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Bède le Vénérable - Stéphane Lebecq, Michel Perrin et Olivier Szerwiniak (dir.)
Un historien en son milieu

Theory and History :
an interpretation of
the Paschal Controversy in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica

Masako Ohashi
p. 177-185

Résumé

Dans l’Historia ecclesiastica (HE), Bède indique que la controverse pascale s’est produite entre le parti irlandais/celtique et le parti romain, et que le problème était presque résolu au moment où il achevait son livre en 731. Bien que la critique dans l’HE vise le parti irlandais/celtique, le manuel principal de Bède sur le comput, De temporum ratione (DTR), écrit en 725, indique que la problématique du calcul pour Bède ne concernait pas le cycle irlandais/celtique, mais plutôt le cycle de Victorius (un des modes de calcul « romains »). Des raisons politiques expliqueraient le changement d’attitude de Bède dans l’HE.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum ( = HE), Ch. Plummer (ed.), Baedae Opera Historica, 2 (...)

1Every reader of the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum quickly realises that Bede was greatly interested in the Paschal Controversy, that is, the problem of the Easter reckoning in early Britain and Ireland1. He repeatedly refers to the issue to make his readers recognise the fact that there had been serious problems regarding the reckoning in the past, but that these have now been mostly resolved by the supporters of the Roman Easter reckoning, among whom Bede himself is to be numbered. But when we examine the Paschal Controversy as “recorded” in the Historia ecclesiastica, it sometimes emerges that the information given by Bede is not sufficient to allow us to trace the sequence of the events in detail.

  • 2 On the notion of the term “computus” or “computation”, see Ch. W. Jones, Bedae Opera de Temporibus (...)
  • 3 Concerning the reckoning of time and relevant subjects in Bede’s period, Jones’s study mentioned ab (...)

2The purpose of this paper is to examine inconsistencies between Bede’s accounts of the Easter problem as given in the Historia ecclesiastica and in his computistical writings, and then to offer a new interpretation of Bede’s version of the Paschal Controversy. Since Bede wrote both historical and computistical works, it is quite natural to expect that his historical writing was influenced by his knowledge of the computus, that is the theory of Easter reckoning2. Although there have been some important studies regarding Bede’s accounts of the Paschal Controversy, researchers have tended to study those materials (history and computus) separately, and therefore the study of Bede’s accounts on this subject in the Historia ecclesiastica seems to remain unsatisfactory3. The vagueness and oversimplification in the Historia ecclesiastica make historians reluctant to study Bede’s accounts of the Paschal Controversy. Bede recorded some events and repeatedly insists on a problem involving Irish and British church customs. His accounts imply that there had been serious problems concerning Easter in the past between the Roman and the Irish/Celtic parties, and that he simply recorded the facts as he learned them from his sources. However, although Bede speaks of the issue several times, his accounts never tell us the whole truth. Why did Bede write his history of the Paschal Controversy in this way ? And did Bede really “record” historical events as they really happened ? To discuss these points, we will first examine some inconsistencies between the history and the computistical writings by Bede, and then suggest that the real history of the Paschal Controversy can be found from a study of the computistical writings and theories given by Bede himself.

  • 4 R. Ray, “Bede, the Exegete, as Historian”, in G. Bonner (ed.), Famulus Christi : Essays in Commemor (...)
  • 5 C. W. Jones, “Some Introductory Remarks on Bede’s Commentary on Genesis”, Sacris Erudiri, 19, 1969- (...)

3The use of different kinds of sources in historical study has now become accepted. The study of Bede’s exegetical writings as prerequisite to understanding his historiography has already been established4. We may expect that Bede’s understanding of theology, and his attitude towards heresies such as Arianism and Pelagianism are the same in both his exegetical and his historical writings, and that his image of the Christian Church found in the History is to be also found in his exegetical writings5. But when he himself encountered some problems in theology or related subjects, he refrained from inserting details on this in his History, even though he tried to solve the issue in the other writings. And account should also be taken of some problems in which Bede was personally involved before he published the Historia ecclesiastica.

