Venerable Bede and the Paschal Computus

Easter in 2020 is celebrated on April 12. It was celebrated on April 21 in 2019. It was on April 1 in 2018 and will be on that date again in 2029.

Why can’t Easter be more predictable?
Why can’t it be like Christmas?

 

The First Council of Nicea

The bishops of the Church met in Nicea in 325 to debate a number of is-sues controversial in that era: the questions of whether Jesus was truly God, and what beliefs should be included in a Christian creed.

The council fathers determined that Jesus Christ is indeed “true God from true God.” They composed a doctrinal statement of faith that every Christian should believe – known today as the Nicene creed.

Somewhat less pressing but still worth debating was the date of Easter. Every bishop agreed that because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, Sun-day is the proper day of the week to celebrate Easter. It was considerably more difficult to find agreement on the proper Sunday of the year.

Some bishops determined in their dioceses the date of Easter based on the Jewish month of Nissan, specifically the fourteenth day after passover. Others set a month and day. Still others looked to the phases of the moon.

 

The Catholics and the Orthodox

One of the painful consequences of the Great Schism of 1054 is that the East and the West, the Orthodox and the Catholics, often celebrate Easter on different days. Whereas the western Christians would adopt in 1582 the Gregorian calendar, the Orthodox continue to this day to use the Julian calendar.

This year, Easter falls on April 12 in the west and on April 19 in the east. However, next year will see a large discord: April 4 versus May 2.

 

Venerable Bede and the Easter Cycle

Today’s Catholics looking to set the date of Easter hold up the writings of an English Benedictine monk born in 673.

Bede often wrote of the computus, the formula for calculating Easter that combined his love of theology, history, and astronomy:

“Therefore, whatever moon is at the full before the equinox, when it falls on the fourteenth or fifteenth day, rightly belongs to the last month of the preceding year, and consequently is not suitable for keeping Easter. But the full moon falling either on or after the equinox itself certainly belongs to the first month; on it the ancients used to keep the Passover, and when Sunday comes, we should keep Easter…. Whoever argues, therefore, that the Paschal full moon can occur before the equinox, disagrees with the teaching of the scriptures in the observance of our highest mysteries, and allies himself with those who believe that they can be saved without the assistance of Christ’s grace.”

 

So when is Easter?

Easter falls on the first Sunday fol-lowing the first full moon after the Spring equinox.

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