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§ 61. The Christian Passover. (Easter).


R. Hospinianus: Festa Christ., h.e. de origine, progressu, ceremonies el ritibusfestorum dierum Christ. Tig. 1593, and often.

A. G. Pillwitz: Gesch. der heil. Zeiten in der abendländ. Kirche. Dresden, 1842.

M. A. Nickel (R.C.): Die heil. Zeiten u. Feste nach ihrer Gesch. u. Feier in der kath. Kirche. Mainz, 1825–1838. 6 vols.

P. Piper: Gesch. des Osterfestes. Berl. 1845.

Lisco: Das christl. Kirchenjahr. Berlin, 1840, 4th ed. 1850.

Strauss (court-chaplain of the King of Prussia, d. 1863): Das evangel. Kirchenjahr. Berlin, 1850.

Boberstag: Das evangel. Kirchenjahr. Breslau 1857.

H. Alt: Der Christliche Cultus, IInd Part: Das Kirchenjahr, 2nd ed. Berlin 1860.

L. Hensley: Art. Easter in Smith and Cheetham (1875), I. 586–595.

F. X. Kraus (R.C.): Art. Feste in "R. Encykl. der Christl. Alterthümer," vol. I. (1881), pp. 486–502, and the Lit. quoted there. The article is written by several authors, the section on Easter and Pentecost by Dr. Funk of Tübingen.


The yearly festivals of this period were Easter, Pentecost, and Epiphany. They form the rudiments of the church year, and keep within the limits of the facts of the New Testament.

Strictly speaking the ante-Nicene church had two annual festive seasons, the Passover in commemoration of the suffering of Christ, and the Pentecoste in commemoration of the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, beginning with Easter and ending with Pentecost proper. But Passover and Easter were connected in a continuous celebration, combining the deepest sadness with the highest joy, and hence the term pascha (in Greek and Latin) is often used in a wider sense for the Easter season, as is the case with the French paqueor paques, and the Italian pasqua. The Jewish passover also lasted a whole week, and after it began their Pentecost or feast of weeks. The death of Christ became fruitful in the resurrection, and has no redemptive power without it. The commemoration of the death of Christ was called the pascha staurosimon or the Passover proper.319319    Pascha, πάσχα, is not from the verb πάσχειν, to, suffer (though often confounded with it and with the Latin passio by the Father, who were ignorant of Hebrew), but from the Hebrew חסַכֶּ the Chaldee אהָסְכַּ , (Comp. the verb חסַכָּ to pass over, to spare). See Ex. chg. 12 and 13; Lev. 23:4–9; Num. ch. 9. It has three meanings in the Sept. and the N. T. 1) the paschal festival, called "the feast of unleavened bread," and lasting from the fourteenth to the twentieth of Nisan, in commemoration of the sparing of the first-born and the deliverance of Israel from Egypt; 2) the paschal lamb which was slain between the two evenings. (3-5 p. m.) on the 14th of Nisan; 3) the paschal supper on the evening- of the same day, which marked the beginning of the 15th of Nisan, or the first day of the festival. In the first sense it corresponds to the Christian Easter-festival, as the type corresponds to the substance. Nevertheless the translation Easter for Passover in the English version, Acts 12:4, is a strange anachronism (corrected in the Revision).19 The commemoration of the resurrection was called the pascha anastasimon, and afterwards Easter.320320    Easter is the resurrection festival which follow., ; the Passover proper, but is included in the same festive week. The English Easter (Anglo-Saxon easter, eastran, German Ostern) is connected with East and sunrise, and is akin to ἠώς, oriens, aurora (comp. Jac. Grimm’s Deutsche Mythol. 1835, p. 181 and 349, and Skeat’s Etym. Dict. E. Lang. sub Easter). The comparison of sunrise and the natural spring with the new moral creation in the resurrection of Christ, and the transfer of the celebration of Ostara, the old German divinity of the rising, health-bringing light, to the Christian Easter festival, was easy and natural, because all nature is a symbol of spirit, and the heathen myths are dim presentiments and carnal anticipations of Christian truths.20 The former corresponds to the gloomy Friday, the other to the cheerful Sunday, the sacred days of the week in commemoration of those great events.

