Book Review: Nostradamus in the 21st Century

by Peter Lemesurier (London: Piatkus Books 2000) pbk. 325pp)
ISBN: 0749921633


From The Presbyterian Banner, September 2002

Peter Lemesurier appears to be one of the more sane followers of Michel de Nostredame (1503-66), if that is not a contradiction in terms. Nostradame, later known as Nostradamus, was a contemporary of his fellow Frenchman John Calvin (1509-65), but was a far different character. Nostradamus was of Jewish extraction but a practising Roman Catholic. He achieved considerable fame as a physician of the plague, although his medical qualifications are uncertain, and he did not claim great success himself. He was also famed somewhat as an ‘astrologer’, but preferred, rather wisely one would think, to call himself an ‘astrophile’, or ‘star-lover’. On his semi-retirement in around 1550 he turned to writing, particularly in the area of astrology and prophecy. This brought him into great public prominence, and he became particularly influential at the French court where he was a favourite of Catherine de Medici. Twice married, he had two children by his first wife (all three died) and six by his second. He was careful not to fall out with the Roman Church.

His prophetic writings included annual books of predictions for the following year. The success rate of the 6,338 or so predictions thus made has been calculated by Bernard Chevignard at only 5.73%. He also produced more general and usually undated prophecies of the future history of the world. These include 1,000 4-line verse prophecies called quatrains. There are many obscure expressions in them, but these are the writings that attract most interest today. The success rate cannot be determined because the commentators vary so widely on their interpretation. Lemesurier suggests only a dozen or so are agreed on by all (p. 32f). His published horoscopes show, according to Pierre Brund’Amour, that he was ‘astonishingly incompetent’ as an astrologer. Roger Prevost [Nostra-damus, le mythe et la realite, Laffont, 1999] suggests that many of Nostradamus’ prophecies were based on past events drawn often virtually word for word from ancient histories and medieval chronicles. The idea seems to have been belief in cycles in history so, given the same celestial conditions, the potential for the same terrestrial occurrence existed.

According to Lemesurier, in a website on the subject <> :
‘The most up-to-date research into Nostradamus’ prophecies generally is contained in Bernard Chevignard’s Présages de Nostradamus (Editions du Seuil, 1999). The latest and most reliable work on his astrology is contained in the late Pierre Brind’Amour’s Nostradamus Astrophile (Lincksieck/Univ. of Ottawa Presses, 1993), and possibly the most reliable analysis of the first-edition verses (1.1 to IV.53) in the same author’s Nostradamus: Les Premières Centuries (Droz, 1996) – but both, like Chevignard’s work, are of course also in French. Even James Randi’s characteristically sceptical The Mask of Nostradamus (Prometheus, 1993) contains – for all its many errors of detail – far more up to date, correct information on the seer than most of the popular books in English put together!’

One of the most interesting aspects of Lemesurier’s book is the way in which he understands free will and prophecy. ‘If we respond to those warnings appropriately, the prophecies – this time around at least – will fail. And so Nostradamus will be proved wrong – which, of course, is the fate of all good prophets’ (p.8).

From a Biblical perspective there is a certain truth in this. God may announce judgement yet relent if there is changed behaviour, as with Jonah and the Ninevites. In such cases there is an implied condition. But Lemesurier’s view seemingly does not allow God to control his creation, nor allow the credibility of the prophet to be demonstrated by predictions that are absolute. It’s a neat way of making prophecy meaningless, as if 5.73% accuracy makes you a better prophet than one who is 100% right! Of course, it also assumes one knows the meaning of the prophecy so as to act to counter it.

In the Bible the true prophet’s predictions never fail, except insofar as any implied conditions are fulfilled. If they do fail then it is a sure sign God is not speaking by him (Deut 18:21-22). Further, even if the prediction comes true but the prophet leads away from the truth of God, he is not a true prophet, but one God is using to test his people (Deut 13:5).

Nostradamus is an interesting character. Yet isn’t it amazing that the Hebrew prophets’ predictions do not gain the interest and attention that Nostradamus receives, a man who failed both Biblical tests? That’s man, however. If he will not subject himself to the word of God, he’s open to believe anything.