I. The Celebration.

1. Names and their Significance.

2. Origin of the Celebration.

Testimony of the Ante-Nicene Period (§ 1).

Testimony of the Post-Nicene Period (§ 2).

Conclusions (§ 3).

3.The Day of Celebration.

4.Rites of Celebration.

Prior to 300 A.D. (§ 1).

In the Post-Nicene Period and Middle Ages (§ 2).

In Modern Times (§ 3).


II. The Paschal Controversies.

The Quartodecimans of Asia Minor (§ 1).

Documentary Bases and Harmonistic Calculations (§ 2).

Controversy in the Second Century (§ 3)

The Nicene Decision as to Date of Celebration (§ 4).


III. The Easter Cycle.


I. The Celebration.--1. Names and Their Significance: EASTER, the festival of our Lord's resurrection is, with Christmas, the most joyous festival observed by the Church. The English Easter and the German equivalent Ostern, are derived from the Anglo-Saxon Ostarâ or Eâstre, the name of the goddess of spring and the dawn (cf. Skeat's Etymological Dictionary; Bede, De ratione temporum, xv.). The French pâques and the terms used in the other Romance languages are derived from the Hebrew pesah, "Passover." In the early Church the term pascha was used for the festival next preceding Pentecost, whatever it was that that festival commemorated (see PENTECOST). It remains to show whether the term stood only for the festival of the death of Christ, or for both the festivals of the death and resurrection, or for the festival of the resurrection alone. It is certain that if the resurrection of Christ was annually commemorated, the festival of commemoration was called pascha and by no other distinctive term. The word pascha was at first derived from Gk. paschein, "to suffer" (so Tertullian, adv. Jud.; Irenæus, Hær., iv. 23, etc.). Later the true derivation from the Hebrew pesah was recognized and the meaning diabasis, transitus, "passing over" was given to it (e.g., by Gregory Nazianzen, Sermo xlv., MPL, xxxvi. 636; Augustine, Epist., lv., MPL, xxxiii. 205). After the year 300 the day of the resurrection was called the "day alone great" by Leo I. (Sermo de resurrection Domini, MPL, liv. 498), "the most royal day of days," by Gregory Nazianzen (MPG, xxxv. 1017); "the festival of festivals," "the happiest of days," and by other designations which show that it was looked upon after that date, if not before, as the most joyous and important festival of the year. John of Damascus has given expression to the devout feelings of the ancient Church in regard to Easter in his resurrection hymn:


The day of resurrection, earth, tell it out abroad,

The passover of gladness, the passover of God.

2. Origin of the Celebration: Two questions present themselves: (1) When did the custom of the yearly commemoration of the resurrection begin? (2) on what day of the week and what day of the year was the festival celebrated? For the period after the Council of Nicæa (325), the difficulty largely vanishes. The comparatively lengthy statement of Eusebius (Hist. eccl. V., xxiii. xxv.) does not relieve the difficulty for the ante-Nicene period, but by its vagueness, growing out of what Eusebius assumes to be known, rather increases the difficulty. If we were in possession of the lost tracts called forth in the third century by the paschal controversies (see below, II.), to which Eusebius makes reference, all uncertainty might be removed.


