FROM SABBATH TO SUNDAY
THEOLOGY OF THE EIGHTH DAY #3 continued
by Samuele Bacchioocchi PhD
On the other hand, we noticed that Justin reduces the
seventh day to a trademark of Jewish infidelity. To prove such a
thesis he contends that the Sabbath was not observed before
Moses, that God Himself did not keep it and that several persons
in the Old Testament, like the priests, legitimately broke it. 47
These "proofs" became the standard repertory utilized in the
controversy not only by the Fathers but even by Gnostic sects.
Irenaeus (ca. A.D.130-ca. 200) refers to a group of them, known
as Marcosians, who defended the doctrine of the "ogdoad" (eighth)
not only by arguing from the story of the flood and of the
circumcision (already used by Justin), but also from the fact
that David was the eighth son and that the fleshy part of man was
allegedly created on the eighth day. "In a word," Irenaeus
comments, "whatever they find in the Scriptures capable of being
referred to the number eight, they declare to fulfill the mystery
of the ogdoad." 48
The Gnostics, in fact, who, as J.Danielou points out, "were
decided enemies of Judaism, were carried away by this theme [i.e.
eighth day ]," 49 since it enabled them to do away with the
"Jewish" Sabbath. However, they substituted the Judaeo-Christian
eschatological view of the eighth day as symbol of the eternal
kingdom to come, with the view of the cosmological and spiritual
world of rest and eternity found above this world of sevenness.
They developed this interpretation by bringing together the
Pythagorean notion of the seven spheres which were embraced by
the eighth, immovable firmament, with the prestige attributed by
Christians to the eighth day." 50 Thus,
47 Justin's arguments against the Sabbath and in favor of Sunday
are discussed above pp.226f.
48 Irenaeus, "Adversus haereses" 1, 18, 3, ANF 1, p.343.
49 J.Danielou, "Bible and Liturgy," p.258; cf. Irenaeus,
"Adversus haereses" 1,25A
50 J.Danielou, "Bible and Liturgy," p.258, comments: "They [i.e.
the Gnostics] borrowed this vision from astrology, which had
spread its notions throughout the Hellenistic world of the time
and especially in neo-pythagoreanism. Basic to this idea was the
contrast between the seven planetary spheres which are the domain
of the cosmocratores, the archontes, who hold man under the
tyranny of the heimarmene, and, beyond the heaven above, that of
the fixed stars, which is the place of incorruptibility and
repose (Cumont, "Les Religions orientales dans le paganisme
romain," p.162)." Danielou then explains how the Gnostics
"brought together the supreme dignity of the eighth day in
Christianity with the pythagorean view of the planetary spheres.
Thus they were led to the conception of the octave as meaning,
not the kingdom to come of Judaeo-Christian eschatology, but the
world on high, of which all creation is only the degradation"
(ibid., p.259). A significant example is provided by Irenaeus'
report of the Gnostic sect, known as Valentinians, who held that
"He [the Demiurge] created also seven heavens, above which they
say that he, the Demiurge, exists. And on this account they term
him Hebdomas, and his mother Achamoth Ogdoads, preserving the
number of the first-begotten and primary Ogdoad as the Pleroma"
("Adversus haereses" 1, 5, 2, ANF 1, p. 322). In this case the
Ogdoad [i.e. Eighth] apparently represents the supreme God.
for the Gnostic, Sunday became the symbol of full and perfect
life attainable here below by "spiritual" people. Theodotus
illustrates this in a text reported by Clement of Alexandria (ca.
A.D.150-215): "The rest of the spiritual men takes place on the
day of the Lord (Greek) in the ogdoad which is called the day of
the Lord (Greek)" 51 Here the Lord's day is identified with the
ogdoad to designate the super-celestial kingdom inhabited by the
soul of spiritual persons.
This heretical Gnosis is reflected in Clement of Alexandria,
one of the most liberal minds of Christian antiquity. In a
comment on the passage of Ezechiel 44:27, "the priests are
purified for seven days" and on the eighth sacrifices are
offered, Clement in a neutral fashion summarizes the prevailing
meanings attributed to the numbers seven and eight. The former,
he explains, represents the seven ages of the world or the seven
heavens or the present state of change and sin. The latter, on
the other hand, symbolizes the supreme rest in the future world
or the super-celestial kingdom or the state of changelessness and
In spite of his syncretistic mind, Clement manifests a clear
antagonism toward the number seven, symbol of the Sabbath. In
fact, he regards it as "a motherless and childless number." The
number eight, on the other hand, not only possessed prestigious
qualities but, according to Clement, it is also the day the Lord
has made which all men should celebrate." 53
Returning now to the mainstream of Christianity, we shall
notice that the seventh and the eighth day are interpreted more
eschatologically than cosmologically. Several other practical
51 Clement of Alexandria, "Excerpta ex Theodoto" 63, 1 SC 23,
185; cf. Origen, "Contra Celsum" 6,22; especially Irenaeus,
"Adversus haereses" 1, 5, 3, ANF I, p.323.
