Vol. 2, Chapter V. Christian Worship

I. The richest sources here are the works of Justin M., Tertullian, Cyprian, Eusebius, and the so-called Constitutiones Apostolicae; also Clement of Rome (Ad Cor. 59-61), and the Homily falsely ascribed to him (fully publ. 1875).

II. See the books quoted in vol. I., and the relevant sections in the archaeological works of Bingham (Antiquities of the Christian Church, Lond. 1708-22. 10 vols.; new ed. Lond. 1852, in 2 vols.), Augusti (whose larger work fills 12 vols., Leipz. 1817-31, and his Handbuch der Christl. Archaeol. 3 vols. Leipz. 1836), Binterim (R.C.), Siegel, Smith & Cheetham (Dict. of Chr. Ant., Lond. 1875, 2 vols.), and Garrucci (Storia della arte crist., 1872-80, 6 vols.)


59. Places of Common Worship

R. Hospinianus: De Templis, etc. Tig. 1603. And in his Opera, Genev. 1681.

Fabricius: De Templis vett. Christ. Helmst. 1704.

Muratori (R.C.): De primis Christianorum EcclesiIs. Arezzo, 1770.

Hübsch: Altchristliche Kirchen. Karlsruh, 1860.

Jos. Mullooly: St. Clement and his Basilica in Rome. Rome, 2nd ed. 1873.

De Vogüé: Architecture civile et relig. du Ie au Vlle siècle. Paris, 1877, 2 vols.

The numerous works on church architecture (by Fergusson, Brown, Bunsen, Kugler, Kinkel, Kreuser, Schnaase, Lübke, Voillet-le-Duc, De Vogüé etc.) usually begin with the basilicas of the Constantinian age, which are described in vol. III.

The Christian worship, as might be expected from the humble condition of the church in this period of persecution, was very simple, strongly contrasting with the pomp of the Greek and Roman communion; yet by no means puritanic. We perceive here, as well as in organization and doctrine, the gradual and sure approach of the Nicene age, especially in the ritualistic solemnity of the baptismal service, and the mystical character of the eucharistic sacrifice.

Let us glance first at the places of public worship. Until about the close of the second century the Christians held their worship mostly in private houses, or in desert places, at the graves of martyrs, and in the crypts of the catacombs. This arose from their poverty, their oppressed and outlawed condition, their love of silence and solitude, and their aversion to all heathen art. The apologists frequently assert, that their brethren had neither temples nor altars (in the pagan sense of these words), and that their worship was spiritual and independent of place and ritual. Heathens, like Celsus, cast this up to them as a reproach; but Origen admirably replied: The humanity of Christ is the highest temple and the most beautiful image of God, and true Christians are living statues of the Holy Spirit, with which no Jupiter of Phidias can compare. Justin Martyr said to the Roman prefect: The Christians assemble wherever it is convenient, because their God is not, like the gods of the heathen, inclosed in space, but is invisibly present everywhere. Clement of Alexandria refutes the superstition, that religion is bound to any building.

In private houses the room best suited for worship and for the love-feast was the oblong dining-hall, the triclinium, which was never wanting in a convenient Greek or Roman dwelling, and which often had a semicircular niche, like the choir in the later churches. An elevated seat was used for reading the Scriptures and preaching, and a simple tables for the holy communion. Similar arrangements were made also in the catacombs, which sometimes have the form of a subterranean church.

The first traces of special houses of worship occur in Tertullian, who speaks of going to church, and in his contemporary, Clement of Alexandria, who mentions the double meaning of the word ἐκκλησία. About the year 230, Alexander Severus granted the Christians the right to a place in Rome against the protest of the tavern-keepers, because the worship of God in any form was better than tavern-keeping. After the middle of the third century the building of churches began in great earnest, as the Christians enjoyed over forty years of repose (260-303), and multiplied so fast that, according to Eusebius, more spacious places of devotion became everywhere necessary. The Diocletian persecution began (in 303,) with the destruction of the magnificent church at Nicomedia, which, according to Lactantius, even towered above the neighboring imperial palace. Rome is supposed to have had, as early as the beginning of the fourth century, more than forty churches. But of the form and arrangement of them we have no account. With Constantine the Great begins the era of church architecture, and its first style is the Basilica. The emperor himself set the example, and built magnificent churches in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Constantinople, which, however, have undergone many changes. His contemporary, the historian Eusebius, gives us the first account of a church edifice which Paulinus built in Tyre between a.d. 313 and 322. It included a large portico (πρόπυλιον) a quadrangular atrium (αἴθριον) surrounded by ranges of columns; a fountain in the centre of the atrium for the customary washing of hands and feet before entering the church; interior porticoes; the nave or central space (βασίλειος οἶκος) with galleries above the aisles, and covered by a roof of cedar of Lebanon; and the most holy altar (ἃγιον ἀγίων θυσιαστήριον). Eusebius mentions also the thrones (θρόνοι) for the bishops and presbyters, and benches or seats. The church was surrounded by halls and inclosed by a wall, which can still be traced. Fragments of five granite columns of this building are among the ruins of Tyre.

