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Quartodecimanism (from the Vulgate Latin quarta decima in Leviticus 23:5, [1] meaning fourteenth) refers to the custom of some early Christians celebrating Passover beginning with the eve of the 14th day of Nisan (or Aviv in the Hebrew Bible calendar).


The modern Jewish Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread is seven days, starting with the sunset at the beginning of Nisan 15. Judaism reckons the beginning of each day at sunset, not at sunrise as is the ancient custom in European traditions. The biblical law regarding Passover is said to be a "perpetual ordinance" (Exodus 12:14), to some degree also applicable to proselytes (Exodus 12:19).

Regarding the chronology of Jesus, some claim the Gospel of John (e.g., 19:14, 19:31, 19:42) implies that Nisan 14 was the day that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem and that the Synoptic Gospels instead place the execution on the first day of Unleavened Bread (Matthew 26:17). In Ancient Israel the first day of Unleavened Bread was on Nisan 15 and began a seven-day feast to the Lord (Leviticus 23:6). By the time of Christ, many customs in regard to the festival had changed, notable among them the intermixing of the two festivals in some customs and terminology. The eight days, passover and the feast of unleavened bread, were often collectively referred to as the Passover, or the Pesach Festival. [2] [3]


The Quartodeciman controversy arose because Christians in the churches of Jerusalem and Asia Minor observed The Lord's Supper on the 14th of the first month (Nisan (postexilic), Aviv/Abib (preexilic)) no matter the day of the week on which it occurred, while the churches in and around Rome changed to the practice of celebrating Pascha (Easter) always on the Sunday following Nisan 14, calling it "the day of the resurrection of our Saviour". The difference was turned into an ecclesiastical controversy when the practice was condemned by synods of bishops. [4]


Of the disputes about the date when the Christian Pascha should be celebrated, disputes known as Paschal/Easter controversies, the Quartodeciman is the first recorded.

In the mid–2nd century, the practice in Asia Minor was for the pre-Paschal fast to end and the feast to be held on the 14th day (the full moon) of the Jewish lunar month of Nisan (no matter the day of the week on which it occurred), the date on which the Passover sacrifice had been offered when the Second Temple stood, and "the day when the people put away the leaven". [5] Those who observed this practice were called Quartodecimani, Latin for "fourteenthers", because of holding their celebration on the fourteenth day of Nisan.

The practice had been followed by Polycarp, who was a disciple of John the Apostle and bishop of Smyrna (c. 69 – c. 155) - one of the seven churches of Asia, and by Melito of Sardis (d. c. 180). [5] Irenaeus says that Polycarp visited Rome when Anicetus was its bishop (c. 68-153), and among the topics discussed was this divergence of custom, with Rome celebrating the Pasch always on Sunday. Irenaeus noted:

Neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it, as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him. [6]

But neither considered that the disagreement required them to break off communion and initiate a schism. Indeed, "Anicetus conceded the administration of the eucharist in the church to Polycarp, manifestly as a mark of respect. And they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church." [6]

Sozomen also wrote:

As the bishops of the West did not deem it necessary to dishonor the tradition handed down to them by Peter and by Paul, and as, on the other hand, the Asiatic bishops persisted in following the rules laid down by John the evangelist, they unanimously agreed to continue in the observance of the festival according to their respective customs, without separation from communion with each other. They faithfully and justly assumed, that those who accorded in the essentials of worship ought not to separate from one another on account of customs. [7]

A modern source says that the discussion between Polycarp and Anicetus in Rome took place within the framework of a synod. [8]

Thus the churches in Asia appealed to the Apostle John in support of their practice, while Sozomen wrote that the Roman custom (observed, according to Irenaeus, since at least the time of Bishop Xystus of 115–25) [6] was believed to have been handed down by the Apostles Peter and Paul, [7] and Eusebius states that in Palestine and Egypt the Sunday observance was also believed to have originated with the Apostles. [9]

Condemnatory synods

According to Eusebius, in the last decade of the 2nd century a number of synods were convened to deal with the controversy, ruling unanimously that the celebration of Pascha should be observed and be exclusively on Sunday.

Synods and conferences of bishops were convened, and drew up a decree of the Church, in the form of letters addressed to Christians everywhere, that never on any day other than the Lord's Day should the mystery of the Lord's resurrection from the dead be celebrated, and on that day alone we should observe the end of the Paschal fast. [4]

These synods were held in Palestine, Pontus and Osrhoene in the east, and in Rome and Gaul in the west. [4] The council in Rome, presided over by its bishop Victor, took place in 193 and sent a letter about the matter to Polycrates of Ephesus and the churches of the Roman province of Asia. [8] Within the same year, Polycrates presided over a council at Ephesus attended by several bishops throughout that province, which rejected Victor's authority and kept the province's paschal tradition. [8]

Polycrates emphatically stated that he was following the tradition passed down to him:

We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord's coming ... All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. [5]


On receiving the negative response of Polycrates, Victor attempted to cut off Polycrates and the others who took this stance from the common unity, but reversed his decision after bishops who included Saint Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, interceded, recommending that Victor follow the more peaceful attitude of his predecessors.

Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate. 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. [10]


In the short following chapter of the account by Eusebius, a chapter headed "How All came to an Agreement respecting the Passover", he recounts that the Palestinian bishops Narcissus and Theophilus, together with the bishops of Tyre and Ptolemais, wrote a lengthy review of the tradition of Sunday celebration of Pascha (Easter) "which had come to them in succession from the apostles", and concluded by saying:

Endeavor to send copies of our epistle to every church, that we may not furnish occasion to those who easily deceive their souls. We show you indeed that also in Alexandria they keep it on the same day that we do. For letters are carried from us to them and from them to us, so that in the same manner and at the same time we keep the sacred day. [9]

Historically, there had been a debate about when quartodecimanism disappeared and in particular whether it disappeared before or after the first ecumenical council (Nicaea I) in 325. In 1880, Louis Duchesne showed that quartodecimanism was not the subject of Nicaea I. [11] According to Mark DelCogliano, "the older opinion persists" but Duchesne's opinion "has gained widespread acceptance." [12] According to DelCogliano, "by the early 4th century all Christians were celebrating Pascha (Easter) on a Sunday. Accordingly, it was not the Quartodeciman practice that Constantine sought to eliminate, but rather the so-called 'Protopaschite' practice which calculated the paschal full moon according to the Jewish lunar calendar and not the Julian solar calendar". [12]

As shown, for instance, by the Sardica paschal table, it was quite common at that time that the Jewish calendrical year started before the equinox. In case the previous year had started after the equinox, two Passovers would be celebrated in the same solar year (the solar New Year was starting on March 21). Since the 3rd century this disorder of the Jewish calendar of the time was lamented by several Christian writers, who felt that the Jewish were often using a wrong lunation as their Nisan month and advocated the introduction of an independent computus by the Christians.

In a letter to the bishops who had not been present, Emperor Constantine I said that it had been decided to adopt a uniform date, rejecting the custom of the Jews, who had crucified Jesus and whose practice often meant that two passovers were celebrated in the same solar year:

It was resolved by the united judgment of all present, that this feast ought to be kept by all and in every place on one and the same day. For what can be more becoming or honorable to us than that this feast, from which we date our hopes of immortality, should be observed unfailingly by all alike, according to one ascertained order and arrangement? And first of all, it appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul. For we have it in our power, if we abandon their custom, to prolong the due observance of this ordinance to future ages, by a truer order, which we have preserved from the very day of the passion until the present time. Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way. A course at once legitimate and honorable lies open to our most holy religion. Beloved brethren, let us with one consent adopt this course, and withdraw ourselves from all participation in their baseness... being altogether ignorant of the true adjustment of this question, they sometimes celebrate Pascha (Easter) twice in the same year. Why then should we follow those who are confessedly in grievous error? Surely we shall never consent to keep this feast a second time in the same year... And let your Holinesses' sagacity reflect how grievous and scandalous it is that on the self-same days some should be engaged in fasting, others in festive enjoyment; and again, that after the days of Pascha (Easter) some should be present at banquets and amusements, while others are fulfilling the appointed fasts. It is, then, plainly the will of Divine Providence (as I suppose you all clearly see), that this usage should receive fitting correction, and be reduced to one uniform rule. [13]

Eschatology of the quartodeciman Paschal celebration

In his study The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, the Lutheran scriptural scholar Joachim Jeremias made a compelling argument that the Quartodecimans preserved the original understanding and character of the Christian Pascha (Easter) celebration. He states that in Jewish tradition four major themes are associated with Passover, i.e., the creation of the world, the Akedah or binding of Isaac, the redemption of Israel from Egypt (both the passing over of the First-born during the Passover meal and Israel's passage through the Red Sea) and the coming of the Messiah (announced by the Prophet Elijah). For Christians, the central events of the Paschal Mystery of Christ, i.e., his passion, death and resurrection, also are obviously associated with Passover. Thus it was inevitable that the very earliest Christians expected the imminent return of Christ to also occur during their Passover celebrations. Jeremias notes that Quartodecimans began their Christian Passover celebrations by reading the appropriate readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e., the twelve readings from the Hebrew Scriptures that still are read at the Pascha (Easter) Vigil in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Armenian traditions. At midnight, when Christ had not reappeared to inaugurate the great eschatological banquet, the Christians would celebrate the Paschal Eucharist in anticipation of that final act of the drama of the redemption of Christ.

As this original eschatological fervor began to die down, and as Christianity became an increasingly Gentile movement, this original eschatological orientation of the Christian Passover celebration was lost; and with the development of the practice of baptizing catechumens during the twelve readings so they would share the Eucharist for the first time with the Christian community at the conclusion of the Paschal Vigil, the baptismal themes came to dominate the celebrations of the Paschal Vigil, as they do again in those churches which have begun again to baptize its adult converts during the Pascha (Easter) Vigil. Major liturgical scholars such as Louis Bouyer and Alexander Schmemann concur with Jeremias' essential position and one has only to examine the Christian liturgical texts for Paschal Vigil to see evidence of this. E.g., the Eucharistic Preface for the Pascha (Easter) Vigil in the Roman, Lutheran and Anglican/Episcopalian traditions, which state: "...on this night when Christ became our Passover sacrifice" or the Eastern Orthodox Troparion for Great and Holy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, which warns the Christian community "Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night and blessed are those servants he shall find awake..." In short, no one knows when Christ will appear at the end of time, but given other central events of redemption which occurred during Passover, the earliest Christians assumed that Christ would probably appear during the Paschal Eucharist, just as he first appeared to his original disciples during their meal on the first Pascha (Easter) Sunday. [note 1]


It is not known how long the Nisan 14 practice lasted. The church historian Socrates of Constantinople knew of Quartodecimans who were deprived of their churches by John Chrysostom, [14] and harassed in unspecified ways by Nestorius, [15] both bishops of Constantinople. This indicates that the Nisan 14 practice, or a practice that was called by the same name, lingered into the 4th century.

Because this was the first-recorded Easter controversy, it has had a strong influence on the minds of some subsequent generations. Wilfrid, the 7th-century bishop of York in Northumbria, styled his opponents in the Pascha (Easter) controversy of his day "quartodecimans", [16] though they celebrated Pascha (Easter) on Sunday. Many scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries thought that the dispute over Pascha (Easter) that was discussed at Nicaea was between the Nisan 14 practice and Sunday observance. [17] According to one account, "A final settlement of the dispute was one among the other reasons which led Constantine to summon the council at Nicaea in 325. At that time, the Syrians and Antiochenes were the solitary champions of the observance of the 14th day. The decision of the council was unanimous that Pascha (Easter) was to be kept on Sunday, and on the same Sunday throughout the world, and that 'none hereafter should follow the blindness of the Jews'". [18] A new translation, published in 1999, of Eusebius' Life of Constantine suggests that this view is no longer widely accepted; [19] its view is that the dispute at Nicaea was between two schools of Sunday observance: those who followed the traditional practice of relying on Jewish informants to determine the lunar month in which Pascha (Easter) would fall, and those who wished to set it using Christian computations.

Laurent Cleenewerck suggests that the East-West schism could even be argued to have started with Victor's attempt to excommunicate the Asian churches. [20] Despite Victor's failure to carry out his intent to excommunicate the Asian churches, many Catholic theologians point to this episode as evidence of papal primacy and authority in the early Church, citing the fact that none of the bishops challenged his right to excommunicate but rather questioned the wisdom and charity of doing so. [20] From the Orthodox perspective, Victor had to relent in the end and we see that the Eastern Churches never grant him presidency over anything other than his own church, his own synod.[ citation needed ] Cleenewerck points out that Eusebius of Caesarea simply refers to Victor as one of the "rulers of the Churches", not the ruler of a yet unknown or unformed "universal Church". [20] As the date of observance of the Resurrection of Christ as being on the day of the week Sunday rather than the 14th day of the month was not resolved by Papal authority it was only finally resolved by an Ecumenical Council. [21]

The rejection of Bishop Anicetus' position on the Quartodeciman by Polycarp, and later Polycrates' letter to Pope Victor I, has been used by Orthodox theologians as proof against the argument that the Churches in Asia Minor accepted the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and or the teaching of Papal supremacy. [22]

Jehovah's Witnesses and Bible Students worldwide celebrate the Memorial of Christ's death on Nisan 14. [23]

The Living Church of God keeps the Quartodeciman Passover [24] on the evening beginning Nisan 14 in the manner of the First Century Church. [25]

Table of dates of Easter 2001–2025 (in Gregorian dates) [26]
YearFull Moon Jewish Passover [note 2] Astronomical Easter [note 3] Gregorian Easter Julian Easter
2001April 8April 15
2002March 28March 31May 5
2003April 16April 17April 20April 27
2004April 5April 6April 11
2005March 25April 24March 27May 1
2006April 13April 16April 23
2007April 2April 3April 8
2008March 21April 20March 23April 27
2009April 9April 12April 19
2010March 30April 4
2011April 18April 19April 24
2012April 6April 7April 8April 15
2013March 27March 26March 31May 5
2014April 15April 20
2015April 4April 5April 12
2016March 23April 23March 27May 1
2017April 11April 16
2018March 31April 1April 8
2019March 21April 20March 24April 21April 28
2020April 8April 9April 12April 19
2021March 28April 4May 2
2022April 16April 17April 24
2023April 6April 9April 16
2024March 25April 23March 31May 5
2025April 13April 20
  1. The Epistle reading for Pascha (Easter) Sunday in the Roman, Lutheran and Anglican (Episcopalian) liturgical traditions is Acts 10:34–43, which states that "God raised him from the dead and granted that he be seen, not by all, but those chosen before hand by God, those of us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead", i.e., the first Passover Eucharist was intrinsic to the risen Christ's original appearance to his disciples on that first Pascha (Easter) Sunday.
  2. Jewish Passover is on Nisan 15 of its calendar. It commences at sunset preceding the date indicated (as does Easter in many traditions).
  3. Astronomical Easter is the first Sunday after the Astronomical full moon at to the meridian of Jerusalem according to this WCC proposal.[ citation needed ]

See also


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    1. Leviticus 23:5 : "Mense primo, quarta decima die mensis, ad vesperum Pascha Domini est."
    2. "Feast of Unleavened Bread" (PDF). Hebraic community. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-06-20. Retrieved 2012-11-23.
    3. "Chag HaMatzot" [Unleavened bread]. Hebrew for Christians.
    4. 1 2 3 Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, 5.23 (NPNF2 1, pp.  Wikisource-logo.svg 241–242 ).
    5. 1 2 3 Polycrates. to Victor, quoted in Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, 5.24 (NPNF2 1, pp.  Wikisource-logo.svg 242–244 ).
    6. 1 2 3 Irenaeus. to Victor, quoted in Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, 5.24 (NPNF2 1, pp.  Wikisource-logo.svg 242–244 ).
    7. 1 2 Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica, 7.19 (NPNF2 1, pp.  Wikisource-logo.svg 389–390 ).
    8. 1 2 3 "An Orthodox Christian Historical Timeline", Orthodox Answers .
    9. 1 2 Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, 5.25 (NPNF2 1, pp.  Wikisource-logo.svg 244 ).
    10. Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica, 5.24 (NPNF2 1, pp.  Wikisource-logo.svg 242–244 ); see Cantalamessa 1993, pp. 33–37.
    11. Duchesne 1880, pp. 5-42, cited in DelCogliano (2011, p. 44).
    12. 1 2 DelCogliano 2011, p. 44.
    13. Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 3.18 (NPNF2 1, pp.  Wikisource-logo.svg 524–525 ).
    14. Socrates Scholasticus, Historia ecclesiastica, 6.11 (NPNF2 2, pp.  Wikisource-logo.svg 145–147 ).
    15. Socrates Scholasticus, Historia ecclesiastica, 7.29 (NPNF2 2, pp.  Wikisource-logo.svg 169 ).
    16. Stephanus, Eddius (1988), "Life of Wilfrid (chapter 12)", in Farmer, DF (ed.), The Age of Bede, London: Penguin, pp. 117–18.
    17. Jones, Charles W (1943), Bedae Opera de Tempribus, Cambridge: Medieval Academy of America, p. 18.
    18. Fallow 1911, pp. 828–829.
    19. Cameron & Hall 1999, p. 260.
    20. 1 2 3 Cleenewerck 2008, p.  155.
    21. Cleenewerck 2008, pp.  150–57.
    22. Cleenewerck 2008, p.  154.
    23. Insight on The Scriptures, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, 1988, p. 392.
    24. "Are You a Quartodeciman? Should You Be?". Tomorrow's World. 2013-09-30. Retrieved 2018-05-18.
    25. The Holy Days: God's Master Plan. 19 August 2013.
    26. "Towards a Common Date for Easter". Aleppo, Syria: World Council of Churches (WCC) / Middle East Council of Churches Consultation (MECC). 10 March 1997.