The Importance of Ichthys

     On the farm where I grew up in Iowa, we had a natural stream called the Indian Creek. It wound its way through our pasture land, in a valley that likely was originally carved out by the glacial meltwaters of the last ice sheet. Nature supplied the stream with fish, turtles, frogs and crustaceans, which hid under rocks in shallow part we called rapids.   Among the fish inhabiting the creek were minnows, chubs, and bullheads.   As a boy I fished from the bank of the creek.

     It was also where others, over the course of time, seined for minnows, to net for bait.

     From my young years on, there was also another stream with fish present in it: in the stream of thought of our faith, that of our Catholic and Christian belief.

     We had the epistle and gospel readings for Mass.   I've an old falling-apart, taped-together Missal (Imprimatured January 6, 1938, when I was still 5), and the gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost is from Luke 5: the narrative about Jesus at Lake Gennesaret (Genesareth) teaching the crowd from Simon's boat "a little out from land." When Jesus is done speaking, He tells Simon, "Put out into the deep, and lower your nets for a catch." Simon answered that they'd fished all night and had taken nothing, but at the word of Jesus, He did as he was bid to do. Their net gathered in so many fish that it was breaking. They called their comrades in another boat, to help them and they filled both boats until they began to sink. Simon and those with him were amazed at what they'd caught. Simon fell at Christ's knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." Jesus told Simon "Do not be afraid; henceforth thou shalt catch men." He spoke figuratively in a metaphor. And after they brought their boats to shore, they followed Jesus. Such was the impact of faith!

     There are other Biblical accounts, like the gospels of Matthew and Mark, that tell of Jesus coming to the region of Galilee, preaching the kingdom of God. And passing by the sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting nets in the water, and spoke to them in a like metaphor, saying, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." And they left their nets. A little farther on He saw the sons of Zebedee, James and John, mending their nets. Jesus called them and they also followed Him.

     In Matthew 13:47 a simile is employed to express the idea that "the kingdom of heaven is like a net cast into the sea that gathered in fish of every kind. When it was filled they hauled it out, and sitting down on the beach, they gathered the good fish into vessels, but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the world. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from among the just, and will cast them into the furnace of fire where there will be weeping , and the gnashing of teeth."

     Humankind were being compared to fish, but the comparison would prove to have a wider application yet.

     After His Resurrection, in John 21:4-13, Christ met his apostles who had fished all night and caught nothing, reminiscent of what happened in Luke 5. He tells them to cast their net over the right side, and they did so, and their net was so filled, they couldn't draw it up. The disciples came with the boat "dragging the net full of fishes." When they reached shore, they saw a fire with bread and fish upon it. Jesus said to them "Bring here some of the fishes you caught just now." Then they hauled the net ashore and counted 153 large fish.1    Quite a haul it was!

    I found an interesting footnote in El Evangelio Segun San Juan (the Gospel of John), in a Spanish language Bible, La Nueva Biblia - Latinoamerica: The footnote said "Los apostoles arrastran en sus redes 153 peces grandes: Ahora bien, en ese tiempo el numero conocido de las naciones del universo era 153; de moda que la pesca milagrosa representa la accion de la iglesia. Los Pastores de la iglesia llevaran en sus redes hacia Cristo a todas las naciones de la tierra." This translates into English as: "The apostles dragged in their nets 153 big fish: Now then, at that time the number of known nations in the world was 153. This way the miracle of the fish represents the action of the church. The shepherds of the church carried in their nets toward Christ all the nations of the earth."

     With this interpretation, the fish signified not just individuals but whole nations. And here, not only were the nets of fish brought symbolically toward Christ, but He also in actuality asked his Apostles to bring Him some of what they caught.

     This post-Resurrection parable fits with Christ's commission to the Apostles, in the last chapter of Matthew, wherein He says to them: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you."

     The aquatic creatures were part of their diet and helped feed the multitudes. In all the gospels, the story is told of the five barley loaves and two fish, multiplied to feed about 5,000 men, apart from the women and children. Scripture also tells of the feeding about 4,000 with seven loaves and a few fish.

     It was natural thing that fish became part of the gospels as early followers of Christ were fishermen. There is also another way that fish may be linked to the faith, that makes sense to me. It's fish in their natural element of water. Water symbolizes purity and cleansing. We need the waters of Baptism to cleanse us of original sin and bestow on us sanctifying grace, the supernatural life needed to go to heaven.

     Imagine another stream: the stream of grace flowing from the here-and-now toward the happiness of the hereafter. We may live supernaturally in this element until we reach the destiny God has planned for us. Figuratively, while on earth, we may swim in the waters of this grace. If we cast ourselves out of the water through serious sin, we'd be like dead fish on the bank.

