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The view which insists that one day of each week be reserved for religious observance as prescribed by the OT sabbath law. It is most important that we note a distinction between strict or literal sabbatarianism and semisabbatarianism.

Strict or literal sabbatarianism contends that God's directive concerning the OT sabbath law is natural, universal, and moral; consequently the sabbath requires mankind to abstain from all labor except those tasks necessary for the welfare of society. In this view the seventh day, the literal sabbath, is the only day on which the requirements of this law can be met. Historically, we see a trend toward sabbatarianism in the Eastern church during the fourth century and the Irish church of the sixth century when, interestingly, a dual recognition of both sabbath and Sunday was stressed. It was not until the Reformation, however, that we meet the quintessence of sabbatarianism.

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Luther opposed the doctrine, pointing out (in his "Letter against the Sabbatarians") the legalistic pitfalls inherent in the view. Calvin agreed in principle with Luther's stance. The Transylvania unitarians adopted strict sabbath observance during the seventeenth century, later moving to a total acceptance of Judaism. The Seventh day Baptists originated in 1631, bringing sabbatarianism to England and later to Rhode Island and New York. The most notable proponent of strict sabbatarianism at the present time is the Seventh day Adventist Church; several smaller adventist groups hold the same or similar views. Adventists believe they have been raised for the express purpose of proclaiming that God requires all men to observe the sabbath.

Their arguments for the universally binding character of the sabbath law are these: it (1) is part of the moral law, (2) was given at the creation, and (3) was not abrogated in the NT. Some adventists see in Sunday observance a fulfillment of the prophecy (Rev. 14:9ff.) which states that deluded mankind will be forced to accept the mark of the beast (Sunday observance) in order to survive during the days prior to Christ's second advent.

. Semi-Sabbatarianism holds a view essentially the same as strict sabbatarianism but transfers its demands from Saturday, the seventh day, to Sunday, the first day of the week. As early as the fourth and fifth centuries theologians in the Eastern church were teaching the practical identity of the Jewish sabbath and the Christian Sunday. Eusebius's interpretation of Ps. 91 (c. 320) greatly influenced the ultimate transfer of sabbath assertions and prohibitions to the first day of the week. An ancient legend related in the so called Apocalypse of Peter, and known to Augustine and Prudentius, significantly transfers to Sunday what the original legend said concerning the sabbath: those who suffer the pains of the lost in hell are, for the sake of Christ, permitted to rest from torment on Sunday, the first day of the week!

It was Albertus Magnus who first suggested a structured semisabbatarianism by dividing the sabbath command into (1) the moral command to observe a day of rest after six days of labor and (2) the ceremonial symbol that applied only to the Jews in a literal sense. Thomas Aquinas lifted this formulation to the status of official doctrine, a view later held by a large number of Reformed theologians as well. Semisabbatarianism reached its zenith in English Puritanism, later finding its way to the New World through the early colonists. Sunday restrictions and so-called blue laws in various states are a constant reminder of the influence of this view on the laws of our land. Organizations such as the Lord's Day Observance Society (est. 1831), and the Imperial Alliance for the Defense of Sunday (England) have sought to preserve the principles of semisabbatarianism, but with decreasing success since World War II.

F R Harm
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

R D Brackenridge, "The Sabbath War of 1865 - 6," in R S C H S 16:1; R Cox, Literature of the Sabbath Question; P Collinson, "The Origins of English Sabbatarianism," in Studies in Church History; C H Little, Disputed Doctrines; M Luther, Letter to a Good Friend Against the Sabbatarians; E Morgan, The Puritan Family; E Plass, What Luther Says, III; J M Reu, Christian Ethics; W Rordorf, Sunday; P Schaff, The Anglo American Sabbath; A H Strong, Systematic Theology; W Whitaker, Sunday in Tudor and Stuart Times and The Eighteenth Century Sunday.

Sabbatarians, Sabbatarianism

Catholic Information

(Hebrew Shabot rest).

