Following is a letter from James Likoudis, president emeritus of Catholics United for the Faith, answering a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church who questions and disagrees with the Catholic doctrine of celebrating "The Lord's Day" on Sunday.
Thank you for your letter and the article ("John Paul II's Pseudo-Sabbath") from the January, 1999 issue of "Liberty" by the lapsed Catholic Sannuele Bacchiocchi who is critical of Pope John Paul II's magnificent Apostolic Letter "Dies Domini".
The Pope's Letter is a thorough exposition of the doctrinal foundations underlying the Christian observance of Sunday from the very earliest days of the Church. Bacchiocchi admits that in the "post-Apostolic age" Christians celebrated Sunday as the day for Christian worship. The Pope himself quotes some of the earliest documents outside of the New Testament witnessing to the customs of the early Christians. These Christians, by the way, were Catholics – as indeed Seventh-Day Adventists themselves freely admit in their literature fixing the blame upon the Catholic Church for an alleged "apostasy" from New Textament practice.
The Pope might also have quoted from such documents as the "Epistle of Barnabas" which is dated about 138 A.D., and appears in the famous 4th century "Codex Sinaiticus" containing New Testament biblical books. There the "Epistle of Barnabas" is even listed as part of the New Testament Scriptures. This however, does not lessen its immense value as testifying to the practice of Sunday worship among the earliest Christians. In the "Epistle of Barnabas" we read:
He [God] says to them [the Jews]: "Your new moons and your Sabbaths, I cannot bear them!" Consider what he means by it: Not the Sabbaths of the present era are acceptable to Me, but that which I have appointed to work the end of the world and to usher in the 8th day, that is the beginning of the world. Wherefore we joyfully celebrate the 8th day on which Jesus rose from the dead, and having Himself manifested to His disciples He ascended into heaven.
In short, the earliest writings outside of the New Testament confirm what the Pope has stated, namely, that the post-Apostolic Christians offered the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass ("the breaking of the bread") on Sunday in honor of the Resurrection of Christ and the "New Creation" He brought into being with the New Covenant. The Pope explains with great profundity the rich meaning of Sunday worship in fulfilling and perfecting what was implied in the Jewish Sabbath.
All this historical evidence, unfortunately, means nothing to Seventh-Day Adventists who posit an apostasy from biblical teaching on the Sabbath on the part of the very earliest Christians – those who in time were closest to Christ and His Apostles! This makes no sense whatsoever since it is unthinkable (at least for Catholics) that the early Church should have been so faithless to Christ and proceeded to abandon His Gospel. This is impossible in view of Christ's establishing a Church – one against which the "Gates of Hell" could never prevail. As St. Irenaeus of Lyons (he was the disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna who was taught by the Apostle John and is called the "first biblical theologian" among Christian intellectuals) wrote: "The Holy Spirit has breathed incorruption into the Church".
St. Irenaeus who died in the year 200 not only insisted that the Catholic Church could never become corrupt in its doctrinal teaching but also refuted all the heretics and sectarians of his time by declaring:
We will refute all those who hold unauthorized assemblies – either because of false self-importance, or pride, or blindness and perversity – by pointing to the tradition of the greatest and oldest Church known to all men, which was founded and established at Rome by the most renowned Apostles Peter and Paul. This tradition the Church has from the Apostles, and this faith has been proclaimed to all men, and has come down to our own day through the succession of bishops. For this Church [of Rome] has a position of leadership and authority; therefore every Church, that is, the faithful everywhere, must needs agree with the Church at Rome; for in her the Apostolic tradition has ever been preserved for the faithful from all parts of the world. The blessed Apostles after they had founded and built the Church [at Rome] handed over to Linus the office of Bishop... He was succeeded by Anacletus... after whom Clement... And now Eleutherus occupies the See, the twelfth from the Apostles. In this order and succession the Apostolic Tradition in the Church and the preaching of the truth has come down to our time...
The point I make to you, is that the Apostolic Tradition concerning Sunday worship by Christians and practiced from the earliest days of the Church has once again been set forth by the present Bishop of Rome who exercises the Petrine ministry in our time. That Apostolic Tradition (remember St. Paul saying to "hold fast to the traditions we have been taught") has been preserved in the Catholic Church – and to their credit most Protestants continue to adhere to it, despite their illogical rejection of Apostolic Tradition.
