Easter’s origin

Christ in glory Every now and they you’ll come across the claim that the date of Easter was fixed in order to wrest ill-converted pagans away from their druidic habits. The evidence for this claim lies first in the name: Easter is a corruption of Eöster, the name of an Anglo-Saxon deity, regarding whom a feast may or may not have been celebrated in England at around the same time that we now celebrate Easter. There is also the testimony of the Venerable Bede, a historian of Christianity in England, that this is the origin of the name.

The main difficulty with this claim is that it’s wrong. There’s really no way to sugarcoat it, minimize it, or euphemize it: the claim is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wronger than saying 1+1=0, because that actually is true sometimes.Namely, in a field of characteristic 2. If you don’t understand what that means, think of a clock that with only two “hours”: 0 and 1. What would be the time one hour after one o’clock? 1 + 1 = 0, of course.

First piece of evidence

One piece of evidence for this fact predates the second arrival of Christianity in England, when St. Augustine evangelized the Anglo-Saxons. (No, not that St. Augustine, not the theologian of Hippo; the other one, the missionary of Canterbury.) It predates the first arrival of Christianity in England, when unknown missionaries evangelized the Britons. It even predates the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire.

The evidence dates back to the second century. There was the first of many not-so-polite disagreements between Western and Eastern Christians on what the date of Easter should be. (As usual, the Westerners were right. (Just kidding.))

History remembers the disagreement as the Quartodeciman Controversy, inasmuch as one group (the “Quartodecimans”, imagine thatYes, fellow language nerds, that’s right: “Quartodeciman” is from the Latin word for “Fourteenth”. And in a more cultured, educated age, someone besides us might care!) insisted that Christians should celebrate Easter on the 14th day of a month, according to a simple calendar, much as Christmas is always celebrated on the 25th day of a month. The other group felt that Easter, which celebrates Christ’s resurrection, should be celebrated on the Sunday after Passover, the day that Christ resurrectedFor instance: “On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.” — John 20⋅1.

As anyone who’s tried to figure out when Easter is will notice, the Quartodecimans eventually lost the argument, which is why Easter isn’t the same day every year. This disagreement took place in the second century, long before the Anglo-Saxons noticed Britannia and decided to set up shop there.

Second piece of evidence

The second piece of evidence is even easier. Only someone ignorant of most foreign languages would think that the Christian feast of “Easter” came from the name of an Anglo-Saxon, Norse, or Germanic god(dess). The name of Easter in languages where Christianity is at least as old as any English tongue, and usually older, makes this plain: As a smart, cultured reader, you’ve noticed the pattern: pretty much everywhere in the Mediterranean world — one might say, everywhere in the civilized Western and Mideastern worlds — “Easter” is called by a slight variant of “Pascha”, the word that Jesus Himself would have used for “Passover”. There was no god(dess) Eöster in the Mediterranean world, but there were an awful lot of people who decided to follow a first-century Jew whose first followers claimed he resurrected shortly after the Passover.

That’s why Easter continues to be celebrated at roughly the same time as the Jewish Passover.