Arithmetic, the first of four Quadrivium subjects, sheds light on the nature of our humanity. When contextualized by scripture, this study can even assist us in the task of realizing the true meaning dominion.
Arithmetic is the study of number. While it concerns counting, adding, and subtracting, it is ultimately about the meaning of unity and relationship. This is one of the reasons we study Arithmetic at New College Franklin, where I teach. At the heart of this study is the mystery of the one and many–the mystery of ratio (logos). For this reason, Arithmetic can expand our appreciation of the Trinity and those Trinitarian structures in which we are created. Arithmetic provides an imitative example of how the creation is formed in the image of God, and of how human thought and speech is preeminently structured to recognize, delight in, and inhabit those structures to the glory of God.
What does it mean that we are creatures who enumerate? It means we have the ability to relate to the world by the power of word (logos): collecting things under a name, recognizing and even creating identity, order, and relationships. Logos allows us to relate what we perceive to ourselves, to God, and to the rest of creation. Logos is the power of ratio. That we are creatures made in the image of the Word means we are creatures concerned with meaning and identity.
Consider what happens when we collect or enumerate something under a name. Using the name ‘three’, for instance, we bring three things under the dominion of speech and thought.
Three things that once merely existed in one’s visual field are through an act of speech, brought into a recognized relationship. This may seem insignificant, but our ability to codify or bring relationships to light is something deeply related to our roles as prophets, priests, and kings.
Our speech and our ability to enumerate suggests we have benedictory powers.We bring about distinction and new (or previously unrecognized) identity through the process of a kind of enumeration. Numbering teaches us about the power to recognize and organize reality. The significance of such power becomes apparent when it is used to express more than just abstract numerical value. Consider how each of these following acts of speech expresses an aspect redemptive enumeration:
- You’re name shall no longer be called Jacob but Israel (Gen. 32:28)
- For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. (Deut. 7:6; cf. 1st Peter 2:9)
- This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. (Matt.. 17:5)
- Baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19 )
Each of these acts of speech represents an act of enumeration, a very literal reckoning up of character or identity. It is important that we recognize how these patterns of speech are just gratuitous, and merciful. Speech has the power to recognize reality, but at times even possess the power to create or confer it. Even as the subject of enumeration is separated or called-out, it is also drawn into relation with the speaker who proclaims something about it. Whether blessing or curse, there is a fundamental act of distinction and conferral in our speech. To name something or enumerate it is to situate it as a being in the context of a larger world. In some sense, this is the very meaning of world. As Josef Pieper explains in The Philosophical Act, a true world requires relationships and not merely a plurality of beings.
Arithmetic reveals that speech has both a revelatory and relational character. That we are creatures constituted to recognize and enumerate the cosmic nature of things may help us consider the nature of true dominion. That we are created to know, to enter into, and to develop relationships may also help us grasp the redemptive nature of that dominion.
Numbering and Dominion
Speech and enumeration were divinely appointed to man at the creation when God, who is Word, formed us in His image. But the creation narrative tells us more than when we received the gift of logos; in part, it also reveals why.
God speaks and it is so. He brings forth His creation in divine enumeration, naming and distinguishing the nature of every creature. The sun is to be the greater light, the moon the lesser. The birds are to be inhabit the air, and the fish, the sea. The Author and Ruler of all displays His power and dominion by reckoning existence unto the creation.
In a remarkable step, He then proclaims that He will make man in His own image and likeness. It is no accident that He then awaits to see what man will name each of the creatures over which he has been given stewardship. God, who spoke the creation into being, who by His speech brought forth order (nature), sets the rational animal (the creature with logos) over that creation. By Word, God creates, and by word, man is to relate to the creation. It is not a stretch to suggest that as prophets, priests and kings, we are to govern and bless the earth largely through word. Benediction, that is to bless with speech, means we are to proclaim truth (prophecy), honor identity and relationship in light of the Creator (priesthood), and order and direct the creation to divine glory (kingship).
Since the time of Adam, the task has not been quite so straightforward. We have undergone a terrible fall which has resulted in death, depravity, and darkness. The world is full of thistles and thorns. Man is full of inner darkness and error. Things are not as they ought to be. But in a remarkable twist to the story, there has been a new, gracious, and more glorious enumeration. The very Word of God took on flesh and underwent the punishment of the cross. This Word of God, who was truly man, underwent death and was resurrected to eternal glory.
What this means is that in Christ, the name of man has been re-enumerated and reckoned as true child and heir of God. Man is now, in God, a new creation. Through the renewal of our minds, we continue the prophetic, priestly, kingly roles which Christ inaugurated and perfected. We continue this work by inviting and submitted all the creation to this new order. When we speak the truth about the meaning of things (life, sin, the family, the body, love, justice, mercy), when we enumerate the true names of the things of God and man, we don’t merely fight evil or correct wrongs, we offer up the world in and to Christ as its stewards–participating in his work as prophets, priest, and kings. We do so, knowing that no word He sends forth shall return to Him empty.
Though it may seem far fetched, Arithmetic is just one subject among many which, when studied in light of God’s Word, helps us experience the unmerited glory we possess in Christ’s radically new enumeration. It teaches us of the relational power and mercy intended in the gift of logos, a gift intended to help the divine enumeration go forth and multiply.