Paschal Controversy

Paschal Controversy designates the various disputes which have agitated the Church regarding the proper reckoning of Easter. The three synoptical Gospels are unanimous (Mt 26:17,19; Mr 14:12-16; Lu 22:17-19) in their statement that our Lord instituted the holy Eucharist in his last paschal supper. John is equally precise in saying that the Jews would not enter the judgment-hall "lest they should be defiled" through blood pollution, and be precluded from eating the passover in the evening (Joh 18:28). How came it then, that our Lord should have celebrated the passover on one evening, and that the Jews should have deferred the memorial feast till the corresponding period of the next day? This is a real difficulty, which will be found discussed in full under PASSOVER SEE PASSOVER . We here give the following as a possible solution. Since the appearance of the new moon determined the Jewish calendar, an assembly was held in the Temple on the closing day of each month, to receive intelligence respecting the first φάσις of the new moon. If nothing was announced a day was intercalated, yet if the appearance of the moon was afterwards authenticated the intercalation was canceled. This naturally caused much confusion, especially in the critical month of Nisan. Hence (Talmud, Rosh Hash. 1) it was permitted that in doubtful cases the passover might be observed on two consecutive days. For the intercalation could hardly be known in Galilee; and, according to Maimonides (קדש חדש), in the more distant parts of Judaea the passover was in some years kept on one day, at Jerusalem on another. Our Lord, coming in from the country, followed the letter of the law; but the main body of the Jews, observing rather the "tradition of the elders," sacrificed the passover on the following day in consequence of the intercalation of a day in the preceding month. Thus our Lord ate the passover on the evening of the 14th Nisan, and was upon the same day "the very Paschal Lamb" by the death of the cross (Harvey, Creeds, p. 328).

Easter has been the high festival of the Church since the days of the apostles; though the primitive ritual like, the primitive creed followed no invariable rule. Thus while the churches in a large majority celebrated Easter-Sunday on the first Lord's-day after the 14th of Nisan, on which our Lord suffered; others, as the Asiatic churches, commemorated our Lord's death on the 14th of Nisan as being the very day of the Savior's cross and passion. This they did irrespectively of the day of the week on which it might fall. The paschal fast also was variously observed. Tertullian speaks of it as extending over the Holy Week (De'Jejun. c. xiv); Epiphanius says, "The Catholic Church solemnizes not only the 14th of Nisan, but the entire week" (Haer. 1, 3), making a distinction from the Ebionitish Quartodecimani, who kept fast only on the 14th of Nisan. The Western and more Catholic rule was to observe the Friday preceding the Easter-Sunday as a rigid fast, the Church identifying the apostles' sorrowing with their own, and the fast was not resolved till Easter-morn; while the Asiatic Quartodecimani party regarded the 14th of Nisan from a doctrinal point of view as the commemoration-day of man's redemption; and at the hour in which our Lord said "It is finished," i.e. at three o'clock in the afternoon, the fast was brought to an end (Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 5:23), and the day closed with the collective Agape and celebration of the Lord's Supper. Whether the fast was resumed and maintained till Easter-day does not appear, neither is it certainly known whether these churches celebrated Easter on the Lord's-day next following, or oil the next day butt one to the "14th of Nisan, on whatever day of the week that might fall. The latter, however, would seem to have been the practice from the decree of an early synod (Euseb. Hist. Eccl. v. 23) convened to consider the case, which ordained that the Feast of the Resurrection should be celebrated on the Lord's-day and on no other, and that the paschal fast should then be brought to a close; for the ordinance would not have been needed if there had been nothing in this particular to amend. Hefele, however, sees in this decree a proof that the Asiatic-Easter was always celebrated on the Lord's- day. The Council of Arles, A.D. 314, at which British bishops were present, similarly decreed that Easter should only be celebrated on the Lord's-day. Irenaeus declares that with respect to the paschal fast there was a great divergence of practice, some churches fasting for one day, as the Ebionites, some for two, and some for the forty hours, day and night, that immediately preceded the dawn of Easter; and he speaks of it as an old-standing discrepancy, οὐ νῦν ἐφ᾿ ἡμῶν γεγονυῖα ἀλλὰ καὶ πολὺ πρότερον ἐπὶ τῶν πρὸ ἡμῶν (Ep, ad Victor Fragm. c. 3, Cambr. ed.). The primitive Church, therefore, knew no fixed rule for the universal observance of the paschal fast.

