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:
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:
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:
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:
Domville states other facts of interest bearing on this point, and then pays his respects to Mr. Gurney as follows:
The justice of Domville's language cannot be questioned when he characterizes this favorite first-day argument as-
The investigation to which this statement has been subjected, shows,
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 Scotland has written a large volume entitled, "The Sabbath," which has been extensively circulated both in Europe and in America, and is esteemed a standard work by the American Tract Society and by first-day denominations in general. Gilfillan had read Domville as appears from his statements on pages 10, 142,143,616, of his volume. He was therefore acquainted with Domville's exposure of the fraud respecting "Dominicum servasti?" But though he was acquainted with this exposure, he offers not oneword in reply. On the contrary, he repeats the story with as much assurance as though it had not been proved a falsehood. But as Domville had shown up the matter from the Acta Martyrum, it was necessary for Gilfillan to trace it to some other authority, and so he assigns it to Cardinal Baronius. Here are Gilfillan's words:
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
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 in northern Africa in A.D. 303. It is the very story which Domville has cited from the Acta Martyrum, and Baronius repeatedly indicates that he himself copied it from that work. He gives the various questions propounded by the proconsul, and the several answers which were returned by each of the martyrs. I copy from Baronius the most important of these. They were arrested while they were celebrating the Lord's sacrament according to custom.15 The following is the charge on which they were arrested: They had celebrated the Collectam Dominicam against the command of the emperors.16 The proconsul asked the first whether he had celebrated the Collectam, and he replied that he was a Christian, and had done this.17 Another says, "I have not only been in the Collecta, but I have celebrated the Dominicum with the brethren because I am a Christian."18 Another says we have celebrated the Dominicum, because the Dominicum cannot be neglected."19 Another said that the Collecta was made (or observed) at his house.20 The proconsul questioning again one of those already examined, received this answer: "The Dominicum cannot be disregarded, the law so commands."21 When one was asked whether the Collecta was made (or observed) at his house, he answered, "In my house we have celebrated the Dominicum." He added, "Without the Dominicum we cannot be," or live.22 To another, the proconsul said that he did not wish to know whether he was a Christian, but whether he participated in the Collecta. His reply was: "As if one could be a Christian without the Dominicum, or as if the Dominicum can be celebrated without the Christian."23 And he said further to the proconsul: "We have observed the Collecta most sacredly; we have always convened in the Dominicum for reading the Lord's word."24 Another said: "I have been in [literally, have made] the Collecta with my brethren, I have celebrated the Dominicum."25 After him another proclaimed the Dominicum to be the hope and safety of the Christian, and when tortured as the others, he exclaimed, "I have celebrated the Dominicum with a devoted heart, and with my brethren I have made the collecta because I am a Christian."26 When the proconsul again asked one of these whether he had conducted the Dominicum, he replied that he had because Christ was his Saviour.27
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 Mass."28 After recording the words of that martyr who said that the law commanded the observance of the Dominicum, Baronius defines his statement thus: "Evidently the Christian law concerning the Dominicum, no doubt about celebrating the sacrifice."29 Baronius, by the Romish words sacrifice and Mass refers to the celebration of the Lord's supper by these martyrs. At the conclusion of the examination, he again defines the celebration of the Dominicum. He says: "It has been shown above in relating these things that the Christians were moved, even in the time of severe persecution, to celebrate the Dominicum. Evidently, as we have declared elsewhere in many places, it was a sacrifice without bloodshed, and of divine appointment."30 He presently defines Dominicum again, saying, "Though it is a fact that the same expression was employed at times with reference to the temple of God, yet since all the churches upon the earth have united in this matter, and from other things related above, it has been sufficiently shown concerning the celebration of the Dominicum, that only the sacrifice of the Mass can be understood."31 Observe this last statement. He says though the word has been employed to designate the temple of the Lord, yet in the things here related it can only signify the sacrifice of the Mass. These testimonies are exceedingly explicit. But Baronius has not yet finished. In the index to Tome 3, he explains these words again with direct reference to this very martyrdom. Thus under Collecta is this statement: "The Collecta. the Dominicum, the Mass, the same [A.D.] 303, xxxix."32 Under Missa: "The Mass is the same as the Collecta, or Dominicum [A.D.], 303, xxxix."33 Under Dominicum: "To celebrate the Dominicum is the same as to conduct the Mass [A.D.], 303. xxxix.; xlix.; li."34
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 Mass. But it was the sacrament of the Lord's supper, concerning which they were tested, and for observing which they were put to a cruel death. The word Dominicum signifies "the sacred mysteries," as Ruinart defines it; and Baronius, in seven times affirming this definition, though acknowledging that it has sometimes been used to signify temple of God, plainly declares that in this record, it can have no other meaning than that service which the Romanists call the sacrifice of the Mass. Gilfillan had read all this, yet he dares to quote Baronius as saying that these martyrs were tested by the question, "Have you kept Lord's day?" He could not but know that he was writing a direct falsehood; but he thought the honor of God, and the advancement of the cause of truth, demanded this act at his hands.
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.
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." <Return>
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 dominica and kuriaka." <Return>
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 born 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. <Return>
22 In tua, inquit proconsul, domo Collectae factae sunt, contra praecepta Imperatorum? Cui Emeritus sancto Spiritu inundatus:
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. <Return>
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. <Return>
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. <Return>