Part 3: Answers to some objections (EPC 1.9)

George Gillespie (1613-1648)George Gillespie

Showing The Weakness Of Some Pretenses Which Our Opposites Use For Holidays

Copyright © 1998 Naphtali Press

The following are chapters and sections taken from George Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on the Church of Scotland, ed. Christopher Coldwell (Dallas TX: Naphtali Press, 1993). All page references to EPC will be to that edition. One can find these sections in older editions by following the part, chapter, and section designations (e.g. 1.1.1).

EPC. 1.9, pp. 46-53.

Showing The Weakness Of Some Pretenses Which Our
Opposites Use For Holidays.

Sect. 1

Since it has been evinced by unanswerable reasons that holidays, as now urged upon us, take away our Christian liberty, I will now pull off them the coat of some fig leaves wherewith they are trimmed up.

And first, I hope it will appear to how small purpose Dr. Davenant would conciliate his reader’s mind to allow of the church’s ordinances about holidays1 (peradventure because he saw all that he had said of that purpose to be too invalid proof), by six cautions, whereby all superstition and abuse which may ensue upon them may be shunned. For whatsoever does manifestly endanger men’s souls, being a thing not necessary in itself, at which they take occasion of superstitious abuse, should rather be removed altogether out of the way, than be set about with a weak and easily-penetrable hedge of some equivocative [ambiguous] cautions, which the ruder sort do always, and the learned do too oft, either not understand or not remember. Now, Lindsey confesses, and puts it out of all doubt, that when the set times of these solemnities return, superstitious conceits are most pregnant in the heads of people;2 therefore it must be the safest course to banish those days out of the church, since there is so great hazard, and no necessity, of retaining them.

What they can allege for holidays, from our duty to remember the inestimable benefits of our redemption, and to praise God for the same, has been already answered.3 And as touching any expediency which they imagine in holidays, we shall see to that afterward.4

Sect. 2

The Act of Perth Assembly alleges the practice of the ancient church for warrant of holidays, and Tilen alleges the judgment of antiquity to the same purpose.5

ANSWER. The festivities of the ancient church cannot warrant ours. For 1. In the purest times of the church there was no law to tie men to the observation of holidays. It must be observed, say the divines of Magdeburg, that the apostles and the apostolic men, did not set up any law about Easter, nor about any other festivals whatsover.6 Socrates reports, that men did celebrate the feast of Easter, and other festival days, sicuti voluerunt, ex consuetudine quadam [just as they wished, according to whatever custom].7 Nicephorus says, that men did celebrate festivities, that men were left to their own judgment about the keeping of Easter.8 [On Gal. 4] Jerome says of the feasts which the church in his time observed, that they were pro varietate reqionum diversa [different by virtue of the diversity of the regions]. The first who established a law about any festival day,9 is thought to have been Pius I, bishop of Rome; yet it is marked that the Asiatican doctors did not care much for this constitution of Pius.

I conclude with Cartwright,10 that those feasts of the primitive church came by custom, and not by commandment; by the free choice of men, and not by constraint. So that from these, no commendation arises to our feasts, which are not only established by laws, but also imposed with such necessity and constraint, as spoils us of our liberty.

2. The festival days observed by the ancient church were not accounted more excellent than other days; for, says Jerome,11 not because that day on which we assemble is more distinguished. But our festival days are made aliis diebus celebriores [more distinguished than other days], yea, are taken to be holier than other days, as I will afterwards prove.12

Sect. 3

Moreover, the proctors for holidays among us think to make advantage of the practice of other reformed churches, and the judgment of modern divines. But we are to consider:

1. As they have the example of some churches for them, so we have the example of other churches for us, for the church of Geneva in Savoy, and the church of Strasburg in Germany, did abolish festival days, as Calvin writes. Yea, in hac tota provincia aboliti fuerunt dies festi [in all this province feast days have been abolished], he says.13 The church of Zurich in Helvetia did also banish them all away, as Bullinger writes to Calvin.14

2. The practice of the greatest part of the reformed churches in observing holidays cannot commend them in the church of Scotland.

