The world in which the Christian religion and Catholic Church were founded was dominated by pagan religions that attributed mystical meanings to numbers and objects in nature. Numerology is the study of mystical relationships between numbers and events. The Catholic Church has historically believed in the significance of certain numbers, but ultimately rejects the systematic divination associated with numerology.
Systems of Numerology
There are many different systems of numerology, but many of them give numerical significance to such things as a person's name or birthplace. Alphabetic systems of numerology assign specific values to each letter of the alphabet. Other methods simply assign meanings to particular numbers. These systems often attach special significance to double-digit numbers that repeat, such as 11 and 55.
Numbers in the Old Testament
Numbers clearly have significant symbolic importance in the Old Testament. For instance, the number seven signifies completion and rest, as on the seventh day of creation when God rested. Certain numbers appear again and again in the Old Testament, leading readers to believe they carry significant meaning. The number 40 is repeatedly used when a promise is being fulfilled. This was the case during the Noahic Flood when it rained for 40 days and nights (Genesis 7:4) and also when Israelis ate Manna for 40 years (Exodus 16:35).
Catholic Church Fathers
The Catholic Church Fathers believed the numbers in the Old Testament had mystical significance, but they cautioned against pushing mystical interpretations to the extreme. Father Herbert Thurston, S.J., wrote in the Catholic Encyclopedia: “The Fathers repeatedly condemned the magical use of numbers which had descended from Babylonian sources to the Pythagoreans and Gnostics of their times.”
Fr. Thurston cited such men as St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. John Chrysostom as examples of early Church Fathers who opposed numerology. “The number seven is good,” wrote St. Anselm, “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.”
Rejection of Divination
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “all forms of divination are to be rejected.” The reason it gives for rejection is that divination conceals “a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings.” This desire for power stands in contrast to a fear of God's power that he claims for himself alone.
The Catechism defines a “sound Christian attitude” toward divination and prophecy as placing oneself under the leadership of God. It warns against having an “unhealthy curiosity” about these subjects.
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