The description of a church in the Apostolic Constitutions, implies that the clergy occupy the space at the cast end of the church (in the choir), and the people the nave, but mentions no barrier between them. Such a barrier, however, existed as early as the fourth century, when the laity were forbidden to enter the enclosure of the altar.


60. The Lord’s Day

See Lit. in vol. I.

The celebration of the Lord’s Day in memory of the resurrection of Christ dates undoubtedly from the apostolic age. Nothing short of apostolic precedent can account for the universal religious observance in the churches of the second century. There is no dissenting voice. This custom is confirmed by the testimonies of the earliest post-apostolic writers, as Barnabas, Ignatius, and Justin Martyr. It is also confirmed by the younger Pliny. The Didache calls the first day “the Lord’s Day of the Lord.”

Considering that the church was struggling into existence, and that a large number of Christians were slaves of heathen masters, we cannot expect an unbroken regularity of worship and a universal cessation of labor on Sunday until the civil government in the time of Constantine came to the help of the church and legalized (and in part even enforced) the observance of the Lord’s Day. This may be the reason why the religious observance of it was not expressly enjoined by Christ and the apostles; as for similar reasons there is no prohibition of polygamy and slavery by the letter of the New Testament, although its spirit condemns these abuses, and led to their abolition. We may go further and say that coercive Sunday laws are against the genius and spirit of the Christian religion which appeals to the free will of man, and uses only moral means for its ends. A Christian government may and ought to protect the Christian Sabbath against open desecration, but its positive observance by attending public worship, must be left to the conscientious conviction of individuals. Religion cannot be forced by law. It looses its value when it ceases to be voluntary.

The fathers did not regard the Christian Sunday as a continuation of, but as a substitute for, the Jewish Sabbath, and based it not so much on the fourth commandment, and the primitive rest of God in creation, to which the commandment expressly refers, as upon the resurrection of Christ and the apostolic tradition. There was a disposition to disparage the Jewish law in the zeal to prove the independent originality of Christian institutions. The same polemic interest against Judaism ruled in the paschal controversies, and made Christian Easter a moveable feast. Nevertheless, Sunday was always regarded in the ancient church as a divine institution, at least in the secondary sense, as distinct from divine ordinances in the primary sense, which were directly and positively commanded by Christ, as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Regular public worship absolutely requires a stated day of worship.

Ignatius was the first who contrasted Sunday with the Jewish Sabbath as something done away with. So did the author of the so-called Epistle of Barnabas. Justin Martyr, in controversy with a Jew, says that the pious before Moses pleased God without circumcision and the Sabbath, and that Christianity requires not one particular Sabbath, but a perpetual Sabbath. He assigns as a reason for the selection of the first day for the purposes of Christian worship, because on that day God dispelled the darkness and the chaos, and because Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his assembled disciples, but makes no allusion to the fourth commandment. He uses the term “to sabbathize” (σαββατίζειν), only of the Jews, except in the passage just quoted, where he spiritualizes the Jewish law. Dionysius of Corinth mentions Sunday incidentally in a letter to the church of Rome, a.d. 170: “To-day we kept the Lord’s Day holy, in which we read your letter.” Melito of Sardis wrote a treatise on the Lord’s Day, which is lost. Irenaeus of Lyons, about 170, bears testimony to the celebration of the Lord’s Day, but likewise regards the Jewish Sabbath merely as a symbolical and typical ordinance, and says that “Abraham without circumcision and without observance of Sabbaths believed in God,” which proves “the symbolical and temporary character of those ordinances, and their inability to make perfect.” Tertullian, at the close of the second and beginning of the third century, views the Lord’s Day as figurative of rest from sin and typical of man’s final rest, and says: “We have nothing to do with Sabbaths, new moons or the Jewish festivals, much less with those of the heathen. We have our own solemnities, the Lord’s Day, for instance, and Pentecost. As the heathen confine themselves to their festivals and do not observe ours, let us confine ourselves to ours, and not meddle with those belonging to them.” He thought it wrong to fast on the Lord’s Day, or to pray kneeling during its continuance. “Sunday we give to joy.” But he also considered it Christian duty to abstain from secular care and labor, lest we give place to the devil. This is the first express evidence of cessation from labor on Sunday among Christians. The habit of standing in prayer on Sunday, which Tertullian regarded as essential to the festive character of the day, and which was sanctioned by an ecumenical council, was afterwards abandoned by the western church.

The Alexandrian fathers have essentially the same view, with some fancies of their own concerning the allegorical meaning of the Jewish Sabbath.

