Quartodecimanism

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Quartodecimanism (from the Vulgate Latin quarta decima in Leviticus 23:5,[1] meaning fourteenth) refers to the custom of early Christians celebrating Passover beginning with the eve of the 14th day of Nisan (or Aviv in the Hebrew Bible calendar), which at dusk is biblically the "Lord's passover".

The modern Jewish Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread is seven days, starting with the sunset at the beginning of Nisan 15. Judaism reckons the beginning of each day at sunset, not at midnight as is common in Western reckoning. The biblical law regarding Passover is said to be a "perpetual ordinance" (Exodus 12:14), to some degree also applicable to proselytes (Exodus 12:19), but what it means to observe biblical law in Christianity is disputed.

Some claim the Gospel of John (e.g., 19:14, 19:31, 19:42) implies that Nisan 14 was the day that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. The synoptic gospels place the execution on the first day of Unleavened Bread (Matthew 26:17). In Ancient Israel the first day of Unleavened Bread, a special Holy Sabbath, was on Nisan 15 and began a seven-day feast to the Lord (Leviticus 23:6). By the time of Christ, many customs in regard to the festival had changed, notable among them the intermixing of the two festivals in some customs and terminology. The eight days, passover and the feast of unleavened bread, were often collectively referred to as the Passover, or the Pesach Festival.[2][3]

History[edit]

The Quartodeciman controversy arose because Christians in the churches Jerusalem and Antioch in the Roman province of Asia (Western Anatolia) celebrated Passover on the 14th of the first month (Aviv), while the churches in and around Rome changed to the practice of celebrating Easter on the following Sunday calling it "the day of the resurrection of our Saviour". The difference was turned into an ecclesiastical controversy when synods of bishops which held to Apostolic tradition condemned the practice.[4]

Background[edit]

Of the disputes about the date when the Christian Pascha should be celebrated, disputes known as Paschal/Easter controversies, the Quartodeciman is the first recorded.

In the mid–second century, the practice in the Roman province of Asia was for the pre-Paschal fast to end and the feast to be held on the 14th day (the full moon) of the Jewish lunar month of Nisan, the date on which the Passover sacrifice had been offered when the Second Temple stood, and "the day when the people put away the leaven".[5] Those who observed this practice were called Quartodecimani, Latin for "fourteenthers", because of holding their celebration on the fourteenth day of Nisan.

The practice had been followed by Polycarp, who was a disciple of John the Apostle and bishop of Smyrna (c. 69 – c. 155) - one of the seven churches of Asia, and by Melito of Sardis (d. c. 180).[5] Irenaeus says that Polycarp visited Rome when Anicetus was its bishop (c. 153–68), and among the topics discussed was this divergence of custom, with Rome instituting the festival of Easter in place of the Pasch. Irenaeus noted:

Neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it, as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him.[6]

But neither considered that the disagreement required them to break off communion and initiate a schism. Indeed, "Anicetus conceded the administration of the eucharist in the church to Polycarp, manifestly as a mark of respect. And they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church."[6]

Sozomen also states:

As the bishops of the West did not deem it necessary to dishonor the tradition handed down to them by Peter and by Paul, and as, on the other hand, the Asiatic bishops persisted in following the rules laid down by John the evangelist, they unanimously agreed to continue in the observance of the festival according to their respective customs, without separation from communion with each other. They faithfully and justly assumed, that those who accorded in the essentials of worship ought not to separate from one another on account of customs.[7]

A modern source says that the discussion between Polycarp and Anicetus in Rome took place within the framework of a synod.[8]

Thus the churches in Asia appealed to the Apostle John in support of their practice, while Sozomen reports that the Roman custom (observed, Irenaeus says, since at least the time of Bishop Xystus of 115–25)[6] was believed to have been handed down by the Apostles Peter and Paul,[7] and Eusebius states that in Palestine and Egypt the Sunday observance was also believed to have originated with the Apostles.[9]

Condemnatory synods[edit]

According to Eusebius, in the last decade of the second century a number of synods were convened to deal with the controversy, ruling unanimously that the celebration of Easter should be observed and be exclusively on Sunday.

