Patristic Numerology in Maximos the Confessor  

Posted by Joe Rawls

  Maximos (580-662) was born to an aristocratic family in Constantinople.  He became a monk after serving as Imperial Secretary.  He became an outspoken opponent of Monotheletism, a heresy which asserted that Jesus had only one will, instead of both human and divine wills.  He supported the Western Church on this issue and said, "I have the faith of the Latins, but the language of the Greeks."  Maximos earned the title "Confessor" when he fell afoul of the emperor Constans II, who favored Monotheletism.  The emperor ordered Maximos's tongue cut out and his right hand cut off.  He was then exiled to the Caucasus and died soon after.

He left behind a large body of spiritual and theological writings.  Selections from his works make up the largest single part of the Philokalia.  A short but interesting sample is reproduced below.  It discusses the spiritual meaning of various numbers associated with the person of Jesus.  Numerology frequently occurs in ancient and patristic writers and goes back at least as far as Pythagoras.

The excerpt is from vol 2 of The Philokalia  (tr and ed by GEH Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware), p 130.


The Lord appeared when He was thirty years old, and with this number secretly teaches those with discernment the mysteries relating to Himself.  For, mystically understood, the number thirty presents the Lord as the Creator and provident ruler of time, nature, and the intelligible realities that lie beyond visible nature.  The number seven signifies that He is the Creator of time, for time has a sevenfold character.  The number five signifies that He is the Creator of nature, for nature has a fivefold character because of the fivefold division of the senses.  The number eight signifies that He is the Creator of intelligible realities, for intelligible realities come into being outside the cycle that is measured by time.  And the number ten signifies that He is the provident ruler, because it is the ten holy commandments that lead men towards perfection, and also because the symbol for ten [in Greek] is the first letter of the name taken by the Lord when He became man.  By adding up five, seven, eight and ten you obtain the number thirty.  Thus he who truly knows how to follow the Lord as his master will understand why, should he attain the age of thirty, he will also be empowered to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom.  For when through his ascetic practice he has irreproachably created the world of the virtues as if it were a world of visible nature, not allowing his soul to be diverted from its course by the hostile powers as he passes through time; and when he unerringly gathers spiritual knowledge through contemplation, and is providentially able to engender the same state in others, then he himself, whatever his physical age, is thirty years old in spirit and makes manifest in others the power of the blessings which he himself possesses.      

St Sergius of Radonezh  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Sergius of Radonezh was born ca 1314.  At an early age he and his brother founded a hermitage in a remote area northeast of Moscow.  His brother could not tolerate the rigors of the eremitic life and soon left.  Sergius lived by himself for several years, with only the local wolves and bears for companionship.  He was not a learned man but he developed a reputation for holiness and gradually attracted a small group of followers.  This little community eventually evolved into the great monastery of Holy Trinity-St Sergius.  A settlement just outside the monastery gates became the town of Sergiev Posad, renamed Zagorsk during the Soviet era.  The monastery is variously known by all these names.  Sergius became a major figure in Russian life since Holy Trinity founded many other monasteries and because he was a supporter of Prince Dimitri Donskoi, whose defeat of the Tatars in 1380 contributed to the establishment of the Russian state.  Sergius reposed on this date in 1392. 


Hildegard of Bingen's Musical Style  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Benedictine abbess, polymath, theologian, musician, and several other things, is probably most accessible to contemporary people through her numerous musical compositions.  On today's feast day we look at an article on her musical style by Nancy Fierro, professor of music at Mt St Mary's College in Los Angeles.  I've also included a representative video of her music. 


Hildegard was a very expressive person.  She loved beautiful clothing, exquisite sounds, fragrant scents, and bright-colored gems.  As a composer, she expressed herself intensely both in the sound and in the words of her music.  The following are some musical features we can find in her compositions.  The style characteristics listed stem from my own observations and from the thoughtful analysis of musicologist Marianne Pfau.

In contrast to the narrow scope of most chants in her day, Hildegard's music has a very wide range.  She uses extremes of register as if to bring heaven and earth together.  According to Pfau, by adding and omitting pitches and pitch groups in repetitions of melodic phrases, Hildegard stretches and contracts melodic phrases to create the "soaring arches" that we are familiar with in her music.

Plainchant usually never employed intervals larger than a second or third.  Hildegard's music vaults upward and downward with wide intervals of fifths and fourths.  She traverses up and down the octave scale with as much ease as she moved between the mystical world and the world of mundane affairs.

Unlike the Romanesque curves of most plainchant melodies, Hildegard's melodies are more angular.  Often we hear rapid ascents in melodies with a slow falling decline.  The heights of her songs are like the spires of Gothic cathedrals shooting upwards in the sky.

Dramatic Flourishes
Hildegard's chants contrast neumatic and melismatic passages.  Neumatic passages are organized with two or three notes per syllable.  Melismatic passages use three or more notes per syllable...Combined with an ascending passage at the end of the piece, Hildegard uses melismas to anticipate the joy we will experience in arriving at our final celestial destiny.