We see then that the ante-Nicene church clearly distinguished the Christian Sunday from the Jewish Sabbath, and put it on independent Christian ground. She did not fully appreciate the perpetual obligation of the fourth commandment in its substance as a weekly day of rest, rooted in the physical and moral necessities of man. This is independent of those ceremonial enactments which were intended only for the Jews and abolished by the gospel. But, on the other hand, the church took no secular liberties with the day. On the question of theatrical and other amusements she was decidedly puritanic and ascetic, and denounced them as being inconsistent on any day with the profession of a soldier of the cross. She regarded Sunday as a sacred day, as the Day of the Lord, as the weekly commemoration of his resurrection and the pentecostal effusion of the Spirit, and therefore as a day of holy joy and thanksgiving to be celebrated even before the rising sun by prayer, praise, and communion with the risen Lord and Saviour.

Sunday legislation began with Constantine, and belongs to the next period.

The observance of the Sabbath among the Jewish Christians gradually ceased. Yet the Eastern church to this day marks the seventh day of the week (excepting only the Easter Sabbath) by omitting fasting, and by standing in prayer; while the Latin church, in direct opposition to Judaism, made Saturday a fast day. The controversy on this point began as early as the end of the second century

Wednesday, and especially Friday, were devoted to the weekly commemoration of the sufferings and death of the Lord, and observed as days of penance, or watch-days, and half-fasting (which lasted till three o’clock in the afternoon).


61. The Christian Passover. (Easter)

R. Hospinianus: Festa Christ., h.e. de origine, progressu, ceremonies el ritibusfestorum dierum Christ. Tig. 1593, and often.

A. G. Pillwitz: Gesch. der heil. Zeiten in der abendländ. Kirche. Dresden, 1842.

M. A. Nickel (R.C.): Die heil. Zeiten u. Feste nach ihrer Gesch. u. Feier in der kath. Kirche. Mainz, 1825-1838. 6 vols.

P. Piper: Gesch. des Osterfestes. Berl. 1845.

Lisco: Das christl. Kirchenjahr. Berlin, 1840, 4th ed. 1850.

Strauss (court-chaplain of the King of Prussia, d. 1863): Das evangel. Kirchenjahr. Berlin, 1850.

Boberstag: Das evangel. Kirchenjahr. Breslau 1857.

H. Alt: Der Christliche Cultus, IInd Part: Das Kirchenjahr, 2nd ed. Berlin 1860.

L. Hensley: Art. Easter in Smith and Cheetham (1875), I. 586-595.

F. X. Kraus (R.C.): Art. Feste in “R. Encykl. der Christl. Alterthümer,” vol. I. (1881), pp. 486-502, and the Lit. quoted there. The article is written by several authors, the section on Easter and Pentecost by Dr. Funk of Tübingen.

The yearly festivals of this period were Easter, Pentecost, and Epiphany. They form the rudiments of the church year, and keep within the limits of the facts of the New Testament.

Strictly speaking the ante-Nicene church had two annual festive seasons, the Passover in commemoration of the suffering of Christ, and the Pentecoste in commemoration of the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, beginning with Easter and ending with Pentecost proper. But Passover and Easter were connected in a continuous celebration, combining the deepest sadness with the highest joy, and hence the term pascha (in Greek and Latin) is often used in a wider sense for the Easter season, as is the case with the French paque or paques, and the Italian pasqua. The Jewish passover also lasted a whole week, and after it began their Pentecost or feast of weeks. The death of Christ became fruitful in the resurrection, and has no redemptive power without it. The commemoration of the death of Christ was called the pascha staurosimon or the Passover proper. The commemoration of the resurrection was called the pascha anastasimon, and afterwards Easter. The former corresponds to the gloomy Friday, the other to the cheerful Sunday, the sacred days of the week in commemoration of those great events.

The Christian Passover naturally grew out of the Jewish Passover as the Lord’s Day grew out of the Sabbath; the paschal lamb being regarded as a prophetic type of Christ, the Lamb of God slain for our sins (1Co_5:7, 1Co_5:8), and the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt as a type of the redemption from sin. It is certainly the oldest and most important annual festival of the church, and can be traced back to the first century, or at all events to the middle of the second, when it was universally observed, though with a difference as to the day, and the extent of the fast connected with it. It is based on the view that Christ crucified and risen is the centre of faith. The Jewish Christians would very naturally from the beginning continue to celebrate the legal passover, but in the light of its fulfillment by the sacrifice of Christ, and would dwell chiefly on the aspect of the crucifixion. The Gentile Christians, for whom the Jewish passover had no meaning except through reflection from the cross, would chiefly celebrate the Lord’s resurrection as they did on every Sunday of the week. Easter formed at first the beginning of the Christian year, as the month of Nisan, which contained the vernal equinox (corresponding to our March or April.), began the sacred year of the Jews. Between the celebration of the death and the resurrection of Christ lay “the great Sabbath,” on which also the Greek church fasted by way of exception; and “the Easter vigils,”  which were kept, with special devotion, by the whole congregation till the break of day, and kept the more scrupulously, as it was generally believed that the Lord’s glorious return would occur on this night. The feast of the resurrection, which completed the whole work of redemption, became gradually the most prominent part of the Christian Passover, and identical with Easter. But the crucifixion continued to be celebrated on what is called “Good Friday.”

