ANTI-JUDAISM AND THE ORIGIN OF SUNDAY #8
by Dr.Samuele Bacchiocchi
Rome and the Easter-Controversy.
Epiphanius, we noticed, reports that the controversy over
Easter celebration,"arose after the exodus of the bishops of the
circumcision [ca. A. D. 135]." 242
The controversy, as we have seen, was primarily over the
actual day on which Easter was to be celebrated. Some celebrated
Easter on the 14th of Nisan according to Jewish reckoning and
were called Quartodecimans. Others (the majority of the
Christians according to Eusebius) 243 had adopted a new date,
that is, the Sunday after the 14th of Nisan, on which to
celebrate their Easter. 244 The cited statement of Epiphanius
implies that the Gentile-Christian leaders who settled in
Jerusalem after 135 introduced at that time the Easter-Sunday
custom and by this action provoked the controversy. The
controversy may have been caused by a significant segment of the
new Christian membership who (being still loyal to the
quartodeciman custom) refused to accept the change. Bagatti, a
specialist in the history of the Judeo-Christians, holds, on the
other hand, that the conflict was provoked by the Judeo-
Christians, who "after a temporary withdrawal, returned to the
city rapidly," opposing the Easter-Sunday innovation. 245
Two questions arise at this point. First, from where did
the Gentile Christians who colonized Jerusalem after 135 learn
about the Easter-Sunday custom? Were they the innovators or had
they learned about it previously from elsewhere? Secondly, what
is the relationship between the yearly Easter-Sunday and the
weekly-Sunday? Were the two feasts regarded perhaps as one
similar feast that commemorated at different times the same event
of the resurrection, or were they considered as two different
feasts which fulfilled different objectives? If the two were
treated as one similar feast, it would seem plausible to suppose
that the birthplace of Easter-Sunday could also be the place of
origin of the weekly Sunday observance, since possibly the same
factors acted in the same place to cause the contemporaneous
origin of both.
242 Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses 70, 9, PG 42, 355-356 ; the
text is quoted and discussed at length above; see pp.45f.
243 Eusebius. Hist. Eccl. 5, 23, 1; the accuracy of Eusebius
statement is discussed above; see p.49. fn. 121 and p.31, fn.49.
244 Differences arose later, especially between Rome and
Alexandria, in the calculation and determination of the
particular Sunday on which Easter was to be celebrated. For a
concise treatment, see Duchesne, "Worship," p.238; ef. also C. J.
Hefele, "A History of the Christian Councils" (Edinburgh: T. and
T. Clark, 1883), 1 : 318-334.
245 Bagatti, "L'Eglise," p.8; Bagatti's reasons are given above;
see pp.30f. and p.43.
We shall give priority to the latter question, examining
first how the early Fathers viewed the relationship between
Easter-Sunday and weekly-Sunday. In a treatise "On Easter"
attributed to Irenaeus, it is specifically enjoined not to kneel
clown on Sunday nor on Pentecost, that is, the seven weeks of the
Easter period, "because it is of equal significance with the
Lord's day." 246 The reason given is that both feasts are "a
symbol of the resurrection." Tertullian confirms the custom but
adds the prohibition of fasting as well: "On Sunday it is
unlawful to fast or to kneel while worshipping. We enjoy the same
liberty from Easter to Pentecost" 247 Regan comments the text,
saying: "In the season extending from Easter to Pentecost, the
same custom was followed, thus showing the relation between the
annual and weekly feasts." 248 Origen explicitly unites the
weekly and the yearly commemoration of the resurrection: "the
resurrection of the Lord is celebrated not only once a year but
constantly every eight dlays." 249 Usebius simularly states;
"While (the Jews) faithful to Moses, sacrificed the Passover lamb
once a year ... we men of the New Covenant celebrate every Sunday
our Passover." 250
Pope Innocent I in the letter to Bishop Decentius of Gubbio,
already cited, confirms the unity existing between the two
feasts: "We celebrate Sunday because of the venerable
resurrection of our Lord Jesus Chirst, not only at Easter but in
actuality by the single weekly cycle [i.e., every Sunday]." 251
In the light of these representative testimonies, 252 it would
appear that in the Early Church the weekly-Sunday and the Easter-
Sunday were regarded by many as one feast that commemorated at
different times the same event of the resurrection. Since the two
festivities appear so strongly related, it is most important to
consider at this point the former question, namely, where did the
Easter-Sunday custom originate from and why? Ascertaining the
246 "Fragments from. the Lost Writings of Irenaeus" 7, ANF 1:
247 Tertullian, "De Corona" 3, 4, CCL, 2, 1043; in tho treatise
"On Idolatry" 14, Tertullian, referring to the pagans, similarly
writes: "Not the Lord's dlay, not Pentecost, even if they had
known them, would they have shared with us; for they would fear
lest they should seem to be Christians" (ANF 3:70).
