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Hesitant steps: acceptance of the Gregorian calendar in eighteenth-century Geneva.

History demonstrates that the calendar is a tool of far more significance than simply a means to organize units of time. For Roman high priests prior to the reign of Julius Caesar, the calendar was a tool of power, symbolizing political supremacy over society through the manipulation of time at will. (1) Under Pope Gregory XIII, the calendar was a symbol of papal responsibility to ensure the proper worship of the Catholic Church. In the case of European Protestants, the Julian calendar was a symbol of religious identity and protest against Catholic domination. Likewise, within revolutionary France, the Calendrier Republicain symbolized the rejection of the Ancien Regime and Catholicism. (2) These few examples are an indication that throughout history in various times and places calendars have proven to represent more to humanity than mere time reckoning methods. Consequently, one may approach the study of the calendar as a means to grasp cultural and religious identity within specific regional contexts.

This study will explore the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, the rejection of this calendar by sixteenth-century Protestants, and its eventual modification and acceptance by eighteenth-century Geneva. (3) The overall intention of this research is to encourage further consideration of the reasons and events surrounding the gradual incorporation of the calendar in particular regions more than one hundred years after its initial introduction--a decisive point largely understudied by eighteenth-century cultural and regional scholarship. (4) More specifically, the events surrounding the acceptance of the Gregorian calendar will serve to shed light on Geneva's sociopolitical transition from the Reformation to the age of Enlightenment.


The method of time reckoning incorporated by our Western civil calendar is a synthesis of various traditions, including the Hellenistic designation for the names of the months, the seven-day week of the Near East--best seen in the Old Testament Genesis account of Creation-the twenty-four-hour day observed by the Egyptians, and the Mesopotamian division of hours by minutes and seconds. (5) Primarily, however, our current calendar is a modification of the Julian calendar.

Due to the misuse of power by previous high priests, the Roman calendar was rendered into a state of such extreme seasonal disorder that when Julius Caesar sought its reform in 46 B.C.E., the variance between the civil equinox and the astronomical equinox was calculated at three months. (6) Consequently, the calendar introduced during his reign was intended to correct the interval of time between the beginning of the year and the vernal equinox, the beginning of spring. In order to restore the vernal equinox to its perceived correct place on March 25, the Julian calendar fixed the mean length of the year to 365.25 days, mandating that every fourth year should consist of 366 days, while otherwise 365 days. (7) In fact, the earth's tropical year--the length of time that the sun, as observed from the earth, takes to return to the same position along its ecliptic path--is slightly less than the Julian calculation; it is closer to 365.2424 days, though this exact calculation is debated among scholars. (8) As a result, the Julian calculations rendered the year eleven minutes and fourteen seconds too long, which accumulated to an error of approximately one day every 130 years, a calculation that is also disputed in scholarship. (9) Because the vernal equinox provides the basis for calculating Easter, and the dates of Pentecost and Lent are determined according to Easter's estimation, this error had adverse effects on the religious calendar. Consequently, the discrepancy between the ecclesiastical calendar and the astronomical reality grew.

In 325 C.E., the Council of Nicaea settled a dispute between the eastern and western Christian churches by establishing the vernal equinox on March 21 and instructing that Easter should be uniformly celebrated on the first Sunday on or after the fourteenth day of the Paschal moon. (10) At the time, the Alexandrian church had created an eight-year Easter canon that calculated the future dates for observing Easter. However, careful observation of the Alexandrian cycle revealed that the forthcoming celebrations of Easter were gradually drifting due to the regression of the vernal equinox. The first recorded concern for this predicament is found in a letter from Pope Leo I to Emperor Marcianus on June 15, 453 C.E. (11) Indeed, by the sixteenth century, the astronomical vernal equinox had shifted from the prescribed date of the Nicaea Council by ten days, which acutely affected the seasonal celebration of Easter.

Papal efforts to reform the augmenting error in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had been commissioned without success, and the later attempts by the Council of Trent had been impeded by the deaths of Popes Pius IV and V. However, in 1577, after evaluating diverse mathematical suggestions for amending the error, Pope Gregory XIII disseminated a proposal for reform to expert mathematicians via Roman Catholic princes entitled the Compendium novae rationis restituendi Kalendarium. (12) The incentive for this reform was not primarily linked to righting agricultural cycles and re-aligning the vernal equinox, though those aspects were concerns. Indeed, as recent scholarship by Robert Poole, J. D. North, and Michael Hoskin agrees, the main catalyst of concern was ecclesiastical--to ensure that Easter was celebrated at the most accurate time. (13) After much deliberation by the commission created to oversee the alterations, on February 24, 1582, the task was completed, and at the age of eighty, Gregory signed the bull reforming the calendar.

In its finished form, the Gregorian calendar restored the vernal equinox according to the Council of Nicaea's date: March 21. Furthermore, the calendar introduced an altered leap year system that dropped three leap years every 400 years--those not divisible by 400--while instituting the one-time elimination of ten days from October 5 to 14 to overcome the errors of the Julian calendar. October had been chosen as the best month to make the change because it had the fewest number of saint's days. Thus, the dissemination of the new calendars to Catholic countries began by the authority of the Inter gravissimas bull. Spain, Italy, and Portugal immediately conformed, followed soon after by other Catholic countries as calendar production proliferated. (14)


Protestant rejection of the Gregorian calendar is best understood as a reaction to the reform or counter-reform agenda of the Council of Trent and to a perceived papal plot for religious and political domination. The belief that the pope was seeking to dictate even time itself was spurred on when the decree for calendar reform was pronounced through a papal bull, a medium that asserted the authority of the pope and rendered the reform of the calendar an issue of Roman Catholic ecclesiastical rule. This is evident from the first lines of the bull, which designated the calendar Inter gravissimas, "among the most serious" of tasks. (15) The text continued by asserting that the reform of the calendar was a "pastoral duty" passed on by the last session of the Council of Trent in 1563 and aided by God, thereby linking the calendar inextricably to the one council that Protestants considered a threat to their preservation. (16)

