Determining a Date for Easter Has Proven Divisive Throughout Church History

Some Christians have expressed chagrin that Easter and April Fools’ Day fall on the same date this year. But any moderate emotional energy expended contemplating Easter’s date in 2018 pales in comparison to the passion believers brought to dating Easter the first four centuries of church history.

The story of that passion helps explain how Christians have come to calculate Easter’s date.

“Why was the date of Easter such a divisive issue?” said Rex Butler, professor of church history and patristics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. “First, the centrality of Jesus’ resurrection to the Christian faith made the date of its observance a critical concern. Second, the rituals associated with Easter brought into sharp contrast the differing dates of its observance.

“For example,” Butler told Baptist Press in written comments, “the practice of Lent called for Christians to fast for 40 days before Easter and then to end that fast in celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Conflict developed when one group of Christians ended their fasting before another group ended theirs.”

By the second century, Butler said, Christians were split between those who observed Easter — “Pasch” as they called it — according to the lunar Jewish calendar to coincide with Passover and those who followed the solar Julian calendar and observed Easter the Sunday following Passover.

Those who calculated Easter with the Jewish calendar came to be known as Quartodecimans — named for the number 14 because Passover begins at the close of the 14th day of the month of Nisan.

At times, the debate was heated.

In the second century, Quartodecimans — centered in Jerusalem and modern-day Turkey — claimed they received their tradition from the apostle John. “Sunday-only” Easter proponents in Rome said their tradition came from Peter and Paul, Butler said. In the final decade of the century, “Roman Bishop Victor I went so far as to excommunicate the Quartodecimans in the east,” though he later recalled the excommunication.

Around the year 200, Hippolytus of Rome devoted a chapter to Quartodecimans in his work “The Refutation of All Heresies,” calling them “contentious by nature,” “quarrelsome” and “wholly uninformed as regards knowledge.”

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Source: Baptist Press