The Quartodecimans argued that Christians should observe only the 14th as the Passover supper and Eucharist mystery (cup and bread) because the messiah and his disciples kept that same day.
Nevertheless, there was strong resistance by the Roman assembly.
The Quartodeciman (System A) and Quasi-Quartodeciman (System D) practice was made more difficult to overcome by the fact that they were both based upon the same apostolic authority (the apostle John).1
It soon became obvious that if the Roman assembly was to gain political dominance in the West, as well as over many of the eastern assemblies, a new strategy was required.
In response, during the last decade of the second century C.E., the western leaders and theologians developed a new approach: the Roman assembly Passover and, after the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., canonized as the Roman Catholic Passover (System E).
Countering the Quartodecimans
In an effort to counter the Quartodeciman threat, which many in the West considered a form of Judaizing, those under Roman leadership modified System D, which observed the 14th through 20th days of the first moon for the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
Under their new system (System E), as with System D, they retained the Sovereign’s day—the first day of the week during the seven days of Unleavened Bread—as the time to celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist.
Yet, major changes came in three areas.
• First, they advanced the Roman assembly view that the period which began with the Friday preceding the Sovereign’s day until Saturday night was the time to fast.2
• Second, the advocates of System E made a decision to adopt the Hasidic construct for the seven days of Unleavened Bread (i.e., counting from the 15th until the end of the 21st day of Abib). However, they discarded the Hasidic interpretation to always observe the 15th and 21st of Abib as high Sabbaths.
• Third, they adopted the Hasidic interpretation that the 15th of Abib was the correct day for the legal Passover supper found in the written Torah. The ramifications of these changes were far-reaching.
In the present post, we shall open our examination of those Christian systems that adopted the Hasidic view of the seven days of Unleavened Bread with a discussion of (1) the time frame and (2) the originators of the System E construct.
Then in the following post, we shall document the mechanics of System E and examine other Hasidic-based Christian systems that followed.
Time of the Change
The time of change, when the western assemblies moved from System D to System E, occurred in the second half of the first century C.E.
As we have already noted, the earliest advocates of the western view (System D) calculated the seven days of Unleavened Bread from the 14th day until the end of the 20th day of the first moon, a view that was itself Quartodeciman-based.
Yet, unlike the Quartodecimans, they observed a Sunday-only celebration of the Passover Eucharist.
As Raniero Cantalamessa observed:
Naturally the choice of the anniversary of the passion rather than the anniversary of the resurrection as the date of the feast meant emphasizing one of the events more than the other.3
The heart of the attempt to persuade other western and the eastern assemblies to leave the Quartodeciman system rested entirely upon very strong anti-Jewish rhetoric and the claim that the day of the resurrection was a much happier occasion to celebrate the mystery of the Eucharist.
To solidify this view, the Roman bishops converted the Friday and Saturday preceding Passover Sunday into fast days. Yet, these arguments were simply not strong enough to bring the Quartodecimans into the western camp.
In the latter half of the second century C.E., the East still remained strongly Quartodeciman. In the eyes of the leaders of the Roman assembly, it became a time for change.
The leadership of the Roman assembly realized that they could only gain political dominance over all of these other assemblies if the greater Assembly4 was unified in its doctrines. Therefore, it was necessary for them to find a stronger basis for dismissing the 14th as the day of the Passover.
The result of this activity was the development of a newer construct for keeping the sovereign’s Passover of the resurrection—System E, which argued that the Passover could only be kept from the 15th to the 21st days of the first month.
Pope Victor of Rome (192-202 C.E.)
To further dismiss the Quartodeciman practice for celebrating Passover on the 14th, the accusation was made that those observing the 14th were committing an act of Judaizing.
The leader of this new movement is uncovered in the following way.
Columbanus of Luxovium, who advocated System D, bitterly testified in a letter to Pope Gregory, dated to the year 598 C.E., that the culprit behind this innovation to dismiss the 14th as a day to observe Passover and charge it as being an act of Judaizing was Pope Victor of Rome.
