The last time Easter fell on April Fools' Day was 1956, and I have to admit that I wasn't aware of it at the time, being preoccupied with more immediate concerns, such as toilet training. It would be many years later that I began to comprehend the ecclesiastical cycle, and today I just barely understand the arcane calculation which in Latin is called "computus":

For most of their history Christians have calculated Easter independently of the Jewish calendar. In principle, Easter falls on the Sunday following the full moon that follows the northern spring equinox (the paschal full moon). However, the vernal equinox and the full moon are not determined by astronomical observation. The vernal equinox is fixed to fall on 21 March (previously it varied in different areas and in some areas Easter was allowed to fall before the equinox). The full moon is an ecclesiastical full moon determined by reference to a lunar calendar, which again varied in different areas. While Easter now falls at the earliest on the 15th of the lunar month and at the latest on the 21st, in some areas it used to fall at the earliest on the 14th (the day of the paschal full moon) and at the latest on the 20th, or between the sixteenth and the 22nd. The last limit arises from the fact that the crucifixion was considered to have happened on the 14th (the eve of the Passover) and the resurrection therefore on the sixteenth. The "computus" is the procedure of determining the first Sunday after the first ecclesiastical full moon falling on or after 21 March, and the difficulty arose from doing this over the span of centuries without accurate means of measuring the precise tropical year.

One could be forgiven, I suppose, for wondering just how accurate "computus" needs to be for a feast so movable that its date can vary over a period of nearly five weeks, from 21 March to 25 April, but it is the nature of man to spend time on things he deems important, and the Resurrection, without which there is no Christianity as we know it, matters a great deal; the only calculations that came close were performed by James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, who in 1650 worked out the time of Creation as being nightfall — "Let there be light!" — on 22 October, 4004 BC. The fossil record, of course, begs to differ. Then again, Ussher's work was a tremendous work of scholarship in its own right. Said Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), who didn't believe a word of it:

I shall be defending Ussher's chronology as an honorable effort for its time and arguing that our usual ridicule only records a lamentable small-mindedness based on mistaken use of present criteria to judge a distant and different past ... Ussher represented the best of scholarship in his time. He was part of a substantial research tradition, a large community of intellectuals working toward a common goal under an accepted methodology.

Here in 2018, there is a wide variety of lamentable small-mindedness, not at all limited to matters of faith. One of the more amusing outcroppings of foolishness is the modern-day phenomenon of the Fake Atheist; he argues against the existence of God, not so much because that's what he believes, but because it's necessary to support his political worldview. Rather a lot of these folks are dedicated to the proposition that a mere fetus has no rights that they're bound to respect, and to the extent that a deity would presumably stand in their way, they're prepared, if "prepared" is the word, to deny either that deity's existence or that deity's interest in zygotes, whichever they think is more likely to get them the results they want.

As for the more modest sort of Fool, the one who thinks he's awfully clever for coming up with a scheme to torment his "friends," he's largely expendable: there's a reason why various laws in these United States have provisions for treble damages, and he's it.

Happy Easter. You're forgiven if you forget that other thing.

The Vent

  1 April 2018

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