Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday will soon be ending. The date of Easter is, of course, a "moveable feast", as Molly has mentioned in her previous blog on the Paschal Full Moon. The presumed date of Easter is connected to the Jewish lunar calender. It has generally been presumed that the 'Last Supper' was a Passover Feast. The synoptic gospels seem to say that this was actually the feast of 'Unleavened Bread' which preceded Passover. The Gospel of John, however, speaks explicitly of the elders of the Jews not wanting to enter the hall of Pilate so that they could "eat the Passover", saying that it had not yet occurred. In the early Church Easter was celebrated on the date of the "14th Nissan" , of the Jewish calender. This was the date of the "preparation" for the feast of the Passover. During the Middle Ages the 14th of Nissan became known as the Paschal Full Moon.
In the early Church the practice in the East was to celebrate Easter on the 14th Nissan(the fourteenth day of the Moon), while the practice in the western Church was to celebrate it on the following Sunday. Those who held to the traditional date of Easter were called "Quartodecimans". This may seem something of a silly controversy today, but Molly hastes to remind her readers that this was one of many controversies whereby the early Christians slaughtered each other to numbers that exceed the persecution of the Roman state byat least a factor of ten. As the Church became increasingly anti-Semitic in te early years of the Common Era the practice of celebrating Easter on the 14th of Nissan fell into increasing disfavour.
The next phase of the controversy over the date of Easter arose with the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. The emperor Constantine (of matricidal and Christian fame). The Christians of Syria and Mesopotamia still held to the 14th of Nissan as the date of Easter. The Council of Nicaea attempted to fix the date of Easter with our present tradition. The actual power to determine the date of Easter was referred, not to the Papacy at Rome, but rather to the Bishop of Alexandria. At this time methods of calculation called Computus were adopted. These paid tribute to a pre-Marxist scholastic tradition whereby the reality of astronomical events was ignored in favour of deriving dates from texts. In further years the date of Easter was often ascertained by political compromises between Rome and Alexandria.
The final phase of the 'Easter Date Controversy' arose during the struggle of the Papacy to place the Irish Church under their authority. The Irish monks had re-Christianized England and also Scotland. Their missionaries had spread well afield into Germany and Denmark. The Irish monastic tradition represented a serious threat to the diocesan imperial method way of organizing the Church as per the Papacy. In the end the Irish bowed down on this and other matters. The way that the Irish determined the date of Easter is still obscure. It may have been from following a different calender system than the Julian. It may have been from following the practice of the early Church in the east.
Presently "Pascha" is an important feast of the Orthodox and eastern Catholic Churches. It is actually the most important feast in their calender, having precedence over Christmas. These celebrations are, of course, held according to the Julian calender rather than our common calender.

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