By Kelly Marshall
Did Herbert Armstrong take words out of context from historical church documents, slanting, misquoting and distorting history in order to try and prove he taught the true gospel? Let us examine the facts.
The Heresy of Judaism and the Roman Persecution
The Nicene Council Concerning Easter
The Gnostic Heresy
Herbert Armstrong spent a great deal of time focusing on Simon Magus as the one who spawned the great, false church “Mystery Babylon.” (p. 51-53 in Mystery of the Ages) In Acts 8, we have a glimpse of a Samaritan sorcerer named Simon, who tried to buy an apostleship. He was rebuked by Peter and sent away. This is all the Bible mentions of him. Writings of early historians reveal that this Simon was the father of Gnosticism. Gnosticism had been around for centuries, but it was Simon who promoted Gnostic doctrines that distorted the nature of Christ. Gnostics believed that the material—the physical—was inherently evil, and that spirit was good. Therefore, they did not believe that Jesus Christ came in the flesh since flesh was material and considered “evil.” This is why in Scripture we see the continual warnings against Gnostic heresy (1 Jn. 2:23; 4:3; 2 John 7, 9-10).
The teachings of the Gnostic Heresy were meticulously documented by Irenaeus, Clement of Rome, Tertullian, Hipolytus, and Eusebius.11 Please take note of the names Marcion and Valentinus, both Gnostic heretics. One can easily see from the footnote text below that the heretical teachings of the Gnostics were not (and are not) the same teachings of the present day Protestant/Orthodox or Catholic religions, but are rooted in ancient paganism. The Gnostics attempted to “blend” their paganistic teachings with Christianity, but were exposed and spurned by the apostles and early church fathers. The church did not embrace these heresies but fiercely fought against them, eventually stamping them out.
The Heresy of Judaism and the Roman Persecution
The second heresy that began to spread immediately after the death of Christ was Judaism (Christ plus the Law). In fact, the first “official” church council recorded in Acts 15 came about because the Jewish converts insisted that the Gentiles had to become circumcised and observe the Law in order to be saved. These practices were condemned, and James outlined the only requirements for Gentile converts (abstaining from blood, fornication, things polluted by idols, and things strangled). Notice James did not command the keeping of the Sabbath, the O.T. Holydays, and the O.T. Law. Paul repeatedly denounced Gnostics and Judaizers throughout his writings. If Paul were alive today, he would condemn HWA as a Judaizer since he taught Christ plus the Law equals salvation.
In addition to heresy, there were major persecutions against the church by the Roman emperors. Christians were being martyred for refusing to declare, “Caesar is god” and to burn incense to him on the altar. Polycarp refused to do so, and was executed accordingly, as were other believers.2 The Caesars hated Christians for worshipping Jesus and were paranoid of being deposed by this “King” who rose from the dead. Any civil uprising initiated by the Jews would be blamed on the Christians, and the Caesars, anxious to stamp out rebellion, acted swiftly. Peter, Paul, James and the other apostles were not executed for promoting Jewish observances (HWA insists that the apostles kept the O.T. Law and Commandments and required them of new converts). Remember, it wasn’t illegal to observe these customs since Judea had been under Roman rule for some time. Even though the Roman authorities despised Jewish customs, they were allowed and not considered unlawful. Jewish citizens could not be (and were not) arrested for observing the Sabbath or holy days, as one can clearly see from N.T. scriptures that Jews (including Jesus) walked about freely during the Sabbaths and Feasts. That was never the point (although HWA made us think that it was). The point was that the apostles were executed for the testimony of Jesus Christ as the Living Messiah and King. They didn’t die so Jewish customs could prevail! In spite of heavy persecution, the early church survived and began to grow and thrive throughout the empire.
