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Chapter XXIV.—The Disagreement in Asia.

1. But the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. 1695 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: 1696

2. “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.

3. He fell asleep at Ephesus.

4. And Polycarp 1697 in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, 1698 bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna.

5. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris 1699 who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, 1700 or Melito, 1701 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?

6. All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. 1702 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 1703 put away the leaven.

7. 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.’” 1704

8. 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; 1705 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.”

9. Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunip. 243 cate. 1706

10. 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.

11. Among them was Irenæus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained 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: 1707

12. “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; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night. 1708

13. And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors. 1709 It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode. 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.”

14. 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 now rulest. We mean Anicetus, and Pius, and Hyginus, and Telesphorus, and Xystus. They neither observed it 1710 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 parishes in which it was observed; although this observance was more opposed to those who did not observe it. 1711

15. But none were ever cast out on account of this form; but the presbyters before thee who did not observe it, sent the eucharist to those of other parishes who observed it. 1712

16. And when the blessed Polycarp was at Rome 1713 in the time of Anicetus, p. 244 and they disagreed a little about certain other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus 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 could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him.

17. But though matters were in this shape, they communed together, and Anicetus conceded the administration of the eucharist in the church to Polycarp, manifestly as a mark of respect. 1714 And they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church.”

18. Thus Irenæus, who truly was well named, 1715 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. 1716



For a general account of the paschal controversy, see the preceding chapter, note 1. On Polycrates, see chap. 22, note 9.


A part of this passage from Polycrates’ epistle is quoted in Bk. III. chap. 31. The extract given there begins with the second sentence of the fragment (“For in Asia great lights,” &c.), and extends to the report of John’s burial at Ephesus. For comments upon this portion of the fragment, see the notes given there.


On Polycarp, see Bk. IV. chap. 14, note 5.


This Thraseas, said by Polycrates to have been bishop of Eumenia (a city in the southern part of Phrygia), was mentioned also by Apollonius in his work against the Montanists (according to Eusebius, chap. 18, §13, of this book). He is called by Polycrates a martyr, and by Eusebius, in reference to Apollonius’ mention of him, “one of the martyrs of that time.” There is no reason to doubt that he was a martyr, in the full sense, as Polycarp was; but upon the more general use of the word μ€ρτυς as, e.g., in connection with John just above, see Bk. III. chap. 32, note 15. We know nothing more about this bishop Thraseas.


On Sagaris, see above, Bk. IV. chap. 26, note 22.


Polycrates does not call Papirius a bishop or a martyr, and we know nothing about him. Simeon Metaphrastes, upon whose reports little reliance can be placed, in his life of Polycarp (according to Valesius), makes Papirius a successor of Polycarp as bishop of Smyrna.


On Melito, see Bk. IV. chap. 26, note 1.


A careful exegesis of the passages in John’s Gospel, which are supposed by some to contradict the synoptic account, and to put Christ’s death on the fourteenth day of Nisan instead of on the fifteenth, shows that John agrees with the Synoptists in putting the passover meal on the fourteenth and the death of Christ on the fifteenth (see Schaff’s Ch. Hist. Vol. I. p. 133 ff., and the authorities referred to by him). The Asiatic churches, in observing the fourteenth of Nisan, were commemorating the last passover feast and the death of the paschal Lamb. Their practice did not imply that they believed that Christ died on the fourteenth (as can be seen from fragments of Apolinarius’ work quoted in the Chron. Paschale, and referred to above; see, also, Schaff, Vol. II. p. 214). They were in full agreement with all four Gospels in putting his death on the fifteenth. But the paschal controversy did not hinge on the day of the month on which Christ died,—in regard to which there was no widespread disagreement,—but on the question as to whether a particular day of the week or of the month was to be celebrated.


i.e. the Jews. The passover feast among the Jews took place on the evening of the fourteenth of Nisan, and was eaten with unleavened bread (Ex. xii. 6 et passim). It was on the fourteenth of Nisan, therefore, that the Jews “threw away” the leaven, and until the evening of the twenty-first, when the seven days’ feast of unleavened bread closed, they used no leaven.


Acts v. 29.


According to this, the Asiatic Council was summoned at the request of Victor of Rome, and in all probability this was the case with all the councils referred to in the last chapter.


