Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Primer To The Quartodeciman Controversy

Any good discussion on Easter ought to eventually mention the disputes in the early church over the observance of Easter, and particularly the one that has since become known as the Quartodeciman Controversy (aka the Easter Controversy). In the fourteen years since I first started investigating Easter, I have never dug into this topic in its own post.

Many people try to adopt the Quartodecimans. I find it curious that many of those who try to ally with the Quartodecimans don't really understand them. Many know they refused a fixed Sunday observance of Pascha, but that is about it, and the imagination fills in the rest. I found the reality quite interesting. My point today will be to review the general framework of the Quartodeciman Controversy and try to clarify what really happened and when.

This topic is far larger than I ever anticipated. The Quartodeciman Controversy is just one of many Easter-timing disputes at that time. It seems the presence of Jewish converts and the multitude of calendars and ways to calculate moons caused several areas to be slightly off from one another - both before and after Nicaea. Disputes started in the first century and continue until today.
But regarding only the Quartodeciman issue, there are already so many things written on the topic by so many people over so much time, it wouldn't be possible for me to address everything. I am forced to summarize, then begin cutting out material from there. So, today's post is going to be a primer only. A thirty-thousand foot view, so to speak.

For the sake of clarity, I am going to try not to use the word Easter so much. Instead, I will use the older word Pascha. Easter specifically refers to Pascha observed on Sunday. Since the crux of the issue is one feast being observed in two ways, I feel using Easter will be unnecessarily confusing. Whereas Pascha is my way of referring to the New Covenant Passover regardless of particulars. I prefer Pascha over Passover because Passover is specific to the Jews and I don't want confusion there either.

Let's start digging!


Early Christianity was divided over the details of the Paschal Fast and the Paschal meal.

One group, not coincidentally from areas with high populations of Jewish converts, always observed the Lord's Supper on a certain date regardless of what day of the week it fell on - the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan (according to the calendar used at the Temple in Jerusalem).
They received the nickname Quartodeciman, after the Latin term quarta decima meaning fourteen. They were "the fourteeners". The term Quartodeciman doesn't appear until closer to the fourth century, and was not used by the Quartodeciman side to describe themselves.

The other group, from areas with high populations of Gentile converts, always observed the Lord's Supper on a certain day of the week regardless of what date it fell on - Sunday (after the 14th of Nissan). They didn't have a nickname. I will just call them "traditional Christians", for lack of a better term.

I don't have time to explore this today, but by the end of the second century a third group would appear. The Quartodeciman group would split into a third opinion which could be described as between the two.

Eusebius of Caesarea introduces the Controversy this way:

"A question of no small importance arose at that time [in the second century]. For the parishes of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should be observed as the feast of the Savior's Pascha. It was therefore necessary to end their fast on that day, whatever day of the week it should happen to be. But it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this time, as they observed the practice which, from apostolic tradition, has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast on no other day than on that of the resurrection of our Savior."
-Eusebius, "Church History", book V, chapter 23

Please do not misunderstand. Eusebius is not saying some new Pascha tradition appeared in the second century. That is not the case. He specifically means a dispute arose in the 100s AD over pre-existing traditions. The traditions were old, the dispute was new.
Some have claimed the Controversy was over two separate days, one Christian and one pagan. That is not true. Eusebius tells us there was, 

“...diversity of judgment in regard to the time for celebrating one and the same feast...”
-Eusebius, "Life of Constantine", book III, chapter V, in section “Of the Disagreement Respecting the Celebration of Easter”.

It was one feast, entirely Christian, with differences of opinion on how and when it should be kept.

Most people believe the disagreement was entirely over when to observe the Pascha, but that is not accurate. It could be argued the dispute had more to do with fasting then feasting. The disagreement was over 1) the length of the fast before the Lord's Supper, 2) the nature of the fast, and 3) when to stop fasting and observe the communal meal of the Lord's Supper.

