Something of the sort does need to be done, though what calendar Moses
used is unknown. Philo is talking about the Passover, which is celebrated in the first month of the year: "Accordingly, in this month, about the fourteenth day of the month, when the orb of the moon is usually about to become full, the public universal feast of the passover is celebrated, which in the Chaldaic language is called pascha..." (Philo Judaeus, On the Life of Moses, Book III, XXIX). The solar year is not evenly divisible by months or weeks or even days. The Council of Nicaea used the same astronomical benchmark: the vernal equinox,-- as the Jews were already sometimes using for the same purpose, though their method of computation differed. All usable astronomical benchmarks are precious to the pagans, who populate the skies with gods. What are we therefore to do: allow the holidays to slip and slide through the year with no check?
Philo Judaeus thought that Passover was a universal feast which did not
require proximity to the temple, though the Rabbis did not concur:
"Accordingly, in this month, about the fourteenth day of the month, when the orb of the moon
is usually about to become full, the public universal feast of the passover is celebrated, which in the Chaldaic
language is called pascha; at which festival not only do private individuals bring victims to the altar and the
priests sacrifice them, but also, by a particular ordinance of this law, the whole nation is consecrated and
officiates in offering sacrifice; every separate individual on this occasion bringing forward and offering up
with his own hands the sacrifice due on his own behalf. Therefore all the rest of the people rejoiced and was
of joyful countenance, every one thinking that he himself was honored by this participation in the priesthood." (Philo Judaeus, On The Life of Moses, Book III, XXIX.
There was a dispute about the date of Easter in the early church. Some
Christians wanted Easter to be synchronized with Passover. These 'quartodecimians'
claimed John's observance as their precedent:
"For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance
[in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always [so] observed
by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had
been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading
Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he
was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him."
(Fragments of Irenaeus).
The Jewish Christians were naturally aware of the date of Passover, and
expected Easter to maintain some link thereto. But 14 Nisan can occur any
day of the week. According to the gospels, the Lord was crucified on Friday
and rose early in the morning on Sunday. Coordinating Easter with Passover
only will leave believers celebrating Easter, not always on Sunday, but on any
day of the week. This is a partial commemoration, not a full.
So the Nicene Council's endeavor to fix the date of Easter
is not so much a wicked introduction of pagan observance into the church,
as a practical solution to a practical problem. Do the detractors have
a better solution, or are they willing to see this holiday cycle through
the solar year, occurring sometimes in the dead of winter, sometimes in
the dog-days of summer? Or do they prefer the Babylonian luni-solar calendar
adopted by the rabbis? What is sacrosanct about this calendar, which is
nowhere ordained or described in scripture?
Julius Caesar's calendar with its artificial months has triumphed
so resoundingly that some people seem to think paying attention to
the phases of the moon is diagnostic of paganism. Recall Pastor
David Meyer, quoted above, complaining "the pagan holiday is always
set as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring
equinox." On a calendar which counts lunar months, as is done by the
Muslims and the Jews, the month always begins with new moon,
proceeds to the full moon at the middle of the month, and ends with
the waning of the moon. The Nicene bishops were not displaying
paganism by attending to the phases of the moon; rather, that is
what a month is. If you want to set a holiday in the "first month,"
you cannot avoid making note of the phases of the moon. If that
month must occur in the "spring," you cannot forever avert your eyes
from the vernal equinox, which tells us when it is "spring." The
accusation of 'paganism' flies right past the church, at whom it is
levelled, zooming instead at the very luminaries God ordained as