Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 9th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Dictionaries
Calendar, the Christian

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Search for…
Prev Entry
Next Entry
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links


I. The Christian Week.

1. The Lord’s Day.

2. Wednesday and Friday.

3. Saturday.

II. The Christian Year.

1. Easter.

(a) The name.

(b) Early observance of Easter.

(c) The Quartodeciman Controversy.

(d) Determination of Easter. Paschal cycles.

(e) The fast before Easter.

(f) Palm Sunday.

(g) Maundy Thursday.

(h) Easter Week.

2. Pentecost and Ascension.

(a) The name ‘Pentecost.’.

(b) Connexion of Pentecost and Ascension.

3. Christmas and Epiphany.

(a) Their origin.

(b) Advent.

4. Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

5. Commemoration of Saints, etc.

Recapitulation of festal cycles.



The Christian Calendar in its origin appears to have been based mainly on the desire to commemorate, by festival or by fast, the events of our Lord’s life upon earth. These commemorations were either weekly or annual. But while the weekly observances were developed early—almost, or in part quite, from Apostolic times—the annual celebrations were of very slow growth, and for some three hundred years were confined to the two seasons when the Jews and Christians in common observed a commemoration, Easter and Pentecost. It is noteworthy, as showing that the main desire was to commemorate the events in the life of Jesus, that one of the very earliest books which exhibit any considerable development of the festal cycle is the so-called Pilgrimage of Silvia, otherwise of Etheria (about a.d. 385), in which the customs at Jerusalem are described. It was natural that those who lived in the land where the events narrated by the sacred history took place, should wish to commemorate them on the spot by annual observances. But this development took place only in the 4th century.

I. The Christian Week.

1. The Lord’s Day.—It is significant that the first meeting of the disciples after the evening when they saw their newly-risen Master was, as far as the Gospel tells us, on the immediately succeeding ‘first day of the week’ (John 20:26 μεθʼ ἡμέρας ὀκτώ: note how emphatically the Evangelist says of the preceding week, τῇ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων, John 20:1, and τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ τῇ μιᾷ σαββάτων, John 20:19). It was more than an accidental coincidence if, as is very generally assumed, the birthday of the Church (Acts 2:1) was also on the first day of the week. At Troas the Christians met together, or held a synaxis (συνηγμένων ἡμῶν), on the first day of the week for worship and the Eucharist (Acts 20:7, where ἐν τῇ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων appears to be more than a mere chronological reference, and to indicate a custom), and also probably for the Agape (cf. Acts 20:7 with Acts 20:11). In this and other passages it is necessary to remember that the ‘first day of the week’ began, from the point of view of a Jew, with what we should call Saturday night; and this consideration is against Prof. Ramsay’s view that the service at Troas began on what we should call Sunday night (St. Paul the Traveller, ch. xiii. § 3). That it was the custom for Christians to meet together for worship on the first day of the week appears also from 1 Corinthians 16:2 (κατὰ μίαν σαββάτου), where the Corinthians are hidden each to ‘lay by him in store,’ that there might be no collection when the Apostle came. This would point probably to a weekly assembly at which alms were collected. Otherwise there is no reason why any one day of the week should be specially mentioned.

The first mention of the ‘Lord’s Day’ by name is Revelation 1:10, if indeed this is the right interpretation (ἐγενόμην ἐν πνεύματι ἐν τῇ κυριακῇ ἡμέρᾳ). This phrase has been variously interpreted of the first day of the week, or of the Day of Judgment, or of the Sabbath, or of Easter Day. The last two interpretations may be dismissed as having no support from the earliest ecclesiastical writings. The identification of ἡ κυριακὴ ἡμέρα with the Last Day has more probability; it would then be equivalent to ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ Κυρίου (2 Thessalonians 2:2; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:2 ἡμέρα Κυρίου, Acts 2:20 from Joel 2:31; 2 Peter 3:10, 1 Corinthians 1:8 ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τοῦ Κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, and 1 Corinthians 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:14, Philippians 1:6), and would mean that the Apocalyptist is carried forward in vision to the day of the end of the world. It is a valid objection to this view that it would practically make the Apocalypse deal only with the future, and that almost the earliest ecclesiastical authors after the canonical writers use κυριακή in the sense of the first day of the week (see below). The more probable interpretation of the phrase in question is therefore the first mentioned above.

The NT evidence does not compel the belief that the Lord’s Day was of universal observance in the earliest ages of the Church, but it at least makes it probable (especially when we find it so generally established in the next age) that it was of Apostolic precept. And there is nothing to forbid the supposition that it was a following of the spirit of the teaching of the great Forty Days (Acts 1:3). But we may gather, with the historian Socrates (Historia Ecclesiastica v. 22), that the ‘Saviour and His Apostles’ did not make fixed rules as to the observance of days, and ‘enjoined us by no law to keep this feast [he is speaking of Easter, but his argument applies equally to Sunday], 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.… The aim of the Apostles was not to appoint festival days, but to teach a righteous life and piety.’

