3.1. The millennial week of the year 1000: Anno Mundi and Anno Domini



The mentality of the medieval man is almost impossible to understand from a modern point of view. People fanatically believed in miracles and omens of the end. Superstition and witchcraft were omnipresent. The prelates, the kings, the nobles and the common people were equally corrupt. All the achievements and the failures of society were directly linked to the divine will, which showed them signs in stars, in air, on earth and in water. The sin was present even in the breathable air, and the cosmic and natural disorders induced veritable phobias. The lack of a minimum knowledge about nature’s causality fed superstitions, and any unusual or unknown sign in the sky was seen as ominous. People believed that the death of heroes, saints, emperors or kings must be accompanied by a cortege of unusual phenomena. Thus, the attention toward extraordinary phenomena and divine signs intensified and gained a totally new dimension near the anniversary of 1,000 years from the birth of Christ. Whether or not the end of the world was to come, God was expected to “celebrate” the end of the millennium by performing important miracles.

The year 1000 revealed a cruel truth, which would be experienced by subsequent generations as well: apocalyptic fears often lead to economic disaster. The certainty that the world is on the verge of a total renovation reconfigures the spiritual and material priorities and cancels any long-term plan of social or economic nature. Farming the land, gathering resources or accumulating wealth become insignificant problems in comparison to the redemption of the soul, the rise of the Antichrist, the Last Judgment and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Besides, for a true Christian the prospect of the wrathful day of the Lord was not a reason of fear and terror, but of hope and healing.157

All apocalyptic manifestations of the year 1000 make sense in the light of the context from which they emerged. Two periods of apocalyptic euphoria can be distinguished: the first period began in the middle of the 10th century and ended in the year 1000; and the second period began in the year 1000 and ended in 1033. The year 1000 marked the fulfillment of 1,000 years from the birth of Christ, while the year 1033 marked the fulfillment of 1,000 years from the Crucifixion. The medieval people were fascinated by the end of the first millennium because they believed that the world was built according to divine spatial and temporal proportions and the year 1000 has a special importance in this order of things. In the 10th century it became obvious that the early millenarist theories failed. The year 800, the limit for the fulfillment of the 6,000 years according to all calculations, passed uneventfully. This meant that either the doctrine of the millennial week was a theological error or the calculations regarding the Creation were wrong. The Christians of the year 1000 chose the last variant. The millennial week theory was much too rooted in the ecclesiastical tradition, and its abandonment was inconceivable. In addition, Christians already had access to Jewish chronologies, which revealed the differences of thousands of years between the calculations. So, the year 1000 could very well mark the end of the 6,000 years from the Creation and the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom.

Time measurement is only a convention, and throughout history this act suffered countless adjustments and transformations. Unlike the technologized society of the 21st century, in which the temporal synchronization is vital, in the 10th century the system of time measurement was precarious. The abilities to write, read and calculate – essential for keeping a chronology – were mastered only by a handful of scholars. And, to make things even more complicated, at the end of the 10th century there was not a single European chronological system, but several.

In the first four centuries the Latin chronographers used around four different methods of dating, each one counting time according to its own point of reference: the Ab urbe condita chronology – it had as point of reference the year of the foundation of the city of Rome, and it was mainly used by non-Christian Roman citizens; the imperial chronology – it counted the years according to the reign of an emperor and it was mainly used by civil servants; the consular chronology – also used by civil servants, but it kept track of time according to the years of a consul’s office; and the chronology of the world’s age – it had as point of reference the creation of Adam and it was known in Western Christianity as Anno Mundi.

The Ab urbe condita system was not favored within Christian circles because it was associated with the rituals and festivals of pagan Rome. Christian elites attempted to distance themselves from paganism, preferring instead to use the purely administrative systems of secular reigns or the purely Christian system of the Creation. The problem was that Anno Mundi chronology had more disadvantages than advantages. On the one hand, the system of regnal (imperial) and consular years was simple and accessible to less educated people. On the other hand, the Anno Mundi system conferred power, conformity and legitimacy to the Christian religion as against other pagan beliefs. But its vagueness, the lack of a consensus and the necessity of advanced knowledge of mathematics were insurmountable obstacles.

