Square Zero

Sudoku and Revelation

Posted by Eric (February 22, 2006 at 5:02 pm)

Su Doku CrossI am (or was) an English major, which means I can take any two subjects, however remote they may appear to be, and weave them together into some kind of coherent thesis—or at least a thesis that will seem reasonably coherent for as long as it takes a graduate assistant to grade my paper. So today I’m going to link up those little Sudoku puzzles with divine revelation.

If the connection between the two is not already obvious to you—in other words, if you are not an English major—allow me to explain.My explanation will necessarily be a rather round-about because I also have a masters degree in creative writing (though I have to admit the only thing really creative about my writing in grad school was its ability to earn me the degree despite a manifest lack of talent).

So lately I’ve been reading Henri Daniel-Rops’ Church of the Apostles and Martyrs, the first in his ten-volume history of the Catholic Church. I almost literally stumbled upon these books while emptying a bookcase at my grandmothers house; she recently died and I inherited some of her furniture.

It was a great find. I’d been hoping to score those out-of-print volumes since reading the brilliant volume on the High Middle Ages, Cathedral and Crusade several years ago. I’ve now got my hands on seven of the ten volumes (where the other three went I don’t know) and I’m working my way through them.

Daniel-Rops tells the fascinating story of how the Church gradually organized herself under the institutional structures we are familiar with (diocese, parishes, patriarchates, etc.), carefully defined her theology under the pressure of various heresies (especially Arianism), and developed her devotions and liturgies. In doing so, she always fell back upon what she had received from the Apostles, both in scripture and in the teachings handed down through the apostolic succession (for example, from St. John the Apostle to St. Polycarp to Ss. Irenaeus of Lyons and Ignatius of Antioch).

And this is where I am reminded of Sudoku. You see, the Church is often criticized by Protestants and secularists as “making up” such things as devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the Sacraments and the Communion of Saints.

But it seems to me, reading Daniel-Rops, that this process of development is more like filling out the grid in a Sudoku. Like the Sudoku puzzle-solver, the early Church filled in the liturgical, theological, eclessial gaps that remained after the Ascension, based always on what Christ had told them. They really were doing the work, but they weren’t “making it up” any more than you’re making it up when you fill in the squares of a Sudoku puzzle.

The answers needed to be figured out. It took a lot of hard work, but it all developed rationally from what had been provided in the first place; and in fact the answers they achieved were as logically necessary as the answers of a Sudoku.

So where does it say in the Bible (which was of course written by the Church decades after the Ascension and is perhaps analogous to those first couple of Sudoku squares you fill in that are really obvious) that we must venerate Mary, or that she should be called the Mother of God?

It doesn’t say it anywhere, but it follows inexorably from what we do know from Scripture—that Jesus was True God and True Man, that His body was the body of a real man, and therefore he had a real mother who really was, then, the Mother of God. And so forth. Fill in the blanks.

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6 Responses to “Sudoku and Revelation”

  1. James Fitzgerald says:

    Thanks for that insight, Eric.

    Next time sudokus take me away from my wife, I will say that I am contemplating Divine Revelation, and shouldn’t be disturbed.
    Thanks for the blogs! keep ’em going… James

    Comment posted February 23rd, 2006 at 6:04 am
  2. Annie says:

    Reading about your anology was like filling in one of those little squares! I like it.

    Can you expand the analogy? In the begining (no matter what level Sudoku you are doing) filling in numbers is very easy. Then things get a little more difficult. And then it’s relativly easy again. What say you?

    Comment posted February 23rd, 2006 at 9:34 am
  3. Eric says:

    Annie asks, “Can you expand the analogy?”

    Well, it’s always a dangerous business to stretch an analogy too far. But to the extent that there’s a basic “puzzle solving” process at work both in Sudoku and in the definition of doctrine, I suppose you do see thing start to fall in place quicker once you’ve figured out the main body of the problem.

    It’s tempting to take the analogy even farther. So, Protestants are like the guy who decides he’s made a mistake and erases the whole grid, but then begrudges filling in any of the squares with what was there before, the still visible erasures left over from those Catholics who got it all wrong. Fundamentalists are like a guy who fills in all the squares with 1’s . . .

    Dangerous business, analogies.

    Comment posted February 23rd, 2006 at 10:40 am
  4. Sudoku and Revelation at On the Silent Planet says:

    […] This analogy is almost perfect. I was painfully addicted to those little number puzzles for a while; I’d equate the development of doctrine with a Sudoku of almost infinite difficulty, requiring the Holy Spirit to make sure the numbers all fit… […]

    Comment posted May 5th, 2006 at 5:22 pm
  5. The Sheepcat says:

    I like the analogy, Eric. (Just discovered your blog and have added it to my blogroll.) *Much* easier to explain to non-mathies than my own previous best attempt, which had to do with the Riemann zeta function and the distribution of prime numbers; they’re connected, even though on the face of it, it’s not remotely obvious why this *must* be so.

    Comment posted May 6th, 2006 at 1:49 pm
  6. Eric says:

    Thanks, Sheepcat. “Riemann zeta function” sounds like a way to manipulate the deflector shield in Star Trek to cause all the bad things that have been happening for the last 50 minutes to magically reverse themselves and return life on the Enterprise to normal.

    Comment posted May 6th, 2006 at 5:00 pm
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