An additional disconcerting factor for Protestants was that the leader of Gregory's commission, Christopher Clavius, was also a member of the Jesuit order. As Scott Manetsch points out, "Huguenot leadership [was] becoming increasingly alarmed ... by the growing influence of the Society of Jesus throughout Europe." (17) Consequently, to assume the calendar would enhance Jesuit credibility. Indeed, this perception was shared by Lutheran pastors residing in lower Austria who opposed the introduction of the calendar by the Catholic constituency partly out of a concern for the growing influence of the Jesuit party. (18) In seeking to create a united front of German Lutherans in opposition to the calendar, the pastors of this region essentially bound Lutheran identity "against Catholic encroachment." (19) Though not for certain Protestant astronomers like Tycho Brahe or Johanne Kepler, these religious obstacles were substantial enough to incite some Protestant mathematicians and astronomers to express opposition to the Gregorian revisions despite a widespread acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the calendar's scientific endeavor. This response is evident within the research of H. M. Nobis, which claims that the Protestant astronomer Michael Maestlin--Kepler's tutor-regarded the issue of the calendar as a matter of faith and rejected its reform believing that the pope was using the calendar to further his dominion. (20)

This resistance to the calendar on the part of Protestants was widely shared. For those Catholic countries with substantial Protestant communities, their resistance had a detrimental effect on the flow of civil society in matters of trade and commerce, making it difficult for their countries to introduce the calendar efficiently and uniformly. Thus, in such cases, the authority of the civil ruler--rather than that of Pope Gregory--was necessary to bring about the successful introduction of the bull, such as in Bavaria. (21) At the same time, however, the example of Austria indicates that even the civil authorities could not always ensure the immediate conformity of a characteristically "protesting" religious group.

Through the work of Rona Gordon, the confessional divisions in the Habsburg hereditary lands--specifically the archduchy of Austria below the Enns--have been analyzed in terms of the events surrounding the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. (22) Her research illustrates how the immediate acceptance of the calendar was impeded by the presence of Protestant Lutherans who believed that the papal decree "lacked legitimate authority." (23) Mixed religious communities in the districts of this archduchy exploited the issue of time as a means of expressing religious identity in opposition to their Catholic neighbors. (24) Consequently, at one point, "the diocese of Passau was divided," as Gordon says, "into two time-zones, ten days apart." (25) This resulted in a disruption to the city's religious holidays, as when Christmas was celebrated on different days, which additionally had adverse affects on the flow of trade and commerce. In response, the local magistracy was enlisted for the purpose of forcing resisting bodies to comply. Despite the calendar's re-introduction to the territory in 1583 by the emperor, the Protestant harangue over the "confessionalization of time" delayed the acceptance of the Gregorian calendar for several years. (26) By 1585, many Lutheran pastors were threatened with the loss of their occupation if they did not embrace the calendar in accordance with Imperial approval, a measure that proved convincing. (27) Still, due to Lutheran opposition, it was not until the late 1580s that the calendar was uniformly used throughout these particular lands.

In due course, Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar while Protestant countries continued to react with reticence, fearing that they would be compelled by Tridentine forces to accept not only the calendar but Catholicism as well. (28) From this perspective, the Council of Trent was equated with notions of a belligerent Catholicism that had both religious and political consequences. In Geneva's history, this concern may be seen in its sixteenth-century opposition to calendar reform, as led by Calvin's successor, Theodore Beza. Manetsch's research on Beza indicates that rumors and fears of a "Tridentine conspiracy" circulated among the Swiss cantons around the time of the calendar's introduction. (29) He asserts, "for Beza and many Huguenots, the legacy of Trent comprised much more than a collection of doctrinal statements or a program of ecclesiastical reform.... For Beza, the promulgation of the Tridentine reforms was equivalent to a declaration of war on Protestantism." (30)

This belief was confirmed when Genevan independence was threatened by the neighboring Catholic territory of Savoy in 1582, the very year of the calendar's introduction. The effort to overpower the city by Charles-Emmanuel I was perceived by Beza as the first act of aggression against the evangelical cities of Switzerland in accordance with the Tridentine agenda. (31) Consultation of Geneva's Registres des Conseils indicates that on December 10, 1582, the council discussed the possibility of following the lead of France and Savoy to accept the calendar "in order to remedy the disorders and confusions of dates." (32) However, in the end, the council resolved to await the decision of its religious allies. Thus, the issue was eventually considered by the Swiss cantons at the Diet of Baden in the spring of 1584, but believing that the calendar was part of a papal plot intended to ferment division among the evangelical cantons, they officially rejected the calendar.

The decision of the Swiss cantons was shared by Protestant Germany, where antipapal sentiment and fear of a Catholic plot also dictated resolve. (33) It was not until 1613, at the Diet of Regensburg, that the matter was again debated. At that time, Kepler argued that the work of expert mathematicians and astronomers to reform the calendar would not necessitate the acceptance of the papal bull by Protestants. Despite this effort, however, he did not persuade the Diet to embrace the calendar. Indeed, the work of Trevor Johnson shows that by 1620, German Protestant resistance to the Gregorian reform was reinvigorated by the Catholicizing decrees of Maximilian I, Duke of Bavaria, after his invasion of the Upper Palatinate in 1620, which included the gradual introduction of the calendar. (34) Maximilian was considered to be the "quintessential Counter-Reformation prince" by many, and nobles who were intent on opposing his rule by emigrating rather than converting to Catholicism continued to use the old calendar dates in letters as "hallmarks of confessional allegiance." (35) Although the matter was considered again at the close of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 and after the peace of Ryswick in 1697, the calendar was still not revised.

Thus, on various fronts and with varying results, Protestant groups refused to conform to the calendar in both Catholic and Protestant countries. As one can see through this general survey, usage of the Julian calendar had widely become a symbol of Protestant loyalty and confessional identity in opposition to the supremacy of the Council of Trent and the papacy over civil and religious affairs. With regard to these points, historiography is in marvelous consensus; however, in many ways, this is only one part of the story because the Protestant communities did not continue to reject the revisions introduced by the Gregorian calendar. Thus, the question that is not considered often enough by historiography is raised: what circumstances led Protestants to abandon their former resistance and eventually embrace the calendar?

