FREDERICK BLIGH BOND, F.R.I.B.A
THOMAS SIMCOX LEA, D.D.
ANNOTATED AND TRANSCRIBED BY
PETER WAKEFIELD SAULT
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THE USES OF GEMATRIA.
The inference may hence be drawn that there exists an esoteric teaching dating from great antiquity and finding expression in a harmonised scheme of symbolism in which geometrical and mathematical truth, and their application in architecture and the builder’s art play an important part, with a numerical key concealed in this geometrical structure and in the Gematria of language.
Further, that the best elements of this teaching, constituting The True Gnosis, were incorporated into the Christian system of religious teaching, whilst the superstitious accretions were discarded, among those teachings condemned by the Apostle as the Pseudonymous Gnosis being the various speculative offshoots or imitations of the originals, and with them the works of all those who led and supported rival sectarian schools, in fact, most of what is to be gathered from the so-called Gnostic Remains. We may at the same time consider that such works as the Pistis Sophia and the Books of IEOU may or may not contain the genuine gnosis, but that if they do not, they at least throw very valuable side-lights on the general form in which it was imparted. The correspondences discoverable between the Gematria in the text of these works and that which has been drawn into our Scriptures strengthens the claim to serious attention, whilst the coincidences in the geometrical scheme of
symbolism further enhances their importance. The lack of knowledge of these correspondences deprives the modern Churchman of an inner significance or body of teaching undoubtedly subsisting in that which is preserved and handed on to us by the early guardians of the Christian faith – a content of meaning which was evidently considered by them to be vital, and which we cannot afford to disregard.
The Fathers were well acquainted with the system of Gematria, as appears by their own writings, and they could not have failed to realise its intimate connection with the text of the canonical books and the presentation of the Divine story of Creation and Redemption. The key to the system having been lost, it is easy to see a reason for much of the uncertain and inadequate interpretation of Scripture which has marked the subsequent work of its professional exponents.
Some words, some names, are, it is true, capable of a more or less certain interpretation, either on account of a regularity of association, or, of a particular clearness of derivation, and an invariability in their form,* but in too many cases the lack of one or other of these qualities gives rise to a doubtfulness of meaning, or of the precise shade of meaning, attributable to them, and where the orthography of the word is in doubt, there, as is well known, controversy may arise and yet worse results may accrue. Some passages of Scripture have become so corrupt through errors, it may be, of transcription, that their very sense has been lost. And as owing to the arbitrary nature of words there is now no rule by which their construction can be positively allied to a particular shade of meaning by any general scientific relation to other words, it must always appear that in any body of teaching such as our
* See p. 21.
translations of the sacred books convey, there is an element of hazard affecting the ultimate form and interpretation of those books.
But Number and Geometrical form are aeonially true and constant in their relations, and a system of representation of natural truth having for its vehicle a carefully co-ordinated series of number symbols, in their turn expressive of definite relations of form, would, if it could be practically contrived and interwoven with the text of Scriptural books, have a most conservative effect. Nay more. There are large categories of ideas, mostly of a theological order, which are not capable of clear expression in terms of human language. But it is possible to believe that a mathematical expression can be found for some of these. For these two reasons it is plain that the Fathers and compilers of the text of Scripture, working as they were working, to construct a literary monument which should endure through all future time and defy the destructive tendencies of change and of human error and wilfulness, might in their wisdom seek to incorporate with the variable an invariable, and with the fugitive a permanent, element, by wedding to the letter of the text a Gematria built on aeonial relationships of idea.
And the Letter and the Number would tend to be mutually corrective in case of error, and mutually corroborative where the text is pure. The foreordained relation of number would, in the case of a corruption of text, foreshadow its restoration. This has already been attempted and with some success in regard to the lost Greek of the Pistis Sophia, and it may not be too much to hope that the effect of the same process on doubtful passages of Holy Writ might be found similarly helpful.
But on this matter an apology must at the present stage be tendered for the work is barely yet begun. This apology the benevolent reader will surely understand and
accept. To work from translations is never satisfactory, and a very big piece of scholarly labour is ahead of anyone who really wishes to do justice to these Gnostic books. A translation into Greek, or reconstruction of the assumed original text, is an essential eventually. But until some prima facie case has been made out there would appear no justification for such an arduous work. And, up to the present, Coptic scholars have considered these books as unworthy of their trouble, and have regarded the subject matter as mere magic or astrology.*
The word IHSOUS is an example of the more regular and certain order, the spelling being precise in its adherence to this one consistent form throughout the Scriptures. It is alluded to by St. Iranaeus as a name ‘of six letters’, having an arithmetical significance,X but the good bishop betrays no knowledge of its meaning.
