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    DECREES OF THE LEOS

    The letter of Pope Leo I. and the decree of Emperor Leo I. demand special notice because they have received so much attention from Christian writers.OGSO 61.2

    And first of Pope Leo. Justin Edwards, in his so-called “Sabbath Manual” (p. 123), says:-OGSO 61.3

    “Leo, bishop of Rome, in behalf of the church, about the year 440, said: ‘We ordain, according to the true meaning of the Holy Ghost, and of the apostles as thereby directed, that on the sacred day, wherein our own integrity was restored, all do rest and cease from labor; that neither husbandmen nor other person on that day put their hands to forbidden works,’ etc:”OGSO 61.4

    Of this quotation I some time stood in doubt, for (1) I knew that Justin Edwards was not a careful writer; in this case he gave no reference to any authority, making himself responsible for the statement. (2) The opening words were scarcely such as would be used by a bishop in that age, even one as assuming as Leo was. (3) The bishop of Rome had no authority to forbid what the law of the empire permitted; for the law of Constantine, permitting husbandmen to labor, was still the law of the empire. Against these reasons I had no sufficient evidence that Leo I. was the author of these words. As Leo of Thrace came to the throne several years before Pope Leo died, it seemed reasonable that they had been confounded, and the words of Leo the Emperor had passed for those of Leo the Pope. And the probability seemed strengthened by the fact that Morer, probably following a mistake of Nicephorus, gives part of these words substantially to the Emperor Leo I., in his decree of a. d. 469.OGSO 62.1

    But the difficulty was not thus solved, for on examining the decree of this emperor these words were not found there! 1My quotations from edicts and canons, including the decrees of Constantine, are made from a publication bearing the following title:-
    “Staats und Kirchen-Verordnungen über die christliche Sonntags-Feier, gesammelt und herausgegeben von Dr. Johann Konrad Ismischer, königl, zweiten Pfarrer an der Neustadtkirche zu Erlangen. I Abtheilung. Von Constant in dem Grossen bis zum Trident iner, Concilium. Erlangen. 1839.”
    Although the title-page and preface are in German, the edicts are all given in the originals.
    Dr. Heylyn, more accurate than the others, has given the truth in the case. (“Hist. Sabbath,” part 2, chap. 5, sec. 6.) They are in a decree of Leo, surnamed The Philosopher, who came to the throne of Constantinople in a. d. 886. Hessey (p. 89) gives a. d. 910 as the date of the decree of Leo the Philosopher. If this is the correct date, the words above quoted were given nearly five centuries later than the dates assigned to them by Justin Edwards! 2The following are the words of Hessey, p. 89: “In the East, the exemption granted to agricultural labors by Constantino, which had been embodied in the code of Justinian, was repealed by the Emperor Leo Philosophus, a. d. 910, who animadverted in somewhat severe terms on the law of his great predecessor.” Hessey, I suppose, should be considered good authority, yet I incline to the opinion that this action of Leo the Philosopher was a few years earlier than he says. The difference, however, cannot be great enough to affect the argument.
    OGSO 62.2

    At first glance it may be thought of not much importance to identify the source of these words. But it is; for thereby the fact is revealed that labor by husbandmen on Sunday was not forbidden in the fifth century, as they who assigned the words to the Leos of that century would have us believe. The decree of Leo the Philosopher, early in the tenth century, was the first authority suspending country labor on Sunday in the Eastern empire. He reversed that part of Constantine’s decree because, as he said, “The fruits of the earth do not so much depend on the diligence and pains of the men, as on the efficacy of the sun, and the blessing of God.”OGSO 63.1

    Having cleared away this mist, we come to what the Leos of the fifth century really said. And first, Pope Leo the Great. This Pope did not, as might be supposed from references often made to him, give two several orders concerning the Sunday. Nor was the Sunday itself the subject of his celebrated letter. The subject was the conferring of holy orders; he decided that the time best adapted to this service was Sunday. He gave two reasons for this selection; the first is not noticed by those who quote him, though it is of equal interest with the other. And first, he says their minds were already solemnized by the fast of the Sabbath; he cited Acts 13:3 to show that the apostolic practice was to set apart to sacred offices by fasting and prayer; he required that, on such occasions, the usual Sabbath fast should continue until the evening or till the Sunday morning; that both the person to be ordained and those officiating might come to the service with sober minds. This is the first reason. The second is, that the Sunday itself is most fitting for such a service; and here follow the words that I have copied in the quotation from Coleman-only with this difference, that Coleman closes his quotation with the words, on this day “we ought to celebrate the solemnities of Christian worship,” thus making it general, whereas the letter itself closes with reference, not to the solemnities of Christian worship in general, but to the solemn services of ordinations. I do not know what excuse Coleman would have to offer for making this change from Leo’s words. But such things are not uncommon with Sunday historians.OGSO 63.2

