« Calendar Brethren (Fratres Calendarii) Calendar, The Christian Calendar, Hebrew and Jewish »

Calendar, The Christian


The Origin of the Christian Calendar (§ 1)

The Calendar in the Early Church (§ 2).

Complications in Dating (§ 3).

Early Medieval Calendars (§ 4).

Greek and Slavic Calendars (§ 5).

Later medieval calendars (§ 6).

Errors in Calculating Easter (§ 7).

The Gregorian Reform (§ 8).

Opposition to the Gregorian Calendar (§ 9).

Attempts to Reform the Calendar (§ 10).

1. The Origin of the Christian Calendar.

The Christian calendar is an index of the year arranged according to months and weeks, and giving a list of feasts, fasts, and saints' days, to which data of a more miscellaneous character may be added. The dependence of the feasts on chronology renders it necessary to consider the systems of reckoning time, especially as both the chronological and liturgical portions of the calendar were established by the Church, and remained in the hands of the clergy throughout the Middle Ages. In its most general aspect of an annual list of days and feasts, the Christian calendar dates from the primitive Church, which found its model in classical antiquity, particularly among the Romans. Numerous Roman calendars of the imperial period have been preserved either in whole or in part, designed for public use within areas ranging from a town to an entire country. These calendars contain astronomical information as well as lists of religious feasts and civic celebrations, some of which were connected with the cult, such as many of the public games, while others commemorated historic events. The transition from pagan to Christian usage may be seen in two calendars from the middle of the fourth and fifth centuries (ed. T. Mommsen, CIL, i. 332 sqq.). One of these was drawn up at Rome in the reign of Constantine II. and is evidently a revision of a pagan calendar, omitting all feasts of a distinctively religious character, both heathen and Christian, but retaining the purely civic feasts. Christian influence is visible, however, in the recognition of the Christian weeks beside the Roman system, since the year, which here begins with Jan. 1, falls in two regular divisions, one of eight days each (the nundinæ) represented by the letters A-H, and the other of seven days, indicated by A-G. The second calendar was prepared in 448 during the reign of Valentinian III., and, though pagan in basis, contains for the first time a small number of Christian feasts, having five festivals of Christ and six saints' days. The oldest exclusively Christian calendar is a Gothic fragment, apparently prepared in Thrace in the fourth century, containing the last eight days of October and the entire month of November. Seven days have the names of saints attached to them, two from the New Testament, three from the general Church, and two from the Goths.

2. The Calendar in the Early Church.

Even before the inclusion of Christian feasts in the Roman calendar, however, the Church had lists of saints' days arranged according to the date of their celebration, although not yet incorporated in a formal calendar. Allusions to such lists of memorial days are found in Tertullian and Cyprian, but the earliest one extant was prepared at Rome in the middle of the fourth century. It consists of an enumeration of twelve Roman bishops and a list of martyrs for twenty-four days, including feasts in 343commemoration of the birth of Christ and of St. Peter (Feb. 22), all the remainder being festivals of martyrs, generally of local origin. The next oldest calendar is a list of the festivals of the Church of Carthage, which apparently dates from the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth century, and contains the names of bishops and martyrs, the most of whom were natives of Carthage. From such beginnings a wealth of calendars soon developed throughout the Latin world, and the lists of the days of the month received an increasing proportion of martyrological, hagiological, and heortological material. The active intercourse of the churches, especially of Rome with Africa, Gaul, Spain, and England, resulted in the addition of such numbers of foreign saints that those who received honor throughout the Church exceeded the saints of local fame, and finally there was no day of the year which did not have one or more saints. Since martyrs were commemorated in the early Church especially in the place where they had suffered, each community originally had its own list of feasts and its own calendar. This usage was of long duration, despite the frequent interchange of names and despite the increasing prestige of the Roman calendar and list of feasts. The diversity of calendars was augmented, moreover, by the reverence paid to the local saints of individual countries and dioceses, while a still more important factor was the discrepancy in the dating of the beginning of the year.

3. Complications in Dating.

The first of the year was reckoned from no less than six days: (1) the Feast of the Circumcision (Jan. 1; used in conformity to the Julian calendar); (2) Mar. 1 (Merovingian France, the Lombards, Venice, and, for a time, Russia); (3) the Feast of the Annunciation (Mar. 25; first in Florence and Pisa, whence it extended to France, Germany, England, and Ireland, being retained in the latter two countries until the eighteenth century); (4) Easter (especially in France); (5) Sept. 1 (Byzantine Empire, and, until modern times, Russia); (6) Christmas (Carolingian France, the Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavia, Prussia, Hungary, and portions of Holland, Switzerland, etc.). The problem was further complicated by the various methods of indicating the day of the month, of which at least five systems were used contemporaneously: (1) the ancient Roman method of calends, ides, and nones; (2) the Greco-Christian consecutive numbering of the days of the month, now generally used; (3) the consuetudo Bononiensis, which divided the month into two halves, in one of which (mensis intrans) the days were numbered forward from I, while in the other (mensis exiens) they were reckoned backward from 30 or 31; (4) the method of Cisiojanus or Cisianus, which designated the days of the month by the syllables of arbitrary mnemonic verses (long popular in Poland and North Germany); (5) the designation of the day by the feast celebrated on it. This confusion was worse confounded by the various reckonings of Easter, while movable feasts based upon it and running side by side with the fixed festivals, or even crossing them, added their quota of perplexity.

4. Early Medieval Calendars.

In the Middle Ages calendars were multiplied, partly in consequence of the chronological intricacies already noted and partly because of the universal need for ecclesiastical data of this character. It is true that there are few calendars still extant which were prepared previous to the eighth century, but this deficiency is made good in various ways, especially by the sacramentaries which give the list of feasts, while liturgical books, particularly manuscripts of the Psalter, frequently have a calendar prefixed to them. Such calendars are usually perpetual, that is, available for any year, but are usually provided with methods for the determination of the movable feasts of any particular year. Not only are the letters A-G repeated in them from Jan. 1 to designate the days of the week, but they also contain the numbers I.-XIX. to denote all new moons which fall, in the course of a cycle of nineteen years, on the day of the month designated by one of these numbers. By means of such a calendar, when the Dominical Letter and the Golden Number of the cycle are known, may be obtained the day of the week of any date and all new moons throughout the year. From the latter is derived the date of the spring new moon, which gives, when the day of the week on which it falls is determined by the Dominical Letter, the date of Easter. An Easter table for a series of years is also frequently added to the calendars.

5. Greek and Slavic Calendars.

All calendars of the Greek and Slavic churches begin their ecclesiastical year, as already noted, with Sept. 1. The great majority of their immovable feasts are consecrated to the saints and the Virgin, while a number of the movable feasts are consecrated to Christ. The latter, like the Sundays of the year, are divided into three periods: Trioidion (beginning with the tenth Sunday before Easter), Pentekostarion (from Easter to the close of the second week after Whitsuntide), and Oktoechos (extending from the second Sunday after Whitsuntide into the Western Epiphany). The calendar of the Greek Church is characterized by numerous fasts, partly of single days and partly of several weeks. To the latter belong the four "great fasts." Two of these are movable, the Easter fast of seven weeks, and the Fast of the Apostles, the latter lasting from the Feast of All Martyrs on the Sunday after Whitsuntide to the day of SS. Peter and Paul (June 29). The other two, the Fast of the Virgin (August 1–15) and the Fast of Advent (Nov. 24-Dec. 24), are immovable. In a number of the more important feasts the Greek calendar harmonizes with the Western, but it deviates in numerous instances from the latter in its dating of the feasts of saints and martyrs.

6. Later Medieval Calendars.

In the Western Church the majority of calendars were written in Latin until the end of the Crusades. Among them special mention may be made of the ancient list of feasts prepared at Rome during the reign of Gregory II. or Gregory III., and noteworthy as giving the Roman stations in which the feasts were celebrated and the lessons from the Gospels. Other noteworthy calendars include one prepared 344in 781 by Godesscalc at the command of Charlemagne, a calendar from Luxeuil of the latter part of the seventh century, a marble calendar drawn up at Naples by Bishop John IV. between 840 and 850, and a calendar of Bishop Gundekar II. of Eichstätt (1057–79). Among other German calendars mention may be made of one from Freising of the latter part of the tenth century, from Salzburg in the eleventh century, from Regensburg in the twelfth, and from Passau and Augsburg in the thirteenth. Toward the end of the Middle Ages the Latin calendars began to be translated into the vernacular, although a metrical calendar had been written in Anglo-Saxon before the close of the tenth century. A French calendar of the thirteenth century is still extant in manuscript, but German calendars, which are tolerably numerous, are not found until a hundred years later. The invention of printing in the fifteenth century wrought important changes in the calendar, although the first printed specimens resemble those in manuscript and, like them, are perpetual. The first calendar for a definite year was printed at Nuremberg in 1475 in German and Latin. It was designed for the years 1475, 1494, and 1513 as the first of a triple cycle of nineteen years each, and was so constructed that the dates for other years might be derived from these three, so that it really extended from 1475 to 1531. The ecclesiastical portions, however, were in perpetual form, since the calendar contained, in addition to the letters A-G for the days of the week, only the names of the saints for a limited number of days without a division into weeks and without the movable feasts. It was not until the middle of the sixteenth century that calendars arranged according to the weeks and feasts of a definite year came into general use.

7. Errors in Calculating Easter.

The reckoning of Easter hitherto employed had long been recognized as inadequate, and the elimination of the errors which this system had caused was one of the most urgent tasks which awaited solution after the close of the Middle Ages. Since the second half of the third century the rule had been adopted by the Alexandrian Church, and confirmed by the Council of Nicæa, that Easter should fall on the Sunday after the spring full moon, that is, on the first Sunday after the full moon on or next after the vernal equinox. The date of this equinox was to be Mar. 21, while the full moon was to be reckoned according to a cycle of nineteen years. This system of reckoning was introduced into the Roman Church in 525 by Dionysius Exiguus, and spread thence throughout Italy, Gaul, and Spain, and was given to the Anglo-Saxon churches by Bede in 729. This method, however, was vitiated by two faults which could not fail to become evident in the course of time. In the first place, by its assumption that the vernal equinox falls on Mar. 21 it adopted the entire Julian system which makes the year 365¼ days in length and intercalates a day every four years. In reality this year is eleven minutes too long, so that an extra day is intercalated every 128 years. In the send place, by its reckoning of the spring full moon according to a nineteen-year cycle of 235 months or 6,939¾ days, it made the cycle an hour too long, thus making a discrepancy of the day between the real and the theoretical new moon every 210 years. It was not until the thirteenth century that this error attracted attention, the first works to note it being the Computus of Master Conrad in 1200 (extant only in a revision of 1396 in a Vienna manuscript) and the similar work of an anonymous author of 1223 (preserved in great part by Vincent of Beauvais). The problem was likewise taken up by Johannes de Sacro-Busto about 1250 in his De anni ratione and by Roger Bacon in a treatise addressed to Clement IV., De reformatione calendarii, while among the Greeks the monk Isaac Argyros wrote on the problem in 1272. In the fifteenth century the reformation of the calendar was discussed in the great councils of the Roman Catholic Church, especially by Pierre d’Ailly at Kostnitz in 1414 and by Nicholas of Cusa at Basel in 1436, the latter proposing to begin the correction of the calendar in 1439.