The paschal feast was preceded by a season of penitence and fasting, which culminated in “the holy week.” This fasting varied in length, in different countries, from one day or forty hours to six weeks; but after the fifth century, through the influence of Rome, it was universally fixed at forty days, with reference to the forty days’ fasting of Christ in the wilderness and the Old Testament types of that event (the fasting of Moses and Elijah). (Mat_4:2; comp. Exo_34:28; 1Ki_19:8.)


62. The Paschal Controversies

I. The sources for the paschal controversies:

Fragments from Melito, Apollinarius, Polycrates, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Hippolytus, preserved in Euseb. H. E. IV. 3, 26; V. 23-25; VI. 13; The Chronicon Pasch. I. 12 sqq., a passage in the Philosophumena of Hippolytus, Lib. VIII. cap. 18 (p. 435, ed. Duncker & Schneidewin, 1859), a fragment from Eusebius in Angelo Mai’s Nova P. P. Bibl. T. IV. 2O9-216, and the Haeresies of Epiphanius, Haer. lxx. 1-3; lxx. 9.

II. Recent works, occasioned mostly by the Johannean controversy:

Weitzel: Die Christl. Passafeier der drei ersten Jahrh. Pforzheim, 1848 (and in the “Studien und Kritiken,” 1848, No. 4, against Baur).

Baur: Das Christenthum der 3 ersten Jahrh. (1853). Tüb. 3rd ed. 1863, pp. 156-169. And several controversial essays against Steitz.

Hilgenfeld: Der Paschastreit und das Evang. Johannis (in “Theol. Jahrbücher” for 1849); Noch ein Wort über den Passahstreit (ibid. 1858); and Der Paschastreit der alten Kirche nach seiner Bedeutung für die Kirchengesch. und für die Evangelienforschung urkundlich dargestellt. Halle 1860 (410 pages).

Steitz: Several essays on the subject, mostly against Baur, in the “Studien u. Kritiken,” 1856, 1857, and 1859; in the “Theol. Jahrbücher,” 1857, and art. Passah in “Herzog’s Encycl.” vol. XII. (1859), p. 149 sqq., revised in the new ed., by Wagenmann, XI. 270 sqq.

William Milligan: The Easter Controversies of the second century in their relation to the Gospel of St. John, in the “Contemporary Review” for Sept. 1867 (p. 101-118).

Emil Schürer: De Controversiis paschalibus sec. post Chr. soc. exortis, Lips. 1869. By the same: Die Paschastreitigkeiten des 2ten Jahrh., in Kahnis’ “Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol.” 1870, pp. 182-284. Very full and able.

C. Jos. von Hefele (R.C.): Conciliengeschichte, I. 86-101 (second ed. Freib. 1873; with some important changes).

Abbé Duchesne: La question de la Pâque, in “Revue des questions historiques,” July 1880.

Renan: L’église chrét. 445-451; and M. Aurèle, 194-206 (la question de la Páque.)

Respecting the time of the Christian Passover and of the fast connected with it, there was a difference of observance which created violent controversies in the ancient church, and almost as violent controversies in the modern schools of theology in connection with the questions of the primacy of Rome, and the genuineness of John’s Gospel.

The paschal controversies of the ante-Nicene age are a very complicated chapter in ancient church-history, and are not yet sufficiently cleared up. They were purely ritualistic and disciplinary, and involved no dogma; and yet they threatened to split the churches; both parties laying too much stress on external uniformity. Indirectly, however, they involved the question of the independence of Christianity on Judaism.

Let us first consider the difference of observance or the subject of controversy.

The Christians of Asia Minor, following the Jewish chronology, and appealing to the authority of the apostles John and Philip, celebrated the Christian Passover uniformly on the fourteenth of Nisan (which might fall on any of the seven days of the week) by a solemn fast; they fixed the close of the fast accordingly, and seem to have partaken on the evening of this day, as the close of the fast, but indeed of the Jewish paschal lamb, as has sometimes been supposed, but of the communion and love-feast, as the Christian passover and the festival of the redemption completed by the death of Christ. The communion on the evening of the 14th (or, according to the Jewish mode of reckoning, the day from sunset to sunset, on the beginning of the 15th) of Nisan was in memory of the last pascha supper of Christ. This observance did not exclude the idea that Christ died as the true paschal Lamb. For we find among the fathers both this idea and the other that Christ ate the regular Jewish passover with his disciples, which took place on the14th From the day of observance the Asiatic Christians were afterwards called Quartadecimanians. Hippolytus of Rome speaks of them contemptuously as a sect of contentious and ignorant persons, who maintain that “the pascha should be observed on the fourteenth day of the first month according to the law, no matter on what day of the week it might fall.” Nevertheless the Quartadecimanian observance was probably the oldest and in accordance with the Synoptic tradition of the last Passover of our Lord, which it commemorated.

