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D'Alembert in the Encyclopédie Méthodique, and which we do not find in the old chronologers) is far more respectable, almost even plausible: it derives æra from the initials of Ab Exordio Regni Augusti. But there is little occasion to seek for any other origin than the later Latin. Forcellini cites from Salmasius a sentence taken from some old writer on mensuration, in which æra means a datum, a number to begin from: thus in the question given a pentagon of ten-foot side, to find the area,' 10 is the æra.
On a review of the whole question, and after consulting many writers not here mentioned, as well those who have used the term, as those who have both used and defined it, we are satisfied that the word æra is most generally used as a point of time (or a year of time, if years be used monadically) to reckon from. Hence the 100th year of an æra should be understood as the 100th year after it: and it would avoid confusion if it were so expressed.
To return to the question of the Christian æra, as introduced by Dionysius Exiguus. This reformation is described by its author, rather scantily, in two† remaining letters: the first addressed to the bishop Petronius; the second to Boni face and Bonus, the primicerius notariorum, and the secundicerius. The second letter has perfect internal evidence that it was written a. D. 526: the first was probably written the year before.
Dionysius begins his first epistle by referring to numerous requests made to him for an explanation of his paschal system, and to the various unskilful modes in which others had proceeded, in contempt or ignorance of the Nicene rule, which proceeded rather from the light of the Holy Spirit, than from that of secular knowledge. He then proceeds to describe the well-known period, which we know to have been invented by Victorinus, with his own arrangement and use of it, and the rules by which it is applied to any current year. The second epistle has a peculiar object, which will presently appear.
Two questions arise: What did Dionysius mean by the year 1, and what was that year? In what month, and on what day of the month, did his year begin? These questions we shall
* D'Alembert says that ara is a term of astronomy used in the same sense as epoch in chronology. Is not this a slip of the pen? Transpose the two words in Italics, and the sentence would be read without any remark. Curiously enough, the Alphonsine Tables (cited by Gregorie) have a definition in which any one would suppose the words æra and ævum had changed places: "Era Hispanis dicitur tempus limitatum ab ævo aliquo sumens exordium."
These letters were first published by Petavius, at the end of his Doctrina Temporum, afterwards by Bucherius (Comp. Alm. 1845, p. 9), and again by J. G. Janus (or Jahn). We cite the epistles of Dionysius from the collected edition of the memoirs of Janus, by C. A. Klotz (Halæ, 1769, 8vo. pp. 211). It was first published, according to Fabricius, in 1718.
endeavour to answer from Dionysius himself: inferences from other writers we shall treat as conjectural.
The principal passage * from the first epistle is as in the note, of which the following is a literal translation. Dionysius is speaking of the paschal cycle of Cyrillus, containing ninetyfive years, or five Metonic cycles of nineteen years each.
"This cycle of ninety-five years we set ourselves to abolish by the attention to the subject with which we have gained the mastery over it; bringing forward in our own work the last, or fifth [Metonic] cycle of Cyrillus, because there are six years of it yet to run; and then we assert that we have arranged five other cycles according to the rule of the same prelate, or rather that of the Nicene Council often mentioned. But since Cyrillus began his first [Metonic] cycle from the 153rd year of Diocletian, and finished the last in the 247th year; we, beginning from the 248th year of that tyrant rather than prince, refuse to connect the memory of a blasphemer and persecutor with our cycles, but rather choose to note the dates of our years from the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ...."
To this epistle are appended the last of the five Metonic cycles of Cyrillus, the first five of the twenty-eight Metonic cycles of Dionysius, and a collection of calendar rules, framed by the skill of certain Egyptians, and adopted by Dionysius. Though the epistle, which itself is called a preface, makes the most express mention of both tables and rules, the two latter were not printed, either by Petavius, or (according to Fabricius and Jahn) by Bucherius, but only by Jahn himself. The table tells us that A. D. 532 is 248 of Diocletian, and 1 of the cycle of Dionysius: accordingly A. D. 1 would have been 2 of the preceding cycle of Dionysius. And the rule given by Dionysius confirms his table.
