The Aztec Sun Stone, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Attempting to pin an exact date on the end-time is a subject I purposely avoid in my book - largely because of Christ's statements in the Gospels that no one could know the day or hour of his coming, and that he would appear like a thief in the night. We need only to look at Harold Camping's recent attempts to establish dates for the apocalypse to gain a sense of the futility of this exercise - and Camping is but one of a very long list of failed attempts to pinpoint the date of the end-time. But given the fact that we are now in the year 2012, I thought it would be topical to have a brief look at the phenomenon surrounding this date, and to discuss a little known alternative dating which has been highlighted by Dr Robert Bolton in his book The Order of the Ages.
The year 2012 has been touted as either the date of the end of the world or a time of major world renewal by many New Age-influenced thinkers since the middle of the 20th century, when the glyphs on the ancient Mayan records were first being deciphered by scholars. Between the 1950's and 1960's, it was discovered that the Maya had a highly developed knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, as well as a complex calendar system. The Maya had in fact two calendars - a Calendar Round for keeping track of time over a shorter period, and a Long Count calendar for measuring time periods longer than 52 years. The Long Count calendar was linear in nature, and took its starting point from a period in Mayan mythology which corresponds to 11th August, 3114BC in the modern Gregorian calendar. The Maya measured time in units of a kin - which represented a day, a winal - which was twenty days (or 20 kin), and eighteen of these winals made a tun (360 days) - which was the equivalent of a year in this system. The tun was then continued to be measured on a base-twenty system, with 20 tuns making a katun (7,200 days), and 20 katuns making a baktun (144,000 days, or roughly 394 years).
In the account of Mayan mythology given in the Popol Vuh (a collection of ancient Mayan mytho-historical narratives), the gods created three failed worlds before finally achieving success in creating the current fourth age which gave birth to humanity. The Maya believed that the previous third age ended after a series of 13 baktuns (1,872,000 days - roughly 5,125 years). In his book The Maya, published in 1966, Michael D. Cole was among the first Mayanist scholars to suggest that the end of a cycle of 13 baktuns would have been of extreme, perhaps even apocalyptic, importance to the ancient Maya. Since the 21st December 2012, marks the completion of 13 baktuns from the Maya's date of the creation of the present fourth age, many believe that this is a prediction of the date of the apocalypse.
In his book The Order of the Ages however, Dr Bolton notes that when we amend this calculation to take into account the actual value of a year rather than the symbolic value of the tun given in the Long Count calendar, we find that this date is projected forward into the latter half of the 21st century. The Maya calculated the yearly period of the tun as 360 days. But as Bolton notes, the Maya knew full well that the actual length of a year contained 365.24 days. So if we amend this date to take into account the actual length of a year as 365.242, rather than the symbolic value of 360, the length of 13 baktuns would be 5,200 years rather than the 5,125 years arrived at to give the 2012 date (365.242 x 20 x 20 x 13 = 1,899,258.4 days, then to convert this figure to years we divide by 365.242, which gives 5,200). This thus adds roughly 75 years to the 2012 dating, bringing us up to the year 2087 instead. It must be noted however that this does not rule out the possibility that the date 2012 derived from the value of a tun as 360 days wasn't of the primary symbolic importance to the Maya, merely that there is an alternative to it in the year 2087.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this recalibration of the Mayan end-date is that it correlates extremely closely to calculations that can be derived from the chronology of not only the ancient Hindic civilisations, but as Bolton argues, it may also correspond to a time frame developed by the ancient Greeks in the ‘Great Year’ of Plato, and the Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron ages of Greek mythology.
Bolton notes that if we look to the symbolic numbers revered in ancient Greek philosophy in order to determine the length of the age of the Kali Yuga, we find that it may be set to end in the year 2082 - a date very close to the alternative figure of 2087 in the Mayan chronology. According to Hindu mythology, the ages of the world (or Yugas) are set in four descending cycles beginning in a "Golden Age" of the Satya (or Krita) Yuga, before progressively worsening in the ages of the Treta Yuga and Dvapara Yuga (corresponding to the silver and bronze ages of Greek mythology), before culminating in the lowest and present age of the Kali Yuga - the worst of all ages.
A date for the beginning of the Kali Yuga is given in the Surya Siddhanta (an ancient text on Hindu philosophy) as commencing in the year 3102BC. In some Hindu traditions, the Kali Yuga was thought to last for a period of 432,000 years, but its length varies amongst the different texts relating to this myth. Bolton argues that the length of the Kali Yuga may correspond to the "Great Year" mentioned by Plato, which in turn is related to the "432 number" which recurs in many ancient cultures, including that of the length of the Kali Yuga. The Great Year of Plato was said to last for a duration of 12,960 years, which in turn is a multiple of the 432 number (432 x 3 = 1,296). As Bolton states, the Platonic Year is:
...the length of periods referred to in Plato's Timaeus as the 'long intervals' at the ends of which the world is devastated alternately by catastrophic changes in the natural order: at the end of the last such period the world was said to be devastated by flood, and it would be devastated by fire at the end of the next. (Bolton R. The Order of the Ages, Sophia Perennis, 2001 p225)
Bolton goes on to state that if the length of the Kali Yuga was related to the Platonic year, then it could be a division of it to its nearest significant number - 1,296 instead of 12,960. And if we multiply this shorter figure by four (4 x 1,296 = 5,184), and then count from the date given in the Surya Siddhanta as the starting point of the Kali Yuga in 3102BC, then this era would come to an end in 2082 - just five years out from the revised Mayan chronology.
So do any of these above dates have any pertinence to Catholic eschatology? Not really... Whilst the Catholic Church teaches that genuine prophecy can be found in every culture, pagan prophecy should be considered to be on a level much lower than private revelation, and it is of course incomparable to Sacred Scripture. It should perhaps be ranked at the lowest rank of the ten loci identified by Melchior Cano as places relevant to the theologian's task in his De locis theologicis. Cano begins his list in order of priority beginning in Scripture, Tradtion and the Magesterium, working its way down to ecumenical councils, patristics, scholastic theology, philosophy, before ending with humana historia.
Saying that however, prophecies that originate from outside the Catholic Church cannot be dismissed entirely either. As I highlighted in the previous post The Year of the Dragon, Pope Benedict XIV summed up the Church's position on the nature of prophecy in his work Heroic Virtue: On the Beatification and Canonization of the Servants of God:
The recipients of prophecy may be angels, devils, men, women, children, heathens, or gentiles; nor is it necessary that a man should be gifted with any particular disposition in order to receive the light of prophecy provided his intellect and senses be adapted for making manifest the things which God reveals to him. Though moral goodness is most profitable to a prophet, yet it is not necessary in order to obtain the gift of prophecy...
The Church Fathers recognised the validity of certain pagan prophecies which appeared to foretell the coming of Christ (for example those found in Virgil's Fourth Ecologue or the Cumaean Sibyl). St. Thomas Aquinas gives a detailed argument on how genuine prophecy can be found in pagan literature in his Summa Theologica:
...prophecy denotes knowledge far removed from human knowledge. Now it is evident that an intellect of a higher order can know some things that are far removed from the knowledge of an inferior intellect. Again, above the human intellect there is not only the Divine intellect, but also the intellects of good and bad angels according to the order of nature. Hence the demons, even by their natural knowledge, know certain things remote from men's knowledge, which they can reveal to men: although those things which God alone knows are remote simply and most of all.
Accordingly prophecy, properly and simply, is conveyed by Divine revelations alone; yet the revelation which is made by the demons may be called prophecy in a restricted sense...
...The prophets of the demons do not always speak from the demons' revelation, but sometimes by Divine inspiration. This was evidently the case with Balaam, of whom we read that the Lord spoke to him (Num 22:12), though he was a prophet of the demons, because God makes use even of the wicked for the profit of the good. Hence He foretells certain truths even by the demons' prophets, both that the truth may be rendered more credible, since even its foes bear witness to it, and also in order that men, by believing such men, may be more easily led on to truth. Wherefore also the Sibyls foretold many true things about Christ.
Yet even when the demons' prophets are instructed by the demons, they foretell the truth, sometimes by virtue of their own nature, the author of which is the Holy Ghost, and sometimes by revelation of the good spirits, as Augustine declares (Gen. ad lit. xii, 19): so that even then this truth which the demons proclaim is from the Holy Ghost.
But as Aquinas further notes, we should be wary of paying too much attention to such prophecies:
As the good is in relation to things, so is the true in relation to knowledge. Now in things it is impossible to find one that is wholly devoid of good. Wherefore it is also impossible for any knowledge to be wholly false, without some mixture of truth. Hence Bede says [*Comment. in Luc. xvii, 12; Cf. Augustine, QQ. Evang. ii, 40] that "no teaching is so false that it never mingles truth with falsehood." Hence the teaching of the demons, with which they instruct their prophets, contains some truths whereby it is rendered acceptable. For the intellect is led astray to falsehood by the semblance of truth, even as the will is seduced to evil by the semblance of goodness. Wherefore Chrysostom says [*Opus Imperf. in Matth., Hom. xix, falsely ascribed to St. John Chrysostom]: "The devil is allowed sometimes to speak true things, in order that his unwonted truthfulness may gain credit for his lie."
(Summa Theologica SS 176. See here for the full relevant portion of Aquina's text)
So if the prophecies concerning the year 2012 contain any truth, do they predict the end of the world? Or do they foretell the beginning of a new golden age, as some New Age commentators suggest? John Major Jenkins is perhaps the most high profile writer on the 2012 phenomenon to forward the optimistic view that this date will see a major change, such as the dawning of a new illuminated state of consciousness. The Maya did after all believe that a new, better world was created after the passing of the 13 baktuns of the third age.
It is possible that such a new golden age could relate to the Second Pentecost foretold in Scripture and private revelations. As I argue in my book, according to the chronology outlined in these sources, the Second Pentecost must take place before the end of the world, in order to reverse the general apostasy and draw as many souls as possible toward God. So it is a remote possibility that this date could be connected with the age of the Second Pentecost. But given society's current state, such a abrupt turnaround would necessitate a dramatic change in world events brought about by Divine intervention, such as an unprecedented and irrefutable miracle that would suddenly change the prevailing modern atheistic/agnostic worldview. However we simply do not know how the Second Pentecost will be brought about, and whether it will be an instantaneous event which could unfold in the course of a year, or whether it will be a more gradual process. And again we must emphasise the fact that adopting such an opinion would place too much significance upon a prophecy which has originated outside those which have been approved by the Catholic Church, which are the only sources we can trust as being truly inspired by the Holy Spirit.