Of the Sabbath




THERE is a hidden side to this apostolate that from time to time makes its way to this column—the letter writing that goes back and forth between myself and atheists, unbelievers, doubters, skeptics, and of course, the Faithful. For the past two years, I have been dialoguing with a Seventh Day Adventist. The exchange has been peaceful and respectful, even though the gap between some of our beliefs remains. The following is a response I wrote to him last year regarding why the Sabbath is no longer practiced on Saturday in the Catholic Church and generally all of Christendom. His point? That the Catholic Church has broken the Fourth Commandment [1]the traditional Catechetical formula lists this commandment as Third by altering the day on which the Israelites “kept holy” the Sabbath. If this is the case, then there are grounds to suggest that the Catholic Church is not the true Church as she claims, and that the fullness of truth resides elsewhere.

We pick up our dialogue here about whether or not Christian Tradition is founded solely upon Scripture without the infallible interpretation of the Church…



In your previous letter, you quoted 2 Tim 3:10-15 about the profitability of Scripture. But the Apostles themselves never took the Scriptures alone as their sole authority. For one thing, St. Paul or Peter did not walk around with a King James in their hand. We both know that it took four centuries for a canon of writings to be formulated when the Catholic bishops met in council to declare the canon, let alone for the bible to become freely available to the public centuries later. Thus, in 2 Timothy, St. Paul says, “Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me.” [2]2 Tim 1:13 He warns against those who “will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth…” [3]2 Tim4:3 Thus, he warned Timothy in his first letter to “guard what has been entrusted to you.” [4]1 Tim 20 St. Paul did not entrust him with a bible, but with his personal letters and everything he taught him both written and orally. [5]2 Thess 2:15 Thus, to Timothy, St. Paul makes certain that he understands that the “pillar and foundation of truth” is not a subjective interpretation of Scripture, but “the household of God, which is the church of the living God.” [6]1 Tim 3:15 Which Church is that? The one where Peter still holds the “keys of the kingdom” [7]Matt 16:18 Otherwise, if there is no rock, then the Church has already crumbled.

That’s a recap of our previous discussions. But it’s crucial to understand that the early Church from the very beginning operated under the principals of authority, as designated by Christ Himself. From the very beginning, which precepts of the law to keep and those that were no longer binding had to be hashed out in their councils (eg. Acts 10, 11, 15) according to the new law of Christ under the New Covenant. This was often determined, not through a literal reading of Scripture, but through revelations given both Peter and Paul in visions and other signs. At this point, the argument that Scripture was the Apostle’s sole guide falls apart. Rather, it was the promised Holy Spirit who would “lead them into all truth[8]John 16:13 that was now directing the Church. This is why the Catholic Church has never referred solely to Scripture alone. In fact, we read many early Church Fathers as well as St. Paul chastising those who departed from Apostolic authority.

But this did not give the Apostles the right to pick and choose anything, rather, they were to be safeguards of what the Lord taught and revealed to them before their deaths.

…stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. (2 Thess 2:15)

Furthermore, those traditions, like the buds of a flower, would continue to open their deeper truths and meanings as the Church grew:

I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” (John 16:2)

So, just as the Lord promised, He taught them much more through visions, prophetic utterances, and revelations. The entire book of Revelation, for example, is a vision. St. Paul’s theology was also a divine revelation. Thus, in the Church, we say the deposit of faith was given in its fullness with the death of the last Apostle. Afterward, Apostolic authority was transmitted through the laying on of hands. [9]1 Tim 5:22 It is impossible then for the Christian to argue that the Bible contains everything explicitly. That said, there is nothing in oral tradition that contradicts the written Word. The misunderstandings of the Catholic Faith are due to subjective and erroneous interpretations of Scripture or simple ignorance of the doctrinal development of Tradition. The oral tradition is part of the entire Sacred Tradition entrusted to the Church as transmitted by Christ and the Holy Spirit. God does not contradict Himself.



The discussion of Tradition helps us better understand the Church’s practice of the Sabbath, where it comes from and why. Is the Catholic Church’s fulfillment of the Sabbath precept a human construct, or a part of the revelation of Jesus and the Holy Spirit?

We see that the practice of the Sabbath on Sunday had its roots even in the New Testament. The suggestion of changes in the law, including the Sabbath, is found in the letter to the Colossians:

Let no one, then, pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to a festival or new moon or sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ. (2:16)

It would seem that the Church was being criticized for some change to the Sabbath. Other Scriptures reveal that Sunday, the “first day of the week,” became significant to the Christians. The reason is that it is the day the Lord rose from the dead. Hence, the early Christians began to call it “the Lord’s day”:

I was caught up in a spirit on the Lord’s day… (Rev 1:10)

The significance of this day as the new Sabbath is also seen in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2.

