Dating of easter controversy

Ecclesiastical history preserves the memory of three distinct phases of the dispute regarding the proper time of observing Easter. It will add to clearness if we in the first place state what is certain regarding the date and the nature of these three categories. First phase The first was mainly concerned with the lawfulness of celebrating Easter on a weekday.

We read in Eusebius Church History V. The dioceses of all Asia , as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should always be observed as the feast of the life-giving pasch [epi tes tou soteriou Pascha heortes], contending that the fast ought to end on that day, whatever day of the week it might happen to be.

However it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this point, as they observed the practice, which from Apostolic tradition has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast on no other day than on that of the Resurrection of our Saviour.

Synods and assemblies of bishops were held on this account, and all with one consent through mutual correspondence drew up an ecclesiastical decree that the mystery of the Resurrection of the Lord should be celebrated on no other day but the Sunday and that we should observe the close of the paschal fast on that day only.

A letter of St. Further, Irenaeus states that St. Polycarp , who like the other Asiatics, kept Easter on the fourteenth day of the moon, whatever day of the week that might be, following therein the tradition which he claimed to have derived from St.

John the Apostle , came to Rome c. Nevertheless he was not debarred from communion with the Roman Church , and St. The question thus debated was therefore primarily whether Easter was to be kept on a Sunday, or whether Christians should observe the Holy Day of the Jews , the fourteenth of Nisan, which might occur on any day of the week.

Those who kept Easter with the Jews were called Quartodecimans or terountes observants ; but even in the time of Pope Victor this usage hardly extended beyond the churches of Asia Minor. Origen in the "Philosophumena" VIII, xviii seems to regard them as a mere handful of wrong-headed nonconformists.

Granted that the great Easter festival was always to be held on a Sunday, and was not to coincide with a particular phase of the moon, which might occur on any day of the week, a new dispute arose as to the determination of the Sunday itself. The emperor himself, writing to the Churches after the Council of Nicaea , exhorts them to adopt its conclusions and says among other things: And first of all it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of the Jews , who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin.

And I myself have undertaken that this decision should meet with the approval of your Sagacities in the hope that your Wisdoms will gladly admit that practice which is observed at once in the city of Rome and in Africa , throughout Italy and in Egypt.

Eusebius , "De Paschate" in Schmid, "Osterfestfrage", pp. The important Church of Antioch was still dependent upon the Jewish calendar for its Easter. On the other hand at Alexandria, and seemingly throughout the rest of the Roman Empire, the Christians calculated the time of Easter for themselves, paying no attention to the Jews.

In particular we learn that they had become neglectful or at least the Christians of Rome and Alexandria declared they were neglectful of the law that the fourteenth of Nisan must never precede the equinox see Schwartz, Christliche und judische Ostertafeln, pp. Thus Constantine in the letter quoted above protests with horror that the Jews sometimes kept two Paschs in one year, meaning that two Paschs sometimes fell between one equinox and the next.

The Alexandrians, on the other hand, accepted it as a first principle that the Sunday to be kept as Easter Day must necessarily occur after the vernal equinox, then identified with 21 March of the Julian year. This was the main difficulty which was decided by the Council of Nicaea. Even among the Christians who calculated Easter for themselves there had been considerable variations partly due to a divergent reckoning of the date of the equinox , and as recently as , in the Council of Arles , it had been laid down that in future Easter should be kept uno die et uno tempore per omnem orbem, and that to secure this uniformity the pope should send out letters to all the Churches.

The Council of Nicaea seems to have extended further the principle here laid down. As already stated, we have not its exact words, but we may safely infer from scattered notices that the council ruled: Leo to the Emperor Marcian in Migne , P. This ruling of the Council of Nicaea did not remove all difficulties nor at once win universal acceptance among the Syrians.

But to judge from the strongly worded canon i of the Council of Antioch A. In Rome and Alexandria the lunar cycles by which the occurrence of Easter was determined was not uniform. Rome , after the hundred-and-twelve year cycle of Hippolytus , adopted an eighty-four year cycle, but neither gave satisfactory results. Alexandria adhered to the more accurate nineteen-year cycle of Meton. But it seems to be clearly established by the most recent researches see Schwartz, op. Third phase It was to the divergent cycles which Rome had successively adopted and rejected in its attempt to determine Easter more accurately that the third stage in the paschal controversy was mainly due.