(1.) Because she did spew them out with so great detestation, that she is more bound to abhor them than other churches which did not the like, and I may well apply to them that which Calvin says of the ceremonies of the Interim, to Valentinus Pacæus, As I grant that that stinking filth, of which your church has been purged, can be counted among indifferent matters; will its restoration, however, be an indifferent matter?15

(2.) The church of Scotland is tied yet with another bond to hate holidays, of which other churches are free; for, by a solemn oath sworn to the God of heaven, she has abjured all antichristian and popish rites, and dedicating of days particularly. When Tilen would make answer to this argument, he says that men’s consciences should not be snared with rash oaths and superstitious vows, and if that such bonds be laid on, they should be broken and shaken off.16 What! Calls he this a superstitious vow, which abjured all superstition and superstitious rites? Or calls he this a rash oath, which, upon so sage and due deliberation, so serious advisement, so pious intention, so decent preparation, so great humiliation, was religiously, publicly, solemnly sworn throughout this land, and that at the straight command of authority? Who is ignorant of these things, except he be a stranger in our Israel?

But say the oath had been rash and temeratious [reckless], shall it not therefore oblige? His judgment is, it does not; and so thinks the Bishop of Winchester, who teaches us, that if the oath be made rashly, pænitenda promissio non perficienda præsumptio [the promise is to be repented, not the presumption carried out];17 he had said better thus, pænitenda præsumptio, perficienda promissio [the presumption is to be repented, the promise carried out]. For was not that a very rash oath which the princes of Israel did swear to the Gibeonites, not asking counsel at the mouth of the Lord (Josh. 9:14-16)? Yet it bound both them (v. 19), and their posterity, some hundred years after (2 Sam. 21:1). If the matter then be lawful, the oath binds, were it sworn never so rashly.

Sect. 4

As touching the judgment of divines, we say:

1. Many divines disallow of festival days, and with the church, were free of them. For the Belgic churches, in their synod anno 1578, wished that the six days might be wrought upon, and that the Lord’s day alone might be celebrated. And Luther in his book, de Bonis Operibus [Concerning Good Works], wished that there were no feast-days among Christians but the Lord’s day. This wish of theirs declares plainly that they allowed of no holiday except the Lord’s day; yet Bishop Lindsey must make a fashion of saying something for an answer. This wish (he says) Luther and the Belgic churches conceived, out of their miscontent at the number, corruptions, and superstitions of the festival days, beside the Lord’s day, as ye do.18

ANSWER (1.) Their wish imports a simple and absolute disliking of all festival days besides the Lord’s day, and not of their number and corruptions only. (2.) It is well that he acknowledges both them and us to have reason of miscontentment at holidays from their corruptions and superstitions. The old Waldenses also,19 whose doctrine was restored and propagated by John Huss, and Jerome of Prague, after Wycliffe, and that with the congratulation of the church of Constantinople, held that they were to rest from labor upon no day but upon the Lord’s day, whereby it appears that holidays have had adversaries before us.20

2. I find that they pervert some places which they allege against us out of Calvin. Tilen alleges, Calvin. Inst., lib. 2, cap. 8, sec. 32, acknowledging alios quoque dies festos præter dominicm [acknowledging also other feast days besides the Lord’s day], etc.21 I marvel how a judicious reader could imagine such a thing to be in that place, for both in that and the subsequent section he is speaking of the Lord’s day against the Anabaptists, and if any man will think that in sec. 32 he is speaking of holy assemblies of Christians in the general, yet he can see nothing there of any festival days beside the Lord’s day dedicated to holy meetings.

There is another place of Calvin abused by Bishop Spottiswood22 and Bishop Lindsey,23 taken out of one of his Epistles to Hallerus, which I find in the volume before quoted. That which they grip to in this epistle is, that Calvin, speaking of the abrogation of festival days in Geneva, says, but I wish this to be attested, that if the decision had been conferred upon me, what has now been established would not have been affirmed as a judgment.24

ANSWER. That which made Calvin say so was not any liking which he had to festival days, for he calls the abolishing of them a well put-together arrangement;25 but as [he] himself shows in the following epistle, which bears this title, Cal. Ministro Burensi, S. D., the reason why he durst scarcely have so determined, if his judgment had been required, was because he saw neither end nor remedy for the prevailing tumult of contention raised about festival days, and likely to impede the course of reformation; therefore fovendæ pacis studio [out of eagerness to foster peace], he professes that he durst not make mention of the abrogation of those holidays. Because he would have tolerated holidays, because he durst not at that time, and as the case then stood, have spoken of the abolishing them, can it be hereupon concluded that he allowed of them? No, surely.