Synods and conferences of bishops were convened, and drew up a decree of the Church, in the form of letters addressed to Christians everywhere, that never on any day other than the Lord's Day should the mystery of the Lord's resurrection from the dead be celebrated, and on that day alone we should observe the end of the Paschal fast.[4]

These synods were held in Palestine, Pontus and Osrhoene in the east, and in Rome and Gaul in the west.[4] The council in Rome, presided over by its bishop Victor, took place in 193 and sent a letter about the matter to Polycrates of Ephesus and the churches of the Roman province of Asia.[8] Within the same year, Polycrates presided over a council at Ephesus attended by several bishops throughout that province, which rejected Victor's authority and kept the province's paschal tradition.[8]

Polycrates emphatically stated that he was following the tradition passed down to him:

We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord's coming ... All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven.[5]

Excommunication[edit]

On receiving the negative response of Polycrates, Victor attempted to cut off Polycrates and the others who took this stance from the common unity, but reversed his decision after bishops that included Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, interceded, recommending that Victor follow the more peaceful attitude of his predecessors.

Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate. But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor. Among them was Irenaeus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord's day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom."[10]

Resolution[edit]

In the short following chapter of the account by Eusebius, a chapter headed "How All came to an Agreement respecting the Passover", he recounts that the Palestinian bishops Narcissus and Theophilus, together with the bishops of Tyre and Ptolemais, wrote a lengthy review of the tradition of Sunday celebration of Easter "which had come to them in succession from the apostles", and concluded by saying:

Endeavor to send copies of our epistle to every church, that we may not furnish occasion to those who easily deceive their souls. We show you indeed that also in Alexandria they keep it on the same day that we do. For letters are carried from us to them and from them to us, so that in the same manner and at the same time we keep the sacred day.[9]

However, this did not finally settle the issue. In his Life of Constantine, Eusebius reports that some continued to celebrate Passover on the day commanded by God (exo 12, lev 23).[11]

The First Ecumenical Council, held in 325 at Nicaea, declared the Sunday after 14 Nisan the sole official date. In a letter to the bishops who had not been present, Emperor Constantine I said that it had been decided to adopt a uniform date, rejecting the custom of the Jews, who had crucified Jesus and whose practice often meant that two passovers were celebrated in the same solar year:

It was resolved by the united judgment of all present, that this feast ought to be kept by all and in every place on one and the same day. For what can be more becoming or honorable to us than that this feast, from which we date our hopes of immortality, should be observed unfailingly by all alike, according to one ascertained order and arrangement? And first of all, it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. For we have it in our power, if we abandon their custom, to prolong the due observance of this ordinance to future ages, by a truer order, which we have preserved from the very day of the passion until the present time. Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way. A course at once legitimate and honorable lies open to our most holy religion. Beloved brethren, let us with one consent adopt this course, and withdraw ourselves from all participation in their baseness... being altogether ignorant of the true adjustment of this question, they sometimes celebrate Easter twice in the same year. Why then should we follow those who are confessedly in grievous error? Surely we shall never consent to keep this feast a second time in the same year... And let your Holinesses' sagacity reflect how grievous and scandalous it is that on the self-same days some should be engaged in fasting, others in festive enjoyment; and again, that after the days of Easter some should be present at banquets and amusements, while others are fulfilling the appointed fasts. It is, then, plainly the will of Divine Providence (as I suppose you all clearly see), that this usage should receive fitting correction, and be reduced to one uniform rule.[12]

Eschatology of the quartodeciman Paschal celebration[edit]

In his study The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, the Lutheran scriptural scholar Joachim Jeremias made a compelling argument that the Quartodecimans preserved the original understanding and character of the Christian Easter (Passover) celebration. He states that in Jewish tradition four major themes are associated with Passover, i.e., the creation of the world, the Akedah, or binding of Isaac, the redemption of Israel from Egypt (both the passing over of the First-born during the Passover meal and Israel's passagethrough the Red Sea) and the coming of the Messiah (announced by the Prophet Elijah). For Christians, the central events of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, i.e., his passion, death and resurrection, also are obviously associated with Passover. Thus it was inevitable that the very earliest Christians expected the imminent return of Christ to also occur during their Passover celebrations. Jeremias notes that Quartodecimans began their Christian Passover celebrations by reading the appropriate readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e., the twelve readings from the Hebrew Scriptures that still are read at the Easter Vigil in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Armenian traditions. At midnight, when Christ had not reappeared to inaugurate the great eschatological banquet, the Christians would celebrate the Paschal Eucharist in anticipation of that final act of the drama of the redemption of Christ.

