Blame the madness on Dennis the Short

The new millennium started January 1, 2001 - it did NOT begin in 2000.

An essay about calendars, religion and the (in)ability to count to 1,000.

Numbers have no special magic about them. Friday the 13th is no more bad luck than Saturday the 13th. Turning 40 isn't any more significant than turning 39 or 41. The year 2000 is no better or worse than 1997, 2010 or 1561. There are no astronomical, cosmic or terrestrial events to make 2000 significant. But superstition, like a foolish consistency, is the hobgoblin of little minds (to paraphrase Emerson), so people ascribe all sorts of silly notions and attributes to numbers. Those apocalyptic and 'prophetic' warnings for Y2000 are indicators of their bearers' precarious mental health, rather than any message about the significance of the date.

Superstition is merely ignorance of the way the world functions rather than insight. It's the opposite of science. And numerology isn't a science: it's an excuse for not learning real science and proper mathematics. Self-described 'prophets' are taking advantage of the gullible in this matter to harvest considerable coin from simple fools who believe the number 2000 has supernatural significance.

The only real meaning the year 2000 had was in the computer world, where dire warnings threatened worldwide computer crash. But that had nothing to do with the millennial madness, the antichrist, the age of Aquarius or any other such silliness. Besides, as a disaster, Y2K fizzled worse than the movie Ishtar.

What was so special about the year 2000?

Nothing, really. Numbers are only tools; they signify content, but are not the content itself.  Numbers are abstract, without meaning separate from that which they describe. Numbers aren't good or bad, lucky or unlucky, magical or satanic. They are simply representations by which we measure things.

Back in the year 999 everyone used Roman numerals for counting. They watched the calendar change from DCCCCLXXXXIXto M(1)while apocalypse fever spread throughout the western world(2) fanned by the superstitious nature of medieval Christian culture (to be fair, most cultures were heavily superstitious back then. Sadly, many still are, and much of ours still is). We're told people of the day made two basic assumptions:

  • One: the world would end when the millennium began and,
  • Two: that 1000 was the start of the next millennium.

Wrong on both counts. The world survived for a thousand years until we were finally able to produce the crowning achievements of our high-tech civilization: rap music, the Shopping Channel and dog food that makes its own gravy... okay, so we may not have advanced all that much on some fronts... still, we're here, we're online, and the news of the death of the world proved highly exaggerated. Let's explore the truths behind these two errors. Keep in mind throughout all of my digressions, that the real issue is not religion, or even calendars: it's simply about counting to exactly 1,000. 

Decade 1
11 -20
Century 1
Millennium 1

 Got that? Centuries end with '00' and millennia end with '000.'
That's END, not START.
Centuries and millennia
all start with the number 1

The first millennium didn't start on the year 1000. It ended that year and the next millennium began in 1001. A millennium is 1,000 years, not 999 (from the Latin, milles, or thousand). That means year 1, 2, 3 and so on to 997, 998, 999 and finally 1,000. One thousand years includes all of the years from 1 to 1,000 inclusive otherwise it isn't a millennium. All those people who expected the end of civilization were waiting for the wrong year.

There is no 'year zero,' so counting starts at year one. Each year lasts its full span of 365 or 366 days, from January 1 to December 31. Logically, the next millennium starts after the last one has ended and not while it's still in progress. The first millennium is years 1 to 1,000. Therefore year 1001 is the first year of the second millennium. By extrapolation (stay with me on this bit), the year 2000 is the last year of this millennium, and the new millennium starts on January 1, 2001.

It's not like the odometer on your car. Odometers start at zero, so when the numbers roll over to 10,000, it means you've travelled 10,000 miles or kilometers and mile 10,001 is just starting. Calendars start at 1, and the appearance of a new year indicates one about to begin, not one ending. Rolling over to year 2,000 meant we completed 1,999 years and the 2,000th year has just begun. We have to wait for this year to end before we have completed the second millennium: 2001.

And it's not like birthdays: your 20th birthday signifies, like an odometer, a completed passage. It also signifies the start of your 21st year.

