Examination of a Famous Falsehoode
Were the martyrs in Pliny''s time and afterward tested by the question whether they had kept Sunday or not? - Argument in the affirmative quoted from Edwards-Its origin-No facts to sustain such an argument prior to the fourth century-A single instance at the opening of that century all that can be claimed in support of the assertion-Sunday not even alluded to in that instance-Testimony of Mosheim relative to the work in which this is found.
Certain doctors of divinity have made a special effort to show that the "stated day" of Pliny''s epistle is the first day of the week. For this purpose they adduce a fabulous narrative which the more reliable historians of the church have not deemed worthy of record. The argument is this: That in Pliny''s time and afterward, that is, from the close of the first century and onward, whenever the Christians were brought before their persecutors for examination, they were asked whether they had kept the Lord''s day, this term being used to designate the first day of the week. And hence two facts are asserted to be established: 1. That when Pliny says that the Christians who were examined by him were accustomed to meet on a stated day, that day was undoubtedly the first day of the week. 2. That the observance of the first day of the week was the grand test by which Christians were known to their heathen persecutors. 3. That Lord''s day was the name by which the first day of the week was known in the time of Pliny, a few years after the death of John. To prove these points, Dr. Edwards makes the following statement:
"Hence the fact that their persecutors, when they wished to know whether men were Christians, were accustomed to put to them this question, viz., `Dominicum servasti?'' -`Hast thou kept the Lord''s day?'' If they had they were Christians. This was the badge of their Christianity, in distinction from Jews and pagans. And if they said they had, and would not recant, they must be put to death. And what, when they continued steadfast, was their answer? `Christianus sum; intermittere non possum;''-`I am a Christian; I cannot omit it.'' It is a badge of my religion, and the man who assumes it must of course keep the Lord''s day, because it is the will of his Lord; and should he abandon it, he would be an apostate from his religion."1
Mr. Gurney, an English first-day writer of some note, uses the same argument and for the same purpose.2 The importance attached to this statement, and the prominence given to it by the advocates of first-day sacredness, render it proper that its merits should be examined. Dr. Edwards gives no authority for his statement; but Mr. Gurney traces the story to Dr. Andrews, bishop of Winchester, who claimed to have taken it from the Acta Martyrum, an ancient collection of the acts of the martyrs. It was in the early part of the seventeenth century that Bishop Andrews first brought this forward in his speech in the court of Star Chamber, against Thraske, who was accused before that arbitrary tribunal of maintaining the heretical opinion that Christians are bound to keep the seventh day as the Sabbath of the Lord. The story was first produced, therefore, for the purpose of confounding an observer of the Sabbath when on trial by his enemies for keeping that day. Sir Wm. Domville, an able anti-Sabbatarian writer, thus traces out the matter:
"The bishop, as we have seen, refers to the Acta of the martyrs as justifying his assertion respecting the question, Dominicum servasti? but he does not cite a single instance from them in which that question was put. We are left therefore to hunt out the instances for ourselves, wherever, if anywhere, they are to be found. The most complete collection of the memoirs and legends still extant, relative to the lives and sufferings of the Christian martyrs, is that by Ruinart, entitled, `Acta primorum Martyrum sincera et selecta.'' I have carefully consulted that work, and I take upon myself to affirm that among the questions there stated to have been put to the martyrs in and before the time of Pliny, and for nearly two hundred years afterwards, the question, Dominicum servasti? does not once occur; nor any equivalent question."3
This shows at once that no proof can be obtained from this quarter, either that the "stated day" of Pliny was the first day of the week, of that the martyrs of the early church were tested by the question whether they had observed it or not. It also shows the statement to be false that the martyrs of Pliny''s time called Sunday the Lord''s day and kept it as such. After quoting all the questions put to martyrs in and before Pliny''s time, and thus proving that no such question as is alleged, was put to them, Domville says:
"This much may suffice to show that Dominicum servasti? was no question
in Pliny''s time, as Mr. Gurney intends us to believe it was. I have, however,
still other proof of Mr. Gurney''s unfair dealing with the subject, but I
defer stating it for the present, that I may proceed in the inquiry, What
may have been the authority on which bishop Andrews relied when stating that
Dominicum servasti? was ever a usual question put by the heathen persecutors?
I shall with this view pass over the martyrdoms which intervened between Pliny''s
time and the fourth century, as they contain nothing to the purpose, and shall
come at once to that martyrdom the narrative of which was, I have no doubt,
the source from which Bishop Andrews derived his question, Dominicum servasti?
