Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book V/Chapter 23
Chapter XXIII.—The Question then agitated concerning the Passover.
1. A question of no small importance arose at that time. For the parishes 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 be observed as the feast of the Saviour’s passover. It was therefore necessary to end their fast on that day, whatever day of the week it should happen to be. But it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this time, 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.
2. 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 but the Lord’s day, and that we should observe the close of the paschal fast on this day only. There is still extant a writing of those who were then assembled in Palestine, over whom Theophilus, bishop of Cæsarea, and Narcissus, bishop of Jerusalem, presided. And there is also another writing extant of those who were assembled at Rome to consider the same question, which bears the name of Bishop Victor; also of the bishops in Pontus over whom Palmas, as the oldest, presided; and of the parishes in Gaul of which Irenæus was bishop, and of those in Osrhoëne and the cities there; and a personal letter of Bacchylus, bishop of the church at Corinth, and of a great many others, who uttered the same opinion and judgment, and cast the same vote.
3. And that which has been given above was their unanimous decision.
- The great question of dispute between the church of Asia Minor and the rest of Christendom was whether the paschal communion should be celebrated on the fourteenth of Nisan, or on the Sunday of the resurrection festival, without regard to Jewish chronology. The Christians of Asia Minor, appealing to the example of the apostles, John and Philip, and to the uniform practice of the Church, celebrated the Christian passover always on the fourteenth of Nisan, whatever day of the week that might be, by a solemn fast, and closed the day with the communion in commemoration of the last paschal supper of Christ. The Roman church, on the other hand, followed by all the rest of Christendom, celebrated the death of Christ always on Friday, and his resurrection on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox, and continued their paschal fast until the latter day. It thus happened that the fast of the Asiatic Christians, terminating, as it did, with the fourteenth of Nisan, often closed some days before the fast of the other churches, and the lack of uniformity occasioned great scandal. As Schaff says: “The gist of the paschal controversy was whether the Jewish paschal day (be it a Friday or not) or the Christian Sunday should control the idea and time of the entire festival.” The former practice emphasized Christ’s death; the latter his resurrection. The first discussion of the question took place between Polycarp and Anicetus, bishop of Rome, when the former was on a visit to that city, between 150 and 155. Irenæus gives an account of this which is quoted by Eusebius in chap. 25. Polycarp clung to the Asiatic practice of observing the 14th of Nisan, but could not persuade Anicetus to do the same, nor could Anicetus persuade him not to observe that day. They nevertheless communed together in Rome, and separated in peace. About 170 a.d. the controversy broke out again in Laodicea, the chief disputants being Melito of Sardis and Apolinarius of Hierapolis (see above, Bk. IV. chap. 26, note 1, and chap. 27, note 1). In this controversy Melito advocated the traditional Asiatic custom of observing the fourteenth day, while Apolinarius opposed it. To distinguish two parties of Quartodecimans,—a Judaizing and a more orthodox,—as must be done if Apolinarius is regarded, as he is by many, as a Quartodeciman, is, as Schaff shows entirely unwarranted. We know only of the one party, and Apolinarius did not belong to it. The third stage of the controversy, which took place while Victor was bishop of Rome, in the last decade of the second century, was much more bitter and important. The leaders of the two sides were Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, and Victor, bishop of Rome,—the latter an overbearing man, who believed that he, as Bishop of Rome, had a right to demand of all other churches conformity to the practices of his own church. The controversy came to an open rupture between the churches of Asia and that of Rome, but other churches did not sympathize with the severe measures of Victor, and the breach was gradually healed—just how and when we do not know; but the Roman practice gradually prevailed over the Asiatic, and finally, at the Council of Nicæa (325), was declared binding upon the whole Church, while the old Asiatic practice was condemned. This decision was acquiesced in by the bishops of Asia, as well as by the rest of the world, and only scattered churches continued to cling to the practice of the earlier Asiatics, and they were branded as heretics, and called Quartodecimanians (from quarta decima), a name which we carry back and apply to all who observed the fourteenth day, even those of the second and third centuries. This brief summary will enable us better to understand the accounts of Eusebius, who is our chief authority on the subject. The paschal controversy has had an important bearing upon the question of the authenticity of the fourth Gospel, the Tübingen critics having drawn from this controversy one of their strongest arguments against its genuineness. This subject cannot be discussed here, but the reader is referred, for a brief statement of the case, to Schaff’s Ch. Hist. II. 219. The Johannine controversy has given rise to an extensive literature on these paschal disputes. Among the most important’ works are Hilgenfeld’s Der Paschastreit der alten Kirche nach seiner Bedeutung fur die Kirchengesch. u. s. w.; and Schürer’s Die Paschastreitigkeiten des zweiten Jahrhunderts, in the Zeitschrift für hist. Theologie, 1870, p. 182–284,—the latter perhaps the ablest extended discussion of the subject extant. The reader is also referred to the article Easter, in Smith’s Dict. of Christ. Ant.; to Hefele’s Conciliengesch. I. p. 86–101; and especially to the chapter on the paschal controversies in Schaff’s Ch. Hist. Vol. II. p. 209–220. This chapter of Schaff’s is the clearest, and, in the opinion of the writer, by far the most satisfactory, brief statement of the whole subject which we have.
