Nostradamus—How Credible Are His Writings?
“HE CHIEFLY predicts the evil to come; what is good only figures in his pages incidentally, and at long intervals.” This comment comes from Charles A. Ward,* not a critic but a defender of Nostradamus.
If the writings of this 16th-century French astrologer predict so much calamity, why have they attracted so much interest down to our day? Was he inspired of God? Or was it a case, as suggested by some, of ‘shooting so many arrows in every direction that he could not miss in everything’? Too, what accounts for the great popularity of those who predict the future as did Nostradamus?
Why So Popular?
History reveals a long line of fortune-tellers, astrologers, soothsayers and prophets who have catered to the desire of many people for some supernatural vision of the future. But the popularity of these clairvoyants is not due to the overwhelming accuracy and fulfillment of their predictions. Rather, it is due largely to their clients’ addiction to the magical arts.
For example, P. Whitmore, in A Seventeenth Century Exposure of Superstition, says concerning astrology that “it was and still is the most deeply rooted of superstitions.” It is conservatively estimated that at least 50 million persons in the United States alone are now involved with some form of astrology, or about one out of every four persons! Many, like Nostradamus, gain fame, fortune and personal favors from the devotees of the occult practices by playing on their hopes and attitudes regarding the future.
The infatuation many have with horoscopy, as with gambling, can blind followers to its failures. In this regard, Eric Russell, in Astrology and Prediction, discusses an “appalling flood” that had been predicted by most European astrologers and contemporaries of Nostradamus. They agreed that all the planets “would be in conjunction in the watery sign of Pisces—an infallible indication that the known world must be destroyed by water. . . . Some few fundamentalists argued that this could not possibly be true for had not God set the rainbow in the sky as promise that never again would the floodgates of heaven be opened? . . . Ship builders made immense profits as those who could afford it chartered every available craft in the ports.” The world waited, but nothing happened.
Russell continues: “The quicker-thinking astrologers congratulated Christianity for the strength of its prayers in turning aside the calamity while others perhaps looked for another profession. But while there were a few weeks of embarrassment for the astrologers of Europe, the whole incident had been forgotten within a month or so and astrologers were again accepting invitations to cast the horoscope of this infant prince or that republic.”
Incidentally, astrologers are predicting earthquakes, floods and droughts around April 1982, due to the alignment of the planets. Astronomers point out, however, that no direct alignment of planets will occur. Rather, there will be a grouping of the earth and the other eight planets in a 95-degree sector with the sun. If there is a bad earthquake, flood or drought in 1982 (which happens continually, anyway), many persons will accept that year’s occurrences as being accurately predicted by astrologers.
Of the alleged 946 predictions attributed to Nostradamus, only about 70 are considered to have had some kind of fulfillment. That works out to less than a 7-percent success rate. However, regarding the ‘successes,’ M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia comments that many are considered to be the “bold forgeries” of his interpreters, including the prediction of his own death. Others were “composed after the events to which they seem designed to refer.” Some are “strained” in their application and some are shown to have ‘fulfillments’ in a number of different events.
When astrologers predict future events, it is not always possible to determine their accuracy since it may require waiting centuries for the fulfillment, if there ever is a fulfillment. But when such seers touch on subjects or events related to the Bible, one can more easily determine the source of the prophet’s inspiration. If it is from God, his teaching should always harmonize with the Bible, God’s Word.—2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20, 21.
Nostradamus did touch on some Bible matters. Concerning the future, he predicted “that before the universal conflagration shall happen so many great inundations, that there shall scarce be any land that shall not be covered with water, and this shall last so long, that except for Ethnographies and Topographies all shall perish.” However, Genesis 9:11 says: “Never again shall all living creatures be destroyed by the waters of the flood, never again shall there be a flood to lay waste the earth.” (The New English Bible) Nostradamus said: “I fully confess that all proceeds from God.” He sounds impressive, but if his predictions were “from God,” why would they so conflict with God’s Word?
It is similar with his chronological calculations. While claiming they were obtained by “taking simply the Sacred Scriptures for the guide,” Nostradamus also admits his dating was “adjusted by astronomical calculation.” Sounds convincing, but do the two harmonize?
It becomes obvious that Nostradamus cared little for the Bible, but he used it to suit his own purposes. Although Nostradamus gave token allegiance to the Catholic Church, the following description of him, given by Charles Ward, sums up not only the man himself but the source of influence behind his predictions:
“What is Nostradamus? . . . a riddler, riddling of the fate of men; a man at once bold and timid; simple, yet who can plumb his depth? A superficial Christian, a Pagan perhaps at heart.”
Clear or Obscure?
Nostradamus, like other prognosticators, was adept at using ambiguity or double meaning as his stock-in-trade. In Astrology and the Popular Press, Bernard Capp says: “Nostradamus was a master of dramatic ambiguity, which has kept his prophecies alive down to the present age.”
This aspect of his quatrains is also described by James Laver, who states in Nostradamus or the Future Foretold: “These four-line stanzas of crabbed [ill-formed] French verse, obeying neither prosody nor syntax, arranged in no intelligible order and bristling not only with words in half a dozen foreign languages but with initials, anagrams and made-up names—how can there be a hope of finding any meaning in such a publication at all? And if there were, would it be worth the trouble?”
In the preface of his writings, Nostradamus admits to using “dark and abstruse sentences” so that he “would not offend the hearers.” He then makes a gloss of Jesus’ words at Matthew 11:25, “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intellectual ones and have revealed them to babes.” However, Jesus’ disciples in any age and in any language have understood his sayings. Nostradamus’ sayings conveniently remain obscure.