The Christian Passover naturally grew out of the Jewish Passover as the Lord’s Day grew out of the Sabbath; the paschal lamb being regarded as a prophetic type of Christ, the Lamb of God slain for our sins (1 Cor. 5:7, 8), and the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt as a type of the redemption from sin. It is certainly the oldest and most important annual festival of the church, and can be traced back to the first century, or at all events to the middle of the second, when it was universally observed, though with a difference as to the day, and the extent of the fast connected with it. It is based on the view that Christ crucified and risen is the centre of faith. The Jewish Christians would very naturally from the beginning continue to celebrate the legal passover, but in the light of its fulfillment by the sacrifice of Christ, and would dwell chiefly on the aspect of the crucifixion. The Gentile Christians, for whom the Jewish passover had no meaning except through reflection from the cross, would chiefly celebrate the Lord’s resurrection as they did on every Sunday of the week. Easter formed at first the beginning of the Christian year, as the month of Nisan, which contained the vernal equinox (corresponding to our March or April.), began the sacred year of the Jews. Between the celebration of the death and the resurrection of Christ lay "the great Sabbath,"321321    Τὸ μέγα σάββατον, τὸ ἅγιον σάββατον , Sabbatum magnum.21 on which also the Greek church fasted by way of exception; and "the Easter vigils," 322322    Παννυχίδες,vigiae paschae, Easter Eve. Good Friday and Easter Eve were a continuous fast, which was prolonged till midnight or cock-crow. See Tertull. Ad uxoR. II. 4; Euseb. H. E. VI. 34; Apost. ConSt. V. 18; VII. 23.22 which were kept, with special devotion, by the whole congregation till the break of day, and kept the more scrupulously, as it was generally believed that the Lord’s glorious return would occur on this night. The feast of the resurrection, which completed the whole work of redemption, became gradually the most prominent part of the Christian Passover, and identical with Easter. But the crucifixion continued to be celebrated on what is called "Good Friday."323323    Various names: πάσχα σταυρώσιμου (as distinct from π. ἀναστάσιμου).ἡμέρα σταυροῦ, παρασκευὴ μεγάλη or ἀγία, parasceue, feria sexta major, Good Friday, Charfreitag (fromχάρις or from carus, dear). But the celebration seems not to, have been universal; for Augustin says in his letter Ad Januar., that he did not consider this day holy. See Siegel, Handbuch der christl. Kirchl. Alterthümer, I. 374 sqq.23

The paschal feast was preceded by a season of penitence and fasting, which culminated in "the holy week."324324    From Palm Sunday to Easter Eve. Ἑβδομὰς μεγάλη, or τοῦ πάσχα, hebdomas magna, hebdomas nigra (in opposition to dominica in albis), hebdomas crux, Chaiwoche.24 This fasting varied in length, in different countries, from one day or forty hours to six weeks;325325    Irenaeus, in his letter to Victor of Rome (Euseb. V. 24): "Not only is the dispute respecting the day, but also respecting the manner of fasting. For some think that the v ought to fast only one day, some two, some more days; some compute their day as consisting of forty hours night and day; and this diversity existing among those that observe it, is not a matter that has just sprung up in our times, but long ago among those before us, who perhaps not having ruled with sufficient strictness, established the practice that arose from their simplicity and ignorance."25 but after the fifth century, through the influence of Rome, it was universally fixed at forty days,326326    quadragesima.26 with reference to the forty days’ fasting of Christ in the wilderness and the Old Testament types of that event (the fasting of Moses and Elijah).327327    Matt. 4:2; comp. Ex. 34:28; 1 Kings 19:8.27



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