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Chance decreed that the execution of Sagaris coincided nearly with the festival of Easter. Now the fixing of that festival gave place to difficulties without end. Deprived of its pastor, the Church of Laodicea fell into unsolvable controversies. These controversies belonged to the very essence of the development of Christianity and could not be avoided. By force of a reciprocal charity, a veil had been thrown over the deep difference between the two Christianities—on one side, the Christianity which appeared like a sequence of Judaism; on the other side, the Christianity which appeared like the destruction of Judaism. But the reality was less flexible than the spirit. The day of Easter was among the Christian churches a cause of much discord. They could not fast, they could not pray the same day. The one class was still in tears while the other was singing songs of triumph. Even the churches which no question of principles separated were embarrassed. The Passover cycle was so badly fixed that some neighbouring churches, like those of Alexandria and Palestine, wrote that in the spring they celebrated the feast the same day and in full sympathy.

What could be more shocking indeed than to see such a Church plunged in grief, attenuated by fasting, while just such another was already floating in the joys of the Resurrection? The fasts which preceded Easter, and which gave Lent its origin, were also practised with the greatest diversities.

It was Asia which was most agitated by these controversies. We have already seen the question 109treated of, ten or twelve years back, between Polycarp and Anicet. Nearly all the Christian churches, having the Church of Rome at their head, had misplaced the Passover, observing that festival on the Sunday which came before the fourteenth Nisan, and identifying it with the festival of the Resurrection. Asia had not followed the movement; on this point, if one may so speak, it had remained behind. The majority of the bishops of Asia, faithful to the tradition of the old Gospels, and appealing especially to Matthew, would have it that Jesus, before dying, had eaten the Passover with His disciples on the fourteenth of Nisan; they celebrated this festival on the same day as the Jews, on whichever day of the week it fell. They advanced in favour of their opinion the Gospel, the authority of their predecessors, the prescriptions of the law, the canon of the faith and especially the authority of the apostles John and Philip, who had lived among them, without looking for a single contradiction from John. It is more than probable indeed that the apostle John celebrated Easter all his life on the fourteenth Nisan; but in the Gospel which is attributed to him, he appears to point to quite another doctrine, treats disdainfully the ancient Jewish Passover festival, and makes Jesus die the same day as that on which they ate the lamb, as if to indicate thus the substitution of a new Paschal lamb for the old.

Polycarpus, we have seen, followed the tradition of John and Philip. It was so with Thraseas, Sagaris, Papirius, and Melito. The Montanists were also doubtless of the same opinion. But the opinion of the Universal Church became each day more imperious and embarrassing for these determined persons. Apollinaris of Hierapolis was, as it would appear, converted to the Roman practice. He repelled the Easter of the fourteenth Nisan as a 110remnant of Judaism, and advanced to maintain his opinion the Gospel of John. Melito, seeing the embarrassment of the faithful of Laodicea, deprived of their pastor, wrote for them his work on Easter, in which he maintains the tradition of the fourteenth Nisan. Apollinaris preserves a moderation which was not always imitated. The universal opinion of Asia remained faithful to the Judaising tradition; the controversy of Laodicea and the manifestation of Apollinaris had not any immediate consequences. The remote parts of Syria, and with greater reason the Judeo-Christians and Ebionites, remained equally faithful to the Jewish observance. As to the rest of the Christian world, carried away by the example of the Church of Rome, it adopted the anti-Jewish usage. Even the churches of Gaul of Asiatic origin, which at first had doubtless celebrated Easter on the fourteenth Nisan, conformed themselves speedily to the universal calendar, which was the truly Christian calendar. The remembrance of the Resurrection replaced all at once that of the exodus from Egypt, as the exodus from Egypt had replaced the purely naturalistic meaning of the ancient Semitic paskh, the Spring festival.

About the year 196 the question came up more freshly than ever. The churches of Asia persisted in their old usage. Rome, always ardent for unity, wished to compel them. On the invitation of the Pope Victor, assemblies of bishops were held; a vast correspondence was exchanged. Eusebius had in his hands the synodal epistle of the council of Palestine, presided over by Theophilus of Cesarea and Narcissus of Jerusalem, the letter of the Synod of Rome, countersigned by Victor, the letters of the bishops of the West, over whom Palma presided as being the oldest, the letter from the churches of France, of which Irenæus was bishop, and finally 111those of the churches of Osrhoêne, without speaking of individual letters from many bishops, notably from Bachylles of Corinth. They were found unanimous for the translation of Easter to Sunday. But the bishops of Asia, strong in the tradition of the two apostles and of so many illustrious men, would not yield. Old Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, wrote in their name a letter bitter enough to Victor and to the Church of Rome.

“It is we who are faithful to tradition, without adding anything to it, without giving up anything. It is in Asia that these great foundation men repose, who will arise on the day of the Lord’s appearing, in that day when He shall come from heaven with glory to raise all the saints: Philip, he who was one of the twelve apostles, who is buried at Hierapolis, also his two daughters who grow old in virginity, not to speak of another daughter who observed during her life the rule of the Holy Spirit, and who reposes at Ephesus; then John, he whose head reclined on the bosom of the Lord, who was pontiff carrying thepetalon, and martyr, and doctor, who also is interred at Ephesus; then Polycarpus, he who was bishop and martyr at Smyrna; then Thraseas, at once bishop and martyr of Eumenia, who is buried at Smyrna. Why speak of Sagaris, bishop and martyr, who is buried at Laodicea, of the blessed Papirius, and of Melito, the holy eunuch, who observed in everything the rule of the Holy Spirit, and rests at Sardis, waiting the heavenly call which shall make him rise among the dead? All these men celebrated Easter on the fourteenth day, according to the Gospel, without innovation of any kind, following the rule of the faith. And I also, I have done so likewise, I, Polycrates, the least of you all, agreeably to the tradition of my relatives, of whom some have been my teachers (for there have been seven bishops in my family: I 112am the eighth); and all my revered relatives observed the day when the people began to purge out the leaven. I then, my brethren, who reckon sixty-five years in the Lord, who have conversed with the brethren from the whole world, who have read from one end to the other the Holy Scripture, I shall not lose my head, whatever they may do to terrify me. Greater people than I have said: ‘It is better to obey God rather than man.’ I could quote the bishops here present, whom, upon your demand, I have convoked; if I wrote their names the list would be long. All having come to see me, poor wretch as I am, have given their adhesion to my letter, knowing well that it is not for nothing that I carry white hairs, and being assured that all I do I do in the Lord Jesus.”

