Constantine, Catholicism, sun worship and the Sabbath to Sunday change
In 312 A.D., prior to his pivotal victory over his rival Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine became a “Christian” after claiming to see in broad daylight a vision of “a cross above the sun” with these words emblazoned, “in hoc signo vinces” (by this sign conquer”). After defeating his enemies and becoming Emperor of Rome, Constantine presided in full royal pomp over the “First Council of Nicea” in 325 A.D.
A shrewd political genius, his scheme was to unite paganism and Christianity in an effort to strengthen his disintegrating empire. Constantine knew that pagans throughout the empire worshiped the sun on “the first day of the week,” and he discovered that many Christians and especially in Rome and Alexandria also kept ‘Sunday’ because Messiah rose from the dead on that day. So Constantine developed a plan to unite both groups on the common platform of Sunday keeping. On March 7, 321 A.D., he passed his famous national Sunday law:
“On the venerable Day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed.” Source: Codex Justinianus, lib. 3, tit. 12, 3; trans. in Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol.3 (5th ed.; New York: Scribner, 1902), p.380, note 1.
And another source: “Let all judges and townspeople and occupations of all trades rest on the venerable day of the Sun [Sunday]; nevertheless, let those who are situated in the rural districts freely and with full liberty attend to the cultivation of the fields, because it so frequently happens that no other day may be so fitting for ploughing grains or trenching vineyards, lest at the time the advantage of the moment granted by the provision of heaven may be lost.” The Code of Justinian, Book 3, title 12, law 3.
Now a professed Christian, Constantine nevertheless remained a devout sun worshipper. “The sun was universally celebrated as the invincible guide and protector of Constantine,” notes Edward Gibbon in his classic Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch. xx, par. 3.
Constantine even printed coins which “bore on the one side the letters of the name of Christ, on the other the figure of the sun god.” Arthur P. Stanley, History of the Eastern Church, lect. vi, par. 14.
Again, Constantine’s promotion of Sunday observance was part of his definite strategy to combine paganism with Christianity: “The retention of the old pagan name of dies Solis, or ‘Sunday,’ for the weekly Christian festival, is in great measure owing to the union of pagan and Christian sentiment with which the first day of the week was recommended by Constantine to his subjects, pagan and Christian alike, as the ‘venerable day of the Sun.’” Stanley’s History of the Eastern Church, p. 184.
“The Jewish, the Samaritan, even the Christian, were to be fused and recast into one great system, of which the sun was to be the central object of adoration.” Henry Milman, The History of Christianity, Book 2, chap. 8, Vol. 22, p. 175. In 330 A.D., Constantine moved his capital from Rome to Constantinople (modern Istanbul), thus preparing the way for the Roman Catholic Popes to reign in Rome as the successors of Constantine. As the Papal Church grew in power, it opposed Sabbath observance in favour of Sunday sacredness and made the day change official in the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 363-364). Constantine’s plan was successful and the result of his Sunday law was now fully accepted and adopted by the Papal Church, and the Sabbath to Sunday change was complete.
Some correctly teach that Constantine only instituted the first Sunday law, but they very conveniently fail to acknowledge why and the remainder of the story. The Council of Laodicea around A.D. 364 decreed 59 Canon laws. Canon XXIX: “Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.” (Percival Translation).