  • 6 According to Bede, Bishop Wilfrid, who was present at the occasion, did not defend him. Bede, Epist (...)
  • 7 This work survives in the Latin translation by Jerome. Eusebius-Jerome, Chronicon, R. Helm (ed.), E (...)
  • 8 Bede, De temporibus 22 ( = DT), C. W. Jones (ed.), CCSL 123C, p. 607. Peter Hunter Blair, The World (...)
  • 9 Bede, De temporum ratione 66 ( = DTR), C. W. Jones (ed.), CCSL 123B, Turnhout, Brepols, 1977, p. 46 (...)
  • 10 H. Blair, The World of Bede, p. 268.


4For instance, his unique calculation of Anno Mundi (year from the Creation) in De temporibus (703) was attacked as a heresy by a member of the Church of Hexham, where Wilfrid (the champion of the Roman party at the Synod of Whitby) was the bishop at that time6. To calculate years from the Creation by using the Bible’s account had become traditional for Christians. This tradition developed in the East, and the standard date for the year of Jesus’s birth was sometime between 5000 and 5500 from the Creation (AM 5000 – 5500). For instance, Eusebius of Caesarea, one of the most influential historians of early Christianity, calculated it as being AM 5199 in his Chronicle7. Bede, however, concluded that it was AM 3952, and for this he was criticised8. He apologised in a letter addressed to his friend Plegwin (708). In De temporum ratione (725) he again dealt with the same issue, and reached the same conclusion9, but in the Historia ecclesiastica (731) he did not use the calculation of Anno Mundi, and instead introduced Anno Domini which he had first explained in his two books on time mentioned above. We can only suppose that Bede stopped using his own version of Anno Mundi because of its unconventionality, or that Bede introduced Anno Domini in his account of the history of Christianity in Britain because this system of calculating years came from the Dionysiac Easter table which Bede had adopted as the only correct method10. Thus Bede carefully avoids any dangers when he deals with the problem of chronology. But where the problem of the Easter reckoning is concerned, it will be shown that Bede, writing on the same issue also in the computus, changed the details of the theory deliberately in his History. But, because the manipulation is made carefully, it is difficult to trace such problems if we depend on Bede’s writings alone. To examine this point, some basic notions of the Easter reckoning will first be explained, then Bede’s attitude towards the Irish/Celtic and the Victorian Cycles will be discussed and compared to other contemporary sources.

  • 11 Bede, DTR Praefatio, CCSL 123B, p. 263 ; Wallis, Bede, p. 3.

5Bede’s first work on the Easter reckoning, De temporibus, was written in 703 as a manual for teachers in monastic schools. This short tract was very popular during the Middle Ages. But this, his first work on time, was too short to be used as a manual. Bede in the preface to his second book on time written in 725, De temporum ratione, states that his colleagues insisted that he write a more detailed textbook11. The contents of De temporum ratione are expanded, and this work, like his first book on time, became one of the most popular textbooks on Easter reckoning in the Middle Ages. Although the main purpose of the work is to instruct how to reckon the time, there are also some references to erroneous methods. And, even though the targets of Bede’s criticism are basically the same as in his History, his attitudes towards such methods are quite different between the computus and the History.

  • 12 On the method of the Irish/Celtic Easter, see D. J. O’Connell, “Easter Cycles in the Early Irish Ch (...)
  • 13 In Greek and Latin the term “Pascha” meant both Easter and Passover, and this clearly suggests that (...)
  • 14 Jones, BOT, p. 7-18.

  • 15 As the letter of Cummian De controversia Paschali (ca. 632) shows, a serious controversy took place (...)