''Hold you the Lord''s day?'' This martyrdom happened A.D. 304.4 The
sufferers were Saturninus and his four sons, and several other persons. They
were taken to
Domville quotes at length the conversation between the proconsul and the martyrs, which is quite similar in most respects to Gurney''s and Edwards''s quotation from Andrews. He then adds:
"The narrative of the martyrdom of Saturninus being the only one which has the appearance of supporting the assertion of Bishop Andrews that, `Hold you the Lord''s day?'' was the usual question to the martyrs, what if I should prove that even this narrative affords no support to that assertion? yet nothing is more easy than this proof; for Bishop Andrews has quite mistaken the meaning of the word Dominicum in translating it `the Lord''s day.'' It had no such meaning. It was a barbarous word in use among some of the ecclesiastical writers in, and subsequent to, the fourth century, to express sometimes a church, and at other times the Lord''s supper, but NEVER the Lord''s day.6 My authorities on this point, are—
"1. Ruinart, who, upon the word Dominicum, in the narrative of the martyrdom of Saturninus, has a note, in which he says it is a word signifying the Lord''s supper7 (`Dominicum vero desinat sacra mysteria''), and he quotes Tertullian and Cyprian in support of this interpretation.
"2. The editors of the Benedictine edition of
Domville states other facts of interest bearing on this point, and then pays his respects to Mr. Gurney as follows:
"It thus appearing that the reference made by Bishop Andrews to the `Acts of Martyrs'' completely fails to establish his dictum respecting the question alleged to have been put to the martyrs, and it also appearing that there existed strong and obvious reasons for not placing implicit reliance upon that dictum, what are we to think of Mr. Gurney''s regard for truth, when we find he does not scruple to tell his readers that the `stated day'' mentioned in Pliny''s letter as that on which the Christians held their religious assemblies, was `clearly the first day of the week,'' is proved by the very question which it was customary for the Roman persecutors to address to the martyrs, Dominicum servasti?-`Hast thou kept the Lord''s day?'' For this unqualified assertion, prefixed as it is by the word `clearly,'' in order to make it the more impressive, Mr. Gurney is without any excuse."10
The justice of Domville''s language cannot be questioned when he characterizes this favorite first-day argument as-
"One of those daring misstatements of facts so frequent in theological writings, and which, from the confident tone so generally assumed by the writers on such occasions, are usually received without examination, and allowed, in consequence, to pass current for truth."11
The investigation to which this statement has been subjected, shows,
1. That no such question as, Hast thou kept the Lord''s day? is upon record as proposed to the martyrs in the time of Pliny.
2. That no such question was asked to any martyr prior to the commencement of the fourth century. 3. That a single instance of martyrdom in which any question of the kind was asked, is all that can be claimed. 4. That in this one case, which is all that has even the slightest appearance of sustaining the story under examination, a correct translation of the original Latin shows that the question had no relation whatever to the observance of Sunday! All this has been upon the assumption that the Acta Martyrum, in which this story is found, is an authentic work. Let Mosheim testify relative to the character of this work for veracity:
"As to those accounts which have come down to us under the title of Acta Martyrum, or, the Acts of the Martyrs, their authority is certainly for the most part of a very questionable nature; indeed, speaking generally, it might be coming nearer to the truth, perhaps, were we to say that they are entitled to no sort of credit whatever."12
Such is the authority of the work from which this story is taken. It is not strange that first-day historians should leave the repetition of it to theologians.
Such are the facts respecting this extraordinary falsehood. They constitute so complete an exposure of this famous historical argument for Sunday as to consign it to the just contempt of all honest men. But this is too valuable an argument to be lightly surrendered, and moreover it is as truthful as are certain other of the historical arguments for Sunday. It will not do to give up this argument because of its dishonesty; for others will have to go with it for possessing the same character.
Since the publication of Domville''s elaborate work, James Gilfillan of
"From the days of the apostles downwards for many years, the followers of Christ had no enemies more fierce and unrelenting than that people [the Jews], who cursed them in the synagogue, sent out emissaries into all countries to calumniate their Master and them, and were abettors wherever they could, of the martyrdom of men, such as Polycarp, of whom the world was not worthy. Among the reasons of this deadly enmity was the change of the Sabbatic day. The Romans, though they had no objection on this score, punished the Christians for the faithful observance of their day of rest, one of the testing questions put to the martyrs being, Dominicum servasti?- Have you kept the Lord''s day? - Baron. An. Eccles., A.D. 303, Num.35, etc."13
Gilfillan having reproduced this statement and assigned as his authority the annalist Baronius, more recent first-day writers take courage and repeat the story after him. Now they are all right, as they think. What if the Acta Martyrum has failed them? Domville ought to have gone to Baronius, who, in their judgment, is the true source of information in this matter. Had he done this, they say, he would have been saved from misleading his readers. But let us ascertain what evil Domville has done in this case. It all consists in the assertion of two things out of the Acta Martyrum.14
1. That no such question as "Dominicum servasti?" was addressed to any martyr till the early part of the fourth century, some two hundred years after the time of Pliny.
