Friday, October 20, 2006

Fives, Sevens, and Nines

One of the things shared by East Asian and South Asian culture is a love of numbered categories, the "five relationship," the "three bonds," the "seven royal jewels," and so on. I like such numbered categories, too.

Of course they should be the right numbers. In all the recent ballyhoo about Pluto being recognized as the dwarf planet it is, not a real planet, not a single commentator mentioned the real problem, which is that we now have not nine planets, but eight. Now eight as a number of planets is ridiculous. Traditionally it has always been either seven (counting the visible planets, including the sun and moon that make up the days of the week) or nine. In the end, I am sure that we won't be left with only eight planets, so I wish the astronomers would hurry up and find the ninth.

But speaking of numbered categories, such categories can also be used in history. Here are a few of my favorites:

The five civilizations of Eurasia (being the five earliest civilizations who have scriptures which have survived by continuous transmission to today -- thus excluding ancient Egypt or Shinar/Babylon/Assyria). Counting these five gives us also five classics, five languages, and five religions/philosophies :

1. Greco-Roman; the Illiad and the Odyssey; Greek; (Neo-)Platonism
2. Israelite; the Law and the Prophets; Hebrew; Judaism
3. Iranian; the Avesta; Old Persian; Zoroastrianism
4. Indian; the Vedas and Upanishads; Sanskrit; Hinduism
5. East Asian; the Five Classics and Four Books; classical Chinese; Daoism

The four international creeds. These are the only four big -isms which one can speak of as large-scale, long-lasting, highly elaborated schemes to make sense of man and the universe. Unless you belong to one of the five ancestral ethnicities above, these are the only big world views you need to take seriously, whether for or against:

1. Buddhism
2. Christianity
3. Islam
4. Humanism ("scientism," etc.)

The seven theologians and the seven doctrines:

1. Ignatius; the real presence
2. Irenaeus; creation and recapitulation
3. Athanasius; the Trinity
4. Cyril of Alexandria; the two natures in Christ
5. Augustine; bondage of the will and gratuity of grace
6. Anselm of Canterbury; penal subtitutionary atonement
7. Martin Luther; justification by faith alone