1. Testimony of the Ante-Nicene Period. The only possible allusion in the New Testament to the observance of a Christian Passover, or festival of the death of Christ, is I Cor. v. 7, where "Christ our Passover " is said to have been sacrificed for us. That the Jewish Christians continued to keep the Jewish festivals is altogether probable, if not certain, from Paul's habit. On the other hand, Paul seems to disparage the observance of special festivals except the first day of the week (I Cor. xvi. 2). What was the custom of the Gentile Christians? Did they also keep the season devoted to the Jewish Passover, putting into it Christian ideas? And if so, did they observe it as a commemoration of the resurrection of Christ as well as of his death and burial? In the literature of the subapostolic age, (excepting Justin Martyr) there is no reference to a celebration of a yearly festival of the resurrection or pascha. There is no hint of anything of that kind in the Didache. Trypho charged the Christians with not keeping the Jewish feasts or the Sabbaths; the reply was that Christians did not place any virtue in keeping such festivals (Justin Martyr, Trypho, x.). From Tertullian it seems to be evident that there was a struggle between the Jewish and Gentile elements in the Church over what was included under the feast of the pascha and a struggle within the Gentile portion of the Church as to whether any yearly festivals were to be observed. Tertullian says: if the Apostle set aside all special reverence for days and months and years, why do we celebrate the pascha in the first month of each year? (De jejuniis, xiv., ANF, iv. 112). It is evident from this that the pascha was observed. But that there was a difference in respect to what was included under the term pascha is evident from Tertullian. In his De oratione (viii.) he refers to it as Friday the day of the Lord's death, and in De corona (iii., ANF, iii. 94) he says: "we count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord's day to be unlawful. We rejoice in the same privilege also from Easter to Whitsunday." Similarly in De baptismo (xix., ANF, iii. 678) he says that they did not fast on the Lord's Day and that the period between the day of the pascha and Pentecost the Christian spent in joy. From this it seems to be apparent that the whole season of the pascha was observed with sadness and grief. So far then it would appear that the pascha observance was a time of grief and it is left uncertain whether the resurrection was observed annually by a special day, or, if observed at all, whether it was observed separately from the festival of the death of Christ.


2. Testimony of the Post-Nicene Period. The next point of approach is through Eusebius (Hist. eccl. V., xxiii. xxv., NPNF, 2d ser., i. 241 sqq.). In this famous passage the historian has especially in mind the conflict as to the day of the week and of the year on which pascha was to be celebrated. He records that as early as the middle of the second century, there was dispute over this double question, Polycarp of Asia Minor and Anicetus of Rome being at that time the representatives of the two views. Eusebius further says that the churches in Asia Minor derived their custom of observing the pascha from the Apostle John and Philip. Without doubt Christian elements were incorporated into the celebration. It was not a question of whether a day corresponding to the Passover should be celebrated, but a question of the time at which it was to be celebrated. Further, according to Eusebius, the churches of Asia Minor finished "their fasting on the festival of the Savior's passover." This was the 14th of Nisan. In other parts of the Church, Eusebius goes on to say, it was not their custom "to end it on this day" but, "on no other day than that of the Lord's resurrection." From this it would seem on the surface that in Asia Minor the Churches finished the fasting on the day set apart for the pascha, that is in all probability the day commemorating the crucifixion, and in the rest of the world they carried the fasting over to Sunday. Joy is not mentioned as an element in the celebration in the case either of Asia Minor or of the rest of the world, so that if the resurrection was celebrated at all as a separate feast, Eusebius does not indicate it. We can not think that, if the resurrection was celebrated, fasting and grief entered into its observance, as has been deduced from this statement of Eusebius. (For the fast preceding Easter, see FASTING, II., § 3). To this passage of Eusebius have been added recently passages from the Canons of Hippolytus (TU, vi. 4, pp. 115-116) and from Aphraates (ed. Bert, TU, new ser., iii. pp.170-171). The former speaks of the pascha as a time of fasting and lamentation. Aphraates also (cf. Bert, in TU, ut sup. p. 83) seems not to have in mind the resurrection when he speaks of the Christian pascha. However, Alexander of Egypt (d. 264, Routh, Reliquiœ Sacra,, iii. 223 sqq.) distinguishes the festivals of the death and of the resurrection.


