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Anti-Judaism and the Origin of Sunday #6

The Sabbath Fast - Why and Where!


by Samuele Bacchiocchi Ph.D.

     In the light of this situation, Irenaeus' mention of Bishop
Sixtus (ca. A.D. 116-125, contemporary of Hadrian--A.1). 117-133)
as the first non-observant of the quartodeciman Passover,
does not seem to have been accidental or by way of example, but
it may well reflect a historical event. The existing social-
theological conflict between Judaism and Christianity, as well as
the necessity to appear clearly distinct from the Jews in the
eyes of the Romans, could well have induced the Bishop of Rome at
that time to take steps to substitute for distinctive Jewish
festivities such as Passover and the Sabbath new dates and
theological motivations. Easter-Sunday and weekly-Sunday could
well have originated in Rome contemporaneously at this time,
since we noticed that these were regarded as basically one feast
that commemorated at different times the same event of the
resurrection. 153  Even though such a conclusion cannot be
substantiated by explicit contemporary historical data, various
indirect and concomitant indications would steem to support it.  
     We shall notice, for instance, that Rome emerged in the
quartodeciman controvers as the epicenter and champion of the
Easter-Sunday custom. 154  It is also from Rome that there comes
to us, through Justin's "APolopy," the first explicit and
detailed account of Sunday worship in early  Christianity. 155
     The attitude of the Church of Rome toward the Sabbath seems
to provide additional support to our thesis. To this last
question we shall now turn our attention, endeavoring to
ascertain its possible implications for the origin of Sunday.

Attitude of the Church of Rome toward the Sabbath. 

     Regan focuses on the difference existing between the East
and the West in regard to their respect for the Sabbath, by
posing a significant question:

"Thus while protecting the practices of the Church from false and
misleadiog influences, nevertheless the Church of the East was
ever solicitous in preserving the special reverence due to both
Saturday (tho Sabbath), and the Lord's Day.How is it then one may
rightly ask, that the day which the Church of the West kept as a
fast day, the Church of the East celebrated as a festival?" 156

153 The relationship between Easter-Sunday and the weekly Sunday
is discussed in Cahpter IV, in connection with the Jubilee
calendar, see also below pp.83-84.
154 See below pp. 85f.
155 Justin's texts and theological interpretation of the
Sabbath-Sunday question are analyzedd below, pp.127-144.
156 Regan, Dies Dominica, p.60;  Regan, following the indications
of J.Binglum holds that thn veneratioa of the Sabbath in the East
was due

To say that "the Church of the West kept (the Sabbath) as a fast
day" seems too broad a generalization, in view of the fact that
important Western areas, such as Milan at, the time of Ambroso
(d. A.D.397), find certain churches and regions of North Africa,
did not observe it. 157  Regan himself in fact notes - commenting
on the text of Victorinus of Pettau - that especially "in Rome
the Sabbath day is a day of rigorous fast, lest there be the
slightest suspicion that the Christians might appear to observe
the Sabbath of old which Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath

to both the influence of the new converts from the Synagogue as
well as a reaction against the teaching of Marcion who fasted on
the Sabbath to show his contempt for the God of the Old Testament
whom he considered evil (about Marcion, see. below p.78); 
J.Bingham, "The Antiquities of thr Christian Church," 4 vols.
(London: Reeves and Turner, 1878), 3:1139. points out: "The Jews
being generally the first converts to the Christian faith, they
still retained a mighty reverence for the Mosaic institutions,
and especially for the Sabbath, as that which had been appointed
by God Himself, as the memorial of his rest from the work of
creation, settled by their great master, Moses, and celebrated by
their ancestors for so many ages, as the solemn day, of their
public worship, and were therefore very loath it should be wholly
antiquated and laid aside"; Joseph A.Jungmann, "The Mass of the
Roman Rite, Its Origin and Development," trans. lay P.A.Brunner
(New York: Bonziger pros., 1959) 1:246, holds that the respect
for the Sabbath in the East was a means of defence of the
Christian community against the Manichean doctrine, concerning
the wicked nature of created matter; Dugmore believes that
veneration for the Sabbath in the East "was reinforced
continually by converts from Judaism" ("Influence," p.38);
P.Cotton, "From Sabbath to Sunday" (Bothlehem, Pa.: Times
Publishing Company, 1933), p.66 similarly writes: "The East was
more conservative, more closely in touch with Judaism and
Judaistic Christianity." (Hereafter cited as Cotton, "Sabbath.")