6The modern understanding of the Paschal Controversy in early Britain (and Ireland) seems to depend mostly on Bede’s accounts in the Historia ecclesiastica : there had been controversies between the followers of the Irish/Celtic and the Roman Easter reckonings, and the problem in England was solved at the Synod of Whitby in 664. The Irish/Celtic Easter fixed the lunar limit for Easter Sunday between the fourteenth and the twentieth day of the moon, and used the 84-year cycle of the Easter table12. Nowadays Easter Sunday is fixed on the Sunday after the full moon after the vernal equinox. This is based on the Gospel account that Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples on the fourteenth day of the first month (Nisan) according to the Jewish calendar ; following that he was crucified, and then was raised on the third day, Sunday. The Jewish Passover uses the luni-solar calendar, counting days by following the age of the moon (the fourteenth day here means the full moon). The Christian Easter followed the Jewish Passover, but had to take Sunday into account, because Jesus was raised on the first day of the week ( = Sunday). But since there was no clear reference in the Gospels to the precise date of the Passion and the Resurrection, Christians in each region variously tried to fix the date of Easter. One such group, found especially in Asia Minor, followed the traditional Jewish custom which celebrated Easter on the same date as the Jewish Passover13. This group, called Quartodecimans, was regarded as heretical and was excommunicated at the Council of Nicaea in 32514. This was, according to Bede and other supporters of the “Roman” Easter reckoning, the main reason for the opposition to the supporters of the Irish/Celtic Easter - they included the fourteenth day for Easter Sunday. Some even called the Irish/Celtic traditionalists Quartodecimans15. The Irish/Celtic Easter was criticised for another reason, namely, their use of the 84-year cycle, because this cycle of the luni-solar calendar was found to be inaccurate.

7The lunar limit for Easter Sunday and the 84-year cycle are the points repeatedly referred to by Bede in the Historia ecclesiastica. This in consequence gives the stereotypical image of the Paschal Controversy in early Britain and Ireland. In his History, Bede directly refers to the Irish/Celtic Easter thirteen times, and explains that the supporters of this method gradually changed their position through the efforts of popes and Anglo-Saxon churchmen such as Wilfrid at the Synod of Whitby and Egbert in Iona. He claims that the problematic reckoning had been abandoned by the Irish and some of the Britons by the time Bede finished the Historia ecclesiastica in 731.

  • 16 Bede, DTR 59, CCSL 123B, p. 448 ; Wallis, Bede, p143.


8De temporum ratione, which had been composed a few years before the Historia ecclesiastica, also deals with the problem of the Irish/Celtic Easter reckoning. But this “problematic” reckoning, which is repeatedly dealt with in the Historia ecclesiastica, seems to be rather a minor issue for Bede in this computistical work. He refers to the lunar limit between the fourteenth and the twentieth only once16. Moreover, he never identifies those who used such a reckoning. This highlights the different attitudes towards the Irish/Celtic Easter reckoning (and the Paschal Controversy) to be found in the computistical and the historical writings. It can of course be suggested that the difference reflects the different readership intended : Computus for teachers and students at monastic schools, History for general readers. But when we turn to the problem of the “Roman” Easter reckoning, it will be seen that Bede’s attitude changed radically from De temporum ratione to the Historia ecclesiastica, and this may imply that the change in focus of the Paschal Controversy from the Victorian Cycle to the Irish/Celtic Easter was made for political reasons.

  • 17 This criterion is still in use. The 19-year cycle had already been established by the Athenian Meto (...)
  • 18 Bede, DTR 43, CCSL 123B, p. 412-18 ; Wallis, Bede, p. 115-19.

9Bede’s reference to the “Roman” Easter reckoning in Britain and Ireland in the Historia ecclesiastica is sometimes quite vague. The only reckoning which Bede accepts as being “true”, “Roman” and “catholic”, is the Alexandrian-Dionysiac Cycle. Dionysius Exiguus established his Easter table for ninety-five years (532 – 626) in 525. This table is a continuation of another table for ninety-five years (437 – 531) attributed to Bishop Cyril of Alexandria and fixes the lunar limit for Easter Sunday between the fifteenth and the twenty-first day of the moon, with the 19-year cycle of the luni-solar calendar17. Bede in his two books on time (especially in De temporum ratione) explains how to calculate Easter Sunday by following the Dionysiac Cycle. He suggests that this reckoning had already been established in early Christian times, and was adopted at the Council of Nicaea by the “318 bishops”18.

  • 19 Bede, HE III, 25, p. 304-305.

  • 20 Bede, HE V, 21, p. 544-47.
  • 21 Bede’s quotation and the explanation of the papal letter in the HE II, 19 contain many problems. On (...)
  • 22 Bede, HE II, 19, p. 200-201. Bede’s explanation here has been a focus of study. For instance, Poole (...)