In the 190s AD, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (France), wrote a letter to Victor, Bishop of Rome, which gives us a little more detail about the debate itself:

"For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night."
-Eusebius "Church History", book V, chapter 24

Eusebius' own criticism adds another detail.

"...some afflicting themselves with fastings and austerities, while others devoted their time to festive relaxation..."
-Eusebius, "Life of Constantine", book III, chapter 5

So, there was fasting, but not universally. Some people were on holiday. Sounds a lot like I Corinthians 11: 17-22.

I think that accurately builds a picture on the issues. Now, a word on what they agreed on.

Both sides agreed our Lord ate the Last Supper and was betrayed on the night at the start of 14th of Nissan according to the Hebrew calendar used at the Temple in Jerusalem. Both sides agreed our Lord was crucified on a Friday and they also agreed He was resurrected on Sunday, the third day after being crucified. There are plenty of Quartodeciman documents that make this plain. These details of timing were never in dispute on either side of the issue. The Quartodecimans were not advocating a Wednesday to Saturday crucifixion scenario. (But that is for another article.)


Fasting was an integral part of Judaism and therefore Christianity. The Mishnah describes a fast before Passover.

"On the eve of Passover, adjacent to mincha [afternoon prayer] time, a person may not eat until dark, so that he will be able to eat matza that night with a hearty appetite."
-Mishnah Pesachim chapter 10

The Mishnah was written a bit later on, but it still illustrates the point of Jews and fasting.

The early church had several regular fasts, even weekly. To this day, the Catholics and Orthodox have a fast before taking the Eucharist on Sunday. There was a fast every year before the Paschal meal.
In English and German the fast came to be called Lent. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Lent says this:

"The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days' fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season. Still it has been used from the Anglo-Saxon period to translate the more significant Latin term quadragesima (French carême, Italian quaresima, Spanish cuaresma), meaning the "forty days", or more literally the "fortieth day". This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste (fortieth), a word formed on the analogy of Pentecost (pentekoste), which last was in use for the Jewish festival before New Testament times."
-Thurston, Herbert. "Lent." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 15 Apr. 2023 <> 

The Germans had a habit of naming holidays after the time of year in which they fell. The English inherited it, because Saxons are German, and here we are today. The Paschal Fast is called Lent for exactly the same reason why Pascha is called Easter.

The Paschal Fast was central to the Quartodeciman debate. The Paschal Fast was clearly not 40 days at first, as it is today. Not even close. As Irenaeus said, "For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night." It started small and grew over time. A 40-day tradition can be seen by the year 329AD in Alexandria:

"We begin the fast of forty days on the 13th of the month Phamenoth (Mar. 9). After we have given ourselves to fasting in continued succession, let us begin the holy Paschal162 week on the 18th of the month Pharmuthi (April 13). Then resting on the 23rd of the same month Pharmuthi (April 18), and keeping the feast afterwards on the first of the week, on the 24th (April 19)..."
-Athanasius, Festal Letter #2, for the year 329-330

Socrates of Constantinople has quite a bit to say about the fasts, and it turns out forty days was quite popular (even if it wasn't really forty days):

"And it will not perhaps be unseasonable to notice here the diversity of customs in the churches. The fasts before Easter will be found to be differently observed among different people. Those at Rome fast three successive weeks before Easter, excepting Saturdays and Sundays. Those in Illyrica and all over Greece and Alexandria observe a fast of six weeks, which they term `The forty days' fast.' Others commencing their fast from the seventh week before Easter, and fasting three five days only, and that at intervals, yet call that time `The forty days' fast.' It is indeed surprising to me that thus differing in the number of days, they should both give it one common appellation [of forty days fast]; but some assign one reason for it, and others another, according to their several fancies. One can see also a disagreement about the manner of abstinence from food, as well as about the number of days. Some wholly abstain from things that have life: others feed on fish only of all living creatures: many together with fish, eat fowl also, saying that according to Moses, these were likewise made out of the waters. Some abstain from eggs, and all kinds of fruits: others partake of dry bread only; stilt others eat not even this: while others having fasted till the ninth hour, afterwards take any sort of food without distinction. And among various nations there are other usages, for which innumerable reasons are assigned. Since however no one can produce a written command as an authority, it is evident that the apostles left each one to his own free will in the matter, to the end that each might perform what is good not by constraint or necessity. Such is the difference in the churches on the subject of fasts."
-Socrates of Constantinople (Scholasticus), "Church History", Book V, chapter XXII