What proves that the Papacy was already born, and well born, is the incredible design which the somewhat bitter terms of this letter inspired in Victor. He pretended to excommunicate, to separate from the Church universal, the most illustrious, because it would not yield its traditions before the Roman discipline. He published a decree in virtue of which the churches of Asia were placed under the ban of Christian communion. But the other bishops were opposed to this violent measure, and recalled Victor to charity. Irenæus of Lyons, in particular, who, by necessity of the society in which he found himself placed, had accepted for himself and for the Gallic churches the Western custom, could not endure the thought that the mother churches of Asia, to which he felt himself bound by the bowels of his love, should be separated from the body of the Church universal. He energetically dissuaded Victor from excommunicating churches which held by the tradition of their fathers, and recalled the examples of his most tolerant predecessors.


“Yes, the ancients who presided before Soter in the Church which thou now leadest, we speak of Pius, Hyginus, Telesophorus, Xystus, did not observe the Jewish Passover, and did not permit any around them to observe it; but, while not observing it, they did not preserve the less peace with the members of churches who did observe it, when those came to them; although this observance, in the midst of people who did not observe it, rendered the contrast more striking. Never was any one repelled for this reason; on the contrary, the elders who have preceded thee, who, I repeat, did not observe, sent the Eucharist to the ancients of the Church who observed it. And when the blessed Polycarp came to Rome under Anicet, both of them gave each other first the kiss of peace; they had between them some small matters of difficulty: as to this point they did not make it the subject of a discussion. For neither did Anicet seek to persuade Polycarpus to abandon a practice which he had always kept and which he held from his association with John, the disciple of the Lord, and with the other apostles, nor did Polycarp try to persuade Anicet, he saying that he would keep the customs of the ancients who had gone before him. In this state of things they communicated with each other, and in the Church Anicet yielded to Polycarp the eucharistic consecration, to do him honour, and they separated from each other in perfect peace; and it was evident that the observants, as well as the nonobservants, each on their own side, were in accord with the Church universal.”

This act of rare good sense, which opened so gloriously the annals of the Gallican Church, kept the schism of the East and West from taking place from the second century. Irenæus wrote on all hands to the bishops, and the question remained open in the churches of Asia. Naturally, Rome continued 114its propaganda against the Easter of the 14th Nisan. A Roman priest, Blastus, who sought to establish the Asiatic custom at Rome, was excommunicated. Irenæus disputed with him; the usage was not forbidden by apocryphal documents. The Roman practice gained day by day.

The question was not determined except by the Council of Nicæa. From thenceforth it was considered heretical to follow the tradition of John, Philip, Polycarp, and Melito. It happened as it had happened so many times. The defenders of the ancient tradition found themselves by their fidelity put outside the Church, and were no more than heretics, the quartodecimans.

The Jewish calendar presented some difficulties, and in the countries where there were no Jews they would have been embarrassed to determine the 14th Nisan. They declared that the Sunday of the Resurrection should be the Sunday which corresponds to or succeeds the first full moon after the spring equinox. The Friday preceding became naturally the memorial day of the Passion; the Thursday that of the institution of the Supper. Holy Week thus was established according to the tradition of the ancient gospels, not after the Gospel called St. John’s. Pentecost, become the festival of the Holy Spirit, fell on the seventh Sunday after Easter, and the cycle of the movable feasts of the Christian year was held to be fixed uniformly for all the Churches until the Gregorian reform.

The practice which caused this debate had more importance than the debate itself. In connection with this difference, indeed, the Church was led to a clearer idea of its organisation. And first, it was plain that the laity were nothing. Only the bishops intervened in the question, circulating an opinion. The bishops were gathered together in provincial synods, presided over by the bishop of the capital 115of the province (the archbishop of the future), sometimes by the oldest. The synodal assembly met by a letter which was sent to the other churches. It was, therefore, like a rudiment of federal organisation, an attempt to resolve questions by means of provincial assemblies, presided over by the bishops and corresponding to them. It was attempted later, in parts of this great ecclesiastical struggle, to find precedents for the question of presiding at synods and the hierarchy of the churches. Among all the churches, that of Rome appeared to have a special right to the initiative. This initiative was exercised especially in view of bringing the churches into unity, even at the risk of the gravest schisms. The bishop of Rome claimed for himself the exorbitant right of driving from the Church every fraction which maintained its own traditions. From the year 196 this exaggerated desire for unity necessarily led to the schisms which took place later on. But a great bishop, animated by the true spirit of Jesus, prevailed on the pope at this time. Irenaeus protested, undertook a mission of peace, and succeeded in correcting the harm which Romish ambition had done. The infallibility of the bishop of Rome was still far from being believed in; for Eusebius declares that he read the letters in which the bishops forcibly blamed Victor’s conduct.

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