To pass to the post-Apostolic age, Barnabas (xv. 9) says: ‘We keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead, and, having been manifested, ascended into the heavens,’ a passage which throws some light on the occasional observance in later times of Ascension Day and Pentecost together. Barnabas purposely names the ‘eighth day’ rather than the first, as he has just spoken of it as following the Jewish Sabbath, the seventh day. ‘I will make the beginning of the eighth day, which is the beginning of another world.’ The Didache speaks of the synaxis on the Lord’s Day, and uses the pleonastic phrase κατὰ κυριακὴν Κυρίου συναχθέντες; the purpose of the synaxis was that the Christians might break bread and celebrate the Eucharist, having confessed their sins that their sacrifice might be pure (§ 14).—Ignatius (Magn. § 9) speaks of Christians no longer observing Sabbaths, but fashioning their lives after the Lord’s Day (μηκέτι σαββατίζοντες, ἀλλὰ κατὰ κυριακὴν ζῶντες), which at least involves a general observance of the first day of the week.—Pliny (Ep. 96) says only that the Christians met on a fixed day, and does not say which (‘soliti stato die ante lucem convenire carmenque Christo quasi deo dicere secum invicem …’). He apparently, as Lightfoot observes (Ignatius2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , i. p. 52), confuses Baptism and the Eucharist; but we may probably gather from his account that the Christians of Bithynia met before dawn on a fixed day to celebrate the Eucharist, and later in the day met for the Agape. This inference is disputed by some.—Justin Martyr describes the assembling ‘on the day called Sunday’ (τῇ τοῦ ἡλίου λεγομἔνῃ ἡμέρᾳ) for the Eucharist by ‘all who live in cities or in the country’ (Apol. i. § 67). He also explicitly mentions the Sunday collection of alms, as in 1 Corinthians 16:2. In the Dialogue also Justin extols the ‘eighth day’ (cf. Barnabas, l.c.) as possessing a ‘mysterious import,’ which the seventh day had not; he is referring to the Jewish circumcision as a type of ‘the true circumcision by which we are circumcised from deceit and iniquity, through Him who rose from the dead on the first day after the Sabbath’ (Dial. 24, 41).

That κυριακή became a common name in the 2nd cent. for the first day of the week is further clear from the fact, which Eusebius tells us (Historia Ecclesiastica iv. 26), that Melito, bishop of Sardis about a.d. 170, wrote a book περὶ κυριακῆς (ὀ π. κ. λόγος). Dionysius of Corinth (a.d. 171) in his Epistle to Soter calls Sunday ‘the Lords Day’ (Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica iv. 23: τὴν σήμερον κυριακὴν ἁγίαν ἡμέραν διηγάγομεν). After this the name becomes very common, and we find it both in Greek (e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Strom. vii. 12) and in Latin, dies dominica (e.g. Tertullian, de Cor. 3).

There is little evidence as to the way in which the Lord’s Day was observed in the earliest ages. The Eucharist and probably the Agape were celebrated; but perhaps to a great extent other occupations went on much as usual. It would not be easy for Christian working men to absent themselves from their avocations on a day when everyone around them was working; and this may have been the reason why the synaxis took place at night or before dawn, as in the examples in Acts and in Pliny. St. Paul apparently began his journey from Troas (Acts 20) on Sunday. There is no evidence in the earliest ages of any attempt to transfer the obligations of Sabbath observance to the Lord’s Day. The Jewish Christians already had their day of rest on the Saturday. But, as Zahn observes (Skizzen aus dem Leben der Alten Kirche, p. 214), the Gentile Christians must have very quickly learnt all over the world to keep the Lord’s Day; they were never compelled to keep the Sabbath, which was not one of the four observances enjoined in Acts 15:29.

Tertullian, however, is the first to mention a Sunday rest (Apologet. 16, de Orat. 23), saying that the Christiaus postponed ordinary duties and business only on that day, the day of the Lord’s resurrection, and that they gave up ‘the day of the sun’ to joy. He contrasts the Christian with the Jewish rest by implication. He says that the Christians did not kneel on the Lord’s Day (de Orat. 23, de Cor. 3). This custom we already find in Irenaeus (Fragm. 7), who traces it to Apostolic times; and it was afterwards laid down in the 20th canon of Nicaea.

For the 3rd and 4th cents., the Church Orders, some of which have only lately come to light, and the early Didascalia (i.e. the work as it was before it was incorporated in the Apostolic Constitutions, and as we have it, for example, in the Verona Latin Fragments, edited by Dr. Hauler) throw some light on the question of the Lord’s Day. The Christians are hidden ‘on the Lord’s Day (die dominica), putting aside everything,’ to assemble at church (Hauler, p. 44). The fragment breaks off in the middle of a sentence explaining the object of Sunday churchgoing (‘audire salutare uerbum et nutriri ab …’); but we can fill the gap from other forms of the Didascalia, such as the Syriac edited by Mrs. Gibson, from which we see that the Eucharist is being spoken of (‘be nourished with the divine food which endureth for ever,’ Gibson, ch. xiii.). This appears to come from the original Didascalia, and it is emphatically said that the Lord’s Day is the great time for the Christian assembly, for prayer, Eucharist, and instruction; and this emphasis is all the greater as it was not yet customary to have public daily prayers for all men. But about a.d. 375 the writer of the Apostolic Constitutions, in adapting the Didascalia, alters this direction for Sunday worship to a command to assemble twice daily, morning and evening (ii. 59). In the Testament of our Lord (circa (about) 350?), the way is being felt towards public daily service by providing daily forms for the clergy and the presbyteresses, with whom the devout might be invited to join [see, further, on daily service, Wordsworth’s Ministry of Grace, ch. vi.; and Cooper and Maclean’s Testament of our Lord, p. 189]. We may then say that until the latter part of the 4th cent. Sunday was the only regular and universal day for Christian assemblies. There is a possible local and temporary exception in the Hippolytcan Canons (§ 217, ed. Achelis), which command daily service; but some have concluded that this is an interpolation, as it is thought to be in contradiction to § 226. These Canons allow a bishop to celebrate the Eucharist when he pleases. And again, a daily celebration of the Eucharist is perhaps found in Cyprian (de Orat. Dom. 18). But no further trace of this is found till the latter part of the 4th century. The result arrived at does not mean, however, that the Christians were not bidden to pray daily; from a very early period, certainly from about a.d. 200 onwards, regular daily hours of prayer were prescribed (e.g. Can. [Note: Canaanite.] Hippol. § 223 ff.). But private prayers are here meant, even though sometimes they were said in church. For other synaxes in the week, see below (§§ 2, 3).