The fast was broken by a communal meal as an observance of the Lord's Supper. And that leads us to the big question at hand - when should the fasting and feasting happen? That is the critical issue in the controversy.

And, no, Lent has nothing to do with weeping for Tammuz. That happened in the month of Tammuz, which is about three months later, around June/July.


You may have heard this issue was east vs west, or Jerusalem vs Rome, but it wasn't nearly as simple as that. From the evidence we have, it is reasonable to conclude both opinions existed to some degree in nearly all areas. All areas had their own struggles deciding between the two. The issue was addressed region by region. Eventually, the only remaining strongholds of Quartodeciman practice were Asia Minor (ie. modern Turkey), Syria, and some areas of Persia. In other words, areas of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Due to this slow decision process, by the time the Council of Nicaea was called, the Quartodecimans were deeply in the minority.

We can see which regions held which opinion from Eusebius' book "The Life of Constantine". In it, Eusebius quotes a letter from Constantine written after the Council of Nicaea. This is the official letter where Constantine wrote to the entire church informing them of the decisions of the Council. Constantine urges them all to come into agreement. In that letter, Constantine says:

"...and since that arrangement [the decision at Nicaea] is consistent with propriety which is observed by all the churches of the western, southern, and northern parts of the world, and by some of the eastern also: for these reasons all are unanimous on this present occasion..." 

"...that practice [observing the Lord's Supper on Sunday] which is observed at once in the city of Rome, and in Africa; throughout Italy, and in Egypt, in Spain, the Gauls, Britain, Libya, and the whole of Greece; in the dioceses of Asia and Pontus, and in Cilicia, with entire unity of judgment. And you will consider not only that the number of churches is far greater in the regions I have enumerated than in any other..."
-Eusebius, “Life of Constantine”, book III, chapter 19 [bold mine].

This isn't the only place where Eusebius gives us evidence of which areas joined which side. He provides more in his "Church History". I will quote the entire 23rd chapter:

"A question of no small importance arose at that time. For the parishes of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should be observed as the feast of the Savior's Passover. It was therefore necessary to end their fast on that day, whatever day of the week it should happen to be. But it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this time, as they observed the practice which, from apostolic tradition, has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast on no other day than on that of the resurrection of our Savior.

"Synods and assemblies of bishops were held on this account, and all, with one consent, through mutual correspondence drew up an ecclesiastical decree, that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be celebrated on no other but the Lord's day, and that we should observe the close of the paschal fast on this day only. There is still extant a writing of those who were then assembled in Palestine, over whom Theophilus, bishop of Cæsarea, and Narcissus, bishop of Jerusalem, presided. And there is also another writing extant of those who were assembled at Rome to consider the same question, which bears the name of Bishop Victor; also of the bishops in Pontus over whom Palmas, as the oldest, presided; and of the parishes in Gaul of which Irenæus was bishop, and of those in Osroene and the cities there; and a personal letter of Bacchylus, bishop of the church at Corinth, and of a great many others, who uttered the same opinion and judgment, and cast the same vote.

"And that which has been given above was their unanimous decision."
-Eusebius, "Church History", book V, chapter 23 [bold mine].

