Quartodecimanism (from the Vulgate Latin quarta decima in Leviticus 23:5,[1] meaning fourteen) 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), which at dusk is Biblically the "Lord's passover".

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 midnight as is common in Western reckoning. 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), but what it means to observe Biblical law in Christianity is disputed.

According to some interpretations, the Gospel of John (e.g., 19:14, 19:31, 19:42) implies that Nisan 14 was the day that Jesus was executed in Jerusalem. The Synoptic Gospels place the execution on the first day of Unleavened Bread (Matthew 26:17), usually understood as Nisan 15 given a seven-day feast (Leviticus 23:6). On these interpretations, there is a contradiction (by one day) in the Gospel chronology.



Very early in the life of the Church, disputes arose as to which date Pasch or Easter (called "Pascha" in Greek and Latin) should be celebrated. Disputes of this kind came to be known as Paschal/Easter controversies. The first recorded such controversy came to be known as the Quartodeciman controversy.

In the early period, Easter was always held on a date near the middle of the Jewish month of Nisan. In the mid–second century A.D., the practice in the Roman province of Asia was for the pre-Easter fast to end on the eve of the 14th day of Nisan, regulated by the full moon, the day on which the Passover sacrifice had been made when the Second Temple stood, and "the day when the people put away the leaven"[2] (such as Jews, Jewish proselytes, and Jewish Christians). Nisan 14 itself was commonly, if somewhat confusingly, also called Passover; technically it is Preparation Day for the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread that begins on Nisan 15, now also called Passover. The Asian custom became known as "Quartodecimanism" among the Latins. Melito of Sardis (d. c.180) was a notable Quartodeciman.

The practice elsewhere was to continue the fast until the eve of the Sunday following; the objection to the Quartodeciman practice was that the 14th of Nisan could fall on any day of the week. Outside of Roman Asia, Christians wished to associate Easter with Sunday, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead according to all the Gospels, and which had long been a Christian holy day,[3] known as the Lord's Day. According to the writings of Irenaeus (d. c. 202), the Roman church had celebrated Easter on a Sunday at least since the time of Bishop Xystus (Sixtus I, 115–125).[4]

Irenaeus, who followed the Sunday custom, also stated, however, that bishop Polycarp (a disciple of John the Apostle) of Smyrna (c.69-c.155) in Asia Minor, one of the Seven churches of Asia, was Quartodeciman, celebrating on Nisan 14. Shortly after Anicetus became bishop of Rome in about 155, Polycarp had visited Rome, and among the topics discussed was this divergence of custom. But, Irenaeus noted,

Anicetus could not persuade Polycarp to forgo the [Quartodeciman] observance inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of the Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to keep it: Anicetus said that he must hold to the way of the elders before him.

Neither Polycarp nor Anicetus was able to persuade the other to his position, but neither did they consider the matter of sufficient importance to justify a schism. Indeed, Irenaeus also noted that "Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect"; Anicetus and Polycarp parted in peace leaving the question unsettled.[4][5]

The Eschatological Character 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 Easter/Passover 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 also expected the imminent return of Christ to also occur during their Passover celebrations. Jeremias, notes that the 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 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 began to be lost and with the development of the practice of baptizing catechumens during the twelve readings in order for them to 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 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 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,[6] 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 Easter Sunday.[7]

Late–second century controversy

The difference in practice was turned into an ecclesiastical controversy when bishop Victor of Rome attempted to declare the Nisan 14 practice heretical and excommunicate all who followed it.[8] On this occasion Irenaeus and Polycrates of Ephesus wrote to Victor; Irenaeus reminding Victor of his predecessor Anicetus's more tolerant attitude, and Polycrates defending the Asian practice.

Polycrates (c. 190) emphatically notes that he was following the tradition passed down to him:

As for us, then, we scrupulously observe the exact day, neither adding nor taking away. For in Asia great luminaries have gone to their rest who will rise again on the day of the coming of the Lord .... These all kept the 14th day of the month as the beginning of the Paschal feast, in accordance with the Gospel .... 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.[2]

According to Eusebius, a number of synods were convened to deal with the controversy, which he regarded as all ruling in support of Easter on Sunday.

Synods and conferences of bishops were convened, and without a dissenting voice, 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.[9]

A Palestinian synod, under the direction of bishops Narcissus and Theophilus, issued "a lengthy review of the tradition about the Easter festival [beginning Sunday eve] which had come down to them without a break from the apostles", concluding:

Endeavor also to send abroad copies of our epistle among all the churches, so that those who easily deceive their own souls may not be able to lay the blame on us. We would have you know, too, that in Alexandria also they observe the festival on the same day as ourselves. For the Paschal letters are sent from us to them, and from them to us — so that we observe the holy day in unison and together.[10]

Victor's excommunication of the Asians was apparently rescinded, and the two sides reconciled as a result of the intervention of Irenaeus and other bishops:

Victor, head of the Roman church, attempted at one stroke to cut off from the common unity all the Asian dioceses .... But this was not to the taste of all the bishops: They replied with a request that he would turn his mind to the things that make for peace and for unity and love towards his neighbors. We still possess the words of these men, who very sternly rebuked Victor."[8]

In the end, a uniform method of computing the date of Easter was not formally addressed until the First Council of Nicaea in 325.