248, Regan, "Dies Dominica," p.97.
249 Origen, "Homilia in Isaiam" 5, 2, GCS 8, 265, 1.
250 Eusebius, "De Solemnitate paschali" 7, 12, PG 24, 701A; see
251 Innocent I, "Epist." 25, 7, PL 20, 255.
252 See also Athanasius, "Epistolae paschales," PG 26, 1389.
place and causes of the origin of Easter-Sunday is most important
at this point of our investigation, since possibly both feasts -
regarded as basically one - could have risen contemporaneously in
the same place due to the same motivations.
Eusebius in his "History of the Church," as we have already
seen, 253 reports at length the controversy which flared up in
the second century over the date for the celebration of the
Passover. Even though he himself was a defender of the
Easter-Sunday custom, in reporting the controversy he quotes
extensively the documents of both parties, thus transmitting to
us a valuable dossier of earlier sources. In brief, two were the
protagonists of the controversy. On one side, Victor, Bishop of
Rome (A.D. 189-199) championed the Easter-Sunday custom (which at
that time the larger part of Christianity had already accepted)
and threatened to excommunicate the recalcitrant Christian
communities of the province of Asia. On the other side Polycrate,
Bishop of Ephesus, represetative of the Asian churches, claiming
to possess the genuine apostolic tradition transmitted to him by
the apostles Philip and John, strongly advocated the quartode-
ciman custom and refused to be frightened into submission by the
threats of Pope Victor.
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, intervened as peace maker in the
controversy. In his letter to Pope Victor, he not only dispays a
magnanimous spirit, but he also endeavors to show to the Roman
Pontiff that his predecessors, namely "Anicetus and Pius and
Telesphorus and Sixtus," even though "they did not observe it
[the quartodeciman Passover] ... they were none the less at peace
with those from the dioceses in which it was observed." 254
By stating that Victor's predecessors did not observe the
quartodeciman Passover, Irenaeus implies that they also, like
Victor, celebrated Easter on Sunday. The fact then that Irenaeus
traces back the controversy to Bishop Sixtus (ca A.D. 116-125),
mentioning him as the first, non-observant of the quartodeciman
Passover, would seem to imply that probably Easter began to be
celebrated in Rome on Sunday at that time (ca. A.D.120). 255
253 See above pp.48f; for the account of the Easter controversy,
see Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." 5, 23-25.
254 Lake, "Eusebius History" 5, 24, 14, p.511, the text is
examined above, see p.48.
255 In the light of Hadrian's policy toward the Jews and
Christians, we have suggested that Irenaeus' mention of bishop
Sixtus as the first nonobserver of the quartodeciman Passover may
well reflect an accurate historical situation. See above p.61.
while it may be unwarranted to establish the exact time of the
origin of Easter-Sunday on the basis of one passing reference of
Irenaeus (we must also make allowance for a process of
development prior to the affirmation of the new custom), there
seems to be no question as to Rome's being the place of its
origin. Later historical data confirm, in fact, the Roman origin
of Easter-Sunday. J.B.Pitra, for instance, has discovered and
edited the conciliar decree of the Council of Nicaea (A.D.325)
concerning the celebration of Easter, where it is specifically
All the brethren in the East who formerly celebrated Easter
with the Jews, will henceforth keep it at the same time as
the Romans, with us and with all those who from ancient
times have celebrated the feast at the same time with us.
