In the year 252525…, or: How to bore your opponent to death

All the readers of “Chronologia Universalis” probably heard at some point the 1969 hit by the Zager and Evans duo. In it, the musicians propose a pessimistic, if not apocalyptic, insight into the relatively distant future, asking questions about such important issues as the survival of humankind by the year 9525 and so on and so forth. At the moment of its premiere, the song somehow reflected all the Cold War-related uncertainties and concerns, just as did other kinds of popcultural texts preoccupied with apocalyptic visions and predictions. To say that I like the song would be an overstatement, yet I must confess I could not get it out of my head while I was working on one of the texts that belongs to the long line of polemical writings related to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. And although I intend to include it in the critical edition of these sources, there are moments when I wonder whether this decision won’t turn as suicidal.


What I would like to propose you today is to make a thought experiment. Instead of two pop-rock musicians singing about what may happen in the distant future imagine a Catholic priest of Armenian origin, sitting in his studio and writing. The whole scene is settled in the city of Lviv somewhere in 1660’s. Jakub Gawath (1598-1679), the priest in question, is in his sixties and is already know as the author of a number of religious texts. Some of them will have to wait for their publication by the 1690’s, but at the moment when we meet Gawath he is working on something really special – the ultimate argument for the acknowledgement of the Gregorian calendar.

The harbinger of this argument was Gawath’s 1661 brochure entitled Pokazanie jawnej omyłki starego kalendarza w święceniu Wielkiejnocy (The Demonstration of the Blatant Error of the Old Calendar with regard to the Celebration of Easter). In it, Gawath developed a brief and rather loose line of argumentation about the reasons why the Gregorian calendar should be acknowledged by the Uniates and Orthodox Christians. Once again, following into the footsteps of his predecessors, Gawath made use of the standard arguments such as references to the early Christian synods, citations from the Church Fathers, scriptural arguments, etc. although he put them in a somewhat different form than the one employed by Joannes Broscius, Kasjan Sakowicz or even Jan Dubowicz. From the structure of The Demonstration it can be easily of observed that Gawath had some real difficulties in organizing this text around one idea and he could not resist the temptation to use all arguments that he had at hand. What the readers got in result is a loose combination of images and arguments of all possible kinds, a real mishmash which is still comprehensible, yet a bit annoying.

Jakub Gawath, The Demonstration of the Blatant Error of the Old Calendar..., Lviv 1661, title page

Jakub Gawath, The Demonstration of the Blatant Error of the Old Calendar…, Lviv 1661, title page; Cracow, Princes Czartoryski Library, shelfmark 63682 I

The function of The Demonstration, however, was to prepare the ground for the ultimate battle. In 1665 Gawath brought out the big guns although he masked them wisely with a verbal camouflage. If you see two titles, The Demonstration of Blatant Errors… and the other, i.e. A Supplement to Two Treatises on Calendar (Supplement dwóm traktacikom o kalandarzu), you quite naturally expect that the supplement will be simply a supplement, nothing more, nothing less and will be shorter than the basic text. But this is not the case of Gawath as his supplement is several times longer than his previous works on calendar and goes well beyond the standard polemical argumentation as it also includes several featuers of a computistical manual.

Gawath’s Supplement is a text difficult to read for a number of reasons. Although by the moment of its publication the Polish ortography has been adopted for print quite well and seemed to be pretty stable, the Supplement brings a set of quite puzzling attempts to write down words in a completely new, sometimes amusing, way. The same goes for punctuation. In the Old Polish prints it was based not on the logical division of the text, be it a sentence or paragraph, but on the intonation. In case of Gawath’s treatise (oh pardon, supplement to treatises) punctuation marks were used without any visible rules, some long sentences merge into one mega-sentence or sentence-like structure because either the author or the typesetter did not know where to put a full stop. Sometimes, just like in the case of the Oxford comma, the enumerations become rather confusing as it is difficult to determine wheter a series of words should be treated as a list of, let’s say, four items or a list of three items determining the fourth one – both options make sense and this is a real challenge for an editor. The general impression is that the text was prepared for print by a typesetter who got drunk or by an absolute newcomer to the profession. (Needless to say that there is no Erratum at the end of the brochure…)

Jakub Gawath, Supplement to the Two Treatises on Calendar..., Lviv 1665; Cracow, Princes Czartoryski Library, shelfmark 63681 I

Jakub Gawath, Supplement to the Two Treatises on Calendar…, Lviv 1665; Cracow, Princes Czartoryski Library, shelfmark 63681 I