The Roman missionaries coming to England in the time of St. Gregory the Great found the British Christians , the representatives of that Christianity which had been introduced into Britain during the period of the Roman occupation, still adhering to an ancient system of Easter-computation which Rome itself had laid aside.

The British and Irish Christians were not Quartodecimans, as some unwarrantably accused them of being, for they kept the Easter festival upon a Sunday. They are supposed e. See, however, the very opposite conclusions of Joseph Schmid, "Die Osterfestberechnung auf den britischen Inseln", The story of this controversy, which together with the difference in the shape of tonsure , seems to have prevented all fraternization between the British Christians and the Roman missionaries, is told at length in the pages of Bede.

The British appealed to the tradition of St. John, the Romans to that of St. Peter, both sides with little reason, and neither without the suspicion of forgery. It was not until the Synod of Whitby in that the Christians of Northern Britain, who had derived their instruction in the Faith from the Scottish i. Irish missionaries, at last at the instance of Bishop Wilfrid and through the example of King Oswy accepted the Roman system and came into friendly relations with the bishops of the South.

Points of obscurity These are the facts regarding the Easter controversy which are now generally admitted. Many other subsidiary details have an important bearing on the case but are more matters of conjecture. There is, for example, the perplexing doubt whether the Crucifixion of Christ took place on the fourteenth or fifteenth of Nisan. The Synoptists seem to favour the latter, St. John the former date. Clearly we should expect to find that according to the answer given to this question, the position of the earliest possible Easter Sunday in the lunar month would also change.

Again, there is the problem, much debated by modern scholars, whether the Pasch which the early Christians desired to commemorate was primarily the Passion or the Resurrection of Christ. Upon this point also our date do not admit of a very positive answer. It has been very strongly urged that the writers of the first two centuries who speak of the Pasch have always in view the pascha staurosimon, the Crucifixion Day, when Jesus Christ Himself was offered as the Victim, the antitype of the Jewish paschal lamb.

Supporters of this opinion often contend that the Resurrection was held to be sufficiently commemorated by the weekly Sunday, on the vigil of which the night-watch was kept, the Liturgy being celebrated in the morning.

Some are inclined to think that the Christian Easter first appears as setting a term to the great paschal fast which, as we learn from Irenaeus , was very variously kept in the sub-Apostolic Age.

Another class of obscure and rather intricate questions, about which it is difficult to speak positively, regards the limits of the paschal period as laid down by the computation of Rome before the tables of Dionysius Exiguus and the Metonic cycle were finally adopted there in According to one system Easter Day might fall between the fourteenth and twentieth day inclusive of the paschal moon; and although this implies that when Easter fell on the fourteenth it coincided with the Jewish Pasch , the Roman Church , observing its eighty-four-year cycle, at one time permitted this so at least Krusch contends; see "Der jahrige Ostercyclus und seine Quellen", pp.

Certain it is that the data of the supputatio Romana did not always agree with those of Alexandria, and in particular it seems that Rome , rejecting 22 March as the earliest possible date of Easter , only allowed the 23rd, while, on the other hand, the latest possible date according to the Roman system was 21 April.

This sometimes brought about an impasse which was relieved only by accepting the Alexandrian solution. Other computations allowed Easter to fall between the fifteenth and twenty-first day of the paschal moon and others between the sixteenth and the twenty- second.

What is perhaps most important to remember, both in the solution adopted in and in that officially put forward at the time of the reform of the Calendar by Gregory XIII , is this, that the Church throughout held that the determination of Easter was primarily a matter of ecclesiastical discipline and not of astronomical science. As Professor De Morgan long ago clearly recognized, the moon according to which Easter is calculated is not the moon in the heavens nor even the mean moon, i.

This calendar moon is admittedly a fiction, though it departs very little from the actual astronomical facts; but in following the simple rule given for the dependence of Easter upon the moon of the calendar, uniformity is secured for all countries of the world. According to this rule, Easter Sunday is the first Sunday which occurs after the first full moon or more accurately after the first fourteenth day of the moon following the 21st of March.

As a result, the earliest possible date of Easter is 22 March, the latest 25 April. Sources The bibliography of this subject is vast, and most ecclesiastical encyclopedias devote more or less space to it.

Among the more important contributions to the subject the following may be named: Jahrhunderts in Zeitschrift f. About this page APA citation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company, This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael T. Farley, Archbishop of New York. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight.

My email address is webmaster at newadvent. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

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