Although I’m only two chapters into Stratford Caldecott’s All Things Made New: The Mysteries of the World in Christ, it’s proved to be a very interesting read. Caldecott pleads with his readers to approach the book of Revelation through its symbolic, liturgical and sacramental context.

Despite the perverse and sacrilegious readings of a Hal Lindsay or a Tim LaHaye, Caldecott asks his readers to not short-circuit the weight of the text’s symbolic imagery or to reduce it to the notion that it’s all about Divine lordship. We’re asked instead to tarry with the images a bit, to ponder the use of “144” and the numbers 3, 4 and 7, as just a few examples show. Since Christ’s advent transformed the cosmos, all symbols – especially the Pythagorean mathematics of the ancient world – are now oriented to Christ. “Like a magnet dropped into a field of iron fillings,” writes Caldecott, “he [Christ] oriented all things to himself, for he was their maker and master” (37). He then continues with this provocative bit:

How was such a radical transformation to be expressed in words, except by adapting and transforming the ancient cosmic symbols? Yet John’s fluent use of symbolism is precisely what makes Revelation hard for a modern reader to understand. It is easier for us to pass over the symbolic dimension of Scripture, jumping straight to a moral or theological message. Having long since abandoned the field of mathematics and cosmology to the scientists, we tend to dismiss the numerological concerns of the ancients as primitive, childish or at best incidental. But the result is to reduce the complex tapestry of the Apocalypse to a single thread: for example, the message that Jesus is the lord of history. When the entire Bible is treated this way, the multi-leveled teaching of Jesus is reduced to the commandment to be really, really nice to one another” (37-8).

Caldecott makes a convincing case that the author of Revelation was influenced by Pythagorean mathematics and cosmology, as were, arguably, the ancient Hebrews with their emphasis on the numeric and qualitative weight of 7. But this makes perfect sense, as the bible did not fall from the sky. In this light, Revelation provides a window into how the earliest Christians worked with and thereby transformed ancient cosmology.

I should add that Caldecott’s book might, at first glance, be off-putting to those reared within Protestantism. For some it might appear that there are too many extra-biblical ‘things’ going on with the text; too many principles and ideas added to the pure immediacy of Holy Writ. Yet this would be entirely too quick of a dismissal. The fact is that Revelation demands a liturgical reading, informed by mystagogy, to be read within the full light of the church catholic.

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