Coincidentally: Keeping Time

The Aztecs could tell time on a mega-scale, being keen on sundials and calendars. If there was not some contact with the East, we are confronted with a mega-coincidence: Four of the twelve animal symbols in the Mongolian zodiac calendar are identical to those used by the Aztecs, and three others differ only as the respective species differ in the two parts of the world.

The Aztecs calculated the arrival of their white god, Quetzalcoatl. Although Hernando Cortes had only 600 Spanish troops and 16 horses, and the capital city Tenochtitlan had 350,000 inhabitants, the Aztecs easily fell to him because his arrival was congruent with many of their prophecies. In 1510, Montezuma’s sister, Papantzin, had described the invasion in detail from a dream. The arrival of Cortes at Montezuma’s citadel ten years later was in the climactic year of a 52-year cycle, according to the Aztec configuration. The Mayan system of similar cycles was so precise that it could pinpoint any date within a range of 370,000 years. Montezuma’s priests were persuaded that the Spaniards were harbingers of the apocalyptic fall of the Fifth and Last Sun. The Spaniards’ use of horses and shooting sticks further matched the Aztec prophecies, and Montezuma’s 28-year reign collapsed largely as a result of his own conviction that this was fate. Cortes was likewise impressed by the date of his confrontation with Montezuma: Good Friday.

By this time, the Julian calendar instituted by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. was off the earth’s solar cycle by ten days. Sensitive souls felt the discrepancy in their very bones. Pope Gregory XIII’s astronomers gave us his improvement, certified at the Villa Mondragone near Frascati, and by decree of the Bull Inter Gravissimus the fifth of October became the 15th in 1582. St. Teresa of Avila died in Alba de Tormes three hours before midnight as the new calendar went into effect so, through no fault of her own, the saint died ten days apart.

It has long been thought fortuitous that Shakespeare, whose Henry V enjoined the cry, “God for Harry! England and Saint George!”, was born on St. George’s Day, April 23, in 1564. Both Shakespeare and Cervantes, the “Spanish Shakespeare,” died in 1616. That is, they died on the same day but not the same date. Shakespeare’s England was still on the Julian calendar.

The same year saw the birth of Andreas Gryphius, the “German Shakespeare,” who died on the centenary of the English Shakespeare’s birth.

Pope Gregory’s calendar was more successful than some of his other projects: an Irish invasion of England, the assassination of Elizabeth I, a celebration of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and the mass conversion of Sweden and Russia. England did not adopt the popish Gregorian calendar until 1752 under the Chesterfield Act. Political and religious propaganda caused riots by mobs persuaded that the pope of Rome had taken ten days out of their lives. Thus the Church’s patronage of science was trashed by creatures of the Enlightenment. Such stupidity will always mark the bigot; as Vice President Gore has said, “A leopard never changes his stripes.” Other Protestant lands succumbed earlier. In 1688 William of Orange left Holland on November 11 and arrived in England on November 5. Although the Stroganovs began the conquest of Siberia in the first year of the Gregorian reform, Russia only changed in 1918. Rabbi Emil Hirsch was born in Luxembourg and moved to Chicago in 1866, where he used the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars and caused a flap as the first Reformed rabbi to move Sabbath services from Saturday to Sunday, just when Rachel D. Preston persuaded the Seventh-Day Adventists to switch the Sabbath from Sunday to Saturday.

Pope Gregory’s calendar, with its system of leap years, should last for at least another thousand years. You can tell what day of the week any day will fall on by a simple method: increase by one fourth the number formed by the last two digits of the year in question, add two if this is 18 (minus fractions), zero if this is 19, and six if this is 20. To this sum, add one if the month is January or October, two if May, three if August, four if February or March or November, five if June, six if September or December, zero if April or July. If it is a leap year, add six for January and three for February. Then add the day of the month and divide by seven. The remainder indicates the day of the week, and if there is no remainder the answer is Saturday. The same Pope Gregory also helped to streamline the Vatican government.


*Originally published in Crisis Magazine

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