However, once you get accustomed to the peculiarities of Gawath’s logic, punctuation and ortography, you can try to figure out what he had in mind and why he decided to publish his Supplement. It turns out that the basic idea was to make his readers aware of the long-distance consequences of the fact that the Orthodox Christians decided to keep the Julian calendar and treated the recognition of the new system of time reckoning  as an act of treason against the tradition established at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. A similar attempt has been already reported by Joannes Broscius in his Apology of the Roman Catholic Calendar, where the Cracow scholar suggested that if the calendrical divide lasts long enough, the Orthodox Christians and Uniates will celebrate their Easter in the summer. Broscius however, although he had all qualification to do this, did not decide to involve calculations or tables that would prove his readers that he was right. Such a paradox, if put in a witty way, could do its job as a link in the long line of argumentation. You can show the implications of this fact in few sentences and ask rhetorically your readers if they really want to sentence the next generations to the everlasting, totally errant celebration of the Easter. This could also gain you some respect among the learned who could share your love for puns and paradoxes and appreciate the knowledge of astronomy. Finally, it could also serve as a quite evocative argument to those who are less educated as the image of Easter celebrated in the summer, during the harvest, could be really appealing even to the imagination of less educated public.

Unlike Broscius, Gawath decided to do the opposite as he made a risky attempt to tell something what should be presented in a tabular form. At the moment of the introduction of the reform in 1582 the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars amounted to 10 days. To keep the spring equinox in its place, i.e. on the 21st of March, just as it was decided in Nicaea in the 4th century, the Gregorian calendar brought a new system of leap years, which eventually lead to the growth of difference between the two calendars. This could be easily shown in a neat and elegant table, as there is nothing difficult in showing the growing difference between these two systems in few colums.

Gawath took the road less taken and presented the tabular data in a narrative form. This decision resulted in a kind of an obscure litany to the old and new calendar, in which he enumerated the crucial moments in the future when the divergence between the two systems will be growing and provided some computistical calculations of the golden number and epacts, giving the exact dates of Easter that could be of use for the generations of Christians who would come hundreds or even thousands of years after his own generation. Needless to say that this makes his text really annoying: one, two or three paragraphs of this kind are fine and they give you the general idea, but the fourth, fifth … and the fifteenth make you a bit impatient and you start peeking at the next pages, just to make sure this sequence will finally conclude at some point. This is as if Gawath decided to bore his Orthodox oponents to death, or at least exhaust them to a point when they would be ready to admit that the Gregorian calendar is a much better and more precise tool for time reckoning than the old Julian calendar.

Gawath's Supplement, p. 4-5, an example of his calendrical litany - evey paragraph begins with a reference to another year which is important for his argument

Gawath’s Supplement, p. 4-5, an example of his calendrical litany – evey paragraph is dedicated to a single year which plays significant role in his entire argument on the desynchronization of two calendars

The radicality of Gawath, however, consists not only in his attempt to rhetoricize something which is completely at odds with rhetoric, but in the fact that at some points he seems to suggest that he assumes quite an optimistic view that in the year 48900 A.D. we as a humankin will still be here on Earth, arguing about the dating of Easter and the legacy of the synod of 325 A.D.. Up to a point, this attitude seems to clash with the apocalyptic and millenarist tendencies of Gawath’s times, when the Second Coming and the Last Judgement seemed to be right behind the corner. If you assume that the date of the Easter in 48900 A.D. is really an issue, the perspective of salvation becomes nearly unavailable, especially for those who are particularly impatient. The long-term scenario outlined by this Armenian Catholic priest had obviously nothing to do with the doctrine of salvation and interpretation of the Scripture but it is an interesting paradox, however, how these two attitudes towards time coexisted – the impatient awaiting of the Second Coming and the quiet, yet still quite apocalyptic, calculations of the disorder of time in the 488th century C.E.

Maybe, then, if one is looking for some antecedences of apocalyptical images of the future in early modern texts, he or she should turn not only towards the literary works that offered imaginary narratives to the Moon and other celestial bodies or utopian visions of the future that would come within the period of two or three hundred years, but also to the texts that were created for completely different reasons and purposes.

If the coexistence of two systems of time reckoning in early modern Christianity caused so many difficulties, imagine the social consequences of the further desynchronization of calendars in the future. Thus, the Zager and Evans-style question, “In the year 252525, will the Easter be on time?” seems to promise quite an intriguing starting point for an apocalyptic novel.

P.S. Those of you who are awaiting the Part 2 of the series dedicated to the manuscript of Jan Latosz’s Przestroga are kindly asked to have patience. The next post will appear here within the next few days.

“The calendar went off course”

There could be no better date to talk about calendar reform and determination of the dates of Passover and Easter than the spring equinox. On March 20, 2014 I gave a talk at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” on a series of Old Polish polemical treatises, literary dialogues and pamphlets which circulated between 1580’s and 1660’s, creating thus a fascinating series of arguments for and against the Gregorian calendar and its relation to the Julian calendar. The talk was a part of the “Warsaw Old Polish Thursdays” seminar, a cycle of lectures which gather (mostly Warsaw-based) scholars who work in the field of Old Polish literature, culture and history. Below I am embedding the podcast which is unfortunately in Polish. For the English-speaking readers of this blog I have only a brief outline of the talk but would also like to assure you the posts which are about to appear here in the future will for various reasons echo the content of the record.

Speaking about echo, I owe you at least an explanation of the title. The phrase in quotation marks, in Polish: kalendarz z kluby swej wypadł, is taken from from Kasjan Sakowicz‘s The Old Calendar of 1640 and it served him a number of times as a powerful metaphor in his argument for the acknowledgement of the corrected calendar by the Uniates. I like it also because somewhere, on a very deep level, it echoes the famous “The time is out of joint” phrase from the first act of Hamlet. And despite the fact Sakowicz was neither a prince of Denmark, nor a forgotten author of a newly discovered 17th-century Polish translation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, he used similar categories to diagnose the experience of chaos (which obviously in his case was something completely different from the chaos experienced by Hamlet).


And here is the abstract:

“The calendar went off course”: Old Polish polemical writings and the problem of the calendar reform

The polemical texts related to the reform of the calendar introduced by Gregory XIII in 1582 have been largely overlooked in the previous studies on the Old Polish literature. The correction of the system of calendar calculation resulted in Poland-Lithuania in a series of brochures published by astronomers, theologians, and polemicists who represented a whole range of confessions. The texts of authors who engaged in the debate, among them the Jesuits such as Marcin Łaszcz and Stanisław Grodzicki, Uniate priests such as Kasjan Sakowicz and Jan Dubowicz, as well as Kraków-based astronomer Jan Brożek constitute an intriguing series of attempts to persuade the members of the Greek-Catholic Church to acknowledge the new calendar and method of determining the mobile holidays. In my talk, I intend to bring up such issues as (1) argumentative strategies employed by the polemicists; (2) role and variety of literary genres used in the debate; (3) political role of these brochures; (4) sources of scientific views of the debate’s participants; (5) authors’ knowledge of other methods of calendar calculation, the Jewish calendar in particular.

P.S. I wish to thank the organizers of the “Old Polish Thursdays” for giving me the opportunity to present my research. I would also like to thank all the participants for their inspiring questions and comments.

Calendar and conversion

The debate between the Uniates, Orthodox Christians and Catholics over the superiority of the Gregorian calendar is quite well documented by a series of prints from the 1640’s. One of the authors and adversaries in this exchange of vernacular pamphlets, brochures, short treatises and short fictional dialogues was Kasjan Sakowicz (1578-1647), a polemical writer, theologian and Uniate priest.

His biography shows, however, that as much as the first two categories denote well his activity during his whole career, the term “Uniate priest” may be used only to a certain period of his life, which covered merely 16 years between 1625 and 1641. Sakowicz was born to an Orthodox family and as a teenager he entered the walls of the Zamojski Academy, where he received basic education in liberal arts, as well as the Academy of Cracow where he broadened his knowledge. In the early 1620’s, being still a member of the Orthodox Church, he was the principal of the school in Kiev. The school was ran by the local bratstvo, a secular association, or fraternity, of Orthodox citizens organized on the model of a guild. It was in 1625 when Sakowicz decided to change his confession and join the Uniates, that is the community of Eastern Christians who on the strength of the Union of Brest of 1596 acknowledged the supremacy of the Roman Catholic bishop of Rome but kept the Orthodox liturgy with its language, symbols and calendar.

We do not know exactly what made Sakowicz to take such step. The reasons for conversions throughout the history, including the early modern period, were various (and quite often coincided with one another), starting from an actual strong religious, or even mystical, experience, through the necessity to secure one’s life in face of political threat, to pure opportunism having its origins in a belief that confessional affiliation can either facilitate or hinder economic enterprises in particular region of the world. To this list of reasons for conversion we can distil from dozens and hundreds of conversion narratives, one should add at least one more – the calendar.

Since at the moment of joining the Greek Catholic Church Sakowicz was already a public person and author of a commentary to Aristotle and few poetical works, he must have exposed himself to the fury of his former fellow believers. Unfortunately, he did not leave us any kind of a narrative that could broaden our knowledge about this act. This could be simply a matter of a political choice, but could also be an act of theologically grounded belief that the unity of the Christian communities is far more important than all the differences between them and a simple step that an Orthodox Christian can take in order to bring this unity closer is to acknowledge the act signed in Brest. The discussions over the consequences of the Union of Brest are still ongoing and from the point of view of political and social history it is still unclear whether this act brought more good or bad for Eastern Christianity, culture, and political life in the region. If one takes the Catholic point of view, it may seem that it contributed to the advent of the unity of the only true, i.e. Roman Catholic, Church, but from the Orthodox point of view, things are not (and probably never be) that obvious, and the document of 1596 became immediately a reason for yet another schism in the Eastern Christianity and a bone of contention between these two confessions.

