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The Mystical Meanings in the Proportions of Numbers, Geometrical Ratios, and Music


Stromata, VI, 11.

To those who asked the reason why studying the causes of the sun and stars’ movement, the geometrical theorems or logic, Clement answers quoting the Holy Scripture according to which when human wisdom employs all these disciplines, it can ascend to divine wisdom.

[…] Music is then to be handled for the sake of the embellishment and composure of manners. For instance, at a banquet we pledge each other while the music is playing; soothing by song the eagerness of our desires, and glorifying God for the copious gift of human enjoyments, for His perpetual supply of the food necessary for the growth of the body and of the soul. But we must reject superfluous music, which enervates men's souls, and leads to variety — now mournful, and then licentious and voluptuous, and then frenzied and frantic.

The same holds also of astronomy. For treating of the description of the celestial objects, about the form of the universe, and the revolution of the heavens, and the motion of the stars, leading the soul nearer to the creative power, it teaches to quickness in perceiving the seasons of the year, the changes of the air, and the appearance of the stars; since also navigation and husbandry derive from this much benefit, as architecture and building from geometry. This branch of learning, too, makes the soul in the highest degree observant, capable of perceiving the true and detecting the false, of discovering correspondences and proportions, so as to hunt out for similarity in things dissimilar; and conducts us to the discovery of length without breadth, and superficial extent without thickness, and an indivisible point, and transports to intellectual objects from those of sense.

The studies of philosophy, therefore, and philosophy itself, are aids in treating of the truth. For instance, the cloak was once a fleece; then it was shorn, and became warp and woof; and then it was woven. Accordingly the soul must be prepared and variously exercised, if it would become in the highest degree good. For there is the scientific and the practical element in truth; and the latter flows from the speculative; and there is need of great practice, and exercise, and experience.

But in speculation, one element relates to one's neighbours and another to one's self. Wherefore also training ought to be so moulded as to be adapted to both. He, then, who has acquired a competent acquaintance with the subjects which embrace the principles which conduce to scientific knowledge (gnosis), may stop and remain for the future in quiet, directing his actions in l conformity with his theory.

But for the benefit of one's neighbours, in the case of those who have proclivities for writing, and those who set themselves to deliver the word, both is other culture beneficial, and the reading of the Scriptures of the Lord is necessary, in order to the demonstration of what is said, and especially if those who hear are accessions from Hellenic culture.

Such David describes the Church: “The queen stood on your right hand, enveloped in a golden robe, variegated;” and with Hellenic and superabundant accomplishments, “clothed variegated with gold-fringed garments.” And the Truth says by the Lord, “For who had known Your counsel, had You not given wisdom, and sent Your Holy Spirit from the Highest; and so the ways of those on earth were corrected, and men learned Your decrees, and were saved by wisdom?” For the Gnostic knows things ancient by the Scripture, and conjectures things future: he understands the involutions of words and the solutions of enigmas. He knows beforehand signs and wonders, and the issues of seasons and periods, as we have said already. Do you see the fountain of instructions that takes its rise from wisdom? But to those who object, What use is there in knowing the causes of the manner of the sun's motion, for example, and the rest of the heavenly bodies, or in having studied the theorems of geometry or logic, and each of the other branches of study?— for these are of no service in the discharge of duties, and the Hellenic philosophy is human wisdom, for it is incapable of teaching the truth— the following remarks are to be made. First, that they stumble in reference to the highest of things — namely, the mind's free choice. “For they,” it is said, “who keep holy holy things, shall be made holy; and those who have been taught will find an answer.” [Wisdom 6:10] For the Gnostic alone will do holily, in accordance with reason all that has to be done, as he has learned through the Lord's teaching, received through men.

Again, on the other hand, we may hear: “For in His hand, that is, in His power and wisdom, are both we and our words, and all wisdom and skill in works; for God loves nothing but the man that dwells with wisdom.” [Wisdom 7:16] And again, they have not read what is said by Solomon; for, treating of the construction of the temple, he says expressly, “And it was Wisdom as artificer that framed it; and Your providence, O Father, governs throughout.” [Wisdom 14:2-3] And how irrational, to regard philosophy as inferior to architecture and shipbuilding! And the Lord fed the multitude of those that reclined on the grass opposite to Tiberias with the two fishes and the five barley loaves, indicating the preparatory training of the Greeks and Jews previous to the divine grain, which is the food cultivated by the law. For barley is sooner ripe for the harvest than wheat; and the fishes signified the Hellenic philosophy that was produced and moved in the midst of the Gentile billow, given, as they were, for copious food to those lying on the ground, increasing no more, like the fragments of the loaves, but having partaken of the Lord's blessing, and breathed into them the resurrection of Godhead through the power of the Word. But if you are curious, understand one of the fishes to mean the curriculum of study, and the other the philosophy which supervenes. The gatherings point out the word of the Lord.

And the choir of mute fishes rushed to it,”says the Tragic Muse somewhere.

I must decrease,” said the prophet John, [John 3:30] and the Word of the Lord alone, in which the law terminates, “increase”. Understand now for me the mystery of the truth, granting pardon if I shrink from advancing further in the treatment of it, by announcing this alone: “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not even one thing.” [John 1:3] Certainly He is called “the chief corner stone; in whom the whole building, fitly joined together, grows into an holy temple of God,” [Ephesians 2:20-21] according to the divine apostle.

I pass over in silence at present the parable which says in the Gospel: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who cast a net into the sea and out of the multitude of the fishes caught, makes a selection of the better ones.” [Matthew 13:47-48]

And now the wisdom which we possess announces the four virtues in such a way as to show that the sources of them were communicated by the Hebrews to the Greeks. This may be learned from the following: “And if one loves justice, its toils are virtues. For temperance and prudence teach justice and fortitude; and than these there is nothing more useful in life to men.

Above all, this ought to be known, that by nature we are adapted for virtue; not so as to be possessed of it from our birth, but so as to be adapted for acquiring it.

Translated by William Wilson, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe.(Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.)  Source for the English Digital text: