The Philosophers (Part 7): Pythagoras

Of all the ancient philosophers the one that understood PR the most was Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BC). I’m assuming of course that you know of him. He’s the secondary school maths guy, the one who gave us Pythagoras Theorem… Something about the square of the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle blah, blah, blah…

If Pythagoras were alive today he’ll appear on billboards, appear on TV, be all over social media, do press interviews. He cultivated for himself a god-like image, became the subject of elaborate legends (which he encouraged). He built the image of a virtual messiah. His intuitive breakthroughs were deemed mystical “revelations.” His followers actually sacrificed an ox when he discovered the 47th Proposition of Euclid. You’ll hear about that later. But his PR strategy worked. He became a legend. Little is actually known about him. None of his writings survived. His legendary image was boosted by the fact his followers usually published their own works in his name, so we don’t know which works were his exactly. The mystic is further strengthened by the fact he actually established a cult. A real cult. There were two streams in that cult – the Mathematikoi or “learners”, and the Akousmatikoi – the “listeners.” The Mathematikoi focused on mathematical and scientific work while the Akousmatikoi devoted themselves to the observance of rituals and rules, and to interpretation of sayings of the master.

The Mathematikoi were the inner circle. They were taught the “mysteries”. But to be a Mathematikoi you must renounce personal possessions. Members of the Mathematikoi were required to live ethically, love one another, share political beliefs, practice pacifism and observe a rule of silence called “echemythia,” the violation of which attracted death penalty. “Silence is better than unmeaning words” says Pythagoras. The order is like a combo of monastery and secret brotherhood, though it was open to women. That was quite radical for those days. There were other rules. Initiates must be vegetarians, though strangely they were not to eat beans. Farting apparently reduces the soul. They were subject to strict rules of conduct. They followed a life of religious teaching, exercise, reading and philosophical study.

The Akoustikoi were not taught “inner secrets.” They were permitted to eat meat and own personal belongings.

Pythagoras believed the cosmos is governed by mathematical rules. He believed that number – numerical ratios and mathematical axioms can be used to explain the structure of the cosmos. This was a profound shift in the way the universe was viewed. The Milesian school of philosophy had concentrated on the substance of the cosmos rather than the form. It’s why Thales said the fundamental element of the universe is water. Since everything in the universe conforms to mathematical rules and ratios “number is the ruler of forms.” But the teachings got weird. Pythagoreans ascribed characteristics to numbers. Even numbers are “good”, odd numbers are “evil.” Odd numbers are “masculine”, even numbers are “feminine”. Four is the number of “justice,” one is the number of “unity.”

Pythagoras was one of the first to assert the earth is round and that planets have axis. These planets he said revolved around a central “fire.” Whether by this he meant the Sun is the subject of conjecture since he never identified the Sun. He however believed the moon was another planet. He called it a “counter earth.” He also believed in the harmony of the stars – “musica universalis” – the idea the planets and stars moved according to mathematical equations which corresponded to musical notes and thus produced a kind of symphony. That’s not as bad as it sounds. Centuries later scientists would come up with another music analogy to explain the universe, though not in the mode of Pythagorean cosmology. They called it String Theory. According to the theory the universe is made up of “strings.” These strings are of particular lengths that strike different notes and vibrate at different frequencies. It’s very complicated stuff, don’t bother your head. It’s quantum physics. Even scientists are confused.

Pythagoras believed the essence of being, that is stability can be found in the form of numbers. And this essence can be encountered through the study of mathematics. Good health for example relies on a stable proportion of elements. Too much or too little can cause imbalance, which makes a person unhealthy. Let’s just say he saw everything through numbers. Pythagoras was also interested in music, the harmony of music. That was partly because he was concerned the music of his day was not harmonious enough and it was too hectic. He soon discovered musical notes could be translated into mathematical equations. Legend has it he discovered this while observing blacksmiths at work. But here’s the reason we’re interested in Pythagoras – he saw his scientific and religious views as interconnected. That’s a major issue in Christian theology.