The Lord’s Day was the usual day for the ordination or consecration of a bishop; so the older Didasealia in Mrs. Gibson’s form, § iii. [but this is an interpolation from one of the following books], the Egyptian Church Order (ed. Tattam, § 31), the Apostolic Constitutions (viii. 4), and the Testament of our Lord (i. 21); also in the Ethiopic Church Order (§ 21), according to Achelis, though Ludolf (ad suam Hist. aethiop. Comment, p. 323) has ‘in die sabbati.’ The Canons of Hippolytus perhaps mention Saturday, though Achelis gives ‘in ea … hebdomade’; but the Arabic for ‘Saturday’ and ‘week’ are pronounced alike (see Rahmani, Test. D. N. Jesu Christi, p. xxxvi).

The rest on the Lord’s day appears (especially until the time of Constantine) to have been mainly to allow of church-going. But in the edict of Constantine in 321, the magistrates and people in cities are bidden to rest, and all workshops are directed to be closed ‘on the venerable day of the sun’; while no such obligation is laid on those engaged in agricultural pursuits. Whatever the motive of the emperor in making this decree may have been (and this is disputed), it doubtless did much to bring about a weekly holiday on the Lord’s Day.

2. Wednesday and Friday fasts.—Almost from the beginning we can trace an observance of these two days for the purpose of fasting. In this way the early Christians interpreted our Lord’s words in Matthew 9:15, that they should fast when the bridegroom should be taken away from them; though, as we shall see, some found a more particular fulfilment of these words in the fast before Easter. The reason why Wednesday and Friday were chosen is not entirely obvious. The stricter Jews had made a practice of fasting ‘twice in the week’ (Luke 18:12), and, as we learn from the Didache (§ 8), the Christians took over the practice, but changed the days. Probably ever since the Return from the Captivity, Monday and Thursday had been the Jewish fasts, though we read of Judith fasting daily save on Sabbaths and New Moons and the eves of both and ‘the feasts and solemn days of the house of Israel’ (Judith 8:6). Monday and Thursday were chosen, or were afterwards accounted for, because there was a tradition that Moses went up into the Mount on the latter day and came down on the former. But these were not matters of law, for the Mosaic Code prescribes only the Day of Atonement as a fast; and though occasional fasts were ordered in times of trouble, these were never permanent nor of universal obligation. Thus the Pharisee’s boast in Luke 18:12 was that he did more than he was obliged by law to do (see, further, in Plummer’s St. Luke, in loc.). In the sub-Apostolic age the Christians went a step further and seem to have tried to make the Wednesday and Friday fasts universal. The Didache (§ 8) says: ‘Let not your fastings be with the hypocrites [the Jews], for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week; but do ye keep your fast on the fourth day and on the preparation’ (there is a change of construction: νηστεύουσιδευτέρᾳ σαββάτωνὑμεῖς δὲ νηστεύσατε τετράδα καὶ παρασκευήν. For the latter, νηστεύω with direct accusative, see the parallel Apost. Const. vii. 23 and v. 15; and Oxyrhynchus Logia, 2: ἐὰν μὴ νηστεύσητε τὸν κόσμον, and Testament of our Lord, ii. 6 and 12 [apparently]). A reason was found for the choice of Wednesday and Friday in the fact that on the former day the Jews made a conspiracy against our Lord, and that He was crucified on the latter. But this first appears in Peter of Alexandria († 311), who gives this explanation in his Canonical Epistle (canon xv.). It reappears elsewhere, e.g. in Apost. Const. v. 15. Another explanation is given by Clement of Alexandria (Strom, vii. 12). He says that the fourth and sixth days are named from Hermes and Aphrodite respectively. The true Christian or ‘Gnostic’ fasts in his life in respect of covetousness and voluptuousness, from which all the vices grow. Considering, then, that the symbolical explanations differ, and that they are not found until a somewhat later date than the first mention of these days, it is reasonable to suppose that they are afterthoughts. Yet it is probable that, when the Jewish fast days had to be changed, Friday was not accidentally fixed upon, but that our Lord’s death on that day would make it appropriate as a fast; and when once Friday was chosen, Wednesday would follow from mere considerations of convenience.

Other early authorities for week-day fasts are Hennas, Tertullian, Hippolytus, the Hippolytcan Canons, and Origen. Hennas (Sim. v. 1) does not mention the days on which it was usual to fast; but he says that he was fasting and seated on a certain mountain, giving thanks to the Lord, when he met the Shepherd, who asked him why he was there. He replies that he is keeping a ‘station’ (στατίωνα ἔχω), which he explains as being a fast. Tertullian expressly mentions Wednesday and Friday (de Jejun. 2 and 14: ‘stationibus quartam et sextain sabbati dieamus, et jeiuniis parasceuen’—a difficult phrase, since the sixth day and ‘parasceue’ are one; perhaps the meaning is that Wednesday was a ‘half-fast’ [de Jejun. 13] in Tertullian’s time, and Friday a whole one, or perhaps Tertullian means Good Friday here by ‘parasceue’). He says that the Eucharist was celebrated on those days (de Orat. 19). For Hippolytus, see below (§ 3) on the Saturday fast. The Hippolytcan Canons, which, whether they represent Roman usage or Alexandrian, probably date from the first half of the 3rd cent., prescribe fasts ‘feria quarta et sexta [et quadraginta],’ though it approves of individuals adding other fasts to these (§ 154; the bracketed words seem to be an interpolation). Origen speaks of Wednesday and Friday as days ‘quibus solemniter jejunamus’ (in Lev. Hom. x., but see II. 1 c, below).