With respect to the precise day on which the Lord's death should be commemorated, there was a threefold difference of practice.

(1.) The Catholic Church affirmed that our Lord suffered on the 14th of Nisan; but seeing that the new creation dates from Easter-morning, the Lord's-day next following was the πάσχα ἀναστάσιμον, and the Friday preceding was the πάσχα σταυρώσιμον. Thus the-rule was fixed according to the day of the week on which our Lord suffered, and was declared to be the true ordinance, τάξις ἀληθεστέρα. This was the practice of the Church of Rome, and of the generality of churches throughout Christendom, and was said to have been derived from the apostles Peter and Paul (Euseb. Hist. Eccles.v. 23; Socrat. Hist. Eccles.v. 22).

(2.) The Asiatic rule was professedly based upon the authority of John 'the Evangelist and of Philip, and was adopted by the churches of Proconsular Asia (Hist. Eccles.v. 23) and those of the neighboring provinces, also in Mesopotamia, Syria, Cilicia (Athanas. Ad Aft. c. 2, de Synod. Arim. et Sel.), and, as Chrysostom says, Antioch (In eos qui Orat. in Pascha . Jej. [ed. Bened. 1:608]). It was the belief of all the churches that our Lord was put to death on the 14th of Nisan, the day on which the paschal lamb was slain. But many denied that the Last Supper was installed at the paschal feast, or that our Lord celebrated the Passover day in the last year of his ministry, the statements of the synoptical Gospels notwithstanding (see Chron. Pasch. 1:10 - 16). The Asiatics commemorated the Lord's death on the 14th of Nisan, being guided by the day of the Jewish month, as the more general practice followed the day of the week on which Christ died. They were taunted for the Judaizing practice, though the Church of Rome in its ritual and liturgy had more perhaps in common with the synagogue than the churches of Asia. The Quartodecimans were but a small party in the Church. Still fewer in number

(3) were the Ebionitish or Judaizing Quartodecimans who held to the observances of the Mosaic law, and engrafted on them the Christian celebration, making the 14th of Nisan a day of hybrid ceremonial, in which type and antitype, shadow and substance, law and Gospel, were hopelessly confused.

These three varying rules created a plentiful source of dissension; the Church was long unconscious of the coming evil, but while men slept the tares were' sown. At first the bond of charity was known to be stronger than all the difference of calendar made no alteration in the Gospel law of love. Thus Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, having had occasion to visit Rome (A.D. 160) to confer with pope Anicetus on other matters, found that the Asiatic rule differed essentially from that of Rome. Both could claim apostolic authority, and therefore each reverently forbore from preying a rival claim; while Anicetus assigned to his guest as his senior the privilege of consecrating the holy elements. But immediately afterwards a change came over the spirit of Rome; for the heretical Quartodeciman rule had been introduced there by Blastus — "His omnibus (Marconi et Tatiano, etc.) etiam Blastus accedens, qui latentur Judaismumvult introducere" (Pseudo- Test. de Praescr. Her. p. 53), and with it the whole sweep of Ebionitish perversion. Victor, bishop of Rome, therefore knew the Quartodeciman practice only in conjunction with a pestilential error, and never dissociated the. two in his mind.. With .a keen perception of the truth of his own position, he was blind to all that might be advanced by others, and threatened with excommunication (A.D. 180) all those (churches which commemorated their Lord's death on the first day of the week. It was the first germ of that system of aggression which reached its climax in the Hildebrandine theory and practice of the papacy. Synods were immediately held by his ordere, (Euseb. Hist. Eccles.v. 23) in Palestine, Pontus, Gaul, Alexandria, Corinth, and Rome, and the more Catholic rule was everywhere pronounced to be binding. It was also determined that the feast of the resurrection was the true close of the paschal fast, and that the Lord's-day and no other should be the day for its celebration. The Asiatics remained unconverted and unconvinced, and continued to observe the 14th of Nisan as a day of mixed character, fasting till the ninth hour, and then rejoicing for the achieved work of man's redemption. In opposition to a somewhat crushing array of names, not of individuals, but of churches, Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, and a friend of Polycarp, put forth a writing in the name of the Asiatic bishops claiming the authority of John and Philip, whose tombs were still at Ephesus and Hierapolis, and urging the precedent of Polycarp, Melito, and other venerable bishops, in favor of their own apostolic tradition. Still Victor pronounced them "heterodox," and not only essayed to cut them off from communion, ἀποτέμνειν τῆς ἐνωσέωη πειρᾶται, as Hefele limits the words of Eusebius, but authoritatively pronounced them excommunicate, στηλιτεί ει διὰ γραμμάτων, ἀκοινωνήτους ἄρδην πάντας τοὺς ἐκεῖσε ἀνακηρύττων ἀδελφούς (Euseb. Hist. Eccles. 5:24). The violent decree, however, was a mere "brutum fulmen," for none of the other churches assented to it, and Irenmus, bishop of Lyons. wrote a letter of expostulation to Victor on the subject. The result was that Rome stood alone in its extreme antagonism to the churches of Ephesine communion.

