This father was born “somewhere between A. D. 120 and A. D.
140.” He was “bishop of Lyons in France during the latter quarter of the
second century,” being ordained to that office “probably about A.D. 177.”
His work Against Heresies was written “between A. D. 182 and A. D. 188.”
First-day writers assert that Irenaeus “says that the Lord's day was the
Christian Sabbath.” They profess to quote from him these words: “On the
Lord's day every one of us Christians keeps the Sabbath, meditating on the law
and rejoicing in the works of God.”
The case of the priests on the Sabbath he thus presents:
Of the necessity of keeping the ten commandments, he speaks thus:
Irenaeus certainly teaches a very different doctrine from that of Justin Martyr concerning the commandments. He believed that men must keep the commandments, in order to enter eternal life. He says further:
The precepts of the decalogue he rightly terms “natural precepts,” that is, precepts which constitute “the work of the law” written by nature in the hearts of all men, but marred by the presence of the carnal mind or law of sin in the members. That this law of God pertains alike to Jews and to Gentiles, he thus affirms:
It is certain that Irenaeus held the decalogue to be now binding
on all men; for he says of it in the quotation above, “Which if any one does
not observe, he has no salvation.” But, though not consistent with his
statement respecting the decalogue as the law of nature, he classes the Sabbath
with circumcision, when speaking of it as a sign between God and Israel, and
says, “The Sabbaths taught that we should continue day by day in God's
service.” “Moreover the Sabbath of God, that is, the kingdom, was, as it
were, indicated by created things; in which [kingdom], the man who shall have
persevered in serving God shall, in a state of rest, partake of God's table.”
He says also of Abraham that he was “without observance of Sabbaths.” Book
This statement establishes the authority of each of the ten commandments in the gospel dispensation. Yet Irenaeus seems to have regarded the fourth commandment as only a typical precept, and not a perpetual obligation like the others.
Irenaeus regarded the Sabbath as something which pointed forward to the kingdom of God. Yet in stating this doctrine he actually indicates the origin of the Sabbath at creation, though, as we have seen, elsewhere asserting that it was not kept by Abraham. Thus, in speaking of the reward to be given the righteous, he says:
Though Irenaeus is made by first-day writers to bear a very explicit testimony that Sunday is the Christian Sabbath, the following, which constitutes the seventh fragment of what is called the “Lost Writings of Irenaeus,"” is the only instance which I have found in a careful search through all his works in which he even mentions the first day. Here is the entire first-day testimony of this father:
This is something very remarkable. It is not what Irenaeus said after all, but is what an unknown writer, in a work entitled Quoes et Resp. ad Othod., says of him. And all that this writer says of Irenaeus is that he declares the custom of not kneeling upon Sunday “took its rise from apostolic times”! It does not even appear that Irenaeus even used the term Lord's day as a title for the first day of the week. Its use in the present quotation is by the unknown writer to whom we are indebted for the statement here given respecting Irenaeus. And this writer, whoever he be, is of the opinion that the Pentecost is of equal consequence with the so-called Lord's day!. And well he may so judge, inasmuch as both of these Catholic festivals are only established by the authority of the church. The testimony of Irenaeus in behalf of Sunday does therefore amount simply to this: That the resurrection is to be commemorated by “not bending the knee upon Sunday”!
The fiftieth fragment of the “Lost Writings of Irenaeus” is derived from the Nitrian Collection of Syriac MSS. It relates to the resurrection of the dead. In a note appended to it the Syriac editor says of Irenaeus that he “wrote to an Alexandrian to the effect that it is right, with respect to the feast of the resurrection, that we should celebrate it upon the first day of the week.” No extant writing of Irenaeus contains this statement, but it is likely that the Syriac editor possessed some portion of his works now lost. And here again it is worthy of notice that we have from Irenaeus only the plain name of “first day of the week.” As to the manner of celebrating it, the only thing which he sets forth is “not bending the knee upon Sunday.”