157 The fact that in Milan Christians did not fast on the Sabbath
is attested by the advice Ambrose gave to Monica, Augustine's
mother: "When I are here [i.e., in Milan] I do not not fast on
Saturday; but when I am in Rome I do" (Augustine, "Epistle; to
Casulanus" 36, par. 32. NPNF 1st Series, I:270; cf. also
Augustine's "Epistle to Januarius" 54, par. 3 Paulinus, "Vita
Ambrosii, chap. 38; the same difference existed in North Africa
in the time of Augustine. In fact the bishop wrote: "It happens,
especially in Africa, that one church, or the churches within the
same district, may have some members who fast and others who do
not fast on the seventh day" ("Epistle to Casulanus 36, par. 32,
NPNF 1st Series, 1:270); Tertullian, referring to the Montanists,
said that, they did not fast "the Sabbaths and the Dad's days"
("On Fasting" 15, ANF 4:112); Tertullian indicates the existent,
in North Africa of a similar divergence on the matter of kneeling
on the Sabbath - a practice closely allied in meaning to that of
the fast  see "On Prayer" 23; for an analysis of the Sabbath fast
in Early Christianity, see. Kenneth A. Strand, "Essays on the
Sabbath in Early Christianity" (Ann Arbor, Mich. :
Braun-Brumfhrld, 1972), pp.9-15, 25-43. (Hereafter cited as
Strand, "Essays on Sabbath").

     Before proceeding with our historical investigation into the
practice and motivations for the Sabbath fast in early
Christianity, it is important to notice that, the Jews regarded
the Sabbath as anything but a day of fast and mourning. Even the
strictest Jewish sects objected to fasting on the Sabbath. The
rabbis, though they differed in their views regarding the time
and number of the Sabbath meals, they agreed on the fact that
food on the Sabbath ought to be abundant and good. The following
statement epitomizes perhaps the typical rabbinic view:

"Do you think that I (God) gave you the Sabbath as a burden? I
gave it to you for your benefit." How? Explaincd Rabbi Hiyya bar
Abba, "Keep the Sabbath holy with food, drink and clean garment,
enjoy yourself and I shall reward you." 159

     The early Christians recognized that the Sabbath fast was
contrary to the Jewish tradition., Augustine, for example,
clearly implies this in his rhetorical remark, "Did not the
tradition of the elders prohibit fasting on the one hand, and
command rest on the other. 160  Since the transformation of the
Sabbath from a day of feasting and joy to a day of fasting and
mourning could be directly related to the process which led to
the abandonment of the Sabbath and adoption of Sunday observan by
many Christians, we shall briefly inquire into the question of
the place and cause of the origin of the Sabbath fast.

     A survey of the main historical references strongly suggest
that Rome is the birthplace of the Sabbath fast and that from
there it spread to the West. Augustine, for instance, who wrote
at length and repeatedly on the subject, describes the pattern of
adherence to the Sabbath fast prevailing in his day, saying the
"Roman Church and some other churches, though few, near to it or

158 Regan, "Dies Dominica," p.64; for the text of Victorinus of
Pettau on the Sabbath fast, see below.
159 "Yerushalmi," Shabbat 15:3, quoted by Nathan A. Barack, "A
Histtory of the Sabbath" (Now York: Jonathan David, 1965), p.
182, fn.70; Barack provides additional sources and a good
treatment of the Sabbath meals see ibid., p.100 and 182; cf.
Judith 8:6; Jobilees 50: 10, 12, 1:3; CDC 11 :4, 5.
160 Augustine, "Epistle to Casulanus" 36, par. 6, NPNF let
Sorios, 1:267.