Bacchiocchi falsely posits a contradiction between the practice of "New
Testament Christians" and their immediate successors who were the bishops, priests,
deacons, and laity of that Church which was already being described by St. Ignatius of
Antioch (himself a bishop) as the "Catholic Church" (107 A.D.!) It is incredible to think
that these earliest Christians so fervent in the Christian faith and fearless in facing
martyrdom at the hands of the pagans, would have so thoroughly distorted the teaching
handed down to them by the Apostles (themselves so faithful and obedient to Christ)
concerning the day for Christian worship! The Pope in his Letter explains the history and
theology of Sunday worship beautifully and accurately. In reply Bacchiocchi says:
"Jesus Himself never said a word about making the day of His Resurrection
the new Christian day of rest and worship."
- He never said a word about how many books make up the Bible.
- He never said a word about the Bible being the sole rule of faith.
- He never said a word declaring Saturday observance was essential for salvation.
- He never said (and your truncated Bible of only 66 books nowhere states) the name of the day of the week that the 7th day must always fall on!
Bacchiocchi asks, "What right had the Church to declare Sunday as the fulfillment, full expression and extension of God's creative and redemptive accomplishments?" Why, every right in the world. The Church was established with divine authority to teach the truths of the Gospel and determine what practices affecting its worship and practice conform with the Mind of Christ. The Apostles and their successors (the Pope and Bishops as rulers of the Church) were given the power of the keys to bind and loose, to make laws and disciplinary enactments conducive to furthering holiness among its members.
The early widespread practive of setting aside Sunday for the celebration of the Mass was later, as the Pope points out, made the object of legislation so that today, for example, attending Mass on Sunday and Holy Days obliges under pain of sin. It has been made so because of its tremendous importance for living the Christian faith. I would ask you to re-read "Dies Domini" with the aforesaid points in mind.
One last point to stress here. Bacchiocchi denies that Sunday observance has its grounding in such New Testament texts as 1 Cor. 16:2; Acts 20:7-12; Rev. 1:10. Unfortunately for him, most Church historians see in those texts evidence of the same pattern the Pope notes, namely, that Christians were no longer in servile subjection to the Sabbath obligation, which bound the Jews of the Old Covenant. They had been freed from all the ritual and ceremonial obligations of the Mosaic Code, such as circumcision and Saturday/Sabbath worship.
Once again, I would repeat what was in my former letters to you:
- The Book of Exodus makes it very clear that the Saturday ovservance of the Sabbath was a special prescription for the Jews only, and that it was inseparably connected with the Old Covenant.
- Christians, however, live under the New Covenant, which insists that those who have accepted the full and perfect revelation and grace of Christ be no longer bound by the laws and customs of the Jews.
The New Testament nowhere declares that the followers of Christ are
obliged to observe the Jewish Sabbath, and this was certainly the belief in the primitive
and early Church (a.k.a.the Catholic or "teach all nations" Church).
Perhaps I should emphasize in the words of a fine Catholic writer, Fr. Rumble:
The first Christians did not regard the first day of the week as a substitute for the Jewish Sabbath. There was no question of transferring Jewish obligations from one day to another. The obligation of the Jewish Sabbath had lapsed, even as the Old Testament generally ceased to oblige. They did not regard it as necessary to abstain from secular pursuits on the first day of the week. They engaged in business as usual. But from motives of devotion they began that day by meeting for the celebration of the Eucharist, which Christ had left to them as His last legacy and command on the eve of His crucifixion and death. That custom became the Christian tradition.
In the year 107 St. Ignatius of Antioch referred to Christians as:
"no longer observing the Sabbath, but who regulate their calendar by the Lord's Day, the day, too, on which our Life rose by His power and through the medium of His death... It is absurd to have Jesus Christ on the lips and at the same time live like a Jew."
(Letter to the Magnesians, 9-10)
I can only conclude with the observation that Seventh-Day Adventism is simply a 19th century revival of the kind of Judaizing tendencies which were sharply rebuked by the Apostles (especially St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians).
The Judaizers of then and now only work to make void the Cross of Christ by perverting the Gospel of Christ which has been handed down by The ONE and ONLY Church Christ established in this world. (See my previous letters to you).
But once again, a Happy and Blessed New year to you and yours.
— James Likoudis
Catholics United for the Faith (CUF)