In 1982, the Vatican hosted a conference in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Gregorian reform of the calendar, and out of this conference a collaborative project produced through a series of articles one of the few books dedicated to the study of the calendar. Work by Owen Gingerich on "The Civil Reception of the Gregorian Calendar" and Michael Hoskin on "The Reception of the Calendar by Other Churches" was included that, while providing a helpful overview examining the general state of various countries in reaction for and against the implementation of the calendar, lacked the specifics necessary to establish regional variants when answering why Protestants eventually adopted the calendar. Indeed, the explanation that Protestants had simply surpassed their "morbid hatred of Rome" does not provide the historian with an adequate grasp of this remarkable transformation of opinion on their part. (36) Key questions remain: what factors led Protestant countries to finally make the change, and how did they legitimate their decision?

While acknowledging that general historical analyses do offer many benefits, region-specific studies are especially necessary for comprehending the crucial elements that influenced a particular context in its transformation. This methodological approach was advanced chiefly in Enlightenment studies by the work of Roy Porter. (37) Since these explanations are not geographically uniform, it is the challenge of the historian to enter into historical space without being overly influenced by one's own contemporary assumptions as well as the interpretations of previous generations of scholars to the detriment of historical analysis. In this way, a regional focus can prevent the historian from making false generalizations--in other words, from applying conclusions that pertain only to certain contexts--as well as from perpetuating false information.

The advantage of a regional approach to the topic of the Gregorian calendar was most recently demonstrated in Robert Poole's 1998 work on the history of the calendar in early modern England. By exploring the eventual acceptance of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, Poole uncovers a historiographical falsehood--previously suggested in a 1982 essay by Paul Alkon--passed down from generations of historians regarding the supposed "calendar riots" in England during the 1750s. (38) The story of English rioters crying out, "Give us our eleven days!" after the official correction of the calendar is a well-known tale that quaintly symbolizes the inanity of the common people, unable to appreciate or acknowledge the progress of a new scientific age. Through Poole's careful regional study, however, he confirms, "In the archives, in the press, and in contemporary literature, there is evidence of confusion and complaint, and of educated disdain for the objections of the uneducated, but of calendar riots at either the passage or implementation of the act, there is no sign." (39)

Rather, this "myth"--as Poole calls it--originated in great part with William Hogarth and has been perpetuated by historiography ever since, not least of all in the work presented at the Vatican Conference. (40) This instance, then, illustrates the importance of a regional focus or national contextualization when evaluating the events of the Gregorian calendar and the reasons for the eventual acceptance of the calendar by Protestants in particular areas and at particular points in their history.

Appropriation of this focus to the context of eighteenth-century Geneva presents a compelling case of Reformation rejection and Enlightenment acceptance of the calendar at the commencement of the century, 1701. During a time when Geneva was still largely regarded as the "Rome of Protestantism" and living in John Calvin's legacy, the Genevan story of the calendar offers insight into the transition from the Reformation to the Enlightenment. (41)


Research at Geneva's Bibliotheque publique et universitaire and Archives d'Etat has uncovered a limited number of resources for reconstructing the events surrounding the calendar. Consequently, this narrative primarily relies upon the minutes found within the Registres des Conseils. Although the records of the official correspondence of the Company of Pastors also include a few letters from Zurich and Berne on the topic, a telling point to consider is that the Registres de la Compagnie des Pasteurs make no mention of the calendar, while the Registres du Consistoire provide merely one small entry. Consultation of sermons and correspondence is still underway, but there is much that can be concluded and inferred from the sources already assessed.

The year 1700 was considered a leap year according to the astronomical principles of the Julian calendar, unlike the Gregorian calendar. This rendered the Julian version an additional day in error--eleven instead of ten. Protestant countries were highly aware of this forthcoming change, to the extent that it became one of the precipitating factors in the Protestant decision to amend their opinion of the calendar. (42)

On April 5, 1699, the Genevan council discussed the forthcoming leap year. It is clear from the registers that the leap year, which would effectively widen the gap between the two calendars, was perceived as an "embarrassment" and became the catalyst for the council's desire to renew discussion with the allied cantons. (43) Subsequently, the Premier Syndic Gautier entered into conversation with statthalter Hess of Zurich regarding the matter and suggested that they know the opinion of King William III of Britain. This is merely the first point at which one sees that Geneva was not willing to adopt the calendar without the assurance of its Protestant allies.

During this time, the Protestant princes of Germany had chosen to reconsider their position towards the calendar at the Diet of Regensburg. On September 23, 1699, astronomer Erhard Weigel proposed that they simply substitute the Catholic tables of Clavius with Kepler's Tabulae Rudolphinae first printed in 1617. He claimed that the usage of Kepler's tables would free Protestants from having to attribute the calendar to the authorship of the papacy, one of the principal reasons behind their initial rejection of the calendar. In this way, they took a step toward accepting the Gregorian calendar, but not to call it by that name. Instead, it was named the "Improved Calendar." (44) They then decided that on February 18, before the Gregorian leap year would take effect, Germany would skip eleven days, thereby aligning itself with the timetables of Europe's Catholic countries.

While Protestant Germany moved ahead in their discussion of the alterations of the Julian calendar, debate over the matter in Geneva lagged, and the issue was not officially discussed again by the councils until January 27, 1700. (45) Once more, information regarding the allies' sentiments towards the calendar was requested. In anticipation of the complications that would arise for Geneva if the Protestant states and princes of Germany accepted the calendar, the council informed the allies that the Gregorian calendar was "without contradiction more just and more regular than the old, [and] it would be hoped that we would follow the same example." (46) In other words, the calendar had become, at this point, an issue of precision rather than religion. However, the next entry in the official registers does not present itself until February 13, only five days before Germany was scheduled to switch calendars. One may note a tone of urgency as Geneva requested, yet again, to know the allies' "disposition" towards the acceptance of the calendar. (47)

Not until February 19, the day after Protestant Germany altered its calendar, did Geneva receive a letter from Berne informing the council of its decision. This letter was dated February 15 and explained to Geneva that Zurich and Berne had examined the matter and decided "together" that it was "best not to be hastened in acceptance for the present." (48) Additional conference with the evangelical cantons was suggested, and hesitancy to follow the Empire was excused due to the uncertainty of the position of their "cousins" England and Sweden. (49) Days later, Geneva received a letter from Zurich verifying the decision to wait, and Geneva consented to this plan.

Despite the fact that England and Sweden did not accept the Protestant alteration of the calendar until the 1750s, (50) in the last year of the seventeenth century, the registers record that the deputies of the evangelical cantons agreed to accept by the turn of the century what they called the "Calendrier Nouveau," for the benefit of political and commercial affairs. (51) This decision was made at the conference of the Protestant cantons held at Aarau from April 20 to 24, 1700. At this meeting, "the deputies of the cantons recognized unanimously the advantage of the proposed change for the civil and commercial relations." (52) Subsequently, to ensure the uniformity of time within the Swiss evangelical cantons, January 1, 1701, was to be counted as January 12. The Council of Geneva was also invited to visit Berne to discuss the resolution established at the Diet of Baden in 1699. (53) With characteristic loyalty evident in all the transactions concerning this matter, the council agreed that it "must follow [Berne and Zurich's] example." (54)

Soon after, a committee was created for the purpose of dealing with the practical complications that could arise within the city. (55) As a result of the change, certain civic and religious alterations were necessary. For example, the day of l'Escalade--an annual celebration of Geneva's defeat of the Duke of Savoy in 1602--was moved to December 23, the day before the administration of Advent's Holy Communion. (56) This day of commemoration required both civil as well as liturgical modifications given that the sermon of the Escalade was carried out according to a complex rotation schedule of professors of ecclesiastical history and half-pay pastors. (57)

Furthermore, the committee was in charge of introducing the change to the city. Thus, on December 14, 1700, a placard was posted throughout the city making known the resolution "to follow the new calendar into the future by the example of the honorable evangelical cantons, our very clear allies." (58) The publication legitimated the change by the authority of "most of the Protestant Princes and States" and as "for the good a advantage of commerce, and other good considerations." (59) Indeed, in order to grasp the significance of this reason, it is important to identify the dual economic and political implications that a concern for commerce in the city of Geneva entailed.

After the positive resolution of Protestant Germany, Geneva and the Swiss cantons were not in a position to be the only territories on the European continent living by a different calendar--regardless of the decisions of England and Sweden. Besides the obvious confusion that would result due to varying timetables, a situation that Beza had predicted in a letter to Robert le Macon in 1582, Geneva lacked the necessary economic and political independence to subsist without any regard for the position of its European allies and neighbors. (60) In the first place, Geneva's economic situation was unlike most towns in that its affluence was not connected to the land and agricultural production, and therefore, it was not capable of meeting its own agrarian needs. Rather, the most prolific industries of Geneva included banking--as represented by the successes of Jacques Necker--investing, horology, and cotton textiles. Indeed, by the 1770s, "virtually no citoyens or bourgeois worked for their daily bread in agriculture." (61) As a result, the money earned from other professions provided for the subsistence needs of Genevans, which reveals that economic stability and growth was dependent upon the quality and reputation of Geneva's industries and professions as well as its appeal to a broader market.

In addition to its economic and agrarian reliance, a great part of Genevan political independence was due to the goodwill of its neighbors--namely France, and its Protestant allies--to preserve the freedom of the Republic. As Linda Kirk asserts, "There is a sense in which Geneva's sovereignty had from the sixteenth century hung by a thread. Realistically, no polity as small as the city-republic could defy the armed hostility of its neighbors." (62) For example, although Genevan financial power did allow it some significant political leverage over France, this relationship was still extremely precarious in nature and necessitated that Geneva exercise a diplomatic approach in all interactions. This burden of diplomacy may be seen in the city's strained relationship with "the desert churches" of France, led by Antoine Court. Because the city had functioned as the primary supporter of the Huguenot cause in France on numerous previous occasions-not least of all during the recent revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685--the resident de France, who was required to live within the city of Geneva, kept a close watch on the supportive efforts of such pastors as Benedict Pictet and reported all occurrences back to Versailles. (63) Since balancing the interdependent relationship with France was one of the highest priorities of the Genevan government, this political need supplanted the city's traditional role as the Protestant stronghold and thereby rendered "official support of Huguenots in France impossible." (64) Unofficially, however, evidence discovered by Otto Selles indicates that the church provided a variety of support to Court and the desert churches by a group of pastors who managed "to circumvent France's surveillance--as the Resident himself had predicted." (65 Given this information, one may see a Geneva torn between its desire to support openly the Huguenot cause and its need to avoid open hostility and preserve political networks. It is no wonder that it appeared to "the Desert pastor, who risked his life everyday, [that] Calvin's descendants had hidden themselves in a cloak of prudence." (66) Evidently, out of political necessity, they had. Indeed, despite frequent disturbances and aggravations caused by the resident de France, Genevan diplomacy was always tempered in its responses and actions towards the resident. (67) This priority to please may be seen at the turn of the new century, when the resident was presented with a gift by the council of "a trout of twenty-five pounds and twenty-four double bottles of wine from St. Laurens"--items that were often given to supplement salaries of those funded by the Republic, such as the pastors. (68)

Thus, although the decision to improve the calendar by Protestant Germany was a precipitating factor in Geneva's eventual resolve to adopt it, this is clearly not the only factor. Simple explanations found in historiography asserting that "the capitulation of the remaining German principalities was apparently too much for the northern Swiss cantons" do not do justice to the regional circumstances of Swiss cities like Geneva grappling with this decision. (69) Furthermore, it is particularly telling that Geneva and the Swiss cantons did not embrace the calendar at the same time as Protestant Germany, and, when they did accept the calendar, that they did not identify it by the German name--the "Improved Calendar"--but rather by their own title--the "New Calendar." These points indicate a certain amount of independence from their German evangelical allies. On the other hand, a look at Geneva's political and economic dependencies quickly shows that this city was not in a position to pave its own way without regard for its allies. As more and more European countries gave in to these changes, the calendar grew in importance to the commercial and political well-being of the city. Consequently, after consulting with the Swiss evangelical cantons and weighing the various factors carefully, Geneva adopted the Gregorian calendar, beginning the new century on January 12, 1701.