from it observe a fast on that day." 161  Pope Innocent I (A.D.
401-417), contemporary of Augustine, in a letter addressed to
Decentius, bishop of Gubbio, emphatically states:

"There is no doubt that they [the Apostles] fasted in these two
days indicated [Friday and Sabbath] as the tradition of the
Church maintains that in these two days one should not absolutely
(penitus) celebrate the sacraments. 162

     In the same letter the Pope, "in order to establish an
official policy on the matter," 163  declares: "We do not deny
the fast of the sixth day, but we affirm that it is to be kept
even on the Sabbath." 164  John Cassian (d. ca. A.D. 440) offers
a similar comment on the custom of fasting on the Sabbath
prevailing in the West and particularly in Rome. He writes:

"Some people in some countries of the West, and especially in the
city [i.e.,Rome.] ... think that a dispensation from fasting
ought certainly not to be allowed on the Sabbath, because they
say that on this day the, Apostle Peter fasted before his
encounter with Simon [Magus]." 166

     Cassian's own comment is that Peter did not intend to
establish a permanent canonical rule but fasted in view of the
particular emergency of the time. Augustine similarly reports
that though many thought that Peter instituted the Sabbath fast,
yet, he adds, "many Romans maintain that it is false." 166
     Concerning the opposition of some Romans to the Sabbath
fast, it would appear that during the pontificate of Siricius 
(A.D.384-398) an actual faction arose in the city led by a priest
called Jovinianus, who opposed the practice of fasting and
chastity. Siricius condemned Jovinianus in 390 in a letter where
he says: "he [i.e., Jovinianus)

161 Augustine, "Epistle to Casulanus" 36, par. 27, NPNF, 1st
Series, 1 : 268; again in par. 4 of the same letter Augustine
limits the practice of the Sabbath fast to the "Roman Christians,
and hitherto a few of the Western communities."
162 Innocent 1, Epist. 25, 4, 7, Ad Decentium, PL 211, 555.
163 Mario Righetti, "L'Anno liturgico, manuale di storia
liturgica, 4 vols. (Milan : Ancora, 1969), 2:39; Righetti
maintains that Pope Innocent I intended by this decretal to
establish an official policy on the matter. (Hereafter cited as
Righetti, "Storia liturgica.")
164 Innocent I, Epist. 25, 4, 7, Ad Decentium, PL 20, 555.
165 John Cassian, "Institutes" 3, 10, NPNF, 2nd Series, 11:218.
166 Augustine, "Epistle to Casulanus" 36, par. 21, PL 33, 145.

hates the fastings ... saying they are superfluous; he has no
hope in the future." 167
     The "Liber Pontiftcalis," a papal register whose composition
started in the sixth century, under the name of Pope Callistus
(A.D. 217-222) records the institution of a seasonal Sabbath fast
as the only act of his pontificate: " e established a Sabbath
fast to be observed three times a year, [at the time of the
harvest] of the wheat, of the grapes and of the oil." 168
     Rordorf thinks that this seasonal fast "should be regarded
as the first step toward the regular fast of the Sabbath day,
attested at the end of the third century." 169    
     L.Duchesne holds, on the contrary, that these seasonal
fasts, (called Ember-day fasts) which were practiced "in those
countries which followed the Roman use ... appear to be none
other than the weekly fast, as  observed at the beginning but
made specially severe...." 1760
     Duchesne's position that the seasonal fasts were an
outgrowth and intensification of the weekly fasts observed in
Rome since the beginning, seems supported by Hippolytus'
polemical remark against Sabbath fasting. The doctor writes: 
"Even today some allow themselves the same audacities they order
fasting on the Sabbath of which Christ has not spoken,
dishonoring even the Gospel of Christ." 171  
     Hippolytus' statement (Dr Sam B. gives the Greek here -
Keith Hunt) literally "they are ordering the fast on the
Sabbath," can hardly be construed to mean a seasonal fast since
the verb (present indicative) indicates rather a present
continuous practice. Furthermore, the fact that he says: "Even
today - xai yap %uv," presupposes that the custom had already
been known for some time in the past and that it was still being
enforced by some at that time. Since Hippolytus wrote at the
beginning of the third century, 172   it would seem reasonable to
assume that the practice may have originated earlier