3. Conclusions. From these unsatisfactory notices, different views have been deduced. Neander, Hilgenfeld and P. Schaff have held that in the second and third centuries the pascha included the celebration of the resurrection and death of Christ; Steitz and Drews only the death; while Scharer, Karl Miffier, and others hold the modified view that it celebrated the completion of the full work of redemption and not specifically either the death or the resurrection. It must be said that the silence of the writers of the ante-Nicene period, who give such scant notice of the pascha feast, can not safely be interpreted to mean that the resurrection was not celebrated as a distinct part of the pascha festival. The few extant notices, taken by themselves, seem to favor the theory that there was but one festival of the pascha and that it included the death and the resurrection. Certainly in the fourth century the term pascha stood for both the resurrection and the death of Christ. It was then called "the holy feast, the pascha of our salvation" as by the Council of Antioch 341 (canon i., Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, i. 513); and Athanasius frequently describes the pascha as a feast of joy at which the Lord himself is the festival. It is a festival of redemption (cf. "Festal Letters," ANF, 2d ser., iv. 506-556). Finally, in the fourth century pascha came to be used in a limited sense for Easter Sunday alone, as by the Councils of Arles 314, Carthage 397, and the First Synod of Toledo 400 (canon xx.). Contemporaneously the whole feast of the pascha was known under the two names the pascha of the crucifixion and the pascha of the resurrection. They were parts of a single festival.


3. The Day of Celebration: As already indicated, Eusebius states that there was a wide difference in the customs prevalent in Asia Minor and the rest of the Christian world in regard to the day of the year and of the week on which the pascha festival was to be celebrated. The Christians of Asia Minor were called Quartodecimans from their custom of celebrating the pascha invariably on the 14th of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish year and falling in the springtime. The date might fall on Friday or on any of the other days of the week, which fact made no difference in the celebration of the paschal feast. For this reason the day of the resurrection did not always fall on a Sunday. In the churches of the West and also in parts of the East a different custom prevailed. The result of these differences was that different sections of the Church might and did observe the pascha on different dates. Out of this difference grew the Paschal Controversies, so-called (see II., below). The Council of Nicæa had for its second object the unification of the date of the Christian pascha, which the Council of Arles (314) had referred to as a most desirable thing "that the pascha of the Lord should be observed on one day and at one time throughout the world " (cf. Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, i. 205). The decree of Nicæa fixed as Easter Sunday the Sunday immediately following the fourteenth day of the so-called paschal moon, which happens on or first after the vernal equinox. The vernal equinox invariably falls on Mar. 21. Easter, then, can not occur earlier than Mar. 22, or later than Apr. 25. In the former case the fourteenth day of the moon would coincide with Mar. 21, the day of the vernal equinox. In the latter, the fifteenth day of the moon would happen on Mar. 21, and a whole lunar month would have to intervene before the condition, "the fourteenth day of the moon first after the vernal equinox," was fulfilled; and, as this might be Sunday, Easter Sabbath would not occur till seven more days had elapsed, i.e., Apr. 25.


4. Rites of Celebration:

1. Prior to 300 A.D. Up to the year 300 notices are very scant. Eusebius states that the pascha was celebrated with mourning, and that church synods (exclusive of those in Asia Minor) ordered that "the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord " should be observed only on the Lord's day and that on that day "the close of the paschal fast" should be observed. The pascha was a time of fasting. "The mystery of the resurrection of the Lord" must refer to the Eucharist. Tertullian (Ad uxorem, ii. 4) and others refer to vigils extending into the night of Saturday or until the cockcrowing of the Sunday morning (Apostolic Constitutions, ANF, vii. 447). The chief source of information is the Didaskalia (xxi., Apostolic Constitutions, v. 18-19) which speaks of the fasting beginning on the Monday of the paschal week and continuing with growing rigor into Saturday night, and adds that on Saturday night the whole congregation met and engaged in prayer, especially for the Jews, and in reading from the Scripture. Sunday was then observed by the meeting together of rich and poor in the love-feast and the Eucharist.


2. In the Post-Nicene Period and Middle Ages. After 300 notices of the festivities of Easter are frequent and many sermons on the pascha are preserved in Ambrose, Augustine, and other writers. The day was looked upon as the most joyous festival of the year. The week beginning with Easter Sunday was observed with special religious festivities and each day had its sermon.