Kalendarz staryLuckily, we know far more about Sakowicz’s second act of conversion, which took place in the early 1640’s. In 1641 he published in Vilnius, in the printing shop of the Basilian order a brochure entitled The Old Calendar (Kalendarz stary), in which he exposed the „blatant and self-evident error regarding the celebration of the Passover”, included a series of replies to the accusations formulated by men who stuck to the Julian calendar (he coined even a lovely compound to label them, starokalendarzanie, ‘the oldcalendrists’), and listed the possible benefits related to the acknowledgment of the new measure of time. Although the brochure received the imprimatur of the Uniate elders and came of the Uniate printing press, its publication ended up with a fervent controversy. This was caused by the fact that the rhythm of the liturgical year based on the Julian calendar was treated by the Uniates as a vehicle for their cultural, religious and ethnic identity, which, apart from their language and form of liturgy, allowed them to differ from the Roman Catholics. Sakowicz, reducing the role of calendar to a tool, neglected the symbolic role and power of the calendar.

Sakowicz’s position was built on two assumptions. The first one was that the measure of time is not an article of faith and it can be changed, corrected or reformed if necessary. For him, the fact that the Uniates referred to the 1st Nicean synod of 325 as a landmark for their calendrical computations was an example of their hypocrisy, stubbornness and blindness. The basic rule for determining the date of the Easter, established already in 325, was that the Easter should fall on the first Sunday after the first spring full moon. The Julian calendar, however, as Sakowicz put it in an almost Shakespearean phrase, „fell of the track” (wypadł z kluby) and should no longer be used to determine the date of Easter. The second assumption was based on a conviction that the unity of Christians makes a greater value than sticking to one’s, sometimes wrongly understood, tradition. Hence the whole argumentative structure of his book, built of calculations, images, analogies, folk tales and geared up in order to convince his fellow believers to acknowledge the new calendar. For Sakowicz the change of the system of calendar calculation was not a matter of a deep intervention in the logical structure of the Uniate creed and was a rather cosmetic change which would allow the Roman Catholics and Uniates to breathe and celebrate in one rhythm.

Sakowicz’s belief in the idea of the unity of Christendom must have been really strong and the things around him must have been heating up after the publication of The Old Calendar as during the diocesan synod at Lutsk in 1641 he declared his obedience to the bishop of Rome, shortly after the synod applied for the pope’s consent to leave the Greek-Catholic Church, and after receiving the approval of Urban VIII become a full Catholic and joined the Augustinian order. As a catholic monk based in the Kraków convent of St Catherine, he continued to work on the problem of “many calendars” and in 1644 he decided to publish yet another book, Spectacles for the Old Calendar (Okulary kalendarzowi staremu), which he conceived as an augmented and expanded version of his 1641 brochure. Indeed, some arguments which appeared already in The Old Caledar have been substantially revised and their style is less hectic and more elaborated (although this still does not make this text an example of prose artistry). Yet the most interesting part of the Spectacles is not Sakowicz’s exposition of the errors of the old calendar and virtues of the new one, but his preface addressed to the “pious reader”. In it, he spares no bitter words to his former fellow believers, who, as he writes, claimed that he published The Old Calendar without the consent of the Church authorities, badmouthed him and even went as far as to try to convince the Vatican authorities to revoke the papal decree regarding Sakowicz’s transfer to the Catholic Church. Sakowicz used the publication of the Spectacles as an opportunity to speak from the podium and straighten the things out, showing his version of the facts and expressing his misery.


Sakowicz expressed his resentment not only in Polish but also in Latin and he did it in a rather frank, if not brutal, way, declaring that for him there was no way back to the Uniate Church as it would mean something even worse than ab equis transire ad asinos. Despite this move from the Uniate to the Catholic camp and despite the bitterness of phrasing used to describe this act, he did not change his general view and actually claimed that the unity of these two churches could be built through small things such as calendar and that there is no actual need for a mass conversion of Uniates. He was wise enough to avoid the strategy of an open proselytism which could actually make more harm to the whole cause. It seems, however, that one of the very few people who Sakowicz managed to convince to take the side of the new calendar was Sakowicz himself and that the consequences of his decision turned probably far more serious than he could have imagined.

Source of images: Jagiellonian Digital Library