2. That the question even then did not relate to what is called the Lord''s day, but to the Lord''s supper.
Now it is a remarkable fact that Gilfillan has virtually admitted the truth of the first of these statements, for the earliest instance which he could find in Baronius is A.D. 303, as his reference plainly shows. It differs only one year from the date assigned in Ruinart''s Acta Martyrum, and relates to the very case which Domville has quoted from that work! Domville''s first and most important statement is therefore vindicated by Gilfillan himself, though he has not the frankness to say this in so many words.
Domville''s second point is that Dominicum, when used as a noun, as in the present case, signifies either a church or the Lord''s supper, but never signifies Lord''s day. He establishes the fact by incontestable evidence. Gilfillan was acquainted with all this. He could not answer Domville, and yet he was not willing to abandon the falsehood which Domville had exposed. So he turns from the Acta Martyrum in which the compiler expressly defines the word to mean precisely what Domville asserts, and brings forward the great Romish annalist, Cardinal Baronius. Now, say our first-day friends, we are to have the truth from a high authority. Gilfillan has found in Baronius an express statement that the martyrs were tested by the question, "Have you kept the Lord''s day?" No matter then as to the Acta Martyrum from which Bishop Andrews first produced this story. That, indeed, has failed us, but we have in its stead the weighty testimony of the great Baronius. To be sure he fixes this test no earlier than the fourth century, which renders it of no avail as proof that Pliny''s stated day was Sunday; but it is worth much to have Baronius bear witness that certain martyrs in the fourth century were put to death because they observed the Sunday-Lord''s day.
But these exultant thoughts are vain. I must state a grave fact in plain
language: Gilfillan has deliberately falsified the testimony of Baronius!
That historian records at length the martyrdom of Saturninus and his company
I have thus given the substance of this famous examination, and have set before the reader the references therein made to the Dominicum. It is to be observed that Collecta is used as another name for Dominicum. Now does Baronius use either of these words to signify Lord''s day? It so happens that he has defined these words with direct reference to this very case no less than seven times. Now let us read these seven definitions:
When Baronius records the first question addressed to these martyrs, he
there defines these words as follows: "By the words Collectam, Collectionem,
and Dominicum, the author always understands the sacrifice of the
It is not possible to mistake the meaning of Baronius. He says that Dominicum
signifies the Mass! The celebration of the supper by these martyrs was doubtless
very different from the pompous ceremony which the church of Rome now observes
under the name of
Before Gilfillan wrote his work, Domville had called attention to the fact that the sentence, "Dominicum servasti?" does not occur in the Acta Martyrum, a different verb being used every time. But this is the popular form of this question, and must not be given up. So Gilfillan declares that Baronius uses it in his record of the martyrdoms in A.D. 303. But we have cited the different forms of question recorded by Baronius, and find them to be precisely the same with those of the Acta Martyrum. "Dominicum servasti?" does not occur in that historian, and Gilfillan, in stating that it does, is guilty of untruth. This, however, is comparatively unimportant. But for asserting that Baronius speaks of Lord''s day under the name of Dominicum, Gilfillan stands convicted of inexcusable falsehood in matters of serious importance.
1 Sabbath Manual, p. 120.
2 See his "History, Authority, and Use, of the Sabbath," chap. iv. pp. 87, 88.
3 Examination of the Six Texts, pp. 258-261.
4 The date in Baronius is A.D. 303.
5 Examination of the Six Texts, pp. 263-265.
6 Note by Domville. "Dominicum is not, as may at first be supposed, and adjective, of which diem [day] is the understood substantive. It is itself a substantive, neuter as appears from the passage, `Quia non potest intermitti Dominicum; in the narrative restpecting Saturninus. The Latin adjective Dominicus, when intended to refer to the Lord''s day, is never, I believe, used without its substantive dies [day] being expressed. In all the narratives contained in Ruinart''s Acta Martyrum, I find but two instances of mention being made of the Lord''s day, and in both these instances the substantive dies [day] is expressed."
7 This testimony is certainly decisive. It is the interpretation of the
compiler of the Acta Martyrum, himself, and is given with direct reference
to the particular instance under discussion. An independent confirmation of
Domville''s authorities, may be found in Lucius''s Eccl. Hist., cent. 4, chap.vi:
"Fit mentio aliquoties locorum istorum in quibus convenerint Christiani, in
historia persecutionis sub Diocletiano & Maximino. Et apparet, ante Constantinum
etiam, locos eos fuisse mediocriter exstructos atque exornatos: quos seu Templa
appellarunt seu Dominca; ut apud Eusebium (li.9.c.10) & Ruffinum (li.
