The controversy over the correct date for Easter began in Early Christianity as early as the 2nd century AD. Discussion and disagreement over the best method of computing the date of Easter Sunday has been ongoing and unresolved for centuries. Different Christian denominations continue to celebrate Easter on different dates, with Eastern and Western Christian churches being a notable example.
Some see this first phase as mainly concerned with whether Christians should follow Old Testament practices, see also Christian views on the Old Covenant and Judaizers. Eusebius of Caesarea ( Church History , V, xxiii) wrote:
A question of no small importance arose at that time [the time of Pope Victor I c. 190]. The dioceses of all Asia, according to an ancient tradition, held that the fourteenth day [τεσσαρεσκαιδεκάτην], on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should always be observed as the feast of the life-giving pasch (ἐπὶ ταῖς τοῦ σωτηρίου Πάσχα ἑορταῖς), contending that the fast ought to end on that day, whatever day of the week it might happen to be. 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.
Quartodecimanism, a word not used in Eusebius' account as he wrote in Greek, is derived from the Biblical Latin term for the practice of fixing the celebration of Passover for Christians on the fourteenth (Latin quarta decima) day in the Hebrew Calendar (for example Lev 23:5). This was the original method of fixing the date of the Passover, which is to be a "perpetual ordinance".According to the Gospel of John (for example John 19:14), this was the day that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. (The Synoptic Gospels place the day on 15 Nisan, see also Chronology of Jesus.)
Irenaeus records the diversity of practice regarding Easter that had existed at least from the time of Pope Sixtus I (c. 120). He recorded Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, taught as the Asiatic churches did, thus by extension Polycarp must have observed the fourteenth day, following a tradition which he claimed to have derived from John the Apostle.
"Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom,(1) departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies Book p. 4, http://www.prudencetrue.com/images/Irenaeus_Against_Heresies_Book_III.pdf)
Around 195, Pope Victor I, attempted to excommunicate the Quartodecimans, turning the divergence of practice into a full-blown ecclesiastical controversy. According to Eusebius, synods were convened and letters were exchanged, but in the end, having overstepped his mark, Victor, the Bishop of Rome, was rebuked and had to back down.
Eusebius of Caesarea ( Church History , V, xxiv) notes:
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.
In 325 an ecumenical council, the First Council of Nicaea, established two rules, independence of the Jewish calendar and worldwide uniformity, but did not provide any explicit rules to determine that date, writing only “all our brethren in the East who formerly followed the custom of the Jews are henceforth to celebrate the said most sacred feast of Easter at the same time with the Romans and yourselves [the Church of Alexandria] and all those who have observed Easter from the beginning.”Shortly before the Nicean Council, in 314, the Provincial Council of Arles in Gaul had maintained that the Lord's Pasch should be observed on the same day throughout the world and that each year the Bishop of Rome should send out letters setting the date of Easter.
The Syriac Christians always held their Easter festival on the Sunday after the Jews kept their Pesach. 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. The Jewish communities in some places, possibly including Antioch, used methods of fixing their month of Nisan that sometimes put the 14th day of Nisan before the spring equinox. 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 equinox.
The Council of Nicaea ruled that all churches should follow a single rule for Easter, which should be computed independently of the Jewish calendar, as at Alexandria. However, it did not make any explicit ruling about the details of the computation, and it was several decades before the Alexandrine computations stabilized into their final form, and several centuries beyond that before they became normative throughout Christendom.
The Roman missionaries coming to Britain in the time of Pope Gregory I (590–604) found the British Christians adhering to a different system of Easter computation from that used in the Mediterranean basin. This system, on the evidence of Bede, fixed Easter to the Sunday falling in the seven-day period from the 14th to the 20th of its lunar month, according to an 84-year cycle.The limits of Nisan 14 – Nisan 20 are corroborated by Columbanus. The method used by the Roman Church was Nisan 15 – Nisan 21. The 84-year cycle, the lunar limits, and an equinox of March 25 also receive support from McCarthy's analysis of Padua, Biblioteca Antoniana, MS I.27. Any of these features alone could have led to occasional discrepancies from the date of Easter as computed by the Alexandrian method.
This 84-year cycle (called the latercus) gave way to the Alexandrian computus in stages. The Alexandrian computus may have been adopted in parts of the south of Ireland in the first half of the 7th century.Among the northern English, the use of the Alexandrian computus over the Brittano-Irish cycle was decided at the Synod of Whitby in 664. The Alexandrian computus was finally adopted by the Irish colonies in northern Britain in the early 8th century.
|2000||April 23||April 30|
|2002||March 31||May 5|
|2003||April 20||April 27|
|2005||March 27||May 1|
|2006||April 16||April 23|
|2008||March 23||April 27|
|2009||April 12||April 19|
|2012||April 8||April 15|
|2013||March 31||May 5|
|2015||April 5||April 12|
|2016||March 27||May 1|
|2018||April 1||April 8|
|2019||April 21||April 28|
|2020||April 12||April 19|
|2021||April 4||May 2|
|2022||April 17||April 24|
|2023||April 9||April 16|
|2024||March 31||May 5|
|2026||April 5||April 12|
|2027||March 28||May 2|
|2029||April 1||April 8|
|2030||April 21||April 28|
|2032||March 28||May 2|
|2033||April 17||April 24|
|2035||March 25||April 29|
|2036||April 13||April 20|
|2039||April 10||April 17|
|2040||April 1||May 6|
After the Gregorian reform of the calendar by promulgation in 1582, the Roman Catholic Church continued to follow the same method for computing the date of Easter but the resulting date differed from that computed using the Julian Calendar due to the difference in time regarding when the vernal equinox was deemed to occur and when the relevant full moon fell. The Protestant churches of the Christian West all eventually adopted the Gregorian Calendar at various later stages. The Orthodox Church and the majority of the Christian East continue the older practice aligned to the Julian calendar.
Several attempts have sought to achieve a common method for computing the date of Easter.
In 1997 the World Council of Churches proposed a reform of the method of determining the date of Easterat a summit in Aleppo, Syria: Easter would be defined as the first Sunday following the first astronomical full moon following the astronomical vernal equinox, as determined from the meridian of Jerusalem. The reform would have been implemented starting in 2001, since in that year the Eastern and Western dates of Easter would coincide. But this reform was never implemented.
Easter, also called Pascha or Resurrection Sunday, is a festival and holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day after his burial following his crucifixion by the Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. It is the culmination of the Passion of Jesus, preceded by Lent, a 40-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.
The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325.
Polycarp was a Christian presbyter of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to consume his body. Polycarp is regarded as a saint and Church Father in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. His name means "much fruit" in Greek. Both Irenaeus and Tertullian record that Polycarp had been a disciple of the Apostle John. In Illustrious Men.17, Jerome writes that Polycarp was a disciple of John and that John had ordained him as a presbyter of Smyrna. Polycarp is regarded as one of three chief Apostolic Fathers, along with Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch.
A reform of the date of Easter has been proposed several times because the current system for determining the date of Easter is seen as presenting two significant problems:
Pope Anicetus was the bishop of Rome from c. 157 to his death in April 168. According to the Annuario Pontificio, the start of his papacy may have been 153. Anicetus actively opposed Gnosticism and Marcionism. He welcomed Polycarp of Smyrna to Rome, to discuss the controversy over the date for the celebration of Easter.
The Coptic calendar, also called the Alexandrian calendar, is a liturgical calendar used by the Coptic Orthodox Church and also used by the farming populace in Egypt. This calendar is based on the ancient Egyptian calendar. To avoid the calendar creep of the latter, a reform of the ancient Egyptian calendar was introduced at the time of Ptolemy III which consisted of the intercalation of a sixth epagomenal day every fourth year. However, this reform was opposed by the Egyptian priests, and the reform was not adopted until 25 BC, when the Roman Emperor Augustus imposed the Decree upon Egypt as its official calendar. To distinguish it from the Ancient Egyptian calendar, which remained in use by some astronomers until medieval times, this reformed calendar is known as the Coptic calendar. Its years and months coincide with those of the Ethiopian calendar but have different numbers and names.