As this original eschatological fervor began to die down, and as Christianity became an increasingly Gentile movement, this original eschatological orientation of the Christian Passover celebration was lost; and with the development of the practice of baptizing catechumens during the twelve readings so they would share the Eucharist for the first time with the Christian community at the conclusion of the Paschal Vigil, the baptismal themes came to dominate the celebrations of the Paschal Vigil, as they do again in those churches which have begun again to baptize its adult converts during the Easter Vigil. Major liturgical scholars such as Louis Bouyer and Alexander Schmemann concur with Jeremias' essential position and one has only to examine the Christian liturgical texts for Paschal Vigil to see evidence of this. E.g., the Eucharistic Preface for the Easter Vigil in the Roman, Lutheran and Anglican/Episcopalian traditions, which state: "...on this night when Christ became our Passover sacrifice" or the Eastern Orthodox Troparion for Great and Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, which warns the Christian community "Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night and blessed are those servants he shall find awake..." In short, no one knows when Christ will appear at the end of time, but given other central events of redemption which occurred during Passover,[a] the earliest Christians assumed that Christ would probably appear during the Paschal Eucharist, just as he first appeared to his original disciples during their meal on the first Easter Sunday.[b]

Legacy[edit]

It is not known how long the Nisan 14 practice lasted. The church historian Socrates knew of Quartodecimans who were deprived of their churches by John Chrysostom,[13] and harassed in unspecified ways by Nestorius,[14] both bishops of Constantinople. This indicates that the Nisan 14 practice, or a practice that was called by the same name, lingered into the 4th century.

Because this was the first-recorded Easter controversy, it has had a strong influence on the minds of some subsequent generations. Wilfrid, the 7th-century bishop of York in Northumbria, styled his opponents in the Easter controversy of his day "quartodecimans",[15] though they celebrated Easter on Sunday. Many scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries thought that the dispute over Easter that was discussed at Nicaea was between the Nisan 14 practice and Sunday observance.[16] According to one account, "A final settlement of the dispute was one among the other reasons which led Constantine to summon the council at Nicaea in 325. At that time, the Syrians and Antiochenes were the solitary champions of the observance of the 14th day. The decision of the council was unanimous that Easter was to be kept on Sunday, and on the same Sunday throughout the world, and that 'none hereafter should follow the blindness of the Jews'".[17] A new translation of Eusebius' Life of Constantine suggests that this view is no longer widely accepted;[18] its view is that the dispute at Nicaea was between two schools of Sunday observance: those who followed the traditional practice of relying on Jewish informants to determine the lunar month in which Easter would fall, and those who wished to set it using Christian computations.

Laurent Cleenewerck suggests that the East-West schism could even be argued to have started with Victor's attempt to excommunicate the Asian churches.[19] Despite Victor's failure to carry out his intent to excommunicate the Asian churches, many Catholic theologians point to this episode as evidence of papal primacy and authority in the early Church, citing the fact that none of the bishops challenged his right to excommunicate but rather questioned the wisdom and charity of doing so.[19] From the Orthodox perspective, Victor had to relent in the end and we see that the Eastern Churches never grant him presidency over anything other than his own church, his own synod.[citation needed] Cleenewerck points out that Eusebius of Caesarea simply refers to Victor as one of the "rulers of the Churches", not the ruler of a yet unknown or unformed 'universal Church.'[19] As the date of observance of the Resurrection of Christ as being on the day of the week Sunday rather than the 14th day of the month was not resolved by Papal authority it was only finally resolved by an Ecumenical Council.[20]

The rejection of Bishop Anicetus' position on the Quartodeciman by Polycarp, and later Polycrates' letter to Pope Victor I, has been used by Orthodox theologians as proof against the argument that the Churches in Asia Minor accepted the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and or the teaching of Papal supremacy.[21]

Jehovah's Witnesses and Bible Students worldwide celebrate the Memorial of Christ's death on Nisan 14.[22]

