3 APRIL 1869, Page 12


THE variation of Easter is one among many things which illustrate the tenacious hold which Hebrew ideas, and even customs no longer representing ideas, retain upon modern life. The Jewish year, reckoned as it was by lunations, began, to speak roughly, with the new moon which was nearest to the spring equinox, it month being intercalated when it was necessary to bring this division of time into accord with natural phenomena, specially with the ripening of the barley harvest. Though, in common with other civilized nations, we have discarded the use of lunar time, we still retain this practice in a modified shape. A great number not only of ecclesiastical but of civil arrangements, are made to depend upon the rule which, according to the PrayerBook, directs that "Easter Day should be always the first Sunday after the full moon which happens upon or next after the twentyfirst day of March." The range of variation, indeed, is much greater than that which prevailed in the Jewish calendar, for Easter may occur on any one of the twenty-five days between March 22 and April 25; whereas, the Jewish first month or Nisan was made, by the correction specified above, to correspond roughly with the last few days of March and the greater part of April. It is not easy to allege a satisfactory reason for our practice. Such a reason is certainly not to be found in the fact that what we regard as the most solemn event in the history of the world took place near the time (for the precise day is a matter of dispute) of the full moon of the month Nisan. That month, it is obvious, could not have included some of the days on which Good Friday and Easter may fall, and our method therefore has the disadvantage of sometimes fixing for the commemoration of the event a time at which it could not possibly have happened. On the other hand, if an approximation to the exact time be considered desirable, there is a way by which a strong probability, if not a certainty, can be attained. Both Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian declare that our Lord was crucified in the sixteenth year of Tiberius. If this statement is correct—and, without laying too much stress on patristic authority, it must be allowed to have considerable weight—the date may be fixed with something like certainty. The sixteenth year of Tiberius began August 29th, A.D. 27, and it only remains to ascertain what was the time of the Paschal full moon in the following year. This we believe, speaking without book, to have been a little after the middle of April. If for ecclesiastical reasons it should be deemed necessary that Easter should always be commemorated on the first day of the week, the Sunday that came nearest, either before or after, to the fixed date would answer the purpose.

It is something, a proof of a tolerance the real growth of which we do not perhaps properly estimate, that we can discuss the question without injuring whatever reputation for faith we may possess. Such immunity would not always have been the rule. Few things, excepting only the great doctrines of the faith,

have been the subject of fiercer and more enduring debate than the due time of observing Easter. In fact, it may be said that the very first controversy with the conditions of which we are thoroughly acquainted turned upon this point, though it is true that the more essential difference between Judaic and anti-Judaic Christianity was involved. It seems that the Churches of Asia Minor, probably following the example of their founder, St. John, commemorated the crucifixion on a day which accorded with the Jewish passover. The Churches of the West, on the other hand, followed a rule which provided, by some such method as ours, that the Passion should always be commemorated on the sixth, the Resurrection on the first day of the week. The debate waxed hot, and already in the second century East and West were threatened with the schism which finally divided them in the ninth Ire,naeus, trained amidst the ecclesiastical traditions of the East, but brought by circumstances to preside over a Western community, has the appropriate merit of having brought about a reconciliation. The Quartodecimani, however, as they were called, from keeping the day of the Passion on the fourteenth of the month Nisan, remained a distinct sect until or even after the Council of Nictes had settled the Paschal canons by which Christendom still regulates its ecclesiastical year. Even these, however, did not finally settle the question, and our own Church is connected with its revival in a peculiarly unhappy form. Augustine of Canterbury found that the Easter of the ancient British Church did not coincide with his own. It followed, it would seem, the Nicene canons, but had not accepted, very possibly had not heard of, a Roman improvement of the calendar. Again, a more essential question, nothing less than Roman supremacy, was involved ; but the difference about Easter afforded a ready and intelligible subject of controversy, and must be thought to have contributed to bring forth Augustine's ill-omened threat and its sinister fulfilment in the massacre of the monks of Bangor.

In a matter so beset with difficulty it is absurd even to suggest a change, but it is at least a satisfaction to grumble at the many inconveniences which the variation of Easter entails upon us. Take the matter in the aspect under which it presents itself to four persons out of five, that of a great national holiday. We have but two in the year, and each has its peculiar character Christmas being appropriate to indoor and Easter to outdoor enjoyment. This character, it is obvious, makes the movability of the latter peculiarly objectionable. A prudent man, when he has but a very limited time at his disposal, will generally devote himself to one kind of recreation, and this is difficult to accomplish when he has to consider a possible variation of five weeks in time with its corresponding differences of length of day and temperature. It may be argued, indeed, with some plausibility, that our fickle climate, with its premature summers and lagging winters, nullifies all such calculations ; but this must not go for more than it is worth. Three week's after the equinox, if that be taken as the average difference between an early and a late Easter, do make, on the whole, a sensible difference in our climate, and such a snowstorm as that which greeted the Volunteers on Monday, though by no means impossible, would certainly be less probable in the middle of April than in the end of March. The school year, again, in which most families feel a practical interest, would be most conveniently divided by a break occurring at a fixed time in the middle or latter end of April, leaving the remaining portion of the year to be as nearly as possible bisected by the principal holiday in August and September; or the consideration which it may not be thought worth while to give to the interests of schoolboys may well be accorded to the important profession of the law. At present there is manifest inconvenience arising from the fact that the Ecclesiastical Easter is movable, while the legal Easter is fixed. The interests of all persons connected with the law do not, indeed, coincide in this respect. When Easter does not happen to fall within the Easter vacation, those who hold official positions gain the advantage of a few additional holidays ; but we believe that to the profession generally, and presumably to the public which employs it, the coincidence of the two seasons, the certain period of cessation which it secures, and the inconvenient interruption to renewed business which it avoids, is always welcome. The same remark applies with more or less force to affairs in general, both public and private, whether as connected with the law or otherwise. Parliamentary business, for instance, is hindered by the interruption of an early holiday. Among other inconveniences, it postpones the Budget in a way that must seriously interfere with a variety of interests. There is another grievance which we need not apologize for mentioning. No philosopher will think it wise to neglect the wrongs of the greater half of mankind. It is something very like a religious duty with women to wear new clothes at Easter. To expose their finery to the fury of March. or to continue the sombre dress of winter through almost the whole length of a genial April are alternatives equally unpleasant. Nor, indeed, in this climate will any arrangement enable them to avoid the difficulty altogether. But all the relief that is possible would be afforded by a compromise which would fix the time about the middle of April.

That we may not seem wholly unpractical, we will conclude with the suggestion that the population of the South should follow the wise example which their Northern brethren, forced doubtless by a still more inclement climate, have set, and make Whitsuntide, rather than Easter, the great holiday of the year. We have, it is true, but two or three months safe from frost, and none safe from deluges of rain ; but it is, on the whole, no inconsiderable advantage to be seven weeks nearer to the summer solstice.