|Photo by Tom Hendrickson|
Have you ever looked at a Masonic Cornerstone or a formal Grand Lodge document and noticed that there are two different years on it?
One year should be easy to recognize as it is the calendar year and following the year is A.D. (e.g. 2020 A.D.) which is Latin for Anno Domini which means ‘in year of our Lord”. Normally we write the year, and very rarely add the A.D. Now, there may be times when you will see C.E., but that is another discussion…
The other year will look quite different, with a year such as 6020 and will be followed by the initials A.L. which is Latin for Anno Lucis. Anno Lucis means “in year of Light”. The Anno Lucis date is used for Masonic dating or the Masonic calendar. This year is usually used for our ceremonial or commemorative occasions.
Converting the year from Anno Domini to Anno Lucis is quite easy. Simply take the year (i.e. 2020 A.D.) and add 4,000 and it becomes 6020 A.L.
If you have been a Mason for some time, this should be common knowledge for you but I would like to go a bit deeper and explain an interesting aspect of Masonic history that has been largely forgotten and the meaning behind the Anno Lucis year.
Anno Lucis, or “in the year of Light”, represents the symbolic moment that light came into the world at its creation. As found in Genesis 1:3 KJV, “And God Said,” Let there be light: and there was light”. In the early days of the Grand Lodge of England, when they started using Anno Lucis it was sometimes referred to as in the year of Masonry. But, how did they know precisely when God created light in the world?
In the 18th and 19th century it was accepted and common knowledge by most people of the English-speaking world that God Created the world at nightfall on October 22, 4004 B.C. They knew that for it was printed in the Bible. The two men who responsible for that were the Archbishop of Ireland James Ussher and publisher Thomas Guy. Now for the rest of the story...
|Photo peter lely-Wikipedia|
James Ussher was a key figure in the religious debates of the 16th century and he led a remarkably interesting life. He was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1581. He was taught to read by his two aunts who were blind from infancy. He went on to be one of the first students admitted to Trinity College in Dublin, where he flourished and continued for advanced degrees. He had a library of over 10,000 books, which can be seen today at Trinity College as a monument to wisdom and learning.
Ussher was ordained into the Anglian Church in 1601 and eventually was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and Primate from all of Ireland in 1625. Ussher was present in 1649, when King Charles I was led to the scaffolding and to the execution block. He fainted when King Charles I was beheaded, and he had to be carried off to recover.
Ussher was a very prolific writer during his lifetime with 40 published works in English and Latin. The work that he is most known for today was twenty years in the making, was written in Latin, and published in London in 1650 titled “Annales Veteris Testamenti”. The book was 1,300 pages with 14,000 footnotes with each paragraph numbered and indexed for easy referencing. An English version was published in 1658 titled “Annals of the Old Testament”.
It was James Ussher’s intent to arrange the historical events in the order in which they took place of the Jews, Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans into a singular Chronology or timeline, and thus merge the histories. The histories of China and other eastern countries had not yet become well known into Europe yet so those were not included
Ussher’s objective for this book was to write a world history covering every known major event from the creation to 70 A.D, using the Bible as his framework. He believed that the Bible was the only reliable source of chronological information. Ussher and most of society, at the time, held a literal belief of the Bible.
Ussher went to great lengths to collect all the available historical knowledge to help him. He had access to the libraries of Oxford, Cambridge, London, and Trinity College in Dublin.
His reference material included various ancient Old Testament Bibles: Samaritan, Pentateuch, Syriac as well as texts and histories of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Hebrew all in their original ancient languages, although most of the material he used was secular in nature. He analyzed how ancient calendars were calculated and consulted with Astronomers and used their planetary observation tables. One of the challenges to overcome in creating this chronology was that all the various countries had different calendars and differing methods of recording time.
Ussher died in 1656 before the English version of his book was published. His book sold well enough, at the time, but the dates of his chronology would have drifted off into obscurity and died a natural death, except for an opportunistic publisher.
Ussher was not alone in calculating the creation of the universe and subsequent chronology. Many other great minds calculated their own Biblical time lines and there was a major effort in the 16th Century, by scholars across Europe to establish a full chronological history. Isaac Newton tried his hand at it and compiled an 87,000-word composition, to support his date of 3998 B.C. Martin Luther, a theologian and important figure in the Protestant Reformation conducted his own study, determining the date as 3961 B.C. Johannes Kepler, an astronomer also
This was an extremely popular area of study for the scholastic community. At least two hundred different dates were proposed by scholars for the time of creation, ranging from 3483 to 6934 B.C.
Thomas Guy was a London publisher and book seller. In 1675, Guy began printing the King James Bible including Ussher’s dates in the margins alongside the corresponding scripture text. With the inclusion of Ussher’s dates in the bible, they became generally accepted across society. The King James Bible was the most accepted Bible of the English-speaking nations so by publishing Ussher’s dates, they were accepted fact and the first chronology to be widely accepted.
At the time, a large portion of society believed that the Bible is the actual word of God, and it was interpreted very literally. The powerful combination of the reader seeing in black and white that God created the world in 4004 B.C., and that Adam and Eve were driven out of paradise in 4004 B.C. was immense. Noah’s Flood took place in 2948 B.C., King Solomon died in 975 B.C. and the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Jews in Babylon captivity took place in 586 B.C. All the other events in the Bible from the Creation up to 70 A.D had a date in history and as such Ussher’s dates had the very strong appearance of having Biblical Authority.
It may be hard to imagine now, but at the time when people saw dates, in black and white printed within the Bible, they believed that those dates were Gods own truth.
In 1701 the Church of England also adopted Ussher’s dates in their official Bibles, and Ussher’s dates would continue to be included in most versions of the King James Bibles until the 1900s. Interestingly, his dates were printed in the Gideon Bible until the 1970s.
In 1721, James Anderson was commissioned to write the history of the Freemasons for the newly formed Premier Grand Lodge. His work became known as “The Constitutions of the Freemasons, Containing the History, Charges, Regulations, &c. of the most Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity, For Use of the Lodges”. It was published in 1723 and was greatly expanded in 1738.
Anderson may have exaggerated just a little bit when he created a mythological chronology of the Craft. Like Ussher, Anderson starts his 48-page history using the Bible as the initial framework of the story. He begins with Adam, who was created with that special knowledge of geometry which was passed on to his descendants. He includes Noah, Abraham, Moses, Solomon, Hiram Abif, and Nebuchadnezzar.
Andersons story winds thru the history of ancient Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire. Freemasonry passes thru France to Britain to the year 1723 showing the very long and ancient pedigree of the Grand Lodge. Anderson devoted quite a bit of space to King Solomon’s Temple. Anderson, it could be argued, wrote probably the most important Masonic work ever published.
What unites Anderson and Ussher is that Anderson uses Ussher’s dates for the biblical events throughout his Masonic historical story. The history of freemasonry was explained by defining the Masonic Era while using a Masonic Calendar based upon Ussher’s dates. Thus, the Masonic calendar is based on the calculations of James Ussher and the date that starts the Masonic era is 4004 B, C., Anno Lucis “in the year of Light”.
There were other terms used to define the Masonic Era before Anno Lucis became more popular after the formation of the United Grand Lodge in 1813. James Anderson uses “Year in Masonry” in both his first and second editions of his Constitutions. There are many others here are a few examples Anno Masonry, Anno Latomorum-“In year of Freemasons”, Anno Lapidariorum “In year of the Stone Cutters”.
The 1723 edition of Anderson’s Constitutions eventually arrived in America where it was edited and reprinted in Philadelphia in 1734 by Benjamin Franklin. It was the first Masonic book to be printed in America.
Anderson created a mythic origin that continues today. Most of the Grand Lodges eventually rounded the date to an even 4000, for easy addition, however the Grand Lodge of Scotland continues to use the original date of 4004 B.C.
Ussher’s book survives to this day as it continues to be printed today and can be easily found in bookstores as “The Annuals of the World”. Today, his work is associated with Young Earth Creationism,
In today’s modern world where we can use Radioactive Dating to determine that the earth is 4.5 billion years old (give or take a few million years) James Ussher dates may seem overly simplistic. However, both men used their scholarship to make a careful study of all documents and traditions available and using the most accepted scientific method of their time. I believe we need to judge these ideas, not by our modern concepts, knowledge or technology, but judge them by the intents and thoughts of their time. Perhaps 500 years from now our modern technology, science, and medicines will seem out of date as well.
Because James Anderson collected and captured and preserved so much of the Masonic symbolism and lore that were anchored in the ancient Craft, we can continue to experience those teachings today. By Anderson creating or re-enforcing the concept of the Masonic Era using James Ussher’s date of 4004 B.C. as the day our Supreme Architect of the universe brought light into this word, it provides us with a symbol that unites all Freemasons across the world.
Free Masonry’s continued use of Anno Lucis on our Cornerstones, ceremonial documents, and lodge minute books may not be accurate to today’s scientific standards, but I think it’s a loving tribute and part of the mystic tie that continues to bond us with our Brothers of the Ancient Craft from so long ago.