10The Anglo-Saxon promoters of the “Roman” Easter reckoning in the Historia ecclesiastica also follow the same approach : Wilfrid, at the Synod of Whitby, explains the authority of the same criterion (but without referring to Dionysius) to King Oswiu (HE III, 25)19 ; Abbot Ceolfrith of Wearmouth-Jarrow, in his letter to King Nechtan of the Picts, explains the ratio of the 19-year cycle established by Dionysius (HE V, 21)20. Both use the Bible as a basis in their attempts to convince those who were following “erroneous” Easter reckoning(s). Bede also tries to show that the Alexandrian-Dionysiac Cycle had long been established and accepted in Rome. In Book II, Chapter 19, of the Historia ecclesiastica, which “quotes” from the letter of Pope-elect John IV and his colleagues addressed to the Irish ecclesiastics21, Bede explains that John clearly recommended that Easter be celebrated between the fifteenth and the twenty-first day of the moon22. But elsewhere Bede’s explanation of the Easter reckoning ‘used in the universal Church’ is quite vague. He uses the adjectives “true” (HE III, 4 ; III, 25 ; III, 29 ; V, 15), “the proper time” (HE II, 2 ; II, 4 ; III, 17), “canonical” (HE III, 3 ; III, 4 ; III, 17 ; IV, 2 ; V, 15 ; V, 22), and “catholic” (HE III, 25 ; V, 18 ; V, 19 ; V, 21 ; V, 22 ; V, 24). This vague wording in the Historia ecclesiastica results from the fact that even the “Roman” Easter reckoning lacked uniformity for a long time, but Bede never tells us this in his History, even though he was aware of it to some extent.

  • 23 Jones, BOT, p. 55-61.

  • 24 Victorius Aquitanus, Cursus Paschalis, in B. Krusch (ed.), Studien zur christlich-mittelalterlichen(...)

11At the time of the Council of Nicaea (325), the Roman Church fixed the lunar limit between the sixteenth and the twenty-second day of the moon, with the 84- year cycle23. There were some occasions when the date of Easter differed between the East and the West, something the Roman Church found unacceptable. Archdeacon Hilarus (or Hilarius), under Pope Leo I (440-461), asked Victorius of Aquitaine to make a new Easter table for the Western Church. Victorius issued his table, with an explanatory letter to Hilarus, in 45724. His table, basically following the 19-year cycle, still fixed the lunar limit between the sixteenth and the twenty-second day of the moon as the tradition of the Roman Church. Even though there were some differences between the Eastern (Alexandrian) and the Victorian cycles, the date of Easter basically coincided. Where Victorius encountered some problems in his calculation, he offered an alternative date for the same year leaving the choice to the Pope, and this caused some confusion among its users.

  • 25 Concilium Aurelianense, C. de Clercq (ed.), Concilia Galliae A.511-695, CCSL 148A, Turnhout, Brepol (...)
  • 26 Aldhelm, Epistola ad Gerontium, R. Ehwald (ed.), Aldhelmi Opera, MGH AA 15, Berlin, Weidmann, 1919, (...)
  • 27 Even though Bede does not speak of the use of the Victorian Cycle in Britain or elsewhere, he clear (...)

12Since the Victorian table contains 532 years (the great cycle which can be repeated after that number of years), the convenience of this cycle made it popular, especially in Gaul, and the Council of Orleans in 541 decided to introduce the Victorian Cycle as the only acceptable method25. We may suppose that the Roman Church used the Victorian Cycle for some time until the cycle was eventually abandoned because of its inaccuracy and confusing double dates for Easter Sunday. Although Bede never tells us about the use of the Victorian Cycle in Britain, Aldhelm’s letter seems to imply this. In his letter to King Geraint of Wales, Aldhelm, criticising the acceptance of the fourteenth day of the moon for Easter Sunday, states that neither the Victorian Cycle nor the more accurate reckoning from Rome place Easter Sunday on that date26. This can be taken as the evidence of the use of the Victorian Cycle in England. It is possible to suggest that the Synod of Whitby decided to abandon the Irish/Celtic Easter because of its heretical element and the inaccurate 84-year cycle, and to introduce the new method from Rome. After some period of transition, the Easter reckoning was changed from the Victorian to the Dionysiac Cycle, but Bede never tells us of this27. His silence causes the difficulty of interpretation of the accounts of the Paschal Controversy in the Historia ecclesiastica. But the drastic change of Bede’s attitude towards the Victorian Cycle from De temporum ratione to the Historia ecclesiastica clearly shows that this problematic method was really used in Britain and that the transition to the Dionysiac Cycle took place more slowly than Bede had expected.