Now I will quote the entire 25th chapter:

"Those in Palestine whom we have recently mentioned, Narcissus and Theophilus, and with them Cassius, bishop of the church of Tyre, and Clarus of the church of Ptolemais, and those who met with them, having stated many things respecting the tradition concerning the Passover which had come to them in succession from the apostles, at the close of their writing add these words:

" 'Endeavor to send copies of our letter to every church, that we may not furnish occasion to those who easily deceive their souls. We show you indeed that also in Alexandria they keep it on the same day that we do [Alexandria was not a Quartodeciman area]. For letters are carried from us to them and from them to us, so that in the same manner and at the same time we keep the sacred day.' "
-Eusebius, "Church History", book V, chapter 25 [bold mine].

You can see now that the areas where Quartodecimanism was in the majority were mostly located in Asia Minor (except Pontus in the north, and Osroene and Cilicia in the south). We can tell from other writings there were Quartodecimans throughout Syria and some areas of Persia. The rest of the world was in the traditional camp.


From Herbert Armstrong, I was made to believe Easter Sunday was adopted into Christianity from foreign paganism at the Council of Nicaea due to pressure from the Pope and Constantine the Great. That might perhaps lead one to believe the debate was after Nicaea. All of that is absolutely, completely false.

If I had used even the slightest amount of logic, I would have noticed the Quartodeciman Controversy was one of the reasons the Council of Nicaea was called in the first place. The debate existed within Christianity long before Nicaea. I was surprised to learn not only did the issue predate Nicaea, it existed from the very start, it was debated for centuries, and multiple local Synods were held about the topic before there was a Constantine. I wonder why I didn't know this earlier. Herbert Armstrong knew it! He said as much:

"I found in historic records that there had been heated and violent controversies over this very question directly and indirectly during the first three centuries of the Church."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Where Is The True Church?", 1984, p.21

When I say 'very beginning' I mean it. Nicaea was in 325 AD. Three centuries before that means what? The very beginning.

Most of what we know comes from the historian Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in Syria (a Quartodeciman region). Eusebius related details from historical documents he had access to. From what he relates, both groups claimed to have received their traditions directly from the Apostles. The Quartodecimans were taught by John and Philip, according to Polycarp and Polycrates. Traditionalists were taught by unnamed Apostles, according to sources such as Claudius Apollinaris and Eusebius. Tradition states it was Paul and Peter. The pseudepigraphal work of "The Paschal Canon" of Anatolius of Laodicea/Alexandria, chapter X, supports that it was Peter and Paul, and Socrates of Constantinople (called Scholasticus) in his "Church History", book V chapter XXII, recognizes it. Socrates also mentions no one could prove their claims with any written evidence from the Apostles.
Nothing specifically says this, but if Rome was taught by Peter and Paul, then it is reasonable to conclude Alexandria was taught by Mark.

There is at least one non-Armstrongist scholar who would disagree with me: Gerard Rouwhorst. In the spirit of balance, I figured I would mention him. I respect him. He knows his material. He leaves room for others to disagree with him, and that makes me respect him all the more. Understand that there are a multitude of opinions on just about anything, and the origins of this controversy are not exempted.

I find it supremely interesting that Socrates of Constantinople says about the origins. He believes the Apostles did not ordain any festivals at all, but left things up to people to make up their own minds. Truly, that makes a great amount of sense to me.
Socrates begins chapter 22 of book 5 with a review from the Bible of the Old Covenant law being done away, then he speculates on the origins of Easter in this way:

"Wherefore, inasmuch as men love festivals, because they afford them cessation from labor: each individual in every place, according to his own pleasure, has by a prevalent custom celebrated the memory of the saving passion. The Savior and his apostles have enjoined us by no law to keep this feast: nor do the Gospels and apostles threaten us with any penalty, punishment, or curse for the neglect of it, as the Mosaic law does the Jews. It is merely for the sake of historical accuracy, and for the reproach of the Jews, because they polluted themselves with blood on their very feasts, that it is recorded in the Gospels that our Savior suffered in the days of `unleavened bread.' The aim of the apostles was not to appoint festival days, but to teach a righteous life and piety. And it seems to me that just as many other customs have been established in individual localities according to usage. So also the feast of Easter came to be observed in each place according to the individual peculiarities of the peoples inasmuch as none of the apostles legislated on the matter. And that the observance originated not by legislation, but as a custom the facts themselves indicate."
-Socrates of Constantinople (Scholasticus), "Church History", Book V, chapter XXII

