One of the things increasingly prevalent today is the propensity in writing about dates to substitute “CE” (common era) for “AD” (anno domini – the year of the Lord) and “BCE” (before the common era) for “BC” (before Christ). To be sure, such notation is not the innovation of a handful of academics in just the past few years–many Jews, for example, had been using CE to mean “Christian Era” for centuries because they rejected the notion of the Lordship of Christ Jesus. Others used “Common Era” as synonymous with the “Christian era” as well. The notation has become more popular in the last several years as academics, museums, and others have consciously sought to distance the calendar from any Christian connotations.
This is simply illogical. If the calendar is marking years from a given point, then what, if not the Advent of Christ, is the reference point? In other words, what marks the start of the current “Common Era”? The year 1 CE was the 27th year of Augustus Caesar and the 754th year since the founding of Rome (ab urbe condita or AUC). Tiberius–at that point, still a general–was in the process of quelling revolts in Germania. Livy began writing his History of Rome, the Parthian Empire began conquering the petty kingdoms of Gadara in the Indus Valley and the nine year old Emperor Ping of the Han Dynasty in China began the Yuashi Era, which would last all of five years and be known as the beginning of the end for the dynasty. Oddly enough, none of these events of the greatest empires of the world at the start of the Common Era served as the basis for the Common Era. In fact, in the full sweep of the histories of the Roman, Parthian, and Han Empires, great things happened before and after 1 CE but the year itself was rather dull—except, of course, for the birth of the Son of God, the Messiah Jesus, in an obscure Judean village on the periphery of the Roman Empire. If others want to come up with their own dating system independent of any Christian reference, that’s their prerogative. They should at least have the courage of the French Revolutionaries to justify what they want to identify as Year 0.
Why should it be such a big deal if people use CE instead of AD or BCE instead of BC? Couldn’t one “Christianize” the CE label simply by calling it “Christian Era”? Few people speak Latin anyway, so Anno Domini is not readily understood. Stop and consider for a moment when the French Revolutionaries proclaimed “Year Zero” in 1792 with the abolition of the French Monarchy and the institution of a non-Gregorian calendar. Or, in a more recent example, when the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia made a similar pronouncement in 1978 and began a genocide against educated people. In both cases, the declaration of “Year Zero” carried with it the connotation not merely of a change in the calendar, but the institution of a New Order of the Ages (Novus Ordo Seclorum). Something new has happened and is ushering in a new era to affect all of human history, such that all subsequent life needs to refer back to that point. Modern revolutionaries have a certain hubris in declaring their revolution as a turning point in human existence. Time, therefore, has an eschatological significance. The question we need to grapple with is, what is the event worthy enough for be treated in such a manner? For Christians, that has to revolve around Christ.
In using the calendar, however, we are doing more than simply marking time since Jesus came. The phrase, “The Year of the LORD,” is similar to the regnal formulations typically used of kings and queens—”the 50th year of Elizabeth the II” or the “5th year of Ashurbanipal” for example. Anno domini, the Year of the LORD, implies that Christ is still reigning. Indeed, according to orthodox Christian theology in all the major traditions of the Faith, He is reigning, even now. Simply calling the era the “Christian Era” grossly diminishes that fact. It suggests that this era is like some other human era and it neutralizes any sense that we as individuals are participants in, not merely observers, of this era. And, because He is reigning, we as His people have obligations upon us to honor and extend His rule. Because calendar time is eschatological, there is the sense that the time we are now in is pregnant with significance. We are in the age in which the LORD is reigning, but His physical presence is hidden. It is the age in which the nations are being gathered in in anticipation of His physical return when the fullness of His kingdom will be ushered in for all time.
It is the year of the LORD and we are still anticipating His return. Praise be to Him!