Friday, June 15, 2007


Your beautiful church building (if it was built back when we paid attention to such things) doesn’t have twelve pillars down the nave by accident. It was most probably planned that way to give some symbolic meaning to the building. Numbers can be extremely interesting and enlightening once their symbolic meanings are unlocked.

The number one calls first to mind our one true God. “The Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It is also the symbol of unity. “We believe in one God . . . one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church . . . one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Two most readily calls to mind the two natures of Christ, human and divine.

Three is a perfection number. It is the number of completeness. Pythagoras thought so of this number because with it you have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You need at least three legs for a stool to be steady to support you.

Of course it is also the number of the persons of the Trinity and the number of days Christ spent in the tomb.

The four corners of the earth or the four cardinal directions call to mind the square, which was mentioned in the first chapter and so might represent things of the created order. But more so four is the number of the four Gospels and/or four evangelists.

Five is the number of wounds Christ received on His cross.

Six may have two basic meanings depending on the context in which it is used. It can be the number of creation and completion (remember the Star of David discussed in the last chapter.) But it can also be a number signifying frustrated perfection (or imperfection) because it is one day short of seven, the day on which God rested and is thus the true number of perfection.

Seven is a perfection number. See this previous post on this number.

Eight symbolizes the resurrection because eight days after Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem he resurrected from the dead. It is the number of new beginnings.

There are nine choirs of angels making this number the angelic number. The nine choirs are Angles, Archangels, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Dominions, Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim.

It is probably obvious to you that ten would be a commandment number being that there are Ten Commandments. It is also a perfection number as it raises all other numbers equally.

Next Saturday we will continue with numbers.


uncle jim said...

where is it written?

Adoro te Devote said...

Back in the day when I was into the New Age thing, a friend of mine who claimed to be a "good Catholic" explained how the Bible endorses numerology, which of course she was using as a form of divination.

You have defined the numbers in terms of theological symbolism...what do you say to people who claim that this practice is an endorsement of divination?

(Yes, I know it's not, but it would be nice to have more info for those who are confused.)

Fr. V said...


Good question. I've never been asked that before (and probably for good reason.) Having something be a symbol is one thing and something be proof of a superstitious belief is another. One has to do with interpreting art, the other has to do with interpreting cosmic forces. They are completely unrealted. It would be as equally untennable to say that they Church teaches math in schools and therefore it endorses numerology. Is that helpful?

Uncle Jim, I suppose you are asking where the meanings of symbols are recorded. There is no official Church document if that is what you mean. The interpretation of symbols can be picked up in your run-of-the-mill art classes and is published in many books on symbolism and art. One basic book that I return to over and over for its clarity, simplicity, and extensive collection is "Saints and Symbols in Christian Art" by George Ferguson.

Anonymous said...

I love when you make everything point to Him, Fr. V.

Numbers, since they exist in time, can be used to honor God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because of free will, however, they can also be revered as false gods. If not for numbers, we'd not have the Internet, which, because of free will, can be used to honor God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or it can be revered as a false god. Whatever we don't use to point to God with, we allow to point to a lesser other.

Everything in the Created world points to God, yet if we develop a hybrid flower, it is named after us, for it is from "our" garden. If we raise buffalos, they are "our" buffalos..if we have amassed money hand over fist, we might name too much of a good thing "Trump Tower," et al, and that's perhaps why we have some things so large, we cannot claim them as ours but always have a true reminder of Him. Ocean, mountain, redwood. Or so tiny, like insect, or so wild and free, like deer and hummingbird. Or so present inexplicably, as in a baby's laugh, a bell ringing, a Schubert hymn.

And because of free will, God can be thought symbolic, or we can find Him hidden in a tiny Host or a sip of Life, even tho' He is 1st and last.

It's nice to find Him in everything. As Christ Himself said on what is now our Palm Sunday, "If I silence the people, the very stones will cry out!" Amen.


uncle jim said...

Fr V -
thanks for the lead on the book by George Ferguson.

Fr. V said...

Gyspy, I think you might be a mystic.

Anytime Uncle Jim. That's why they pay me the big bucks.