The Quartodeciman Controversy
HWA wants his reader to believe that since the death of Christ, God’s true church had been mercilessly persecuted by the “false Roman church” (started by Simon Magus), which eventually won control through the Council of Nicaea, initiated by the “pagan” ruler Constantine. He claims that both the Trinity doctrine [i.e., the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God and the Holy Spirit is fully God –each are distinct yet are one God3] and the Easter-Passover observance were finally made into law, but “they couldn’t make it truth.” He claimed that the Quartodeciman Controversy occurred because God’s true church was observing the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, but the Rome church wanted to impose the pagan Easter Sunday festival onto the whole empire, and eventually succeeded through Constantine. Let’s take a closer at how HWA misquotes and slants history. We will examine what the early church fathers (Irenaeus) and historians (Eusebius) have recorded.
HWA argued that Polycrates was “another disciple of Christ’s true Christianity” and began a battle called the Quartodeciman Controversy (p.53 in Mystery of the Ages). In the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course this quote from Eusebius was used in order to prove that the early church observed the Passover on Nisan 14. The Correspondence Course (Lesson 33, “The Passover,” p. 14, 1969) quotes the following historical records: (emphasis theirs)
Comment: The apostles who spent time in Asia Minor—among whom was the apostle John—appointed Polycarp over the Church of God in Smyrna. Notice what early Catholic4 historians admit about him.
“But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed BISHOP of the CHURCH OF SMYRNA… He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus, bishop of Rome around 154 A.D., caused many to turn away from the…heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles…”
While at Rome, Polycarp discussed with the Roman bishop the matter of the introduction of the pagan Easter in place of the Passover.
“For neither was Anicetus able to persuade Polycarp not to observe it [the Passover] because he had always observed it with John the disciple of our Lord, and the rest of the apostles with whom he had associated…”(Quoted from Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, Book V, Chapt. 24, in the Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, emphasis ours).
Comment: Again, history gives us the answer. Within 35 years the Passover controversy broke out again. Victor, bishop of Rome, attempted to “CUT OFF WHOLE CHURCHES OF GOD who observed the tradition of an ancient custom”—the TRUE PASSOVER!
Polycrates, another Christian from Asia Minor, gave this forthright answer to Victor in vindication of the truth of God:
“As for us, then, we scrupulously observe the exact day, neither adding nor taking away. For in Asia great luminaries have gone to their rest, who shall rise again in the day of the coming of the Lord…I speak of PHILIP, one of the twelve apostles…JOHN, moreover, who reclined on the Lord’s bosom…then there is Polycarp… These ALL KEPT THE PASSOVER ON THE FOURTEENTH DAY OF THE MONTH, IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE GOSPEL, WITHOUT EVER DEVIATING FROM IT, BUT KEEPING TO THE RULE OF FAITH!”. (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, pp. 773-774)
By reading this selected text, one gets the idea that the early church kept the Passover faithfully, just as HWA said.
Now let us examine the whole document to see how HWA took these writings out of context.
Let’s start with the first paragraph [Notations in brackets are added in order to help the reader understand who is being referred to; bolding for emphasis and italics, mine]:
Chapter III.-A Refutation of the Heretics, from the Fact That, in the Various Churches, a Perpetual Succession of Bishops Was Kept Up, #4. But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time, a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics [Valentinus and Marcion were Gnostic heretics]. He [Polycarp] it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles,-that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus [another Gnostic heretic] within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me?” “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself (Titus 3:10). There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan [Roman Emperor at the time], is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.
When the whole paragraph is put in context, with nothing omitted between the “….”, one can plainly see that this is about Polycarp challenging the Gnostic heretics, Valentinus and Marcion, and causing many of their followers to turn away from the Gnostic heresies. It was not about Polycarp coming to Rome and convincing “Catholic Heretics” to turn from Anicetus to the Church of God (which HWA claims to be the successor of). The Catholic3 historians were not sheepishly admitting anything, but if you believe HWA’s “suppressing the truth” theory, you will impugn guilt towards these “Catholic” historians. It seems these Catholic historians have no trouble publishing complete historical records, but HWA seems to be lacking in the “complete disclosure” of these documents.