8. The Gregorian Reform.

The actual reform of the calendar was first carried out by Gregory XIII. (1572–85) in conformity with a resolution of the Council of Trent. In 1577 the pope appointed a committee which held its sessions at Rome to carry out the plan proposed by the Calabrian astronomer Aloigi Ligli, and confirmed this reformed calendar, which was called the Gregorian in his honor, by a bull of Feb. 24, 1582. The reform was designed, on the one hand, to regulate Easter with reference to the solar and lunar revolutions, thus restoring the year of the lunar cycle according to the date and intention of the Nicene Council, and, on the other, to avoid any future shifting of the vernal equinox and the spring full moon. To restore the vernal equinox to Mar. 21, the ten days between Oct. 4 and 15 were dropped, while for the correction of the spring full moon the new moons were set back three days from Jan. 3 to Dec. 31. These corrections were assured by retaining the Julian system of intercalation and the nineteen-year lunar cycle for a century. The intercalary day was to be omitted thrice in four centuries, and the new moon was to be retarded one day eight times in twenty-five centuries (seven times after each three hundred years and the eighth time after four hundred). For the correction of the lunar cycle the reckoning of epacts, or the age of the moon on Jan. 1, was introduced according to the cycle proposed by Ligli.

9. Opposition to the Gregorian Calendar.

The Gregorian calendar was adopted in Roman Catholic countries either immediately or in the course of a few years. The Protestant districts, on the other hand, opposed it, partly on account of their hostility to Rome and partly on account of its chronological discrepancies. Its inaccuracies were recognized by the landgrave William IV. of Hesse-Cassel, and the Calvinistic Joseph Justus Scaliger issued repeated warnings against it. After the end of the sixteenth century the Julian calendar existed in Germany side by side with the Gregorian, the two being designated as old and new style, respectively. The 345movable feasts of the two faiths accordingly differed, and the advocates of the new style dated the days of the month ten days in advance of the old until the end of the seventeenth century. In view of the discrepancies between the two systems the German Protestants devised a third calendar, which was to agree neither with the Gregorian nor the Julian and was to take effect in 1700. In its reckoning of time it agreed with the Gregorian, but its feasts were calculated astronomically according to the meridian of Uraniborg and the Rudolphinian Tables of Kepler. The result was increased confusion and embitterment between Roman Catholics and Protestants, particularly in 1724, 1744, and 1783, when there was a divergency of a week between the Gregorian and the astronomical Easter. This Protestant calendar was finally suppressed by Frederick the Great in 1775, and the Gregorian calendar became supreme throughout Germany. German Protestants have sought in recent years to transform Easter into an immovable feast, but the plan as yet remains inchoate.

10. Attempts to Reform the Calendar.

The evangelical reforms of the calendar thus far considered were concerned only with chronology, without regard to the traditional Christian lists of saints and martyrs. There is, however, a tendency among the Lutherans to revise the hagiology of the Church, in view of the Protestant skepticism regarding the existence of many of the saints of tradition and the Christianity ascribed to others. They are offended, furthermore, by the names of such heroes of the Counterreformation as St. Ignatius Loyola and other opponents of their sect, while prominent Protestants, it is felt, should be recognized in an ecclesiastical calendar designed for Lutheran use. Such an attempt was made by Ferdinand Piper in his Evangelischer Kalender (published from 1850 to 1870), in which he sought to transform the hagiology of the Western Church according to evangelical ideas. To increase the interest of the laity in this new list of names, brief biographies were added, and these, 399 in number, were later published separately under the title Zeugen der Wahrheit (4 vols., Leipsic, 1874; Eng. transl., by H. M. MacCracken, 3 vols., Boston, 1879). Piper's calendar, however, failed to secure official recognition in any German church, although in various revisions it has been included in a number of popular calendars in Germany. It is self-evident that only partial success can be attained by any Protestant hagiological calendar in view of the diversity of Protestant conditions and requirements. Apparently, the most that can be done is to add new dates and names, whether these be supplementary or corrective, to the traditional hagiology of the Church, so that, according to the requirements of time or place, a choice may be made from the names associated with any particular day.

(O. Zöckler†.)