Constantine, in his conciliar letter addressed to all the
bishops, after having deplored the disagreements existing
concerning such a renowned feast, similarly exhorts them to
embrace "the practice which is observed at once in the city of
Rome, and in Africa; throughout Italy, and in Egypt. ..." 257
Rome is listed first in both documents as the example to
emulate, undoubtedly because of her historical position and
because of the role of leadership she played in the controversy.
The question arises at this point: what caused in Rome the
abandonment of the quartodeeiman Passover tradition and the
consequent adoption of Easter-Sunday?
The answer to this question may provide a clue to
understanding also the motivations which caused the repudiation
of the Sabbath and the introduction of Sunday keeping, since, we
noticed previously, Easter-Sunday and weekly-Sunday were regarded
by many Christians as basically one feast.
Scholars usually recognize in the Roman custom of
celebrating Easter on Sunday instead of the 14th of Nisan, to use
Jeremias' words, "the inclination to break away from Judaism."
258 Lightfoot holds, for instance, that Rome and Alexandria
adopted Easte-rSunday to avoid., "even the semblance of Judaism."
259, M. Ri-
256 J.B.Pitra, "Juris eeclesiastici Graecorum historia et
monumenta" (Rome 1864) 1:435-436, cited by Ortiz De Urbina, in
"Nicee et Constantinople, Histoire des Concilm Oecumeniques," 12
vols.(Paris: Editions de I'Orante, 1963) 1:259; cf., Socrates,
"Hist. Eccl." 1, 9.
257 Eusebius, "Life of Constantine," 3, 19, NPNF 2nd Series, 1:
258 J. Jeremias, "Pascha," TDNT 5: 903, fn. 64.
259 Lightfoot, "Apostolic Fathers," Vol.2, part 1, p.88; the full
quotation is given above; see p.51.
ghetti, in his monumental history of liturgy, also points out
that Rome and Alexandria, after "having eliminated the Judaizing
quartodeciman tradition," repudiated even the Jewish
computations, making their own time calculations, since "such a
dependence on the Jews must have appeared humiliating." 260
The Nicene conciliar letter of Constantinne, ferred to
above, explicit reveals a marked anti-Judaic motivation, for the
repudiation of the quartodeciman Passover. The Emperor in fact,
desiring to establish a religion completely free from any Jewish
It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of
this most holy feast we should follow the practice of the
Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous
sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness
of soul.... Let us then have nothing in common with the
detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our
Saviour a different way ... Strive and pray continually
that the purity of your souls may not seem in anything to be
sullied by fellowship with the customs of these most wicked
men ... All should unite in desiring that which sound
reason appears to demand, and in avoiding all participation
in the perjured conduct of the Jews. 261
The anti-Judaic motivations for the repudiation of the
Jewish reckoning of Passover could not have been expressed more
explicitly and forcefully in the letter of Constantine. Nicaea
represents the culmination of the controversy initiated two
centuries earlier and motivated by strong anti-Judaic feelings
and one which had Rome as its epicenter.
In all th econtroversy Rome exercised a role of leadership.
