A (Brief) History on the Easter Controversy

Easter Sunday is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ occurring at the end of Lent, which spans 40 days and is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Easter represents new life and new beginnings; during the 40 days of Lent, Catholics prepare themselves to die spiritually with Christ on Good Friday, the day of His crucifixion, so they can rise with Him and celebrate the beginning of a new life on Easter Sunday.

There have been debates throughout religious history about what day Easter should be celebrated, dating back to the time of Pope Victor, around A.D. 190. At that time, local churches celebrated Easter at various times, on various days, depending on the moon cycle, and there was controversy about celebrating Easter during the week.  After multiple Synods and assemblies of bishops were held, it was decided that the Resurrection of the Lord should only be celebrated on a Sunday.

A few hundred years after this declaration, the question arose as to which Sunday Easter should be celebrated. Originally, following the Jewish calendar, Easter was celebrated on the Passover, which was the 14th day of Nisan – the first month of the Jewish year (March or April for our modern calendars). In A.D. 325, The Council of Nicaea considered when Easter should be celebrated and, although they determined that Easter must be celebrated throughout the world on the same Sunday; that this Sunday must follow the 14th day of the paschal moon; and that it should be celebrated on the Sunday after Passover between Nisan 15th and 21st, the issue was not resolved.  The Roman church and the Celtic (Irish) church had varying opinions. The Roman church abided by Nisan 15th – 21st, while the Celtic church continued to celebrate Easter between Nisan 14th – 20th-in line with the Jewish Passover. This problem stems from trying to place a celebration that originates from the Jewish, lunar, calendar, onto the Roman, solar, calendar.

Because of this difference regarding the proper date for Easter, in A.D. 664 the Celtics celebrated Easter a full week earlier than the Roman church. King Oswy of Northumbria was not happy with the different dates as he kept the Celtic calendar while his wife kept the Roman calendar. To resolve this problem he summoned a counsel to a newly founded abbey at Whitby (in England) to address the still varying date of Easter. This synod turned out to be one of the most important ecclesiastical gatherings in the history of the English church.

A full account of the synod was given by Saint Bede, an English monk at the monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth. The counsel decided to follow the Roman calendar. More significant than the calendar decision was the underlying decision to follow the guidance of the church at Rome in ecclesiastical matters.

So, this Sunday while you’re celebrating Easter, think about all of the history and thought that went into determining that Easter Sunday in 2015 would be held on April 5! Have a wonderful Easter weekend and may God bless you and keep you safe!

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