1,c.3)." It is certain that Dominicum is here used as designating a place
of divine worship. Dr. Twisse in his "Morality of the Fourth Commandment,"
p. 122, says: "The ancient fathers, both Greek and Latin, called temples by
the name of
8 Domville cites
9 Examination of the Six Texts, pp. 267,268.
12 Historical Commentaries, cent. 1, sect. xxxii. Sabbath History.
13 The Sabbath, by James Gilfillan, p. vii.
14 To break the force of Domville''s statement in which he exposes the story originally told by Bishop Andrews as coming from the Acta Martyrum, it is said that Domville used Ruinart''s Acta Martyrum, and that Ruinart was not bo till thirty-one years after Bishop Andrews'' death, so that Domville did not go the the same book that was used by the bishop, and therefore failed to find what he found. Those who raise this point betray their ignorance or expose their dishonesty. The Acta Martyrum is a collection of the memoirs of the martyrs, written by their friends from age to age. Ruinart did not write a new work, but simply edited "the most valued collection" of these memoirs that has ever appeared. See McClintock and Strong''s Cyclopedia, vol. i. pp. 56,57. Domville used Ruinart''s edition, because, as he expresses it, it is "the most complete collection of the memoirs and legends still extant, relative to the lives and sufferings of the Christian martyrs." Domville''s use of Ruinart was, therefore, in the highest degree just and right.
15 Ibique celebrantes ex more Dominica Sacramenta.-Baronius, Tome 3, p. 348, A.D. 303, No. xxxvi. Lucae, A.D. 1738.
16 Qui contra edictum Imperatorum, & Caesarum Collectam Dominicam celebrassent.-Baronius, Tome 3, p. 348, A.D. 303, No. xxxix.
17 Utrum Collectam fecisset. Qui cum se Christianum, & in Collecta fuisse profiteretur.-Id.Ib.
19 Dominicum celebravimus. Proconsul ait: Qaure? respondit: Quia non potest intermitti Dominicum.-Id. No. x1vi. p. 350.
20 In cujus dome Collecta facta fuit.-Id. No. x1vii. p. 350.
21 Intermitti Dominicum non potest, ait. Lex sic jubet.-Id. No. x1vii. p. 350.
22 In tua, inquit proconsul, domo Collectae factae sunt, contra praecepta Imperatorum? Cui Emeritus sancto Spiritu inundatus: In domo mea, inquit, egimus Dominicum. . . . Quoniam sine Dominico esse non possumus.-Id. No. x1ix. pp. 350, 351.
23 Non quaero an Christianus sis sed an Collectam feceris. . . .Quasi Christianus sine Dominico esse possit.-Id. No. 1i. p. 351.
24 Collectam, inquit, religiosissime celebravimus; ad scripturas
25 Cum fratribus feci Collectam, Dominicum celebravi.-Id. No. 1ii. p. 351.
144Chapter Fifteen –Examination of a Famous Falsehoode
26 Post quem junior Felix, spem salutemque Christianorum Dominicum esse proclamans. . . Ego, inquit, devota menta celebravi Domincum; colletam cum fratribus feci, quia Christianus sum.-Id. liii.
27 Utrum egeris dominicum. Cui respondit Saturninus: Egi Dominicum, quia Salvator est christus.-Id. Ib. p. 352.
28 Per Collectam namque, and Ciollctionem, and Dominicum, intellegit semper auctor sacrificium Missae.-Baronius, Tome 3, A.D. 303, No. xxxix. p. 348.
29 Scilicet lex Christiana de Dominico, nempe sacrificio celebrando.-Id. No. x1vii. p. 350.
30 De celebratione Dominici; quod autem superuis in recitatis actis sit demonstratum, flagrantis persecutionis etiam tempore solicitos fuisse Christianos celebrare Dominicum, nempe (ut alias pluribus declararimus) ipsum sacrosanctum sacrificium incruentum.-Id. No.1xxxiii. p. 358.
31 Quod etsi sciamus eamdem vocem pro Dei templo interdum accipi solitam; tamen quod ecclesiae omnes solo aequiatae fuissent; ex aliis superius recitatis de celebratione Dominici, nonisi sacrificium missae posse intelligo, satis est declaratum.-Id. 1xxxiv. p. 359.
32 Collecta, Dominicum, Missa, idem, 303, xxxix. p. 677.
33 Missa idem quod Collecta, sive Dominicum, 303, xxxix. p. 702.
34 Dominicum celebrare idem quod Missas agere, 303, xxxix.; xlix.; li. p. 684.