The Roman church, on the contrary, likewise appealing to early custom, celebrated the death of Jesus always on a Friday, the day of the week on which it actually occurred, and his resurrection always on a Sunday after the March full moon, and extended the paschal fast to the latter day; considering it improper to terminate the fast at an earlier date, and to celebrate the communion before the festival of the resurrection. Nearly all the other churches agreed with the Roman in this observance, and laid the main stress on the resurrection-festival on Sunday. This Roman practice created an entire holy week of solemn fasting and commemoration of the Lord’s passion, while the Asiatic practice ended the fast on the 14th of Nisan, which may fall sometimes several days before Sunday.

Hence a spectacle shocking to the catholic sense of ritualistic propriety and uniformity was frequently presented to the world, that one part of Christendom was fasting and mourning over the death of our Saviour, while the other part rejoiced in the glory of the resurrection. We cannot be surprised that controversy arose, and earnest efforts were made to harmonize the opposing sections of Christendom in the public celebration of the fundamental facts of the Christian salvation and of the most sacred season of the church-year.

The gist of the paschal controversy was, whether the Jewish paschal-day (be it a Friday or not), or the Christian Sunday, should control the idea and time of the entire festival. The Johannean practice of Asia represented here the spirit of adhesion to historical precedent, and had the advantage of an immovable Easter, without being Judaizing in anything but the observance of a fixed day of the month. The Roman custom represented the principle of freedom and discretionary change, and the independence of the Christian festival system. Dogmatically stated, the difference would be, that in the former case the chief stress was laid on the Lord’s death; in the latter, on his resurrection. But the leading interest of the question for the early Church was not the astronomical, nor the dogmatical, but the ritualistic. The main object was to secure uniformity of observance, and to assert the originality of the Christian festive cycle, and its independence of Judaism; for both reasons the Roman usage at last triumphed even in the East. Hence Easter became a movable festival whose date varies from the end of March to the latter part of April.

The history of the controversy divides itself into three acts.

1. The difference came into discussion first on a visit of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, to Anicetus, bishop of Rome, between a.d. 150 and 155. It was not settled; yet the two bishops parted in peace, after the latter had charged his venerable guest to celebrate the holy communion in his church. We have a brief, but interesting account of this dispute by Irenaeus, a pupil of Polycarp, which is as follows:

“When the blessed Polycarp sojourned at Rome in the days of Anicetus, and they had some little difference of opinion likewise with regard to other points, they forthwith came to a peaceable understanding on this head [the observance of Easter], having no love for mutual disputes. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe inasmuch as he [Pol.] had always observed with John, the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles, with whom he had associated; nor did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe (τηρεῖν) who said that he was bound to maintain the custom of the presbyters (= bishops) before him. These things being so, they communed together; and in the church Anicetus yielded to Polycarp, out of respect no doubt, the celebration of the eucharist (τὴν εὐχαριστίαν), and they separated from each other in peace, all the church being at peace, both those that observed and those that did not observe [the fourteenth of Nisan], maintaining peace.”

This letter proves that the Christians of the days of Polycarp knew how to keep the unity of the Spirit without uniformity of rites and ceremonies. “The very difference in our fasting,” says Irenaeus in the same letter, “establishes the unanimity in our faith.”

2. A few years afterwards, about a.d. 170, the controversy broke out in Laodicea, but was confined to Asia, where a difference had arisen either among the Quartadecimanians themselves, or rather among these and the adherents of the Western observance. The accounts on this interimistic sectional dispute are incomplete and obscure. Eusebius merely mentions that at that time Melito of Sardis wrote two works on the Passover. But these are lost, as also that of Clement of Alexandria on the same topic. Our chief source of information is Claudius Apolinarius (Apollinaris), bishop of Hierapolis, in Phrygia, in two fragments of his writings upon the subject, which have been preserved in the Chronicon Paschale. These are as follows:

“There are some now who, from ignorance, love to raise strife about these things, being guilty in this of a pardonable offence; for ignorance does not so much deserve blame as need instruction. And they say that on the fourteenth [of Nisan] the Lord ate the paschal lamb (τὸ πρόβατον ἐφαγε) with his disciples, but that He himself suffered on the great day of unleavened bread [i.e. the fifteenth of Nisan]; and they interpret Matthew as favoring their view from which it appears that their view does not agree with the law, and that the Gospels seem, according to them, to be at variance.