167 Siricius, "Epist. 7, Adversus Jovinianum" PL 13, 1168.
168 Le Liber Pontifcalis, texts, introdurtion et commentaire, ed.
L. Duchesne (Paris : E. do Boccard, 1955), 1:141.
169 W.Rordorf, "Sabbat et dimanche dans l'Eglise ancienne"
(Texts), (Neuchatel : Delaehaux or Niestle, 1972), p.67.
(Hereafter cited as Rordorf, "Sabbat.")
170 L.Duchesne, "Christian Worship : Its Origin and Evolution"
(London Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1927), p.233.
(Hereafter cited as Duchesne, "Worship.")
171 Hippolytus, "In Danielem commentarius" 4, 20, 3, GCS 1, 234.
172  The data of composition of the "Commentary on Daniel" which
has been suggested by various scholars, ranges from 202 to 234
see Johannes Quaesten, "Patrology" (Utrecht, Antwerp: Spectrum
Publishers, 1953), 2: 171. (Hereafter cited as Quasten,

in the second century, possibly, as we shall see, 173   in
conjunction with the introduction of the annual Pascal Sabbath
fast of the Easter-Sunday celebration.
     Hippolytus does not explain who were those who "order
fasting on the Sabbath." However, since a liturgical custom such
as Sabbath fasting could rightfully be prescribed only by the
official ecclesiastical authority and since Pope Callistus,
according to the "Liber Pontificales," did institute at that time
a seasonal fast, it would seem warranted to assume that
Hippolytus was indirectly referring to the very hierarchy of the
Roman Church as responsible for the ordinance. It could be
objected that Hippolytus, by disapproving the custom, weakens the
argument of a widespread Sabbath fast in Rome. The objection
loses its force, however, when we take cognizance, of Hippolytus'
cultural background and of his position in Rome. In fact, even
though he lived in Rome under the pontificate of Zephyrinus 
(A.D.199-217), Callistus (A.D. 217-222), Urban (A.D. 222-230) and
Pontianus (A.D. 230-235), he was not a Roman nor a Latin.        
Quasten observes that his language, philosophy and theology are
Greek. 174  Furthermore, after he lost the election to the Papal
See (Callistus was elected instead in A.D. 217), he headed a
dissident group and was consecrated antipope. Hippolytus'
condemnation of those who ordered the Sabbath fast could then be
explained in the light of his Eastern origin and orientation
(Sabbath fast was generally condemned in the East due to the
existing veneration for the day) 175   and of his conflicts with
the hierarchy of the Church of Rome. In other words, both
personal and theological reasons could have motivated Hippolytus
to oppose the Sabbath fast which by the decretal of Callistus was
at that time being enjoined particularly as a seasonal fast.

173 See below pp. 68f. ; Canon 26 of the Council of Elvira (ca.
A.D. 300-302 - 306-313) established: "It has been decided to
correct the error which consists in observing the fast every
Sabbath." (Mansi 2:10). The Canon presupposes that the custom of
fasting on the Sabbath had been practiced for some time. The
text, however allows two conflicting translations: "Ut omni
sabbato ieiunotur. Errorem placuit corrigi, ut imno sabbati die
superpositiones celebremus."  Rordorf holds that the subordinate
"ut" expresses the content of the decision of the Council,
inasmuch as a similar construction appears in Canon 43. K.Roll
advocates the contrary, that is, Elvira would have helped to
spread the custom of Sabbath fasting (" Die Schriften des
Epiphanius gegen die Bilderverehrung," Ges. Aufsatze zur
Kirchengeschichte 2 (1928) : 374f.
171 Quasten, "Patrotogy" 2:163-165. 
175 See above p.61, fn. 156.

