Why the Western World Uses an Awkward Calendar

Our calendar – the Gregorian calendar – has peculiarities that complicate trade and
commerce. Despite all attempts to alter it, the seven-day weekly cycle has been preserved.

by Paul Kieffer
November 15, 2004

In a memorandum to the United Nations in 1953, India's ambassador to the UN proposed the adoption of a new calendar to replace the Gregorian calendar, which is used worldwide to provide a common time reference for conducting business in today's world. In explaining the reason for the proposal, the ambassador listed the facts that months, quarters and half years are of unequal lengths on the Gregorian calendar.

These factors skew business statistical analyses. And they can cause the number of working days in a given month to vary from year to year.

The ambassador wrote: "The greatest drawback from a statistical and commercial point of view is that, since the various days of the week are not of the same value as regards volume of trade, and the years and the months do not from year to year include the same number of individual weekdays, there can be no genuine statistical comparison between one year and another, while the various subdivisions of the year itself–the half years, quarters and months–are likewise incapable of comparison" ("Memorandum to the United Nations Economic and Social Council," Document E/2514, Oct. 30, 1953).

Other criticisms of the Gregorian calendar include its adherence to a solar cycle, which produces a "unique" calendar from year to year. This means that a given date will vary from one year to the next: July 4 will be a weekday most years but can also fall on the weekend in some years. A given day of the month will not be the same weekday the next year, nor will a weekday in a given week of the year have the same calendar date as the previous year. Months and the year cannot be divided into an exact number of weeks. The exact reproduction of the calendar for any given year will take place only once every 28 years.

The asymmetrical Gregorian calendar, with its origins dating back to a prescientific age some 2,000 years ago, does seem to be an anachronism in today's technological world. For decades, proponents of calendar reform have advocated the adoption of a new calendar.

The candidates are...

The League of Nations, following World War I, and the United Nations, after World War II, offered for the first time forums for discussion on worldwide societal change. Each organization received a proposal to replace the Gregorian calendar. Both calendars proposed had been developed in the mid-19th century and had a key similarity of special interest to Sabbath-keepers.

The older of the two calendars was a proposal for a 12-month scheme with identical quarters, presented by an Italian priest, Abbé Marco Mastrofini, in 1834. Mastrofini's calendar is known today as the "World Calendar" or the "Universal Calendar." It retains the 12 months used in the current Gregorian calendar, but all four quarters are always of equal length. Each quarter has three months, two of 30 days length and a third month of 31 days. Each quarter is exactly 13 weeks or 91 days long, beginning on Sunday and ending on Saturday. In addition, each month contains an equal number of 26 working days plus Sundays. The World Calendar has days and dates that always agree from year to year, and holidays are permanently fixed: The calendar remains identical from year to year.

The other calendar proposal was developed by Auguste Comte in 1849. Comte's calendar was made up of 13 months of exactly 28 days each, or four full weeks. Comte's calendar was adapted at the beginning of the 20th century to retain the names of the current months, with an additional 13th month, "Sol," added during the summer season in the northern hemisphere. This calendar is known as the "International Fixed Calendar," and it was promoted in the United States in the 1920s by George Eastman of Eastman Kodak fame, earning it the name "Eastman Calendar."

The American public, however, did not warm up to Eastman's calendar initiative because familiar dates would change. America's birthday, the Fourth of July, would have become "Sol 17." The only part of the Eastman calendar that would have been comparable to the current Gregorian calendar would have been the first 28 days of January.

The 13-month calendar was effectively killed when the League of Nations submitted only the World Calendar to member nations for an evaluation. This is the calendar promoted by the Indian ambassador to the United Nations in 1953.

However, at its 905th meeting on April 20, 1956, the UN Economic and Social Council adjourned discussion on calendar reform sine die (i.e., with no target date for future action). Since then, there has not been any further worldwide initiative to reform the Gregorian calendar.

Change would spell the end of the seven-day week

Both the "World Calendar" and the 13-month calendar had an annual cycle of exactly 364 days. However, the solar year is a little over a day longer than that. How were these two calendars to compensate for the difference?

To preserve the perennial nature with all dates always occurring on the same day of the week, both calendars provided for one extra "nameless day" at the end of year. This day would have had a date, but no day of the week assigned to it. Every four years an additional "nameless day" would have been added at the end of another month, thus preserving the solar year, but also not disturbing the permanent correspondence between days of the week and calendar dates.

When Auguste Comte first proposed his 13-month calendar in 1849, he adopted the "nameless day" concept from Mastrofini's World Calendar. Mastrofini was a Catholic priest, and his "nameless day" at the end of each year would have disrupted the seven-day week. Each year the real weekly cycle would have advanced one day–and in leap years by two days–relative to the calendar in use.

When the UN Economic and Social Council asked for input on India's proposal to adopt the World Calendar, some delegations voiced concerns because of the undesirable effect it would have on certain aspects of religious life–the observance of a weekly day of rest in particular. Oddly enough, the Vatican did not comment on this aspect of the calendar proposal, although Catholic countries would have been influenced by any position taken by Rome.

The dominance of the Gregorian calendar

The influence of the Catholic Church was the initial impetus for the dominance of the Gregorian calendar. Its predecessor, the Julian calendar, dated back to the Roman Empire but was actually slightly longer than the solar year. As a result, by the 16th century the beginning of spring fell in early March.

To correct this problem, Pope Gregory XIII exercised his papal authority and excised 10 dates from the calendar by shortening October 1582. (The weekly cycle remained uninterrupted, however.) He also revised the leap-year rule by deciding that century-ending years would be leap years only if they were divisible by 400. (For example, the year 2000 was a leap year, but 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not.)