  • 28 Jones identifies the work quoted in Bede’s DTR 51 with the work quoted in Bede’s letter to Wihtred (...)
  • 29 Bede, DTR 51, CCSL 123B, p. 437-441 ; Wallis, Bede, p. 132-135.
  • 30 Victorius, Cursus Paschalis, Prologus 4, In Krusch, Studien II, p. 19-20.

  • 31 For instance, Victorius, in his table for the 520th year from the Passion ( = AD 547), fixes the Ea (...)
  • 32 Bede, HE V, 21, p. 540-41.


13In De temporibus, Bede does not refer to the Victorian Cycle (nor to the Irish/ Celtic Easter). He merely explains the “true” method as established by Dionysius Exiguus. But in De temporum ratione, written more than twenty years after the first book on time, Bede sometimes attacks this cycle with verve. For instance, in Chapter 51, following the attack on the Victorian Cycle already made by Bishop Victor of Capua in 55028, Bede criticises Victorius and his table because of its error in establishing the first month in the Easter reckoning29. The Victorian Cycle theoretically allowed for the Paschal full moon (the fourteenth day of the moon of the first month) to come before the vernal equinox (21 March)30. This problem can be found in the Victorian table31. Ceolfrith, in the letter to King Nechtan (706/716), attacks the error and relates it to the Pelagian heresy, though he (in Bede’s quotation) refrains from indicating the name of who composed the cycle : he simply refers to the erroneous limit for Easter Sunday between the sixteenth and the twenty-second day of the moon as the “label” of the method32.

  • 33 Wallis, Bede, p. 26.

  • 34 Bede, HE V, 21, p. 544-45.


14Bede in De temporum ratione, Chapter 6, states : “if anyone were to argue that the full Moon can come before the equinox, he would be stating either that Holy Church existed in its perfection before the Saviour came in the flesh, or that one of the faithful, before the bestowing of His grace, can have something of the supernal light”33. This is the same criticism that is found in the letter of Ceolfrith34, and since the attack on the paschal full moon before the vernal equinox is clearly given in the same book, Chapter 51, it is apparent that Bede implies the Victorian Cycle in this sentence of Chapter 6. But except for the quotation of Ceolfrith’s letter, there is no reference to the Victorian Cycle in the Historia ecclesiastica.

  • 35 Bede’s letter to Wihtred deals with the problem of the different date for the vernal equinox, and t (...)
  • 36 For instance, the Frankish Church was following the Victorian Cycle for some time, and a Merovingia (...)

15Why did this strong opposition to the Victorian Cycle made in Ceolfrith’s letter and in Bede’s De temporum ratione almost vanish from the main text of the Historia ecclesiastica ? The accounts of the Paschal Controversy in the Historia ecclesiastica basically focus on the problem of the Irish/Celtic Easter reckoning, and this had been in fact a problem for Christians in Britain and Ireland. Earlier, when Bede was writing the two books on the computus, the Irish/Celtic Easter was already thought to be a problem in the past, except for some people who persisted in their traditional ways in some parts of Britain35. But the Victorian Cycle, which Bede harshly attacks in De temporum ratione by following Victor of Capua and Ceolfrith, was still in use elsewhere as an authority36, and this caused Bede to change his attitude towards it in his History.

16For Bede, the Paschal Controversy should have already ended, since the explanation given by Ceolfrith offered the correct understanding of the Easter reckoning. Even though some Britons were still following the traditional way, they would soon accept the Roman method, since the Irish/Celtic Easter included the problematic element clearly condemned by the universal Church (the whole Church of Wales adopted the Roman custom in 768). The Victorian Cycle, however, included further problems : it was used by many people because of its “papal” authority, even though it had some theoretical errors. The attack on the Victorian Cycle in De temporum ratione would derive from an impatience towards those who were still following the Victorian Cycle as their authority. But Bede’s criticism of the Victorian Cycle then was too early to be accepted as a standard in the West. He may have been advised to be moderate in his History ; or, he himself may have recognised that it would be adequate to deal with two “Roman” Easter reckonings as if they were one, so that the problem and the solution of the Irish/Celtic Easter could be highlighted in the course of his History. Or, again, by simply quoting Coelfrith’s letter, with its open attack on the Victorian Cycle, Bede was recommending the abandonment of the Victorian Cycle. Although Bede was the author of the major textbook on the time reckoning, he was not yet an authority of the “Roman” Easter reckoning at that time. Ceolfrith, however, could claim such authority. Whatever his motives, the real target for Bede’s criticism regarding the Easter problem in his Historia ecclesiastica was not the Irish/Celtic method, but rather, the Victorian Cycle.

