P.-J. Proudhon, The Celebration of Sunday (continued)



[Continued from Preface]

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
“Six days shall thou labor, and do all thy work.
“But the seventh day is the rest of the Lord: in it thou shall not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.
“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: That is why the Eternal has hallowed and blessed the day of rest.”
Such is the literal text of the fourth paragraph of the first article of the Charter given to the Hebrews by Moses, and known under the name of the Decalogue.[1]
It is a question of penetrating the spirit, the motives and the aim of that law, or, to put it better, of that institution, that Moses and the prophets would always regard as fundamental, and to which we can find nothing comparable among any of the peoples who have had a written legislation; an institution the whole scope of which even the most celebrated critics—Grotius, Cunéus, Spencer, Dom Calmet, l’abbé de Vence, P. Berruyer, Bergier, etc.—have not grasped; of which Montesquieu has not even spoken, because he did not understand it; that J.-J. Rousseau seems to have sensed, however far his thought was from it; an institution, finally, which our modern genius, with all its theories of political and civil right, with its niceties of constitutions and its vague desires for liberty and equality, has never measured up to.
We know that, from the origins of Christianity, the weekly celebration of rest was transferred from Saturday, or the day of Saturn, to the following day, the day of the Sun; and that, in the thought of the Apostles, there should not exist, between the mosaic Sabbath and the Christian Sunday, any difference but a delay of twenty-four hours. The day of the observance was transferred for two reasons: to honor the resurrection of Christ, and to radically separate the two religions. Beyond that, neither the thing nor its spirit were changed; the obligation and the purpose of the precept remained the same. The intention of the reformers, as faithful disciples of their master, was never to abolish the ancient law, but to complete it.
If then I should succeed in establishing that the object of the Jewish legislator, in that which concerns the holiday the seventh day, was quadruple; that that object, at once civil, domestic, moral and hygienic, was consequently the most vast, the most universal that the thought of a founder of a nation could embrace; if I could show according to what principles of a philosophy unknown to our age the fourth commandment was conceived, what its sanction was, what its consequences should be for the destiny of the people, I would have, I believe, satisfied all the conditions of the problem put forward; and by demonstrating the sublimity of the institutions Moses, I would have plumbed the depths of the question that I examine.
It is nearly useless to caution that I contemplate all the facts relative to the Jewish religion, as well as those relating to Christianity, from a purely human point of view: today one is no longer suspected of religiosity, because they discover reasonable things in a religion.

[1] In our catechisms, the division of Decalogue is different from that which is presented here. According to the Hebrews, the first commandment teaches the unity of God; the second forbids the fabrication of images; it is an artificial, political. These two commandments have been merged into only one. The third forbids taking the name of God in vain; that prohibition is at once political and religious, completely within the customs of antiquity. We recognize here that Punic faith, to which imprecations and oaths cost nothing; Moses ordained that the oath by Jehovah would be inviolable. That precept is for us the second; it commands, it is said, to avoid foul words and swearing. The fourth commandment concerns the Sabbath. The tenth (for us the seventh), concerning covetousness, has been divided in two, in order to preserve the number 10. It is, on the one hand, the prohibition against desiring one’s neighbor’s wife; on the other, the prohibition against coveting his ox or his ass, etc. But in Moses this distinction does not exist.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]
[to be continued]
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