The Fourteenth is the true Passover of the Lord, the great sacrifice, the. Son of God in the place of the lamb … who was lifted up upon the horns of the unicorn … and who was buried on the day of the Passover, the stone having been placed upon his tomb.”

Here Apolinarius evidently protests against the Quartadecimanian practice, yet simply as one arising from ignorance, and not as a blameworthy heresy. He opposes it as a chronological and exegetical mistake, and seems to hold that the fourteenth, and not the fifteenth, is the great day of the death of Christ as the true Lamb of God, on the false assumption that this truth depends upon the chronological coincidence of the crucifixion and the Jewish passover. But the question arises: Did he protest from the Western and Roman standpoint which had many advocates in the East, or as a Quartadecimanian? In the latter case we would be obliged to distinguish two parties of Quartadecimanians, the orthodox or catholic Quartadecimanians, who simply observed the 14th Nisan by fasting and the evening communion, and a smaller faction of heretical and schismatic Quartadecimanians, who adopted the Jewish practice of eating a paschal lamb on that day in commemoration of the Saviour’s last passover. But there is no evidence for this distinction in the above or other passages. Such a grossly Judaizing party would have been treated with more severity by a catholic bishop. Even the Jews could no more eat of the paschal lamb after the destruction of the temple in which it had to be slain. There is no trace of such a party in Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Eusebius who speak only of one class of Quartadecimanians.

Hence we conclude that Apolinarius protests against the whole Quartadecimanian practice, although very mildly and charitably. The Laodicean controversy was a stage in the same controversy which was previously discussed by Polycarp and Anicetus in Christian charity, and was soon agitated again by Polycrates and Victor with hierarchical and intolerant violence.

3. Much more important and vehement was the third stage of the controversy between 190 and 194, which extended over the whole church, and occasioned many synods and synodical letters. The Roman bishop Victor, a very different man from his predecessor Anicetus, required the Asiatics, in an imperious tone, to abandon their Quartadecimanian practice. Against this Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, solemnly protested in the name of a synod held by him, and appealed to an imposing array of authorities for their primitive custom. Eusebius has preserved his letter, which is quite characteristic.

“We,” wrote the Ephesian bishop to the Roman pope and his church, “We observe the genuine day; neither adding thereto nor taking therefrom. For in Asia great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again in the day of the Lord’s appearing, in which he will come with glory from heaven, and will raise up all the saints: Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who sleeps in Hierapolis, and his two aged virgin daughters; his other daughter, also, who having lived under the influence of the Holy Spirit, now likewise rests in Ephesus; moreover, John, who rested upon the bosom of our Lord, who was also a priest, and bore the sacerdotal plate, both a martyr and teacher; he is buried in Ephesus. Also Polycarp of Smyrna, both bishop and martyr, and Thraseas, both bishop and martyr of Eumenia, who sleeps in Smyrna. Why should I mention Sagaris, bishop and martyr, who sleeps in Laodicea; moreover, the blessed Papirius, and Melito, the eunuch [celibate], who lived altogether under the influence of the Holy Spirit, who now rests in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, in which he shall rise from the dead. All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith.

“Moreover, I, Polycrates, who am the least of you, according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops, and I am the eighth; and my relatives always observed the day when the people of the Jews threw away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, am now sixty-five years in the Lord, who having conferred with the brethren throughout the world, and having studied the whole of the Sacred Scriptures, am not at all alarmed at those things with which I am threatened, to intimidate me. For they who are greater than I have said, ‘we ought to obey God rather than men.’ … I could also mention the bishops that were present, whom you requested me to summon, and whom I did call; whose names would present a great number, but who seeing my slender body consented to my epistle, well knowing that I did not wear my gray hairs for nought, but that I did at all times regulate my life in the Lord Jesus.”

Victor turned a deaf ear to this remonstrance, branded the Asiatics as heretics, and threatened to excommunicate them.

But many of the Eastern bishops, and even Irenaeus, in the name of the Gallic Christians, though he agreed with Victor on the disputed point, earnestly reproved him for such arrogance, and reminded him of the more Christian and brotherly conduct of his predecessors Anicetus, Pius, Hyginus, Telesphorus, and Xystus, who sent the eucharist to their dissenting brethren. He dwelt especially on the fraternal conduct of Anicetus to Polycarp. Irenaeus proved himself on this occasion, as Eusebius remarks, a true peacemaker, and his vigorous protest seems to have prevented the schism.

