I came across this quote by St.Augustine:

“The good Christian should beware of mathematicians. The danger already exists that mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and confine man in the bonds of Hell.” - St.Augustine of Hippo

It is my understanding that mathematicians at the time were associated with astrology and numerology, hence St.Augustine's harsh words. Did any of the other early church fathers condemn or write about numerology? If so, was the numerology different from modern Christian/Jewish numerology like the Bible Code or Torah Code?

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    The question features a specific example of misquotation in the book by Elizabeth Knowles, "What They Didn't Say: A Book of Misquotations", Oxford University Press, Oxford, 26 oct. 2006. books.google.com/books?id=jxFQqDLav6wC. A correct translation is: "Wherefore the good Christian must avoid astrologers or any impious diviners, above all when they tell the truth, lest his soul is duped by the partnership with demons and he becomes ensnared in some pact of association." – Johannes Feb 27 '18 at 15:17

I don't think there is any hot opposition to numerology directly made by the early church. The opposition is more about the so called 'mathematics' that you found Augustine complaining about. Even earlier, around AD 383, there is an interesting Canon against 'mathematics' that Bishops who assembled at Constantinople defined.

CANON XXXVI They who are of the priesthood, or of the clergy, shall not be magicians, enchanters, mathematicians, or astrologers; nor shall they make what are called amulets, which are chains for their own souls. And those who wear such, we command to be cast out of the Church. (NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, P170, PHILIP SCHAFF)

To interpret the remaining of that Canon in the twelfth century Balsamin makes an interesting comment:

“Magicians” are those who for any purpose call Satan to their aid. “Enchantors” are those who sing charms or incantations, and through them draw demons to obey them. “Mathematicians” are they who hold the opinion that the celestial bodies rule the universe, and that all earthly things are ruled by their influence. “Astrologers” are they who divine by the stars through the agency of demons, and place their faith in them.(NICENE AND POST-NICENE FATHERS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH, P170, PHILIP SCHAFF)

I think this is pretty reliable and shows that the church was not opposing mathematics as we know it, or even numerology specifically (although any deeply superstitious element of numerology that assumed an influence of pagan gods would naturally be condemned) but rather the Greek and Roman quasi religious pagan beliefs in fate and destiny as a result of the planets being gods and supernatural powers. These were the mathematical religious philosophical groups that the church seems to oppose.

Actually the Catholic church at a early period starting using a lot of mystical interpretation techniques that borders on numerology depending on how we define it. Jewish groups before and after Christ also engaged in various numerology to explain scripture in mystical and sometimes plainly outrageous ways. Basically numerical mysticism was only opposed if it had a pagan sub framework but numerology derived from scripture even if to predict the future from a prophecy was okay. Predicting the future from a pagan mathematical system would have been considered an occultist divination, naturally condemned. The idea of a pure non-religious belief in numbers as having a hidden meaning probably did not exist at the time but would probably not have been opposed very much as numbers came from God who made the week to have seven days, etc. So your only numerology option in the church was a biblical based one that condemned all pagan based alternatives.

What your question does make me wonder about is how do the three wise men fit into all this as they seemed to be mathematicians and astrologers somehow finding Christ. Of course I don't support those subjects either but it does make the gospel account seem interesting that Christ could even use such methods to draw pagans to him.


St. Isidore praises the study of numbers.


St. Isidore of Seville, Etymologies Book III Mathematics (De mathematica), p. 90:

iv. What numbers do for us (Quid præstent numeri)

  1. The reckoning of numbers ought not to be despised, for in many passages of sacred writings it elucidates how great a mystery they hold. Not for nothing it is said in praise of God (Wisdom 11:21), “Thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number (numerus), and weight.”

  2. The [number] that contains six units (senarius), which is perfect in its own parts, declares the completion of the world by a certain signification of its number. Likewise for the forty days during which Moses and Elijah and the Lord himself fasted: without an understanding of numbers, the span of days is unintelligible.

  3. So also there are other numbers in the Sacred Scriptures whose figurative meaning cannot be resolved except by those skilled in the knowledge of the mathematical art. It is even our lot to depend on the discipline of numbers to some extent when through it we name the hours, when we dispute about the course of the months, and when we recognize the duration of the turning year.

  4. Indeed, through numbers, we are provided with the means to avoid confusion. Remove numbers from all things, and everything perishes. Take away the computation of time, and blind ignorance embraces all things; those who are ignorant of the method of calculation cannot be differentiated from the other animals.

Book on the Numbers That Occur in Holy Scripture

St. Isidore also wrote a Liber numerorum qui in Sanctis Scripturis occurrunt, which the Catholic Encyclopedia article on St. Isidore describes as "a curious dissertation on the mystical significance of Scriptural numbers".

Numerology ≠ study of numbers; numerology is a type of divination.

According to the OED, the word "numerology" isn't used prior to 1907. The OED defines it: "Divination by numbers; the study of the occult or hidden meanings of numbers." Divination (consulting demons) is a sin of superstition, but studying numbers isn't a sin.

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