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Welcome to the Gueranger Blog! You have stumbled across the notebook I use to record my thoughts as I read through Dom Prosper Gueranger's 15-volume set, The Liturgical Year. I do not have any special expertise in liturgy, but I have some general knowledge of Catholic theology and an enthusiasm for Gueranger's magnum opus. Think of it as the Liturgical Year fan site!

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How to interpret a fish

Canisius | 21 April, 2006 21:44

On Wednesday of this Easter octave, the Gospel reading in Gueranger is from John 21. With reference to the 153 fish caught by the disciples of Jesus, Dom Gueranger remarks:

There is a mystery, too, in the number of the fishes that are taken; but what it is that is signified by these hundred and fifty-three we shall perhaps never know, until the day of Judgment reveals the secret. They probably denote some divisions or portions of the human race, that are to be gradually led, by the apostolate of the Church, to the Gospel of Christ: but, once more, till God's time comes, the book must remain sealed.

This is a very shrewd guess, given that the disciples fishing is used more than once in the gospels to symbolize their preaching to the nations: the number must signify something about what they "catch," so to speak--something about the nations converted. At the same time, since no one has been able to offer a convincing explanation of the number, Dom Gueranger suggests that the meaning is hidden.

A professor I once had argued that this number wasn't supposed to mean anything at all, but was simply a historical recollection by the author of the gospel. Why does it say there were 153 fish? Because there were 153 fish. There is something to this idea that is worth thinking about as well. While I would argue that numbers in Scripture always have a spiritual meaning, since the text is inspired, it is probably true that the meaning of the numbers will be easier to discern if the human author of the text was aware of that meaning. If John had something particular in mind for the 153, then you would think he would have made it clear enough that some good suggestion could have been made in 2000 years of exegesis. Since nothing strong has been suggested, that argues that John didn't have anything particular in mind; the spiritual meaning must be something that God knew, but not that human author.

Which brings us back to Dom Gueranger's position. There is something about the final fate of the human race that only God knows and that we will know only at the last day, and this something is signified by the 153 fish.

I wish I could say that I have cracked the code, and here's the answer, etc. I can't claim that, but I do have a couple of ideas that might pave the way for someone else to discover the truth:

First, if you count up the disciples listed at the beginning of this fishing scene, there are seven of them. The number seven is always significant in John's Gospel, so this must be something we are supposed to notice: a complete or perfect number of apostles go "fishing."

Second, there are not 153 fish! When the apostles get to shore, Jesus already has one fish on the grill! What's more, he specifically asks the apostles to add their fish to the meal, thus mixing the one fish with the 153. To crack the code, therefore, we have to reckon with 154 fish.

This is much better. 153 is 3 times 51, and that's all you can do with it. But 154 is divisible by 7. It is, in fact, 7 times 22. Tantalizing, no?

But I'm not sure what to do with the number 22. In fact, that'll be my slogan on number symbolism in Scripture: "What to do with the number 22?" If anyone cracks it, let me know....


Comment Icon 22?

Father Barry | 21/04/2006, 21:57

Perhaps Douglas Adams didn't have it quite right. He thought 42 was The Answer to The Ultimate Question Of Life, the Universe and Everything. But 22 seems more likely, given your analysis.

(And yes, I am making this flippant response to mask the fact that I have no idea what "twenty-two" stands for.)

Comment Icon Running with the numbers

Peter_Canisius | 22/04/2006, 00:30

Ah hah! You're on to something here! Douglas was off by 20 because 10 is the number of the commandments and Douglas's characters are twice as immoral as they should be.

Or something.

Augustine says 11 is the number of sin, because it goes 1 past the 10 commandments, and that might jive with something about 2 times 11. But I'm not really sold on the 11=sin line, and I'm not sure what it would mean in this case anyway.

24 would be a happy number because it has symbolic significance in the book of Revelation. But of course, we're 2 fish short of an apocalyptic dozen here.

I gotta tell ya--I'm losing sleep. This has got to stop.

Comment Icon The Nations

philip | 22/04/2006, 02:49

This is rather boring compared to the foregoing speculations, but Scott Hahn says that the Greek philosophers claimed that there were 153 kinds of fish. In his view, then, 153 stands for the proclamation of the Gospel to the whole world.

Comment Icon 22

joh shoemaker | 21/09/2006, 22:34

22 named letters(Hieroglyphs) in Hebrew "alphabet" Aleph-Tav

Neither Jesus or any Hebe would not see this. Torah, the formulas we call words in it are the Bread, the body of Christ.
Having looked for Sig. of 153 for 25 years think it's most likely Greek numbers. Haven't looked there yet.
Saw where the Greek numbers for a "latin person" adds to 666. Havn't found that site again yet. The Hebrew formula translated "beast" is the same one translated "life" in tree of life.

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