There has been considerable discussion as to whether Victor actually excommunicated the Asiatic churches or only threatened to do so. Socrates (H. E. V. 22) says directly that he excommunicated them, but many have thought that Eusebius does not say it. For my part, I cannot understand that Eusebius’ words mean anything else than that he did actually cut off communion with them. The Greek reads κοινωνήτους π€ντας ἄρδην τοὺς ἐκεῖσε ἀνακηρύττων ἀδελφούς. This seems to me decisive.


This epistle is no longer extant, but in addition to the fragments given in this chapter by Eusebius, a few other extracts from it are found in other writers; thus, in the Pseudo-Justinian Quæstiones et responsa ad orthodoxos occurs a quotation from Irenæus’ work On Easter (περὶ τοῦ π€σχα), which is doubtless to be identified with this epistle to Victor (ed. Harvey, Græc. fragm. 7; Eng. translation in Ante-Nicene Fathers, I. p. 569). Maximus of Turin, also, in his Sermo VII. de Eleemos., gives a brief quotation from “The epistle to Victor” (Harvey, Græc. fragm. 5, trans. ibid.). It is possible that some other unnamed fragments given by Harvey are from this epistle. From Eusebius’ words we learn that Irenæus agreed with Victor as to the proper time of keeping the feast, and yet he did not agree with him in his desire to excommunicate those who followed the other practice.


The punctuation of this sentence is a disputed matter. Some editors omit the semicolon after the words “yet others more,” translating, “For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more, and some forty; and they count the hours of the day and night together as their day.” The sense is thus materially changed, but the Greek seems to necessitate rather the punctuation which I have followed in my translation, and so that punctuation is adopted by Valesius, Zimmermann, Burton, Schwegler, Laemmer, Heinichen, Closs, Crusè, and others. We should expect, moreover, that the forty hours’ fast should be mentioned in this connection by Irenæus, as we learn from Tertullian that it was very common; whereas we have no other trace of the forty days’ fast at so early a date (cf. the next note).


The fast preceding the celebration of the paschal supper, which has grown gradually into our Lent of forty days preceding Easter, is, we are told here by Irenæus, much older than his day. It is thus carried back at least close to apostolic times, and there is no reason to think that it was not observed about as soon as the celebration of the paschal supper itself was established. Tertullian also mentions the fast, which continued, according to him (de Jejunio, chap. 2), during the period “in which the bridegroom was taken away,” i.e. in which Jesus was under the power of death.

We learn from this passage of Irenæus’ epistle that the duration of the fast varied greatly. From Socrates (H. E. V. 22) and Sozomen (H. E. VII. 19) we learn that the variation was as great in their time. Some fasted three, some six, some seven weeks, and so on. Socrates (l.c.) informs us that the fast, whatever its duration, was always called τεσσαρακοστή (quadrigesima). He does not know why this is, but says that various reasons are given by others. The time between Jesus’ death and his resurrection was very early computed as forty hours in length,—from noon of Friday to four o’clock Sunday morning. This may have lain at the basis of the number forty, which was so persistently used to designate the fast, for Tertullian tells us that the fast was intended to cover the period during which Jesus was dead. It is this idea which undoubtedly underlay the fast of forty hours which Irenæus mentions. The fasts of Moses, of Elijah, and of Jesus in the desert would also of course have great influence in determining the length of this, the most important fast of the year. Already before the end of the third century the fast had extended itself in many quarters to cover a number of weeks, and in the time of Eusebius the forty days’ fast had already become a common thing (see his de Pasch. chap. 5), and even Origen refers to it (Hom. in Lev. X. 2). The present duration of the fast—forty days exclusive of Sundays—was fixed in the seventh or eighth century. Cf. Sinker’s article on Lent in Smith’s Dict. of Christ. Ant. and Krieg’s article, Feste, in Kraus’ Encyclop. der Christ. Alterthümer, I. p. 489.


i.e. the fourteenth day.


The Greek reads: καί τοι μᾶλλον ἐναντίον ἦν τὸ τηρεῖν τοῖς μή τηροῦσι. The meaning is, that the observance of the fourteenth day by these strangers in Rome itself, among those who did not observe that day, would be noticeable and more distasteful than the mere report that the day was so observed in Asia could be. If Victor’s predecessor, therefore, allowed such persons to observe that day even in Rome, how much more should he allow the Asiatics to observe it in their own land.


Valesius, followed by others, interprets this sentence as meaning that the presbyters of Rome sent the eucharist to other parishes where the paschal festival was observed on the fourteenth of the month. The council of Laodicea (Can. 14) forbade the sending of the eucharist to other parishes, which shows that the custom must have been widespread before the end of the fourth century, and it is therefore quite possible that the bishops of Rome, even as early as the time of Irenæus, pursued the same practice. But in regard to the statement made here by Irenæus, it must be said that, so far as we are able to ascertain, only the churches of Asia Minor observed the fourteenth day at that early date, and it is difficult to imagine that the presbyters of Rome before Victor’s time had been in the habit of sending the eucharist all the way from Rome to Asia Minor. Moreover, this is the only passage in which we have notice, before the fourth century, of the existence of the general practice condemned by the council of Laodicea. The Greek reads οἱ πρὸ σοῦ πρεσβύτεροι τοῖς ἀπὸ τῶν παροικιῶν τηροῦσιν žπεμπον εὐχαριστίαν. These words taken by themselves can as well, if not better, be understood of persons (whether presbyters or others is not in any case distinctly stated) who had come to Rome from other parishes, and who continued to observe the fourteenth day. This transmission of the eucharist to communicants who were kept away from the service by illness or other adequate cause was a very old custom, being mentioned by Justin Martyr in his Apol. I. 65. It is true that it is difficult to understand why Irenæus should speak in the present case of sending the eucharist to those persons who observed the fourteenth day, instead of merely mentioning the fact that the Roman church communed with them. In the face of the difficulties on both sides it must be admitted that neither of the interpretations mentioned can be insisted upon. On the practice of sending the eucharistic bread to persons not present at the service or to other parishes, see the article Eulogia, in Smith’s Dict. of Christ. Ant.


πιδημήσαντος τῇ ῾Ρώμῃ. Upon the significance of this phrase, see Bk. IV. chap. 11, note 19. On the date of Polycarp’s visit to Rome, see ibid., chap. 14, note 2. In his Adv. Hær., where he mentions this visit (as quoted in chap. 14), Irenæus does not speak of the affair of the passover which he refers to here. The omission, however, has no significance, as he is discussing Gnosticism there, and refers to Polycarp’s visit to Rome only because his attitude toward Marcion was revealed in connection with it.


The meaning of this passage has been disputed. The Greek reads: καὶ ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησί& 139· παρεχώρησεν ὁ ᾽Ανίκητος τὴν εὐχαριστίαν τῷ Πολυκ€ρπῳ κατ᾽ ἐντροπὴν δηλονότι. Valesius understands Irenæus’ meaning to be that Anicetus invited Polycarp to administer the eucharist in Rome; and this is the common interpretation of the passage. Heinichen objects, however, that παρεχώρησεν τὴν εὐχαριστίαν cannot refer to the administration of the sacrament, and hence concludes that Irenæus means simply to say that Anicetus permitted Polycarp to partake of the eucharist in his church, thereby proclaiming publicly their fraternal fellowship, in spite of their differences on the paschal question. The common interpretation, however, seems to the writer better than Heinichen’s; for if the latter be adopted, the sentence in question says no more than the one which precedes it,—“they communed with each other” (κοινώνησαν ἑαυτοῖς). And moreover, as Valesius remarks, Anicetus would in that case have shown Polycarp no more honor than any other Christian pilgrim who might happen to be in Rome. Irenæus seems to intend to say that Anicetus showed Polycarp especial honor, and that in spite of their difference of opinion on the paschal question. But simply to have allowed Polycarp to partake of the eucharist in the church would certainly have been no honor, and, on the other hand, not to invite him to assist in the administration of the sacrament might have seemed a sign of disrespect, and have emphasized their differences. The old interpretation, therefore, must be followed, and so far as the Greek is concerned, there is no difficulty about the construction. In the παρεχώρησεν resides the idea of “yielding,” “giving place to”; and so Anicetus yielded to Polycarp the eucharist, or gave place to him in the matter of the eucharist. This in fact brings out the force of the παρεχώρησεν better than Heinichen’s interpretation.


The Greek form of the name is Εἰρηναῖος, from εἰρήνη, which means “peace.”


None of these epistles are extant; but it is possible that some of the fragments commonly assigned to Irenæus’ epistle to Victor may belong to one or more of them (see the Dict. of Christ. Biog. III. p. 265). We do not know to what bishops or churches these epistles were sent. Jerome does not mention them.

Next: Chapter XXV