The ‘mistake’ was made by a sixth century monk known as Dionysius Exiguus or in English Dennis the Small, the 85-year-old pontiff claims in the book ‘Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives’, published on Wednesday.
“The calculation of the beginning of our calendar – based on the birth of Jesus – was made by Dionysius Exiguus, who made a mistake in his calculations by several years,” the Pope writes in the book, which went on sale around the world with an initial print run of a million copies.
“The actual date of Jesus‘s birth was several years before.”
The assertion that the Christian calendar is based on a false premise is not new – many historians believe that Christ was born sometime between 7BC and 2BC.
But the fact that doubts over one of the keystones of Christian tradition have been raised by the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics is striking.
Dennis the Small, who was born in Eastern Europe, is credited with being the “inventor” of the modern calendar and the concept of the Anno Domini era.
He drew up the new system in part to distance it from the calendar in use at the time, which was based on the years since the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian.
The emperor had persecuted Christians, so there was good reason to expunge him from the new dating system in favour of one inspired by the birth of Christ.
The monk’s calendar became widely accepted in Europe after it was adopted by the <stro