Now let’s see what exactly was discussed between Polycarp and the Roman bishop. We will back up to Chapter 23 of Eusebius’ text:
THE PASSOVER CONTROVERSY. Eusebius, Hist. Ecc. V. xxiii-xxv: “CHAPTER 23. THE QUESTION THEN AGITATED CONCERNING THE PASSOVER. A QUESTION of no small importance arose at that time. For the residential districts [of the churches] of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should be observed as the feast of the Savior’s passover. It was therefore necessary to end their fast on that day, whatever day of the week it should happen to be. But it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this time, as they observed the practice which, from apostolic tradition, has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast on no other day than on that of the resurrection of our Savior.
I would like to draw the reader’s attention to the real reason of the Passover / Easter controversy. It was not about whether to keep the 14th of Nisan, or Easter Sunday—it was about when the fast should end! It was a custom in the early church to observe a fast during this holy time of year. During the time of the fast, gifts or good deeds would be done to help the poor, and then the fast would be broken on the Lord’s Day to commemorate the resurrection. The churches in Asia ended their fast on the 14th of Nisan, but the churches in the other parts of the world terminated theirs on Resurrection Sunday. Both churches claim that their observances are from “apostolic tradition.” The problem arose when Victor (bishop of Rome) kept a strict lenten fast, breaking it on Resurrection Sunday, and wanted to impose it on all the churches, including those in Asia. He felt it was wrong for those who kept the 14th to break their fast before Resurrection Sunday (the Lord’s Day). Now let’s continue:
Synods and assemblies of bishops were held on this account, and all, with one consent, through mutual correspondence drew up an ecclesiastical decree, 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. There is still extant a writing of those who were then assembled in Palestine, over whom Theophilus, bishop of Caesarea, and Narcissus, bishop of Jerusalem, presided. And there is also another writing extant of those who were assembled at Rome to consider the same question, which bears the name of Bishop Victor; also of the bishops in Pontus over whom Palmas, as the oldest, presided; and of the residential districts [of the churches] in Gaul of which Irenaeus was bishop, and of those in Osrhoene and the cities there; and a personal letter of Bacchylus, bishop of the church at Corinth, and of a great many others, who uttered the same opinion and judgment, and cast the same vote. And that which has been given above was their unanimous decision.
Observe in the above paragraph that there were many bishops represented from all over the empire and no “central head of the church” at Rome. Theophilus is bishop of Caesarea; Narcissus, bishop of Jerusalem; Victor, bishop of Rome; Palmas, head bishop of Pontus; Irenaeus, bishop of Gaul; and Bacchylus, bishop of Corinth. They had all agreed through mutual correspondence, unanimously consenting that the paschal fast must terminate on Resurrection Sunday— nobody would be allowed to fast beyond this day. They also agreed that Sunday (the Lord’s day) would be the day that the Resurrection would be celebrated. There was no discussion about replacing the Passover with Easter, which is what HWA insinuated. Irenaeus, the bishop of Gaul, was key in resolving this conflict, and he was also a disciple of Polycarp!
Let us continue to Chapter 24 of Eusebius’ text, and read the whole chapter in context:
CHAPTER 24. THE DISAGREEMENT IN ASIA. BUT the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. He himself, in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome, set forth in the following words the tradition which had come down to him: “We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are 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; and, moreover, 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. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead? All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘ We ought to obey God rather than man.'” He then writes of all the bishops who were present with him and thought as he did. His words are as follows: “I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus.”
In the above paragraph, we see the record of Polycrates and the bishops of Asia, in disagreement with the bishops in the rest of the world over this decision. Polycrates addresses a letter to Victor, the bishop of Rome. Victor responds rashly and excommunicates the Asian churches. But Victor’s actions are not supported by the other bishops, and he is sharply rebuked by them. Notice how this goes against HWA’s depiction of “God’s Government from the top down” (page 49). All bishops here spoke freely in this matter. Closely observe the following paragraph. Irenaeus recommended that the resurrection be observed on Sunday because it was the day the Lord rose from the dead (the first day of the week). He does not say that the churches in Asia were required to stop observing Nisan 14, as you will see in later texts. He also writes that the controversy was concerning the number of days that one should fast.
Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the residential districts [of the churches] of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate. But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor. Among them was Irenaeus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, recommended that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord’s Day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom and after many other words he proceeds as follows: “For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; and some, forty–these count their day as consisting of day and night hours [placing the stop after tessarakonta with Rufinus, followed by Harvey, Irenaeus, II. 474, n. 6, et al.]. And this variation in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors, who, it seems, did not maintain in a strictly accurate fashion the original custom, simple and homely as it was, and thus produced [this variation] for their successors. Yet all of these lived none the less in peace, and we also live in peace with one another; and the disagreement in regard to the fast confirms the agreement in the faith.” He adds to this the following account, which I may properly insert: “Among these were the presbyters before Soter, who presided over the church which thou [Victor] now rulest. We mean Anicetus, and Pius, and Hyginus, and Telesphorus, and Xystus [Sixtus]. They neither observed it [the Jewish Passover celebration] themselves, nor did they permit those after them to do so. And yet though not observing it, they were none the less at peace with those who came to them from the residential districts in which it was observed; although this observance was more opposed to those who did not observe it. But none were ever cast out on account of this form [the Jewish Passover]; but the presbyters before thee who did not observe it, sent the Eucharist to people from the residential districts [of other churches] who themselves observed it, and furthermore, at the time when the blessed Polycarp visited Rome in the time of Anicetus, and having little things against each other on other points, they quickly made peace amongst themselves, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither was Anicetus able to persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he had associated; neither did Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it, as he [Anicetus] said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him. And in this state of affairs, they held communion amongst themselves. Also Anicetus conceded the Eucharist in the church to Polycarp, evidently out of a feeling of shame. And they settled the matter between them in peace, both those who observed [the Jewish Passover], and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church.” Thus Irenaeus, who truly was well named, became a peacemaker in this matter, exhorting and negotiating in this way in behalf of the peace of the churches. And he conferred by letter about this mooted question, not only with Victor, but also with most of the other rulers of the churches.
CHAPTER 25. HOW ALL CAME TO AN AGREEMENT RESPECTING THE PASSOVER. THOSE in Palestine whom we have recently mentioned, Narcissus and Theophilus, and with them Cassius, bishop of the church of Tyre, and Clarus of the church of Ptolemais, and those who met with them, having stated many things respecting the tradition concerning the passover which had come to them in succession from the apostles, at the close of their writing add these words: “Endeavor to send copies of our letter to every church, that we may not furnish occasion to those who easily deceive their souls. We show you indeed that also in Alexandria they keep it on the same day that we do. For letters are carried from us to them and from them to us, so that in the same manner and at the same time we keep the sacred day.”
Irenaeus appeals to Victor and Polycrates to conform to the example left by Polycarp when the Passover dispute first surfaced. Polycarp had made a visit to Rome, and quickly made peace over this matter and held communion with Anicetus, bishop of Rome. Notice that Polycarp did not condemn Anicetus for not observing the Passover! Polycarp had always observed it with John, but apparently did not make it a commandment, nor did he tell Anicetus that he was breaking God’s Commandments by not observing it! Polycarp was not a man of compromise, nor was he afraid to speak the truth, as he did with the Gnostic heretic Marcion. So we can plainly see from history that celebrating the Passover on the 14th was not a requirement for salvation, or Polycarp would have clearly voiced it. Polycarp had a clear understanding of the Jerusalem Council documented in Acts 15, and did not require the Gentiles to observe the Law. Irenaeus, who settled the dispute between Victor and Polycrates, was a disciple of Polycarp, and he would have made it known if Polycarp commanded the Passover to be observed.
Below is another historical record that will shed more light on the Passover / Easter controversy.
It is written by Anatolius of Alexandria. Anatolius was known to observe the 14th of Nisan to commemorate the Lord’s death, and he observed Resurrection Sunday to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection to life. So here we have a record of an individual who cannot be accused of being biased.