     Most scholars would agree, on the basis of the historical
references summarily surveyed above, that Rome appears to be the
place of origin of the Sabbath fast and that from there it spread
in the West. It should be added that Rome maintained such a
custom until the eleventh century, in spite of repeated protests
by the Eastern Church. Righetti, in his scholarly "History of
Liturgy," writes in this regard as follows:

"Rome and not few Gallican churches, in spite of the lively
remonstrances of the Greeks, which were refuted by the polemic
works of Eneas of Paris (d. A.D. 870) and Ratrannus of Corby (d.
A.D. 868), preserved the traditional [Sabbath] fast until beyond
the year A.D.1000." 176

     R.L.Odom has persuasively brought out that the Roman
insistence on making the Sabbath a day of fast contributed
significantly to the historic break between the Eastern and
Western Christian Church which occurred in A.D.1054. 177

     The fact that the Sabbath fast seemingly originated in Rome
is however of relatively little value to our present research,
unless we are given to understand why such a practice arose in
the first place and what causal relationships exist, if any,
between the introduction of the Sabbath fast and the origin of
     The sources unfortunately are not in agreement nor explicit
as to the motives for its origin.  We mentioned above that some
attributed the institution of the Sabbath fast to the apostle
Peter, who would have ordained it in order to obtain help from
God before his encounter with Simon Magus. However, both
Augustine and Cassian, who report this opinion, question the
validity of such an explanation. 178    
     Duchesne believes that the Roman Saturday fast originated as
a prolongation of the weekly Friday fast. 179     
     He bases his conclusion on the fact that the Sabbath fast is
commonly designated as "the prolongation - superpositio" or by
similar expressions which imply that it was regarded as the
continuation of the Friday fast. 180    
     The explanation appears reasonable since, especially in the
areas where the Sabbath fast was practiced,

176 Righetti, "Storia Liturgica" 2:39.
177 R.L.0dom, "The Sabbath in A.D. 1054,"  AUSS 1 (1963):74-80.
178 See above p.64; on the history of station-days see J.
Schummer, "Die altchristliche Fastenpraxis,"
"Liturgiegeschichtliche Quellen und Forschungen 27 (1933): 153f.
179 Duchesne, "Worship," p.231.
180 See, Victorinus of Pettau, "De Fabrica mundi" 5, CSEL 49, 5;
Canon 26 of the Council of Elvira (Mansi 2:10); Tertullian, "On
Fasting" 14.

it was closely associated with the Friday fast. We need still to
ascertain, however, why Friday and Saturday were chosen as
fasting days in the first place. The sources usually refer to the
historic and dramatic events experienced on those two days by
Christ and His disciples. Pope Innocent I states, for instance,
in a decretal:

"We fast on the sixth day on account of the Passion of the Lord
and on the Sabbath we must not break the fast, because it is
included between the sadness and the gladness of that time. ...
We do not deny the fast of the sixth day, but we affirm that it
is to be done even on the Sabbath because in both days the
Apostles or rather those who followed Christ, experienced
sadness." 181