In the thirty-eighth fragment of his “Lost Writings” he quotes Col.2:16, but whether with reference to the seventh day, or merely respecting the ceremonial sabbaths, his comments do not determine. We have now given every statement of Irenaeus which bears upon the Sabbath and the Sunday. It is manifest that the advocates of first-day sacredness have made Irenaeus testify in its behalf to suit themselves. He alludes to the first day of the week once or twice, but never uses for it the title of Lord's day or Christian Sabbath, and the only thing which he mentions as entering into the celebration of the festival was that Christians should not kneel in prayer on that day! By first-day writers, Irenaeus is made to bear an explicit testimony that Sunday is the Lord's day and the Christian Sabbath! And to give great weight to this alleged fact, they say that he was the disciple of Polycarp, who was the disciple of John: and whereas John speaks of the Lord's day, Irenaeus, who must have known what he meant by the term, says that the Lord's day is the first day of the week! But Polycarp, in his epistle, does not even mention the first day of the week, and Irenaeus, in his extended writings, mentions it only twice, and that in “lost fragments” preserved at second hand, and in neither instance does he call it anything but plain “first day of the week.” And the only honor which he mentions as due this day is that the knee should not be bent upon it! And even this was not spoken of every Sunday in the year, but only of “Easter Sunday,” the anniversary of Christ's resurrection!
Here we might dismiss the case of Irenaeus. But our first-day friends are determined at least to connect him with the use of Lord's day as a name for Sunday. They, therefore, bring forward Eusebius, who wrote 150 years later than Irenaeus, to prove that he did call Sunday by that name. Eusebius alludes to the controversy in the time of Irenaeus, respecting the annual celebration of Christ's resurrection in what was called the festival of the passover. He says (Eccl.Hist. b. v. chap. xxiii.) that the bishops of different countries, and Irenaeus was of the number, decreed that the mystery of our Lord's resurrection should be celebrated on no other day than the Lord's day; and that on this day alone we should observe the close of the paschal fasts, and not on the fourteenth of the first month as practiced by the other party. And in the next chapter, Eusebius represents Irenaeus as writing a letter to this effect to the Bishop of Rome. But observe, Eusebius does not quote the words of any of these bishops, but simply gives their decisions in his own language. There is therefore no proof that they used the term Lord's day instead of first day of the week. But we have evidence that in the decision of this case which Irenaeus sent forth, he used the term “first day of the week.” For the introduction to the fiftieth fragment of his “Lost Writings,” already quoted, gives an ancient statement of his words in this decision, as plain “first day of the week.” It is Eusebius who gives us the term Lord's day in recording what was said by these bishops concerning the first day of the week. In his time, A. D. 324, Lord's day had become a common designation of Sunday. But it was not such in the time of Irenaeus, A. D. 178. We have found no writer who flourished before him who applies it to Sunday; it is not so applied by Irenaeus; and we shall find no decisive instance of such use till the close of the second century.
This father, about A. D. 170, wrote a letter to the Roman church, in which are found these words:
This is the earliest use of the term Lord's day to be found in the fathers. But it cannot be called a decisive testimony that Sunday was thus called at this date, inasmuch as every writer who precedes Dionysius calls it “first day of the week,” “eighth day,” or “Sunday,” but never once by this title; and Dionysius says nothing to indicate that Sunday was intended, or to show that he did not refer to that day which alone has the right to be called “the Lord's holy day.” Isa.58:13. We have found several express testimonies to the sacredness of the Sabbath in the writers already examined.
This father wrote about A. D. 177. We have nothing of this writer except the titles of his books, which Eusebius has preserved to us. One of these titles is this: “On the Lord's Day.” But it should be remembered that down to this date no writer has called Sunday the Lord's day; and that every one who certainly spoke of that day called it by some other name than Lord's day. To say, therefore, as do first-day writers, that Melito wrote of Sunday, is to speak without just warrant. Moreover the word “day” is omitted in the original Greek of Eusebius. It is not certain, therefore, that Melito wrote of the Lord's day. He wrote of something pertaining to the Lord. It may have been the Lord's Supper, as Paul wrote, or the Lord's life, as wrote Ignatius.
Bardesanes, the Syrian, flourished about A. D. 180. He belonged to the Gnostic sect of Valentinians, and abandoning them, “devised errors of his own.” In his “Book of the Laws of Countries,” he replies to the views of astrologers who assert that the stars govern men's actions. He shows the folly of this by enumerating the peculiarities of different races and sects. In doing this, he speaks of the strictness with which the Jews kept the Sabbath. Of the new sect called Christians, which “Christ at his advent planted in every country,” he says:
This shows that the Gnostics used Sunday as the day for
religious assemblies. Whether he recognized others besides Gnostics, or
Christians, we cannot say. We find no allusion, however, to Sunday as a day of
abstinence from labor, except so far as necessary for their meetings. What their
days of fasting, which are here alluded to, were, cannot now be determined. It
is also worthy of notice that this writer, who certainly speaks of Sunday, and
this as late as A. D. 180, does not call it Lord's day, nor give it any sacred
title whatever, but speaks of it as “first day of the week.” No writer down
to A. D. 180, who is known to speak of Sunday, calls it the Lord's day.