Bibliography: On the general subject consult: L. Ideler, Handbuch der . . . Chronologie, 2 vols., Berlin, 1825–26; A. J. Weidenbach, Calendarium historico-christianum medii et novi ævi, Regensburg, 1855; W. S. B. Woolhouse, Analysis of the Christian, Hebrew and Mahometan Calendars, London, 1881; Ledouble, La Connaissance des années et des jours. Traité . . . du calendrier, Soissons, 1887; E. Mahler, Fortsetzung der Wustenfeld'schen Vergleichungs-Tabellen der mulhammedanischen und christlichen Zeitrechnung, Leipsic, 1887; J. C. Macdonald, Chronologies and Calendars, London, 1897; F. Rühl, Chronologie des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit, Berlin, 1897; B. M. Lersch, Einleitung in die Chronologie, 2 vols., Freiburg, 1899 (vol. ii. on Christian Calendar); Encyclopædia Britannica, iv. 664–682 (gives comparative tables); DCA, i. 256–258.

On the origin of the Christian calendar consult: T. Mommsen, Der Chronograph vom Jahre 354, in Abhandlungen der sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, ii. (1850) 547 sqq.; A. J. Binterim, Denkwürdigkeiten, i. 20 sqq., 7 vols., Mainz, 1837–41; L. Coleman, Ancient Christianity, chap. xxvi., § 5, Philadelphia, 1852; F. Piper, Der Ursprung der christlichen Kalendarien, in Königlicher preussischer Staatskalender, 1855, pp. 6–25; A. Lechner, Mittelalterliche Kalendarien in Bayern, Freiburg, 1891; E. Berfried, Die Ausgestaltung der christlichen Osterberechnung, Mittelwalde, 1893.

On calendars of the Middle Ages useful works are: N. Nilles, Kalendarium manuale utriusque ecclesiæ, 4 vols., Innsbruck, 1879–85, vols. i., ii., 2d ed., 1897 (a most valuable collection for the Eastern Churches); A. Cave, Scriptorum ecclesiasticorum historia literaria, Appendix, part ii., London, 1698 (describes Eastern calendars); F. Piper, Kirchenrechnung, pp. vi. sqq., Berlin, 1841; idem, Karls des Grossen Kalendarium, ib. 1858; W. L. Krafft, Kirchengeschichte der germanischen Völker I. i. 371, 385–387, ib. 1854; F. Kaltenbrunner, Die Vorgeschichte der gregorianischen Kalenderreform, Vienna, 1876; O. E. Hartmann, Der römische Kalender, Leipsic, 1882; J. Weale, Analecta liturgica, 2 vols., London, 1889; H. Grotefend, Taschenbuch der Zeitrechnung des deutschen Mittelalters und der Neuzeit, Hanover, 1898; A. von Maltzew, Menologien der orthodox-katholischen Kirche des Morgenlandes, part i., Berlin, 1900 (Sept.-Feb., German and Slavic and reference to original Gk. text).

For the history of the Gregorian reform consult: F. Kaltenbrunner, Die Polemik über die gregorianische Kalenderreform, Vienna, 1877; J. B. J. Delambre, Histoire de l’astronomie moderne, i. 1–84, Paris, 1821; G. S. Ferrari, Il calendario Gregoriano, Rome, 1882; the literature under GREGORY XIII.

For modern Protestant calendars the following may be consulted: F. Piper, Die Verbesserung des Kalenders, in Evangelischer Kalender, 1850, pp. 1–11; idem, Die Verbesserung des evangelischen Kalenders, Berlin, 1850; W. Löhes, Martyrologium. Zur Erklarung der herkömmlichen Kalendernamen, pp. 1–12, Nuremberg, 1868; E. Scharfe, Die christliche Zeitrechnung und der deutschevangelische Kalender, pp. 18–28, Stuttgart, 1893.

« Calendar Brethren (Fratres Calendarii) Calendar, The Christian Calendar, Hebrew and Jewish »
VIEWNAME is workSection