But Are Catholics B.C./A.D.-Compliant?

December 1999

Speaking of calendars and epochs: Our epochs have Christian names: B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, in the Year of the Lord). But with the de-Christianization of the West, more and more people, especially those in the scribbling class, are finding B.C. and A.D. annoying and offensive, and these people employ instead a weird set of euphemisms. How are publishers responding? Consider the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS), which publishes Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible Review. In each issue of those magazines there is this notice about house style: “B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era), used by some of our authors and often used in scholarly literature, are the alternative designations corresponding to B.C. and A.D.” An editor at BAS tells us that their policy is to leave the choice up to the writers, who have various religious affiliations or none. Writers who wish to avoid B.C. and A.D. (with their abbreviations of “Christ” and “the Lord”) may do so. Writers who wish to employ those Messiah-acknowledging designations may do so as well. If BAS wants to allow B.C.E./C.E., who’s to stop them? It’s a free country, after all.

Still, one is left wondering just what happened between B.C.E. and C.E. to flip history into a new epoch. Something must have happened! What was it? And why are certain people so determined to keep mum about it? Moreover, before the “Common Era,” did mankind live in an uncommon era? How so? What was uncommon about it? And what is common about the “Common Era”? The Chinese and Jews still have their own ways of counting years — are they somehow retrograde uncommoners, outcasts? As with so much P.C. tinkering, more problems are raised than solved.

But where Christ is Lord — in the Messiah’s own house, in the Catholic Church — surely the house style should reflect His Presence. This is not just our opinion. It is that of the U.S. bishops’ ad hoc committee on catechetical materials, whose chairman, Archbishop Daniel Buechlein of Indianapolis, in 1998 told publishers of catechetical works that B.C.E. and C.E. must not be used: “The use of the designations B.C. and A.D. is…part of our common language of faith.” His statement of the meaning of these little sets of initials is brief but profound: “Even time has a Christological significance for followers of Jesus.”

But a friend of the NOR who serves as a parish lector has found in the 1999 Workbook for Lectors (written by Lawrence E. Mick and published by Liturgy Training Publications in Chicago) that in the notes to the scriptural readings, only the secular, Messiah-omitting designations are used. The Book of Sirach, it says, was written “about 180 BCE and…translated into Greek about 130 BCE”; and the third missionary journey of Paul (not St. Paul, just “Paul”) took place “around 55 CE.” Curiously, when our lector-friend inquired about the matter at his evening lectors’ meeting, he was told that B.C.E./C.E. is used so as not to offend adherents of the Jewish faith. Which of course is preposterous: There are no adherents of Judaism who are lectors in Catholic churches and therefore no such adherents who would be asked to use the Workbook for Lectors.


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New Oxford Notes: December 1999

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