We have from the same Irenaeus another utterance on this controversy, saying: “The apostles have ordered that we should ‘judge no one in meat or in drink, or in respect to a feast-day or a new moon or a sabbath day’ (Col_2:16). Whence then these wars? Whence these schisms? We keep the feasts, but in the leaven of malice by tearing the church of God and observing what is outward, in order to reject what is better, faith and charity. That such feasts and fasts are displeasing to the Lord, we have heard from the Prophets.” A truly evangelical sentiment from one who echoes the reaching of St. John and his last words: “Children, love one another.”

4. In the course of the third century the Roman practice gained ground everywhere in the East, and, to anticipate the result, was established by the council of Nicaea in 325 as the law of the whole church. This council considered it unbecoming, in Christians to follow the usage of the unbelieving, hostile Jews, and ordained that Easter should always be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon succeeding the vernal equinox (March 21), and always after the Jewish passover. If the full moon occurs on a Sunday, Easter-day is the Sunday after. By this arrangement Easter may take place as early as March 22, or as late as April 25.

Henceforth the Quartadecimanians were universally regarded as heretics, and were punished as such. The Synod of Antioch, 341, excommunicated them. The Montanists and Novatians were also cleared with the Quartadecimanian observance. The last traces of it disappeared in the sixth century.

But the desired uniformity in the observance of Easter was still hindered by differences in reckoning the Easter Sunday according to the course of the moon and the vernal equinox, which the Alexandrians fixed on the 21st of March, and the Romans on the 18th; so that in the year 387, for example, the Romans kept Easter on the 21st of March, and the Alexandrians not till the 25th of April. In the West also the computation changed and caused a renewal of the Easter controversy in the sixth and seventh centuries. The old British, Irish and Scotch Christians, and the Irish missionaries on the Continent adhered to the older cycle of eighty-four years in opposition to the later Dionysian or Roman cycle of ninety-five years, and hence were styled “Quartadecimanians” by their Anglo-Saxon and Roman opponents, though unjustly; for they celebrated Easter always on a Sunday between the 14th and the 20th of the month (the Romans between the 15th and 21st). The Roman practice triumphed. But Rome again changed the calendar under Gregory XIII. (a.d. 1583). Hence even to this day the Oriental churches who hold to the Julian and reject the Gregorian calendar, differ from the Occidental Christians in the time of the observance of Easter.

All these useless ritualistic disputes might have been avoided if, with some modification of the old Asiatic practice as to the close of the fast, Easter, like Christmas, had been made an immovable feast at least as regards the week, if not the day, of its observance.



The bearing of this controversy on the Johannean origin of the fourth Gospel has been greatly overrated by the negative critics of the Tübingen School. Dr. Baur, Schwegler, Hilgenfeld, Straus (Leben Jesu, new ed. 1864, p. 76 sq.), Schenkel, Scholten, Samuel Davidson, Renan (Marc-Aurèle, p. 196), use it as a fatal objection to the Johannean authorship. Their argument is this: “The Asiatic practice rested on the belief that Jesus ate the Jewish Passover with his disciples on the evening of the 14th of Nisan, and died on the 15th; this belief is incompatible with the fourth Gospel, which puts the death of Jesus, as the true Paschal Lamb, on the 14th of Nisan, just before the regular Jewish Passover; therefore the fourth Gospel cannot have existed when the Easter controversy first broke out about a.d. 160; or, at all events, it cannot be the work of John to whom the Asiatic Christians so confidently appealed for their paschal observance.”

But leaving out of view the early testimonies for the authenticity of John, which reach back to the first quarter of the second century, the minor premise is wrong, and hence the conclusion falls. A closer examination of the relevant passages of John leads to the result that he agrees with the Synoptic account, which puts the last Supper on the 14th, and the crucifixion on the 15th of Nisan. (Comp. on this chronological difficulty vol. I.; and the authorities quoted there, especially John Lightfoot, Wieseler, Robinson, Lange, Kirchner, and McClellan.)

Weitzel, Steitz, and Wagenmann deny the inference of the Tübingen School by disputing the major premise, and argue that the Asiatic observance (in agreement with the Tübingen school and their own interpretation of John’s chronology) implies that Christ died as the true paschal lamb on the 14th, and not on the 15th of Nisan. To this view we object: 1) it conflicts with the extract from Apolinarius in the Chronicon Paschale as given p. 214. 2) There is no contradiction between the idea that Christ died as the true paschal lamb, and the Synoptic chronology; for the former was taught by Paul (1Co_5:7), who was quoted for the Roman practice, and both were held by the fathers; the coincidence in the time being subordinate to the fact. 3) A contradiction in the primitive tradition of Christ’s death is extremely improbable, and it is much easier to conform the Johannean chronology to the Synoptic than vice versa.

It seems to me that the Asiatic observance of the 14th of Nisan was in commemoration of the last passover of the Lord, and this of necessity implied also a commemoration of his death, like every celebration of the Lord’s Supper. In any case, however, these ancient paschal controversies did not hinge on the chronological question or the true date of Christ’s death at all but on the week-day and the manner of its annual observance. The question was whether the paschal communion should be celebrated on the 14th of Nisan, or on the Sunday of the resurrection festival, without regard to the Jewish chronology.


