—Old English Easter from Eostre, the goddess of spring and the dawn, the Teutonic name for the festival of the resurrection of Christ. The Latin and Greek churches use terms derived from the Greek pascha, the Passover, (e.g., Italian Pasqua, French Paques).
I. Origin—The celebration of Easter is the most ancient of all the annual church festivals and the most important. It does not appear in the New Testament, for in Acts 12:4, where A.V. reads “Easter,” R.V. rightly has “Passover,” the reference being to the Jewish festival which set the time of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Apostolic times the Christians commemorated their Lord's resurrection every Sunday by meeting on that day for worship. When St. Paul refers to Christ as “our Passover” (I Cor. 5:7) his language is metaphorical and cannot be regarded as containing any allusion to a church function. Nevertheless the annual celebrations of the Pascha by the Christians may be traced back to the sub-apostolic age. We find it being observed by Polycarp, a personal disciple of the Apostle John, and also at Rome, though with a different date. In these early times the festival was not confined to the Resurrection; it included the Crucifixion. Indeed, there is some reason to think that at first more stress was laid in the Pascha on the death of Jesus than on His resurrection, which had its weekly reminder. It was then the Christian equivalent of the Jews’ Passover feast of deliverance and so commemorated the great fact of redemption. The later Teutonic name “Easter” combines the pagan festival of spring with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Hence the custom of making presents of “Easter Eggs.” From early patristic times baptisms came to he usually celebrated at Easter. The catechumen, first prepared by a course of instruction and discipline, after being baptized, partook of the Eucharist for the first time. This custom is to be associated with the exceptional importance of the Easter communion—either as cause, or as effect.
II. The Controversy—The first schism in the Catholic church turned on the so-called “quartodociman controversy" as to the time of keeping Easter. The churches of Asia Minor followed the Jewish custom of beginning the Passover week on the 14th day of the month Nisan, whatever the day of the week; but the church at Rome and others in the West commemorated the death of Christ on a Friday and His resurrection on the following Sunday. This is the first Sunday after the full moon following the equinox March 21st, the date of our Easter.
1. Anicetus and Polycarp.—In or about a». 160 Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, paid a visit to Anicetus, bishop of Rome, and they had some discussion on the subject, each arguing for the custom of his own church, but without coming to agreement.
2. Victor and Polycrates.—Thirty years later (AD. 199) the controversy was revived and became more wide-spread and embittered. The bishops of Asia united in contending for the quarto-deciman position and Polycrates of Ephesus wrote a letter in their name to Victor the bishop of Rome, advocating it. In reply Victor excommunicated the churches of Asia and all who joined with them, declaring the quarto-decimans to be heretics. While, as Eusebius informs us, the bishops of Palestine and Alexandria assented to Victor's pronouncement, there were many bishops who protested, most important among whom was Irenaeus of Lyonne and Vienne in Gaul, who, though he came from Asia. and had been a disciple of Polycarp, followed the Western custom and did not “observe” (i.e., the 14th Nisan). Nevertheless he objected to Victor's action in cutting off whole “churches of God” who were following the tradition of an ancient custom.
3. Final settlement.—At the council of Nicaea (AD). 325) the controversy was finally settled by church authority in favor of the Western usage and the quarto-decimans denounced as heretics. After this they rapidly declined in number and importance.
4. The Laodicean Controversy.—This occurred between AD. 170 and 177 among the quartodecimans, some contending that the last supper took place on the 14th Nisan and the death of Christ on the 15th, others that Christ anticipated the day of the Passover meal, taking it on the 13th, and dying, Himself the true pascal lamb, on the 14th. Quite unimportant as this discussion is in church history, it has obtained a factitious value in connection with the Tubingen hypothesis which discredits the historicity of St. John’s gospel, our authority for the belief that Jesus was crucified on the day when the Jews killed the pascal lamb. But the controversy itself is too obscure to throw much light on the Johannine problem. W. F. ADENEY