Dionysius Exiguus

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Dionysius Exiguus or Denys the Little or Little (* around 470, † around 540) was a Scythian by birth and lived in Rome as a monk and friend of Cassiodorus for around 500 . There he translated Greek patristic writings into Latin . He became known as an outstanding computist and as the founder of the Christian era through the collection of the councils' resolutions and the papal decretals .

The Christian calendar according to Dionysius Exiguus

Dionysius is traditionally considered to be the founder of the Christian era, which he proposed for the first time in 525. Recently, however, it has been hypothesized that he took his concept from a lost work by Eusebius of Caesarea .

If Dionysius should have developed the Christian era, he proceeded quite pragmatically after studying the knowledge known at the time.

To this day, the 19-year Metonic cycle is used to calculate the Easter date . The exact Easter date of each year within such a cycle was shown on Easter boards . Despite the name, they set the entire Christian lunar calendar. Theophilos and his successor Kyrillos , Patriarch of Alexandria , created the first Easter tablets as early as the end of the 4th century. Theophilos had the first cycle of his tables begin with the year 96 (96 = 19 × 5 + 1) of the Diocletian era (284 AD ) that was common in Egypt at that time . The last cycle of these tables ends with the year 228 of this era (= 511/512 AD).

Because of the controversial Easter date of 526, Dionysius turned to the subject. As he mentions in his writings, he still had a table for the 13th cycle of the Diocletian era (229–247 = 513–531 AD). In the meantime, however, Annianus , Alexandrian computist around AD 400, had already developed the so-called Alexandrian cycle of 532 years (532 = 19 × 28), which combines the Metonic 19-year lunar cycle with the 28-year so-called solar cycle of the days of the week in the solar calendar. Dionysius Exiguus' Passover tablet owes its strong structure to its distant ancestor Anatolius , who invented the Metonic 19-year lunar cycle; this type of lunar cycle is an application of the Metonic cycle in the Julian calendar . The metonic structure of the classic Alexandrian 19-year lunar cycle contained in Dionysius Exiguus' Passover tablet is reflected in the structure of its 19-year periodic series of epacts .

Dionysius recognized the following in the year 241 after Diocletian (525 AD): With the year 247 after Diocletian (531 AD) 13 Metonic Cycles will have passed within this era. Based on other sources, he knew that between the beginning of Diocletian's era on Coptic New Year's Day (1st Tout) of the year 1 after Diocletian (August 29, 284) and the end of the reign of King Herod in about fifteen more Metonic cycles, i.e. 285 Years must have passed. This would make a complete Alexandrian cycle of 532 years.

He therefore decided to add the year anni ab incarnatione Domini (Latin for "years after the incarnation of the Lord" ) on his tablets from the year 248 according to Diocletian (in Roman style with January 1st as the beginning of the year, i.e. about four months later) ) to write. The latter is increased by exactly 284 (15 × 19 - 1) years compared to the former, which in turn means that the preceding, currently running, Alexandrian 532-year cycle with the historical year 1 BC. Must have started. Dionysius Exiguus says about an exact year for the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (year 1 BC or AD), contrary to many statements to the contrary, but not explicitly. It was later calculated that the year 1 AD corresponds to the Roman year DCC.LIV (754) from urbe condita , since the legendary founding of Rome.

This calculation in Christian years was for a long time reserved exclusively for computists . Beda Venerabilis , an English Benedictine , completed the Dionysian tablets, originally designed for only 95 years (532–626), into a complete second Alexandrian cycle (532–1063). With this, the calendar according to Dionysius Exiguus gradually gained recognition within the church. The calendar was first used by Bede in his historical writings.

The princes of the early Middle Ages long preferred their own reigns for dating, as did bishops and popes. The Christian era was brought into the general consciousness of the people with Charles' coronation at Christmas 800 at the latest . In official documents it became the rule in Western Europe towards the end of the first millennium, in Orthodox Russia, for example, not before Peter the Great .

According to Dionysius Exiguus, the calculation in Christian years is currently officially valid worldwide.

In Europe in the early Middle Ages, nobody knew the number or the number zero . Nevertheless, the presence of the Latin word nulla 'none' in the third column of his Easter table gives the impression that Dionysius Exiguus knew that important number. But it cannot be deduced from this that his nulla was a real “zero”. Nor did he use them in his calculations. Therefore, when specifying the time "before Christ", it should always be remembered that according to the astronomical year counting which contains the year zero and which is provided with the minus sign if the years before the year 0 are meant, a year from the year v . Is to be deducted. For example, Socrates drank in 399 BC. The hemlock cup, which corresponds to the astronomical year −398.

In Europe in the Middle Ages, the number zero was only used arithmetically from the 13th century (sporadically); general acceptance only came since the Renaissance .


Collectio Dionysiana

Council canons

  • Versio prima (496–498): Council texts, translations of Greek synodal resolutions from Sardica, Chalcedon and a Carthaginian from 419.
  • Versio secunda Council resolutions from Nicaea (325) to Constantinople (381), then Chalcedon (451), Serdika (342), Carthage (419).
  • Versio tertia (514–523): Differences between Eastern and Western Churches, in Latin and in Greek version; Apostolic Canons, Sardica and African Councils.

Collection of decrees

  • Collectio Decretalium Dionysiana , (498-514): 38 decretals (38) of Popes Siricius (384-399) to Anastasius II (496-498). Further decretals were added later.
  • Dionysiana (Corpus codicis canonum, Corpus Canonum): conciliar collection and collection of decretals. Pope Hadrian expanded these with the new papal decretals and handed them over to Charlemagne in 774 . This resulted in the Dionysio-Hadriana and became the code of law of the Frankish Church, from 802 (General Synod of Aachen). It also became the basis of the Dacheriana , a systematic collection of canon law, around 800 .


  • Friedrich Wilhelm BautzDionysius Exiguus. In: Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL). Volume 1, Bautz, Hamm 1975. 2nd, unchanged edition Hamm 1990, ISBN 3-88309-013-1 , Sp. 1322-1323.
  • Georges Declercq (2000) Anno Domini (The Origins of the Christian Era): Turnhout
  • Godehard Josef Ebers : Dionysius Exiguus. On the history of the oldest sources of canon law. In: Kurt Bussmann , Nikolaus Grass (ed.): Festschrift Karl Haff for his seventieth birthday. Universitätsverlag Wagner, Innsbruck 1950, pp. 46–50.
  • Godehard Josef Ebers: Outline of Catholic Church Law. Legal history and system . Manz, Vienna 1950, especially pp. 65/66.
  • Adalbert Erler: Canon Law. A study book. 5th edition. Beck, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-406-07414-6 ( short legal textbooks ).
  • Hans Erich Feine: Church legal history. The Catholic Church. 4th edition. Böhlau, Cologne et al. 1964.
  • Johann B. Haring: Basic features of Catholic canon law. 1st chapter. 3. Edition. Moser, Graz 1924.
  • Adolf Jülicher : Dionysios 155 . In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume V, 1, Stuttgart 1903, Col. 998 f.
  • Georg May : Canon Law Sources I. Catholic. In: Gerhard Krause, Gerhard Müller (Hrsg.): Theologische Realenzyklopädie. Volume 19: Canon Law Sources - Cross . de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1990, ISBN 3-11-012355-X , pp. 1-44.
  • Daniel McCarthy: The Emergence of Anno Domini. In: Gerhard Jaritz et al. (Ed.): Time and Eternity. The medieval discourse. Brepols, Turnhout 2003, ISBN 2-503-51312-3 , pp. 31-53 ( International medieval research 9).
  • Michael Richter:  Dionysius Exiguus . In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie (TRE). Volume 9, de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1982, ISBN 3-11-008573-9 , pp. 1-4.
  • Alexios G. Savvides, Benjamin Hendrickx (Eds.): Encyclopaedic Prosopographical Lexicon of Byzantine History and Civilization . Vol. 2: Baanes-Eznik of Kolb . Brepols Publishers, Turnhout 2008, ISBN 978-2-503-52377-4 , pp. 349-350.
  • Zuidhoek, Jan (2017) "The initial year of De ratione paschali and the relevance of its paschal dates", Studia Traditionis Theologiae 26 : 71-93

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Daniel McCarthy: The Emergence of Anno Domini . in: G. Jaritz et al. (Ed.): Time and Eternity. The medieval discourse ; Turnhout 2003; Pp. 31-53
  2. ^ Declercq (2000) 65-66
  3. Zuidhoek (2017) 87

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