Monday, March 23, 2015

Passover verses Easter: The early church controversy concerning celebrating Christ's Resurrection

Our Lord Jesus Christ went to the cross during the Jewish Passover so why is it that we celebrate His resurrection on Easter – a pagan holiday? 

It all started 1,700 years ago during a very political period of the ancient Church. The year was 190 AD when Victor, the bishop of Rome, ordered the excommunication of all the “Quartodeciman’s,” the “Fourteenthers” (those that celebrate the resurrection on the Sundays following the traditional Passover, the 14th of Nisan, hence the name 14th’ers). The result came to be known as the Quartodeciman controversy. The Fourteenthers were generally eastern Christians celebrating the passion, resurrection, and exaltation of Christ on the Christian Pascha, the same day as the Jewish Pascha, on Passover.

In 190 AD a strong bishop, Victor, became the successor as bishop to Rome. He was the first Latin speaker and claimed apostolic authority.  What was the issue? The Roman (western) Church celebrated the holy week where the death of Jesus was always on Friday and resurrection on a Sunday after the March full moon. They wanted the force of the celebration placed upon the resurrection instead of the death.

The eastern Church celebrated on the Jewish Passover, the 14th of Nisan, which may fall several days before Sunday! This presented a problem for the western Church as the “holy week” started to find its own sacred traditions, which culminated with Resurrection Sunday.           

Again, the issue was whether the Jewish Pascha-day (be it fall on Friday or not), or the Christian Sunday, should control the time of the festival (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church). The emphasis of the Jewish Pascha was upon Christ’s death, whereas the Christian feast week placed emphasis upon the resurrection.

On the eastern Church’s side was most notably, Polycarp, the disciple of the apostle John who claimed they have always celebrated with reference to Passover, as also did Philip.  On the western side, most notable Hippolytus of Rome, the bishops from Alexandria, and for the most part the rest of the bishops in the Roman Empire.

The western Church found its power in Rome because, as the great Irenaeus argued, was founded and organized by Peter and Paul. All the greats made their way to Rome: Ignatius, Polycarp, Marcion, Valentinus, Tatian, Justin, Hegesippus, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Praxeas, and Origen – all roads lead to Rome, at least for the Christian Church. 

As anti-Semitism grew, so did the distrust that the Jews calculated the correct date for the Passover. Indeed, the claim was that the Jews disregarding the equinox. As a result, the western Church created their own calculation for a month they called the Christian Nisan.  

For the next 200 years the problem continued until by the year 325 AD. The issue was established by the first council of Nicaea that was convened by Emperor Constantine to address growing tensions and divisions within the Church particularly concerning who is Christ (the Arianism controversy), the date for Easter (the Quartodeciman controversy), and Church discipline. 

According to the Nicaea council’s conclusions,  the “Fourteenthers” were not allowed to celebrate Resurrection Sunday based on the Jewish Passover. The Synod of Antioch, held in 341 AD, “Fouteenthers were to be excommunicated altogether. The issue did not end with these councils, the issue came up again in the sixth and seventh centuries as the calendar changed in 1583 to the Gregorian calendar. 

The rule: celebrate the death of Jesus always on a Friday, the day of the week on which it actually occurred, and His resurrection always on a Sunday after the March full moon. If the full moon occurs on a Sunday, Easter-day is the Sunday after. The great historian Schaff says, “By this arrangement Easter may take place as early as March 22, or as late as April 25.”