THE PASCHAL CANON OF ANATOLIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, Chapter 10:
“But nothing was difficult to them with whom it was lawful to celebrate the Passover on any day when the fourteenth of the moon happened after the equinox. Following their example up to the present time all the bishops of Asia – as themselves also receiving the rule from an unimpeachable authority, to wit, the evangelist John, who leant on the Lord’s breast, and drank in instructions spiritual without doubt – were in the way of celebrating the Paschal feast, without question, every year, whenever the fourteenth day of the moon had come, and the lamb was sacrificed by the Jews after the equinox was past; not acquiescing, so far as regards this matter, with the authority of some, namely, the successors of Peter and Paul, who have taught all the churches in which they sowed the spiritual seeds of the Gospel, that the solemn festival of the resurrection of the Lord can be celebrated only on the Lord’s day. Whence, also, a certain contention broke out between the successors of these, namely, Victor, at that time bishop of the city of Rome, and Polycrates, who then appeared to hold the primacy among the bishops of Asia. And this contention was adjusted most rightfully by Irenaeus, at that time president of a part of Gaul, so that both parties kept by their own order, and did not decline from the original custom of antiquity. The one party, indeed, kept the Paschal day on the fourteenth day of the first month, according to the Gospel, as they thought, adding nothing of an extraneous kind, but keeping through all things the rule of faith. And the other party, passing the day of the Lord’s Passion as one replete with sadness and grief, hold that it should not be lawful to celebrate the Lord’s mystery of the Passover at any other time but on the Lord’s day, on which the resurrection of the Lord from death took place, and on which rose also for us the cause of everlasting joy. For it is one thing to act in accordance with the precept given by the apostle, yea, by the Lord Himself, and be sad with the sad, and suffer with him that suffers by the cross, His own word being: ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;’ and it is another thing to rejoice with the victor as he triumphs over an ancient enemy, and exults with the highest triumph over a conquered adversary, as He Himself also says: ‘Rejoice with Me; for I have found the sheep which I had lost.'”
We can plainly see in the above paragraph that the churches in Asia observed the Paschal feast on the 14th in accordance with John’s instructions, while the churches in the rest of the world celebrated the resurrection on the Lord’s Day in accordance with Peter and Paul’s instructions! Remember, John was the apostle to the Jews, and Peter and Paul were the apostles to the Gentiles. John used the Passover to teach Jewish converts that Jesus fulfilled the symbol of the sacrificial lamb, breaking the fast on the 14th with the new symbols of the Lord’s Supper. Peter and Paul taught Gentile converts about the glorious resurrection of the Lord when Christ Himself had eaten on that original Resurrection Sunday with his disciples. So we see Jesus eating with His disciples just before His death on the 14th, and we see Him eating with His disciples after his resurrection on the first day of the week. This is how the various churches came to believe differently in how one should celebrate the memorial of the Lord’s death and resurrection. The friction was caused by Victor, bishop of Rome, who felt that one must strictly fast during the days leading up to Resurrection Sunday, including fasting on the Jewish Passover if it happened to fall during the time of this imposed fast, and one could not break it until that Easter Sunday. Irenaeus promptly intervened and corrected Victor by pointing out there should not be strife over rituals, fasts, and days, and that faith, hope and love only were necessary.
Notice the outright deception committed by HWA on page 53 of Mystery of the Ages. [available as PDF by Kelly Marshall] He states that “Polycarp waged a controversy over the Passover / Easter question” but he never informed the reader that the controversy was settled peacefully, ending with a communion held between Polycarp and Anicetus. In his usual sensationalistic style, HWA stated in the next paragraph that “Polycrates waged a still hotter controversy over the same Passover / Easter question” calling it a “theological battle” and stating that the “Rome church insisted that it be observed on Sunday.” We see from historical records—the very same records HWA had access to—that this matter again, was settled peacefully when Irenaeus intervened. HWA gives the reader the impression that the small, faithful flock valiantly opposed the mammoth, state-sanctioned, false church, while stubbornly refusing to give in to pagan doctrines. He never explained to his followers that the churches in Asia were commemorating the Lord’s death while the churches in the rest of the world were celebrating the Lord’s resurrection—two completely different memorials although celebrated around the same time of year. One was not forcing a “pagan replacement” over the “true day,” as HWA would have us believe. He never explained that the controversy was over the number of days to fast, and on which day the fast was to be broken. HWA also failed to mention pertinent information such as Irenaeus being a disciple of Polycarp since Irenaeus did not support his “mandatory keeping of Jewish days for salvation” teachings.
