Christianity and astrology

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Christianity and astrology are seen as incompatible by modern orthodox Christian doctrine, but that has not always been the case.

An astrological wheel located in the main stained glass window of a Presbyterian christian church found in Canada. The church was finished in 1889. The wheel is not complete, it only contains 8 of the 12 signs.

Astrological references in the Bible[edit]

Old Testament[edit]

In the book of Daniel, astrologers are unable to predict the future. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had a disturbing dream that none of his astrologers or "wise men" could interpret. The King had ordered all the wise men, including Daniel, a young captive from Judah, to be executed. Daniel convinced the king's bodyguard that God would reveal the mystery to him and requested time to seek the answer.

However, in the first book of the Old Testament, there is an explicit reference to the sky as a place which should be read in order to mark the passage of time. "And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the Earth." And it was so." (Gen. 1:14-15) Astrologers seek to extrapolate this cursory use of the contents of the sky to delineate time, to lend credence to more divinatory interpretations employed by astrology.

New Testament[edit]

In the Gospel of Matthew, the author records in the second chapter that an unspecified number of magi (or wise men, as some have translated it) from the East attempt to discover the location of the King of the Jews, recently born. (The word "magi" here is normally† taken to mean simply "astrologers."). The small town of Bethlehem, a few miles from Jerusalem, is indicated to have been the birthplace. Given these directions, the Eastern magi find the young Jesus and his mother, Mary. Upon discovering the child, the magi worship him and present him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The Greek word for "magi" can mean a number of different things, as evidenced by the Book of Acts' reference to a man named Simon (known as Simon Magus or Simon the Sorcerer). Since Simon was from Samaria and not the East, the word "magus" in Acts probably refers to sorcery or divination and not astrology as a profession.

The Matthew account makes it clear that the magi visit the child because of astrological study. Matthew describes them following a star. This would normally consist of observations of the planets, calculating and extrapolating their locations in the sky, identifying the significance of each location in the starry constellations, accurate timekeeping, and making a prediction using the ancient witnesses to the art. This process is more succinctly called casting a horoscope, but it could be likened to following a star if it is used for locating a person.

Even to this day, many people mistake Matthew's reference to a "star" to mean a literal star using modern terminology, whereas Matthew refers to what magi astrologers did: they observed the motion of the wandering stars we call the 'planets, moon, and sun in reference to the "fixed" constellations of stars to the child's location, indicating that the magi may have cast horoscopes to determine the child's location.

Furthermore, the magi had little direct knowledge of the approaching time of the King of the Jews. They had apparently never consulted the prophesies of the Bible concerning the Messiah, and so did not know his birthplace or where to find him. All indications are that the magi had only a single source of information concerning Jesus while in their Eastern observatory: the movement of the planets and the interpretive art of astrology.

However, astrologers do draw attention to a line in the Gospel of Luke: “A man will meet you carrying an earthen pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he goes in” 22:10. Since the Age of Aquarius is symbolised by a water-bearer, this line from the Bible is seen as a recommendation by Jesus to enter the astrological 'house' of Aquarius, which is the age superseding the Age of Pisces in which Christianity has been a dominant world religion.

There are also many references to 'the Age', whether the passing of an Age or the arrival of a coming one. For example: 'And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the AGE.' Matt. 28:20 but also in Matt. 12:32; Matt. 13:39-40; Matt. 24:3; Luke 18:29-30; 1 Cor. 3:6-8; 1 Cor. 10:11; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 6:5; Heb. 9:26; Rev. 15:3 Whilst the intended meaning may not have been entirely congruous with the understanding of Ages presented by ancient or contemporary astrologers, there is a clear intention to demonstrate the separation of distinct ages which scripture is pointing people towards.

Jesus was born on the cusp of the Age of Aries and the Age of Pisces according to astrological divisions. Although the symbol for Aries is typically a ram, a lamb is sometimes used and Jesus was known as the Lamb of God. The Age of Pisces, which is said to have started around Christ's birth, is dominated by fish symbology and it is noteworthy that fish feature prominently in the New Testament - Jesus took on fishermen as disciples, multiplied fish to feed the hungry and ate a fish after his resurrection.

