Your RDA of Irony

The Politics of Science

September 14th (really!), 1752:  Great Britain Finally Admits That the Catholics Are Right

 When the truth is inconvenient, and the facts are incriminating, one can find great solace in ignorance. There are times and societies where stupidity is a dogma. For example, in 16th century Spain the Inquisition regarded the practice of reading on a Saturday as suspiciously Jewish. And you know how the Inquisition dealt with suspicions. People can be as flammable as books.

Now lest I be picketed by the Knights of Columbus, I must mention an example of willful ignorance by Protestant liberals. In 1582, the Catholic Church presented an updated and far more accurate version of the calendar. However, Protestant England refused to acknowledge the improvement, as if there were a Jesuit lurking behind every page of the calendar. Of course, naming the calendar for Pope Gregory was not exactly ecumenical either. Rather than give a Catholic credit for anything, England adhered to the old Julian calendar. (Apparently, an inaccurate pagan was preferable to an accurate Catholic.) 

 For almost 170 years, Britain chose dogma over science.   But in their Protestant zealotry, the British were making the Sun into a Catholic.  It was scheduling equinoxes and solstices in compliance with Rome rather than Canterbury.  The fact that British farmers would miscalculate spring plantings by ten or eleven days cannot be the sole excuse for English cooking, but it hardly helped.  Science, commerce and common sense demanded the correction, and by 1751 Parliament was ready.

The British Calendar Act began by acknowledging a few problems but not any fault.  According to the legislation, the problem with the calendar dated back to 325 A.D. and the Council of Nicea.  So, according to this Protestant logic, it actually was the Church’s mistake.   Having exonerated itself, British Protestantism now was willing to make the necessary adjustments. 

Britain would adopt the “common” calendar.  The legislation did not mention “Gregorian”, preferring any verbal evasion to that Catholic noun.   To correct the chronological errors, in 1752 September 2nd would be followed by September 14th.  Finally, in keeping with “the usage of other nations”, the New Year in Great Britain would now begin on January 1st rather than the Olde English quirk of March 25th.

So, on this day in 1752, Great Britain adopted the “Common” Calendar, and Protestantism somehow survived.  The Stuarts were not restored to the throne and the American Colonies did not revolt (yet).  If any English resented this capitulation to Papism, they could alway take it out on the Irish.

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