According to the received mode of counting, we are to presume that Dionysius meant A. D. 1 of his own æra for the year of the Incarnation. But some time after Dionysius, it is certain that the year commonly received as that of the Incarnation
"Nonaginta quinque igitur annorum hunc cyclum, studio, quo valuimus, expedire contendimus; ultimum ejusdem B. Cyrilli, id est, quintum cyclum, quia sex adhuc ex eo anni supererant, in nostro hoc opere præferentes; ac deinceps quinque alios juxta normam ejusdem Pontificis, imo potius sæpe dicti Nicæni Concilii, nos ordinasse, profitemur. Quia vero S. Cyrillus primum cyclum ab anno Diocletiani centesimo quinqua gesimo tertio cœpit et ultimum in ducentesimo quadragesimo septimo terminavit; nos a ducentesimo quadragesimo octavo anno ejusdem tyranni potius, quam principis, inchoantes, noluimus circulis nostris memoriam impii et persecutoris innectere, sed magis elegimus ab incarnatione Domini nostri Jesu Christi annorum tempora prænotare..'
+ That Scaliger had seen the rules at least, is evident from his quoting, as from Dionysius, a rule which is not in the preface. That Petavius had not seen either tables or rules, may be presumed (though the contrary has been affirmed) from his not printing either. That Riccioli had not seen them is clear from his making it inferential, from the words of Dionysius and Bede, that A. D. 532 was 1 of the cycle of Dionysius, when the table has it expressly.
was not the first year after (or of, if the reader please) the Dionysian æra, but the first year before it. Three accounts have been given of this discrepancy. First, it has been supposed that the Dionysian reckoning has been misunderstood, and that the year usually called B. c. 1 is that which Dionysius meant to be A. D. 1: so that this present year would have been called by him 1851. Secondly, it has been thought that he intended to have a zero-reckoning, calling 0 the year of the Incarnation, and A. D. 1 the year following. Thirdly, it has been thought that he commenced his year, not with the 1st of January, but with March 25, and that his year 1 begins with the March preceding the January of our year 1.
The first supposition is worthy of no attention, since the appearance of the table which Petavius, &c. knew nothing of. There are 95 years in it with their Easters given, and each described by its annus domini; and these Easters agree with those of the rules in the Companion' for 1845, page 32.
As to the second supposition, it is for those who affirm Dionysius to have made departure from usual methods to prove it. He explains himself so clearly, and gives the circumstances of the existing state of things, and his own proposed alterations, with so much precision, that it is exceedingly improbable he should have made a departure from usage in his mode of reckoning, without giving the most express warning. In speaking of cases of division in which the remainder is 0, in which the divisor is to be substituted (as in finding the golden number by dividing by 19, in which case the number 19 itself must be taken when the remainder is 0), he takes care, after instances, to enunciate this as a general rule,* per omnem computum. If such a writer should, in one distinct case, count after the prevailing method, we are bound to assume that he always did so, in failure of special notice to the contrary. Now it does so happen that there is an instance, but rendered rather doubtful by a misprint in that or another instance, and settled by a third instance. In one of his rules (No. 9) there occur the following phrases, which it will be convenient to number.
1. Count the months from September to March (a Septembri usque ad Martium) they make six; add two, which makes eight.
2. Count the months from September to March, they make seven; add two, which makes nine.
* It is general, in all chronological computations in which the divisor is a period. In our article on Easter (Companion' for 1845) we have, in one place, omitted to mention it. In pages 27 and 33 and in division XIV. of the rules, instead of "divide by 7, and keep the remainder," it should be "divide by 7, and keep the remainder, or 7, if there be no remainder."
3. If you count from September to December, always add three in these four months.
Either 1 or 2 must contain a misprint, and from the correctness of the sums it is not in the figures; nor can it be in the word September, which is the initial month throughout. The advocates of the old method will say that in 1, March should be February, and then September is reckoned in both cases: of the modern method, that in 2, March should be April, and then September is omitted in both reckonings. And so the question would be left, perfectly balanced, if it were not for 3, in which from September to December is called four months: but the intent of the whole passage marked 3 is very obscure. We rely much more on the presumption that ordinary language, used by a writer who is generally perspicuous, is to be interpreted in the manner usual in his time, if no reason can be given to the contrary. Accordingly, we hold that the year 1 of our æra, from which the common reckoning is made, is the year of the nativity according to Dionysius, and also the second year of his paschal cycle. This is the way in which Bede, two centuries after, understood Dionysius; accordingly, those who have thought that our common way of reckoning is not according to the intention of Dionysius, have imputed the alteration to Bede.