The name of John is an instance of alternative spelling, the form generally found and usually accepted being IWANNHS whilst other ancient MSS give IWANHS, and this form is preferred by the editors of some recent editions of the New Testament.
Here then is a case in which the Gematria value of the spelling might be looked to for light, if our theory be correct, and it must be admitted that the name IWANNHS or IWANHS has an undeniable importance in view of its Divine origin in the Gospel narrative. The numerical value of IWANHS is 1069, a number not apparently related to the general scheme of mystic numbers which
* The ‘Magical’ Papyri shew traces of a gematria of which some elements appear to be common to all. But this is no more than saying that the works of charlatans always tend to borrow from the most highly respected sources.
X See W. W. Harvey’s St. Iranaeus, Vol. I., p. 332. “Jesus enim nomen alterius linguae existens ad Graecorum numerum transferentes, aliquando quidem episemum esse dicunt sex habens literas: aliquando autem plenitudinem ogdoadum DCCC LXXX VIII habens.”
subsists in the writings, but as IWANNHS, the form generally found and employed by the old scribes, and which is also to be seen in the Coptic MS of the Pistis Sophia, it is 1119, and this it may at once be said is an important number in the mystical geometry of the aeons, and is actually the number of the First Aeon in the Books of IEOU, and is directly connected with the number 634, that of BAPTISMA, whilst the ideas of Noah and his ark are connected with the same series. XISOUQROS (Xisuthrus), the Chaldean Noah, has the number 1119 = IWANNHS.
A third case is where two different spellings of the same name are found in one work. This is so in St. Luke’s Gospel. This Evangelist draws a distinction between the name of the Blessed Virgin – MARIAM – and the other Maries, who are MARIA. Here the Gematria is obviously correct for both, as will appear later in the special study which will be offered of these names with that of IHSOUS.
The presence in the canonical Scriptures of a Gematria having important elements in common with that discovered in the Coptic Gnostic works, being an undeniable fact, raises issues which cannot be ignored nor put aside by any reverent or thoughtful student. Nor does the fact that the system of Gematria was employed for various secular or common purposes in any way detract from its possibly sacred character. Viewed simply as a language it shares with ordinary language the character of universality, and even its ultimate debasement does not disentitle it to the most respectful examination where its presence is indicated in the Sacred Books. There is a common and familiar element even in the most venerated Names connected with the Gospel narrative. IHSOUS and IWANNHS are both ordinary names, borne by vast multitudes of ordinary people, and yet what a world of
significance is implied in St. Luke’s narrative of the giving of these names by the angel. So that in these, as in the numbers of the Gematria, we are warranted in assuming a special, as well as a general significance, and in regard to the names we have mentioned , it is not possible for any believer in the Gospel story to put aside the plain statement as to the Divine origin and intention of these names. They are, indeed, pivotal in the whole doctrinal scheme of the Christian religion, and to doubt this would be to raise grave theological issues. Nor is it tolerable to suppose that any element of the puerile or the fantastic could have been admitted knowingly by the writers of the Gospels in connection with matters of the profoundest import for the whole of humanity. The proposition is unthinkable. Yet here is the system and it is inseparable from the text. We have then a possible alternative in regarding it. We may view it either as a vehicle for Inspiration, or as a contrivance for teaching of the mysteries of the Faith, a product of human skill and learning having a most pious and serious aim. If the latter, we need not be daunted by the fact that there are many fallible and imperfect conclusions of human science linked with the sacred numbers, any more than the fact of the name IHSOUS being borne by ordinary and fallible persons need affect our mental estimate of the Divinity of our Lord.
But we shall be seeking for traces of aeonial truth and a foundation of immutable things in these Sacred numbers and for their interpretation in a theological sense, being well assured that a method of interpretation must exist, for it is equally inconceivable that a Book framed for the guidance and enlightenment of the whole human race should contain statements of an unintelligible nature, or to which the key has been permanently lost.
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