    It is interesting to notice that in this celebrated letter Leo twice uses the word “Sabbath,” as the day of fasting, and calls the following day Sunday. He does not call it the Lord’s day.OGSO 64.1

    Dr. Schaff says: “The passage of Leo (Ep. IX, etc.), which Hessey has chosen as a motto for his work, is the most beautiful patristic expression concerning Sunday.” It is a fact worthy of special notice, that the learned Hessey, in his “Bampton Lectures,” preached before the University of Oxford, on “The Origin, History, and Obligation of the Lord’s Day,” took his motto from the letter of Pope Leo I. This is another proof-and they are not few-that it is not an idle boast of the Catholics that the Sunday festival is that institution by which the Protestants do homage to the Catholic Church. American Protestant authors are not slow to render the same homage, by quoting this letter as the best presentation of the reasons for keeping Sunday. But the reasons are all outside of any revelation given in the Scriptures-they are devised of the heart of man. How different is the case in regard to the Sabbath. Ask a Sabbath-keeper for the best presentation of the reasons for keeping the seventh day, and he will turn to the Bible-to the commandment spoken by Jehovah himself. It is “the holy of the Lord, honorable.”OGSO 64.2

    This letter of Pope Leo was dated a. d. 445. The edict of Emperor Leo was dated 469. In some respects it was the most important that was given up to that time. But here I must digress to show the actual position of the emperors in relation to the church, lest their edicts be supposed to have a secular aspect merely.OGSO 65.1

    Eusebius, in his “Life of Constantine,” Book IV, chap. 24, says that in his hearing the emperor thus addressed a company of bishops:-OGSO 65.2

    “You are bishops whose jurisdiction is within the church; I also am a bishop ordained of God to overlook whatever is external to the church.”OGSO 65.3

    Constantine considered-or at least affected to consider-himself ordained of God to order matters pertaining to the church, no less than the bishops themselves.OGSO 65.4

    5 No doubt the flattery of such courtly bishops as Eusebius helped on the conceit. And it was for this reason that he called the Council of Nicæa, and took such a leading part in its deliberations, though personally he had never allied himself to Christianity. And this position he bequeathed to his successors-a position which the bishops were only too glad to accord to the emperors; for all the glory of the emperors, in this respect, tended to their own aggrandizement. It was greatly to their personal interest, and most of all to that of the bishop of Rome, to keep the church in close union with the State. But in order to this, it was necessary to recognize the right of the emperor to order matters in relation to the church. For many centuries no general or important council was called except by the emperor, or with his consent. No Pope could be ordained without his knowledge and consent. Hence, the custom of calling them “Christian emperors;” and their right to this title did not depend on their private characters, or their personal relation to Christianity.OGSO 65.5

    The Emperor Leo I., who is called The Great, was not lacking in political sagacity, and thinking, no doubt, thereby to add to his dignity in the eyes of the people, he was crowned by the patriarch of Constantinople. This was the beginning of what proved to be one of the most dangerous prerogatives claimed by the church, a right claimed by, and accorded to, the bishop of Rome. Of course Leo was zealous for the advancement of the orthodox faith, and took decided ground in favor of the Sunday. Some have inferred, and for it they have only inference, that the decree of Leo was wider in its scope than those which had preceded, because of the severity of the penalty which was attached. In this respect alone it is worthy of especial notice. His words were:-OGSO 66.1

    “If any will presume to offend in the premises, if he be a military man, let him lose his commission; or if other, let his estate or goods be confiscated.”OGSO 67.1

    He did not restrict that labor that was allowed by Constantine; and Heylyn proves by [original illegible] in the history of the times, that his decree largely referred to those things which should have been prohibited on every day of the week. And moreover his edict did not refer to the Sunday alone; for thus it ran:-OGSO 67.2

    “It is our will and pleasure that the holy days dedicated to the highest Majesty, should not be spent in sensual recreations, or otherwise profaned by suits of law, especially the Lord’s day, which we decree to be a venerable day.”OGSO 67.3

    Separating from the Pope and Emperor Leo of the fifth century all that has unjustly been assigned to them, we do not find in the letter of the one and the decree of the other, nearly as much as they are generally supposed to contain. Were it not that the letter of the Pope has been so freely used as the most beautiful expression in behalf of Sunday, and offered as the best presentation of the reasons for keeping that day, there would be nothing of special interest in it.OGSO 67.4

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