Easter Sunday was called dominica in albis (see ALB; CATECHUMENATE, Sunday § 4) or octava infantium and the Sunday closing Easter week was called octava paschœ or pascha clausum. Ambrose in his sermon on the "Mystery of the Pascha" (MPL, xvii. 695) gives full expression to the joyous feelings which were involved in Easter. He called the day the real beginning of the year, the opening of the months, the new revival of the seeds and the restoration of the joy interrupted by the cold of winter. On that day God, as it were, relights the sun and gives light to the moon. The Easter celebration began on Saturday, sometimes as early as three o'clock in the afternoon, as is stated to have been the case in Jerusalem by the "Itinerary" of Silvia (cf. Hauck-Herzog, RE, xiv. 743). This Saturday celebration was known as the Easter or Paschal Vigils. Augustine called this vigil the "mother of all the sacred vigils" (Sermo ccxix., MPL, xxxviii. 1088), and says that even the heathen kept awake on that night. According to Lactantius (De divine institutionibus, VII., xix., ANF, vii. 215) and Jerome (on Matt. xxv. 6, MPL, xxvi. 184), the Lord was expected to return at that time. The celebration is referred to by other authors, in missals, in the codes of Theodosius and Justinian and in the acts of councils. The services in the churches consisted of readings from the Law, the Prophets and the narratives of the Lord's passion, in the administration of baptism and confirmation, and ended with the Eucharist. For Spain and Gaul these services are recorded in the Mozarabic Liturgy (MPL, lxxxv.), and in the Gothic missal, the Gallic missal, the Gallic sacramentary and the Lectionary of Luxeuil (all in MPL, lxxii.). The use of lighted candles became universal and is attested as the Custom in Rome at least as early as the middle of the third century. The Canons of Hippolytus (TU, vi. 4, p. 136) say "that on the night of the resurrection no one should sleep and every one should have a light, for on that night the Redeemer made every one free from the darkness of sin and the grave." Augustine bears witness to the custom of lighting and carrying candles. Eusebius says that the whole city of Constantinople was illuminated with wax candles and columns of wax ("Life of Constantine," iv. 22). Gregory Nazianzen (d. 390) and Gregory of Nyssa (d. 395, "Oration on the pascha," xlii.) speak of persons of all ranks carrying tapers and lamps. The custom of the paschal fire was also an early institution and can be traced back to 600 at least as in vogue in France. Alcuin (De divinis officiis, xvi. 17, MPL, ci. 1205) and Boniface (d. 752, MPL, lxxxix. 951) definitely refer to it. The new fire was struck from a stone and the tapers and candles lighted from it. Perhaps the custom was drawn from the ceremony of the Romans at the altar of Vesta at the opening of the New Year, Mar. 1. The symbolical significance of such an act, as a means of instruction to the people and as an expression of piety for the new light brought into the world by the resurrection is so natural that it is not necessary to fall back upon the old Roman ceremony. In Gaul the custom was also observed, how widely is not known, of placing five pieces of incense in the great paschal candle to symbolize the five wounds of Christ. The codes of Theodosius and Justinian recognized the joyous character of the day by encouraging the emancipation of slaves and the liberation of minor criminals, and ordering the omission of spectacular entertainments during Easter week. It was also made a time for the presentation of gifts and the distribution of alms. The acts of councils (Orléans, 538, Macon, 581, and others) down through the Middle Ages to the Fourth Lateran (1215) and later councils forbade the Jews to tread the streets or to show themselves out of doors from Maundy Thursday till after Easter, lest the joy of the Christians should be interrupted.


