Christian History Project. This site contains the text of 12 volumes on the history of mankind over the last 2,000 years written from a 'collectively-denominational' Christian perspective.

Victor I |
East vs West: the first big test

Victor I is drawn from Chapter Ten, beginning on page 280, of Volume Two, A Pinch of Incense of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

The issue: Could the bishop of Rome excommunicate the whole eastern Church?

Victor I - East vs West: the first big test

Victor I - East vs West: the first big test

The first major controversy to divide Christian communities concerned neither doctrine nor ritual, but the most significant date on the Christian calendar, Easter.1 The date became a major issue by the middle of the second century.

The churches of the East celebrated Easter on the same day as the Jewish Passover, which began at sunset of the fourteenth day after the first full moon after the spring Equinox, known to the Jews as the “Fourteenth Nisan.” The churches of Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor followed the Jewish precedent they had learned from the apostles.

However, this meant that Easter might fall on any day of the week, and the Western churches had long ago concluded it should always fall on a Sunday, the day of Jesus’ Resurrection. The Eastern group came to be called “Quartodecimans” after quartodecimus, the Latin word for fourteen.

In a.d. 155, Polycarp, the much respected bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor, who would face martyrdom at the hands of the imperial government the following year, met with Bishop Anicetus in Rome to try to resolve the controversy. They failed and both sides continued as they had before, though both agreed it was not a sufficiently important issue to cause an open rupture between East and West.

Some forty years later, however, Bishop Victor of Rome took a much tougher line and ordered the Eastern churches to conform and adopt the Sunday celebration, or he would excommunicate the whole Eastern church. Writing on behalf of the Eastern bishops, Polycrates of Ephesus replied that the East would continue as it had. “I am not afraid of threats,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons took Bishop Victor to task for high-handedness. While he agreed with the Sunday observance, he said, excommunicating every Christian in the East was something of an overreaction. Victor should simply have continued the gentlemen’s agreement reached by Polycarp and Anicetus, said Irenaeus. In the end, the issue was simply shelved until the Council of Nicaea in 325, when the Sunday observance became universal.

This is the end of the Victor I category article drawn from Chapter Ten, beginning on page 280, of Volume Two, A Pinch of Incense. To continue reading more about Victor I from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at