We come now to the final section of Niels Hemmingsen’s comments on Col. 2.16-17, which contains a disquisition on Christian festivals. The passage below contains the seventh of Hemmingsen’s regulae and some concluding observations.
SEVENTH, the Emperor Constantine established the following rule concerning the Lord’s Day: those placed in the countryside should attend to the cultivation of the fields freely and without restraint, since it frequently happens that they cannot more suitably put the grain in the furrows or the vines in their trenches on another day, in order that their advantage, granted by heavenly provision, not be lost on the pretext of a brief space of time [in which work is not permitted]. I think that this rule ought to be kept to the extent that the ministry of the Word is not scorned and it can be observed consistently with the fifth rule set out above.1 The one who keeps these rules concerning the festivals of Christians will neither easily rush into Jewish superstition nor permit a snare to be laid for him as one who is ignorant of Christian liberty; he will rather be able freely to use the free ordinance for the honor of God, the edification of the church, and his own advantage.2
- Hemmingsen wishes the Lord’s Day to be observed, but without scrupulosity. He therefore notes a policy of Constantine (we should note in passing that communal observance of the Lord’s Day, in which there was a general relaxation from work, only became possible in the fourth century via Constantine’s own legislation; our own situation, in which many people–though by no means all–have the weekends off of work and can attend worship on Sunday is an often unacknowledged benefit we inherit from Christendom, and thus our own ability to keep the Lord’s Day is parasitic on “Constantinianism”)3 that allows for an exception, viz. the need at certain times of year to sow and plant. This might be called a “work of necessity” in Westminster’s terminology, provided that we remember that such a work is not an “out” from legal observance for Hemmingsen, because the observance isn’t legal in the first place.
- Nevertheless, this seventh “rule” should only be kept if one can do so consistently with the fifth “rule”: one should not use captious reasoning to stubbornly refuse to attend to Christian worship under cover of Christian liberty.
- Still and all, Christian liberty is real liberty, and the observances of the Christian are free observances: the Christian “can freely use the free ordinance” of the church. Such observance, for Hemmingsen, is governed not by a legal rendering of the sabbath but by the law of love: love of God (“for the honor of God”) and love of neighbor (“for the edification of the church”), as well as consideration of one’s own practical utility (“for his own advantage”), for the Christian needs such observances–needs the ministry of the Word–throughout the time of his earthly sojourn.
- “FIFTH, the Christian should beware lest he, under the pretext of Christian liberty, obstinately scorn the festivals of Christians. For he who does this shamefully violates both the useful order of the church and maliciously harms others by his example.”
- The translation is my own.
- I do not quite say “establishment” because Constantine did not establish the Christian faith as the official faith of the Empire.