And that, out of all the things I've read, makes the most sense to me given what else I've read about this and other things in other places. I think the two are compatible, though. I could speculate the original Apostles did keep a certain tradition of observing the Lord's Supper on the 14th of Nissan and passed it on, but not as a matter of law or requirement of any kind. And that Peter and Paul did teach the Gentiles they were not required to observe anything on the 14th, but could observe on Easter Sunday if they wished, or not, and so they had a hand in starting the two. But nothing at all was required of either side. This view explains quite a bit in my mind, including how there were indeed more than only two traditions, how there is no set way to calculate anything, and how no one seemed to be able to appeal to anything but Apostolic tradition.

Until recently, I thought the controversy began purely due to calendar differences growing slowly between distant areas. I no longer believe that. The origin according to the historical documents we have is Apostolic. The calendar issues existed without a doubt, but were secondary. Perhaps the Apostles were attempting to solve a calendar-based issue in two different ways. Perhaps the Apostles, being Jews themselves, maintained a more Jewish tradition when with other Jewish converts, but not while they were with Gentile converts (GAL. 2: 11-13), which caused calendar issues. Perhaps the two traditions coexisted better before distance and time exaggerated certain calendar issues. Calendar issues do not appear to be the root cause of the difference, the cause is Apostolic, or perhaps a combination of Apostolic and free will, but certainly calendars and calculations made the debate worse and harder to settle.

I know some people will balk at the claim the Apostles taught both sides. I understand. However, I am only relating what the legitimate historical documents indeed say. I must go where they lead me. This is the historical record. Anything else is simply not the historical record. If you've read anything here on this blog at all, then you know we utterly reject Alexander Hislop as a legitimate source. His claims of paganism are empty and worthless.


Anicetus and Polycarp

First, in "Church History" book IV chapter 24, Eusebius recounts a discussion between Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Anicetus, Bishop of Rome. Judging from the time between when Anicetus was elected Bishop and when Polycarp died, this conversation had to be between 153-155 AD. This is quite early, and is our first hint of a dispute. Polycarp traveled to Rome to discuss it with Anicetus. Both men explain how they inherited their tradition. The entire arguments of of both men were based not on law or removal of law, nor on accusations of paganism, but on tradition. The two unsuccessfully tried to convince the other of who had the stronger tradition. In the end, they confirmed their mutual respect and decided to live together in peace. They even shared a Eucharistic meal together.

The next time the United Church of God tries to tell you Quartodecimans were true Christians and Romans were pagans, remind them the two lived in peace and shared the Eucharist together. Or when they try to pin Easter Sunday on events after the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 AD), remind them that Irenaeus, whom they cite, specifically mentioned Bishops of Rome by name going back to 115 AD, which was prior to Bar Kohkba.

Start of Local Synods

The timing in this next phase in the dispute seems to last form the 150s to the 190s AD, and beyond. Eusebius, in "Church History" book IV chapter 23, briefly mentions local synods being held in areas such as Rome, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Gaul, Pontus, and Corinth. He recounts that the decision of these synods were in favor of Easter Sunday.

"Synods and assemblies of bishops were held on this account, and all, with one consent, through mutual correspondence drew up an ecclesiastical decree, that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be celebrated on no other but the Lord's day [Sunday], and that we should observe the close of the paschal fast on this day only."
-Eusebius "Church History", book V, chapter 23

From this we know the Council of Nicaea was not even remotely the first time Christians gathered to debate the issue. We also know this is a short list. In the next section, we will see the infamous fight between Victor and Polycrates. Hidden in there is another mention of a local synod in Asia Minor, called upon Victor's request. How many other areas had synods which were left unmentioned? We will never know for certain, but we know it wasn't zero. It seems as if Eusebius' list was meant to convey the idea that synods were happening all around the Empire.

