By the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church wielded tremendous power and authority, and the church strenuously sought to enforce its orthodoxy by punishing those who did not adhere to it. The Sunday Law became perhaps the most controversial element of that orthodoxy, an element that played a large role in a schism between eastern and western churches. Many Christians continued to hold fast to the original seventh-day Sabbath as their day of rest and worship.
In 1231, Pope Gregory the Ninth began an inquisition in Europe aimed at protecting the Catholic world from heretics and religious rebels. (1) The inquisition was a highly organized operation, combining the powers of church and state. Succeeding centuries saw the process of inquisition expand throughout Europe and onto other continents. Persons who the church considered to be heretics were systematically arrested, tortured, and executed. A wide variety of people became victims of the inquisitions, including Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Many people were burned alive at the stake.
In 1478, the Catholic monarchs who ruled Spain, Fenrdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castille, who would a few years later send Christopher Columbus on his famous voyage of discovery, instituted the Spanish inquisition, again intending to purge the country of religious heretics. (2)
One of the thousands of people targeted during the Spanish inquisition was Dr. Constantino Ponce de la Fuerte, an immensely popular preacher and writer from Seville. (3) Dr. Constantino was a reformer who believed in honoring the original seventh-day Sabbath in keeping with the Ten Commandments. After being called in several times to explain his teachings to the inquisitors, Dr. Constantino remarked, “They want me to be burned, but they found I was still too green.” (4) But in 1558 he was arrested and imprisoned just outside Seville, where he died after eighteen months. Dr. Constantino and others had formed what he called “the secret Christian church,” an underground movement of seventh-day Sabbath keepers. (5)
The year 1536 saw the beginning of the Portuguese inquisition, which would last well into the nineteenth century. (6) Then in 1560 the Portuguese inquisition came to India, making its headquarters in Goa on India’s western coast. It specifically targeted Christians who refused to work on Saturday and who began observing the Sabbath on Friday evening. Francis Xavier, one of the original Jesuit missionaries, had suggested that the inquisition be brought to India years earlier in 1542 after observing that some of the populace, while claiming to be Roman Catholics, were secretly adhering to Jewish or Muslim teachings. (7)
In 1684, Charles Dellon published his “Account of the Inquisition at Goa,” describing the inquisition from the viewpoint of a victim. Dellon, a French physician, had himself been arrested for trivial offenses, jailed for two years, and then tried and sentenced to five more years’ slave labor in the shipyards of Lisbon. Fortunately for Dellon, friends from France successfully intervened on his behalf, and he son an early release from the Inquisitor general, allowing him to return to France in 1677. (8) In his account of the inquisition, Dellon asserts that the large majority of persons burned at the stake for “Judaizing” were not actually Jews, but rather Sabbath-keeping Christians. (9)
In Ethiopa – the nation with the longest history of Christian Sabbath-keeping, dating back more than a thousand years – Jesuits attempted in 1622 to conform the population to Roman Catholicism. The nation’s ruler, Emperor Susenyos, embraced the Roman Catholic Church – and professed allegiance to the Pope. But when he issued a proclamation requiring the populace to work on the Sabbath, a civil war resulted. Ultimately, Susenyos relinquished power to one of his sons who reinstated freedom for the people to worship as they chose.
In the meantime, winds of reformation had begun to stir in Europe with the birth of a movement which became known as the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation movement posed a religious and political challenge to the Roman Catholic Church – and to papal authority in particular. The idea of “Sola Scriptura” – that is, “the scriptures only” – represented a direct challenge to the authority of church leaders, including the Pope.
In 1545, Catholic leaders gathered for the Council of Trent, named after the city in which it was held. Although the Council, over a period of eighteen years, would grapple with many issues, the first real substantial issue was that of church authority relating to the scriptures.
During the Council, one Catholic archbishop, Gaspare del Fosso, issued the following revealing statement: “The heretics of this age are trying to overthrow the authority of the church. They claim to make the sacred Scriptures the foundation of their faith. But it is the church, after all, that has authority over the Scriptures. It is the church that points us to the Scriptures and declares them to be divine, and explains them faithfully when they are difficult to understand.” (10)
Archbishop del Fosso would go on to say: “The Sabbath, the most glorious day in the law, has been changed into the Lord’s Day. This has not been done by the command of Christ, but by the authority of the church.” (11)
Ultimately, the Council resolved that the authority of the church rested on twin pillars, not on Scripture alone, but on Scripture and something called “tradition” – the ongoing authority that church leaders claimed had descended to them from the original apostles. (12)
It is this position that separated – and continues to separate – the Roman Catholic Church from most Protestant churches throughout the world – ironically even including those who nevertheless continue to observe Sunday.
Although much, much more can be said regarding the vast history of Christianity and the varying practices that have arisen within the Christian movement over the centuries, and which continue today, suffice it to say that from the beginning of Christianity until today there have always been Christians who kept God’s original seventh-day Sabbath.
Despite hardship and persecution the seventh-day movement flourished in seventeenth-century England. Numerous congregations gathered for worship on Saturday in widely scattered parts of the country.
And of course we know that the seventh-day movement came across the Atlantic to the Americas, where it continues to exist today alongside the long entrenched Sunday tradition which was brought forward in the manner we have already described.
Many – tat is, most – Christians today unfortunately are adherents to the practice of First-day worship, if for no other reason, than because of tradition that has been handed down through the centuries with no real Biblical foundation.
Tradition is not so easily changed. Even so, when confronted with the truth, there will always be some people who are open to change. We hope you are such a person.
If so, why not join this movement which Jesus himself honored when He lived among us, and which so many of His disciples faithfully honored during their subsequent ministries and martyrdoms?
(1) The Seventh Day. Revelations from the Lost Pages of History. LLT Productions, 2004. “Inquisition” Encyclopaedia Britannica from Encyclopaedia B ritannica Premium Service. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocid=9042485>[Accessed April 3, 2005].
(2) Ibid. “Isabella I.” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Copyright 1994, 2000-2005, on Infoplease. Copyright 2000-2005 Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease. <http://www.infoplease.com/ce6/people/A0825544.html> [Accessed April 3, 2005]
(3) Ibid. “The Inquisition and the Reformers at Seville.” Cambridge Modern History: The Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911) Vol. 2, chap. 12. <http://www.unimannheim.de/mateo/camenaref/cmh/cmh212.html#406> [Accessed April 7, 2005].
(6) Ibid. “John III.” Encyclopaedia Britannica from Encyclopaedia Brinannica Premium Service. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocld=9043781> [Accessed April 3, 2005].
(7) Ibid. “St. Francis Xavier” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI. Copyright 1909 by Robert Appleton Company. Online edition Copyright 2003 by Kevin Knight [Accessed April 3, 2005].; “Xavier, St. Francis.” Encyclopaedia Britannica from Encyclopaedia Britannica Premium Service. <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocld=8050> [Accessed April 3, 2005].
(8) Ibid. Charles Dellon, An Account of the Inquisition of Goa (Hull: Joseph Simmons, 1812), pp. 111, 149, 150, 156-160. This date for the French publication is suggested by the translator’s comments in the English version printed by Joseph Simmons, Queen Street, Hull, in 1812 for I. Wilson, Lowgate. See Dellon, p. vii.
(10) Ibid. Guiseppe Mansi, Sacrorum Consiliorum, vol. 33, columns 529-530. Our script represents a paraphrase of Gaspare del Fosso’s remarks.