March 7, 321 AD – Constantine’s Sunday Law
by Kelly McDonald, Jr.
On March 7 321 AD, Constantine approved the “day of the sun” as a day of rest for the Western Roman Empire (at this time, he did not control the Eastern Empire). This was not to honor God or Jesus Christ, but to honor the sun god. Sunday became a civil day of rest for urban areas, but the law did not grant rest to farmers. Below I have provided an English translation from the Codex Justinianus (which was issued in 529 AD).
“All judges and city people and the craftsmen shall rest upon the venerable day of the sun. Country people, however, may freely attend to the cultivation of the fields, because it frequently happens that no other days are better adapted for planting the grain in the furrows or the vines in trenches. So that the advantage given by heavenly providence may not for the occasion of a short time perish.” (Codex Justinian 3.12.2: Imperator Constantinus; Translation from Ayer, 284-285)
In the Latin, the phrase translated as “venerable day of the sun” is venerabili die solis. Constantine’s decision was based upon honoring and esteeming the celestial body we call the sun. The Mithras cult was a favorite for Roman Emperors, especially Constantine. He minted coins as late as the 320s AD honoring Sol Invictus, the invincible sun god (Encyclopedia Britannica “Mithras”, Cath. Encycl. “Constantine the Great”). On some of these coins, he was crowned by Sol (see Sear, pp 363-491). Notice in Constantine’s decree that farmers were not allowed this day off of work. It applied to those in the cities, not the country.
The God of the Holy Bible commanded Sabbath (Friday sunset to Saturday sunset) off for all people, regardless of their occupation. This command extends even to farmers in their busiest seasons (Ex. 34:21).
While Constantine’s decree did not change the Sabbath, it created a false, civil day of rest beside the true day of rest. It also did not force any sort of worship on the subjects of the Empire. He issued another one in July of the same year that allowed slaves to have the day off from work (CT: 2.8.1).
The Catholic Encyclopedia states:“…many of the emperors yielded to the delusion that they could unite all their subjects in the adoration of the one sun-god who combined in himself the Father-God of the Christians and the much-worshipped Mithras; thus the empire could be founded anew on unity of religion. Even Constantine, as will be shown farther on, for a time cherished this mistaken belief…. Many other actions of his also have the appearance of half-measures, as if he-himself had wavered and had always held in reality to some form of syncretistic religion…” (Article: Constantine the Great)
Constantine took other measures to impose a state-controlled religion, but this is one example of how people began to change God’s sacred timing.
For more commentary on Constantine and the effects of this March 7, 321 law, please read the following link:
Kelly is President of the Bible Sabbath Association (BSA) www.biblesabbath.org
Ayer, Joseph Cullen. A Sourcebook for Ancient History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1913. pp 284-285
Catholic Encyclopedia 1911: Constantine the Great, Mithras
Sear, David. Roman Coins and their Values, Volume IV. Spink, London, 2011. Pp 233-264, 363-491.