63. Pentecost

Easter was followed by the festival of Pentecost. It rested on the Jewish feast of harvest. It was universally observed, as early as the second century, in commemoration of the appearances and heavenly exaltation of the risen Lord, and had throughout a joyous character. It lasted through fifty days — Quinquagesima — which were celebrated as a continuous Sunday, by daily communion, the standing posture in prayer, and the absence of all fasting. Tertullian says that all the festivals of the heathen put together will not make up the one Pentecost of the Christians. During that period the Acts of the Apostles were read in the public service (and are read to this day in the Greek church).

Subsequently the celebration was limited to the fortieth day as the feast of the Ascension, and the fiftieth day, or Pentecost proper (Whitsunday) as the feast of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Christian Church. In this restricted sense Pentecost closed the cycle of our Lord’s festivals (the semestre Domini), among which it held the third place (after Easter and Christmas). It was also a favorite time for baptism, especially the vigil of the festival.


64. The Epiphany

The feast of the Epiphany is of later origin. It spread from the East towards the West, but here, even in the fourth century, it was resisted by such parties as the Donatists, and condemned as an oriental innovation. It was, in general, the feast of the appearance of Christ in the flesh, and particularly of the manifestation of his Messiahship by his baptism in the Jordan, the festival at once of his birth and his baptism. It was usually kept on the 6th of January. When the East adopted from the West the Christmas festival, Epiphany was restricted to the celebration of the baptism of Christ, and made one of the three great reasons for the administration of baptism.

In the West it was afterwards made a collective festival of several events in the life of Jesus, as the adoration of the Magi, the first miracle of Cana, and sometimes the feeding of the five thousand. It became more particularly the “feast of the three kings,” that is, the wise men from the East, and was placed in special connexion with the mission to the heathen. The legend of the three kings (Caspar, Melchior, Baltazar) grew up gradually from the recorded gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which the Magi offered to the new-born King, of the Jews.

Of the Christmas festival there is no clear trace before the fourth century; partly because the feast of the Epiphany in a measure held the place of it; partly because of birth of Christ, the date of which, at any rate, was uncertain, was less prominent in the Christian mind than his death and resurrection. It was of Western (Roman) origin, and found its way to the East after the middle of the fourth century for Chrysostom, in a Homily, which was probably preached Dec. 25, 386, speaks of the celebration of the separate day of the Nativity as having been recently introduced in Antioch.


65. The Order of Public Worship

The earliest description of the Christian worship is given us by a heathen, the younger Pliny, a.d. 109, in his well-known letter to Trajan, which embodies the result of his judicial investigations in Bithynia. According to this, the Christians assembled on an appointed day (Sunday) at sunrise, sang responsively a song to Christ as to God, and then pledged themselves by an oath (sacramentum) not to do any evil work, to commit no theft, robbery, nor adultery, not to break their word, nor sacrifice property intrusted to them. Afterwards (at evening) they assembled again, to eat ordinary and innocent food (the agape).

This account of a Roman official then bears witness to the primitive observance of Sunday, the separation of the love-feast from the morning worship (with the communion), and the worship of Christ as God in song.

Justin Martyr, at the close of his larger Apology, describes the public worship more particularly, as it was conducted about the year 140. After giving a full account of baptism and the holy Supper, to which we shall refer again, he continues:

“On Sunday a meeting of all, who live in the cities and villages, is held, and a section from the Memoirs of the Apostles (the Gospels) and the writings of the Prophets (the Old Testament) is read, as long as the time permits. When the reader has finished, the president, in a discourse, gives all exhortation to the imitation of these noble things. After this we all rise in common prayer. At the close of the prayer, as we have before described, bread and wine with water are brought. The president offers prayer and thanks for them, according to the power given him, and the congregation responds the Amen. Then the consecrated elements are distributed to each one, and partaken, and are carried by the deacons to the houses of the absent. The wealthy and the willing then give contributions according to their free will, and this collection is deposited with the president, who therewith supplies orphans and widows, poor and needy, prisoners and strangers, and takes care of all who are in want. We assemble in common on Sunday because this is the first day, on which God created the world and the light, and because Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples.”

Here, reading of the Scriptures, preaching (and that as an episcopal function), prayer, and communion, plainly appear as the regular parts of the Sunday worship; all descending, no doubt, from the apostolic age. Song is not expressly mentioned here, but elsewhere. The communion is not yet clearly separated from the other parts of worship. But this was done towards the end of the second century.

The same parts of worship are mentioned in different places by Tertullian.

The eighth book of the Apostolical Constitutions contains already an elaborate service with sundry liturgical prayers.