5.4.1. Michael Stifel and the antichristical calculations
The year 1533 was seen as the year of Judgment both by Thomas Müntzer and Michael Stifel, but on completely different bases. Stifel was very fond of Bible study, but posterity appreciates him for his innovations in algebra and arithmetic; his interest in numerology is seen today as a strange and irrational element in his work.
Disappointed by Catholicism, Stifel sought refuge in Protestantism. He became friends with Luther and Melanchthon, and for a couple of months he lived with them at Wittenberg. In 1528 Luther obtained for him a position at a parish in Lochau (today’s Annanberg), where Stifel stayed for about five years, and he probably would have stayed longer if he had not made the prophecy about the end of world.565
Stifel avoided astrology and the classic eschatological correlation between historical and biblical events, the latter being preferred by Melanchthon or Müntzer. He wished to have a solid ground, irrefutable, free from the arbitrariness of human interpretation and appreciation. And of all the mystical domains, the biblical numerology seemed to be the only method that was promising prophetic certainty.
According to the German mathematician, every number contains a “substance,” while their representation through symbols is only a disguise or an accident of the human choices. For example, the symbols “1,” “I” or “A” (alpha) are only accidents emanated by social conventions, but they all express the same quantity or value. What matters is the ability to see the values represented by the symbols. Behind every symbol there is an abstract value that manifests itself and has correspondences in the real world. Anyone is capable to investigate the biblical mysteries, no matter the language he uses, because numbers, or, more correctly, the values expressed by numbers, are the same everywhere. Numbers do not lie and they cannot be interpreted; one plus one will always be two, regardless of the language, place or time. Numbers are the letters of God and mathematics is his language. God constructed the entire nature through numbers and man can find his plans through numbers as well. And, given the fact that the Creator offered us this kind of marvelous instruments to investigate the biblical prophecies, it is legitimate to assume that the same Creator wants us to discover them and to use them. The Book of Revelation contains a very suggestive statement regarding the investigation of the number 666: “Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast” (Revelation 13:18). So, the deepest truths are sealed in the secret language of numbers.
Luther was skeptical about numerology, which made Stifel fear that he could fall into the sin of heresy. Nevertheless, in 1541 Luther himself published Supputatio annorum mundi, a detailed chronology of the age of the world based mainly on the Bible, with the date of the Creation in 3960 BC.566
In 1532, at Wittenberg, Stifel anonymously published Ein Rechenbüchein vom Endchrist. Apocalypsis in Apocalypsim, in which he used numerological arguments to demonstrate that the end of the world was close and the popes and the Catholic Church were the Antichrist and the apocalyptic Babylon. Thus, the year in which the “worldly papacy” began, 852 AD, plus the number of the beast 666, equals 1518, the year in which the papal tyranny was overturned.567
Inspired by the work of the early Christians, Stifel built three numerological methods. All focused on the numbers with eschatological significance, especially 666. Interestingly, he ignored the Greek and the Hebrew alphabets primarily because he did not know them, and secondarily, he considered, the secrets of Revelation happen and apply only to the Latin Church (Catholicism and the Papacy), and not to the Greek Church (Orthodox churches) or the Jewish people.
The first method of numerological decoding consisted in choosing a phrase and the extraction from that phrase of all the characters that have numerical value in the Roman system: I = 1, V = 5, X = 10, L = 50, C = 100, D = 500, M = 1,000. Accordingly, in the Latin text Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdeorvm (“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”) the letters that can be used as numerals are the following: I, V, V, I, X, V, D, V, M. All added give the sum 1,532 (MDXXXII).
Most of the sentences analyzed by the German mathematician had anti-papal significance. In the Latin expression Leo Decimvs (Leo X, d.1522; decimvs meaning “tenth”) the Roman characters corresponding to numbers are L, D, C, I, M, V. All added give the number 1656 (MDCLVI), which hardly seems interesting in itself. On the table however, 1656 is not very different from 666; all that is needed is to move a unit from thousandths to tenths. From the fact that there are ten letters in Leo Decimvs and “M” is the first letter of the final number, Stifel assumed that in order to find the real value of Leo Decimvs he had to interpret M as 10, not as 1,000. Through the new calculation the correspondent sum of Leo Decimvs is 666.
The second numerological method used by Stifel was based on the order of the letters in the Classical Latin alphabet, formed of 23 letters: A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, D = 4, E = 5, F = 6, G = 7, H = 8, I = 9, K = 10, L = 11, M = 12, N = 13, O = 14, P = 15, Q = 16, R = 17, S = 18, T = 19, V = 20, X = 21, Y = 22, Z = 23. Also, at first the Latin alphabet did not contain the letter “U,” the letter “V” in interconsonantic position being read as “U.” For example, for the word angelvs (“angel”), the calculation is made by adding the numerical value of the letters according to the above table: A + N + G + E + L + V + S = 75. But this method did not offer any remarkable result, and therefore the German mathematician designed a third method.568
It is no secret that the first two methods had been outlined in one way or another long before Stifel. Nevertheless, the German mathematician has the merit of improving them, creating at the same time the so-called sequence of triangular numbers. This method is closely linked to the sequence of the natural numbers and it can be calculated according to the formula: the triangular number n = the sum of the first natural numbers n. The following correspondences are obtained: A = 1, B = 3 (A+2), C = 6 (B+3), D = 10 (C+4), E = 15 (D+5), F = 21, G = 28, H = 36, I = 45, K = 55, I = 66, M = 78, N = 91, O = 105, P = 120, Q = 136, R = 153, S = 171, T = 190, V = 210, X = 231, Y = 253, Z = 276.
The results obtained from the sentences analyzed with the triangular method were further combined with important years from the history of Christendom and special biblical numbers. All the relations took the form of an equality that, if the original words were again substituted, apparently expressed important truths. Stifel’s calculations regarding the Papacy were in connection with his conception about the tripartite history of the church:
(1) The period of the spiritual popes – from Peter the Apostle to Leo IV (d.855).
(2) The period of the secular popes – from John VIII (856)569 to Leo X (d.1522).
(3) The period of the “furious” popes – from Adrian VI (d.1523) to Clement VII (d.1534). Clement was still alive when Stifel published his calculations.570
From a Lutheran point of view, things went terribly wrong with John VIII. According to a legend widespread among Protestants, created around the 13th century by the dissident groups precursory to the Reformation, Pope John VIII was a woman disguised as a man who had the real name “Joan.” When her true gender was discovered, the subsequent Catholic leaders tried to erase her from the list of popes. But, given the fact that this thing was impossible, she was maintained under the name of “John VIII.” In fact, the source of the legend was the weak and effeminate character of Pope John VIII, most likely the jokes about John being so distorted that from pope he became “popessa.”571
Besides the abomination of the female pope, Stifel considered that one of the primary blasphemies of the secular and furious popes is the concept of free will (Latin: libervm arbitrvm). While Catholic canons say that man has the power to accept or to refuse divine grace and salvation, the Reformists believed that salvation depends entirely on God. If the world as a group has an absolutely predetermined path, then human beings – as part of the group – must have an absolutely predetermined path as well. Hence, the concept of free will was seen as a blasphemous Catholic invention meant to encourage the believers to “willingly” donate their money to the church. Through the third method Stifel determined that Johannes Octavvs (John VIII) has the same numerical value as libervm arbitrvm, that of 1,448. Furthermore, 1,260 = Ira revelabitvr (“Anger revealed”) and Cessatio Paptvs (“End of the Popes”) = 1,517. In the year 1517 the Reformation began.
In the Old Testament and in the Book of Daniel the numbers 1,260 and 1,335 can be found. Stifel found out that Matinvs Lavter (“Martin Luther”) = 1,574 and Romanvs Papa (“Papa Roman”) = 1,051. The sum of 1,290 + 1,335 is equal to the sum between Martinvs Lavter + Romanvs Papa. The result therefore suggests a special relation between Luther, the Papacy and the two biblical numbers.
Stifel enlarged the field of his investigations by using other arithmetical operations than addition and subtraction. He …
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