But it is observable how both these prelates pervert Calvin’s words. Bishop Spottiswood alleges his words [about] the abolishing of these festival days, thus: I have been neither a persuader nor an instigator, and I wish this attested, that if the decision had been conferred upon,26 etc. Whereas the words in that epistle lie thus: Although I have been neither a persuader nor an instigator, for it so to have happened does not, however, vex me. But if you had the condition of our church equally disclosed to you, you would not hesitate to approve of my judgment. But I wish this attested, that if the decision had been conferred upon me, etc.27 The Bishop would have made his hearers believe that Calvin was not content with the abolishing of the festival days, whereas his words testify the very contrary.

Bishop Lindsey is as gross in perverting the end of that epistle. And yet there is no reason why men should be so provoked, if we use our liberty as the edification of the church requires,28 from which words he concludes that in Calvin’s judgment, the observation and abrogation of those days is in the power and liberty of the church. But the reader will perceive that Calvin there speaks only of the church’s liberty to abrogate holidays, and nothing of her power to observe them, for he is showing, that howbeit he durst not have given advice to abolish them, if the decision had been referred to him, yet they had no reason for them who were offended at the abolishing of them in Geneva, because that church had done no more than she had power and liberty to do for edification.

3. Other testimonies they produce which cannot help them much. That which Lindsey29 alleges out of Zanchius’s confession makes him but small advantage; for though Zanchius there allows of the sanctification of some festival days, yet, writing on the fourth commandment, he acknowledges that it is more agreeable to the first institution, and to the writings of the apostles, that one day of the week only be sanctified. What meant the Bishop to say30 that this place is falsified and mutilated by his antagonist, who quotes it not to prove that Zanchius disallows of festival days, but to prove that, in Zanchius’s judgment, the sanctification of the Sabbath only, and no other day in the week, agrees best with divine and apostolical institution? Was there any need to allege more of Zanchius’s words than concerned the point which he had to prove? The Bishop alleges also a testimony out of Perkins on Gal. 4:10,31 which makes him but very little help; for albeit Perkins thought good, in some sort, to excuse the observing of days in his own mother church of England, yet I find in that place:

(1.) He complains that the greatest part respect those holidays more than they should.

(2.) He allows only the observing of days for order’s sake, that men may come to the church to hear God’s word, which respect will not be enough to the Bishop, if there be not a solemnizing and celebrating of the memory of some of God’s inestimable benefits, and a dedicating of the day to this end and purpose.

(3.) He says that it is the privilege of God to appoint an extraordinary day of rest, so that he permits not power to the church for appointing a set, constant, and anniversary day of rest, for such a day becomes an ordinary day of rest.

(4.) He prefers the practice of those churches of the Protestants who do not observe holidays because, he says, the church in the apostles’ days had no holiday besides the Lord’s day, and the fourth commandment enjoins the labor of six days.

Sect. 5

The Bishop meets with another answer in his antagonist which crosses his testimonies, namely, that howsoever foreign divines, in their epistles and councils, spoke sometimes sparingly against holidays, when their advice was sought of churches newly risen out of Popery and greatly distressed, yet they never advised a church to resume them where they were removed.

The Bishop objects against this answer,32 that Calvin (epist. 51), advises the Monbelgardens not to contend against the prince for not resuming (he should have said, for not receiving, if he had translated Calvin’s words faithfully) of all festival days, but only such as served not to edification, and were seen to be superstitious.