The 1975 booklet "Seven Proofs of God's True Church" page 53, Garner Ted Armstrong says:

"Study into the 'Quartodeciman' controversy some time. See how it finally required pressure from the state to finally force people to quit keeping Passover on the 14th of Nissan..."

When we study into the history as Garner Ted suggested, we see history doesn't quite match the claims of "God's True Church". This stopped surprising me long ago.
The local areas were deciding for themselves, and the vast majority were deciding in favor of Sunday.

Polycrates and Victor

Next, in "Church History" book V, chapters 23-25, Eusebius recounts another important discussion, this time between Polycrates the Bishop of Ephesus and Victor the Bishop of Rome. Judging from the time between when Victor was elected Bishop and when Polycrates died, this conversation had to be between 189 and 196 AD. Eusebius dedicates three whole chapters to this debate, which I will summarize.

From previous paragraphs, we can see Victor wrote to Polycrates to inform him of the decisions of the local counsels and to ask him to assemble his own counsel in Asia Minor. The church leaders in the region were assembled as requested to discuss the issue and the decision came down in favor of the Quartodeciman view. Polycrates wrote back to Victor about their decision. Polycrates, in a rather defiant tone, lays out his case that the Apostles John and Philip taught them, and many church leaders kept that tradition. They decided they were following God and so would continue observing as they had. Victor clearly took offense and responded by excommunicating everyone from the Quartodeciman side of the issue. The majority of the church reacted against Victor's decision, including those who sided with Victor on timing.

Something clearly happened that went unreported by Eusebius. This wasn't Victor and Polycrates' first conversation. Polycrates called the local counsel as Victor asked him to, so there had to have been earlier conversations. The tone in Polycrates' two phrases "I ... am not affrighted by terrifying words" and "we ought to obey God rather than man" leads me to believe he felt pressured by Victor to come to the same conclusion everyone else had. That's my opinion. We have no way to verify it. Polycrates' seemed somewhat passive aggressive. Passive aggression is still aggression. By Victor's harsh response, there must be some layering here. I tend to suspect this was not just Victor lashing out after being slighted. Was Victor grieved the Asians purposefully did not come into unity with the rest of the church? Was Victor angry about Marcionite heretics rising up around the world, including in Italy, and taking it out on Polycrates? There is no telling. We are missing critical information here. I do not agree with Victor's response. But I feel they were both wrong, not just Victor. The rest of the church reacted to Victor as well. You might think the reaction was mainly due to Victor not having the authority to act as he did. From what I can tell, that was not the case. The tone was unity and peace, not authority.

As a brief aside, you will read how this was Rome's first attempt to assert authority over other churches. That is absolutely not true. Examples can be given of other churches looking to Rome to make decisions well before this. Polycrates did call his local synod at Victor's request, after all. Don't mistake me for trying to cheerlead a Pope. I am not. I am just relating historical facts to clear up misconceptions. But I digress.

Eusebius then quotes from a letter by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, to Victor. Irenaeus laid out the case for both sides, emphasized how the church had always lived in peace about this issue, pointed out how no one was excommunicated over it before then - even providing a list of Bishops of Rome who lived at peace with the Quartodecimans, and pleaded for Victor to relent.
Irenaeus was born in Smyrna and was a disciple of Polycarp. This means he grew up a Quartodeciman. He had since become the Bishop of Lyon (France). We can tell from various sources that Irenaeus was no longer a practicing Quartodeciman. Therefore, he lived under both traditions at one point. If anyone was capable of understanding both sides it was him. (I can relate.)

In theory, Victor relented - but we don't know that because that's missing information, too. And the debate went on.