It's not really the year 2000 for us either, properly speaking. The reason is because of Dennis the Short (Dionysius Exiguous(3) for those who knew him), a sixth-century Scythian (now part of Russia) monk and amateur astronomer who in A.D. 532 (or 525, 526, or even 534 according to some) created what would became our modern calendar dating system.  He pegged the year following Jesus' birth (by his faulty but well-intentioned calculations) as Year 1. And in the process, his mistakes have travelled along the years to trouble us ever since.

Although we're egocentric enough to believe our Western cultural and social systems must have relevance to everyone else, the year 2000 in the Christian calendar has no special meaning for the rest of the world (and they're the majority!). It's not even the same year in the religious or civic calendars of 70 per cent of the world. Our year 2000 will be the year 4698 in the Chinese calendar (the year of the Dragon(7)), 5760/61 in the Jewish calendar, 1421 in the Islamic calendar and 1922 (Sakra era) in the Indian calendar. There's no "millennium" about to turn over for any of them.

There are about 40 calendars in use today; and ours is just one of them, although widely accepted for international use. It's been assumed as a convenience for common use in many cultures and governments, but without the religious overtones. And there are MANY religious overtones - there's a huge wave of fanatical, Christian Doomsday believers who think that the world will end in 2000 because they believe it's the start of the next millennium. It seems this millennial madness is entirely a Christian psychosis - although a lot of other cultures have bought into the hype (probably to milk some of the free-flowing money coming from the gullible). Even the Pope made comments on the year 2000 as the start of the next millennium... (6).

In 1941, Jesuit priest Peter Archer attempted to correct his church's mistake by inserting a year 0 into the calendar (described in his book The Christian Calendar and the Gregorian Reform), but the idea was ignored by the Catholic hierarchy.

A lot of self-styled 'New Age' folk - people who supposedly eschew traditional religion in favour of things like healing crystals, numerology, astrology and aromatherapy - have come onboard the millennium ship. They are using it to propel their particular agendas and beliefs. There were many sites online that predict the world will change and become one big smiley face planet when we clocked over into year 2000. And they were often trying to sell you something along the way - a membership in a 'millennial' institute, course, meditation ranch or even a special crystal you can wear to make you happy and spiritually complete. Their parents used to sell swamp in Florida, I shouldn't wonder.

That's really what the "2000 millennium" becAme worldwide - a big marketing ploy, another way to fleece consumers. That alone should have made us wary. P. T. Barnum noted that no one ever lost a fortune by underestimating the intelligence of the consumer. He would have loved this pre-millennial time - his wealth would exceed that of Bill Gates

By the way, year 2000 was a leap year. It's one of those quirky calendar rules that if a year ending with 000 is evenly divisible by 400, it becomes a leap year.

Of course, you can get around all of this logic if you count a millennium as "any" group of 1,000 years - say 611 to 1610. So if your millennia start with 1 BC/BCE, then you can claim 2000 starts the third millennium. But that begs the question as to why we start at an arbitrary number just to win an argument. Humans tend to like well-defined groups that begin and end with recognized figures like 1 and 0. It seems natural to count the millennia from 1 AD/CE rather than 1 BC/BCE (-1 AD). After all, we start counting from one at an early age with our fingers.

You might blame it all on Dennis. Dennis began his career working in Constantinople for Pope Gelasius, translating works in the papal archives from Greek into Latin.  Later, under Pope John I, he was still translating - this time working on Easter tables drawn up by Saint Theophilus. The problem was that under the dating system of the time, Easter was difficult to calculate because the calendars weren't correct.  Dennis decided to correct the dating system which was then using Anno Diocletani - years since the Roman emperor Diocletian. Diocletian was infamous for persecuting Christians. Dennis wanted to glorify Christ, so he worked on a dating system based on the life of Jesus. His current year of 248 Anno Diocletiani became the year 532 Anni Domini Nostri Jesu Christi, now known as 532 AD . (A.D. - 'anno domini,' or 'year of our Lord' although modern, non-denominational use is to say CE for Common Era). 

The actual date of Jesus' birth had long been lost or forgotten by the time he started his quest, so Dennis, in his efforts to simplify the convoluted 19-year and 84-year Easter cycles, turned to the only sources he could find - Roman ones. He used them to try and backtrack. Good idea, but his sources were not accurate. Nor was his grasp of mathematics. 

Dennis also decided the eighth day after Jesus' birth (traditionally the date of his circumcision, based on Jewish custom) should be the official New Year - the start of year 1 - as his marker. He chose this day rather than the date of Conception (March 25) or Incarnation (December 25). That allowed him to place Jesus' first birthday in Year 1 and the years to align comfortably with Jesus' age. Had he made the year of Jesus' birth as Year 1, then it would have been confusing to have the first birthday in Year 2, etc.

The birthday Dennis dated from was December 25 - the eighth day before the Calends of January in the year 753 A.U.C. (Anno Urbis Conditae, - year since the founding of Rome - itself a date more mythological than correct). December 25 is also the winter solstice in the Julian calendar and the same date of a pagan festival called Sol Invictus, celebrated in Rome as the birth of the sun god. Many scholars believe the birth date was changed to Dec. 25 to encourage pagan converts (and give them a festival on the same day so they wouldn't have to buy new party hats...). Until A.D. 354, Jesus' birthday was actually celebrated on Jan. 6, but it got moved to the earlier date after Dennis. Today, many modern authorities argue for a spring or fall birth for Jesus, based on historical, literary and astronomical studies, so if they're right, Dennis' date for Christmas isn't even in the right season. 

The Bible itself doesn't specify a date for Jesus' birth. However, Dennis worked from two vague dates in Luke (Luke 3:1 - Jesus was baptized in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius and Luke 3:23 says Jesus was about 30 years old at the start of his ministry). See for some research on dating Jesus' birth.

Dennis had a "Y0K" problem - he didn't know about zeroes, so he couldn't assign a Year 0 from which to start his calculations (several centuries later, the somewhat brighter Arab mathematicians taught us about them(2). (According to some theorists, this allowed the west to invent doughnuts - 'dough noughts' - nought being another word for zero). Dennis, you see, was using Roman numerals, which have no concept for zero. Roman numerals are notoriously difficult to use in calculations, so we can excuse him a few errors (try multiplying MCMXVI by LXXXVIIIand you'll see what I mean...). But his errors were later perpetuated and compounded by others. His dating system soon became too entrenched to be changed.

And Dennis didn't just lose a year in his calculations: he lost a year and a day because year 0 (the actual year when Jesus was born according to his dating) would have been a leap year!

Dennis was also a little off on his reckoning - his date for Jesus' birthday was likely four years too late (possibly even more, according to some recent authorities). But his mistake was never rectified even when later church authorities realized it. Dennis based his calculations on an erroneous reading of the old Roman calendar, which marked time from the founding of Rome (A.U.C. - Anno Urbis Conditae). He figured Jesus was born Dec. 25, 753 AUC. Dennis was doing his calculations in what was about 1280 AUC, so a fair amount of time had passed since Rome was founded.

Jesus, based on the New Testament chronicles of his life, was born in Herod's reign. According to Flavius Joseph, a reasonably good source of contemporary history, Herod died shortly after a spring eclipse of the moon (but before Passover). There are three possible eclipses around that time (5 BC, 4 BC and 1 BC - or BCE: 'Before the Common Era' to non-Christians and the Politically Correct), but the consensus among Biblical historians is the March 13 eclipse, 4 BC (Julian year 4710).

Since Herod declared he would kill all the children under the age of two, Jesus must have been under 2 years old in 4 BC - thus already between four and six years old on the date Dennis set for his first birthday.

Dennis' dating system was not an immediate success when he proposed it. It took another 200 or so years for it to catch on. Charlemagne is may have been the first Christian ruler to use it officially. It was actually Saint Bede (the 'Venerable Bede'), an English monk and historian who in 731 popularized it in his book The Ecclesiastical History of the English people. He recommended the system as a common method for calendar dating. He also extended Dennis' calendar to include earlier years, creating the suffix BC or 'Before Christ' for the time before Jesus (which is why we mix Latin AD with English BC). Before Bede, the year before Jesus' birth was called 1 A.C. (Ante Christum). In pure mathematical terms, Year 1 AC/BC should have been Year 0. If you think of BC as 'negative' numbers, Bede's calendar goes like this: -3, -2, -1, 1, 2, 3 etc. The missing 'zero' is obvious by today's standards - just as if the calendar was dated 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002 and so on. Mayans, Babylonians and some medieval English kings reckoned years better - even, in the Mayan case, with zero - but not the early Church fathers.

Oops. Did you miss the party because Dennis slipped up in his counting? The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse pass you by? Did Atlantis arise while you were sleeping? Must have hit the snooze button when that alarm went off... but don't worry. A few million other people were asleep when the real millennium date passed them by - hmmm. 

Despite this, politicians - usually people of limited skills, otherwise they'd have real jobs - have glued themselves to the hype around the year 2000 as a vehicle for free publicity. Cities, even countries are planning major events around that date and they're encouraged by because our elected leaders who are either too dim to do the math properly or have bought into the numerology of all those zeroes. Along came this bandwagon and they eagerly jumped aboard, without bothering to question its wisdom or lack thereof.

It's simple. Count years like you count the pages in a book. You start with one and you don't start the third set of 1,000 until you read to the very end of page 2,000. Or like money - count from one. If I owed you $10 and gave you $9 because I started counting from zero - would you accept it? Think of years as pennies. How many pennies are in $20? Is $19.99 the same amount as $20? Would a bank give you a $20 bill if you gave it $19.99 in pennies? We count house numbers, cookies, bottles of beer - everything else from one. So why are some  people trying to make us count years from a non-existent year zero? Zero isn't a number - it's a place marker. Doesn't anyone take math in schools these days? Well, I guess those advertising gurus skipped that class....

NASA's flacks obviously missed it too! Their site announces "NASA is ending the year, the century, and the millennium in a big way with three major missions..." Duh...if they can't count from 1 to 2,000, it's no wonder they have problems with their spacecraft. Can you imagine the controllers in the JPL? "Push button three - no that's button four! Aw, we lost another Mars lander again! Don't you know we count from zero around here?"

The calendar got even more confused a few centuries later. Easter was drifting out of season, getting later each year. Julius Caesar had inserted leap years into the calendar every four years to help make up for the uneven number of days in a year (365.24219) and compensate for the drift, but it didn't account for that remaining fraction. When Pope Gregory revised the Julian calendar in 1582, a certain number of days were omitted from his new calendar to correct for this accumulated drift. Since the Julian leap year makes for an average year of 365.2425 days, Gregory also decreed that years that end with "00" should only be a leap year if evenly divided by 400 to correct the rounding problem (that's why 2000 was a leap year).

The Pope was Catholic (of course) in an age when Protestants were emerging and discarding everything Catholic regardless of intrinsic value. This resulted in two separate styles of dating among Europeans for a long time. We lost 11 days from the calendar in 1752 when the switch was made in English-speaking countries from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. So Dec. 31, 1999 is really Dec. 20 by the old reckoning.

At the time, many people objected to losing the days from October 5 to 14 inclusive simply because the Pope decreed it. Protestant England (and her colonies) persisted in using the "Old Style" calendars. When the Gregorian calendar was adopted in Britain in 1752, September 2nd was followed by September 14th. Historical dating through this period is very difficult at times: March 8, 1735, Old Style is really March 19, 1735 in the New Style. (Julian versus Gregorian is better explained at the links listed below). One of the last to change, Russia remained with the old calendars until the Revolution in 1917.

Oh, and don't forget to calculate the impact of the 90 days Julius Caesar inserted into the Roman calendar in 45 BCE to make the Roman holidays align with the seasons. Dennis overlooked these, too, when calculating his dates.

And finally - the first of the year also shifted around a lot. Benedictines, for example, celebrated the year as beginning on December 25th. Before 1582, most calendars did not have the year starting January 1, even though the calculation of the moveable religious feasts acted as if it did. In England, the year "began" either on December 25th, or, more frequently on March 25th (Lady Day), until 1752 when the "New style" was adopted with January 1 as the start, the date we've stuck with ever since.

So if you're a stickler for accuracy, the third Christian millennium actually began on January 1, 1997 (or if the spring hypothesis is correct, sometime in March or April)... or more properly on Dec. 26, 1996 (or January 6, 1997 if we use the old date assigned - which means January 18 in the orthodox calendar)... unless Jesus was born in 5 BCE, in which case this year is really 2002... And if you calculate the days lost due to the changes in calendars... you easily get lost trying to figure it out.

Simply put, in strict religious terms, the third millennium has already started by exact Christian reckoning, but our calendars don't reflect it properly. But all of this is really peripheral to the real issue: counting to 1,000 without losing or adding a number along the way.

Greedy travel companies, event promoters and hotels made millions bilking the gullible through 'millennium party packages' to obscure places and contrived events that desperately needed the tourist trade (especially during their hurricane season when the party was scheduled to occur...). Did people really spend $45,000 USD on millennial parties? Some people have a lot more money than common sense. Check out the news at Wired Magazine:

There are cities and even countries close to the dateline that advertised themselves as the "official" first whatever to see the sunrise of the new millennium - although most were careful not to advertise which agency had given them this "official" status, since none of these agencies (if they exist at all outside their promoters' minds or their money-making schemes) had any such authority. Most of those places actually saw  the sunrise 12-16 hours after Greenwich - so they were among the last, not the first, to greet the New Year.

People spent tens of thousands of dollars to party on the International Date Line a year too early. It proves the old adage about a fool and his/her money has been right all along.

The Victorians, by the way, for all their faults, had more sense of arithmetic that we do, it seems. They celebrated the start of a new century properly, on January 1, 1901 (although the Kaiser did it on 1900, but we fixed him in 1918...). We can assume Victorians would have had the common sense and logic to start the millennium on January 1, 2001. But then, they weren't raised on TV and advertising.

Unfortunately that common sense doesn't apply locally to our Victorian descendants. A 'millennial' committee was formed in Collingwood to do special things for the "new millennium" in 2000. A vapid editorial comment in the Enterprise-Bulletin( a local paper) in late July, 1998, even boasted about supporting the town's events for that year. The writer then sheepishly apologized because he was was aware the millennium didn't start until 2001, but still supported the efforts because "everyone else was doing it then." Subsequent editorial staff in local papers have continued this nonsense, refusing to take a stand and make the correction. Baaaa, baaaa...

Newspapers - even small-town, local papers considered inconsequential in the grand scheme of things - which pursue bandwagons (usually for the sake of advertising, and attempts to boost circulation) and promote fads and superstitions such as this violated a sacred trust with their readers. Any media outlet - print or otherwise-  that proclaimed the year 2000 as the start of the next millennium can't be trusted. They obviously don't have anyone on staff with the sense or ability to count properly. Would you trust them to report other news accurately? Or prepare a viable ad campaign for your business? Their credibility is defunct, their honour tarnished and honesty suspect. You have to seriously question the qualifications of any reporter or editor who perpetuates either a myth or a known untruth. If they will claim the year 2000 as the new "millennium"  when it is demonstrably wrong - can you trust what they say about politics, social issues or law? Obviously not!

The US Naval Observatory, the Royal Greenwich Observatory (the world arbiter for time), the Encyclopedia Britannica, the U.S. Library of Congress, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Arthur C. Clarke, and the World Almanac all stated the millennium starts on Jan. 1, 2001. And they know better than most of us. I'd certainly trust their judgment in this matter over those of someone trying to sell me millennial insurance or an overpriced travel package to Christmas Island to see the sun rise on Jan. 1, 2000.

But even if you have the day right, what time do you celebrate the change?

We recognize midnight as the local turning point between days, but it wasn't so long ago people used to mark sunset as the end of the day - and that was used in calculations about calendars. It's more logical for diurnal creatures, but rather slippery because the exact time changes with every day. For most of us with intact biological clocks and normal circadian rhythms, the day starts at or around sunrise.

People spent thousands of dollars to travel to the International Date Line thinking they would be the first to see in the new millennium. They were doubly wrong: an international conference in Washington. DC, in 1884, established that a new "universal" day officially begins at the Prime (Greenwich) Meridian (zero longitude, not one!), not at the date line. So look to England, not the Pacific Ocean for the change. This means the millennium will officially start in Toronto at about 6:45 p.m., (midnight, Greenwich time - we're at 79 degrees west longitude, so those extra four degrees from the time zone marker mean about 15 minutes earlier). People near the International Dateline celebrating the "first" sunrise will actually be 12-16 hours late for the official entry of the New Year. (See the Royal Observatory at Greenwich site for more information and some other views:

Note, too, that location within a particular time zone is a matter of decision for local governments. There is no international authority to say in which time zone a country or municipality belongs. For political or geographic reasons, some countries have moved the date lines and time zone lines to suit their needs. The International Date Line meanders like a drunk to accommodate local concerns.

Celebrating the millennium on New Year's Eve 1999 was not simply foolish and gullible, it was just plain wrong. It doesn't mean we shouldn't have celebrated the dawn of the 2,000th year, just that we should have been correct and precise in how we labelled the party - we rang in the last year of the millennium. 

Anyone with even basic math skills should understand this (with the exception of Canadian federal politicians (5) who spent $150 million of our tax dollars on millennial celebrations for Dec. 31, 1999! With that sort of sloppy math, we'd better recheck their claim to have eliminated the deficit!). To compound this particular stupidity, the Royal Canadian Mint released a new series of coins monthly in 1999 supposedly leading to the first year of the new millennium - but, of course, they were out by a year. A representative of the Mint acknowledged it to me, but he said they're just "going with the flow." This is the sort of muddled accounting we expect from bureaucrats in Ottawa.

People made plans for big parties on Dec. 31, 1999, just like some folks did for the year 999. And like 1,000 years ago, the same results will probably occur: nothing special (aside from some monster hangovers). The world didn't end, the aliens didn't land, neither Christ nor Antichrist arose and people didn't wake up with rainbow auras significantly better off from watching the sunset on some tiny Pacific atoll than those of us who saw it rise through our bedroom windows in snowy Canada. 

It only goes to prove that our numeracy skills have hardly improved since the Dark Ages and that all our efforts in science and learning have gone for nought in the face of the imagined 'magical' significance of a number.

It still comes down to basic math. Count it out. Year 1 to 1,000 (January 1, 1, to December 31, 1000) is the first millennium (1,000 years). So the second millennium has to start with January 1, 1001 - and end with December 31, year 2000 (another 1,000 years). Add it up: 1 plus 2000 equals 2001. The word millennium means 1,000 years - thus the third millennium has to start in 2001 and continue through until the end of 3000. It is elementary - just do the math. Despite what the advertisers and travel agents are trying to sell you, year 2000 is the last year of the current millennium - or else all our basic concepts of arithmetic for the last 5,000 recorded years have been incorrect.

Millennial madness is too widespread to halt and an obvious indication of the greater dumbing-down of our society, even a year later as we approach the real millennium. We're told the same sort of pervasive silliness plagued this culture a thousand years ago (although it may really have been an embellishment of later writers - and the true madness is happening now). It may be be laughed at later by sociologists and psychologists studying the period, or gazed upon with incredulity from the distance and wisdom of time. The superstition of the medieval period, future historians will say, continued unabated into the 20th century, no matter how far we thought we had advanced. Sad, sad, but very true.

Logic be damned; the confused, the befuddled and the foolish of our era celebrated their "millennium" in 2000. Sic friat crustulum. Ignore these fools - you can't change the ignorati. The cognoscenti waited patiently until December 31, 2000 before they party.

Call me a curmudgeon, tell me no one cares, tell me I'm wrong - doesn't matter. It's not about parties, it's about accuracy, it's about science, it's about mathematics and it's about not being a sheep. You can choose to run with the flock if you wish. I prefer to pursue the facts. 

We couldn't stop the bandwagon and inject some common sense into the proceedings, despite all the efforts of science, logic, technology and common sense to correct a simple error in understanding how to count to 1,000. Even the normally cogent CBC Radio fell prey to this marketing hype and announcers said the year 2000 is the "dawn of a new millennium" in news broadcasts. It's proof that budget cuts at the CBC have seriously affected the brainpower of the remaining few - and seriously hurt Canada's credibility worldwide.

You can put a robot on Mars (well, NASA can, sometimes), you can cure disease through modern medicine, you can look into the centre of an atom, but the common people still cross their fingers, toss salt over their shoulders, read the newspaper horoscope and assume the millennium started in 2000.

Thanks for all the email on this site. I appreciate your comments - both in favour and opposed to it.  I joined the real celebrations of millennium turnover on December 31, 2000. To those of you who have asked what I did to celebrate - the answer is... a quiet dinner with my wife and friends at a local restaurant, some good-natured ribbing about my obsessive (aka anal-retentive) attention to this issue, and some nice wine. I took some pleasure in paying a fraction the cost for the same meal year that was charged by restaurants for their "millennial" celebration meal last on the eve of Y2000. But was it a special celebration? Not any more than any other New Year's Eve. After all, it's just a number, right? And no matter what your religious or cultural belief - remember: the real issue was always about simply COUNTING correctly.

Here are a few other pages with some cogent notes on this issue:


  1. Purists have pointed out that, although it's not an entirely improper way to present the Roman numerals, 999 should really be written CMXCIX. There are never more than three of the same numerals in a row, I'm told. Mea culpa, my Latin's rustier than my old BSA was, but you can figure it out anyway, right? Year 2000 is MM in the old calendar or MMDCCLIII A.U.C. The next millennium began on MMI.
  2. Okay, with extremely low levels of literacy among hoi polloi, it wasn't exactly a wildfire back then. More millennial fever was generated after the fact by later medieval writers, than actually existed in the time it happened - at least according to modern historians. With all this silly hoopla about Year 2000, maybe there's a case to be made for lowering literacy levels today. It's already started in advertising firms... look at SUV drivers...
  3. The Arabs obtained their numbering system from India, and called them "Hindu" numerals ("Al-Arqun Al-Hindu"). The Indians used zeroes as early as 250 BCE, while the earliest Arab use is from 820 CE. Thanks to Father Roger Geffen for this information. The Mayans also knew the concept of zero long before anyone in the West. The Babylonians also had a glyph for zero in their system. See the Universal History of Numbers by Georges Ifrah (J. Wiley & Sons, 2000) for more on numerical systems.
  4. Also (and perhaps incorrectly) written as Dennis Exiguus, and sometimes translated as Dennis the Runt.
  5. Okay, so there are a vast number of equally illiterate politicians internationally who are equally to blame for perpetuating this stupidity. I once believed Canadian politicians somewhat superior to and better educated than most. I was obviously wrong. They are as stone-dense about math as any of them.
  6. Is the dating of the calendar included in the concept of Papal Infallibility? It seems to me, as a non-Catholic that it must be. In 1871, Pope Pius IX published the Pastor aeternus, on papal infallibility, although in doing so he lacked the two-thirds majority of bishops when it was voted on at the First Vatican Council. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Liguori Publications, 1994), it states "The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the faith -- he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals." A similar statement was also made in Volume I of the papers of the Vatican Council II: "The infallibility, however, with which the divine redeemer wished to endow his Church in defining doctrine pertaining to faith and morals, is co-extensive with the deposit of revelation, which must be religiously guarded and loyally and courageously expounded. The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful -- who confirms his brethren in the faith (cf. Lk. 22:32) - he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith and morals."
    The dating of the millennium is based on the faith that 1) there was a historical Jesus, and 2) that Jesus was born at a specific time and place. Belief in those two defined the date as a Christian event, not a universal or international event. For the non-Christian world 2000 or 2001 was no different than 1966 or 2203; mere numbers on a foreign calendar. Since the Pope made a public statement about the date of the millennial change, he was also stating a matter of faith: he believed in a specific year for the birth of Jesus. And for millions of Catholics (and other Christians) that became the accepted, correct date to celebrate because it was an official, ceremonial distance in time from the year of the birth of their Lord.
    However, the Rev. Bartholomew de la Torre, O.P., wrote to disagree on this last point, saying, "If the Pope had been certain about a particular year, that would be human faith the same as if I were certain of the date of the founding of the city of Rome, but not religious faith. Human faith is that certainty which is based on what others tell us and which is common to everyone regardless of his religion, e.g. that Antarctica is a continent. Religious faith is that certainty which is based on what some religious authority or religious text says and which is common only to those who accept that religious authority or religious text."
  7. Chinese leader Mao Zedong declared on October 1, 1949, that China would follow the Gregorian calendar, so at that moment the majority of the world agreed what the date was for the very first time.
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