Columbanus of Luxovium writes (and we quote him at some length to gain the flavor of the dispute):
. . . after so many authors whom I have read, I am not satisfied with that one sentence of those bishops who say only, “We ought not to keep Passover with the Jews” (i.e., on the 14th). FOR THIS IS WHAT BISHOP VICTOR FORMERLY SAID; but none of the Easterns accepted his figment. But this, the benumbing backbone of Dagon; this, the dotage of error drinks in. Of what worth, I ask, is this sentence, so frivolous and so rude, and resting as it does, on no testimonies from sacred Scripture: “We ought not to keep the Passover with the Jews”? What has it to do with the question? Are the reprobate Jews to be supposed to keep the Passover now, seeing that they are without a temple, outside Jerusalem, and the messiah, who was formerly prefigured, having been crucified by them? Can it be rightly supposed that the 14th day of the moon for the Passover was of their own (i.e., a Jewish) appointment? Or, is it not rather to be acknowledged that it is from the deity, who alone knew clearly with what mysterious meaning the 14th day of the moon was chosen for the passage (out of Egypt).5
Under the guiding hand of theoreticians Victor of Rome and Irenaeus of Gaul, and with the agreement of others like Clement of Alexandria, the western assemblies did an about-face and accepted what had previously been shunned—i.e., the Hasidic premise that the seven days of Unleavened Bread extended from the beginning of the 15th until the end of the 21st day of the first moon.
Polycarp of Smyrna (69-155 C.E.)
The System E concept was developed as a result of the controversy which followed the visit of the Quartodeciman Polycarp of Smyrna, leader of the eastern assemblies, with Anicetus, the bishop of Rome and leader over several of the western assemblies.
It was with this dispute that we hear for the first time of a difference between the observance of the 14th as the historical Passover and the western observance of Passover Sunday (System D) being practiced at Rome.
It was no earlier than 158 C.E.,6 and probably shortly thereafter, that these two bishops tried to resolve their differences over the Passover issue.
Little was accomplished. They only agreed to disagree. Polycarp, already a very old man and unwilling to cause a schism in the Assembly,7 quietly returned home and peace continued between the two sides.8
At the same time, members of the Roman assembly saw Polycarp’s unwillingness to censure or excommunicate Anicetus as a sign of weakness.
Polycarp’s inability to convince Anicetus, allowing Anicetus to retain his own view, and then departing Rome on friendly terms actually represented proof in the minds of many members of the western assemblies that the western view was at least equal in authority to the older Quartodeciman view.9
Polycarp’s inability to convince the leadership of Rome, therefore, became the first major step on the road to political dominance for the leadership of the Roman assembly.
Perceiving that they were now unfettered and justified in their approach, the Roman assembly began a major campaign to expand their power.
During the latter half of the second century C.E., using a series of conferences, epistles, and meetings, they rapidly increased their dominance over many of the other western assemblies, extending their influence even over the Roman province around Jerusalem.10
Meanwhile, shortly before the death of Polycarp (about the spring of 170 C.E.),11 the western doctrine of Passover was making its way into Asia. As a result, the Asian assemblies revived the Passover debate at Laodicea (in the spring of 167 C.E.).12
Some were, for the first time, pleading an interpretation of the story of the messiah’s suffering that reflected a strong Hasidic influence.
Apollinarius of Hierapolis (2nd Century C.E.)
The Quartodeciman Apollinarius of Hierapolis, for example, mentions the fact that at that time some, “on account of ignorance,” had stirred up a dispute, arguing that Yahushua had eaten the Passover lamb with his disciples on the 14th but did not suffer death until the 15th, “on the great day of Unleavened Bread.”13
The context of this debate is reflected in Apollinarius of Hierapolis’ response, “the 14th is the true Passover of the sovereign.”14
This disagreement reveals the beginning of an effort by those who were trying to introduce the Hasidic construct, which makes the 15th the first day of Unleavened Bread and a high Sabbath, into the Christian Passover debate.
At that time, Melito, bishop of Sardis, wrote his two books titled On the Passover.15 In this work Melito defended the view of the Asiatic assemblies.16
Shortly thereafter, in approximately 170 C.E.,17 Apollinarius, who was from the city of Hierapolis (located near Laodicea in Asia Minor), also wrote in defense of the Quartodeciman view.