Table of dates of Easter 2001–2021
(In Gregorian dates)
Year Spring
Full Moon
Astronomical
Easter
Gregorian
Easter
Julian
Easter
Jewish
Passover
2001 April 8 April 15 April 15 April 15 April 8
2002 March 28 March 31 March 31 May 5 March 28
2003 April 16 April 20 April 20 April 27 April 17
2004 April 5 April 11 April 11 April 11 April 6
2005 March 25 March 27 March 27 May 1 April 24
2006 April 13 April 16 April 16 April 23 April 13
2007 April 2 April 8 April 8 April 8 April 3
2008 March 21 March 23 March 23 April 27 April 20
2009 April 9 April 12 April 12 April 19 April 9
2010 March 30 April 4 April 4 April 4 March 30
2011 April 18 April 24 April 24 April 24 April 19
2012 April 6 April 8 April 8 April 15 April 7
2013 March 27 March 31 March 31 May 5 March 26
2014 April 15 April 20 April 20 April 20 April 15
2015 April 4 April 5 April 5 April 12 April 4
2016 March 23 March 27 March 27 May 1 April 23
2017 April 11 April 16 April 16 April 16 April 11
2018 March 31 April 1 April 1 April 8 March 31
2019 March 21 March 24 April 21 April 28 April 20
2020 April 8 April 12 April 12 April 19 April 9
2021 March 28 April 4 April 4 May 2 March 28

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ See the section on theories as to the origins of the Feast of the Annunciation for evidence of early Christian traditions that Christ was conceived at Passover as well.
  2. ^ The Epistle reading for Easter Sunday in the Roman, Lutheran and Anglican (Episcopalian) liturgical traditions is Act 10:34–43, which states that "God raised him from the dead and granted that he be seen, not by all, but those chosen before hand by God, those of us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead", i.e., the first Passover Eucharist was intrinsic to the risen Christ's original appearance to his disciples on that first Easter Sunday.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Old Testament". New Vulgate. Mense primo, quarta decima die mensis, ad vesperum Pascha Domini est. 
  2. ^ "Feast of Unleavened Bread" (PDF). Hebraic community. 
  3. ^ "Chag HaMatzot" [Unleavened bread]. Hebrew for Christians. 
  4. ^ a b c Eusebius, "23", in Schaff, Church History, Christian Classic Ethereal Library (CCEL) .
  5. ^ a b c Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, letter to Victor, bishop of Rome, quoted in Eusebius. "24". Church History. book V. 
  6. ^ a b c Irenaeus, "Letter to Victor (bishop of Rome), quoted in Eusebius (chapter 24)", in Schaff, Church History, book V, CCEL 
  7. ^ a b Sozomen, "19", in Schaff, The Ecclesiastical History, book VII, CCEL .
  8. ^ a b c "An Orthodox Christian Historical Timeline", Orthodox Answers .
  9. ^ a b Eusebius, "25", in Schaff, Church History, book V, CCEL 
  10. ^ Eusebius, "24", in Schaff, Church History, book V, CCEL ; cf. Cantalamessa, Raniero (1993), "Sources for the history of the paschal controversy of the second century", Easter in the Early Church. An Anthology of Jewish and Early Christian Texts, OFMCap, pp. 33–37 
  11. ^ Eusebius, "5", in Schaff, Life of Constantine, book III, CCEL .
  12. ^ Eusebius, "18", in Schaff, Life of Constantine, book III, CCEL .
  13. ^ Socrates of Constantinople (1874), "Church History (chapter 6.11)", The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates, London: Bell & Sons, p. 318 .
  14. ^ Socrates of Constantinople, "Church History", 7.29  Missing or empty |title= (help).
  15. ^ Stephanus, Eddius (1988), "Life of Wilfrid (chapter 12)", in Farmer, DF, The Age of Bede, London: Penguin, pp. 117–18 .
  16. ^ Jones, Charles W (1943), Bedae Opera de Tempribus, Cambridge: Medieval Academy of America, p. 18 .
  17. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica VIII (11th ed.), pp. 828–29 .
  18. ^ Cameron, Averil; Hall, Stuart G, eds. (1999), Eusebius: Life of Constantine, Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 260 .
  19. ^ a b c Cleenewerck 2008, p. 155: "One could argue that the Great schism started with Victor, continued with Stephen and remained underground until the ninth century!"
  20. ^ Cleenewerck 2008, pp. 150–57: "One could argue that the Great schism started with Victor, continued with Stephen and remained underground until the ninth century!"
  21. ^ Cleenewerck 2008, p. 154.
  22. ^ Insight on The Scriptures, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1988, p. 392 .

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]