But hereafter there is a break, except that Peter of Alexandria gives evidence for Egypt, and that in the Edessene Canons of the first half of the 4th cent. there are directions for the Eucharist on Sundays, for service ‘on the fourth day,’ and for service ‘on the eve’ [of the Sabbath] at the ninth hour (canons 2, 3). Apparently the observance of these two days was not universal, at any rate in the East, till towards the end of the 4th century. There is no mention of them in the Testament of our Lord (circa (about) 350 a.d.?), which alludes to the possibility of a fast day falling in the week (i. 22), but does not prescribe one. There is in this curious Church Order a regulation for bishops and presbyters to fast three days a week, perhaps only for one year from their ordination, but they are not tied down to any fixed days, and the rule is expressly said to be ‘for the priests only.’ The Arabic Didascalia (§ 38, circa (about) 380 a.d.?), which is probably based on the Testament, mentions explicitly Wednesday and Friday as the two fast days of the week, and says that when a festival falls on these days they shall pray and not receive the holy mysteries, and shall not interrupt the fasting till the ninth hour [see a German translation of these later chapters in Funk’s Apostol. Konstitutionen; the rest is not published]. There is abundant evidence towards the end of the 4th cent. for these days: Apost. Const. v. 15, vii. 23; Apost. Can. [Note: Canaanite.] 69 (68); pseudo-Ignat. ad Phil. [Note: Philistine.] 13; Epiphanius, Haer. lxv. 6 (ed. Dionysius Petavius, lib. iii. 6, p. 910), and Expos. Fid. 21. The Apostolic Constitutions are here (vii. 23) based on the Didache, and repeat its language about the change of day from those of the ‘hypocrites.’ The Apostolic Canon makes it incumbent on all, under penalty, to keep these days, unless in sickness. Pseudo-Ignatius, who is probably the same as the author of the Apost. Constitutions [so Harnack, Brightman; but Lightfoot (Ignatius2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , i. 265 f.) thinks otherwise] re-echoes their language. Epiphanius says that these two days were observed everywhere (ἐν πᾶσι κλίμασι τῆς οἰκουμένης); he calls them τετράς and προσάββατον. Bp. J. Wordsworth conjectures that the restoration of these days in the East was largely due to Epiphanius (Min. of Grace, ch. vi. ii.). Probably in Egypt and in many parts of the West their observance was continuous.

Usually the Eucharist was celebrated on Wednesdays and Fridays; perhaps often (as the Arabic Didascalia may suggest) at a late hour, so that the fast might be preserved, though Tertullian speaks (de Orat. 19) of the service being during the hours of fasting on these days, and of scrupulous communicants reserving the elements in private so as not to break the fast. In ‘Silvia’ (iv. 3, in Duchesne’s Origines, Appendix) the observance of Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent is spoken of: ‘Diebus vero quadragesimarum … quarta feria ad nona in Syon [the traditional scene of the descent of the Holy Spirit, possibly the site of St. Mark’s house, called by Epiphanius and St. Cyril of Jerusalem the Church of the Apostles] proceditur juxta consuetudinem totius anni, et omnia aguntur quae consuetudo est ad nonam agi praeter oblatio.… Sexta feria autem similiter omnia aguntur sicut quarta feria,’ which must mean that the Eucharist was usually celebrated on Mount Zion after none at 3 p.m. except in Lent, though Duchesne seems to invert this conclusion (p. 130 n. [Note: note.] 4, English ed.). ‘Silvia’ says that on these days, unless a festival of the martyrs fell on one of them, even the catechumens fasted. In the 5th cent. an exception to the Wednesday and Friday Eucharist is mentioned by Socrates (Historia Ecclesiastica v. 22) in the case of the Wednesday and Friday before Easter.

These days were called ‘half-fasts,’ semi-jejunia (Tertull. de Jejun. 13), because on them Christians broke their fast at 3 p.m. or even at noon; or more frequently ‘station days’ as in Hermas (l.c., though he does not specify the days) and in Tertullian (de Jejun. 14). This is a military metaphor. Tertullian (de Orat. 19) says: ‘If the Station has received its name from the example of military life—for we are God’s military [cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4, 1 Timothy 1:18]—certainly no gladness or sadness chancing to the camp abolishes the Stations of the soldiers; for gladness will carry out discipline more willingly, sadness more carefully.’ And St. Ambrose says: ‘Our fasts are our encampments which protect us from the devil’s attack; in short, they are called Stations, because standing and staying in them we repel our plotting foes’ (Serm. 25, ed. of 1549, p. 716c).