ANSWER. 1. Albeit he spoke sparingly against holidays when he gave advice to that distressed and lately reformed church, lest the work of reformation should have been letted [hindered], yet he did not allow holidays among them. For in another epistle written to them he says,33 About the ringing of bells and feast days, we feel thus, that you must bear these trifles rather than that the position in which you were stationed by the Lord be brought down, but do not regard it as good; but also it should be thereupon permitted to you to rebuke those following after superstitions. And this he sets down for one of these superstitions, quod dies a die discernitur [which discriminates a day from (another) day], where also he condemns both the observing of days to the honor of man as superstitious, and the observing of them for the honor of God as Judaical.

If holidays, in Calvin’s judgment, be fooleries – if he gave advice not to approve them – if he thought them occasions of superstition – if he held it superstition to distinguish one day from another, or to esteem one above another – if he calls them Judaical, though kept to the honor of God, judge then what allowance they had from him.

2. If the Bishop stands to Calvin’s judgment in that place which he quotes, he must allow us to refuse some festival days, though enjoined by the prince. I may wish you were more informed in the not keeping of feast days, but only to a degree that you would not quarrel our trifles.34 Then he allowed them to contend against some holidays, though the prince imposed them.

3. The church of Scotland did remove festival days in another manner, and bound herself never to receive them by another bond than ever the Monbelgardens did; so that having other bonds lying upon us than other churches have, we are so much the more straightly obliged neither to receive holidays, nor any other antichristian and popish ceremony.

  1. Comm. in Col. 2:16. []
  2. Ubi supra, p. 7. []
  3. Supra, cap. 7 sect. 7. []
  4. Infra, part 2, cap. 2. []
  5. Paren. ad Scot., cap. 16. p. 65. []
  6. Cent 2, cap. 6, col. 119. Observandum est, say the divines of Magdeburg, aposotolos et apostolicos viros; neque de paschate, neque de aliis quibuscunque, festivitatibus legem aliquam constituisse. []
  7. Lib. 5, cap. 22. []
  8. Lib. 12, cap. 32. []
  9. Hosp., de Orig. Fest. Christ., p. 71. []
  10. Annot. on Matt. 15:9. []
  11. Ubi supra. non quod celebrior sit dies illa qua convenimus, etc. []
  12. Part Three. []
  13. Ep. et Resp., edit. Gen. (1617) col. 137. []
  14. Ibid., 138. []
  15. Ib., col. 119. Ut concedam fætidas illas sordes quibus purgatæ fuerunt vestræ ecclesiæ, in rebus mediis posse censeri: earum tamen restitutio eritne res media? []
  16. Paren., cap. 16, p. 68. []
  17. Sermon, Jer. 4:2. []
  18. Ubi supra, p. 84. []
  19. Alsted. in Chronol. Testium Veritatis. []
  20. Æn. Sylv. apud Didocl. Alt. Damasc, 707. []
  21. Paren., cap. 16, p. 64. []
  22. Sermon at Perth Assembly. []
  23. Ubi supra, p. 83. []
  24. Ibid., pp. 136, 137. hoc tamen testatum esse volo, si mihi delata optio fuisset, quod nunc constitutum est, non fuisse prosententia dicturum. []
  25. Ibid., p. 138, ordo bene compositus. []
  26. Ego neque suasor neque impulsor fui, atque hoc testatum volo, si mihi delata optio, etc. []
  27. Ego tametsi neque suasor, neque impulsor fui, sic tamen accidisse non moleste fero. Quod si statum nostræ ecclesiæ æque compertum haberes, non dubitares meo judicio subscribere. Hoc tamen testatum esse volo, si mihi delata optio, etc. []
  28. Nec tamen est cur homines adeo exasperentur, si libertate nostra ut ecclesiæ edicatio postulat utimur, etc. []
  29. Ubi supra, p. 91. []
  30. Ibid., p. 41. []
  31. Ibid., p. 95. []
  32. Ubi supra, p. 83. []
  33. Calv. Ep. et Resp., col. 592. De pulsu campanarum et diebus festis ita sentimus, ferendas potius esse vobis has ineptias, quam stationem in qua estis à domino collocati deferendam, modo ne approbetis; modo etiam liberum vobis sit reprehendere, quæ inde sequentur superstitiones. []
  34. In festis non recipiendis cuperem vos esse constantiores, sic tamen ut non litigetis de quibuslibet. []