By Bishop Nicholas Sykes
Note from the author: This is a work in progress and is not to be taken as complete at this stage.
“The truth is like a lion, You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.”
– St. Augustine
1. The remarkable end of the second millennium.
A millennium is defined as a time span agreed or assumed to be one thousand years. The AD (or CE if you prefer) period that we live in now may or may not have been counted accurately (and whether it has or it hasn’t is a “whole other story”), but the end of the first decade of the period would be the end of the last day of the year 10 AD, the end of the first century would be the end of the last day of the year 100 AD, and the end of the first millennium would be the end of the last day of the year 1000 AD. And, of course, the end of the second millennium would be the end of the last day of the year 2000 AD. Just in the same way that a child counts his marbles, so we count the years: “1,2,3 …” For those familiar with the rosary, each “decade” consists of ten beads, and one counts them from one to ten.
We might be inclined to say that a child had lost some of his marbles if, when counting ten marbles, he arrived at a number less than 10.
My friend and cousin, who I refer to as IC (intelligent correspondent) remarked to me in some exasperation, “Does it in the least matter to God, Jesus or mere mortals whether Jesus was born in 4 BCE, year zero or 1 CE?” I would answer that the truer the story we can tell about an event, the more it matters that we tell it the way we know it is. We may not know the significance of telling stories inaccurately, but if we get a matter of fact wrong, we are aware that what may appear to be an unimportant inaccuracy can have a distorting effect upon the story we wish to tell that matters very much.
What IC was actually getting at, I assume (because he was responding to something I had written), was whether it really matters whether the end of the second millennium was the end of the last day of 1999, or whether it was the end of the last day of 2000. Viewed as an isolated datum, he might arguably be right to think that it has no significance. Others have underlined his view by pointing out that we are not certain when the “real” end of the millennium was, if it has yet occurred, in any case. How accurately have the first two millennia been dated? Are we sure that the “Dark Ages”, for instance, have been correctly dated, seeing that some of their supposedly contained history “went dark”?
And all this is true enough, though it is only tangential to the issue at hand of the meaning of a millennium. Yes, we can be no surer that the end of two thousand “real” years of the AD period was at the end of 2000 than at the end of 1999. But the use of the word “real” is important to us. It shows us that there is some truth locked away in this that we would like to find out about and tell about.
For the truth matters, even more than anything else, when we are telling a story.
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