In the pursuit of this interconnectivity Pythagoras believed in the theory of metempsychosis or transmigration of souls. He believed in reincarnation. Christian theology does not. Pythagoras believed the soul is reincarnated after death again and again into the bodies of humans, animals and vegetables until it becomes moral. This is of course far from Christian theology. There is a place for personal discipline in Christian theology. But the Christian has to rely on the help of the Holy Spirit to overcome the “works of the flesh.” “Works of the flesh” is a reference to man’s psychological state, his fallen nature: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.” Galatians 5:19-21 NLT. But there’s a counter through the Spirit: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:19-24 NLT.

The larger issue though is that construct of interconnectivity of scientific and religious views. Do faith and science mix? Are they opposed? It’s something Christians struggle with and yet it’s easily resolved. The resolution is in the proper reading of scriptures. If the universe can be decoded through science then the God who created that universe must either be a scientist or must have used scientific methodology. If the universe were decoded through mysticism however then that God must be a mystic and creation came about by magic.

For some reason the God of the Bible deemed it fit to introduce himself as a scientist and not a shaman. It’s that God we encountered in Genesis. In Christian theology the creative agency of the Godhead is the Christ: “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.” Colossians 1:15-17 NLT. He’s able to create the universe because “in him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:3 NLT. That we must assume includes scientific knowledge.

But if the world created by this God can be accessed through science how come the Bible says the universe was created in seven days? It’s scientifically impossible. Cosmology tells us the evolution of the universe took billions of years. Yes, the Bible did say the universe was created in seven days but there are two types of day in Genesis. There is “creation day” and “earth day.” Earth day is 24hrs. But that regime didn’t begin until the fourth creation day. Clearly there were two calendars running in Genesis. Those calendars don’t have the same calibration. There is no contradiction between Genesis and science, someone is just not reading his Bible correctly. Seven creation days is not the same as seven earth days. There are two different types of day in Genesis. Presumably, creation days are in hundreds of millions of years, if not billions. The smallest unit is large.

Pythagoras would end up inspiring two mystic orders – the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians. The link between Freemasonry and Pythagoras is said to be “the 47th problem of Euclid’s first book.” We’re told it’s the foundation of all Masonry – sacred, civil and military. Pythagoras solved that problem, that’s the link.

The three degrees of membership in Freemasonry is said to be based on the three degrees of membership of the Order of Pythagoras. New students of the Pythagorean school were required to pass through these degrees before they could enter into the presence of Pythagoras. The first was proficiency in maths and geometry – Mathematicus; the second was Theoreticus – application of “the exact sciences”; the third was Electus, which entitles the candidate to “pass forward into the light of the fullest illumination which he is capable of absorbing.”

As per Rosicrucians there are many sects, but the main ones are the Rosicrucian Fellowship and The Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crusis (AMORC). Rosicrucian Fellowship trace their antecedents to a set of secret manifestos first published in 1610 revealing truths about the Rosy Cross – the symbols of male and female intermingled. This they claim was concealed from the average man but would bring fulfilment and salvation to the tutored adept. AMORC claims its hidden knowledge dates back through the “secret doctrines of Jesus Christ” and Pythagoras to ancient Egyptian gnosis.

Only there is no secret doctrine of Jesus Christ. If it’s not in the Bible don’t believe it. Nobody got saved in the Bible through secret doctrine. Salvation comes through simple faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you’ll like to receive Jesus into your life please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”

© Leke Alder |

There is a place for personal discipline in Christian theology. But the Christian has to rely on the help of the Holy Spirit to overcome the “works of the flesh.” Click To Tweet Do faith and science mix? Are they opposed? It’s something Christians struggle with and yet it’s easily resolved. Click To Tweet In Christian theology the creative agency of the Godhead is the Christ. Click To Tweet