Hitherto the paschal controversy had turned upon two points: (1) the proper day for the memorial of our Lord's death, and (2) the day on which the paschal fast should be resolved in the joyful commemoration of Easter. A third difficulty, of an Ebionitish complexion, arose (A.D. 170) at Laodicea, the capital of Phrygia Pacatiana, in Asia Minor; it was stated that our Lord inAstituted the holy Eucharist on the 14th, and was put to death on the 15th of Nisan, the Jewish method of computing the commencement of the day from: sunset having been apparently ignored (Euseb. Hist. Eccles. 4:26). The paschal feast of these schismatics combined the eucharistic with the paschal rite, and was essentially of a Jewish ordinance. The Church of course affirmed that the passover, like any typical observance, had only a temporary character, and that it was merged, in the Christian "'commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. It was an entirely new phase of the Quartodeciman theory, and caused an evil report of Judaizing notions to be attached to the orthodox following of John and Philip and Polycarp. But the writers of the Asiatic Church at once denounced it as wholly inconsistent with Christian principle; and fragments still exist of writings that were put forth against by Melito bishop of Sardis, and Apollinaris, bishop of Hierapolis, both of whom followed the more orthodox Asiatic rule. "They err," says this latter writer," who affirm that our Lord ate the passover on the 14th of Nisan with his disciples, and that he died on the great day of unleavened-bread (i.e. on the 15th of Nisan). They maintain that Matthew records the event as they have imagined it; but their notion agrees not with the law; and thereby the Gospels are made to wear a contradictory appearance" (Chronicon Paschale, 1:13, in Dundorfs Byzaznt. Hist. Script. xvi). This was the phase of the Quartodeciman which was introduced into Rome by Blastus, and was denounced at once by Irenaeus (Euseb. Hist. Eccles. 5:20) in his treatise De Schismatic His follower, Hippolytus, took an active part against it (Fragm. in Chron. Paschal. 1:12, 13; and Philosoph. 7:18); and Clement of Alexandria was induced by the treatise of Melito to refute the same error in his work on Easter, a few fragments of which are preserved in the Chronicon Paschal. (ibid. 14).