3. In Modern Times. At the present time the religious festivities of Easter time in the Greek and Latin Churches involve the substantial elements in the ancient custom of the day. Elaborate solemn rites are observed on Saturday and until the cockcrowing of Easter morning when the tapers (extinguished on Good Friday) are lighted with the words "The Light of Christ." In the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem until a few years ago the pious fraud of the "holy fire" was perpetrated by the Greek patriarch who presented from the sacred tomb three times a lighted taper or torch which he declared had been lighted by a miracle without human intervention. The spectators, wrought to great excitement, struggled to light their tapers at the miraculous fire, and then carried it throughout the Greek world. Often disgraceful scenes occurred and the intervention of the Turkish soldiery was required to prevent or check violence. In the twelfth century Saladin is said by an early tradition to have witnessed this miracle and acknowledged its miraculous character (Itinerarium Ricardi I. v. 16, ed. W. Stubbs, London, 1864). Easter is observed throughout the Continent by the various bodies of Protestants. The Church of England has always observed the day and the Protestant Episcopal Church of America follows it. The Puritans abolished all special recognition of the festival. The churches of Scotland as well as the different non-episcopal branches of the Protestant Church in America are more and more using the day as a means of commemorating the resurrection of the Lord, confirming the faith of men in the hope of the resurrection, and giving expression to the joyous character of the Christian religion.



II. The Paschal Controversies:

1. The Quartodecimans of Asia Minor. While Jewish Christians for a time celebrated the Jewish Passover, the practise of the Church was not uniform either in the day or in the ideas and customs attaching to what eventually became the Easter festival. The Christians of Asia Minor celebrated the Jewish Passover on the 14th of Nisan, uniting with it, according to some, the commemoration of the departure of Jesus from his disciples and the institution of the Lord's Supper. According to others, the day was celebrated in strict obedience to Jewish law, without any allusion to Gospel history. A third view maintains that the Christians of Asia Minor celebrated on the 14th of Nisan the memory of the death of Jesus. But the grounds of the controversy must be sought elsewhere. If the sources are examined without prejudice and without regard to criticism of the Gospels, a different result must necessarily be reached concerning the significance and import of the celebration. Eusebius says that it was decided on the basis of numerous conferences of bishops that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord from the dead should be celebrated on no other day than on the Lord's day and on that day the Easter fast should be broken (Hist. eccl., V. xxiii. 2, NPNF, 2d ser., i. 241). Hence it is evident that the party who were opposed in the conferences, who were undoubtedly the Christians of Asia Minor, must have celebrated the mystery of the resurrection on the day on which the fast was broken, and that this day was not Sunday but the 14th of Nisan, around which the controversy revolved. This conclusion is justified by the account of Epiphanies concerning the Quartodecimans (that is, those who commemorated the Lord's death on the 14th), in which he relates that fasting and the celebration of the resurrection took place on the same day. It is hardly conceivable that a bitter and protracted controversy should have originated on a mere matter of fasting; the real reason for the differences lay deeper. The Christians of Asia Minor appealed to an old apostolic tradition according to which Jesus rose on the evening of the day of his death, and the opposition of the Occidentals was directed mainly against the commemoration of death and resurrection on the same day.


2. Documentary Bases and Harmonistic Calculations. The Syriac Didascalia, makes an attempt to harmonize the tradition of the canonical Gospels and that of the Christians of Asia Minor. On the morning of Friday Jesus was led before Pilate and crucified on the same day. He suffered six hours, and those are counted as one day. Then there was a darkness, lasting three hours, and that is counted as a night, and further, from the ninth hour till evening three hours, another day, and then followed the night of the Sabbath. In the Gospel of Matthew we read, "Now late on the Sabbath day as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene," etc. (Matt. xxviii. 1, R. V.). The calculation is strange, but its purpose is easily seen. The author believed that Jesus rose on the evening of the Friday on which he suffered death. In order to reconcile this tradition with the other which assumed a resurrection on the third day, he calculated (as above) in such a way that Jesus really rose after, two days and two nights although only one day had passed. It is not known whether Friday of every week was celebrated by fasts and the, mysteries of resurrection or the 14th of each month or the 14th of Nisan in each year. In the, Orient, Sunday was not known as the day of resurrection, and hence there was no weekly celebration of this day, but in the Occident Wednesday, and Friday were regular fast-days, and Sunday was celebrated as the day of resurrection. It is doubtful whether the Occident possessed in addition a special day in the year for the commemoration of the death and the resurrection of the Lord.


