IN considering the required obligation to observe Sunday, it will be a help to all concerned to know the origin of Sunday observance and the character of the obligation.
The only obligations that can properly rest upon men are from two sources and only two. These are defined in the words of Christ: “Render to Cesar the things that are Cesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” There is no obligation, therefore, resting upon anybody except such as originates in one or the other of these two sources. There are obligations which are due to Cesar. Cesar is the civil power, and every Christian, as well as every other man, is commanded by the Lord to be “subject to the powers that be.” There are obligations also which are owed to God alone, and in no way connected with any other power person.
Cesar and God are distinct authorities: obligations to these are distinct. Obligations to God are religious, and only religious; obligations to Cesar are civil, and only civil. All things, therefore, that are of obligation upon men, springs from one or the other of these two sources; and all things which come properly from either of these two sources, are of obligation upon all; and nothing else can be. For these two being positively defined by the Lord himself, as the obligations which come upon men, cover all.
Now, if the obligation to observe Sunday, came from the Lord, then it must be observed by all who recognize the Lord. But even then, the obligation would be due only to the Lord; and with it the civil power could not in any sense rightly have anything to do. If the obligation to observe Sunday sprung from the civil power, then it would have to be recognized by all, wherever the civil power so expresses itself. But, if Sunday observance crept in from a source apart from either of these authorities, then there can be no obligation upon any man to observe it; because its authority is out of bounds.
Now, it is not only recognized, but universally  taught, whether by Catholic or Protestant, that Sunday observance originated with the church. There is no command of God for it. Its most ardent advocates recognize this and trace its origin to the church alone—as having originated in “apostolic example,” “the practice of the primitive church,” etc. etc. But the church is neither God nor Cesar. The church is of God, but it is not God. The church is joined to God; it is to obey God; it is the house of God; but whatever it is, it is not God. No more is it Cesar; it is altogether religious, not civil. Whatever government the church may have, it is ecclesiastical only, and never can be civil. Anything, therefore, which springs only from the church, being neither of God nor of Cesar, can never be of any obligation whatever upon any man. And Sunday springing confessedly from that very source, can never of right be of any obligation whatever upon any soul.
But it may be said that there are Sunday laws, that these are laws of the state, and that these, requiring the observance of Sunday are from Cesar. Yes, there are Sunday laws, and these laws are nowadays enacted by the State—the civil authority; but whether there be any civil authority exercised in such legislation—whether they be of any authority as from civil power,—is altogether another question.
What were Sunday laws in their origin? By what authority was the first Sunday law enacted? This must be understood in order to know what obligation there is in Sunday laws. Because, if the civil power of to-day borrows something altogether and fixes it in a law, that does not make the thing civil: that law is not a civil law, but an ecclesiastical one. And the State, in such an act, instead of acting properly in its civil capacity, abandons the realm of civics, and enters that of the ecclesiasticism; and this, of itself, would destroy all true obligation that might be claimed from such act as coming from the civil power.
What, then, was the origin of Sunday laws? and of Sunday observance by law? It is well known that the first Sunday law that ever existed, was framed and issued by Constantine, at the solicitation of the church and in the interests of the church—the apostate church at that. Yet, even then the Sunday law did not proceed from Constantine as the emperor, but as supreme pontiff. True, the same man was both; but the offices of emperor and supreme pontiff, were distinct. Things which he could do as emperor, he could not do as supreme pontiff: things which he must do as supreme pontiff, he could not do as emperor. And one of the things which belong solely to the office of supreme pontiff, was “the plenary power of appointing holy days.” If the offices of emperor and supreme pontiff had been held by two men, one the emperor, and the other the supreme pontiff, it would have been the prerogative of the supreme pontiff alone to appoint holy days, even for the emperor’s recognition. And when the two offices were held by one man, the prerogatives of the two offices were distinct, and the one man exercising these prerogatives, must act as emperor and supreme pontiff, respectively and separately. And the appointing of days to be observed, was exclusively the prerogative of the supreme pontiff. Duruy on this point says plainly:—
“In determining what days should be regarded as holy, and in the composition of a prayer for national use, Constantine exercised one of the rights belonging to him as pontifex maximus.”—History of Rome, chap. CII, part I, par. 4 from end.
Now, the pontifex maximus was not the Cesar, nor was he God. True, he claimed to be, and he was regarded as, the representative of the gods; but he was not God. Therefore, Sunday observance, in a law coming from the emperor acting only as supreme pontiff, proceeds from neither God nor Cesar; and this, as in the origin of Sunday observance, coming from neither God nor Cesar, is out of bounds, and, consequently, never can be of any obligation upon any soul. For all that has been done since, whether in Sunday observance by the church, or in Sunday laws by the State, has been but copying and perpetuating these things from their origin, and cannot in any sense, change their character; because the origin fixes indelibly forever the character.
“Render therefore to Cesar things that are Cesar’s; and to God the things which are God’s.” These “things,” only, are of obligation. All things from any other source are not, and cannot be of any obligation whatever upon any soul—and such are Sunday observance, and Sunday laws.
A. T. J.