5.4. The numerological apocalypses


Numerology is a domain that relies on the existence of a mystical or esoteric connection between numbers on the one hand, and the material objects and beings on the other hand. Numerology, numerological divination and isopsephy were popular in the ancient teachings of Babylonia, Greek philosophy, Gnosticism and in the Hebrew system of Kabbalah.558 This is why the early Christians condemned the philosophical systems with exclusive numerical bases (such as Pythagoreanism and Gnosticism), being perceived as a pagan legacy. But Christianity did not reject numerology, because Revelation 13:18 and the mystery of the number 666 did not allow this thing. The calculations regarding 666 and the age of the world show that numbers were seen as holy messages full of hidden meanings, numerology becoming an important branch of biblical exegesis. The difference between the Pythagorean approach and the Christian one consisted in the fact that the latter understood numbers as inseparable from the divine will.559 Saint Ambrose, commenting on the days of the Creation and the Sabbath, remarks: “The number seven is good, but we do not explain it after the doctrine of Pythagoras and the other philosophers, but rather according to the manifestation and division of the grace of the Spirit; for the prophet Isaias has enumerated the principal gifts of the Holy Spirit as seven.”560 Instead, Augustine adopted a reserved attitude, criticizing Tyconius the Donatist because he had based his doctrine excessively on numerology: “if Tichonius had said that these mystical rules open out some of the hidden recesses of the law, instead of saying that they reveal all the mysteries of the law, he would have spoken truth.”561 For Augustine, numbers are the universal language of the divinity through which people can discover the truth. Similarly to Pythagoras, he believed that everything contains a numerical relation and only the limits of the human mind restrain the successful investigation of these relations: “And, therefore, we must not despise the science of numbers, which, in many passages of holy Scripture, is found to be of eminent service to the careful interpreter. Neither has it been without reason numbered among God’s praises, ‘Thou has ordered all things in number, and measure, and weight’” (Wisdom of Solomon 11:20).562 Isidore of Seville saw numbers as the substrate of all things as well, the foundation on which God created the world: “Remove numbers from all things, and everything perishes.”563

During the Middle Ages, due to the cultural involution and …

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