     The fish was used as a symbol for Christ Himself in the catacombs. There's the story that when Christians were persecuted, they could use a simplified drawing of a fish to test a stranger, as to whether that person was a fellow Christian or a threat to them. The one would draw an arc on the ground, maybe with a staff, and if the other person, in turn, would trace another arc, upside down to the first, forming the outline of a fish, it was a sign the other was Christian. The curves of the arc crossed at one end for the tail, finishing the "tell-tale sign" of a Christian.
In the Greek language ΙΧΘΥΣ (ichthus or ichthys) 2 means fish, and it spells out the first letters of the phrase, Iesous Christos, Theou Uios, Soter, which translates into English as "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior." That simple word ichthys is not only of great theological importance, but it also assumes great importance in the affairs of men in our time.    

     There is a happening in history that might seem to beg to be applied to our times. We have to go back a ways to acquaint ourselves with it.

     Twelve long centuries before I was born in 1932, an event of no small importance took place in Europe, the continent of my father's birth. In the year 732, the advance of Islam in Europe was halted at the Battle of Tours, in what is now France. The historian Sir Edward Creasy lists it in his book, The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, and wrote that the victory of Tours decisively checked the Arabic career of conquest in western Europe. He said it "rescued Christendom" and the Saracens made "no further serious attempts at conquest beyond the Pyrenees." The battle took place on the hundreth year after death of Muhammad in 632. (The term Saracen was used for Muslims, as was the term Moor).

     A map of 600 A.D. shows the West Gothic Kingdom occupying a large swath of the Iberian Peninsula, where Portugal and Spain are today. Then, a map of about 800 A.D. shows a huge chunk of the peninsula under the Caliphate of Cordova, reflecting the fact that in 711 Moors from North Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula, calling it Al-Andalus.

     To the north and east of the Muslim-occupied territory on the map of 800 A.D., lay the land of the Franks. In 732 the Saracens, invading this territory, penetrated as far north as Tours on the Loire River. Here Charles Martel defeated them. Francis Trochu, an international historian of note (has books honored by the Academie Francaise), says that the Saracens retreated to Spain with some holding out in fortresses in Aquitaine, one being the castle of Mirambel in the foothills of the Pyrenees, mountains that rise between France and Spain.

     Trochu said in 778 Charlemagne attacked the garrison there and laid siege to the castle. In the fortress was one Mirat who swore by Mohamet that "he would not surrender to any mortal man." The stronghold seemed impregnable, and the siege was prolonged.

     According to an account in Trochu's Saint Bernadette Soubirous, an eagle dropped a trout inside the walls of the enemy-held fortress. The bird had seized the fish from a river known as the Gave (Another account, a legendary one, says the trout was enormous and the eagle dropped it at Mirat's feet). Trochu wrote that the “still floundering” fish was sent to the besieger to indicate that they had plenty of food. Trochu says Charlemagne was discouraged and thought of lifting the siege, but that Roracius, Bishop of Le Puy and Chaplain of the Frankish army, smelled a ruse.

     He arranged an audience with Mirat and saw that the Saracens had run out of resources. Mirat stood by his oath. The bishop asked him: "Brave prince, you have sworn never to yield to any mortal man. Could you not with honour make your surrender to an immortal lady? Mary, Queen of Heaven, has her throne at Le Puy, and I am her humble minister there." Freed of his oath, Mirat accepted, and — surprising as it may seem — became a Christian, baptized under the name Lorus.   Knighted by Charlemagne, he received command of the fortress. The learned assert, so it's said, that it's from Lorus that the name Lourdes comes.  

     Over a period of time the Christian kingdoms reclaimed the land under Muslim domination, in what's called the Reconquista. By 1276 only the Kingdom of Granada in Spain was under Muslim control, and in 1492 the Spanish conquered it, ending Muslim rule on the Iberian Peninsula.

     One can see symbolism in the Mirat story and its possible application to our times. With the fish signifying Christ and the eagle as a Christian symbol (for the Gospel of John) we may plausibly interpret this as a Christian sign being dropped inside the Muslim walls.   And through Mary, Mirat surrendered.

     Today we have a theological problem in the world that spills over mightily into the affairs of men. And it comes from Islam. There may be many Muslims -- possibly even a great multitude of them -- who'd prefer to live and let live as you could read in the Koran, Chapter or Sura 109, but problems do issue from other of their writings. Not all passages are tolerant and "let live." In Sura 5 of the Koran, it says, "They do blaspheme, that say: 'God is the Messiah, the son of Mary"...and a bit farther on, "They do blaspheme, that say: "God is one of three." The Muslims neither believe  that Jesus is the Son of God nor in the Trinity, and Islam says those of us who do, are idolaters.

