15 June 2015

Pope Francis to turn Tridentine?!? The Date of Easter.

 SEE NOW comment on the thread by Hierodeacon.
 According to Corriere della Sera, the Pope has again made the suggestion, which the British Press widely reported him as making more than a year ago in May 2014 when he met His All-Holiness the Patriarch Bartholomew, of a common date for Easter among all Christians. What reporters seem to be uncertain about is whether (1) he is suggesting to Orthodox Patriarchs the proposal discussed half a century ago at Vatican II, of fixing a particular Sunday to which we should all move, with both East and West abandoning their respective Julian and Gregorian Easters; or whether (2) he is going for the distinctly easier option of simply bringing the Latin Churches into line with the Julian Calendar ("adopting the Orthodox Easter"). He feels that it is embarrassing for Christians to say to each other "So when was your Jesus resurrected?"

Frankly, it would be easiest for the West to adopt (2) the Julian (Eastern) calculations. This is because it would be immensely difficult to persuade the Orthodox to change at all. The Orthodox have hitherto never been able to agree even amongst themselves about such changes (attempts in Orthodoxy to make alterations to Calendars have been known to lead to schisms termed 'Old Calendarist'). An obvious example: the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches, although united in celebrating Easter and the other moveable feasts on the Julian dates, have never been able to agree amongst themselves about the celebration of the fixed festivals, such as Christmas/December 25. So the Greek Church (but not the Holy Mountain) is 'Gregorian' and keeps Christmas on the same day as we do in Latin Christendom; but for the Russian Church and some other Slavs who are 'Julian', "December 25" does not arrive until the day we call January 7. Put an Orthodox Greek and an Orthodox Russian into the same room and they might easily start fighting about "So when was your Jesus born?". Unless the Greek belongs to one of the three Old Calendarist sects! Or is a monk from Athos!

For the West to adopt, under the guidance of the Sovereign Pontiff, (2), the Julian ("Orthodox") Easter, would have the highly, the exquisitely amusing result of shifting the Latin Churches back to how things were when S Pius V promulgated his Missal and Breviary (until 1582, of course, all the world kept the Julian - "Orthodox" - Easter). Pope Francis would suddenly appear in the role of the man who moved the West back to the Tridentine dates! "All together now, back to S Pius V!" "Quo primum rules OK!" I bet neither his friends nor his foes have hitherto seen Francis in this ultra-traddy light! I rather like it!! His Excellency Bishop Fellay must be breaking open the champagne, if they have any in the cellars at Econe ... do you think they do? Pol Roger, perhaps? I once met a man who ... Oh dear, encroaching senility makes it so difficult for me to stick to the point ... these temptations to take trips down Memory Lane ...

But Western governments ... not to mention the tourist and 'leisure' trades ... are unlikely to view with much enthusiasm (2) the adoption of a Julian Easter which can sometimes be as much as six weeks later than our present Western Gregorian Easter. What secular interests have, since the 1920s, always wanted is (1) an Easter fixed on ... for example ... the second Sunday of April. If Pope Francis hopes to persuade all the separate Autocephalous Byzantine Churches, not to mention the non-Chalcedonian communions who now like to be known as 'Oriental Orthodox', to dump the Nicene calculations which they have insisted on sticking to for seventeen hundred years, and to agree to (1) a comfortable 'secular' date like the Second Sunday in April, I hope he's confident that he's going to be living for an enormously long time!

FOOTNOTE In fact, the rule of the Catholic Church at the moment is that, in countries (such as Greece) where the dominant Christian community observes the Julian ("Orthodox") Easter, even the Latin Rite Christians should do the same so that there will indeed only be one Easter. Orthodox Eastern communities domiciled in traditionally Catholic or Protestant lands are not, of course, prepared to make a symmetrical concession because "it would go against Nicea".

FOOTNOTE The December 25/January 7 business has nothing to do with the Theophany/Epiphany. And the Easter difficulty is in no way connected with the problems (related in S Bede) about 'Celtic' calculations of Easter. Or with the Quartodecimans. Comments which muddy the waters by implying that there are some connections here will not be accepted. Our present divergence only arose in 1582, when the West broke ranks with the East by changing to the Gregorian Calendar. We did so ... what pedants we Latins are ... on the specious grounds that the real, astronomical, Solstices and Equinoxes and the movements of the Sun through the zodiacal zones were no longer happening on the days on which the ecclesiastical calendars claimed they were! Nor will I accept comments which condescendingly inform me of something I've already said ... yes, people do that! Why bother, they feel, to read the whole article before putting the old gentleman right!


Don Camillo SSC said...

Given that the secular world no longer observes Holy Week and Easter in any real sense, treating even the solemn commemoration of the death of Our Lord as just another shopping opportunity, there is much to be said for moving the liturgical observances to another time. The secularists can then have their fixed bank holiday whenever it suits them.

Liam Ronan said...

"...et putabit quod possit mutare tempora, et leges..."

Zephyrinus said...

My brain hurts !!!

xiphosuran said...

I think this problem has a solution that would be almost universally acceptable. Use the Jewish calendar. Celebrate Easter in the same week as passover. That was the original point of all these calculation schemes.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Well, we changed the Prayers of Consecration as a concession to the theology of Epiclesis of the East and so why not change the Calendar to put us back in sync with them to celebrate The Pascha?

And we Latins will also be anxious to change the Dec 25th date despite the ever-increasing amount of information that Jesus was born on that date.

We Latins have become so inured to change that we can barley tolerate a decade without inflicting significant other changes on the simple man in the pew; and, if that simple man can be convinced the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church erred on the dates on the Incarnation and Pascha, it will be even easier to convince him the Church also erred in Faith and Morals.

C'est la vie.

Stephen said...

Raider Fan, to use the word "concession" implies that there was a demand or requirement of the East to which the Latin's conceded, as if in some barter or dialogue - what was this demand? I've never heard of it.

Belfry Bat said...

Please indulge my curiosity, Fr., in asking why the correction of the Calendar to its Seasonal cues as prescribed by the pagan Pontifex Maximus Julius Caesar should be thought superior to the correction of the Calendar to its Seasonal cues as prescribed by the Catholic Pontifex Maximus Gregory XIII?

Matthew Roth said...

Changing to the Julian date, which is ever-more inaccurate, would cause problems. There are not enough Sundays in the year to accomodate a longer time throughout the year. Latin Christians outside the shrine churches will face this problem; Fr. Z. had a call from a reader in Jordan about this.

Fr Herman said...

The canon of Nicea forbids determining the date of Pascha based on Jewish calculations.

I think we should all of us just do what Nicea says to do: Pascha is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. But (and here is where Catholics get it right and Orthodox don't), it should be the *real* full moon and the *real* vernal equinox we're discussing – we should use calculations aimed at getting those actual events right.

For an Orthodox view sympathetic to the Gregorian Paschalion, see http://oca.org/holy-synod/statements/archbishop-peter/concerning-the-date-of-pascha-and-the-1st-ecumenical-council

The idea of a fixed Sunday for Pascha would make the liturgical year much less fun. What about all the chapters of the Typikon about when Annunciation falls on Holy Friday or Bright Tuesday or the Sunday of Mid-Lent... No more Constantine and Helen coinciding with Ascension... Much too boring.

Belfry Bat said...

Incidentally, it's not as though the Church even under Leo I and Gregory I were all ignorant of the Julian's inadequacy --- it was already known (at, i.i.r.c, one of the Nicaeae) that the equinoxes had drifted from 25ths to 21sts; and their prudential judgment at the time was, on the one hand, to keep conteporary continuity of calendrical dates AND the traditional dates of Christmas, Annunciation, John Baptist's nativity, BUT to acknowledge that the liturgical Equinox should be the 21st.

So, when Gregory got fed-up with the drift which had by then ammounted to half a lunation, admittedly he might have elected to apply the same prudential judgment: keep continuity of dates, keep traditional feast dates, AND adjust the liturgical Equinox; but, really, there just might be something terribly odd about allowing Easter to be more than a week before the Annunciation, which could not have happened during the life of the Apostles.

William Tighe said...

"And we Latins will also be anxious to change the Dec 25th date despite the ever-increasing amount of information that Jesus was born on that date."

This is nonsense; there is no "information" (evidence) that Jesus was born on that date, let alone an "ever-increasing amount." Cf.:


which contains some errors, but none relating to the date of December 25.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Stephen. Thanks for pointing out that poorly written phrase.

It should have been written to reflect what was in my often confused head, the idea of the liturgical zeitgeist back then which had blossomed into the darnel blowing into our historical eye and blinding us to the facts of ecclesiastical history.


O, and another thank you to our host who set Raider Fan right about his unhealthy reliance upon Fr Fortescue on this captious question of epiclesis.

Samuel J. Howard said...

But (and here is where Catholics get it right and Orthodox don't), it should be the *real* full moon and the *real* vernal equinox we're discussing – we should use calculations aimed at getting those actual events right.

Nope. The Gregorian uses fixed calculations as the Julian does. "Astronomical Easter" and Gregorian Easter also diverge, e.g. in 2019.


Furthermore, those dates are based on Astronomical Easter in Jerusalem. Astronomical Easter varies by location.

Belfry Bat said...

Good Master Howard,

With respect, the Easter formula is deliberately simpler than matching the exact ephemerides (as is the Gregorian leap-year formula), for the very simple reason that we don't want the determination of Easter to depend independently in every year on the astronomical observations of Moon and Sun from (say) Jerusalem, whence perhaps-unreliable communications would then have to be sent "Noveritis" to all the Particular Churches; rather, at worst, eventually, the schedule of intercallations (solar and lunar) will have to be revised, while "First Sunday After first Full Moon After March 20" is both simple and beyond need of change.

As for the dependence of "astronomical" Easter on location: the astronomical Equinox is a generalized syzygy (sunset at the South Pole would do, or the Sun crossing the Celestial Equator Northward) and the Full Moon is an ordinary syzygy (Sun-Earth-Moon in locally-maximal opposition); the uncertainties in these events are considerably less than a day.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Dr Tighe. Raider Fan has had your worthy article in his Christmas file virtually since it first appeared online; that file also has the arguments adduced by the great Dom Prosper Gueranger and the integrist, Abbe de Nantes, and the Catholic convert, Alfred Edersheim.

That information can wait for an apt time- when the good Father deals directly with Christmas.

AllEarthsVanities said...

Uniquely in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Orthodox Church in Finland observes Gregorian Easter - I don't know why.

William Tighe said...

"Uniquely in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Orthodox Church in Finland observes Gregorian Easter - I don't know why."

I was told that the celebration of one common Easter was a condition imposed upon the Orthodox Church in Finland by the Finnish government in the early 1920s for its becoming a quasi-established church alongside the Established Lutheran Church of Finland.