In the Synod of Whitby in 664, King Oswiu of Northumbria ruled that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome rather than the customs practised by Irish monks at Iona and its satellite institutions. The synod was summoned at Hilda's double monastery of Streonshalh (Streanæshalch), later called Whitby Abbey.
Dionysius Exiguus was a 6th-century monk born in Scythia Minor. He was a member of a community of Scythian monks concentrated in Tomis, the major city of Scythia Minor. Dionysius is best known as the inventor of Anno Domini (AD) dating, which is used to number the years of both the Gregorian calendar and the (Christianised) Julian calendar. Almost all churches adopted his computus (calculation) for the dates of Easter.
The computus is a calculation that determines the calendar date of Easter. Easter is traditionally celebrated on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, which is the first full moon on or after 21 March. Determining this date in advance requires a correlation between the lunar months and the solar year, while also accounting for the month, date, and weekday of the calendar. The calculations produce different results depending on whether the Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar is used.
The epact used to be described by medieval computists as the age of a phase of the Moon in days on 22 March; in the newer Gregorian calendar, however, the epact is reckoned as the age of the ecclesiastical moon on 1 January. Its principal use is in determining the date of Easter by computistical methods. It varies from year to year, because of the difference between the solar year of 365–366 days and the lunar year of 354–355 days.
The Apostolic Fathers were core Christian theologians among the Church Fathers who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, who are believed to have personally known some of the Twelve Apostles, or to have been significantly influenced by them. Their writings, though widely circulated in Early Christianity, were not included in the canon of the New Testament. Many of the writings derive from the same time period and geographical location as other works of early Christian literature which came to be part of the New Testament. Some of the writings found among the Apostolic Fathers appear to have been as highly regarded as some of the writings which became the New Testament.
Quartodecimanism refers to the custom of some early Christians celebrating Passover beginning with the eve of the 14th day of Nisan.
Annianus of Alexandria was a monk who flourished in Alexandria during the bishopric of Theophilus of Alexandria around the beginning of the 5th century. He criticized the world history of his contemporary monk Panodorus of Alexandria for relying too much on secular sources rather than biblical sources for his dates.
Anno Mundi, abbreviated as AM, or Year After Creation, is a calendar era based on the biblical accounts of the creation of the world and subsequent history. Two such calendar eras have seen notable use historically:
Polycrates of Ephesus was an Early Christian bishop who resided in Ephesus.
Anatolius of Laodicea, also known as Anatolios of Alexandria, became Bishop of Laodicea on the Mediterranean coast of Roman Syria in AD 268. He was not only one of the foremost scholars of his day in the physical sciences as well as in Aristotelean philosophy but also a great computist.
The Reckoning of Time is an Anglo-Saxon era treatise written in Medieval Latin by the Northumbrian monk Bede in 725. The treatise includes an introduction to the traditional ancient and medieval view of the cosmos, including an explanation of how the spherical Earth influenced the changing length of daylight, of how the seasonal motion of the Sun and Moon influenced the changing appearance of the new moon at evening twilight, and a quantitative relation between the changes of the tides at a given place and the daily motion of the Moon.
An ecclesiastical full moon is formally the 14th day of the ecclesiastical lunar month in an ecclesiastical lunar calendar. The ecclesiastical lunar calendar spans the year with lunar months of 30 and 29 days which are intended to approximate the observed phases of the Moon. Since a true synodic month has a length that can vary from about 29.27 to 29.83 days, the moment of astronomical opposition tends to be roughly 14.75 days after the previous conjunction of the Sun and Moon. The ecclesiastical full moons of the Gregorian lunar calendar tend to agree with the dates of astronomical opposition, referred to a day beginning at midnight at 0 degrees longitude, to within a day or so. However, the astronomical opposition happens at a single moment for the entire Earth: The hour and day at which the opposition is measured as having taken place will vary with longitude. In the ecclesiastical calendar, the 14th day of the lunar month, reckoned in local time, is considered the day of the full moon at each longitude.
Saint Thraseas was a martyr under the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Prior to his death he served as Bishop of Eumenia, Phrygia, in Asia Minor.
A computus clock is a clock equipped with a mechanism that automatically calculates and displays, or helps determine, the date of Easter. A computus watch carries out the same function.