why do we have bc and ad

Q. To mark dates, why are people now using C. E. (the Common Era) and B. C. E. in place of A. D. and B. C. , which have been in use for hundreds of years? I was told by a Catholic teacher in our area that this change is intended to foster better relations with non-Christians. This is too politically correct for me to accept without further explanation. Please help. (Somerville, New Jersey)
A. The teacher you spoke to is right. The reason some have adopted the use of C. E. rather than A. D. ( In the year of Our Lord or Anno Domini ) is to ease the minds of non-Christians who might object to this implicit acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord. Depending on one s perspective, the new terminology has been viewed as an attack on Christianity or simply as an assertion of religious neutrality. In 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention called it the result of secularization, anti-supernaturalism and political correctness and encouraged its members to retain the traditional method of dating and avoid the revisionism. On the other hand, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (who was himself a Protestant) has said: The Christian calendar no longer belongs exclusively to Christians. People of all faiths have taken to using it simply as a matter of convenience. There is so much interaction between people of all faiths and cultures different civilizations, if you like that some shared way of reckoning time is a necessity. And so the Christian Era has become the Common Era. In 2011, an op-ed piece in the Vatican newspaper L Osservatore Romano blasted the British Broadcasting Corporation for abandoning the traditional A. D. in favor of C. E. To deny the historically revolutionary function of the coming of Christ on the earth, accepted even by those who do not recognize him as Son of God, wrote the author, is enormous nonsense. Some critics of the change point out that many commonly accepted designations have a basis in religious beliefs. (They note, for example, that January comes from Janus, who was the Roman god of gates and doorways. ) To me, there is a certain silliness to the entire discussion.


Even those who opt for the new designation as an ideological protest still adopt the traditional date of the birth of Christ as the basis for numbering the years. (If you really wanted a secular calendar, why not use the founding of Rome as the focal point of human history which is what the Roman Empire did for centuries. ) Q. The older I get, the more this is on my mind. I grew up in the Methodist Church, but became a Catholic when I married my husband more than 60 years ago. We raised our children in the Catholic Church, and my husband passed away in 2006. Now, at the age of 84, I feel a strong desire to attend the Methodist Church of my childhood. I don t know that I really want to rejoin that church after all these years; I think it s more just wanting to go to their services a few times. (I have friends who belong to our local Methodist parish, and they would be happy to have me accompany them. ) What do you think of this? Am I just longing for the past, or is it a sign that I am not completely satisfied with the Catholic Church? I don t know that I will act on this wish (my kids would be shocked if I did), but the thought is very often on my mind. (Iowa) A. To be a Catholic is to be committed to certain core principles of faith. Among them are the centrality of the Eucharist and the conviction that Jesus has entrusted to Peter and his successors the task of guiding the Church, with the guarantee of doctrinal purity. Since you have pledged allegiance to those principles of faith for 60 years, I would find it surprising if you were ready to forsake them now. In my mind it s more likely as happens when each of us age that you are experiencing a nostalgic longing for some of the experiences and surroundings of the past. I don t see any harm in your accompanying your friends to an occasional Methodist service and perhaps be reminded of the religious enthusiasm you felt in your youth. But I would think it wise perhaps even before you do that to talk with a sympathetic priest who might help you to sort out your feelings.


While this issue always seems to get mired in arguments about political correctness, I'd offer another perspective. I switched to BCE/CE before I was even aware of the political correctness issue: I had previously found the whole BC/AD confusing, so when I happened upon the new abbreviations in a scholarly source and then looked them up, to me, it made a lot more sense for stylistic reasons. They're inconsistent. BC is an abbreviation of the English phrase before Christ, while AD is an abbreviation of a Latin phrase anno Domini. It's very strange that going across the arbitrary division line between two years also requires a change in the language of abbreviation. Also, traditional convention says that BC comes after a date (e. g. , 1200 BC, or year 1200 before Christ ), while AD comes before the year in a date (e. g. , AD 1200, or anno Domini 1200, which follows English style of in the year of Our Lord 1200). While that convention is no longer universally maintained, it's odd and confusing. They're prone to misinterpretation. In particular, the language inconsistency noted above has given birth to a widely-held misconception that AD is an English abbreviation for after death (i. e. , after the death of Christ). Obviously this is wrong, but it was actually the first explanation I heard as a child, which then caused great confusion when I encountered a teacher telling me that it meant something else in some obscure dead language. I'm not alone in having heard this false etymology, as many internet discussions will attest. They're literally wrong. As noted in a previous answer, the birth of Jesus Christ is now estimated by most scholars to have occurred at least a few years earlier. (I've seen everything from 7 to 2 BCE -- and yes, in this particular sentence, using the abbreviation BC seems to me an oxymoron. ) In any case, "common era" solves this problem by just admitting that we're using a common convention, which even Christian scholars now widely regard as inaccurate. But it's still a convenient and "common" way of referring to our "era" of year reckoning.


Insisting that we hold onto the older style too seems to be promoting ignorance of the fact that the abbreviations are literally false. They cause confusion. One item of confusion occurs because of the erroneous after death etymology above. (I distinctly recall asking someone about this when I was a small child: "So how do they number the years while Jesus was alive? " No answer. ) But even if we understand what AD means, the convention can create confusion even when Christian scholars are trying to refer to, well, the years around the time of Jesus Christ. Because we know the birth year is off, any date in the first century BCE or CE is automatically a bit offset compared to the reference point that BC/AD uses. Dates in the early Church are a bit uncertain anyhow, but if a Christian scholar is trying to relate a possible date to the timeline of Jesus Christ's life, you have to do a little conversion in your head. Whenever I see BC/AD with a year within a few decades of Jesus's purported lifespan, I tend to think of an imaginary ( sic ) appended afterward. In other words, when a reference to the timing of Christ's birth should have maximum usefulness due to proximity of the dates, it actually breeds confusion. Any one of these reasons alone wouldn't be enough to argue for a new convention. After all, there are all sorts of inconsistent and illogical stylistic elements in English usage. But when you take into account that the old meanings are widely believed (even by Christians) to be actually wrong, you now have a convention that's actively creating confusion. BCE/CE still recognizes the implicit (though erroneously calculated) division point in eras. You still can't explain the reckoning of BCE/CE without referring to Jesus Christ (even if it's coupled with "And there was this monk guy named Dionysius who got it wrong. "). And aside from the minor point mentioned in the question that they look a little too alike compared to BC/AD, I think there's a strong argument for stylistic and logical advantages.

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why do we have bc and ad