"The Laodicean Quartodecimans closely followed the Jewish custom, whereby in a backward season, as regards barley-harvest, or whenever the solar cycle required it, an entire month was intercalated at the-vernal equinox. Hence in some years there was with them a double paschal celebration, and in others a total omission. These notions died out again before the end of the 3d century, but they caused an evil name to be attached to the orthodox Quartodeciman practice, and greatly embittered the differences that already existed between some of the Asiatic churches and the rest of the Christian world. Further, the Catholic practice, like the Eastern, divaricated into two branches, and the churches were unable to settle down upon one uniform rule. It is a question of astronomy; for the Jewish calendar ceased to be any trustworthy guide after the. destruction of Jerusalem. The equinox was then taken as the fixed date from whence Easter should be calculated. But astronomers differed as to the precise incidence of the equinox. At Rome it was March 18th.; at Alexandria it was the 21st, according to the Macedonian calendar. The Asiatics, retaining their old custom, commemorated the death of our Lord on the fill moon after March 21st. The rest of the world celebrated Easter on the first Sunday after the equinoctial full moon; but if them upon was at the full on Sunday, then on the succeeding Sunday, for the plain reason that the full moon in such a case coincided with the lunar age on the day of our Lord's death, and not of the resurrection. Hence those churches which followed the earlier equinox occasionally found themselves rejoicing in Easter festivities while the other churches were still practicing the mortification of Lent. And worse still, when the full moon fell on March 19, Western churches celebrated their Easter accordingly; but the Alexandrian Church of necessity deferred their Easter till the next full moon, as being the first after the equinox of March 21. To obviate this difficulty various recurring cycles were devised, wherein the return of the full moon to the same solar position coincided after a certain number of years with the same day of the week, and the same day of the year. But they were more or less inaccurate. The earliest was that of Hippolytus, bishop of Portus. As a rare waif of time, this was discovered incised on the right face of the pedestal of a' marble statue of Hippolytus seated on his episcopal throne, which was dug up (A.D. 1551) between Rome and Tivoli, near the church of St. Lawrence, and is now preserved in the Vatican. Eusebius (Hist. Eccles. 6:22) attributes to Hippolytus the discovery of the cycle of sixteen years; and here it was found displayed for one hundred and twelve years (A.D. 222-333), Easter-Sunday in each of these years being given on the left face of the pedestal; But the cycle of sixteen years only showed the recurrence of the paschal-day with regard to the day of the year, and not of the week. The same ancient authority also shows that the paschal fast was continued till Easter. Sunday, March 18 being assumed always as the vernal equinox. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria (A.D. 246265), set forth an eight years' cycle, κανόνα ὀκταετηρίδος (Euseb. Hist. Eccles. 7:20). Twelve years after his death Anatolius, an Alexandrian by birth and education, but bishop. of Laodicea, in Syria, drew out the famous nineteen years' cycle, originally the observation of Meton the astronomer. The ancient Jews could only have celebrated the passover after the vernal equinox; therefore this, with him March 19, was made the basis of computation. The cycle was adopted at Alexandria, the equinox, however, being advanced two days, to March 21; and whenever the full moon happened on Saturday, the next day, contrary to the Roman custom, was declared to be Easter- Sunday. The Asiatics still followed the Jewish computation, as harmonizing with the Savior's practice, and cared nothing for the equinox, which their Easter occasionally anticipated; and for this reason the term Protopaschitae was applied to them. The confusion caused by these differences must have been very great, and especially in conterminous churches, where one custom ended and another began; but it was not till A.D. 314 that an attempt was made to produce uniformity by synodal action. In that year the Council of Aries in its first canon decreed that Easter should be solemnized "uno die et uno tempore per omnerm orbem;" and the bishop of Rome sent forth an encyclical letter to enforce the desired harmony of action (Mansi, Coll. Conc. 2:474; Hard. 1:263). But a provincial could speak with no authority to the Church catholic; neither was the Roman bishop as yet the supreme pontiff, and practice continued to be discordant. It then became one of the two principal subjects for discussion and arrangement in the Council of Nice. No decree on the subject appears in its canons, and it is difficult to see any reason for the omission, unless it be that the fathers were unable to make Uip their minds upon a point that could only be settled by the astronomical expert. Thus they delegated to Eusebius of Caesarea the duty of determining the right rule of Easter, and of recommending the most accurate cycle to be adopted in framing the calendar. The Epistle of Constantine to the churches shows clearly the general points on which the Nicene fathers agreed, viz. 1. That from henceforth the vernal equinox, and not the Jewish calendar, should determine the incidence of Easter. 2. That when the equinoctial full moon fell on a Sunday, Easter should be celebrated on the Sunday following; both for the reason already given, and because the Jewish festival would have been celebrated and over. Also, by making Easter by necessity. subsequent to the vernal equinox, there was no longer danger of a double observance in the same year. But which equinoctial day was adopted, the Roman or the Alexandrian? The Latin translation of the Prologus Paschalis of Cyril of Alexandria says that the Alexandrian Church, as representing the astronomical science of the day, was ordered to announce to the Church of Rome the true incidence of Easter in each year, and that it should be notified from Rome throughout the churches (Petavius. Doct. Temp. ii, App.; Hefele, Conc. 1:313; Ideler, Handb. d. Chronol. 2:258). Leo I repeats the account (Ep. 121 al. 94), and Ambrose virtually says the same thing; the Nicene Council having, according to his statement, adopted the cycle of nineteen years, which, as has been shown, was the Alexandrian computation (Ambr. Ep. ad Epis. cop. En.). But, independently of the equinox, the paschal difficulties were not yet foreclosed. The Roman Church still clung to its faulty cycle of eighty-four years, the Alexandrian to that of nineteen; and it still continued to be a matter of reproach that the two principal churches of Christendom were often found to celebrate Easter. on different days. The Council of Sardica, therefore, as seen by the lately discovered Festal Letters of Athanasians (Cureton, from the Nitrian Syr. MS., A.D. 343), endeavored to compose a difference by drawing out a paschal scheme for half a century. But it only defined the lunations, and (A.D. 387) matters showed worse than ever when Rome celebrated Easter on March 21, but the Alexandrian Church, since the 21st was its equinox, postponed the celebration till after the next full moon or till late in April. The Quartodeciman party also still survived, the Nicene injunctions notwithstanding, as maybe seen by the anathemas against the τεσσαρεσκαιδεκατῖται of the Council of Antioch (A.D. 341), can. 1, and Council of Laodicea (A.D. 381), can. 1. It may be observed here that the Jews learned from the Christian Church to frame a paschal cycle, which was first adopted in the presidencyof Hillel II at Tiberias, A.D. 358.