Only HWA and his spin-offs make a big deal out of the Quartodeciman Controvesy, using it as “proof” that the early apostles were commanded to keep the Passover on the 14th. They do this in order to “prove” that their churches are direct descendents of the early apostles, from which their authority is derived. They intentionally misquote and misrepresent the facts to make their claims seem true. The Passover is the shadow of the reality – and that reality is Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Now that we understand that the majority of the early church observed the resurrection on Sunday, while a minority in Asia observed the Passover on the 14th, the next hurdle of determining a uniform date would be brought up at the Nicene Council.
The Nicene Council Concerning Easter
The early apostles had always believed in the deity of Christ and proclaimed this truth repeatedly. Titus 2:13, 2 Pet. 1:1, John 1:1-14, Col. 1:15-17, Phil. 2:5-11, etc.). It wasn’t until Arius of Alexandria began teaching his Arian view (which he derived from Paul of Samasota) [see MOA 1, Pt 1, “Counterfeit Gospel”] of the nature of Christ (that He was a created being), that the Council of Nicea was called in order to officially record orthodox beliefs concerning the deity of Christ. According to tradition, 318 bishops were in attendance, and the majority of them came from the East, with less than a dozen representing the rest of the Empire. So it is actually heresy that causes the early church fathers to convene and protect what was always understood as the Godhead. It wasn’t about a pagan emperor who couldn’t discern “truth” and allowed the counterfeit church leaders to take control and enforce “false” doctrine on the uninformed citizens. In fact, Constantine didn’t even vote in this debate. He wanted the issues settled because he was interested in promoting peace and unity throughout the empire, as any wise leader would. When Constantine declared Christianity as the “official religion of the Empire” it was a good thing. This meant that Christians would no longer be persecuted (fed to lions, burned at the stake, impaled, tortured), which finally brought some semblance of peace to the church. This declaration actually allowed the early church to flourish and the gospel to be spread.
The “adopting of pagan Easter” as the official holiday of the empire was also misrepresented by HWA.
The resurrection had always been observed on a Sunday, but it was celebrated on different Sundays throughout the empire. This was the result of miscalculations of the calendars throughout the centuries. Below is a text recorded by Eusebius that verifies this. Notice that the calculations for Passover observance were so far off that the Jews (not to be confused with the Jewish Christian converts in the early church) were celebrating two Passovers in one year! From the Letter of the Emperor to all those not present at the Council.
(Found in Eusebius, Vita Const., Lib. iii., 18-20.)
When the question relative to the sacred festival of Easter arose, it was universally thought that it would be convenient that all should keep the feast on one day; for what could be more beautiful and more desirable, than to see this festival, through which we receive the hope of immortality, celebrated by all with one accord, and in the same manner? 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. In rejecting their custom,1 we may transmit to our descendants the legitimate mode of celebrating Easter, which we have observed from the time of the Saviour’s Passion to the present day [according to the day of the week]. We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews, for the Saviour has shown us another way; our worship follows a more legitimate and more convenient course (the order of the days of the week); and consequently, in unanimously adopting this mode, we desire, dearest brethren, to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the [unconverted] Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast. How can they be in the right, they who, after the death of the Saviour, have no longer been led by reason but by wild violence, as their delusion may urge them? They do not possess the truth in this Easter question; for, in their blindness and repugnance to all improvements, they frequently celebrate two passovers in the same year. We could not imitate those who are openly in error. How, then, could we follow these Jews, who are most certainly blinded by error? for to celebrate the passover twice in one year is totally inadmissible. But even if this were not so, it would still be your duty not to tarnish your soul by communications with such wicked people [the unbelieving Jews]. Besides, consider well, that in such an important matter, and on a subject of such great solemnity, there ought not to be any division. Our Saviour has left us only one festal day of our redemption, that is to say, of his holy passion, and he desired [to establish] only one Catholic Church. [Catholic here means the “Universal” Church]. Think, then, how unseemly it is, that on the