Catholic influence in Europe ensured that most European nations adopted the papal reform quickly. The rift between England and the Roman Church made England and its colonies an exception, but in 1752 they, too, adopted the Gregorian calendar when 11 dates were skipped to bring the British calendar into sync with the rest of Europe.

The French adopted a "Revolutionary Calendar" for about a dozen years in the 19th century, until Napoleon reestablished the Gregorian calendar in 1806. Russia and the ensuing Soviet Union converted to the Gregorian calendar in 1918, following the October Revolution a year earlier. The "October Revolution" actually took took place November 1917, according to the Gregorian calendar. In 1923 Greece adopted the Gregorian calendar, followed by Turkey in 1927.

Other calendars continue to be used for traditional or religious purposes, like the Chinese calendar or the "Revised Julian Calendar" used by the Eastern Orthodox churches. However, in practical application, the Gregorian calendar is the real world calendar, providing the basis for a common time reference for business transactions, etc.

Changing "times and laws"

Daniel's prophecy of four wild beasts in Daniel 7 is a parallel prophecy to Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar's dream in chapter 2. Both chapters describe the same four successive world kingdoms. The fourth beast of Daniel 7 is the same world kingdom represented by the legs and feet of the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his dream: the Roman Empire.

Daniel 7 provides an interesting description of this fourth beast: "The fourth beast will be a fourth kingdom on the earth, which will be different from all the other kingdoms, and it will devour the whole earth and tread it down and crush it. As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings will arise; and another will arise after them, and he will be different from the previous ones and will subdue three kings.

"And he will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time" (verses 23-25, New American Standard Bible, emphasis added).

The power described as "another" in verse 24 appears to be involved in religious matters: It speaks out against God and persecutes true Christians. Since any civil government would be involved in normal legislation, this power would be distinguished by assuming ecclesiastical authority to alter "times" and "law."

Rome was involved in changing "times" long before Pope Gregory XIII adjusted the Julian calendar in 1582. The most notable change was the introduction of the seven-day week as part of Rome's acceptance of Christianity as a state-sanctioned religion. In A.D. 321, Emperor Constantine declared Sunday the first day of the seven-day week. (Although his purpose was to entrench Sunday worship, his calendar also inadvertently preserved the seven-day weekly cycle with the Sabbath as the seventh day of the week.)

With Constantine's edict, the Roman Empire no longer persecuted this dominant form of Christianity. Instead, over time, Rome's new state religion progressed to persecuting those Christians who did not agree with its teachings, and it continued the pattern established by Constantine of altering ecclesiastical "times" and "law." Most notable is the well-documented transfer of the biblically enjoined day of rest from the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath, to Sunday.

Rome's influence is the only authority that exists for observing Sunday, as is readily admitted by many scholars. "The Church changed the observance of the Sabbath to Sunday by right of the divine, infallible authority given to her by her founder, Jesus Christ. The Protestant claiming the Bible to be the only guide of faith has no warrant for observing Sunday. In this matter, the Seventh-Day Adventist is the only consistent Protestant" ("The Catholic Universe Bulletin," Aug. 14, 1942, p. 4).

In 1975 Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, established a new "German Industrial Standard" (DIN 1355) giving civil recognition to the Catholic week. Since 1976 calendars in Germany have been printed with the first day of the week as Monday and the seventh day as Sunday, Rome's day of rest for a Christianity different from that practiced by the New Testament Church of God.

The ability to buy and sell

In Revelation 13 we find a prophecy with implications for the end time. In this chapter two beasts are depicted; one of them is a civil authority able "to make war with the saints and to overcome them" (Revelation 13:7), and the other masquerades "like a lamb," but in reality speaks "like a dragon" (verse 11).

This second "beast" of Revelation 13 shares similarities with Daniel's little horn of Daniel 7:23-25. It performs miracles (verses 13 and 14) and "exercises all the authority of the first beast" (verse 12). The second "beast" of Revelation 13 is obviously a religious power, since it has the appearance of a lamb and even works miracles, although in reality, it speaks like its actual source, Satan the devil!

In addition to forcing people to worship (a religious act) the first "beast" of Revelation 13, the second "beast" enforces a sign on the people who refuse to worship the first one: "He [the second beast] causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name" (Revelation 13:16-17).

The mark of the Beast will be some means of identifying people who are in submission to the authority of the Beast power. The language used – "right hand" (symbolic of actions or behavior) and "foreheads" (symbolic of mind or thoughts) – is identical to the description God gave His people Israel in the Old Testament to describe what His law should be to them (Exodus 13:9; Deuteronomy 6:8). Those who "worship the first beast" will therefore not be worshipping the true God, even though they will likely be deceived into believing that they are (John 16:1-2). Instead, they will be worshipping the Beast and following the Beast's commands.

Of all the points of God's basic spiritual law, the Ten Commandments, the one that is questioned or ignored most frequently is the commandment involving the Sabbath, which God intended to be a special sign for His people (Exodus 31:13). In fact, the Sabbath can be viewed as a test of a person's willingness to be totally subject to God's will for Christians. One sure way to prevent people from obeying God fully is to "alter times" by changing the calendar, as practiced throughout much of Europe and even achieved by civil legislation in Germany.

In the last 70 years, the Gregorian calendar remains the calendar of choice, simply because the religion of Rome, having altered the calendar centuries ago to suit its doctrines, seems unlikely to support any change that would do away with Sunday and the weekly cycle.

• Paul Kieffer, November 15, 2004