Bissextilism

We (myself, plus imaginary companions) are fully bissextile, up here in the High Doganate. For like others of British race, we accept the gaily leaping Gregorian calendar. It took us palefaces less than two centuries to count ourselves Inter gravissimas —¬†or “Among the serious” whom Pope Gregory XIII addressed in his papal bull of late February, 1582. Some of the presumably less serious have not yet caught up, for it requires them to take, initially, a long jump: currently thirteen days that they will never have again.

The pope was not legislating a “reform,” however, let alone anything progressive; for popes, who must follow divine law, are instructed to do neither. He was rather “restoring” the (northern) vernal equinox to what it had been during the Council of Nicaea, when not only the most contentious Christological issue was settled (the relation of God the Son to God the Father), but the date for Easter, and a first handful of canon laws. The calendar had been drifting through the centuries that had intervened since then, and needed steadying. This was an appropriate “centralizing” job for the pope.

Now, the twelve demonstrably lunar months have only 354 days, or sometimes 355, whereas the solar year has 365, or sometimes 366, when fractionated into days; so that either may require at least one intercalary day, and there will be many such loose and awkward days if we try to use both. Thanks to Pope Gregory, we are now set up with just the one predictable bissextile “leap” until the day before eternity, using solar calendar alone, as we did less cautiously in the old, solar, Julian calendar — and with a unique February 29th, when necessary, instead of two consecutive February 24ths. For this 24th was the sextus in February, i.e., the sixth day before the end of the February; which was formerly, the last month of the year.

Alas, we are no longer counting backwards, in the Roman manner. The sextus, or sixth day back, was what we would call the fifth day. This is because the Romans always began counting from one, whether going forward or backward. As the numerate may be aware, they did not have the zero we adopted from the ancient mathematicians of India. Thus the Romans counted the Ides, the Nones, and their other days, backwards from the end of the month, instead of forward from the beginning as we do now. For we’ll do anything, no matter how perverse, for the sake of “progress” — even counting zero as a number.

But, as Saint John Henry Newman observed, we walk to Heaven backwards, constantly falling and failing and flipping and tripping over ourselves. It is our human way: incessantly “course correcting.” Perhaps it was from the old Romans that Newman gathered this profound insight: that backwards is the natural way forward.