1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Calendar/Ecclesiastical Calendar

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Ecclesiastical Calendar.—The ecclesiastical calendar, which is adopted in all the Catholic, and most of the Protestant countries of Europe, is luni-solar, being regulated partly by the solar, and partly by the lunar year,—a circumstance which gives rise to the distinction between the movable and immovable feasts. So early as the 2nd century of our era, great disputes had arisen among the Christians respecting the proper time of celebrating Easter, which governs all the other movable feasts. The Jews celebrated their passover on the 14th day of the first month, that is to say, the lunar month of which the fourteenth day either falls on, or next follows, the day of the vernal equinox. Most Christian sects agreed that Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday. Others followed the example of the Jews, and adhered to the 14th of the moon; but these, as usually happened to the minority, were accounted heretics, and received the appellation of Quartodecimans. In order to terminate dissensions, which produced both scandal and schism in the church, the council of Nicaea, which was held in the year 325, ordained that the celebration of Easter should thenceforth always take place on the Sunday which immediately follows the full moon that happens upon, or next after, the day of the vernal equinox. Should the 14th of the moon, which is regarded as the day of full moon, happen on a Sunday, the celebration Of Easter was deferred to the Sunday following, in order to avoid concurrence with the Jews and the above-mentioned heretics. The observance of this rule renders it necessary to reconcile three periods which have no common measure, namely, the week, the lunar month, and the solar year; and as this can only be done approximately, and within certain limits, the determination of Easter is an affair of considerable nicety and complication. It is to be regretted that the reverend fathers who formed the council of Nicaea did not abandon the moon altogether, and appoint the first or second Sunday of April for the celebration of the Easter festival. The ecclesiastical calendar would in that case have possessed all the simplicity and uniformity of the civil calendar, which only requires the adjustment of the civil to the solar year; but they were probably not sufficiently versed in astronomy to be aware of the practical difficulties which their regulation had to encounter.

Dominical Letter.—The first problem which the construction of the calendar presents is to connect the week with the year, or to find the day of the week corresponding to a given day of any year of the era. As the number of days in the week and the number in the year are prime to one another, two successive years cannot begin with the same day; for if a common year begins, for example, with Sunday, the following year will begin with Monday, and if a leap year begins with Sunday, the year following will begin with Tuesday. For the sake of greater generality, the days of the week are denoted by the first seven letters of the alphabet, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, which are placed in the calendar beside the days of the year, so that A stands opposite the first day of January, B opposite the second, and so on to G, which stands opposite the seventh; after which A returns to the eighth, and so on through the 365 days of the year. Now if one of the days of the week, Sunday for example, is represented by E, Monday will be represented by F, Tuesday by G, Wednesday by A, and so on; and every Sunday through the year will have the same character E, every Monday F, and so with regard to the rest. The letter which denotes Sunday is called the Dominical Letter, or the Sunday Letter; and when the dominical letter of the year is known, the letters which respectively correspond to the other days of the week become known at the same time.