     Augustine similarly associates the fasting of the sixth day
with that of the seventh, regarding both as commemorative "of the
humiliation of the Lord in death." 182 "The sixth day," he says
"is rightly reckoned a day for fasting" by all Christians,
because "the Lord suffered on the sixth day of the week" and 
"fasting is symbolical of humiliation." 183 
     The weekly Sabbath fast, on the contrary, was kept weekly
only by "the Church of Rome and some churches in the West. 184
     Augustine points out, however, that "once a year, namely at
Easter, all Christians observed the seventh day of the week by
fasting." 185  
     The fact that the weekly Sabbath fast, which only Rome and a
few Western Churches kept, is related by Augustine to the annual
one, strongly suggests that the former possibly developed as an
extension of the latter. As Rordorf well observes, since "the
whole of western Christendom by this time [i.e., Tertullian's
time] fasted on Holy Saturday, it would have been easy to have
hit upon the idea of fasting on every Saturday (just as every
Sunday was a little Easter)."  186
     This hypothesis finds support in a statement of Tertullian
where as a Montanist he chides those Catholics who fast on the
weekly Sabbath and he reminds them that only at the

181 Innocent I, Epist. 25, 4, 7, Ad Decentium, PL 20, 555; the
letter has passed into the Corpus Juris. e. 13, d. 3, de
182 Augustine, "Epistle to Cansulanus" 36, par.31, NPNF, i1st
series, 1:270
183 Ibid., par. 31, 1:270
184 Loc. cit.
186 Rordorf, "Sunday," p.143; on customary observance of the
Wednesday and Friday fast, see also Clement of Alexandria,
"Stromata" 7, 12, 75, and "Didache" 8, 1.

Passover season fasting is permissible on such a day.  He writes:
"You sometimes continue your station even over the Sabbath, a day
never to be kept as fast except at the Passover season, acc-
ording to a reason elsewhere given." 187     
     The reason for continuing the fast on the Sabbath during the
Passover season is twice repeated by Tertullian in the same
treatise "On Fasting." 188    
     He reports that it was commonly held that "those days were
definitely appointed for fasts in which 'the Bridegroom was taken
away,'" 189   that is, the time in which Jesus was under the
power of death. According to Irenaeus, in fact, some Christians
seem to have extended their Passover fast to forty hours,
seemingly from Friday noon to four o'clock Sunday morning. 190   
     It is worth noticing that only those Christians who followed
the Easter-Sunday custom observed the Sabbath fast, since their
Easter season always fell on a weekend and it ran from Friday to
Sunday.   For the Quartodecimans, on the other hand, the Paschal
fast, which they observed on the night of the fourteenth of
Nisan, could fall on any day of the week, since the time of the
feast was determined by the date rather than by the day. 191

     In the light of these considerations three significant
questions arise (1) Is it possible that the weekly Sabbath fast
arose in Rome (a fact hardly disputed) in conjunction with the
introduction of the Easter-Sunday celebration? (2) Was perhaps
the paschal Sabbath fast instituted not only to mourn the death
of Jesus, but also to express the Christian condemnation for the
crime committed by the Jews in causing Christ's death? (3) Was
the extension of the annual paschal Sabbath fast to the weekly
Sabbath also motivated by the same desire to show contempt for
the Jews and to break away from another fundamental Jewish
institution, namely the Sabbath?

187 Tertullian. "On Fasting" 14, ANF 4 : 112 ; Rordorf suggestes
that Tertullian's position against the Sabbath fast may well
reflect "Montanist influence" ("Sunday," p.145); Strand by a
chronological and comparative analysis of Tertullian's writings
establishes that Tertullian's attitude toward the Sabbath evolved
from negative initially, to positive in his later Montanist
period ("Essays on Sabbath," pp.25-42); the same prohibition to
fast on the Sabbath with the exception of the annual Paschal
Sabbath fast, is found in the "Apostolic Constitutions" 5, 15 and
20 and in the "Apostolic Canons" 64.
188 See chapters 2 and 13.
l89 Tertullian, "On Fasting" 13, ANF 4, 111.
190 Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.," 5, 24, 12 ; concerning the fast
preceding the paschal supper, see discussion in NPNF 2nd Series,
1:243, fn. 15.
191 See J.Jeremias, "Pascha," TDNT 5:902-903.


To be continued

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