Council of Nicaea

Finally, the issue left to fester over the next century until we get to the reign of Constantine the Great. According to Eusebius, in "Life of Constantine" book III, before Nicaea, Constantine sent out letters to church leaders in several areas imploring them to settle the issue (which was doomed to fail, since they had been trying to settle the issue for two centuries already).
All who to paint Constantine as some strong man forcing one opinion on the church seem to never mention this. I am sure you can see for yourself why that is. Constantine didn't care either way what they chose. He just wanted the issue settled because peace in the church meant peace in the empire.

When that naturally failed, he called the Council to make leaders from all areas sit down together and work it out. He chose a location in Quartodeciman territory that was central for everyone. He paid their travel expenses plus room and board. He let them debate and decide on their own. He was not afforded a vote. When the bishops had finally decided - in favor of Sunday - he enforced their decisions.

Here is what Socrates of Constantinople, also called Scholasticus, says about those who attended:

'Wherefore the most eminent of the ministers of God in all the churches which have filled Europe, Africa, and Asia, were convened. And one sacred edifice, dilated as it were by God, contained within it on the same occasion both Syrians and Cilicians, Phœnicians, Arabs and Palestinians, and in addition to these, Egyptians, Thebans, Libyans, and those who came from Mesopotamia. At this synod a Persian bishop was also present, neither was the Scythian absent from this assemblage. Pontus also and Galatia, Pamphylia, Cappadocia, Asia and Phrygia, supplied those who were most distinguished among them. Besides, there met there Thracians and Macedonians, Achaians and Epirots, and even those who dwelt still further away than these, and the most celebrated of the Spaniards himself took his seat among the rest. The prelate of the imperial city was absent on account of age; but some of his presbyters were present and filled his place."
-Socrates of Constantinople (Scholasticus), "Church History", Book I, chapter 8

Understand, the primary topic of the Council was an issue that started in Alexandria over the nature of Jesus - the heresy of Arius. The details of Pascha were quite secondary at the Council. Nicaea was not called over Pascha, but if you're going to be gathering and making decisions, why not settle Pascha too?

This was not Constantine trying to force his Easter opinions on the church. Constantine was there, but could not vote. Constantine didn't even personally follow all of the decisions of the Council. Constantine is reported to have sided with Arius on the nature of Jesus, and retained that opinion until much later in life. How can Nicaea be Constantine forcing his opinions on the church when he apparently did not agree with all of the decisions of the Council? It cannot. If you know anything about Constantine, you know he liked to play it safe. He wasn't even baptized until he knew he was dying, just to make sure all his sins would be covered. He wasn't given to taking extreme positions on religious particulars. It really is a baseless accusation to blame Easter on him. That whole canard really needs to be ended. It's dishonest.

Armstrong would have us believe this was all the doings of those dastardly Catholics who were up to no good again, forcing the innocent and godly Passover-keepers to bow to their will. That is a serious mischaracterization. First, as stated earlier, the traditional dating was already well established in most areas. Rome had its own local synod. Second, every bishop voted. If people have power when they can vote to elect a government, then the same holds true here. Losing a vote is not the same as being oppressed. Third, the Pope wasn’t even at the Council of Nicaea. Eusebius states the Bishop of Rome didn't attend due to his "extreme old age" (Eusebius, "Life of Constantine", book III, chapter 7), so he sent two representatives to be there in his place - Vitus and Vincent. Two representatives out of an estimated 318 Bishops (the exact number of Bishops present is unknown and various numbers were given). Fourth, records indicate the delegates in attendance were mostly from the East. Nicaea was in Quartodeciman territory after all, naturally it would be weighted in their favor. And finally, delegates from Persia and other areas outside the Roman Empire came as well. They could not be pressured by the Pope or Constantine. What shall people say about them?

After Nicaea

Nicaea was a great effort, but in the end it was not entirely effective. Regardless of what the Bishops agreed to on any given topic, people continued to do what they pleased, regardless. It wouldn't be another century until a second ecumenical Council would have to be called to decide certain issues a again. The Quartodeciman practices would linger another century, mainly in Persia, until they eventually died out on their own. So much for the story you've heard about being being forced to give up their ways.