The Quartodeciman Defense
The Quartodecimans were now striking back hard. Indeed, their premise was extremely difficult to argue against. As one Quartodeciman pointed out in his debate with Hippolytus:
The messiah kept the Passover on that day (the 14th) and he suffered; whence it is needful that I, too, should keep it (the Passover supper) in the same manner as the sovereign did.18
As a result of the Quartodeciman counter-attack, those holding to the early western view (System D) sought for a stronger argument.
Under the leadership of Victor, bishop of Rome (192–202 C.E.), a major effort was made by the Roman assembly to gain doctrinal supremacy in reference to the Passover.
Many meetings and conferences with other bishops were held on this point, and all unanimously formulated in their letters the doctrine of the assembly for those in every country that the mystery of the sovereign’s resurrection from the dead should be celebrated on no day save the Sovereign’s day (Sunday), and that on that day alone they should celebrate the end of the Passover fast.19
The results were proclaimed in 196 C.E.20 Victor, who held the leadership in the West, subsequently published a work titled On the Passover Controversy.21
At that moment, the Roman assembly system of fasting for the two days before Passover Sunday had attained supremacy among the western assemblies.
At the same time, the agreement to observe the Friday and Saturday fast before Passover Sunday was also an acceptance of a very different way of celebrating the suffering and resurrection of Yahushua.
Instead of annually celebrating the Passover on the 14th and the following Sunday as the Sovereign’s day, this new system always celebrated the same three-day sequence: Good Friday represented the day of the messiah’s death, Saturday his time in the grave, and Sunday was the day of his resurrection.
The annual observance of the day of the messiah’s death and his time spent buried in the grave was no longer based upon the exact day of the month, regardless of which day of the week they fell upon.
This was the Quartodeciman system and it was controlled by the 14th of Abib.
Instead, the new annual observance was based upon the exact day of the week, regardless of which day of the month it fell upon.
Under this formulation, since the messiah was raised on the Sunday following Passover (the 14th), the messiah’s death should annually be observed on the previous Friday and his resurrection on its proper Sunday.
Under this Roman system, the days of Passover were controlled by the anniversary of the Sunday resurrection.
Conversion to the Hasidic System
The most important change instituted by the new Roman system of Passover was the introduction of the Hasidic system for the seven days of Unleavened Bread, i.e., from the 15th to the 21st day of the first moon.
The 14th was retained only for the purpose of determining when the first month of the year should be fixed (i.e., the vernal equinox must fall before the 14th day of the first moon).
Therefore, the first Christians to fully adopt the Hasidic view of eight days of Passover were those following the approach of the Roman assembly (System E).22
In a broken passage, the Liber Pontificalis reports this change under Victor:
After sacerdotes (a priestly gathering) had been questioned concerning the cycle of Passover [var. text reads, “He also summoned a council and an inquiry was made of Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, concerning Passover and the first day of the week and the moon”],23 he (Victor) issued a decree that the Lord’s day of Passover . . . a discussion with priests and bishops and after holding a council to which Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, had been invited, (they determined that) the sacred Passover should be kept on the Lord’s day from the 14th to the 21st day of the first lunar month.24
The leaders who created System E were Victor of Rome, Irenaeus of Gaul, and several others. All “expressed one and the same opinion and judgment, and gave the same vote.”25
Due to the many conferences held on the matter, several bishops of the important Christian center at Alexandria, Egypt, such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen, quickly agreed.
Included in this decision with Victor was Theophilus, bishop of Caesarea, and Narcissus, bishop of Jerusalem.
These assemblies were governed by non-Judahite Roman-style Christians, the Jews and Christians of Jewish descent having been banned from even coming near the old city.26
The political shift in the days of Victor was now fully evident.
This time, instead of the leader of Asia coming to correct the Roman bishop for his separation from the orthodoxy, the Roman leader of the western assemblies notified those in the East that they were to change to the new Roman assembly orthodoxy or face excommunication.27
This episode reflects the changing position of the Roman assembly leadership toward intolerance.
When Polycarp of Smyrna, leader of the eastern assemblies, visited with Anicetus, the bishop of Rome, in about 158 C.E. and argued that the Roman assembly should change its position in the name of unity, Anicetus utterly refused.
Both sides agreed to disagree and toleration of each other’s view of Passover was encouraged. With Victor and the events of 196 C.E., on the other hand, the Roman assembly saw its chance to suppress the older Quartodeciman view.
Instead of toleration they moved toward an act of excommunication. This new attitude of the Roman leadership would eventually win the day.
