Shabbat Shalom, Corporately

My last sabbatarian post, reposted on the Unknown blog, did generate a bit of comment offline. At the risk of being unduly harsh, I’ll try to respond.

One objection is that if it’s merely individuals and small organizations not buying things on the Day of Rest, and without explanation, the thing will hold little meaning. I do see the point – this, by the way, is why changes on the individual level alone, prompted by individual choice, will not change society not matter how many tell themselves to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. Not giving restaurants business, by itself, is not very effective for anything, to be sure.

So we come to the possibility of things being done by the whole Church. But then we look at the Church as she is today and despair of any catholic action, any catholic discipline, taking place. We look back with frisson at a world where authoritarian powers told people what to do, and then we vow that any authority must ultimately be undermined.

Taking biblical commands seriously, after all, is obviously beyond the pale, legalistic to the extreme – or it must flow out of individual ‘convictions’ (overrated individualism!). Sto in extrema tegula, for we moderns, we happy few, are too far changed, too enlightened for such niceties as either Scripture or precedent tradition. For do we not simply follow the spirit of saving souls from death, and thus only of conversion and of individual purity?

I wish no rigorism upon our practice. Nevertheless, see the opinion expressed in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1912), which was hardly hard-line on sabbatarian practice:

In the first place [the name of Sabbatarian] is applied to those rigorists who apparently confound the Christian Sunday with the Jewish Sabbath and, not content with the prohibition of servile work, will not allow many ordinary and innocent occupations on the Sunday. This form of Sabbatarianism has chiefly prevailed among Scottish and English Protestants and was at one time very common. Of late years it has sensibly declined; and there is now a tendency towards the opposite extreme of laxity in observing the law of Sunday rest.

Now, of what laxity might this article have spoken? Firstly, and probably most obviously, of working for pay (perhaps even for overtime pay!) on the Lord’s Day, whether or not it hinders bare attendance in the liturgy of the Lord’s holy people; secondly, of keeping others in one’s employ on that day while enjoying rest oneself. The second half is for masters to shut down their work operations, not merely to give people the option of Sabbath leave. Even if we see the parody of mandatory ‘rest’ in required furloughs on university campuses, this is surely the spirit, not merely the letter, of Deuteronomy’s sabbatarian command.

‘Ordinary and innocent occupations’, I take it, can include such things as cooking a meal, if that doesn’t instead make undue stress for the one who prepares food, as well as feeding the poor and healing the blind. I fail to see, however, how the growth of modernity demands that a Day of Rest be put aside as weak and useless just because it seems to get in the way of how we want to live our lives. What I can see, perhaps, is how easily we feel free to replace the precepts of God with the precepts of man – that is, with the devices and desires of our own hearts.

Again we come back to the issue of authority. The question isn’t whether God must rule all: he absolutely will. The question, rather, is whether and when an individual’s conscience – or lack thereof – can trump what the holy Church has taught for centuries. If modernity forces a break with the past rather than a development, what has the highest claim on our conscience?


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