Tuesday, April 10, 2018
153 Fish in the Gospel of John

"He saith to them: Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and you shall find. They cast therefore; and now they were not able to draw it, for the multitude of fishes. That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved, said to Peter: It is the Lord. Simon Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, girt his coat about him, (for he was naked,) and cast himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the ship, (for they were not far from the land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. As soon then as they came to land, they saw hot coals lying, and a fish laid thereon, and bread. Jesus saith to them: Bring hither of the fishes which you have now caught. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of great fishes, one hundred and fifty-three. And although there were so many, the net was not broken" (John 21:6-11).

This passage, which is read in the Traditional Mass on Easter Wednesday is unique for many reasons.  One of which is the rather strange precision – 153 fish.  Typically, when we read the Scriptures, we read 12, 40, 144, or other large and symbolic numbers.  The number 153 is strangely precise among all Scripture passages in the entire Bible.

And yet, it is not without a deep meaning as explained by the Church Fathers.
St. Augustine says: The catch of fish tells us of the salvation of men, but man cannot be saved without keeping the 10 commandments. But, on account of the fall, man cannot even keep the commandments without the help of grace and the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the number 7 signifies holiness, since God blessed the 7th day and made it holy (Gen 2:3). But 10 plus 7 equals 17, and if all the numbers from 1 to 17 are added together (1+2+3…+17), they equal 153. Hence, the 153 fish signify that all the elect are to be saved by the gift of grace (7) and the following of the commandments (10). 
St. Cyril breaks 153 into 100 (the great number of gentiles to be saved), plus 50 (the smaller number of Jews to be saved), plus 3 (the Trinity who saves all). Others follow St. Cyril, but modify this as follows: 100 (the multitude of married lay faithful in the Church), plus 50 (the many faithful who commit themselves later in life to continence either living as widows or living with their spouse in a brother-sister relationship), plus 3 (the precious few who commit their whole lives to celibacy as virgins) equals 153 (the whole Church taken together as a single body). 
Perhaps most convincing of all is the theory of St. Jerome: It was thought at that time that there were only 153 species of fish in all the world. Hence, the disciples caught 153 fish, signifying that men of every class and time would be saved through the Gospel. 
Source: New Theological Movement.
I personally also find the most likely explanation to be the one offered by St. Jerome. And rather than merely admiring the hidden meaning here, we should realize it impresses on us – lay Catholics and consecrated religious alike – the need to use our resources and time to bring the Faith to other souls.  Through our efforts of planting seeds, admonishing sinners, correcting the doubtful, and explaining Traditional Catholic teaching to the erring we bring us closer to the time when all nations and peoples will be united in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church – the Barque of Peter – the Catholic Church.

4 comment(s):

del_button April 11, 2018 at 8:15 AM
Fr Gregory Charnock said...

Great post and quotes from the Fathers of the Church, yet let us perhaps not omit to consider the full Holy Rosary, 150 Ave Marias (50 x 3), plus the 3 first beads (i.e. total 153), which Our LADY of the Rosary, at Fatima, asked us to pray frequently.

Please let us do that, at least one Mystery daily.

There is no law prohibiting more than one daily Rosary.

St Louis De Montfort, ora pro nobis.

Oremus !

del_button July 22, 2021 at 1:21 PM
John h said...

Unfortunately, Jeromes explanation, as nice as it seems, is just plain wrong. He quotes Oppian's Halieutica as there being 153 of species of fish. Unfortunately, Oppian does not actually list a number of species. The Roman author Pliny did, but according to his research he believed there were 74. Sorry Jerome was just writing fiction.

del_button April 22, 2022 at 2:54 AM
Anonymous said...

I would believe a saint first.

del_button April 27, 2022 at 6:02 PM
God is love said...

Absolutely. Father I was revealed today in adoration chapel by Jesus that it is 153 Ave Maria's in Rosary. Her rosary is fishing net as per St. Lui the Monfort

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