3. Saturday.—There was a considerable divergence of custom with regard to the observance of Saturday. In the East it was commonly regarded as a feast, while in many parts of the West it was a fast, that of Friday being continued to the Saturday, and the added fast being called a ‘superposition’ (superpositio, ὑπέρθεσις). Tertullian (de Jejun. 14) mentions and condemns the custom of fasting on Saturday: ‘You [‘psychic’ Christians] sometimes continue your station even over the Sabbath, a day never to be kept as a fast except at the Passover season.’ St. Jerome writing to Lucinius in a.d. 398 (Ep. 71) discusses the question, and says that it had been ‘treated by the eloquent Hippolytus’ and others; but he does not tell us what their opinions were. The Council of Elvira in Spain (circa (about) 305 a.d.) ordered superpositions each month except in July and August (canon 23); and in canon 26 says that the error is to be corrected ‘ut omni sabbati die superpositiones celebremus,’ which may mean that superpositions were to be held every Saturday (Hefele), or that this weekly fast was henceforward forbidden (Bp. J. Wordsworth). The latter meaning would suit canon 23 better, but Hefele’s construction suits canon 43. St. Augustine says that in his time they did not fast at Milan on Saturday (Ep. liv. ad Januar. § 3). Writing in the 5th cent., Socrates (Historia Ecclesiastica v. 22) says that in his day almost all Churches celebrated the sacred mysteries on the Sabbath of every week [Saturday], yet the Christians of Alexandria and Rome, on account of some ancient tradition, had ceased to do this. This ‘ancient tradition’ may probably go hack before the 4th century. Socrates goes on to say that the Egyptians near Alexandria and those of the Thebaid held synaxes on the Sabbath, but, unlike other Christians, “after having eaten and satisfied themselves with food of all kinds [the Agape?], in the evening make the Offering (περὶ ἑσπέραν προσφέροντες) and partake of the mysteries.’ Sozomen (Historia Ecclesiastica vii. 19) repeats Socrates’ statements.* [Note: Dom Leclercq (Dict. d’Archcél. Chrét. s.v. ‘Agape’, col. 822) thinks that in Socrates and Sozomen there is no trace of an Agape, but only of a Eucharist. But it appears clear to the present writer that the words ‘eating and satisfying themselves’ point to the Agape, and that the whole purpose of the custom described is to keep up the example of the Last Supper. For a full discussion of the origin and date of introduction of the Agape, see Hastings’ (forthcoming) Dict. of Religion, s.v.]

The Testament of our Lord (i. 23), according to our present Syriac text, prescribes Eucharists on Saturday or Sunday; but we must probably correct ‘or’ into ‘and,’ by the omission of Syriac letter (ܐܰܘ into ܘ), and the rule will then agree with the Arabic Didascalia, § 38. In the Constitutions (ii. 59) Saturday and Sunday are specially appointed for Divine service; and we note that in this passage Saturday is the author’s interpolation into his source, the old Didascalia mentioning only Sunday (Hauler, Fragments, p. 44). Pseudo-Ignatius forbids a Christian to fast on Sunday, save on Easter Even [the reading of the last words is doubtful, but the sense is clear], lest he be a ‘Christ-slayer’ (χριστοκτόνος). And so the same author in . Const. vii. 23 bids his hearers feast on the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, except on Easter Even; and in v. 13, 15, he bids them leave off fasting on the seventh day, save on that Sabbath when the Creator was under the ground. The Canons strongly make the same prohibition as to fasting on ordinary Saturdays (Canon 66 [65]).

As we saw above, Alexandria did not celebrate the Eucharist on Saturday for some time before Socrates. St. Athanasius (Apol. con. Avian. 11) implies that it was celebrated on Sunday only. He replies to a charge against Macarius of breaking a chalice, and shows that the place alleged was not a church, that there was no one there to perform the ‘sacred office,’ and that the day was not the Lord’s Day, and did not require the use of it [the sacred office]. This at least shows that there was no fixed day except Sunday for the Eucharist. And Brightman (Journ. of Theol. Stud. i. 92) thinks that the same is implied in the Sacramentary of Serapion (circa (about) 350 a.d.), which gives ‘The first prayer of the Lord’s day’ (κυριακῆς), without arranging for any other day. But this is hardly conclusive, especially as Thmuis was not Alexandria, and Socrates says that the ‘neighbours of Alexandria’ did have a Saturday Eucharist. By a.d. 380 the latter was already established in Alexandria (Timothy of Alex. [Note: Alexandrian.] Respons. Canon. 13, see Brightman, l.c.). Cassian says that in his time there were no public services in the day among the Egyptians except on Saturday and Sunday, when they met at the third hour for Holy Communion (Inst. iii. 2). St. Augustine sums up the matter by saying that in some places no day passed without the sacrifice being offered; in others it was only on Saturday and the Lord’s Day, or, it may be, only on the Lord’s Day (Ep. liv. ad Januar. § 2).

For Phrygia and Cappadocia we have no satisfactory evidence with regard to the observance of Saturday in the 4th century. The 49th canon of Laodicea in Phrygia (circa (about) 380?) says that during Lent the bread shall not be offered except on Saturday and Sunday, from which it may perhaps be inferred that these two days were ‘liturgical’ all through the year. St. Basil in his 93rd Epistle, ad Caesariam (v.l. Caesarium; in the Paris ed. of 1618, Ep. 289), says that he communicated four times a week, on the Lord’s Day, Wednesday, Friday, and the Sabbath, and on other days if there were a commemoration of any saint (v.l. martyr); he refers to and defends the practice of private reservation, and says that in Egypt each layman kept the Eucharistic elements in his own house and partook when he liked. Thus the fact that Basil communicated on the days mentioned does not necessarily imply a Eucharist on those days.

It is noteworthy that Saturday and Sunday have remained in the Greek Church as the only ‘liturgical’ days in Lent, as provided in the Laodicean canon; whereas the Nestorians provide Eucharistic lections for every day in certain selected weeks in Lent (called the ‘weeks of the mysteries’) with the one exception of Saturday.

II. The Christian Year.—In addition to the weekly observances, there were annual commemorations of events in our Lord’s life, although their development was slow. Two of these, Easter and Pentecost, passed to the Church from the Jews; while others, such as Good Friday, Lent, Ascension, Christmas, Epiphany, Advent, are of purely Christian origin.