- Although other synods are mentioned by the Libellus synodicus (of the ninth century), the only ones which we have good reason for accepting are those mentioned by Eusebius in this chapter and the next; viz. one in Palestine (the Libellus synodicus gives two: one at Jerusalem, presided over by Narcissus, and another at Cæsarea, presided over by Theophilus, but the report is too late to be of authority); one in Pontus, under the presidency of Palmas; one in Gaul, under Irenæus; one in Osrhoëne in Mesopotamia; and one in Asia Minor, under Polycrates. Hefele (Conciliengesch. I. p. 101) adds one in Rome under Victor; and although Eusebius does not distinctly mention such a synod, we are undoubtedly to conclude that the epistle written by Victor was a synodical epistle and hence Hefele is, in all probability, correct in assuming that some kind of a synod, whether municipal or provincial, took place there at this time (see note 4). From the words of Eusebius at the close of the chapter, we may gather that still other synods than those mentioned by him were held on this subject. The date of all of these councils is commonly given as 198 a.d., but there is no particular authority for that year. Jerome’s version of the Chron. assigns the composition of the various epistles to the fourth year of Septimius Severus (196–197); but it is clear that he is giving only an approximate date. We can say only that the synods took place sometime during Victor’s episcopate. All the councils, as we learn from this chapter, except the one under Polycrates in Asia Minor, decided against the Quartodeciman practice. Athanasius, however (de Syn. c. 5), speaks of Christians of Syria, Cilicia, and Mesopotamia as celebrating the paschal feast on the fourteenth day; and Jerome (de vir. ill. c. 35) says that many bishops of Asia and of the Orient kept up this observance. It is possible that the practice was from the beginning more widely spread than Eusebius supposed, or, what is more probable, that the words of Athanasius and Jerome refer to individual churches and bishops, whose observance of the fourteenth day was not general enough to invalidate what Eusebius says of the common consent of the whole Church, outside of Asia Minor, against the Quartodeciman practice, and that this individual observance, not being officially recognized by any synod, did not seem to him to require mention.
- On Theophilus and Narcissus, see the preceding chapter, notes 6 and 7.
- ἐπίσκοπον βίκτορα δηλοῦσα. This and the following epistles are no longer extant, nor have we any fragments of them. They seem to have disappeared, even before Jerome’s time; at least, he speaks only of the memory of them as remaining to his day (see chap. 22, note 6). Heinichen is certainly wrong in making this epistle an individual letter from Victor alone, for Eusebius expressly says that the epistle was from “those at Rome” (τῶν ἐπὶ ῾Ρώμης), which seems to imply a council, as in the other cases. The grammatical construction naturally leads us to supply with the τῶν the word used with it in the previous sentence, συγκεκροτημένων,—“those who were assembled.” Valesius, Hefele, and others are, therefore, quite justified in assuming that, according to Eusebius, a synod met at Rome, also, at this time.
- Palmas, bishop of Amastris, in Pontus, mentioned by Dionysius, in Bk. IV. chap. 23, above.
- Osrhoëne was a region of country in northwestern Mesopotamia.
- This epistle of Bacchylus is distinguished from the preceding ones by the fact that it is not a synodical or collective epistle but the independent production of one man, if Eusebius’ report is correct (see the preceding chapter, note 8). The epistles “of many others,” mentioned in the next sentence, may have been of the same kind.
- Namely, against the observance of the fourteenth day.