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Notes

1 Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum ( = HE), Ch. Plummer (ed.), Baedae Opera Historica, 2 vol. , Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1896 ; B. Colgrave & R.A.B. Mynors (ed. & trans.), Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1969. I basically use the edition by Colgrave and Mynors.

2 On the notion of the term “computus” or “computation”, see Ch. W. Jones, Bedae Opera de Temporibus (hereafter BOT), Cambridge (MA), Medieval Academy of America, 1943, p. 6-113 ; F. Wallis, Bede : The Reckoning of Time (hereafter Bede), Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 1999, p. xviii-ci, p. 425-29.

3 Concerning the reckoning of time and relevant subjects in Bede’s period, Jones’s study mentioned above (note 2) is no doubt the starting point. Jones concentrates on the study of the computus, and this tradition is followed by other scholars. The studies of Bede’s accounts in the Historia ecclesiastica are found also in P. Grosjean, “Recherches sur les débuts de la controverse pascale chez les Celtes”, Analecta Bollandiana, 64, 1946, p. 200-244 ; K. Harrison, The Framework of Anglo-Saxon History to A.D. 900, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1976 ; Id., “A Letter from Rome to the Irish Clergy, AD 640”, Peritia, 3, 1984, p. 222-29 ; D. Ó Cróinín, ““New Heresy for Old” : Pelagianism in Ireland and the Papal Letter of 640”, Speculum, 60, 1985, p. 505-16. This study by Ó Cróinín shows a new aspect of the relationship between the computus and Bede’s History.

4 R. Ray, “Bede, the Exegete, as Historian”, in G. Bonner (ed.), Famulus Christi : Essays in Commemoration of the thirteenth Centenary of the Birth of the Venerable Bede, London, SPCK, 1976, p. 125-40 ; Id., “Bede’s Vera Lex Historiae”, Speculum, 55, 1980, p. 1-21.

5 C. W. Jones, “Some Introductory Remarks on Bede’s Commentary on Genesis”, Sacris Erudiri, 19, 1969-1970, p. 115-98.

6 According to Bede, Bishop Wilfrid, who was present at the occasion, did not defend him. Bede, Epistola ad Pleguinam, C. W. Jones (ed.), CCSL 123C, Turnhout, Brepols, 1980, p. 617- 26 ; Wallis, Bede, p. 405-15.

7 This work survives in the Latin translation by Jerome. Eusebius-Jerome, Chronicon, R. Helm (ed.), Eusebius Werke, 7, Die Chronik des Hieronymus, GCS 47, Berlin, Akademie-Verlag, 1956, p. 174 ; cf. G. Declercq, Anno Domini. The Origins of the Christian Era, Turnhout, Brepols, 2000, p. 25-44.

8 Bede, De temporibus 22 ( = DT), C. W. Jones (ed.), CCSL 123C, p. 607. Peter Hunter Blair, The World of Bede, 2nd ed., Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 265-68.

9 Bede, De temporum ratione 66 ( = DTR), C. W. Jones (ed.), CCSL 123B, Turnhout, Brepols, 1977, p. 463-64 ; Wallis, Bede, p. 157-58.

10 H. Blair, The World of Bede, p. 268.


11 Bede, DTR Praefatio, CCSL 123B, p. 263 ; Wallis, Bede, p. 3.

12 On the method of the Irish/Celtic Easter, see D. J. O’Connell, “Easter Cycles in the Early Irish Church”, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 66, 1936, p. 67-106 ; Jones, BOT, p. 78-113 ; Daniel McCarthy & D. Ó Cróinín, “The “Lost” Irish 84-Year Easter Table Rediscovered”, Peritia, 6-7, 1987-88, p. 227-42.