Solar Cycle.—In the Julian calendar the dominical letters are readily found by means of a short cycle, in which they recut in the same order without interruption. The number of years in the intercalary period being four, and the days of the week being seven, their product is 4 × 7 = 28; twenty-eight years is therefore a period which includes all the possible combinations of the days of the week with the commencement of the year. This period is called the Solar Cycle, or the Cycle of the Sun, and restores the first day of the year to the same day of the week. At the end of the cycle the dominical letters return again in the same order on the same days of the month; hence a table of dominical letters, constructed for twenty-eight years, will serve to show the dominical letter of any given year from the commencement of the era to the Reformation. The cycle, though probably not invented before the time of the council of Nicaea, is regarded as having commenced nine years before the era, so that the year one was the tenth of the solar cycle. To find the year of the cycle, we have therefore the following rule:—Add nine to the date, divide the sum by twenty-eight; the quotient is the number of cycles elapsed, and the remainder is the year of the cycle. Should there be no remainder, the proposed year is the twenty-eighth or last of the cycle. This rule is conveniently expressed by the formula (x + 9/28)r, in which x denotes the date, and the symbol r denotes that the remainder, which arises from the division of x + 9 by 28, is the number required. Thus, for 1840, we have 1840 + 9/28 = 661/28; therefore (1840 + 9/28)r = 1, and the year 1840 is the first of the solar cycle. In order to make use of the solar cycle in finding the dominical letter, it is necessary to know that the first year of the Christian era began with Saturday. The dominical letter of that year, which was the tenth of the cycle, was consequently B. The following year, or the 11th of the cycle, the letter was A; then G. The fourth year was bissextile, and the dominical letters were F, E; the following year D, and so on. In this manner it is easy to find the dominical letter belonging to each of the twenty-eight years of the cycle. But at the end of a century the order is interrupted in the Gregorian calendar by the secular suppression of the leap year; hence the cycle can only be employed during a century. In the reformed calendar the intercalary period is four hundred years, which number being multiplied by seven, gives two thousand eight hundred years as the interval in which the coincidence is restored between the days of the year and the days of the week. This long period, however, may be reduced to four hundred years; for since the dominical letter goes back five places every four years, its variation in four hundred years, in the Julian calendar, was five hundred places, which is equivalent to only three places (for five hundred divided by seven leaves three); but the Gregorian calendar suppresses exactly three intercalations in four hundred years, so that after four hundred years the dominical letters must again return in the same order. Hence the following table of dominical letters for four hundred years will serve to show the dominical letter of any year in the Gregorian calendar for ever. It contains four columns of letters, each column serving for a century. In order to find the column from which the letter in any given case is to be taken, strike off the last two figures of the date, divide the preceding figures by four, and the remainder will indicate the column. The symbol X, employed in the formula at the top of the column, denotes the number of centuries, that is, the figures remaining after the last two have been struck off. For example, required the dominical letter of the year 1839? In this case X = 18, therefore (X/4)r = 2; and in the second column of letters, opposite 39, in the table we find F, which is the letter of the proposed year.

It deserves to be remarked, that as the dominical letter of the first year of the era was B, the first column of the following table will give the dominical letter of every year from the commencement of the era to the Reformation. For this purpose divide the date by 28, and the letter opposite the remainder, in the first column of figures, is the dominical letter of the year. For example, supposing the date to be 1148. On dividing by 28, the remainder is 0, or 28; and opposite 28, in the first column of letters, we find D, C, the dominical letters of the year 1148.

Lunar Cycle and Golden Number.—In connecting the lunar month with the solar year, the framers of the ecclesiastical calendar adopted the period of Meton, or lunar cycle, which they supposed to be exact. A different arrangement has, however, been followed with respect to the distribution of the months. The lunations are supposed to consist of twenty-nine and thirty days alternately, or the lunar year of 354 days; and in order to make up nineteen solar years, six embolismic or intercalary months, of thirty days each, are introduced in the course of the cycle, and one of twenty-nine days is added at the end. This gives 19 × 354 + 6 × 30 + 29 = 6935 days, to be distributed among 235 lunar months. But every leap year one day must be added to the lunar month in which the 29th of February is included. Now if leap year happens on the first, second or third year of the period, there will be five leap years in the period, but only four when the first leap year falls on the fourth. In the former case the number of days in the period becomes 6940 and in the latter 6939. The mean length of the cycle is therefore 69393/4 days, agreeing exactly with nineteen Julian years.

Table I.Dominical Letters.
 Years of the Century.  X/4r = 1  X/4r = 2  X/4r = 3  X/4r = 0 
0 C E G B, A
 1 29 57 85 B D F G
 2 30 58 86 A C E F
 3 31 59 87 G B D E
 4 32 60 88 F, E A, G C, B D, C
 5 33 61 89 D F A B
 6 34 62 90 C E G A
 7 35 63 91 B D F G
 8 36 64 92 A, G C, B E, D F, E
 9 37 65 93 F A C D
10 38 66 94 E G B C
11 39 67 95 D F A B
12 40 68 96 C, B E, D G, F A, G
13 41 69 97 A C E F
14 42 70 98 G B D E
15 43 71 99 F A C D
16 44 72 E, D G, F B, A C, B
17 45 73 C E G A
18 46 74 B D F G
19 47 75 A C E F
20 48 76 G, F B, A D, C E, D
21 49 77 E G B C
22 50 78 D F A B
23 51 79 C E G A
24 52 80 B, A D, C F, E G, F
25 53 81 G B D E
26 54 82 F A C D
27 55 83 E G B C
28 56 84 D, C F, E A, G B, A