It is not known how long the Nisan 14 practice lasted. The church historian Socrates knew of Quartodecimans who were deprived of their churches by John Chrysostom,[11] and harassed in unspecified ways by Nestorius,[12] 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 Easter controversy of his day "quartodecimans",[13] though they celebrated Easter on Sunday. Many scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries thought that the dispute over Easter that was discussed at Nicaea was between the Nisan 14 practice and Sunday observance.[14] 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 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'". [15] A new translation of Eusebius' Life of Constantine suggests that this view is no longer widely accepted;[16] 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 Easter would fall, and those who wished to set it using Christian computations.

Table of dates of Easter 2001–2020
(In Gregorian dates)
Year Astronomical
full moon
(Sunday after full moon)
2001 April 8 April 15 April 15 April 15 April 8
2002 March 28 March 31 March 31 May 5 March 28
2003 April 16 April 20 April 20 April 27 April 17
2004 April 5 April 11 April 11 April 11 April 6
2005 March 25 March 27 March 27 May 1 April 24
2006 April 13 April 16 April 16 April 23 April 13
2007 April 2 April 8 April 8 April 8 April 3
2008 March 21 March 23 March 23 April 27 April 20
2009 April 9 April 12 April 12 April 19 April 9
2010 March 30 April 4 April 4 April 4 March 30
2011 April 18 April 24 April 24 April 24 April 19
2012 April 6 April 8 April 8 April 15 April 7
2013 March 27 March 31 March 31 May 5 March 26
2014 April 15 April 20 April 20 April 20 April 15
2015 April 4 April 5 April 5 April 12 April 4
2016 March 23 March 27 March 27 May 1 April 23
2017 April 11 April 16 April 16 April 16 April 11
2018 March 31 April 1 April 1 April 8 March 31
2019 March 21 March 24 April 21 April 28 April 20
2020 April 8 April 12 April 12 April 19 April 9

See also


  1. ^ "New Vulgate (Old Testament)". http://www.vatican.va/archive/bible/nova_vulgata/documents/nova-vulgata_vt_leviticus_lt.html#23. "Mense primo, quarta decima die mensis, ad vesperum Pascha Domini est." 
  2. ^ a b Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, letter to Victor, bishop of Rome, quoted in Eusebius. "Church History". p. 5.24. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.x.xxv.html. 
  3. ^ Revelation 1:10 and Acts 20:7 may suggest a custom of assembling on Sunday, though the passages do not explicitly so state. In the early– to mid–second century, the custom of Sunday assembly is mentioned in the Didache and by Justin Martyr.
  4. ^ a b Irenaeus, letter to Victor (bishop of Rome), quoted in Eusebius. "Church History". p. 5.24.14, 5.24.17. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.x.xxv.html. 
  5. ^ "A List Worthy of Study, Given by the Historian, of Customs among Different Nations and Churches". http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf202.iii.xii.xix.html. 
  6. ^ See the section on theories as to the origins of the Feast of the Annunciation for evidence of early Christian traditions that Christ was conceived at Passover as well.
  7. ^ The Epistle reading for Easter Sunday in the Roman, Lutheran and Anglican/Episcopalian liturgical traditions is Act 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 Easter Sunday.
  8. ^ a b Eusebius. "Church History". p. 5.24. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.x.xxv.html. 
  9. ^ Eusebius. "Church History". p. 5.23. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.x.xxiv.html. 
  10. ^ Narcissus of Jerusalem, Theophilus of Caesarea, Cassius of Tyre, Clarus of Ptolemais, et al., quoted in Eusebius. "Church History". p. 5.25. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf201.iii.x.xxvi.html. 
  11. ^ Socrates. "Church History". 6.11. In The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates, Bell and Sons, London, 1874, p. 318.
  12. ^ Socrates. "Church History". 7.29.
  13. ^ Eddius Stephanus. "Life of Wilfrid". 12. In Farmer, D. F., ed., The Age of Bede, Penguin, London, 1988, pp. 117-118.
  14. ^ Jones, Charles W., Bedae Opera de Tempribus, Medieval Academy of America, Cambridge, 1943, p. 18.
  15. ^ Encyclopedia Brittanica (11th edition, Vol. VIII, pp.828-829)
  16. ^ Cameron, Averil, and Hall, Stuart G., eds., Eusebius: Life of Constantine, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1999, p. 260.

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