Lord of Time

Should Christians mark our time on earth as though Jesus did not and does not exist?



The “Common Era” system has been adopted in history texts and museum exhibits. This reflects a movement to modify the Anno Domini system by using “CE” (for “Common Era”) in place of AD, and using “BCE” (for “Before Common Era”) in place of BC (Before Christ) as a religiously neutral notation in a pluralistic world. In fact, of course, “CE” can mean Christian Era, so it is not truly religiously neutral. In any case, Year 1 in this “Common Era” system remains the Year 1 of the Anno Domini system, the year of the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Southern Baptist Convention of 2000 passed a resolution, No. 9, urging the continued use of A.D. instead of CE as “a reminder of the preeminence of Christ and His gospel in world history.” The Convention explains, “This practice [of using CE] is the result of the secularization, anti-supernaturalism, religious pluralism, and political correctness pervasive in our society…” (Adelle M. Banks, “Southern Baptist Conservatives Tighten Hold on Belief, Practices,” Religious News Services, June 1, 2000).

Although the Anno Domini system implicitly recognizes the importance of the birth of Jesus Christ, Christians (and I address Christian readers here) and Christian publications should add “A.D.” to the year to make explicit what is implicit. Christians should put “A.D.” in their email dates. This use will remind those of us who are Christians, as we read and write, that we believe in a person who lived in a specific place and time. Imprinting A.D. with every year will replicate the ritual of imprinting the year on the Easter candle. As that ritual indicates, Christians believe that the person of Jesus Christ is not only an historical figure, but lives now in the current year, as stated by the late St. Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter written to prepare for the jubilee year 2000 (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, para. 10). The birth of Jesus Christ was — and is, and will always be — the watershed event, the “unparalleled event” (para. 15), the hinge, of human history. (See also Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2000 Declaration as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Jesus, “On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church.”)

Having once recognized the birth of Jesus Christ as an unparalleled event clearly worthy of being designated as Year 1, should we Christians dare join the secularists and reject the Anno Domini system, adopting in its place a system in which time is marked by some lesser event? Should we “live and move and have our being” (Acts of the Apostles 17:28) through time as though time were man-made rather than God-given? Should we mark our time on earth as though Jesus did not and does not exist?

In this regard, it is instructive to read an excerpt from biblical scholar Raymond Brown’s slim volume An Adult Christ at Christmas (no date; p. 18) which is based on his major work The Birth of the Messiah (1993):

The Age of Augustus was propagandized as the glorious age of pastoral rule over a world made peaceful by virtue…[T]here was erected a great altar to the peace brought about by Augustus, and this Ara Pacis Augustae still stands in Rome…The Greek cities of Asia Minor [now Turkey] adopted September 23rd, the birthday of Augustus, as the first day of the New Year. He was hailed…as the “saviour of the whole world”; and [one] inscription grandiosely proclaimed: “The birthday of the god [Augustus] marked the beginning of the good news for the world.” Luke [in his Gospel] contradicts this propaganda by showing that paradoxically the edict of Augustus served to provide a setting [the census] for the birth of Jesus. Men built an altar to the pax Augustae, but a heavenly chorus proclaimed the pax Christi: “On earth peace to those favored by God” [Luke] (2:14). The birthday that marked the true beginning of a new time took place not in Rome but in Bethlehem, and a counterclaim to man-made inscriptions was the heraldic cry of the angel of the Lord: “I announce to you the good news of a great joy which will be for the whole people: To you this day there is born in the city of David a Savior who is Messiah and Lord” [Luke] (2:10-11).

Friends, the new year will be A.D. 2023.


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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