Table II.The Day of the Week.
Month. Dominical Letter.
Jan. Oct. A B C D E F G
Feb. Mar. Nov. D E F G A B C
April July G A B C D E F
May B C D E F G A
June E F G A B C D
August C D E F G A B
Sept. Dec. F G A B C D E
1   8  15  22  29  Sun. Sat Frid. Thur. Wed. Tues.  Mon.
2   9  16  23  30  Mon. Sun. Sat. Frid. Thur. Wed. Tues. 
3  10  17  24  31  Tues.  Mon. Sun. Sat. Frid. Thur. Wed.
4  11  18  25  Wed. Tues.  Mon. Sun. Sat. Frid. Thur.
5  12  19  26  Thur. Wed. Tues.  Mon. Sun. Sat. Frid.
6  13  20  27  Frid. Thur. Wed. Tues.  Mon. Sun. Sat.
7  14  21  28  Sat. Frid. Thur. Wed. Tues.  Mon. Sun.

By means of the lunar cycle the new moons of the calendar were indicated before the Reformation. As the cycle restores these phenomena to the same days of the civil month, they will fall on the same days in any two years which occupy the same place in the cycle; consequently a table of the moon’s phases for 19 years will serve for any year whatever when we know its number in the cycle. This number is called the Golden Number, either because it was so termed by the Greeks, or because it was usual to mark it with red letters in the calendar. The Golden Numbers were introduced into the calendar about the year 530, but disposed as they would have been if they had been inserted at the time of the council of Nicaea. The cycle is supposed to commence with the year in which the new moon falls on the 1st of January, which took place the year preceding the commencement of our era. Hence, to find the Golden Number N, for any year x, we have N = x+1/19r , which gives the following rule: Add 1 to the date, divide the sum by 19; the quotient is the number of cycles elapsed, and the remainder is the Golden Number. When the remainder is 0, the proposed year is of course the last or 19th of the cycle. It ought to be remarked that the new moons, determined in this manner, may differ from the astronomical new moons sometimes as much as two days. The reason is that the sum of the solar and lunar inequalities, which are compensated in the whole period, may amount in certain cases to 10°, and thereby cause the new moon to arrive on the second day before or after its mean time.

Dionysian Period.—The cycle of the sun brings back the days of the month to the same day of the week; the lunar cycle restores the new moons to the same day of the month; therefore 28 × 19 = 532 years, includes all the variations in respect of the new moons and the dominical letters, and is consequently a period after which the new moons again occur on the same day of the month and the same day of the week. This is called the Dionysian or Great Paschal Period, from its having been employed by Dionysius Exiguus, familiarly styled “Denys the Little,” in determining Easter Sunday. It was, however, first proposed by Victorius of Aquitain, who had been appointed by Pope Hilary to revise and correct the church calendar. Hence it is also called the Victorian Period. It continued in use till the Gregorian reformation.

Cycle of Indiction.—Besides the solar and lunar cycles, there is a third of 15 years, called the cycle of indiction, frequently employed in the computations of chronologists. This period is not astronomical, like the two former, but has reference to certain judicial acts which took place at stated epochs under the Greek emperors. Its commencement is referred to the 1st of January of the year 313 of the common era. By extending it backwards, it will be found that the first of the era was the fourth of the cycle of indiction. The number of any year in this cycle will therefore be given by the formula x+3/15r , that is to say, add 3 to the date, divide the sum by 15, and the remainder is the year of the indiction. When the remainder is 0, the proposed year is the fifteenth of the cycle.

Julian Period.—The Julian period, proposed by the celebrated Joseph Scaliger as an universal measure of chronology, is formed by taking the continued product of the three cycles of the sun, of the moon, and of the indiction, and is consequently 28 × 19 × 15 = 7980 years. In the course of this long period no two years can be expressed by the same numbers in all the three cycles. Hence, when the number of any proposed year in each of the cycles is known, its number in the Julian period can be determined by the resolution of a very simple problem of the indeterminate analysis. It is unnecessary, however, in the present case to exhibit the general solution of the problem, because when the number in the period corresponding to any one year in the era has been ascertained, it is easy to establish the correspondence for all other years, without having again recourse to the direct solution of the problem. We shall therefore find the number of the Julian period corresponding to the first of our era.

We have already seen that the year 1 of the era had 10 for its number in the solar cycle, 2 in the lunar cycle, and 4 in the cycle of indiction; the question is therefore to find a number such, that when it is divided by the three numbers 28, 19, and 15 respectively the three remainders shall be 10, 2, and 4.

Let x, y, and z be the three quotients of the divisions; the number sought will then be expressed by 28 x + 10, by 19 y + 2, or by 15 z + 4. Hence the two equations

28 x + 10 = 19 y + 2 = 15 z + 4.

To solve the equations 28 x + 10 = 19 y + 2, or y = x + 9x + 8/19, let m = 9x + 8/19, we have then x = 2 m + m − 8/9.

Let m − 8/9 = m′; then m = 9 m′ + 8; hence

x = 18 m′ + 16 + m′ = 19 m′ + 16 (1).

Again, since 28 x + 10 = 15 z + 4, we have

15 z = 28 x + 6, or z = 2 x2x − 6/15.

Let 2x − 6/15 = n; then 2x = 15n + 6, and x = 7n + 3 + n/2.

Let n/2 = n′; then n = 2 n′; consequently

x = 14 n′ + 3 + n′ = 15 n′ + 3 (2).

Equating the above two values of x, we have

15 n′ + 3 = 19 m′ + 16; whence n′ = m′ + 4 m′ + 13/15.

Let 4 m′ + 13/15 = p; we have then

4 m′ = 15 p − 13, and m′ = 4 pp + 13/4.

Let p + 13/4 = p′; then p = 4 p′ − 13;

whence m′ = 16 p′ − 52 − p′ =15 p′ − 52.

Now in this equation p′ may be any number whatever, provided 15 p′ exceed 52. The smallest value of p′ (which is the one here wanted) is therefore 4; for 15 × 4 = 60. Assuming therefore p′ = 4, we have m′ = 60 − 52 = 8; and consequently, since x = 19 m′ + 16, x = 19 × 8 + 16 = 168. The number required is consequently 28 × 168 + 10 = 4714.

Having found the number 4714 for the first of the era, the correspondence of the years of the era and of the period is as follows:—

Era, 1, 2, 3, ... x,
Period, 4714, 4715, 4716, ... 4713 + x;

from which it is evident, that if we take P to represent the year of the Julian period, and x the corresponding year of the Christian era, we shall have

P = 4713 + x, and x = P − 4713.

With regard to the numeration of the years previous to the commencement of the era, the practice is not uniform. Chronologists, in general, reckon the year preceding the first of the era −1, the next preceding −2, and so on. In this case

Era, −1, −2, −3, ... x,
Period, 4713, 4712, 4711, ... 4714 − x;


P = 4714 − x, and x = 4714 − P.

But astronomers, in order to preserve the uniformity of computation, make the series of years proceed without interruption, and reckon the year preceding the first of the era 0. Thus

Era, 0, −1, −2, ... x,
Period, 4713, 4712, 4711, ... 4713 − x;

therefore, in this case

P =4713 − x, and x = 4713 − P.

Reformation of the Calendar.—The ancient church calendar was founded on two suppositions, both erroneous, namely, that the year contains 3651/4 days, and that 235 lunations are exactly equal to nineteen solar years. It could not therefore long continue to preserve its correspondence with the seasons, or to indicate the days of the new moons with the same accuracy. About the year 730 the venerable Bede had already perceived the anticipation of the equinoxes, and remarked that these phenomena then took place about three days earlier than at the time of the council of Nicaea. Five centuries after the time of Bede, the divergence of the true equinox from the 21st of March, which now amounted to seven or eight days, was pointed out by Johannes de Sacro Bosco (John Holywood, fl. 1230) in his De Anni Ratione; and by Roger Bacon, in a treatise De Reformatione Calendarii, which, though never published, was transmitted to the pope. These works were probably little regarded at the time; but as the errors of the calendar went on increasing, and the true length of the year, in consequence of the progress of astronomy, became better known, the project of a reformation was again revived in the 15th century; and in 1474 Pope Sixtus IV. invited Regiomontanus, the most celebrated astronomer of the age, to Rome, to superintend the reconstruction of the calendar. The premature death of Regiomontanus caused the design to be suspended for the time; but in the following century numerous memoirs appeared on the subject, among the authors of which were Stoffler, Albert Pighius, Johann Schöner, Lucas Gauricus, and other mathematicians of celebrity. At length Pope Gregory XIII. perceiving that the measure was likely to confer a great éclat on his pontificate, undertook the long-desired reformation; and having found the governments of the principal Catholic states ready to adopt his views, he issued a brief in the month of March 1582, in which he abolished the use of the ancient calendar, and substituted that which has since been received in almost all Christian countries under the name of the Gregorian Calendar or New Style The author of the system adopted by Gregory was Aloysius Lilius, or Luigi Lilio Ghiraldi, a learned astronomer and physician of Naples, who died, however, before its introduction; but the individual who most contributed to give the ecclesiastical calendar its present form, and who was charged with all the calculations necessary for its verification, was Clavius, by whom it was completely developed and explained in a great folio treatise of 800 pages, published in 1603, the title of which is given at the end of this article.

It has already been mentioned that the error of the Julian year was corrected in the Gregorian calendar by the suppression of three intercalations in 400 years. In order to restore the beginning of the year to the same place in the seasons that it had occupied at the time of the council of Nicaea, Gregory directed the day following the feast of St Francis, that is to say the 5th of October, to be reckoned the 15th of that month. By this regulation the vernal equinox which then happened on the 11th of March was restored to the 21st. From 1582 to 1700 the difference between the old and new style continued to be ten days; but 1700 being a leap year in the Julian calendar, and a common year in the Gregorian, the difference of the styles during the 18th century was eleven days. The year 1800 was also common in the new calendar, and, consequently, the difference in the 19th century was twelve days. From 1900 to 2100 inclusive it is thirteen days.

The restoration of the equinox to its former place in the year and the correction of the intercalary period, were attended with no difficulty; but Lilius had also to adapt the lunar year to the new rule of intercalation. The lunar cycle contained 6939 days 18 hours, whereas the exact time of 235 lunations, as we have already seen, is 235 × 29.530588 = 6939 days 16 hours 31 minutes. The difference, which is 1 hour 29 minutes, amounts to a day in 308 years, so that at the end of this time the new moons occur one day earlier than they are indicated by the golden numbers. During the 1257 years that elapsed between the council of Nicaea and the Reformation, the error had accumulated to four days, so that the new moons which were marked in the calendar as happening, for example, on the 5th of the month, actually fell on the 1st. It would have been easy to correct this error by placing the golden numbers four lines higher in the new calendar; and the suppression of the ten days had already rendered it necessary to place them ten lines lower, and to carry those which belonged, for example, to the 5th and 6th of the month, to the 15th and 16th. But, supposing this correction to have been made, it would have again become necessary, at the end of 308 years, to advance them one line higher, in consequence of the accumulation of the error of the cycle to a whole day. On the other hand, as the golden numbers were only adapted to the Julian calendar, every omission of the centenary intercalation would require them to be placed one line lower, opposite the 6th, for example, instead of the 5th of the month; so that, generally speaking, the places of the golden numbers would have to be changed every century. On this account Lilius thought fit to reject the golden numbers from the calendar, and supply their place by another set of numbers called Epacts, the use of which we shall now proceed to explain.