The paschal difference thus continued to cause more or less inconvenience and heart-burning for another century and a half, till Dionysius Exiguus did good service to chronology by first dating events from the Christian era, and by giving fixity to the cycle of nineteen years for determining Easter. This he did by adopting the Alexandrian method of calculation, and reforming the Roman calendar accordingly, in which the churches of Italy readily acquiesced; while those of Gaul and Britain still held to their "old style." When the Heptarchy became organized; the Dionysian method was accepted in Britain, although in Wales, and in the northern parts of the island, the old eighty-four years' cycle of Rome was still retained. A council was held on the subject, A.D. 664, at Streanechalch (Whitby), king Oswy having found that his queen and her ladies were fasting in Lent while he indulged in the festivities of Easter. The Roman order was then fully confirmed in Britain. As Montalembert has justly observed, this difference had nothing to do with the Quartodeciman practice, which in fact had died away in the 6th century (Moines de l'Occid. 4:159). In our present calendar, the Prime or Golden Number marks the particular year of the nineteen years' cycle; and these golden numbers, added in the margin from: March 21 to April 18, indicate the days of the plenilunium on which Easter for each particular year depends, and which is the Sunday next following, unless Sunday should be the day of full moon, in which case Easter fallson the following Sunday. — Blunt, Dict. Hist. Theol. See also Hefele, Conciliengesch. vol. i; Ideler, Handb. d. Chronol.; Chron. Paschale, in Dindorfs Byzant. Hist. Script. vol. xvi and xvii; Gieseler, Eccles. Hist. vol. i; Creton, Festal Ep. of Athanasius, transl. from the Syriac; Killen, Hist. of the Ancient Church, p. 611, 625; Neander, Dogmas, vol. ii; Riddle, Christian Antiquities, p. 655 sq., 675, 676; Foulkes, Divisions in Christendom; Lond. Quar. Rev. 18:496: sq.; Christian Examiner, 38:41 sq; Jahrb. ur deutsche Theologie, 1870, No. 1. SEE EASTER.

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.