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Anno Domini

My friend David and I were discussing the meaning of AD & BC the other day, and in my mind AD stood for: After Death [of christ], and BC: Before Christ. It turns out AD actually stands for Anno Domini, which is Latin for "in the year of our lord". I was correct on BC (Before Christ), though in 18th century England BCE was also in use, and stood for Before Common Era.

Below is the history of Anno Domini, which was created by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus:

St DennisDionysius is best known as the inventor of the Anno Domini era, which is used to number the years of both the Gregorian calendar and the Julian calendar. He used it to identify the several Easters in his Easter table, but did not use it to date any historical event. When he devised his table, Julian calendar years were identified by naming the consuls who held office that year — he himself stated that the "present year" was "the consulship of Probus Junior", which he also stated was 525 years "since the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ". How he arrived at that number is unknown but there is evidence of the system he applied. He invented a new system of numbering years to replace the Diocletian years that had been used in an old Easter table because he did not wish to continue the memory of a tyrant who persecuted Christians. The Anno Domini era became dominant in Western Europe only after it was used by the Venerable Bede to date the events in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in 731.

There exists evidence that Dionysius' desire to replace Diocletian years (Diocletian persecuted Christians) with a calendar based on the incarnation of Christ was to prevent people from believing the imminent end of the world. At the time it was believed that the Resurrection and end of the world would occur 500 years after the birth of Jesus. The current Anno Mundi calendar commenced with the fictitious creation of the world based on information in the Old Testament. It was believed that based on the Anno Mundi calendar Jesus was born in the year 5500 (or 5500 years after the world was created) with the year 6000 of the Anno Mundi calendar marking the end of the world. Anno Mundi 6000 (approximately AD 500) was thus equated with the resurrection of Christ and the end of the world. Since this date had already passed in the time of Dionysius, he therefore searched for a new end of the world at a later date. He was heavily influenced by ancient cosmology, in particular the doctrine of the Great Year that places a strong emphasis on planetary conjunctions. This doctrine says that when all the planets were in conjunction that this cosmic event would mark the end of the world. Dionysius accurately calculated that this conjunction would occur in about 1500 years after the life of Dionysius (in fact in May AD 2000). Dionysius then applied another astronomical timing mechanism based on precession of the equinoxes (that had only been discovered about six centuries earlier). Though incorrect, some oriental astronomers at the time believed that the precessional cycle was 24,000 years which included twelve astrological ages of 2,000 years each. Dionysius believed that if the planetary alignment marked the end of an age (i.e. the Pisces age), then the birth of Jesus Christ marked the beginning of the Age of Pisces 2,000 years earlier on the 25th March (the former feast of Incarnation, now Annunciation, near the date of the Northern Hemisphere Spring Equinox and beginning of many yearly calendars from ancient times). He therefore deducted 2,000 years from the May 2000 conjunction to produce AD 1 for the incarnation of Christ even though modern scholars and the Roman Catholic Church acknowledge that the birth of Jesus was a few years earlier than AD 1.