the people to return to this ancient Roman practice: “Sunday, day of the Lord, is the propitious occasion to draw strength from him, who is the Lord of life. The Sunday precept, therefore, is not a simple duty imposed from outside. To participate in the Sunday celebration and to be nourished with the Eucharistic bread is a need of a Christian, who in this way can find the necessary energy for the journey [of life] to be undertaken. We must rediscover the joy of the Christian Sunday.”

The pope concluded with this prayer: “[M]ay today’s Christians again become aware of the decisive importance of the Sunday celebration …” (Zenit, May 29).

The intensity of the papal commitment to enforcing Sunday worship in Europe was underlined in the pope’s statements as reported by one of Italy’s most popular conservative newspapers. It reported his words as follows: “We cannot live without Sunday. … The religious holiday of obligation is not a task imposed from the outside, but a duty of the Christian” (Corriere Della Sera, May 29).

Sunday—we “cannot live without” it, it’s a “holiday of obligation” and a Christian “duty.” Those words ought to send a chill up the spine of any honest student of the history of the Holy Roman Empire.

A Matter of Life and Death

Here is another excerpt from The History of Roman Catholicism: “The Roman Church has adopted as its fundamental principle that it can never err, and the body of the civil law when once chosen by the church, as the basis of its system of ecclesiastical jurisprudence, partook at once of its infallibility, and unchangeableness and became one of its prominent features. To change it in one of its most unimportant [details] would be to acknowledge that the church had erred, which is impossible. … Thus the Roman pontiff is clothed with supreme authority, and combines at once in his own sacred person all the functions of the legislative, the judicial, and the executive powers. He has no constitutional restraint, he is absolutely unlimited and without control. … Those surely are fallacious reasoners, who argue that because the pope has never yet exercised the power that he really possesses, with evident political effect, that he will never exercise it; they cruelly and fatally deceive themselves who indulge in pleasant slumbers when the voice of the past calls upon them to rouse to ceaseless watchfulness.”

Remember, this powerful church was prophesied to speak great things. Throughout history, the pope has been referred to as the vicar of Christ. Vicar does not mean Christ’s representative as some assume. It means “in place of” Christ. Those truly are “great words.” The author of the above-mentioned book urges readers who falsely assume a pope would never really exercise his full power to remember the “voice of the past.”

Historic facts show that under Charlemagne, the observance of Sunday within Europe actually became a matter of life or death. Many were put to the sword, burned at the stake, stretched on the rack, or met their end by some other horrible means at the hands of others who literally meant that citizens could not live without Sunday! These unfortunate souls were declared heretics by Rome—but martyrs by historians (including the 16th century’s John Foxe).

Let us hope this pope, Benedict xvi, did not have this long and agonizing history in mind when he uttered that most unfortunate phrase, “We cannot live without Sunday.”

For more information on this vital subject, request our free booklet Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath?