Back in 1979, a Canadian teacher and hymnologist by the name of Hugh D. McKellar published an article entitled "How to Decode the Twelve Days of Christmas." In it, he put forth the theory that the lyrics to the popular Christmas ditty were in fact a stealth catechetical tool designed to help Catholic children learn their faith during a time of religious opression in the 1500s. For instance, the seven swans a-swimming we sing about on this seventh day of Christmas were actually a mnemonic tool to help one recall the seven sacraments.
If that sounds like a bit of a stretch, that’s because it is. McKellar eventually admitted that he made the whole thing up. Still, it wasn’t really that far fetched an idea when you take into consideration the recurring use of particular numbers by the Biblical authors and the Early Church Fathers. The number seven and its multiples were a particular favorite throughout the years. Seven days of creation, seven years of feast and famine, seven seals and trumpets, seven sacraments, just oodles and oodles of sevens everywhere…
You just know the Pythagoreans would have loved that video. In their philosophy seven was a number of vast power, the number of all numbers, the number of the manifested universe itself. The Church Fathers, on the other hand, were careful never to assign any power to numbers themselves, even as they spent a lot of time delving into the significance behind the use of certain digits in Holy Scripture. As St. Ambrose noted in his letter to Horontianus, "The number seven is good, but we do not explain it after the doctrine of Pythagoras and the other philosophers, but rather according to the manifestation and division of the grace of the Spirit; for the prophet Isaias has enumerated the principal gifts of the Holy Spirit as seven."
Like other forms of divination, numerology is ultimately frowned upon by the Church. As explained in the Catechism, “all forms of divination are to be rejected” as they represent “a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings.” In short, it’s okay to use numbers to try and explain aspects of God, but never to try and play God. Do that and you’re bound to get in trouble. Count on it.
Oh, don’t you groan. You knew very well I was going to end it that way.
Hahaaaa! The best! And a good introduction to Numerology and Pythagoreans.
Good stuff, right? While this album by They Might Be Giants is aimed at a slightly younger crowd than Schoolhouse Rock, it's still pretty darn hummable.
I am convinced that the song was written during or in the aftermath of a child's birthday party. And that it includes audio clips recorded during that party.
Ha! You might be on to something there.
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