The next question is as to the time at which the year of Dionysius commenced. On this point we are to remember that he was an ecclesiastic; that he wrote at Rome for an ecclesiastical purpose, the settlement of Easter; that his paschal indicia, such as the golden number, &c. always change on the first of January; and that the ecclesiastical year always began on the first of January. We are not aware that any one of these positions has ever been disputed. The natural inference is, that all the presumptions are in favour of his having made the year of which he wrote begin on the 1st of January. But the Art de vérifier les dates assures us that by the common consent of the learned (tous les savans conviennent) Dionysius himself established in Italy the practice of beginning the year with the 25th of March, and that he did this at the introduction of his new æra. Since the work we cite* is one which
*We would not by any means disparage the Art de vérifier les dates, a work which, in all its peculiar parts, is of the highest merit: but it should be praised with discrimination. It is mainly the work of one man, Maur Francais d'Antine, of the congregation of Benedictines of St. Maur (born 1688, died 1746). It contains an immense collection of dynastic and genealogical chronology, extending down to most of the families of historic note in France, many in Germany, and some in Italy, &c. But we cannot find in the preliminary dissertations and the matters of general chronology any sufficient ground for the eulogies which this work has received, and which are totally unmeaning if they do not amount to a declaration that with this one work alone, the student needs no other. If we wanted the dates connected with a king of France, or an emperor,
deals very much in references and quotations, this mode of shifting such a point on to the shoulders of all the learned in general and none in particular, is far from satisfactory. We choose from among the learned, Petavius, perhaps the most learned of the chronologists, certainly one of those who are most cited. On looking into his work De Doctrina Temporum (the edition we use is that of Harduinus, Antwerp, 1703, 3 vols. fol.), we find, in book vi. cap. 10, as the description of one of the paragraphs, Dionysius a xv. Paschali annos orditur, Dionysius begins his year from the fifteenth of the Paschal moon. The paragraph itself begins, "In his vides Dionysius a decima quinta Paschali annos inchoare," which does not quite bear out the side description of the index maker* or editor; for all we are told is that in his, that is, in what has immediately preceded, Dionysius does as stated. Now, first, the 25th of March, and the fifteenth of the paschal moon, are two very distinct things; secondly, we must examine what Dionysius is doing. The extracts discussed by Petavius are from the epistle to Boniface and Bonus above mentioned. Here Dionysius sets forth that he had hoped that all ambiguity and opposition had been removed by his former letter, but that as the parties to whom he wrote had brought out from the archives of the Roman church the writings of Paschasinus,t in which there was mention of common and embolismic years, and many were anxious to know whether this year agreed with the paterna regula, or rule of the Nicene council, he (Dionysius) thought it necessary to show that there was no disagreement. He then proceeds to discuss the year used by Paschasinus, which was the ancient lunar year, founded upon that of the Jews. Petavius seems to have taken Dionysius as describing a year of his own, or at least has been so construed, both by followers and opponents. In the first epistle, from which we have quoted above, the only matter in which the beginning of a year is mentioned is a discussion (for the sake of Easter) on the Jewish year, as settled in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, which are cited as authorities; so that nothing can be drawn from either of these epistles in support of the notion that their writer began his year in March or April.
even of Japan, or a viscount of Fezenzaguet, or a count of Goritz, we should turn to the Art &c.; but for the settlement of all points of general chronology, such, for instance, as those connected with the common æra, we should look elsewhere.
* Descriptions of subject contained in indexes or headings, not made by authors, are not to be relied on. In the Journal Litteraire de la Haye for July and August 1713, p. 464, is given a letter of Hudde, which shows that he knew how to find the subtangent when the equation of the curve had no irrational quantities. But the index maker has it referred to thus," Calcul Differentiel, qui en est l'inventeur."
+ Paschasinus was one of the legates whom Leo I. sent to the Council of Chalcedon, A. D. 451. His epistle to Leo on the feast of Easter is extant.