We have noticed that it was in Rome that the Easter-Sunday
custom arose possibly under bishop Sixtus; it was to Rome that
Polycrates addressed himself to defend his different tradition;
it was to Rome that the Council of Nicaea pointed as the example
to follow on the Easter observance. Batiffol aptly comments in
It is Rome alone that Ephesus answers and resists. We see
the authority Rome exercises in this conflict. Renan has
said rather appropriately in reference to this case: "The
Papacy was born and well born." 262
260 Righetti, "Storia liturgica," 2: 246.
261 Eusebius, "Life of Constantine" 3, 18-19, NPNF 2nd Series,
1: 524525; the letter of Constantine is found also in Socrates,
"Hist. Eccl." 1, 9; Theodoret, "Hist. Eccl." 1, 10;
262 Batiffol, "Primitive Catholicism," p.225.
P.V.Monachino, in his dissertation on "Pastoral Care at
Mi-lano, Carthage and Rome in the Fourth Century," similarly
concludes that the pattern of pastoral care common then in the
West had been probably developed in Rome.
The pastoral care was taking place according to a pattern
which probably was common at least in all the cities of
Western Christianity. And we do not think we err if we
affirm that the place where this type had been elaborated
was the city of Rome, even though we must recognize for
Milan some influence from the Orient. 263
The role of Rome in the abandoning of the veneration of the
Sabbath and in the adoption of the Sunday keeping would seem to
us to have been underestimated in recent studies. If one recog-
nizes, as Cullmann admits, that "in deliberate distinction from
Judaism, the first Christians selected the first day of the week"
264 or as W.D.Davits writes: "The Christian Sunday ... emerged
... in conscious opposition to or distinction from the Jewish
Sabbath." 265 then Rome emerges as the most logical place for
the origin of the Christian Sunday. This hypothesis seems to us
supported by the various concomitant factors which we have found
present particularly in Rome, as for examples: the premature
separation of the Christian community from the Jews, the pagan
origin of the majority of its members, then unpopularity of the
Jews in the capital city, the imperial fiscal anti-Judaic
measures, Hadrian's repressive measures against Jewish worship
such as the observance of Sabbath, the depreciation of the
Sabbath with the prohibition to celebrate Mass and the injunction
to fast, the in-
263 P.V.Monachino, "La Cura pastorale a Milano, Cartagine e Roma
net Secolo IV, Analecta Gregoriana 41 (Rome: Pontificia
Universita Gregoriana, 1947), p.407. Leonard Goppelt, "Apostolic
and Post-Apostolic Times" (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1970),
p.126, writes concerning the role of Rome as follows: "The Church
of Rome had already gained a certain superiority early in the
history of the Church. It became prominent as the church of the
capital of the world (Rom.1:8; 16:16), as the meeting point of
the entire Church (cf. the greetings in Rom.16; Col.4; I Peter 5
:13), as the abode of Peter and Paul (Ignatius, Romans 4,3; I
Clem. V. 4f.), and as the first great church to suffer as martyr
(Rev.17:6). Because of all this, as Luke points out she became to
a certain extent the successor of Christian Jerusalem, and as I
Clement demonstrates, she thus assumed the responsibility for
264 Oscar Cullmann, "Early Christian Worship" (London: SCM Press
Ltd., 1966), p.10.
265 W.D.Davies, "Christian Origins and Judaism" (Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, n.d.), p.74.
fluence of Marcion especially in Rome, and the repudiation of the
Jewish quartodeciman Passover. Besides all these factors, present
in their totality only in Rome, 266 can be added the role of
spiritual primacy exercised by the bishop of Rome, the only one
capable of influencing, the rest of Christianity to adopt such a
new liturgical practice, as that of the commemoration of the res-
urrection on Sunday, both as a weekly and a yearly feast. 267
It is in Rome then that one encounters both the
circumstances and the authority necessary to accomplish the
abandoning of the Sabbath and the adoption of the commemoration
of the resurrection on Sunday both as a weekly and a yearly
feast. Mosna suggests further that Rome was influential also in
causing the disappearance of the veneration of the Sabbath toward
the end of the fifth century. He writes on this point: "Perhaps
in this the example of Rome (which never had any special cult on
the Sabbath) must have been influential." 268
These conditions did not exist in the East where, on the
contrary, Jewish influence survived longer, as is evidenced, for
example, by the veneration for the Sabbath and by the respect for
the Jewish reckoning of Passover. 269
To be continued