The Medieval Sourcebook has a detailed and mercifully brief article on the specifics of how Easter timing played out going forward, called "Excursus On The Subsequent History of the Easter Question". Nicaea may have created a formula for how to calculate Easter Sunday, but they didn't say what calendar to use. Here we go with the calendar issues again
Rome and Alexandria had back and forth issues with calculating Easter because they calculated moon phases differently. This went on and on until 525 AD when Dionysius Exeguus (the guy who invented "AD" and "BC"), built on an earlier work from Anatolius of Laodicea (aka Anatolius of Alexandria) and came up with a working system of 19-year Easter time cycles (wow does that ever sound familiar) that satisfied both sides. The new calculations would catch on slowly across the West, until about the year 729 AD when the whole British isles finally accepted them. At long last, there would be peace.

...Or not.
Technically, troubles continue until this very day, since the Catholics/Protestants and Greek Orthodox have two entirely different calendars and celebrate Easter almost always at different times. Hope for a solution seems to be possible, according to the article "Why Catholics and Orthodox might once again celebrate Easter on the same date" on CatholicNewsAgency, which says,

"According to an earlier report by Vatican News, [Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople] supports such a common date to be set for the year 2025, which will mark the 1,700th anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea."
I wouldn't hold my breath, though.

That sums up the development of the issue over time. I only have so much space and cannot get overly detailed about it, but that is the summary of the major points. If you hear anything wildly divergent from what you've read here, you can be assured those claims are suspect at best.


As I said at the start, there is so much more to this one topic. I chose to cover what I did, which I feel are the basics, because these things were most relevant to my own history in Armstrongism. I had to read quite a bit about this topic. It's not like you just read Eusebius and you're done. There are rabbit holes inside the rabbit holes. I seriously have fifteen tabs open in just one of my three web browsers right this minute, all with pages on this topic.

Having come from an Armstrongist background, I found many things to be challenging to what I thought I knew. Challenging because so many things I thought I knew were wrong. Wrong because I had relied on thoroughly biased material from Armstrongists. I would never have known this had I not done what Garner Ted Armstrong suggested and researched the topic myself.

Today we've seen that both Quartodeciman and traditional practices were Apostolic, that the local regions held synods to decide for themselves well before Nicaea, that Quartodecimans were in the minority by choice of local regions, and that this was not due to pressure from the Pope or Constantine. The only example of pressure from the Bishop of Rome was met with pressure from the other Bishops.

Many will be surprised about the fasting. Lent is not some foreign pagan thing imported into Christianity in later years. It was there from the start, developing organically from Christian piety towards Jesus' betrayal and death. Everyone had a Lentin fast, even the Quartodecimans. If one wishes to claim some ancestry from the Quartodecimans, it follows that one also adopts a Lentin fast.

I bet you're wondering who was right in this debate, the Quartodecimans or the traditional Christians? In short: they were both right!
Life is messy. This was not by any means the first time the church dealt with two opinions on one topic (ACT. 15: 6-29; 21: 17-25 and ROM 14: 1-13). These are growing pains of a church leaving its infancy. Both groups were taught by Apostles from the start and both groups had long lists of illustrious names who agreed with them. They tried living in peace, but the years were not kind to that. The difference made for poor unity, and they disputed for centuries. They tried peace, pressure, councils, contention, and plain old ignoring it and hoping it would go away ... nothing worked. The dispute needed to be settled before it led to schism. I for one am persuaded it was necessary and a good idea to try and settle it at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.
Even thought that didn't really settle it.

Remember at the start of this article when I said, "I find it curious that many of those who try to ally with the Quartodecimans don't really understand them"? In my next post "Quartodecimans - Were They Law-Keepers?", we will dig into actual details and investigate the beliefs of the Quartodecimans. I think you will find the reality quite interesting. It was for me!


It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )

Acts 17:11


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