The name, as appears from its origin, denotes those individuals or parties who are distinguished by some peculiar opinion or practice in regard to the observance of the Sabbath or day of rest. In the first place it is applied to those rigorists who apparently confound the Christian Sunday with the Jewish Sabbath and, not content with the prohibition of servile work, will not allow many ordinary and innocent occupations on the Sunday. This form of Sabbatariansm has chiefly prevailed among Scottish and English Protestants and was at one time very common. Of late years it has sensibly declined; and there is now a tendency towards the opposite extreme of laxity in observing the law of Sunday rest. These Sabbatarians never formed a distinct sect; but were merely a party of rigorists scattered among many and various Protestant denominations. At the same time it is not only in their name that they have something in common with the distinctive sects of Sabbatarians properly so-called, for their initial error in neglecting the distinction between the Christian weekly festival and the Jewish Sabbath is likewise the starting-point of the Sabbatarian sects; and these carry their mistaken principle to its logical conclusion.

This logical development of judaizing Sabbatarianism is curiously illustrated in the history of a sect of Sabbatarian Socinians founded in Transylvania in Hungary towards the end of the sixteenth century. Their first principle, which led them to separate from the rest of the Unitarian body, was their belief that the day of rest must be observed with the Jews on the seventh day of the week and not on the Christian Sunday. And as we learn from Schrodl the greater part of this particular Sabbatarian sect joined the orthodox Jews in 1874, thus carrying out in practice the judaizing principle of their founders. Although there does not seem to be any immediate or obvious connection between the observance of the seventh day and the rejection of infant baptism, these two errors in doctrine and discipline are often found together. Thus Sabbatarianism made many recruits among the Mennonite Anabaptists in Holland and among the English Baptists who, much as they differ on other points of doctrine, agree in the rejection of paedo-baptism. And it is presumably a result of this contact with Anabaptism that Sabbatarianism is also found in association with fanatical views on political or social questions. The most conspicuous of English Sabbatarian Baptists was Francis Bampfield (d. 1683), brother of a Devonshire baronet and originally a clergyman of the English Church. He was the author of several works and ministered to a congregation of Sabbatarian Baptists in London. He suffered imprisonment for his heterodoxy and eventually died in Newgate. In America the Baptists who profess Sabbatarianism are known as Seventh-Day Baptists.

But if the greater number of Sabbatarians have come from the Baptists, the most amazing of them was at one time associated with the Wesleyan Methodists. This was the prophetess Joanna Southcott (1750-1814), like Bampfield, a native of Devonshire, who composed many spiritual poems and prophetical writings, and became the mother of a sect of Sabbatarians, also known as Southcottians or Joannas. Modern Englishmen who are apt to smile at medieval credulity can scarcely find in Catholic countries in the "darkest" days of ignorance any instance of a more amazing credulity than that of Joanna Southcott's disciples, who confidently awaited the birth of the promised Messiah whom the prophetess of sixty-four was to bring into the world. They gave practical proof of their faith by preparing a costly cradle. Nor did they abandon all hope when the poor deluded woman died of the disease which had given a false appearance of pregnancy. The sect survived for many years; and when in 1874 her tombstone was shattered by an accidental explosion, the supposed portent re-enkindled the faith of her followers.

The American sect of Seventh-Day Adventists may be added to the list of Sabbatarian communities, among which their large numbers should give them a conspicuous place. To these may be added the Jewish sect of Sabbatarians, though these derive their name not from the Sabbath, but from their founder, Sabbatian Zebi or Zevi (1626-76). His teaching was not concerned with any special observance of the Sabbath, but as a form of false Messianism it may be compared with the mission of Joanna Southcott. The two stories show some strange points of resemblance especially in the invincible credulity of the disciples of the pretended Jewish Messiah and of the deluded Devonshire prophetess. (See bibliography of ADVENTISTS)

Publication information Written by W.H. Kent. Transcribed by John Looby. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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