13 In Greek and Latin the term “Pascha” meant both Easter and Passover, and this clearly suggests that early Christians did not distinguish these festivals.

14 Jones, BOT, p. 7-18.


15 As the letter of Cummian De controversia Paschali (ca. 632) shows, a serious controversy took place even among the Irish ecclesiastics. Cummian (abbot of a monastery in southern Ireland) and his party decided to adopt the Victorian Cycle, and he attacked Abbot Ségéne of Iona and Béccán the hermit for their use of the Irish/Celtic Easter Cycle. In this letter he refered to the “Teserescedecadite” (Greek term for Quartodecimans) by following De haeresibus by Augustine of Hippo : cf. M. Walsh & D. Ó Cróinín (ed.), Cummian’s Letter De controversia Paschali and the De ratione conputandi, Toronto, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1988, p. 80. In England, Stephen of Ripon who wrote the Life of Bishop Wilfrid before 720, dares to call the supporters of the Irish/Celtic church custom “Quartodecimans” (ch. 12, 14, 15) : cf. B. Colgrave (ed. & trans.), The Life of Bishop Wilfrid by Eddius Stephanus, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1927, p. 24-25, 30-31, 32-33. Bede, on the other hand, carefully avoids such an erroneous charge : cf. HE III, 4 (p. 224-25) ; III, 17 (p. 266-67).

16 Bede, DTR 59, CCSL 123B, p. 448 ; Wallis, Bede, p143.


17 This criterion is still in use. The 19-year cycle had already been established by the Athenian Meton in the fifth century BC, and was introduced for the Easter reckoning by Bishop Anatolius of Laodicea in the mid-third century.

18 Bede, DTR 43, CCSL 123B, p. 412-18 ; Wallis, Bede, p. 115-19.

19 Bede, HE III, 25, p. 304-305.


20 Bede, HE V, 21, p. 544-47.

21 Bede’s quotation and the explanation of the papal letter in the HE II, 19 contain many problems. On this subject, Ó Cróinín, in the article mentioned above (note 3), suggests that the papal letter referred not to the Irish/Celtic Easter, but to the Victorian Cycle, and that the Roman Curia connected Quartodecimanism and Pelagianism. Pace Prof. Ó Cróinín, it seems that Bede “composed” this letter in order to suggest the close relationship between the Irish/ Celtic Easter and Pelagianism. Cf. M. Ohashi, “Bede and the Paschal Controversy : the Problem of Interpolation and Manipulation of Information in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History”, Nanzan Journal of Theological Studies, Supplement, 13, 1996, p. 127-254 (in Japanese) ; Ead., The Impact of the Paschal Controversy – Computus, Exegesis and Church History in Early Britain and Ireland, (PhD dissertation submitted to Nanzan University, 1999), p. 114-46.

22 Bede, HE II, 19, p. 200-201. Bede’s explanation here has been a focus of study. For instance, Poole suggests that the lunar limit is a deliberate explanation by Bede, and that the actual limit was not between the fifteenth and the twenty-first, but between the sixteenth and the twenty- second : cf. R. L. Poole, Studies in Chronology and History, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1934, p. 28-37.

23 Jones, BOT, p. 55-61.


24 Victorius Aquitanus, Cursus Paschalis, in B. Krusch (ed.), Studien zur christlich-mittelalterlichen Chronologie II : Die Entstehung unserer heutigen Zeitrechnung, Berlin, Akademie der Wissenschaften, p. 16-52 ( = Studien II).

25 Concilium Aurelianense, C. de Clercq (ed.), Concilia Galliae A.511-695, CCSL 148A, Turnhout, Brepols, 1963, p. 132.

26 Aldhelm, Epistola ad Gerontium, R. Ehwald (ed.), Aldhelmi Opera, MGH AA 15, Berlin, Weidmann, 1919, p. 480-86.

27 Even though Bede does not speak of the use of the Victorian Cycle in Britain or elsewhere, he clearly knew the fact that Victorius made his table at the request of the authority of the Roman Church (“Pope Hilarius” here) in order to solve the Paschal Controversy between the East and the West : cf. Bede, DTR 43, CCSL 123B, p. 417 ; Wallis, Bede, p. 119, and also Bede’s Chronica maiora, DTR 66, CCSL 123B, p. 519 ; Wallis, Bede, p. 222. Bede tells us of the Victorian Cycle but without identifying the users of this cycle.

