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Quartodeciman Controversy

Polycarp and the Asia Minor churches


                                    by

                                KEITH HUNT


Few "Christians" today have ever heard of the word
'Quartodeciman' let alone understand what it means. Yet to those
Christians who lived in the last half of the second century A.D.
it was very real. A great CONTROVERSY arose between the churches
of the EAST and those of the WEST. This controversy became known
by the name Quartodeciman. Quartomeciman is a term used
to describe the practice in the early Church Celebrating Easter
on the 14th cf Nisan (Die Quarta Dec'ma' the day of the Jewish
Passover (EX 12:6) (CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA, ART. "QUARTODECIMAN").


The controversy during the second century arose over WHEN - on
what date - should the Church celebrate the death of Jesus.
The Church historian H.S. Latourette in his book "A TORY OF
CHRISTIANITY" p. 37 writes, "An acute early controversy,... was
over the time for the celebration of Easter. Although our
first certain notice of aster is from the middle of the second
century..... Differences arose over the determination of the
date. Should it be fixed by the Jewish passover and be governed
by the day of the Jewish month on which that feast was set
regardless of the day of the week on which it fell? This
became the custom in many of the churches in Asia Minor.    In
contrast, many churches, including that of Rome, celebrated
Easter on the first day of the week, Sunday.... in various parts
of the Empire....synods met to decide the issue. In general the
consensus was for Sunday, but in Asia Minor the bishops held to
the other method of reckoning...Ultimately the observance of
Easter on Sunday prevailed and probably the prestige of Rome was
thereby enhanced.
Yet the controversy, called Quartodecimanism from the fourteenth
day of Nisan, long remained an unpleasant memory."

Notice - the bishops of Asia Minor - the churches of the EAST
held to the 14th of Nisan for commemorating the death of Christ.
It was only after much bitter disputing that the festival of
EASTER became established towards the end of the second century.

Now see the candid statements b the CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA,
"Quartodectimanism, prevalent in Asia Minor and Syria in
the second century, emphasized the death of Christ, the true
Paschal victim (JN 18:28; 19:42), while Roman practice emphasized
the observance of Sunday as the day of the Resurrection .....
Roman efforts to induce the Quartodecimans to abandon their
practice were unsuccessful. On a visit to Rome (C.555), 
St.Polycarp of Smyrna amicably discussed the question with Pope
Anicetus without, however, reaching agreement. Pope Victor,
(189-198) sought unity through a series of synods held in both
East and West; all accepted the Roman practice except the Asiatic
bishops .... During the 3rd century Quartodecimanism waned; it
persisted in some Asiatic communities down to the 5th century."
("QUARTODECIMAN")

Why did POLYCARP and the Asiatic bishops refuse to accept the
Roman Method of reckoning the date to celebrate the death of
Christ? And why did they the Asiatic churches emphasize the DEATH
of Jesus rather and his resurrection?

The answer can be found in what is written about POLYCARP
himself.

"Bishop of Smyrna, 2nd century martyr .... a disciple of St.
John, probably the Apostle. ....Polycarp journeyed to Rome as
representative of the churches of Asia Minor and dealt with
the Pope Anicetus (155-166) on the Quartodeciman question....
CATHOLIC ENCY. ART. 'POLYCARP ').

Did you catch it? Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John!

Mr. LATOURETTE, writing about Irenaeus in his "HISTORY OF THE
CHRISTIANITY" says, "....A native of either Syria or Minor,
Isrenaeus had in his youth seen POLYCARP, Bishop of Smyrna. 
Polycarp, he informs us, had been instructed by the apostles and
had talked with many who had seen Christ" page 131.

On the evening of the 14th of Nisan Jesus instituted the NT
ordinance of FOOT WASHING (see my study on that question under
the Passover studies), among His disciples as a sign of humility
to each other, and the symbols of Bread and the fruit of the
Vine, to represent His broken body and shed blood for our sins
(John 13:1-15; Mat.26:17,20,26-29). 

The apostolic church continued to keep this very special evening
and service (1 Cor. 11:17-34). 

God's people under the leadership of Polycarp and others of the
2nd century followed the teaching and example of Jesus and the
early church, in remembering the death of Christ on the 14th of
Nisan (in the Jewish calendar).

People of God today will do the same.

FOOT NOTE FROM ENCYCLOPEDIAS

EASTER CONTROVERSY
Controversy surrounded the determination of the date of Easter
from the 2d to the 8th century, and is dealt with here
as: (1) the *Quartodeciman* (2) the Roman-Alexandrian, and (3)
the Celtic Easter controversies.

Quartodeciman Controversy. The Asiatic practice in the century
2nd century of observing Easter on the day of the Jewish Passover
conflicted with the Roman custom of celebrating Easter on Sunday,
the day of the Resurrection. Occasionally, the Quartodecimans
celebrated Easter on the day that other Christians were observing
Good Friday. Originally both observances were allowed, but
gradually it was felt incongruous that Christians should
celebrate Easter on a Jewish feast, and unity in celebrating the
principal Christian feast was called for. However, an attempt by
Pope *Victor I(189-198) to impose Roman usage proved unsuccessful
in the face of a determined opposition led by Polycrates (who
followed after Polycarp - Keith Hunt) Bishop of Ephesus. Although
Quartodecimanism waned in the 3d century, it survived in some
Asiatic Churches as late as the 5th century.