Another chronological system took shape shortly after the fall of the Western Roman Empire: Anno Domini (which means “the year of the Lord” and it is abbreviated “AD”). Although beginning with the 2nd century bishops in the East counted the years after the incarnation of Christ, there was no general consensus; Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius wrote about these attempts. Four centuries had to pass until Dionysius Exiguus, a monk in Scythia Minor (the region of Dobrogea, today’s Romania), conceived the Anno Domini chronological system. When Dionysius devised the table with the systematization of the years, he recorded for that year the consulate of Flavius Probus Iunior in Narbonne, the imperial year 240 since Diocletian, the year 1278 since the foundation of Rome and 525 years since the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Dionysius, however, had no interest in millenarism or any opposition toward the Anno Mundi system. Rather, he tried to offer a more efficient system for calculating Easter’s date and to erase the imperial chronology that had as point of reference the bloody reign of Diocletian (used in the East by the Church of Alexandria). The date of August 28, 284, the beginning of the reign of Emperor Diocletian, was year 1 in Anno Diocletiani. Dionysius replaced Anno Diocletiani with Anno Domini because he wanted to stop perpetuating the image of a persecutor of Christians. But unlike his contemporary Annianus, who set the birth of Christ in the year 9 (in the Julian calendar), Dionysius placed it approximately ten years earlier. And he was also the first one who assumed that Christ was aged 33 and three months at the time of the Crucifixion, according to the medieval idea of divine proportions.158

There are some problems regarding the chronology of Dionysius Exiguus. First, his chronological work came 300 years before the West imported the number 0 (zero) from the Arabs. Accordingly, his calendar started with the year 1 and not with the year 0. The result was that centuries and millennia are counted from *01 (1001 or 2001) and not from *00 (1000 or 2000). Second, there is no telling what Dionysius meant when he wrote about the Incarnation (of Christ), conception or birth. From the medical point of view, conception and birth are separated by a normal period of nine months, an extremely important aspect if the Incarnation is taken as a point of temporal reference for dating subsequent events. At the moment, “incarnation” has the meaning of conception, but Bede the Venerable and other scholars believed incarnation is one and the same thing with birth. And a third major problem is the Gospel of Matthew, which narrates about the massacre of the infants ordered by Herod, the king of Palestine. Josephus says that Herod died in 750 Ab urbe condita.159 This means that he died at least four years before the supposed date of the birth of Jesus, calculated by Dionysius in the year 754 Ab urbe condita. Jesus must have been born during Herod’s reign, since the latter ordered the killing of the infants less than two years of age.160 In addition to these problems, consular years started on the 1st of January, the Diocletian year began on the 29th of August, and the historical lists of consuls and of regnal years have many gaps and inconsistencies.

Although Dionysius is considered to be the creator of the Anno Domini system, its introduction in Western Europe was largely due to the Anglo-Saxon historian Bede the Venerable. In De temporum ratione from 723 Bede described the principles of calculating Easter’s date together with a chronology of the world. The study was based on the work of Dionysius, Eusebius, parts of Isidore’s Etymologiae and some references from Jerome’s Bible translation.161 Unlike Isidore, who dated the Creation in 5210 BC and was seen as an authority in this matter, Bede placed it in 3952 BC. Due to this option, in 708 Bede was accused of heresy for promoting a doctrine contrary to the millennial week.162

Bede brought significant improvements to Anno Domini chronology. Initially, the Anno Domini system had a major inconvenience: it ignored the years before the Incarnation. The events preceding Christ’s life had to be dated by switching to the Anno Mundi system. In other words, the events of the New Testament could have been dated both in Anno Domini and Anno Mundi, but the events of the Old Testament were dated only through Anno Mundi chronology. Consequently, in Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum from 731 Bede completed the Anno Domini system through the phrase ante vero incarnationis dominicae tempus (“the time before the real incarnation of the Lord”), which later became the English “BC” (Before Christ).

Bede reversed the counting of the years preceding the Incarnation in order to depict the life of Christ as a sort of axis of time, a purpose and a point of reference for the entire existence of the world, past, present and future. There was no year 0 (zero); the year 1 AD was ... (This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book)

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