Nostradamus and the Occult
Nostradamus (Dec. 14, 1503–July 2, 1566) was born to French-Jewish parents assuming the name de Notredame in southern France. He was called Michel de Notredame. His parents had been converted to Catholicism. There have been many legends regarding his early life, but the credibility of these legends, recorded by two of his relatives, is also questioned.
James Laver comments: “Recent researches . . . have shown that the noble and picturesque background which has been hitherto accepted by every writer on Nostradamus has no basis in fact.” After recounting one such legend of Nostradamus’ predicting that he and a certain nobleman would eat a black pig instead of a white one for their evening meal, Laver says: “There is, of course, no proof of the veracity of this story, . . . Fascinating as these stories are, it is as well to confess that most of them rest upon the faith of the later biographers. Some of the stories . . . appear for the first time in the seventeenth century, some of them even later.”
In his efforts to predict the future, Nostradamus was deeply involved in horoscopy, magic, astrology and the pagan ritual of incantation. In The Complete Prophecies of Nostradamus, H. C. Roberts, himself “a student of the occult,” says: “Beyond a shadow of doubt, the methods employed and results obtained by Nostradamus in looking into the future were outside of the physical framework. . . . forces we group today under the general title of ‘Extra Sensory Perception.”’
However, many opposed such astrological divination. Whitmore says: “The writings of the early Fathers of the Church . . . contain the reiterated condemnation of those who continued to practise ancient, heathen rites and systems of divination under the guise of Christianity. Likewise the early Councils of the Church pronounced anathemata against astrologers, sorcerers and adherents to occult sciences. . . . The Council of Trent [during Nostradamus’ lifetime] laid down in unequivocal terms that bishops should suppress astrological prediction in their dioceses and ensure the destruction of all books which fostered the art.” But did the Catholic Church follow through with actions that were consistent with such proclamations?
The New Catholic Encyclopedia reveals that “astrology was used by Pope Julius II [1503-1513] to set the day of his coronation and by Paul III [1534-1549] to determine the proper hour for every Consistory. [Both popes were contemporaneous with Nostradamus] . . . Astrology pervaded European culture just as it had the culture of the Roman Empire, and, though official Church doctrine opposed it, no one attacked the whole manner of thinking that lay behind it.”
What was the “thinking that lay behind” the occult art of horoscopy? The French Grand Larousse Encyclopedique confirms that “Christianity considered that astrology drew its inspiration from demonism.”
Predictions That Come True
Can someone who apostatizes from Bible truth and becomes a servile prophet of demons accurately predict some future events? Yes, that is possible. In Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Moses warned: “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and offers to do a sign or a wonder for you, and the sign or wonder comes about; . . . you are not to listen to the words of that prophet or to the dreams of that dreamer. . . . Yahweh your God you shall follow, him you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep . . . That prophet or that dreamer of dreams must be put to death.”—The Jerusalem Bible.
So it is not just by coincidence that some predictions of such false prophets come true. They can occur by the manipulation of wicked spirit forces.
From the beginning of human history until now, demonic forces have manipulated the minds of submissive humans. These deceived human prophets are inspired to make utterances that harmonize with demonic schemes, called the “strategies and tricks of Satan” at Ephesians 6:11.—The Living Bible.
Satan the Devil and his demons can maneuver whole political systems. This fact was made clear when the Devil “revealed to [Jesus] all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time; and the devil told him, ‘I will give you all these splendid kingdoms and their glory—for they are mine to give to anyone I wish.”’ (Luke 4:5, 6, The Living Bible) In this same encounter with Jesus, the Devil even quoted portions of the Scriptures in an effort to tempt and mislead Jesus.—Matt. 4:6.
Differentiating True from False Prophets
True prophets of God had to meet three basic qualifications. They had to (1) speak in the name of God—which a false prophet who knew the Hebrew name of God would improperly presume to do; (2) the things they foretold would have to come true—which in the case of false prophets might happen either by coincidence or demonic manipulation; and (3) their prophesying had to be in harmony with God’s revealed Word and commandments put in writing up to their time.—Deut. 13:1-4; 18:20-22.
The third vital factor is especially where Nostradamus and others fail. The fact that they dabble in magic, the occult and astrology exposes them, for not one Bible prophet supports the use of astrology in communicating with God!
The prophet Moses spoke out in clear, unambiguous terms against prophets like Nostradamus. Under divine inspiration, he said: “There should not be found in you . . . anyone who employs divination, a practicer of magic or anyone who looks for omens or a sorcerer, . . . or a professional foreteller of events . . . For everybody doing these things is something detestable to Jehovah.”—Deut. 18:10-12.
The service that true Bible prophets performed was not primarily to foretell future events, as Nostradamus tried to do. Their main function, as Eric Russell says, was “acting as a communication channel between the Creator and his creatures.” Knowledge of the future was included in their communications, he says, “only as a by-product.”
Bible prophets commissioned by God also never foretold things simply to satisfy human curiosity. Every prediction related to God’s will, purpose, standards or judgment. (1 Ki. 11:29-39; Isa. 7:3-9) And because the primary purpose of God’s true prophets was to advocate his moral standards and laws, it was not necessary to wait for years before one could determine whether the prophet was true or false.
Of what value, then, are the prophecies of Nostradamus? Charles Ward describes him as “a man rewarded of kings; and yet, so far as we can see, furnishing no one profitable hint to them that could make their life run smoother, or remove a single peril from their path.” “He is clearly no prophet in the old and Hebrew sense of the word—like Isaiah, Daniel, David, John.”
Oracles of Nostradamus, page 36.
[Chart on page 17]
Nostradamus Says The Bible Says
Years from Adam to Noah 1,240 1,656
Years from the Flood to Abraham 1,080 352
Years from Abraham to Moses 515-516 425
Years between Moses and David 570 486
Years from David to Jesus 1,350 1,105