November 30, 2008

Augustine on number

"I find it very strange that most people esteem wisdom but consider number to be of little value, when clearly they are one and the same thing. True, Scripture says that wisdom 'reacheth from one end to another mightily, and sweetly doth she order all things.'. But perhaps the power that reaches mightily from one end to the other is number, and what is properly called wisdom is that which orders all things sweetly, with both powers belonging to wisdom as a whole.

"Wisdom gave numbers to all things, no matter the lowliness or loftiness of their station within the material realm. While bodies (being lofty) of course have number, the power to be wise was not given to them all, nor to all souls. But to rational beings wisdom gave enough to serve as an interior seat, from which to 'order all things' endowed with number, no matter how lowly. Because our judgments on bodies are made with the same ease as our judgments on things ordered lowlier than us, the numbers of which we perceive stamped into them, we therefore reckon numbers themselves to be beneath us, and consider them of little value. But when we begin to look above ourselves as well as below, we find that numbers transcend our minds and are permanently fixed in truth itself."

On Free Choice of the Will 2.II.30-1 (ca. 394/5 CE)