52 Clement of Alexandria, "Stromateis" 4,25; 6, 16,
53 Ibid., 6,16,138.
meanings are also devised out of the Scriptures and the natural
world. The function of all these interpretations is obviously
polemic, designed, as noted by F.A.Regan, "to point out the
superiority of the Lord's day over the Sabbath, and the
fulfillment of the seventh in this eighth." 54
Irenaeus reproposes the millenarian scheme of Barnabas,
interpreting the seventh day as the symbol of the judgment and
world to come and the eighth as the eternal blessedness. 55
Like Justin, he also reduced the Sabbath to an existential
meaning, namely, perseverance in the service of God during the
whole life and abstention from evil. 58
54 F.A.Regan, "Dies Dominica," p.224; J.Danielou (fn. 22), pp.
72,74, explicitly points out that "the doctrine of the ogdoad as
heavenly world and future world was developed to seek a
justification for Sunday observance. Beginning with this
reflection, a search was made for texts announcing the eighth day
in the Old Testament ... It is an aspect of the anti-Jewish
polemic designed to exalt Sunday in order to reject the Sabbath.
... Initially the opposition is between the Jewish day of worship
and that of the Christians."
55 J.Danielou (fn. 22), p.65, notes: "Irenaeus develops greatly
the notion of the seven millennia and of the eighth day. We cite
a text 'And in the seventh day he will judge the earth. And on
the eighth, which is the aeon to come, he will deliver some to
eternal punishment and others to life. This is why the Psalms
have spoken of the octave' (5,28,3)."
56 Irenaeus' concept of the Sabbath is not homogeneous. In some
instances he shares Justin's view that the Sabbath and
circumcision were given by God to the Jews "for their punishment
... for bondage" because "righteousness and love to God had
passed into oblivion, and became extinct in Egypt" ("Adversus
haereses" 4, 16, 3 and f, ANF I, pp.481-482). Like in Justin so
in Irenaeus, this view was encouraged by the conflict with Jews
and Jewish-Christians. Irenaeus however was faced also with the
reverse error of the Gnostic who depreciated the Sabbath to
justify their view of the evil god of the Old Testament. To
refute this Gnostic dualism, Irenaeus defends the positive
function the Sabbath fulfills in helping the progressive
development of humanity: "These things, then, were given for a
sign; but the signs were not unsymbolical, that is, neither
unmeaning nor to no purpose, inasmuch as they were given by a
wise Artist ... But the Sabbath taught that we should continue
day by day in God's service" ("Adversus haereses" 4, 16, 1, ANF
I, p.481). To this ecclesiastical meaning Irenaeus adds an
eschatological sense to the Sabbath: "The times of the kingdom
... which is the true Sabbath of the righteous, in which they
shall not be engaged in any earthly occupation; but shall have a
table at hand prepared for them by God, supplying them with all
sorts of dishes" ("Adversus haereses" 5, 33, 2, ANF I, p.562; cf.
ibid., 5,30,4; 4,8,2). Augustine, we shall notice (see below p.
294), at first accepted but later rejected this materialistic
interpretation of the seventh millennium. Note that Irenaeus'
spiritualization of the Sabbath (widely followed by the Fathers)
does not represent a positive effort to enhance the Sabbath, but
rather a subte subterfuge to do away with the commandment while
safeguarding at the same time the immutability of God.
Origen (ca. A.D.185-ca. 254) continues the Irenaeus tradition by
limiting the Sabbath to a spiritual dimension, but differs from
him in its eschatological interpretation. Contrary to the Western
tradition which interpreted the seven days as the seven millennia
of the history of this world, Origen, consistent with the Eastern
tradition, views the number seven as the symbol of this present
world and the eighth as symbol of the future world: "The number
eight, which contains the power of the resurrection, is the
figure of the world to come, just as the number seven is the
symbol of this present world." 57 Though Origen approaches the
controversy over the two days in a philosophical Gnostic fashion,
his intention to denigrate the seventh day, and to exhalt in its
place the eighth, should not be missed. In the same Commentary on
Psalm 118 he presents the seventh day as the sign of matter, of
impurity and of uncircumcision, while to the eighth day he
reserves the symbol of perfection, of spirituality and of
purification by the new circumcision provided by Christ's
Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (d. A.D.258), free from
excessive allegorism or chiliastic speculations, views the eighth
day as the "first and sovereign after the Sabbath - "id est post
sab batum primus et dominus" - fulfilling both Sabbath observance
and the circumcision ritual. The eighth day "preceded in symbol -
"praecessit in imagine" the seven, therefore it represents the
fulfillment of and the superiority over the Sabbath. 59
In the "Syriac Didascalia" (ca. A.D.250) the eighth day is
curiously obtained by counting inclusively from Sabbath to
Sabbath: "The Sabbath itself is counted even unto the Sabbath,
and it becomes eight [days]; thus an ogdoad is [reached], which
is more than the Sabbath, even the first of the week." 60
Inasmuch as by counting inclusively from Sabbath to Sabbath, the
57 Origen, "Selecta in Psalmos" 118, 164, PG 12, 1624.
58 Ibid., 118, 1, PG 12, 1588; "In Exodum homiliae" 7, 5, GCS 29,
1920, Origen argues: "If then it is certain according to the
Scriptures that God made the manna rain on the Lord's Day and
cease on the Sabbath, the Jews ought to understand that our
Lord's day was preferred to their Sabbath."