1. Easter

(a) The name.—‘Pascha’ (πάσχα) was the common name for Easter at least from the 2nd cent. onwards in Greek and Latin Christianity; and it is of some importance to gather from the earlier writers the reasons for its use, as they will show us the exact meaning of the commemoration. πάσχα is taken from the Aramaic פִּסְחָא (hâ), the equivalent of Heb. פֶּסַח (h) ‘the passover.’ Syrian Christians, however, have usually written the word in the form ܦܷܨܚܳܐ (shâ) as if from ܦܨܰܚ ‘to rejoice’ (see Payne-Smith, Syriacus, in loc.); though, in translating into Syriac from Greek, James of Edessa and others use the form ܦܣܟܐ (as in the of our Lord, passim); and the Lexicons give a verb ܦܣܰܟ ‘to celebrate Easter.’ The meaning in Syriac literature is usually ‘Easter,’ though the Nestorian writers, like their descendants to this day, use it in the sense of ‘Maundy Thursday.’ The older Greek and Latin writers commonly derive it from πάσχειν, ‘to suffer,’ and draw analogies from etymology between the paschal lamb and the suffering Christ. Thus, perhaps, Justin Martyr (. 40; he is showing how the lamb sacrificed as the passover is a type of the Passion); and most probably Irenaeus (aer. iv. x. 1: ‘Moses foretold Him after a figurative manner by the given to the passover, and at that very did our Lord suffer, thus fulfilling the passover’). (. Judges 1:19, Migne, vol. ii. col. 670): ‘It is the Lord’s passover, that is, the Passion of Christ.’ Lactantius expressly adopts this etymology (. Inst. iv. 26, Migne, vol. i. col. 531): ‘Pascha nominatur ἀπὸ τοῦ πάσχειν, quia passionis figura est.’ Augustine, on the other hand (. Leviticus 1, Januar., a.d. 400) denies this interpretation, while he proposes a scarcely better one: ‘The word Pascha itself is not, as is commonly thought, a Greek word; those who are acquainted with both languages affirm it to be a Hebrew word. It is not derived, therefore, from the Passion because of the Greek word πάσχειν, signifying suffer, but it takes its name from the transition of which I have spoken, from death to life; the meaning of the Hebrew word Pascha being, as those who are acquainted with it assure us, a over or . To this the Lord Himself designed to allude when He said: “He that believeth in me is passed from death to life.…” ’

The question then arises, What did these earlier writers mean by Pascha? Was it the commemoration of the Passion, or of the Resurrection? Irenaeus wrote a work, περὶ τοῦ πάσχα (quoted by pseudo-Justin, Quaest. et resp. ad Orthodoxos), which is probably the letter to Victor from which Eusebius gives extracts (Historia Ecclesiastica v. 24). In this he speaks of a festival preceded by a fast of varying duration (see below, e); and he may use the word πάσχα of the festival or of the festival and fast combined. Bp. J. Wordsworth (Ministry of Grace, iii. § 1) says that the Christian πάσχα always in the first three centuries and often in the fourth means the celebration of the fast of Good Friday, extended no doubt by ὑπέρθεσις or superposition in most cases over Easter; and he adduces Tertullian, adv. Judges 1:10, as above (but this hardly shows it), and de Bapt. 19 (‘Pascha affords a more solemn day for baptism, when all the passion of the Lord, in which we are baptized [tinguimur], was completed’). We may add de Orat. 18, where he says that they did not give the kiss of peace ‘die paschae’ when there was a general fast. But in de Cor. 3 he seems to use the word of Easter Day; he says that the Christians did not kneel ‘a die Paschae in Pentecosten usque’; and in de Jejun. 14 he speaks of celebrating Pascha, and of the fifty ensuing (exinde) days being spent in exultation, which is suitable language if Pascha means Easter Day, but hardly if it means Good Friday. It may, however, in these passages, mean Easter and the preceding fast, and this would suit the remark which follows in de Jejun. 14, that Saturday was never a fast ‘nisi in Pascha.’ Origen (circa (about) Cels. viii. 22) distinguishes παρασκευή from πάσχα, and doubtless means Easter by the latter. He mentions the observance of the Lord’s Day, of the Preparation, of Pascha, and of Pentecost; and cannot here mean every Friday by the ‘Preparation,’ for then he would also have mentioned Wednesday, as in Hom. in Lev. x. (see above, 1. §2).

One may conjecture that there was some divergence in the first three centuries both as to the name and as to the actual observance of this commemoration. It seems likely that in many cases the Resurrection and the Passion were observed on the same day. This must usually have been the case with the Quartodecimans, who observed the fourteenth day of the lunar month; but it was also apparently often the case with those who kept the Sunday, for, as we shall see below, the fast observed before the Sunday was often only of one day’s duration, and did not always include the Friday. Even well on in the 4th cent. we find a relic of this in the Testament of our Lord, where the Friday before Easter is not mentioned as the day of commemorating the Passion but as a preparation for the festival, and the Passion and Resurrection are apparently commemorated together, just as the Ascension and Pentecost were often joined (see below, § 2 b). There is nothing a priori incongruous in commemorating and giving thanks for the Redemption of mankind on a day of rejoicing, especially when a severe fast of a day or two had just preceded. The probable conclusion, then, is that Pascha usually meant, before the 4th cent., the commemoration both of the Death and of the Resurrection of Christ, the festival with its preceding fast, and that the erroneous derivation from πάσχω favoured a certain indefiniteness in the use of the word. This derivation, it may be observed, as well as the equally false Syrian one, probably explains why a name with such a very Jewish association became so popular. When, somewhat later, a distinction had to be made between Good Friday and Easter Day, the names πάσχα σταυρώσιμον and πάσχα ἀναστάσιμον were invented (Ducange, s.v. ‘Pascha’).

Another use of the name Pascha is to be noted. In the Testament of our Lord (i. 28, 42; ii. 8, 11, 12, 18) it means the forty days before Easter, though of these forty days only the last two were fasts. Holy Week is called ‘the last week of Pascha.’ The end of Pascha is to be after the Saturday at midnight. The ‘forty days of Pascha’ are specially mentioned. Similarly in Apost. Can. [Note: Canaanite.] 69 (68) we find τὴν ἁγίαν τεσσαρακοστἡν τοῦ πάσχα. But in the Testament, Pascha is used absolutely in this sense. In this work, however, we also read of ‘the feast of Pascha’ (i. 42), when widows (presbyteresses) are to give alms and bathe. The bathing was on the Thursday before Easter.

‘Pascha’ was sometimes used for Holy Week. Thus in Apost. Const. v. 18 we read: ‘Fast in the days of Pascha beginning from the second till the Preparation and the Sabbath, for they are days of sorrow, not of feasting.’ And so perhaps Can. [Note: Canaanite.] Hipp. § 195 ff. (below, d).

Other names for Easter were: among the Latins, ‘Dominica gaudii’ (Bingham, Ant. xx. v. 5); among the Greeks, μεγάλη κυριακή; while the common Syrian name was and is ܥܻܐܕܳܐ ܕܰܩܝܳܡܬܳܐ ‘the feast of the Resurrection.’

(b) Early observance of Easter.—The Apostles, no doubt, continued to keep the Jewish Passover (Acts 20:6); but it is uncertain if the first Gentile Christians observed it in any way, or whether they were content with the weekly commemoration. It is not even certain if the Jewish Christians kept it in any way as a Christian festival. Yet the phrases τὸ πάσχα ἡμῶνΧριστός and ἑορτάζωμεν (1 Corinthians 5:7 f.) would be specially appropriate if the Christians at Corinth were at the time when St. Paul wrote from Ephesus, namely, before Pentecost (1 Corinthians 16:8), observing an Easter festival. But it is significant that there is no mention of Easter in the Apostolic Fathers or in Justin Martyr; and its absence in the Didache is specially noteworthy, since that Church Order mentions the Lord’s Day, the fast before baptism, and the Wednesday and Friday fasts. We can, however, trace the observance of Easter at Rome back to the time of Pope Xystus, circa (about) 120 a.d., for Irenaeus tells us (ap. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica v. 24) that Xystus and his immediate successors, while not observing the Quartodeciman practice themselves, yet were at peace with those who did; and from what follows it is clear that Irenaeus means that Xystus observed the Sunday as Easter Day. In Asia Minor the observance can be traced back still further; for Polycarp, as Irenaeus says (ib.), traced his custom of keeping Easter to St. John. The conclusion may probably be, either that Easter was not universally observed as an annual commemoration early in the 2nd cent. or, more probably, that it had not then the great importance which it acquired later in the century, from the disputes as to the day when it should be kept.

(c) The Quartodeciman Controversy.—A brief summary only of this question is necessary for the purposes of this Dictionary; for more detailed accounts of it, reference may be made to the works mentioned at the end of this article. The controversy arose in the 2nd cent, and came to a head in the last decade of it; it was concerned with the question whether the Paschal commemoration should follow the day of the week or the day of the lunar month on which the events commemorated originally occurred. Those who upheld the former practice no doubt laid chief stress on the Resurrection of our Lord, since they fixed on Sunday for their commemoration; while the latter, who were called Quartodecimans or τεσσαρεσκαιδεκατῖται (Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica v. 22, Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica vii. 19), probably at first emphasized our Lord’s death, as they adhered to 14th Nisan, the day on which He died, or was thought by them to have died; whereas, on no calculation did He rise on that day. The theory has, indeed, been advanced by the Tübingen school that the Quartodecimans commemorated the Last Supper rather than the Passion or Resurrection. According to the Synoptists, the Last Supper appears to have taken place on the evening of 14th Nisan, and the Crucifixion to have been on the 15th; while, according to the Fourth Gospel, the Death of our Lord would appear to have been at the time of the killing of the Paschal lambs, and the Last Supper therefore to have taken place at the end of 13th Nisan. We are not here concerned with the seeming contradiction between the Gospels except in so far as the Tübingen school deduced from the known facts that the Quartodecimans could not have accepted the Fourth Gospel, because their practice rather agreed with the Synoptists. Western readers need, however, to be reminded that in the ordinary Eastern reckoning, at any rate the ecclesiastical reckoning, then as now, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion fell on the same day; for the day began at sunset. Thus, if the Quartodecimans observed 14th Nisan, it must have been because they thought that our Lord both celebrated the Last Supper and also died on that day. It is a pure assumption that their Paschal commemoration began at the moment when the lambs were killed. In that case they would have been rather Quintodecimans. It is generally agreed that the lambs were killed, at any rate in ancient Jewish times, in the afternoon of 14th Nisan, i.e. when that day was drawing to a close. The inference, then, is that the Quartodecimans made their Paschal commemoration coincide with the day which began at the Last Supper and ended soon after our Lord’s death, and that they thought that that occurred at the time of the killing of the lambs. The deduction is the exact opposite of that drawn by the Tübingen school, and is that the Quartodecimans followed the Fourth Gospel (as they, perhaps rightly, interpreted it) rather than the Synoptists. The supposition that they commemorated the Last Supper in particular has, moreover, no basis of fact. And the view given above is further supported by the fact that in the time of Melito (a.d. 170) the Quartodecimans clearly accepted the Fourth Gospel. Melito, in one of his fragments, speaks of our Lord’s three years’ ministry, which he could never have gathered from the Synoptists (‘de Incarn. Christi,’ in Routh’s Reliquiae sacrae, vol. i.).

