The Easter controversy

An acute early controversy, one which ran concurrently with those aroused by Gnosticism, Marcionism, and Montanism, was over the time for the celebration of Easter. Although our first certain notice of Easter is from the middle of the second century, that festival, commemorating the resurrection of Christ, was presumably observed by at least some Christians from much earlier times.

Differences arose over the determination of the date. Should it be fixed by the Jewish Passover and be governed by the day of the Jewish month on which that feast was set regardless of the day of the week on which it fell? This became the custom in many of the churches, especially in Asia Minor. In contrast, many churches, including that of

Rome, celebrated Easter on the first day of the week, Sunday. It was the first day of the week when Christ rose from the dead and which because of that fact was early observed as the Lord's Day. Disputes also developed over the length of the fast which was to be observed preceding Easter in commemoration of the crucifixion and as to whether Christ's death occurred on the fourteenth or on the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan.

In various parts of the Empire, probably not far from the end of the second century, synods met to decide the issue. In general the consensus was for Sunday, but in Asia Minor the bishops held to the other method of reckoning. Thereupon Victor, Bishop of Rome in the last decade of the second century, sought to enforce uniformity by breaking off communion with the dissenting bishops and churches. Iren^us expostulated with Victor on the ground that the differences in practice had long existed without causing a breach in unity. Ultimately the observance of Easter on Sunday prevailed and probably the prestige of Rome was thereby enhanced. Yet the controversy, called Quarto-decimanian from the fourteenth day of Nisan, long remained an unpleasant memory.

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