The first was mainly concerned with the lawfulness of celebrating Easter on a weekday. 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. 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. 150 about this very question, but could not be persuaded by Pope Anicetus to relinquish his Quartodeciman observance.
We read in Eusebius ( V.23): "A question of no small importance arose at that time [i.e. 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." These words of the Father of Church History, followed by some extracts which he makes from the controversial letters of the time, tell us almost all that we know concerning the paschal controversy in its first stage. Irenæus is among the extracts just referred to, and this shows that the diversity of practice regarding Easter had existed at least from the time of Pope Sixtus (c. Nevertheless he was not debarred from communion with the Roman Church, and St.
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. 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 , contending that the fast ought to end on that day, whatever day of the week it might happen to be.
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 , the Crucifixion Day, when Jesus Christ Himself was offered as the Victim, the antitype of the Jewish paschal lamb.
Many other subsidiary details have an important bearing on the case but are more matters of conjecture. 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.
There is, for example, the perplexing doubt whether the Crucifixion of Christ took place on the fourteenth or fifteenth of Nisan. 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.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 this way the date of Easter as kept at Alexandria and Antioch did not always agree; for the Jews, upon whom Antioch depended, adopted very arbitrary methods of intercalating embolismic months (see CALENDAR, Bol. 158) before they celebrated Nisan, the first spring month, on the fourteenth day of which the paschal lamb was killed.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.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.