3. Controversy in the Second Century. When Polycarp visited Anicetus in Rome 154), the celebration of Passover was discussed, but no agreement was arrived at. Polycarp appealed to the old age of the tradition in Asia Minor, Anicetus to the Roman tradition. Neither made concessions, but there was no rupture. At the beginning of the paschal controversies, there arose also the heresy of the Montanists who by means of the Egyptian calendar designated the seventh of April as the day of the death of Christ on which they annually celebrated Passover without regard to the day the week and the phase of the moon. This revolutionary spirit was opposed by the representatives of the Church of Asia Minor, especially by Melito of Sardis and Apollinaris of Hierapolis, but, owing to his disagreement with the Church of Asia Minor, Victor of Rome was favorably inclined toward the Montanists. He attempted to exclude the churches of the province of Asia from the orthodox Church, but Polycarp of Smyrna defended the old custom so that the measures of Rome could not be carried out. Most of the bishops took the part of Polycarp. Even Irenæus wrote to Victor in the name of the Gallican bishops, exhorting him to be moderate. The leaders of the Church of Palestine, such as Narcissus of Jerusalem, Theophilus of Cæsarea, also the bishops of Pontus and Gaul, and the Church of Alexandria stood on the side of Victor, appealing to the tradition of the Apostles, while Syria, Mesopotamia and Persia took the part of Asia Minor. Victor was not successful in subjecting the Asiatics to his views; on the other hand the Church of Asia Minor was not able to influence the Western Church to abandon the celebration of Sunday in favor of an account of the resurrection which was in evident contradiction to the prophecies of the Old Testament, to the tradition of Paul and the acknowledged Gospels, and in favor of a custom that was based merely upon the appeal to traditions which could not claim equal authority with the Gospels and Apostles. Clement of Alexandria, as the representative of the view of the churches in Palestine and Alexandria, seems to have influenced the final result of the controversy.


For the following period the more important problem was the calculation of the term of Passover and Easter. In Asia Minor this question was not raised. The Jews strictly insisted that their festival should take place at the time of full moon, but beyond this they attempted no accurate calculation. It was probably in Egypt that the vernal equinox and the next full moon were first taken into consideration as fixed points in the calculation of Easter.


4. The Nicene Decision as to the Date of Celebration. In Rome there developed in the mean time a different calculation of the festival of Easter which, beside the celebration of Sunday as the day of resurrection, formed an object of dispute between the two parties. According to a statement of Tertullian, Easter was celebrated annually in the first month, i.e., March. But if Easter is calculated after the full moon which follows the spring equinox, it does not always take place in the month of March. Consequently at the time when Tertullian made this statement (in the beginning of the third century), Easter must have been celebrated in Carthage and in the Occident on an immovable day in the month of March. As Tertullian in another place designates the twenty-fifth of March as the day of the death of Christ, and as this tradition is very frequently in evidence in the whole Occident, it is to be assumed that in the Occident there began a fast on that date which was broken on the following Sunday in the celebration of the Lord's Supper. At the Council of Nicæa an attempt was made to abolish the differences between the various churches and to introduce the Egyptian calculation into all provinces. Easter was to be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. But by this decision a uniform regulation of the question was not guaranteed, as is evident from the necessity of reaffirming the decision at the Synod of Antioch in 341. An anti-Judaistic polemic which is noticeable in the regulation of the question since the third century has undoubtedly influenced to a great extent the final victory of the custom of Palestine and Egypt. In spite of the decision of the councils, the churches of Mesopotamia, Antioch, and Syria adhered to the old custom.



III. The Easter Cycle: This is a determinate series of years such that in each series Easter Sunday always recurs in the same sequence on the same day of the month. Such a cycle exists for the Julian calendar and comprises 532 years. Besides this cycle there is another, consisting of eighty-four years, which is mentioned at the close of the third century but which was later superseded by the cycle of 532 years because it was found that the computation was wrong. A lunar cycle of nineteen years is also named and only in this sense can an Easter cycle be connected with the Gregorian calendar.