It has been thought by some (as by Hefele) that the Quartodecimans kept their commemoration of the Resurrection on the third day after 14th Nisan, i.e. on 16th Nisan, or even on the Sunday after. But this is very improbable. If it were so, why should they have broken off their fast on 14th Nisan? It is much more likely that they commemorated the Passion and the Resurrection together.

The history of the controversy is given by Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica v. 23, 24), who takes up the question at its third and most acute stage, namely, at the dispute between Victor and Polycrates at the very end of the 2nd century. He tells us that synods held in that century unanimously decided 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.’ These synods were held in Palestine, Rome (under Victor), Pontus, Gaul (under Irenaeus), and Osrhoëne in N.-W. Mesopotamia. Perhaps the last-named synod was held at the famous Edessa or Ur-hai, which is in that district. There were also personal (i.e. not synodical) letters of Bacchylus, bishop of Corinth, and many others, all of whom concurred in the decision mentioned above. On the other side ‘Asia’ (i.e. probably the Roman province, though the Quartodeciman practice extended to other provinces also—even to Antioch), led by Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, maintained that the paschal commemoration should take place on 14th Nisan, on whatever day of the week it should fall. Polycrates, who is very highly praised by St. Jerome (de Viris Illustr. 45) and by implication by Eusebius, who preserves his letter (l.c.), privileges the example of ‘Philip, one of the twelve Apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis, and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus’; also of John ‘who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and being a priest wore the [sacerdotal] plate (τὸ πέταλον). He fell asleep at Ephesus.’ He also adduces Polycarp, Melito, the martyr Sagaris, and others, who all agreed with his practice.

Victor attempted to excommunicate all ‘Asia’; ἀποτέμνειν ὡς ἑτεροδοξούσαςπειρᾶται are Eusebius’ exact words. But Socrates (Historia Ecclesiastica v. 22) declares that he did actually excommunicate them. He probably issued a letter of excommunication, but it was not effective. For Eusebius goes on to say that Irenaeus, bishop of ‘Gaul,’ intervened in the dispute in the interests of peace, and he who ‘was truly well named became a peacemaker in the matter.’ Part of Irenaeus’ letter is preserved by Eusebius, and it is specially interesting as mentioning that ‘the presbyters before Soter who presided over the Church which thou [Victor] now rulest, Anicetus and Pius and Hyginus and Telesphorus and Xystus, neither themselves observed [the fourteenth day] nor permitted those after them to do so; and yet’ they were at peace with those who did observe it; and also that when Polycarp went to Rome in the time of Anicetus (bishop of Rome), the two bishops ‘disagreed a little about certain other things,’ but immediately made peace, ‘not caring to quarrel over this matter’; nor did it interfere with their remaining in communion with one another, or with Anicetus allowing Polycarp to celebrate the Eucharist in his church at Rome, ‘manifestly as a mark of respect’ (ἑν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ παρεχώρησεν ὁ Ἀνίκητος τὴν εὐχαριστίαν τῷ Πολυκάρπῳ κατʼ ἐντροπὴν δηλονότι). It has been suggested that these words mean only that the two bishops communicated together; but in that case they are mere repetitions of what had just been said, and there would be no special mark of respect.

Eusebius here does not mention the intervening dispute in which Melito, bishop of Sardis, figures. But in iv. 26 he speaks of him, and from the account we gather that he was a prolific writer; a list of his books is given. In the quotation from Polycrates in v. 24 we find the name of Melito appearing as a Quartodeciman, but it is not said that he was a writer. From the earlier passage we learn that he wrote a book περὶ τοῦ πάσχα, from which a quotation is given: ‘While Servilius [Rufinus gives ‘Sergius’] Paulus was proconsul of Asia, at the time when Sagaris suffered martyrdom, there arose in Laodicea [in Phrygia] a great strife concerning Pascha, which fell according to rule in those days (ἐμπεσόντος κατὰ καιρὸν ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις), and these things were written [sc. because of the dispute].’ So McGiffert [‘Eusebius’ in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers] renders these words, though it is not obvious what they mean; for when did not Pascha fall according to rule? For other explanations see Salmon in Smith-Wace, Dict. of Chr. Biog. s.v. ‘Melito.’ Eusebius goes on to say that Clement of Alexandria refers to Melito’s work, and himself wrote one with the same title, ‘on occasion’ (ἐξ αἰτίας) of Melito’s treatise, i.e., probably, in opposition to it, though Hefele thinks that Clement’s book was meant to supplement Melito’s.

The Paschal Chronicle mentions that Apolinarius, bishop of Hierapolis, of whom Serapion, bishop of Antioch (circa (about) 200 a.d.), is the first to speak—but he was then dead—wrote a book περὶ τοῦ πάσχα, and preserves two fragments of it. It is disputed whether Apolinarius was a Quartodeciman. If so, he was not an extreme partisan; he certainly wrote before the discussion became acute, as in the time of Polycrates. He held (the Paschal Chronicle states) that our Lord, being the true Paschal Lamb, was slain on the day of the Passover feast. Some have asserted that there were two parties of Quartodecimans, the one Judaizing and the other not. But it is perhaps unnecess

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Calendar, the Christian'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​c/calendar-the-christian.html. 1906-1918.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile