St. Anicetus - The Easter Controversy

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 St. Anicetus was a Syrian from Emesa. His father's name was John. His pontificate is interesting because during it the controversy over the date for celebrating Easter appears for the first (but by no means the last) time. At this period the Eastern Christians, following the tradition of St. John and St. Philip, celebrated the feast of the Lord's resurrection on the fourteenth day of the Jewish month Nisan, the day on which Jesus ate the Paschal Supper. The Western Christians, on the other hand, celebrated the feast of the resurrection on the Sunday following the fourteenth Nisan. This seemed proper because although it would not always be the actual date of the Lord's resurrection, it would be the day. And this is the reason that Sunday was already holy in Christian tradition. Against the authority of St. John and St. Philip, the West urged the tradition of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Now one of the most venerated figures in the mid-second century church was St. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. This old man, at the time in his eighties, was a disciple of the apostle St. John. (By the fifties of the second century he must have been one of the last.) St. Polycarp, naturally devoted to the practices he had learned from the apostle, wished to have the whole church celebrate Easter on the fourteenth Nisan. Accordingly, he came to Rome to confer with the Pope. Pope Anicetus was not convinced, but in turn he failed to convince Polycarp of the value of the Western date. Since this was not a question of doctrine but only of discipline, the Pope graciously allowed the venerable old saint to return to Smyrna and go on celebrating Easter on the date he had learned from St. John.

Another distinguished visitor to Rome in the time of St. Anicetus was Hegesippus, perhaps the earliest Church historian outside the sacred authors.

An interesting disciplinary decree is attributed to St. Anicetus by the Liber Pontificalis. He forbade the clergy to grow long hair after the precept of St. Paul (I Cor. 11:14).

St. Anicetus died a martyr and was buried on the Vatican. His feast is kept April 17.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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