28 Jones identifies the work quoted in Bede’s DTR 51 with the work quoted in Bede’s letter to Wihtred (or Wichted) : see Jones, BOT, p. 74, and also in his edition in CCSL 123B (DTR) and 123C (Ep. ad Wicthedum). Wallis, the translator of Bede’s major work on time, follows Jones on this point. But it seems that Bede quoted a different work by Victor of Capua in the letter to Wihtred : cf. M. Ohashi, “Victor of Capua, De aequinoctio - Criticism of the Identification of the work quoted in Bede’s Letter to Wicthed by C.W. Jones”, Journal of History of Christianity, 53, 1999, p. 123-136 (in Japanese, with an English summary, p. [8]-[9]).

29 Bede, DTR 51, CCSL 123B, p. 437-441 ; Wallis, Bede, p. 132-135.

30 Victorius, Cursus Paschalis, Prologus 4, In Krusch, Studien II, p. 19-20.


31 For instance, Victorius, in his table for the 520th year from the Passion ( = AD 547), fixes the Easter day on 24 March (the same as the Alexandrian-Dionysiac table), but the day of the moon is 18. This means that the fourteenth day of the moon comes on 20 March, a day before the vernal equinox. On the other hand, the day of the moon for the Easter day in the Alexandrian-Dionysiac table is 17, then the fourteenth day of the moon comes on 21 March, the earliest limit for the Paschal full moon. Moreover, Victorius adds another date for Easter (21 April) in the margin as a supposed date which he calls “Greek”. This would confuse the users : cf. Victorius, Cursus Paschalis, in Krusch, Studien II, p. 51.


32 Bede, HE V, 21, p. 540-41.


33 Wallis, Bede, p. 26.


34 Bede, HE V, 21, p. 544-45.


35 Bede’s letter to Wihtred deals with the problem of the different date for the vernal equinox, and this suggests that there were some people who were using the Irish/Celtic Easter reckoning. The traditional Irish/Celtic Easter fixed the vernal equinox on 25 March. In his letter, Ceolfrith criticises the “both parties” (i.e., the Irish/Celtic and the Victorian) for the Paschal full moon before the vernal equinox. This criticism could be appropriate to the error in the Victorian Cycle, but not to the Irish/Celtic Easter. Bede’s letter to Wihtred (725/31) seems to have been written to cover the theoretical error in Ceolfrith’s letter. On this subject, see Ohashi, “Bede and the Paschal Controversy”, p. 162-93 ; Ead., The Impact of the Paschal Controversy, p. 79-96. The problem of Ceolfrith’s letter seems to have greatly influenced Bede’s accounts of the Paschal Controversy, a subject that would require fuller discussion.

36 For instance, the Frankish Church was following the Victorian Cycle for some time, and a Merovingian computus was composed in 727 : cf. Computus Paschalis (AD 727), in Krusch, Studien II, p. 53-57.

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Masako Ohashi, « Theory and History :
an interpretation of
the Paschal Controversy in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica », in Stéphane Lebecq, Michel Perrin et Olivier Szerwiniak (dir.), Bède le Vénérable, Villeneuve d'Ascq, IRHiS-Institut de Recherches Historiques du Septentrion (« Histoire et littérature de l'Europe du Nord-Ouest », no 34), 2005, p. 177-185.

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Masako Ohashi, « Theory and History :
an interpretation of
the Paschal Controversy in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica », in Stéphane Lebecq, Michel Perrin et Olivier Szerwiniak (dir.), Bède le Vénérable, Villeneuve d'Ascq, IRHiS-Institut de Recherches Historiques du Septentrion (« Histoire et littérature de l'Europe du Nord-Ouest », no 34), 2005 [En ligne], mis en ligne le 13 octobre 2012, consulté le 30 avril 2017. URL : http://hleno.revues.org/336

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Masako Ohashi

Nanzan University, Japan

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