     Sura 2 says, "Fight against them until idolatry is no more..." Sura 9:5 even advocates killing us, "When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you may find them..." It's referred to as the "Verse of the Sword." This is not the only Koranic instance of violence. Sura 5:33 says, "Those that make war against God and his apostle and spread disorder in the land shall be slain or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides..." It's not only violent, but cruel. It's no part of wisdom be to be ignorant of what their writings say. Especially not, when you consider whether some of them would "go by the book." 3

     Their notion of idolatry comes smack up against the meaning of the acronym ichthys, which spells out the divinity of Jesus.

     Ichthys signifying Christ, would seem to have originated from associating Christ with fish in the gospels as previously noted. 

      Interestingly, in Chinese writing, their character for fish is found in the characters for Jesus.   It's the third one, having what looks like a box with a plus sign inside.   You have Jesus grouped in two character combinations: the first two together are pronounced "Yeh" and the second two together are pronounced "Su."    It appears that His name was expressed phonetically.   When you write just the last two characters for Jesus alone: they mean "revive."   In Chinese Characters: Their origin, etymology
, history classification and signification by Dr. L. Wieger, S.J., they are also shown to mean -- in the modern sense --  "to rise from the dead." 
Jesus in Chinese 

Here's something else to consider. There's been the discovery by an American of a mosaic in an archaeological museum in southeastern Turkey. He came upon it in a storage room called a depot, lit only by a bulb hanging from the ceiling. With rows of seven-foot high steel shelves, it was dark around the sides. But back in a corner, his flashlight shone upon this mosaic, which glistened from its obsidian pieces.    Showing the head of a person, it's been called the ISA Tile, from the exclamation of a Turkish-speaking curator named Rose who was present at the moment the American's eyes fell upon it in 2002.   Upon his seeing it, she exclaimed, "ISA, ISA!" Isa is Jesus to the Muslims, but He isn't regarded as both human and divine to them. Still it must be recognized that they see Jesus as an important personage.

     This discovery of the ISA Tile was made by Philip Dayvault, a former FBI investigator who traveled to Turkey in search of oil lamps of antiquity, having facial engravings similar the face of the Shroud of Turin, the traditional burial cloth of Jesus Christ and a subject of his study since 1973. Helping with his investigative research was Hafi, a Turkish interpreter, fluent in English. He wrote of his adventure and findings in a book called The Keramion - Lost and Found: A Journey to the Face of God. He believes that a body of evidence points to the ISA Tile being the same image as that on the Shroud of Turin.  Dayvault also concluded that the ISA Tile served as a prototypic model for numerous, ancient classical depictions of Jesus Christ located throughout the Old World.  The Shroud is thought to bear the Likeness of Christ Crucified, before, or perhaps at the very moment, He arose from His tomb.

     On the forehead of the person in the mosaic, some individual pieces (called tessera , pl. tesserae) are arranged in such a way that they appear to show the outline form of a fish. This was of particular interest to me, because if this is a depiction of Christ, then this fish form being associated with Him is something different, and its ichthyroidal shape it isn't just something to represent Him, but is integrated into the art of Him.  It's not something apart from Him, but something a part of Him.

     The fish form there may be something of coincidence and it may not be.  I can only wonder what the truth is.  I would posit that it's not beyond the realm of possibility, that heaven might've intervened as the pieces were placed.4

     Its placement on the forehead (just above the dark line over the eyes) might suggest the mind or thought of Jesus if He's being depicted. Thought is expressed in word, and interestingly, the Bible describes Jesus Himself as the Word: in the Prologue of John 1:1, He's called the Word to "represent His eternal existence with the Father." Whether the shape and it's placement evoke  Christ or not, it's there to see, and there to contemplate.


                                                     Used by courtesy of Philip E. Dayvault *

     The mosaic was kept in a country where between 97 to 98 percent of the people identify as Muslim. The fact is they preserved its existence, something to appreciate.

     While there are things we do differ on, we should recognize the good in Islam that we can agree on. Unfortunately Islam has misunderstandings and misconceptions of Christianity.   If harmony and unanimity is ever to be brought about, it isn't going to be easy. It may even seem an impossible task, but through the power of God, who can work through whatever and whomever He wishes, nothing is impossible. But it seems it would require some heavyweight moving of the Muslim mind. I would venture to say something Almighty.

