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Sabbatarianism

SABBATARIANISM

Sabbatarianism stems from two sources. The one, based upon the Mosaic Law, required, sometimes on pain of death, the rigid observance of the Sabbath (Saturday) as the Lord's day of rest. The Jews and Seventh-day Adventists follow the tradition of keeping Saturday as the Sabbath; there were also certain 16th-century Socinians and one or two now-extinct Baptist sects in the United States that kept this Sabbath. The other source is rooted in the Puritan reaction to pre-Reformation custom in holding the 7th day of the week, Sunday, as a day of recreation as well as worship. Sabbatarianism encompasses all those rigorists of several Protestant sects from the late 16th to the late 19th centuries (and, to a lesser extent, today) who scrupulously practiced and urged upon others the strict observance of Sunday as a day to be devoted solely to worship, and who would permit no work, travel, or any form of innocent exercise or entertainment on that day.

Although Elizabethan Puritans greatly advanced Sabbatarianism, the movement in the broadest sense did not originate entirely with them. Henry VIII forbade bowling and certain other recreations on Sundays, and Elizabethan Parliaments passed laws to suppress brutal sports such as bear-baiting among Lancashiremen in the 1580s. That these laws constrained largely Catholic recusants may have had something to do with the fervor with which the justices of the peace, Anglican clergy, and country gentry enforced them through fines, imprisonments, and social ostracism. By the late 1580s these Acts were extended throughout England among all sects. In the same decade the Puritans advocated the extension of these restrictions on Sabbath-keeping to more innocent activities. Puritan conferences in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, and Middlesex discussed Sabbatarianism; Puritan clergy preached it at Oxford; and the leading Puritan spokesman, Thomas cartwright, upheld it in his writings. By the 1590s the strict observance of the Sabbath was common among Puritans, as is evidenced by the widespread publication of Nicholas Bound's True Doctrine of the Sabbath (1595). The movement continued to spread until it burst into a storm of indignation over James I's Book of Sports (1618).

The occasion for the issuance of this book was the attempt by Lancashire magistrates in 1617 to suppress morris dances, May games, and other sports done on Sundays after church. When the crown legally recognized the innocence of such activities throughout England and required that a proclamation to that effect be read in all churches, the Puritans provoked a major controversy. The royal order notwithstanding, such pastimes were stringently proscribed in congregations controlled by Puritans. A similar Puritan Sabbatarianism occurred in Somersetshire, where, customarily, annual spring "wakes" featured drinking, dancing, and sporting, occasionally leading to rowdyism, promiscuity, and even homicide. An outburst of Puritan criticism ensued, but, out of fear that worse evils might result, neither the Anglican hierarchy nor a majority of the clergy in that county would suppress the festivities. Against this adverse criticism by Puritans, Charles I issued an amended Book of Sports (1633), Abp. W. laud attacked Sabbatarianism, and his protégé, P. Heylyn, publicized his convictions in The History of the Sabbath (1636). As one might have expected, the Parliamentarians of the Civil War and Interregnum periods gave legal force to Sabbatarianism by passing laws enforcing it in 1644, 1650, and 1655; and the Presbyterian Westminster Assembly (1644) supported Sabbatarianism also. Charles II, in order to appease dissenters, allowed certain restrictions on Sunday travel, and Queens Mary II and Anne gave some support to Sabbatarians' ideals. In 1711, for instance, the Anglican hierarchy in convocation caustically criticized the upper classes for Sabbath-breaking.

Sabbatarianism continued in England and Scotland during the 18th century as a result of Presbyterian and Wesleyan Methodist pressure, although the first three Hanoverian kings, who regularly held council meetings, military reviews, and parties on Sundays, and the urban upper classes generally ignored it. Nevertheless, the movement had sufficient strength to restrict, and even to punish by fines, excommunication, and social ostracism some of those who broke the Sabbath by travel, recreation, or work. The Presbytery of Edinburgh in 1711 lamented the common practice of walking in the country after Sunday services, and in various parishes elders regularly roamed the streets searching for violators. Toward the end of the century the English reaction to the excesses of the French Revolution enhanced evangelicalism, which had already succeeded in having passed the Lord's Day Observance Act (1781), and various societies were formed for keeping a Puritan Sabbath. The spirit of this law is still alive in Scotland, England, Canada, and Australia, although 20th-century secularism is breaking it down. Today in England the Lord's Day Observance Society exerts considerable influence through pamphlets and the press.

Puritans carried Sabbatarianism to the American colonies in the 17th century when, in Massachusetts Bay Colony for instance, laws forbade all forms of work or exercise, even swimming. The movement declined in the 18th century, as it did in England, but during the 19th century, especially in the "burned-over district" of western New York, the rowdyism and drunkenness associated with the building of the Erie Canal provoked the Baptists into active opposition to the Continental Sunday of immigrant groups, as well as to Sunday travel. In New York City in 1828 Josiah Bissell organized the "General Union for promoting the observance of the Christian Sabbath in the United States," which enjoyed national membership.

Bibliography: r. cox, The Literature of the Sabbath Question, 2 v. (Edinburgh 1865). j. tait, "The Declaration of Sports for Lancashire (1617)," English Historical Review 32 (1917) 561568. w. b. whitaker, Sunday in Tudor and Stuart Times (London 1933). g. davies, The Early Stuarts, 16031660 (2d ed. Oxford 1959). a. french, Charles I and the Puritan Upheaval (Boston 1955). w. r. cross, The Burned-over District (Ithaca 1950). U.S. Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1926, 2 v. (Washington 192930). a. m. mccrossen, "Sabbatarianism: The Intersection of Church and State in the Orchestration of Everyday Life in Nineteenth-Century America," Religious and Secular Reform in America, ed. d. k. adams and c. a. van minnen (New York 1999). b. w. ball, The Seventh-Day Men: Sabbatarians and Sabbatarianism in England and Wales, 1600-1800 (Oxford 1994). d. liechty, Sabbatarianism in the 16th Century: A Page in the History of the Radical Reformation (Berrien Springs 1993).

[m. j. havran]

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