When one considers the politics of the calendar through the narrative of the civic and ecclesiastical registers, Genevan leadership in religious and political matters may be observed in an unexpected light. It was no longer 1582, when Theodore Beza rejected calendar reform on behalf of the city through his letters and sermons. (70) Instead, the Genevan clergy were without complaint or opposition. (71) Indeed, this lack of concern over the matter is evident when the pastors of the Compagnie presented a special speech to the council before the onset of the eighteenth century, a custom practiced by Beza at the beginning of the seventeenth century. (72) Their visit was intended to offer a public reflection on the events of the past century, give thanks to God for the many blessings bestowed, reaffirm the commitment of the Compagnie to the council, and request the continued support of the council in protecting the church and the academy. (73) Significantly, in no part of this historic address given by Louis Tronchin on behalf of the pastors and professors of Geneva was the new calendar questioned or even mentioned. This is one indication that the matter of the calendar was no longer considered an issue of confessional identity. In seeking to understand why this may be the case, one may argue that there was a lack of religious debate in Geneva because there was not a significant number of Catholics living within the city at the time. As it had been for Protestants in lower Austria, a considerable Catholic presence in Geneva very likely would have made the implementation of the calendar an issue of confessionalization and religious identity. This seems a probable explanation when one compares Geneva's situation with the Swiss canton of Glarus, where perception by the internal Catholic community was taken into consideration before the canton accepted the calendar due to the fear that because "a much greater number of festivals would be celebrated the same day by the two confessions

... that this simultaneity would bring about conflict." (74) On the contrary, records do not indicate the presence of such a fear in Geneva. Furthermore, consultation of Geneva's government, religious, and criminal records of the state reveals that no such conflict occurred.

What role, then, if any, did religion play in the acceptance of the new calendar? Despite the absence of an explicit reference to the calendar, Tronchin's speech to the Council illustrates one dynamic of the interdependent relationship between Geneva's religion and politics. Through his speech, one may grasp how important the well-being of the state was perceived for the future of the Genevan church. By this reasoning then, since the calendar was considered a benefit to the state politically and economically and no longer considered a threat to Genevan religion as it had been in the Tridentine period, the pastors did not oppose calendar reform. In addition, given the growing theological concern in the Genevan church to bring about Protestant unity, acceptance of the calendar was most likely seen by the church as another means for aligning itself with their religious allies. This ecumenical priority was evident on the first day of the eighteenth century when Pastor Jean-Alphonse Turrettini delivered an historic sermon in celebration of the dawn of a new century. Though there was no mention of the calendar per se found in his sermon, there was reference to the need to bring about Protestant unity. Turrettini concluded his sermon expressing the hope that "the unfortunate divisions which have sometimes troubled this church would be buried forever" and encouraged the pastors, magistrates, and the people "to work, as much as it depends on us, towards the extinction of the sad schism which has been so fatal to the Protestant churches for the last two centuries." (75) Thematically speaking, by this agenda of Protestant unity, the calendar appears to possess some theological bearing on Geneva's religious situation. Here, the calendar may be seen as one means of uniting Protestant groups with each other by ensuring union in the reckoning of not only civil time but also religious time in terms of the celebration of Easter. Beyond that, this decision to embrace calendar reform symbolized a partial meeting between the two divided camps of western Christianity as an even greater step towards healing the "sad schism" of the Reformation. (76) That being said, it is still remarkable that a religious discussion of the government's decision to embrace the new calendar was not found in the religious records beyond one mundane entry regarding practical alterations to civic and religious holidays. (77) Thus, according to the sources, it seems that religion was no longer a hindrance to calendar reform; on the contrary, the theological ideology and political circumstances of the time enabled religious leaders to embrace this transition without rebuke. Consequently, the calendar offers an intriguing sociohistorical example of the theological shift occurring within Geneva's church under the leadership of Turrettini towards a priority for Protestant unity.

In addition to a surprising lack of religious objection to or discussion of the Council's decision, Geneva also did not seem to sway the political opinion of its Protestant allies. Throughout the discussion of the calendar, Geneva exhibited a willingness to embrace this new change as early as April 1699, but a hesitancy to lead the decision of the Swiss cantons. Although expressing the desire to follow the example of Germany in January, Geneva waited to be certain of Zurich and Berne's position, even until the point when the deadline passed. Through this incident, the city's political dependency becomes particularly apparent. Indeed, the coming century reveals that Geneva required the military support of Zurich and Berne on numerous occasions when faced with political uprisings in the city. (78) Thus, though Genevan leadership and decisiveness in matters of religious revisions for the Swiss cantons and other Protestant communities may still be seen at this time, it is evident by their reservation concerning the calendar that its acceptance had become primarily an issue of political negotiation. (79)

It is also worth acknowledging that this change in opinion regarding the calendar as represented by Protestant Germany and the Swiss cantons came at a time of growing internationalism among scientific bodies without regard to religious affiliation. Indeed, the foundation and development in the early eighteenth century of the Swedish academy of sciences provides one example of how science was increasingly forging connections between international bodies. (80) At the same time, however, evidence of a continued reliance on "evangelical mathematicians" or the establishment of a "reformed almanac" for astronomical decisions indicates that religious identity was still a factor. In such ways, Protestants made clear that they "were not simply adopting the Gregorian calendar." (81) This is most apparent in the debate surrounding the calculation of Easter.

Despite steps made by Protestant constituencies to embrace the principals of the Gregorian calendar, hesitancy persisted over the exact calculation of Easter. In the Improved or New calendar, Easter was calculated according to Kepler's Rudolphine tables according to a resolution passed on January 10,1700; however, it soon became clear that his tables were astronomically inaccurate. In 1724 and 1744, the discrepancy between the Gregorian and the Protestant calendar was increasingly obvious when Protestants celebrated Easter one week before Catholics. (82) This practice continued until 1775 when Frederick the Great resolved the discrepancy by adopting the Catholic algorithms, thereby marking yet another step towards mending the divisions of the Reformation.


The history of the Protestant acceptance of the Gregorian calendar is fraught with hesitant steps. Their caution may be seen in a variety of actions: being threatened by an eleven-day regression of the Julian calendar rather than the ten-day error; accepting the principles of the Gregorian calendar yet refusing to call it by that name; and deciding to not calculate Easter by the most precise astronomical tables because they were authored by a Catholic until eventually the imprecision was too palpable. Yet, despite all these tentative steps, it is crucial to see that they are still steps. And so it is that in the eighteenth century, the age of Enlightenment, confessional divisions were gradually set aside for the benefit of commerce, trade, and scientific precision. This assessment, however, is not intended to perpetuate the short-sighted notion that the "rise of science" ushered in a "decline of religion." Rather, the story of the Gregorian, Improved, or New calendar is an event that characterizes a century in transition, seeking to re-unify itself after the religious divisions that were introduced into its communities by the Reformation. Although Protestants and Catholics still could not agree on matters like the number of sacraments, they were eventually able to agree on how to reckon time, and with that concurrence, Geneva began the eighteenth century.

(1.) Elisabeth Achelis, Of Time and The Calendar (New York: Hermitage House, 1955), 46.

(2.) Although France accepted the Gregorian calendar in December 1582, after the French Revolution and as part of both the anticlerical zeal and the concerted effort to rid the Republic of visual associations with old France, the Gregorian calendar was replaced by the Calendrier Republicain to "reconstruct time through a republican cosmology": Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (London: Penguin, 1989), 654. Schama comments that the commission perceived "the reform as an opportunity to detach republicans from the superstitions they thought embodied in the Gregorian calendar": ibid. Consequently, France is the only country to have officially accepted the Gregorian calendar twice in its history when on January 1, 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte reinstituted the Gregorian system.

(3.) I would like to extend particular thanks to the Bibliotheque publique et universitaire de Geneve, Institut d'Histoire de la Reformation (IHR), and the Archives d'Etat de Geneve for their assistance during several research trips between 2004 and 2005. This research was possible due to a departmental scholarship from the University of St. Andrews and financial assistance from the IHR at the Universite de Geneve. Furthermore, a version of this research was presented at the British Society of Eighteenth Century Studies conference at the University of Oxford in January of 2006.

(4.) The majority of historiography has extensively focused on the history of the calendar up until the rejection of the Gregorian calendar by Protestants in the sixteenth century. Robert Poole's book, Time's Alteration: Calendar Reform in Early Modern England (London: UCL Press, 1998), is one of the few works that provides a regional approach to the Protestant acceptance of the Gregorian calendar.

(5.) Rice University's Galileo Project,

(6.) Olaf Pedersen, "The Ecclesiastical Calendar and the Life of the Church," in Gregorian Reform of the Calendar: Proceedings of the Vatican Conference to Commemorate its 400th Anniversary, 1582-1982, ed. G. V. Coyne, M. S. Hoskin, and O. Pedersen (Vatican City: Specola Vaticana, 1983), 21.

(7.) The Julian calendar also introduced the system whereby odd months were allotted thirty-one days and even months were allotted thirty days. February was the exception to the rule in that it was allotted only twenty-eight days while on leap years an extra day was intercalated.

(8.) Rice University, The Galileo Project. This calculation often differs minutely in scholarship depending upon the source. For example, according to the work of Pedersen, one mean tropical year is 365.2422 days. See his article, "The Ecclesiastical Calendar and the Life of the Church," in Vatican Conference.

(9.) Ibid. Differing information is cited on the The Galileo Project website. In some parts, the text calculates the loss at 1 day in 130 years, and in other parts, it identifies the loss at 1 day in 128 years. Meanwhile, Poole claims that the Julian calendar error accumulated to one day in 114 years: Time's Alteration, 33. Scott Manetsch, in his book Theodore Beza and the Quest for Peace in France 1572-1598 (Boston: Brill, 2000), footnoted the calculation at 1 in 128 years: 121. According to J. D. North, the error should be calculated at 1 day in 128.6 years in 1582: "The Western Calendar--'Intolerabilis, Horribilis, Et Derisibilis': Four Centuries of Discontent," in Vatican Conference, 78-79.

(10.) North, 76.

(11.) Pederson, 46-47.

(12.) According to A. Ziggelaar's article, "The Papal Bull of 1582 Promulgating a Reform of the Calendar," no evidence exists to show that Protestant princes or mathematicians were included in this dispersal: Vatican Conference, 209. However, despite no official inclusion of Protestant opinion, H. M. Nobis's work indicates that Protestant astronomers assessed the quality and accuracy of the Compendium along with Catholic astronomers and sometimes at their request: "The Reaction of Astronomers to the Gregorian Calendar," in Vatican Conference, 243-45.

(13.) North, 75-76; Michael Hoskin, "The Reception of the Calendar by Other Churches," in Vatican Conference, 255; Poole, 33; In fact, Achelis, in her 1950s study, also supported this observation in her book, Of Time and the Calendar, where she wrote, "The Easter question was actually the source of the Papal intervention": 59.

(14.) Other Catholic countries were unable to conform immediately to the papal decree due to delays in calendar publication. See Ziggelaar, 220, and Nobis, 249.

(15.) Transcribed and translated in Zieggelaar, 202. Zieggelaar claims that the Council of Trent did not directly demand the reform of the calendar. In fact, "The decree of the Council does not say a word on calendar reform but only speaks of a reform of the Mass book and the breviary, so the calendar reform undertaken by the Pope can only be said to be implied by the decree of the Council": 2.

(16.) Ibid.

(17.) Manetsch, 123.

(18.) See Rona Gordon's unpublished paper, "Confessional Tensions in Lower Austria: The Gregorian Calendar Reform" (paper presented at the Sixteenth Century Conference in Denver, 2001), 11. I also owe a special thanks to her for taking the time to discuss the topic with me.

(19.) Ibid., 11.

(20.) Nobis, 244. For further information on the theological arguments used by Maestlin in opposition to adopting the calendar, see Charlotte Methuen's article, "Time Human or Time Divine? Theological Aspects in the Opposition to Gregorian Calendar Reform," Reformation and Renaissance Review 3:1-2 (December 2001): 36-50.

(21.) Hoskin suggests that the Gregorian calendar most likely would have been adopted sooner in Europe if secular authorities rather than the Catholic religious body had initially introduced the change: "The Reception of the Calendar," 255.

(22.) Gordon, "Confessional Tensions in Lower Austria."

(23.) Ibid., 3.

(24.) In fact, according to Gordon, the calendar served to unite a fragmented Lutheranism throughout Germany: ibid., 11. Consider also the Orthodox opposition in the eastern provinces of Poland and Lithuania where mixed confessional communities required the printing of both calendars alongside each other from 1606 to the twentieth century. See Jerzy Dobrzycki, "The Scientific Revolution in Poland," in The Scientific Revolution in National Context, ed. Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 151.

(25.) Gordon, 11.

(26.) Ibid., 7.

(27.) Ibid., 11.

(28.) The persistence of this opposition is evident in eighteenth-century English publications. See contemporary responses like John Wilies's in his work, The Julian and Gregorian Year, or, The difference betwixt the old and new-stile shewing, that the reformed churches should not alter their old-stile, but that the Romanists should return to it (London: Printed for Richard Sare, 1700).

(29.) Manetsch, 123.

(30.) Ibid., 121.

(31.) Theodore Beza to M. de Walsingham, October 1582, found in Geneva at the Bibliotheque publique et universitaire de Geneve (hereafter BPU), Ms. lat. 117, fols. 174-75, as transcribed in Manetsch, 20, n 17. According to a sermon by Beza years later, he claimed that he did not resist the revision of the calendar itself, "but the reasons for the reform; the Catholics' concern for the precise dates of ceremonies, feast and fast days smacked of Jewish legalism": ibid, 122.

(32.) Geneva, Archives d'Etat de Geneve (hereafter AEG), Registres des Conseil 77, December 10, 1582, fol. 241, as transcribed in Charles Le Fort's article, "L'introduction du calendrier gregorien a Geneve en 1701," in La Societe d'Histoire et d'Archeologie de Geneve (Geneva: J. Jullien, 1886), 2:348. This work is the only regional study of Geneva's acceptance of the calendar that I could find, and its nineteenth-century analysis and interpretation are limited in scope and approach.

(33.) Hoskin contends that the "driving force behind the opposition was always dislike and even hatred of the Papacy." However, in his opinion, without the princely power of the papacy during that time, "no such reform could have been successfully introduced in the Europe of the sixteenth century, and perhaps for centuries thereafter. The Papacy was hated for the exercise of power, but there was no other way": "The Reception of the Calendar," 263.

(34.) Trevor Johnson, "Patronage, Herrschaft, and Confession: the Upper-Palatine Nobility and the Counter Reformation," in Reformation Old and New: Essays on the Socio-Economic Impact of Religious Change c. 1470-1630, ed. Beat A. Kumin (Aldershot, U.K.: Scolar, 1997).

(35.) Ibid., 164.

(36.) Owen Gingerich, "The Civil Reception of the Gregorian Calendar," in Vatican Conference, 259. Poole critiques this work for its particularly Catholic slant saying, "In place of the familiar whig/protestant vision of the rise of science and decline of religion we have (putting it crudely) a Roman catholic vision of the rise of science and decline of Protestantism": Time's Alteration, 40.

(37.) See in particular Porter's work, The Enlightenment in National Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), and the Scientific Revolution in National Context.

(38.) P. Alkon, "Changing the Calendar," Eighteenth-Century Life 7:2 (January 1982): 1-18.

(39.) Poole, 13.

(40.) Gingerich, 273.

(41.) The persisting reputation of Geneva as the pinnacle of Reformed religion is evident in travelers' letters. See Voyageurs europeens a la decouverte de Geneve, 1685-1792, ed. Jean-Daniel Candaux (Geneva: Imprimeries populaires, 1966), 24, 84.

(42.) Indeed, Poole concludes that "the prospect of the two calendars moving a day further apart in 1700 added urgency to the discussions": "The Reception of the Calendar," 41.

(43.) "Que l'on examine s'il ne seroit pas a propos de reformer notre calendrier en suivant le nouveau stil et eviter par ce moyen l'embarras ou l'on se trouvera au prochain mois de mars, que le stil nouveau devancera le vieux d'onze jours au lieu de dix, et, pour cet effet, nous en entendre avec nos allies": AEG, Registres des Conseils 199, April 5, 1699, fol. 127, as transcribed in Le Fort, 349.

(44.) Gingerich, 267.

(45.) See AEG, Registres des Conseils 200, January 27, 1700, fol. 35. At this time, I am not aware if discussion between private individuals regarding this matter continued between April 1699 and January 1700. However, according to the registers no official discussion took place.

(46.) "Il est sans contredit plus juste et plus regulier que l'ancien il seroit a souhaiter que nous suivisisions le meme exemple": ibid.

(47.) "Il a ete ordonne d'ecrire aujourdhuy a Mrs de Zurich et de Berne pour les prier de nous faire savoir dans quelle disposition ils sont a l'egard de l'acceptation du nouveau Calandrier:" ibid., February 13, 1700, fol. 54.

(48.) "Il avoit ete trouve ensemble pour le mieux de ne se precipiter pas dans lad[it]e acceptation pour le present, mais par un prealable d'en conferer confidemment avec les louables Cantons Evangeliques": ibid., February 20, 1700, fol. 62.

(49.) Ibid.

(50.) Despite Queen Elizabeth's efforts to introduce the calendar, England rejected the reform under the influence of the clergy. Again, this objection to the calendar was maintained due to its relation to the pope, or the Antichrist as he was called, despite its scientific virtues. Initially, English mathematician John Dee had favorably assessed the calendar. England also persisted in celebrating the New Year on March 25 rather than January 1 until the Act of Parliament in 1751 whereby Britain and the American colonies accepted the changes to the calendar.

(51.) AEG, Registres des Conseils 200, July 23, 1700, fol. 214. The reason for the decision is not expressly found in the registers until AEG, Registres des Conseils 200, December 31, 1700, fol. 413.

(52.) "Dans la deliberation a laquelle cette lettre donna lieu, les deputes des Cantons reconnurent unanimement l'avantage du changement propose pour les relations civiles et commerciales": Le Fort, "Le Calendrier Gregorien a Geneve," 350.

(53.) AEG, Registres des Conseils 200, August 5, 1700, fol. 228.

(54.) "Dont etant opine en ce Magn Conseil, il a ete dit, que nous devons aussi suivre leur exemple": ibid.

(55.) "travailler a regler tousles inconveniens qui peuvent resulter de l'introduction du nouveau Calendrier parmi nous": AEG, Registres des Conseils 200, November 13, 1700, fol. 372; "Etant necessaire de regler les dificultes qui peuvent naitre de l'acceptation du nouveau Calendrier": AEG, Registres des Conseils 200, December 30, 1700, fol. 412.

(56.) AEG, Registres du Consistoire 69, January 13, 1701, fol. 189. Communion was administered quarterly, a practice which was established during the time of Calvin.

(57.) "ET AT DES FONCTIONS Actuelles des Spectables Pasteurs, & des retranchemens approuves par le Magnifique Petit Conseil, pour etre portes au Magnifique Conseil des CC": AEG, placard 3, no. 275, fol. 1-11.

(58.) "Nosdits tres honores Seig[neur]rs ont trouve apropos de suivre a l'avenir le nouveau Calendrier, a l'exemple de la plupart des Princes et Etats Protestans, et en particulier des Louables Cantons Evangeliques leurs tres chers Allies et Confederes": AEG, Registres des Conseils 200, December 31, 1700, fol. 413.

(59.) "On fait savoir a toutes persormes, que pour le bien et avantage du commerce, et autres bonnes considerations": ibid.

(60.) Theodore Beza to Robert Le Macon Seigneur de la Fontaine, 10 Ocober 1582, Correspondance de Theodore de Beze, XXIII (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 2001). Reference is made regarding Savoy's acceptance of the Gregorian calendar by decree of Charles-Emmanuel I and how that would lead to "grandes confusion": 185.

(61.) Linda Kirk, "A Poor Church in a Rich City: The Case of Eighteenth-Century Geneva," in L'Hostie Et Le Denier, ed. Marcel Paucet and Olivier Fatio (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1991), 259.

(62.) Linda Kirk, "Genevan Republicanism," in Republicanism, Liberty, and Commercial Society, ed. David Wooton (Berkley, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1994), 287.

(63.) Otto H. Selles, "A Case of Hidden Identity: Antoine Court, Benedict Pictet, and Geneva's Aid to France's Desert Churches (1715-1724)," in The Identity of Geneva: The Christian Commonwealth, 1564-1864, ed. John B. Roney and Martin Klauber (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1998), 93-109.

(64.) Ibid., 94.

(65.) Ibid., 103.

(66.) Ibid.

(67.) The resident de France not only meddled in the religious and political affairs of the city, but he was also an outspoken advocate for establishing the theater in the city--a particularly controversial issue at the time. See my paper, "An Enlightened Utopia? Exploring the Theatre Controversy of Eighteenth-Century Geneva" (presented at the American Society of Church History conference, Seattle, Wash., 2005), 6.

(68.) AEG, Registre des Conseils 200, January 12, 1702, fol. 417. In the travel journal of Robert Montagu, Lord Mandeville, he observed in 1752, "they keepe the ... fairest troutes all the yeare long to make presents to great persons when they come thorough Geneva." See Michael Brennan, ed., The Origins of the Grand Tour, 3rd ser., no. 14 (London: The Hakluyt Society, 2004), 129.

(69.) Gingerich, 267.

(70.) Theodore Beza, Sermons sur l'histoire de la passion (Geneva, 1592), 476-77, as cited in Manetsch, 122, n. 23. See also the Correspondance de Theodore de Beze, vols. 23-25 (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 2001).

(71.) Consultation of the Proces Criminel records indicates a lack of civil opposition as well.

(72.) AEG, Registres de la Compagnie des Pasteurs 18, November 22, 1700, fol. 167.

(73.) AEG, Registres des Conseils 200, January 12, 1701, fols. 413-17; AEG, Registres de la Compagnie des Pasteurs 18, January 14, 1701, fols. 169-71.

(74.) Le Fort, 351.

(75.) "Les malheureuses divisions qui ait quelquefois trouble cette Eglise, soient ensevelies p[ou]r jamais: Et tachons meme de travailler, autant que cela depend de nous, l'extinction de ce triste Schisme, qui a ete si funeste aux Eglises Protestants, p[ou]r les 2 derniers Siecles": BPU, Ms. Compangie des Pasteurs 14, January 12, 1701. For a further look at Turrettini and Protestant unity, see Martin Klauber, "The Drive Toward Protestant Union in Early Eighteenth-Century Geneva: Jean-Alphonse Turrettini on the 'Fundamental Articles' of Faith," Church History 61:3 (September 1992).

(76.) Gottfried Leibniz, who was in correspondence with Turrettini at the time, held similar ecumenical aspirations and was a great supporter of the usage of science to mend these divisions at the time of the calendar shift. See James McClellam III, Science Reorganized: Scientific Societies in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 68-70.

(77.) AEG, Registres du Consistoire 69, January 13, 1701, fol. 189.

(78.) Consider Geneva's civil conflicts in 1707, 1730s, 1760s, and 1781-82.

(79.) See AEG, Registres de la Compangie des Pasteurs 18, April 29, 1701, fol. 232. References to the revised Psalms that were being introduced in Calvinist churches at the start of the century are found throughout the registers. As this particular example indicates, churches all over the world including London and Holland were addressing Geneva, requesting guidance on the topic of liturgical revisions approved by the Genevan church.

(80.) See Sven Widmalm's article, "Instituting Science in Sweden," in The Scientific Revolution in National Context, 245.

(81.) Poole, Time's Alteration, 42 (Italics are mine).

(82.) Nobis, 251; Gingerich, 267.

Jennifer Powell McNutt is a doctoral candidate in the School of History, Reformation Studies Institute, at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. This essay was awarded the Mead Prize and selected for publication in Church History by the Committee on Research of the American Society of Church History: Jon Robersts (chair), Daniel Bornstein, David Hempton, Maureen Tilley, and Paul C. Kemeny.
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