January 1, 2007
Our everyday speech conjures up the names of ancient deities that once inspired fear and awe among our ancestors. March evokes the Roman god Mars and May, the goddess of honor and reverence. Friday derives its name from Frigga, the Norse goddess of motherhood and love; and Saturday, from Saturn, the Roman god of fertility and agriculture. Telling time on earth and the passing of days has long been connected with the heavens above.
While compiling a table of dates of Easter for Pope St. John I, the sixth century scholar Dionysius Exiguus, an abbot in Rome, introduced a new way of calculating time. In his day, there were many ways of making calendars. The Hebrew calendar began with the creation of the world. The Roman calendar started
Ab urbe condita, i.e
. “from the founding of the city” of Rome. Dionysius took over a Roman calendar that counted the years beginning of the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian. He then continued the dating with the new designation “
Anni Domini Nostri Jesu Christi.” From this point on, history became related to Christ. The terms B.C. and A.D. have clear Catholic roots.
Dionysius was not accurate in fixing the actual date of Christ’s birth. Today, scholars suggest that Jesus was actually born in 4 B.C.! But Dionysus was right in placing Christ as the culminating point of history. With the coming of Christ, time is no longer the marking of days and fleeing of months in unfulfilled hope or dark confusion. In Christ, the fullness of time has come. “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law ... so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5).
As we embark upon a new year, the way we date our letters expresses a profound truth of our faith.
A.D. -- we are living in an era that has been transformed from expectation to fulfillment. In the announcement of Jesus’ birth, God did not communicate a new idea or new program to achieve his purpose in creation. No. He entered our human history. He became part of our days and our nights as the Son of the Virgin Mary.
God entered our world and brought a new life, divine life. He showed us how good we are in his eyes; good enough to become his adopted children. St Paul explains this truth: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal 4:6). By the power of the Holy Spirit poured out on us through Christ, we become children in the Son, destined to the glory of eternity. As sons in the Son, we share in salvation. We are delivered from the evil that thwarts our human development. We are graced and lifted up to share in the very life of God.
Today, from America to Australia, scholars and textbook editors may be changing the terms B.C. (Before Christ) to B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and A.D. (
anno Domini) to C.E. (Common Era), but they cannot rewrite the history God has written with the sending of his Son. In the words of St. Athanasius, “The Word became man so that we might become God” (
De Incarnatione Verbi Dei, 54, 3). Christ truly is the culminating point of all history. He gives meaning to all time. In him, we find our true humanity. Through him, we come to our true destiny. Christ is our hope for the New Year!