     If it comes about -- and it very well may over time -- I've reasons to believe it'll be through Mary the Mother of Jesus who they already honor, giving understanding something to build on. 5  In the West she herself has been depicted by an image, which was made manifest in a miraculous way: the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.  I wonder if the figure in the mosaic will someday figure into a greater meeting of the minds and hearts--maybe some "tesserae," piecing together more of the truth.  I would hope so.

     The Koran 2:115 says, "To God belongs the East and the West. Whichever way you turn there is the face of God. God is omnipresent and all-knowing. They say: 'God has begotten a son.' Glory be to Him! His is what the heavens and earth contain; all is obedient to Him. Creator of the heavens and the earth! When He decrees a thing, He need only say 'Be,' and it is."

     In a way, this quote fits to Dayvault's journey to the East and to what he calls the Face of God. They let a "begotten son" stay in this verse that glorifies God. If they could only live that out, and not abrogate it.  6

    If only the Islamic world could discover what Philip Dayvault believes he has--the true face of God in Christ!

                                                                                                                ―John Riedell

1. The no. 153 is the same as the number of Hail Marys in the 15-decade Rosary, and the number of days between the first apparition of Mary at Fatima on May 13th, 1917, to her last appearance on October 13th, 1917.

2. What looks like our Y, upsilon, is also shaped something like a "u." In early Greek is was pronounced like our "oo," but in Classical Greek it was pronounced like the French "u."

3. Osama bin Laden quoted seven Koranic verses in his 1996 Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places (3:145, 47:4-6, 2:154, 9:14, 47:19, 8:72 and 9:5 [Verse of the Sword] ).  In March 2009 five Muslims (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) accused in plotting the 9-11 attacks, wrote an Islamic Response to the Government's Nine Accusations, in which they quoted the Koran to "justify their jihad war against the American Infidels." The letter said, "In God's book, he ordered us to fight you everywhere we find you..."   --from p. 5 of Robert Spencer's The Complete Infidel's Guide to the Koran

4.  Here is an instance in history where heaven may've intervened in art , before it was caused and came to light:   In 1531, the famous and sacred image of the Blessed Virgin in Mexico, was miraculously "imprinted" on the outer garment or  tilma of the poor Indian Juan Diego, which had been woven by his wife Maria Lucia who died in 1529 before the famed appearances occurred.  The garment she was weaving would be used by heaven as its "canvas."  While it was being woven by her, heaven may have guided Maria Lucia in her work, unbeknownst to her. 

Prof. Philip Callahan of the Univ. of Florida and Prof. Jody Smith, a Methodist of Pensacola, prompted by investigations into the Shroud of Turin, took 60 some photographs, many in infra-red, to find out if there was a preliminary drawing underneath the picture.  Callahan was himself an experienced painter and an authority in infra-red radiation. 

Callahan said as far as he was concerned the original picture was miraculous. 

As reported in The Wonder of Guadalupe by Francis Johnston, powerful lens were used and "revealed the astonishing fact that the coarse weave of the tilma had been deliberately utilised in a precise manner to give depth to the face of the image."     It was also stated that "The scientists agreed the sublime face of Mary exhibits a nearly life-like appearance especially in the area around the mouth where a coarse fibre elevated above the wave (weave?) perfectly follows the ridge at the top of the lip, imparting a three-dimensional aspect.   Similiar effects occur below the left cheek and to the right of and below the right eye. Prof. Callahan thought it impossible that a human painter could have selected a tilma with the imperfections of its weave so precisely positioned as to accentuate the shadows and highlights, in order to convey such realism."  

5. When the Blessed Virgin appeared at Fatima in 1917, she said to the seer Lucia, “I want you to come here on the 13th of next month, to continue to pray the Rosary every day in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary, in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war, because only she can help you.” She, the Blessed Virgin Mary, only does the will of God and He affirmed her messages at this place in Portugal with the great miracle of the sun on October 13th, 1917, witnessed by thousands of people, a multitude gathered there. Not only that but even though it had been raining, a sudden drying occurred.

She appeared at a place called Fatima, the name of the favorite daughter of Mohammad, and on the 13th of the month, which can evoke the Book of Esther where the Jewish people were saved from slaughter on the 13th of the month of Adar, in circumstances that bear some parallel to what took place in Portugal.

6. Koran 2:106 says, "If We abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We will replace it by a better one or one similar. Did you not know that God has power over all things?" (Logic would say that if God is omniscient -- and they say that in the previous verse by saying He's "all-knowing," -- then He doesn't make mistakes by being blind to something. It defies logic, a staple for understanding among human beings.                                                                                       

* For more information about The Keramion, Lost and Found, please visit Dayvault's website at"


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