When Emperor Constantine, in support of the Roman assembly, held the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., the suppression of all other Christian Passover systems became the official Roman Catholic policy.
Time to wrap up Part I of our discussion and take a break. In our next post we will address the main protagonists of the Roman System E, namely Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.
Be sure to continue reading with 26. Passover – Roman Corruption II.
For further reading see the publication by Qadesh La Yahweh press titled The Festivals and Sacred Days of Yahweh.
Click this link for Bibliography and Abbreviations.
1 See 23. Passover – Which 7 Days?, subhead, Common Apostolic Source.
2 The observance of this fast was at the heart of the differences between Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus and leader of the Asian assemblies, and Victor, bishop of Rome, in 196 C.E. (Irenaeus, frag. 3; Eusebius, H.E., 5:24:11–16).
4 The Greek term ἐκκλησίᾳ (ekklesia), Latin ecclesia, shall be translated throughout as “Assembly,” if the reference is to the world body, and as “assembly” if the reference is to a local congregation (see GEL, 1968, p. 509; SEC, Gk. #1577). The Hebrew term behind the Greek and Latin is קהל (qahal), קהלה (qahalah), “an assemblage:—assembly, congregation” (SEC, Heb. #6951, 6952; HEL, p. 228; cf., CS, 1, p. 433). The English term “Church,” which is often used to translate the Greek and Latin words, is misleading in that it gives a connotation of a building for public worship as well as for the congregation.
6 Anicetus did not obtain the bishopric of Rome until early in 158 C.E.
7 Polycarp died after living as a Christian for 86 years (Polycarp, 9; Eusebius, H.E., 4:14:3f, 4:15:20). He was converted as a young boy (Pionius, Poly., 3) and, based on various other factors (see FSDY, App. F and App. G), he was at least 99 years old at his death.
8 Eusebius, H.E., 5:24:14–17; Irenaeus, frag. 3; Socrates Schol., 5:22.
9 This attitude is clearly expressed by later writers such as Irenaeus, frag. 3; Eusebius, H.E., 5:24:14-18; and Socrates Schol., 5:22.
10 Roman assembly influence over the bishops of Palestine is clearly expressed by the willingness of Theophilus, bishop of Caesarea, and Narcissus, bishop of Jerusalem, to join with Victor in the Passover controversy.
11 For the date of Polycarp’s death see FSDY, App. F and App. G.
12 Melito, frag. 4, writes, “Under Servillius Paulus, proconsul of Asia, at the time when Sagaris bore witness, there was a great dispute at Laodicea about the Passover, which had coincided according to season in those days.” The most likely date, as discussed by Stuart G. Hall (Hall, Melito, pp. xxi-xxii), is the year 166/167 C.E. (May reckoning). Since this event coincided with the season in those days, we would understand that the debate took place in the spring of 167 C.E. Also see Eusebius, H.E., 4:26:3; cf., EEC, p. 141, 26. n. b; JTS (NS), 24, p. 76; JTS, 25, p. 254; BCal, p. 160.
13 Chron. Paschale, 1, pp. 13f; cf., EEC, p. 141, #26, n. b.
14 Chron. Paschale, 1, pp. 13f.
15 Eusebius, H.E., 4:26:1-3, which dates the work, “In the time of Servillius Paulus, proconsul of Asia, at the time when Sagaris was martyred” (i.e., c.164-167 C.E.; see Lake, Euseb., i., p. 387, n. 7).
16 That Melito supported the Quartodeciman view see Eusebius, H.E., 5:24:5.
19 Eusebius, H.E., 5:23:2. With regard to the importance of the fast see above n. 2.
20 Jerome (Euseb., year 2212) associates this debate with the fourth year of Emperor Severus (196/197 C.E., May reckoning).
22 See discussions in this and the next post.
24 Lib. Pont., 15. Cf. BPLP, p. 6.
26 Eusebius, H.E., 5:22:1-5:23:4, 5:25:1, which shows that Narcissus and Theophilus were in communication with the assembly in Alexandria, Egypt and established agreement between them on how to observe the Passover. For Hadrian’s ban against ethnic Judaeans in or near Jerusalem see Eusebius, H.E., 4:6; cf., Dio, 69:12–14; Orosius, 7:13.