59 Cyprian, "Epistola" 64, CSEL 3, 719; cf. "Carthaginense
Concilium sub Cypriano tertium," PL 3, 1053.
60 "Syriac Didascalia" 26, ed. Connolly, p.236.
eighth day is still the Sabbath, one wonders how the author could
legitimately apply this designation to Sunday. Perhaps he himself
became aware of his irrationality, for when arguing for the
superiority of Sunday over the Sabbath, he uses exclusively the
symbology of the first day. He contends, in fact, that the first
day was created before the seventh, that it represents the
inauguration of creation, that it was shown to be prestigious by
the law of the first-born and that it was predicted that it would
take the place of the seventh since it says. "The last shall be
first and first last." To devaluate the Sabbath further the
"Didascalia" too reiterates the traditional arguments that the
patriarchs and righteous men before Moses did not keep the
Sabbath and that God Himself is not idle on the Sabbath. He then
concludes by stating more explicitly and emphatically than
Barnabas that "the Sabbath therefore is a type of the [final]
rest, signifying the seventh thousand [years]. But the Lord our
Saviour, when He was come, fulfilled the types and ... destroyed
that which cannot help." 61
Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (ca. A.D.315-367), perhaps
provides the classic example where the eighth day stands
explicitly as the continuation and fulfillment of the Sabbath.
He writes "Although the name and the observance of the Sabbath
had been established for the seventh day, we [Christians]
celebrate the feast of the perfect Sabbath on the eighth day of
the week, which is also the first." 62 Later he interprets the
fifteen gradual Psalms as "the continuation of the seventh day of
the Old Testament and the eighth day of the Gospel, by which we
rise to holy and spiritual things." 63
Victorinus, Bishop of Pettau in Austria (d. ca. A.D.304), in
his short treatise "On the Creation of the World," devotes
special attention to the meaning of the seventh and eighth days.
He explores and synthesizes all the possible uses of the number
seven, but can find only that such a number bespeaks of the
duration of this present world, of the consummation of the
humanity of Christ and of the "seventh millenary of years, when
Christ with His elect shall reign." The eighth day, on the
contrary, which he finds announced in the title of "the sixth
Psalm for the eighth day ... is indeed the eighth day of that
future judgment, which will pass beyond the order of the
61 Ibid., p.238; see above fn. 18.
62 Hilarv, "Tractatus super Psalmos" 12, CSEL 22, 11.
63 Ibid., CSEL 22, 14.
arrangement." It is on account of this inferiority that,
according to Victorinus, the Sabbath was broken by Moses when he
commanded "that circumcision should not pass over the eighth
day," by Joshua, when on the Sabbath "he commanded the children
of Israel to go round the walls of the city of Jericho," by
Matthias, when "he slew the prefect of Antiochus," and finally by
Christ and His disciples. 64
What motivated this systematic devaluation of the Sabbath
and the consequent enhancement of the eighth day by such bizarre
and irrational arguments? Victorinus leaves us in no doubt that
this was a calculated attempt to force the Christians away from
any veneration of the Sabbath. This is indicated not only by the
fantastic arguments which are devised for Sunday and against the
Sabbath, but also by the specific injunction to fast on the
Sabbath lest Christians "should appear to observe any Sabbath
with the Jews, which Christ Himself, the Lord of the Sabbath,
says by His prophets that 'His soul hateth.'" 65
Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (ca. A.D.339-397), reproposes
several traditional interpretations of the symbol of the seventh
and eighth days while at the same time adding his own practical
arguments to the controversy. He claims, for instance, that "the
Sabbath was symbol of the ancient economy based on the
sanctification of the law," while the eighth day represents the
new economy "sanctified by His [Christ's] resurrection." 66
The Christian's eighth day for Ambrose begins here on the
earth below, since "the seventh age of the world has ended and
the grace of the eighth which made man not of this world but of
above, has been revealed." 67 However, the full rest of the
eighth day, which "Jesus has purchased for His people through His
resurrection," according to Ambrose, "is not to be found on earth
but in heaven." 68
In his Letter to Horontius Ambrose uses the analogy of
64 Victorinus, "On the Creation o f the World," ANF VII, 342;
Asterius of Amasa, "Homilia" 20, 8, PG 40, 444-449 defends the
superiority of the eighth day by the fact that the number eight
is not related to any time cycle. Furthermore he says: "Inasmuch
as the first resurrection of the race after the flood happened to
eight persons, the Lord has begun on the eighth day the
resurrection of the dead."
6s Victorinus, see fn. 64.
66 Ambrose, "Explanatio Psalmi" 47, CSEL 64, 347; cf. "Epistola"
26, 8, PL 16, 1088: "Therefore the seventh day represents a
mystery, the eighth the resurrection."
67 Ambrose, ibid., 1140.
68 Ambrose, ibid., 1139,
To be continued