same day some should be fasting whilst others are seated at a banquet; and that after Easter, some should be rejoicing at feasts, whilst others are still observing a strict fast. For this reason, a Divine Providence wills that this custom should be rectified and regulated in a uniform way; and everyone, I hope, will agree upon this point. As, on the one hand, it is our duty not to have anything in common with the murderers of our Lord; and as, on the other, the custom now followed by the Churches of the West, of the South, and of the North, and by some of those of the East, is the most acceptable, it has appeared good to all; and I have been guarantee for your consent, that you would accept it with joy, as it is followed at Rome, in Africa, in all Italy, Egypt, Spain, Gaul, Britain, Libya, in all Achaia, and in the dioceses of Asia, of Pontus, and Cilicia. You should consider not only that the number of churches in these provinces make a majority, but also that it is right to demand what our reason approves, and that we should have nothing in common with the Jews. To sum up in few words: By the unanimous judgment of all, it has been decided that the most holy festival of Easter should be everywhere celebrated on one and the same day, and it is not seemly that in so holy a thing there should be any division. As this is the state of the case, accept joyfully the divine favour, and this truly divine command; for all which takes place in assemblies of the bishops ought to be regarded as proceeding from the will of God. Make known to your brethren what has been decreed, keep this most holy day according to the prescribed mode; we can thus celebrate this holy Easter day at the same time, if it is granted me, as I desire, to unite myself with you; we can rejoice together, seeing that the divine power has made use of our instrumentality for destroying the evil designs of the devil, and thus causing faith, peace, and unity to flourish amongst us. May God graciously protect you, my beloved brethren.
Observe that not only did Constantine want a universal observance of Easter, but so did the majority of the bishops. Notice the many countries that they represented—Africa, Italy, Egypt, Spain, Gaul, Britain, Libya, etc. Carefully observe that the decision was to observe Easter on the same Sunday. Constantine did not force Easter observance on the Jews. What they decided was that they would no longer go by the Jews’ inaccurate calculations to determine the date of Easter. They openly despised the Jews (not to be confused with the Jewish Christians) because the Jews openly despised Jesus—not recognizing Him as Messiah – and adding insult to injury by boasting that the Christians needed their direction in order to determine the time of this (“their”) festival. So the bishops concluded that they needed to distance themselves from the (unconverted) Jews by no longer looking to them to determine the date of Easter. They determined that the Lord would be their authority and guide—not the Jews.
HWA makes the reader think that it was Rome that forced Easter observance on the whole empire, when, in actuality, there was a majority agreement amongst the bishops to set a uniform date on a festival that they had already been observing (Resurrection Sunday) since the death of Christ.
HWA vilifies Rome because he must cast Rome as the soon coming, resurrected Holy Roman Empire, used by Satan to suppress religious truth. He uses this as a tool to scare people into his church.
It is my hope that the reader begins to see that this man, who claims he is commissioned by God to bring the “only true gospel” has resorted to misquoting and misrepresenting facts, twisting both scriptures and history in order to deceive innocent people into his organization where they will be further exploited, both emotionally and financially. One must ask themselves, “Are these fruits of a man from God?”
By Kelly Marshall
Exit & Support Network™
NOTE: Much more informative information may be found online which shows that when Judaism changed into Christianity, there was no more need or obligation to observe the Mosaic Law and the ceremonial types.
True Original Church/Faith Once Delivered (Proof Herbert Armstrong Lied About the “Lost” Church Century) by Kelly Marshall
“Lost History of the Church” in chapter 6 of “Mystery of the Ages (a critical review)” by Kelly Marshall. (PDF)
Were Vital Lost Teachings Really Restored to the Church Through Herbert W. Armstrong? [offsite link]
1 The basic teachings of Gnosticism that the Christian church called heresy are listed here. [offsite link]
2 Polycarp acknowledged the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as God. Read the historical records here. [offsite link]
3 For more info on the Trinity read: Understanding the Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity (Godhead) (In-depth study) [offsite PDF article] and Is the Trinity Pagan? [offsite article]
4 The word “Catholic” as used here means “Universal,” and the early church fathers used that term. [offsite link]
Back to Herbert W. Armstrong (many articles)