Gnostic Doctrine

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Who Are the Quartodecimans?

Who are the Quartodecimans?




We will begin this study with a reading from the Epistula Apostolorum or the Letter (Epistle) of the Apostles

this is how I will do it after going to the Father, and you, remember my death. When the Passover happens, (Epistula Apostolorum chapter 15)

A Quartodeciman, from Quartodecimani (‘fourteenther’) Quartodecimanism (from the Vulgate Latin where quarta decima refers to the ‘fourteenth’ day in Leviticus 23:5,) refers to the custom of some early Christians celebrating Passover beginning with the eve of the 14th day of Nisan

This post is about the historical date of Easter or Passover

Note this post does not support the false teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses who claim that the breaking of bread, the weekly celebratory or communal meal should be done once a year:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:42,44-46). 

The term "Quartodecimans" refers to those Christian communities in the early Church which celebrated Easter on the 14th of Nisan (die quarta decima ), the day of the Jewish Passover (Ex 12.6).

Some scholars recognized that these “Fourteenthers” were following the original apostolic pattern. One historian said: “As regards the day for observing the Pascha, the usage of the Quartodeciman churches of Asia was continuous with that of the Jerusalem church. In the 2nd century these churches at their Pascha on the 14th of Nisan commemorated the redemption effected by the death of Christ.”—Studia Patristica, Volume V, 1962, page 8.

While many in Asia Minor followed the apostolic practice, the churches in and around Rome changed to the practice of celebrating Easter always on the Sunday following first Full Moon following the vernal equinox, calling it "the day of the resurrection of our Saviour". About the year 155 C.E., Polycarp of Smyrna, a representative of the Asian Churches, visited Rome to discuss this and other problems. Unhappily, no agreement was reached on this matter.

Irenaeus of Lyons wrote in a letter: “Neither could Anicetus [of Rome] persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord and the other apostles with whom he consorted; nor yet did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it, for he said that he ought to hold to the custom of the elders before him.” (Eusebius, Book 5, chapter 24) Note that Polycarp reportedly based his stand on the authority of the apostles, whereas Anicetus appealed to the custom of previous elders in Rome.

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.

Replying on behalf of those in Asia Minor, Polycrates of Ephesus refused to bow to this pressure. He said: “We keep the day without tampering with it, neither adding, nor subtracting.” He then listed many authorities, including the apostle John. “These all,” he maintained, “observed the fourteenth day for the Pascha according to the Gospel, in no way deviating therefrom.” Polycrates added: “I for my part, brethren, . . . am not affrighted by threats. For those better than I have said, We must obey God rather than men.”—Eusebius, Book 5, chapter 24.

When Victor attempted coercion by excommunication, St. irenaeus of lyons intervened to restore peace (eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.23–25). During the third century Quartodecimanism waned; it persisted in some Asiatic communities down to the fifth century.

In 314 C.E. the Council of Arles (France) tried to force the Roman arrangement and suppress any alternative. The remaining Quartodecimans held out. In order to settle this and other matters that were dividing the professed Christians in his empire, in 325 C.E. the pagan emperor Constantine called an ecumenical synod, the Council of Nicaea. It issued a decree that instructed all in Asia Minor to conform to the Roman usage.

It is interesting to note one of the principal arguments advanced for abandoning the observing of the Memorial of Christ’s death according to the date on the Jewish calendar. A History of the Christian Councils, by K. J. Hefele, states: “It was declared to be particularly unworthy for this, the holiest of all festivals, to follow the custom (the calculation) of the Jews, who had soiled their hands with the most fearful of crimes, and whose minds were blinded.” (Volume 1, page 322) To be in such a position was viewed as a “‘humiliating subjection’ to the Synagogue which irked the Church,” says J. Juster, quoted in Studia Patristica, Volume IV, 1961, page 412.

Anti-Semitism! Those who celebrated the Memorial of Jesus’ death on the same day that he died were viewed as Judaizers. It was forgotten that Jesus himself was a Jew and that he had given the day its meaning by then offering his life in behalf of mankind. From then on, the Quartodecimans were censured as heretics and schismatics and were persecuted. The Council of Antioch in 341 C.E. decreed that they were to be excommunicated. Nevertheless, there were still many of them in 400 C.E., and they persisted in small numbers long thereafter.


This does not mean that they only celebrated the Eucharist annually at this time, but that they observed Pascha on Passover rather than on Sunday as was the practice of many other Christians. Quartodecimans defended their Passover tradition against internecine efforts to eradicate it for at least a few hundred years beginning with the inception of Christianity.

It is uncertain whether Jewish Christian sects such as the Ebionites or Elcesaites could also be deemed Quartodecimans, but they probably observed the Passover in addition to other Jewish festivals, in connection with Jesus. 


Acts 20:7 ¶  And upon the first [day] of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

And upon the first day of the week" — Some suggest that this was the "first sabbath" after Passover (v. 6), and that therefore the brethren only met once a year for communion on that day. But Paul had tarried at Philippi for the eight days of unleavened bread, and a further week in Troas after five days at sea (v. 6), indicating that this was the usual regular time for the weekly gathering of disciples.

On this first day of the week believers receive strength and encouragement through the word of exhortation; they are comforted by the fraternization that results from fellowship with brethren and sisters. Spiritual self discipline is invaluable, and is practised when unwavering devotion is given to the invariant keeping of this ordinance. And the grand example of the first Church is being imitated; for "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42).

this is how I will do it after going to the Father, and you, remember my death. When the Passover happens, there is one of you who will be put into prison because of my name and and he will be in a state of grief and concern that you were keeping the Passover while he was in prison and not with you. For he will grieve that he was not keeping the Passover with you. For I will send my power in the likeness of Gabriel the angel. The gates of the prison will open. He will come to you and will keep a vigil (lit. a measure of watch) with you and stay with you until the cock crows. When you complete the remembrance which is for me  and the agapĂȘ, he will once again be put into prison as a witness until he comes forth and preaches the things I said to you." We said to him, "Lord, is it not necessary once again that we take the cup and drink ?" He said to us, "Yes, it is necessary until the day when I come together with those who have been killed for my sake."(Epistula Apostolorum chapter 15)

chapter 15 of the Epistula Apostolorum speaks suddenly and unexpectedly of the memorial of the death of Jesus which the apostles are to celebrate every Passover night (until the cock crows) as a Memorial consisting of the Eucharist and a fellowship meal called agape

The Didache, written shortly after the close of the first century, speaks of Christians coming together each Lord’s day and breaking bread (9:1-12; 14:1)

Chapter 14. Christian Assembly on the Lord's Day. But every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: "In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations."


For the Valentinians celebrate the breaking of bread or Eucharist this is is confirmed by the Gospel of Philip. The Gospel of Philip in particular shows that Valentinians understood the flesh and the blood of the Savior to be symbolic thus, for instance, the “flesh” is the Logos and the “blood” is the Holy Spirit.

The Lord's Day once a week (bread prepared on a weekly basis for a celebratory or communal meal)

The Lord's Supper feast annually (feast annually in remembrance of Jesus and his Last Passover Supper.)

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