153 and the beauty of numbers


An animation of the Sieve of Eratosthenes

Numbers have fascinated me since childhood.

I remember being intrigued as a child by the Sieve of Eratosthenes (a very simple algorithm for finding prime numbers), and later in the sixth form being fascinated by my maths teacher’s comment that and 𝝅 were God made numbers, a view which seemed to be supported by the ‘exquisite beauty’ of Euler’s equation

e^{i \pi} + 1 = 0.

A Professor of Mathematics has written like a Shakespearean sonnet that captures the very essence of love, or a painting that brings out the beauty of the human form that is far more than just skin deep, Euler’s equation reaches down into the very depths of existence.

Numers can be very beautiful and powerful for us. Some will know what I am referring to, for others this may seem very abstract! However, this morning a group of primary school children and I talked about what numbers are special to us, and why. The answers were fascinating here are some of them

  • 10 because it is special for me, its the number on my shirt
  • 4 because I was 4 when my sister was born
  • 34 because it reminds me of a special person to me

And we heard how some numbers are special to Christians – 7, gifts of the Holy Spirit, 12, disciples, 3, the Holy Trinity.

153We also discussed the mysterious 153 – the number of fish counted in the miraculous catch of fish towards the end of John’s Gospel  (John 21.11).

The number clearly had significance to John and early christians, the reason why is no longer clear.

Although early christian teachers denounce the use of numbers for magical purposes they also say there are special numbers having mystical meaning, so, for example St Ambrose writes “The number seven is good, … the manifestation and division of the grace of the Spirit; for the prophet Isaias has enumerated the principal gifts of the Holy Spirit as seven.”

Today like the children at the school we may like to think about what number is special to us, and why that is. Then, perhaps, we can let our thoughts to turn to prayer.

Fr Ian


About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community where people of differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2364267899/
This entry was posted in Anglican, Anglo Catholic, Christianity, Spirituality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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