In the Old Testament, God creates the earth in six days and rests on the seventh. Saturday, according to the Hebraic calendar, became then the Sabbath. But in Christ, creation was renewed according to a new order:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Cor 5:17)

Remember, the laws of the Old Testament are a &q
uot;shadow of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ.
” And the reality is that the Apostles saw fit to honor the Sabbath on Sunday. They rested, but on the “day of the Lord”, according to the pattern of Christ’s Resurrection and the “new day” it began. Were they breaking the Fourth Commandment by honoring the Sabbath on Sunday, or rather, celebrating a new and greater reality inaugurated by Christ? Were they flagrantly disobeying God, or exercising the power of the Church to “bind and loose” those Mosaic laws that either found new meaning or became obsolete under the new Commandment? [10]Matt 22:37-39

We look again to the early Church Fathers since they were pivotal in passing on and further developing the deposit of faith directly from the Apostles. St. Justin Martyr, addressing this new creation in Christ, writes:

Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. First Apology 67; [A.D. 155]

St. Athanasius affirms this:

The Sabbath was the end of the first creation, the Lord’s day was the beginning of the second, in which he renewed and restored the old in the same way as he prescribed that they should formerly observe the Sabbath as a memorial of the end of the first things, so we honor the Lord’s day as being the memorial of the new creation.On Sabbath and Circumcision 3; [A.D. 345]

Hence it is not possible that the [day of] rest after the Sabbath should have come into existence from the seventh [day] of our God. On the contrary, it is our Savior who, after the pattern of his own rest, caused us to be made in the likeness of his death, and hence also of his resurrection. —Origen [A.D. 229], Commentary on John 2:28

St. Justin explains why the Sabbath is not binding in its old form upon Christians:

…we too would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the Sabbaths, and in short all the feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined [on] you—namely, on account of your transgressions and the hardness of your heart….how is it, Trypho, that we would not observe those rites which do not harm us—I speak of fleshly circumcision and Sabbaths and feasts?… God enjoined you to keep the Sabbath, and imposed on you other precepts for a sign, as I have already said, on account of your unrighteousness and that of your fathers… Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 18, 21

And this raises a very crucial point here. If we are strictly bound by the Old Testament, as you claim in this matter, then we must follow every “everlasting” command:

God also said to Abraham: “On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the mark of the covenant between you and me. Throughout the ages, every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised, including houseborn slaves and those acquired with money from any foreigner who is not of your blood. Yes, both the houseborn slaves and those acquired with money must be circumcised. Thus my covenant shall be in your flesh as an everlasting pact. (Gen 17:9-13)

Yet, the Church did not apply the law of circumcision even though Jesus no where mentions the abolition of circumcision and was Himself circumcised. Rather, St. Paul speaks about the Church observing the eternal commandment and covenant in a new way, no longer in shadows, but in the “reality that belongs to Christ.”

…circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter. (Rom 2:29)

That is, the Old Testament prescription points to a new and deeper meaning as it emerges from the shadows into the light of Christ. Why don’t Seventh Day Adventists practice circumcision? Because, historically, they adopted the teaching of the Catholic Church in this regard.

For if anyone says that this about the Sabbath is to be kept, he must needs say that carnal sacrifices are to be offered. He must say too that the commandment about the circumcision of the body is still to be retained. But let him hear the apostle Paul saying in opposition to him: ‘If you be circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing’ —POPE GREGORY I [A.D. 597], Gal. 5:2, (Letters 13:1)

Recall what Our Lord Himself said,

The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

Even our Lord demonstrated that the practice of the Sabbath was not as strict as the Jews thought by picking wheat or performing miracles on that day.



Lastly, we see this practice of resting on Sunday, “the Lord’s day,” as well substantiated within the first century, according to both Scripture and Tradition:

We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.Letter of Barnabas [A.D. 74], 15:6–8

But every Lord’s day… gather yourselves together and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. —Didache 14, [A.D. 70]

…those who were brought up in the ancient order of things [i.e. Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death. Letter to the Magnesians, St. Ignatius of Antioch [A.D. 110], 8




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1 the traditional Catechetical formula lists this commandment as Third
2 2 Tim 1:13
3 2 Tim4:3
4 1 Tim 20
5 2 Thess 2:15
6 1 Tim 3:15
7 Matt 16:18
8 John 16:13
9 1 Tim 5:22
10 Matt 22:37-39
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