QUARTODECIMAN, a term used to describe the practice in the early
Church of celebrating Easter on the 14th of Nisan (die
quarta decima), the day of the Jewish Passover (Ex 12.6).
Quartodecimanism, prevalent in Asia Minor and Syria in the 2d
century, emphasized the death of Christ, the true Paschal victim
(Jn 18.28; 19.42), while Roman practice emphasized the
observance of Sunday as the day of the Resurrection. Implicit in
these two positions is the disputed chronology of Holy Week.
As Christianity separated from Judaism, Gentile Christians
objected to observing the principal Christian feast on the same
day as the Jewish Passover.
Roman efforts to induce the Quartodecimans to abandon their
practice were unsuccessful. On a visit to Rome (c.155), St.
*Polycarp of Smyrna amicably discussed the question with Pope
*Anicetus without, however, reaching agreement. Pope *Victor
(189-198) sought unity through a series of synods held in both
East and West; all accepted the Roman practice except the Asiatic
bishops. When Victor attempted coercion by excommunication, St.
*Irenaeus of Lyons intervened to restore peace (Eusebius, Hist.
Eccl. 5.23-25). During the 3d century Quartodecimanism waned; it
persisted in some Asiatic communities down to the 5th
century. See also EASTER CONTROVERSY.

Bibliography: W. H. CADMAN, "The Christian Pascha and the Day of
the Crucifixion: Nisan 14 or 15," Studia Patristica 5 (TG 80;
1962) 8-16. C. W. DUGMORF, "A Note on the Quartodecimans," ibid.
4 (TU 79; 1961) 411-421.


POLYCARP, ST.
Bishop of Smyrna, 2d-century martyr (feast, Jan. 26; in Eastern
Church, Jan. 25 and Feb. 23). Polycarp, a disciple of St. John,
probably the Apostle, was visited by *Ignatius of Antioch in the
course of Ignatius' journey to Rome for martyrdom (c. 116);
and Ignatius wrote a letter to Polycarp from Troas, as well as a
letter to the community at Smyrna. Some 40 years later Polycarp
journeyed to Rome as representative of the churches in Asia Minor
and dealt with Pope *Anicetus (155-166) on the *Quartodeciman
question and the date for the celebration of Easter. During his
stay in Rome he met many Valentinian heretics and came face to
face with *Marcion and his followers.
At the age of 86, on a "great Sabbath," Polycarp was put to death
in the Stadium at Smyrna, possibly on Feb. 22 or 23, 155
(Mart. Poly. 21), under the Proconsul Statius Quadratus. As
*Eusebius of Caesarea (Hist. Eccl. 4.15.1) records his death in
the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180), it is possible that the
date should be between 161 and 169.
Information concerning Polycarp's life, though scanty in detail,
is authentic. The Acts of his martyrdom (Mar-tyrium Polycarpi)
are the earliest preserved, fully reliable account of a Christian
martyr's death; and Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3.3.4) and Eusebius
(Hist. Eccl. 4.14.3-8; 5.20.4-8; 24.16-17) concur in the main
facts. The Vita by Pionius (c. 400), however, is a legendary
account of his life.
Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians is preserved in Greek (ch.
1-9.2) and wholly in an early, poor Latin translation. Eusebius
recorded also ch. 9 and 13 (Hist. Eccl. 3.36.13-15). The letter
was written in response to a request from the community at
Philippi, who had also asked Polycarp to furnish them with a
collection of the letters of Ignatius. It appears that in the MSS
of the letter, ch. 13 is an interpolation that served originally
as the covering note to the Ignatian letters (Harrison); while
ch. 1-12 (and possibly 14) are a pastoral epistle that Irenaeus
described as "a vigorous letter . . . in which those seeking
salvation can apprehend the nature of the faith and the teaching
of the truth" (Adv. Haer. 3.3.4).
Polycarp based his moral exhortation on the imitation of Christ
in his patience (8.2; 9.1). He inculcated Christian virtue
following the Gospels and St. Paul (2-3), citing liberally from
these NT writings, and included all members of the community in
his admonitions; bishop, priests, deacons, married couples,
virgins, widows, young men, and orphans (4-6). Almsgiving was an
essential practice (10.2), and the Christian was to pray for
kings, powers, and rulers, for his enemies and persecutors
(12.3-13).

Bibliography: P. T. CAMELOT, ed. and tr., SourcesChr 10 (3d ed.
1958) 183-275. J. A. KLEIST, AncChrWr 6 (1948) 67-102, 184-204.
P. N. HARRISON, Polycarp's Two Epistles to the Philippians (New
York 1936). Quasten Patr 1:76-82. P. MEINHOLD, Paulybliss RE 21.2
(1952) 1662-93. H.I. MARROU, AnalBoll 71 (1953) 5-20. H. von
CAMPENHAUSEN, Bearbeitungen ... des Polykarpmartyritims (SBHeidel
3; 1957). H. GREGOIRE et al., Academie royale de Belgique
Bulletin de la classe des lettres 5th ser. 47 (1961) 72-83. L. W.
BARNARD, ChQuartRev 163 (1962) 421-430. J. A. Fischer, LexThK
8:597-598. Illustration credit: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana.
LF. x. MURPHY]
                         ...............

Written and Compiled 1980

 
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