Astrology within the Church[edit]

Western church leaders throughout history have at times given different amounts of credibility to astrological investigations, predictions, and learning. Astrology had some small support in early Christianity, but support waned during the Dark Ages. Support for it grew again in the West during the Renaissance. A major Western orthodox witness to this, the 1913 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia, says:

In 321 Constantine issued an edict threatening all Chaldeans, Magi, and their followers with death. Astrology now disappeared for centuries from the Christian parts of Western Europe.

...[E]arly Christian legend distinguished between astronomy and astrology by ascribing the introduction of the former to the good angels and to Abraham while the latter was ascribed to Cham. In particular St. Augustine [...] fought against astrology and sought to prevent its amalgamation with pure natural science.

Emperors and popes became votaries of astrology—Charles IV and V, and Popes Sixtus IV, Julius II, Leo X and Paul III. When these rulers lived astrology was, so to say, the regulator of official life; it is a fact characteristic of the age, that at the papal and imperial courts ambassadors were not received in audience until the court astrologer had been consulted. Regiomontanus, the distinguished Bavarian mathematician, practised astrology, which from that time on assumed the character of a bread-winning profession, and as such was not beneath the dignity of so lofty an intellect as Kepler. Thus had astrology once more become the foster-mother of all astronomers. In the judgment of the men of the Renaissance—and this was the age of a Nicholas Copernicus—the most profound astronomical researches and theories were only profitable insofar as they aided in the development of astrology. Among the zealous patrons of the art were the Medici. Catherine de' Medici made astrology popular in France. She erected an astrological observatory for herself near Paris, and her court astrologer was the celebrated "magician" Michel de Notredame (Nostradamus) who in 1555 published his principal work on astrology—a work still regarded as authoritative among the followers of his art. Another well-known man was Lucas Gauricus the court astrologer of Popes Leo X and Clement VII who published a large number of astrological treatises.[1]

Subsequently, this source described the eventual disintegration of astrology in popular, educated Western Christianity due to the perceived superiority of the Copernican system, the rise of experimental investigation in the natural sciences, and disillusionment of the people abused by the "pseudo-prophetic wisdom" of this "astrological humbug."[1] However, as the nineteenth century waned and the twentieth century began, a renewed interest was sparked in "the peasant" and astrology became quite popular again despite its unscientific mysticism.

Once more astrology fell to the level of a vulgar superstition cutting a sorry figure among the classes that still had faith in the occult arts. The peasant held fast to his belief in natural astrology, and to this belief the progress of the art of printing and the spread of popular education contributed largely. For not only were there disseminated among the rural poor "farmer's almanacs", which contained information substantiated by the peasant's own experience, but the printing presses also supplied the peasant with a great mass of cheap and easily understood books containing much fantastic astrological nonsense. The remarkable physical discoveries of recent decades in combination with the growing desire for an elevated philosophico-religious conception of the world and the intensified sensitiveness of the modern cultured man—all these together have caused astrology to emerge from its hiding place among paltry superstitions. The growth of occultistic ideas, which should, perhaps, not be entirely rejected, is reintroducing astrology into society.[1] [emphasis added]

From this lengthy quote, with the final emphasis made to draw a point, it is obvious that, at the time of writing, although the Roman Catholic opinion of astrology was not enthusiastic, there was a small amount of leeway provided to make legitimate use of astrology. Perhaps the intent was to allow astrology to be studied by scholars, theologians, and members of the clergy. It is clearly not in support of modern astrology for divination, personal horary predictions, or for supporting superstitions.

At the same time, it does not seem to be anathema to Catholicism (see heterodoxy). Indeed, the gist of the article seems to be that astrology is merely anathema to modern scientific reasoning and therefore makes its usefulness in Western Christianity a tenuous one. The rise of astrology in and around the church in recent times is seemingly incongruous with modern science, yet it is arguably as present today as it was during the Renaissance, growing even as science advances our knowledge of the cosmos.

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