instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, April 02, 2004

A book of numbers

Camassia points out that Mark 8:18-21 emphasizes certain numbers:
"Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?"
They answered Him, "Twelve."
"When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?"
They answered Him, "Seven."
He said to them, "Do you still not understand?"
Camassia reminds me of an important principle for understanding Scripture: numbers mean something.

What they mean, exactly, I may not understand, but they meant something to the people who wrote them, and they are supposed to mean something to the people who read them.

The Father of the Church offer their own interpretations of these numbers. Of the first miracle:
  • "By the five loaves are figured the Five Books of Moses, by the two fishes, the Psalms and Prophets."
  • "Or the two fishes are the discourses of fishermen, that is, their Epistles and Gospel."
  • Or "by the five thousand men are meant those who, living in the world, know how to make a good use of external things."
  • Or "by the twelve baskets, the Apostles and the following Doctors are typified, externally indeed despised by men, but inwardly full of healthful food. For all know that carrying baskets is a part of the work of slaves."
  • "Or, in the gathering of the twelve baskets full of fragments, is signified the time, when they shall sit on thrones, judging all who are left of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the twelve tribes of Israel, when the remnant of Israel shall be saved."
Of the second miracle:
  • "the seven loaves are spiritual discourses, for seven is the number, which points out the Holy Ghost, who perfects all things."
  • Or "the seven loaves are the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the fragments of the loaves are the mystical understanding of the first week."
  • Or, the seven baskets of leftovers represent "the higher precepts of perfection, to which the multitude cannot attain...; nevertheless, the multitude is said to have been satisfied, because though they cannot leave all that they possess, nor come up to that which is spoken of virgins, yet by listening to the commands of the law of God, they attain to everlasting life."
  • Or "the seven baskets are the seven Churches. By the four thousand is meant the year of the new dispensation, with its four seasons."
  • "Or there are four thousand, that is, men perfect in the four virtues; and for this reason, as being more advanced, they ate more, and left fewer fragments. For in this miracle, seven baskets full remain, but in the miracle of the five loaves, twelve, for there were five thousand men, which means men enslaved to the five senses, and for this reason they could not eat, but were satisfied with little, and many remains of the fragments were over and above."
Take your pick, or pick 'em all, or pick something else, but don't think the numbers are just facts.