Friday, January 6, 2012

It is a mistake to try to discover which was the Star of Bethlehem


January 6th, Feast of the Epiphany
[The wise men] having heard the king, went their way; and behold the star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was. And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. (Matthew 2:9-10)
It is generally considered a more conservative and traditional position to believe that the star of Bethlehem was a real and historical star. Indeed, even many Catholics are excited about recent so-called “scientific” data which seeks to determine which star or astronomical event was the historical star of Bethlehem.
Thus, we might be surprised to realize that the overwhelming consensus of the Catholic tradition – from the Church Fathers, through the Scholastic Doctors (including St. Thomas Aquinas), and up to the great theologians of the counter-reformation period – maintains that the star of Bethlehem was not a real star. It was not an event in the heavens at all; that is, it was not in outer-space, but was another sort of reality. Indeed, the star of Bethlehem was a light brightly shining but low to the earth and within our atmosphere. It was no star, nor even a comet or any such thing – rather, it was much more like the pillar of fire which led the Israelites out of Egypt.

The Biblical Evidence
The star of Bethlehem is mentioned only in the first ten verses of the second chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
[1] When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. [2] Saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him. […] [7] Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them; [8] And sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come to adore him. [9] Who having heard the king, went their way; and behold the star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the child was. [10] And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
From the Gospel account, we notice several points about the star:
1) It came to be in connection with the birth of Christ. Whether this was on the very night he was born (as St. Thomas Aquinas believes) or perhaps as many as two years before his birth (according to Sts. Augustine and Chrysostom), the star most certainly came into existence in connection with the Nativity of our Lord. [this is why King Herod inquires the time of the appearance of the star – so as to determine the time of the birth of the Christ Child]
2) It was not as other stars, far above and away from the earth. Rather, it came down low near the earth and indicated the very house where the Child lay – hence we read (in verse 11), And entering into the house etc.
3) It did not move according to the pattern of the other stars, but guided the Magi and went before them.
4) This star shown both in the day and in the night, but at other times immediately vanished (as in when the Magi arrived in Jerusalem and so had to seek the guidance of the scribes there). The star also re-appeared all of a sudden and gave the wise men exceeding joy.
5) Finally, this star was exceedingly bright and much larger than any other stars – and, in this manner, it attracted the attention of the wise men and was able to show the way for them to Bethlehem.
The witness of the Church Fathers
To my knowledge, there is not a single Father of the Church who believes the star of Bethlehem to be a true and real star of the heavens. Even those who say that it is a “star” specify that it was not like the other stars, but was a “new star” created by the Christ Child to guide the wise men to him. Most certainly, the Church Fathers are unanimous in teaching that it was not one of the ordinary stars of the universe which could be mapped out by astronomers.
Here are some of the interpretations relative to the star given by the Fathers of the Church [quotes taken from the Catena Aurea]:
St. Augustine says that it is a “new star” and that it was “not of the number of those stars, which from the beginning of time observe their paths of motion according to the law of their Maker; but a star that first appeared at the birth”. And again, the same Doctor of Grace says, “It was first created at His birth.”
St. Leo the Great speaks of the “rise of a new star.”
St. Remegius puts forward the opinion of those who say that the star was no star at all but “the Holy Spirit: He who descended on the baptized Lord as a dove, appearing to the Magi as a star.” On the other hand, he also says it is possible that the star “was an Angel, the same who appeared to the shepherds.”
The ancient Gloss (glossa ordinaria) states that the star is called “His star” (i.e. the Child’s star) because it is “the star He created for a witness of Himself.” Again, it is put forward as the opinion of St. Fulgentius that the star was created when the Child was born and then disappeared after the wise men worship the Christ. Further, the Gloss also specifies that the star could not have been in the “heavens” (i.e. far above the earth in outer-space), but “must have been in the air” (i.e. within our atmosphere and not too far up, about the same height as the clouds) “and close above the house where the Child was, else it would not have pointed out the exact house.”
Finally, St. John Chrysostom is most explicit in maintaining that the star of Bethlehem was not what we would call a star when he writes: “This was manifestly not one of the common stars of Heaven. First, because none of the stars moves in this way, from east to south, and such is the situation of Palestine with respect to Persia. Secondly, from the time of its appearance, not in the night only, but during the day. Thirdly, from its being visible and then again invisible; when they entered Jerusalem it hid itself and then appeared again when they left Herod. Further, it had no stated motion, but when the Magi were to go on, it went before them; when to stop, it stopped like the pillar of cloud in the desert. Fourthly, it signified the Virgin's delivery, not by being fixed aloft, but by descending to earth, showing herein like an invisible virtue formed into the visible appearance of a star.”
St. Thomas Aquinas said that it wasn’t a real star
In Summa Theologica III, q.36, a.7, St. Thomas Aquinas asks whether the star which appeared to the Magi belonged to the heavenly system, and he replies “no”.
The Angelic Doctor relies heavily upon the patristic witness of Sts. Augustine, Chrysostom, and Leo (all cited above). He claims that “it is clear, for many reasons, that the star which appeared to the Magi did not belong to the heavenly system.” And he concludes that “it seems more probable that it was a newly created star, not in the heavens, but in the air near the earth, and that its movement varied according to God’s will.”
St. Thomas, like St. Augustine and others, does not really believe that the star was a newly created “star” (as in a burning ball of gas, billions of miles away in outer-space), but rather affirms that it was a newly created reality which was very close to the earth and certainly no higher than the clouds.
This “star of Bethlehem” is most certainly not something which modern-day astronomers could detect or discover – it was not even an astronomical reality! Rather, it was very close to the earth.
What then was this thing which is called the “star of Bethlehem”?
An explanation from Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide
The greatest Catholic biblical scholar since St. Thomas Aquinas, the Jesuit Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide, offers the best explanation of the star of Bethlehem.
He tells us that it was a newly created reality, a condensed mass of dust and air which was illuminated and moved about by angels. It appeared to the Magi to be something like a star, but particularly large and bright – hence, it amazed them and brought them great joy.
This “star” was not far above the earth and existed only for the thirteen days from Christ’s birth to the coming of the Magi. It left no historically or scientifically detectible traces, other than those preserved in the Scriptures and in Tradition.
Does this make the “star” to be less real or less important? Not at all! There is a long tradition of recognizing a connection between the star of Bethlehem and the pillar of fire. The star was much like the pillar which led for the Israelites, excepting that it was higher in the air (but not too far away). Just as the pillar of fire led the Jews from slavery into freedom, so too did the star of Bethlehem lead these gentiles from slavery to sin and ignorance into the freedom of Christ.
The error of those who seek to discover the “Bethlehem Star”
It has become popular (and “traditional”) to try to determine which star or which astronomical event in the universe was the historical star of Bethlehem. This study is terribly misguided and exposes the faith to ridicule. Further, this study is far removed from the Catholic tradition.
Here we see an example of well-meaning Catholics over-reacting to the modernist and rationalist tendencies of some historical-critical “scholars”. But this over-reaction itself does great damage to the faith, since we look like fools if we try to say that the Bethlehem star was a real star – in such a study, we dismiss our tradition, St. Augustine, St. Leo, St. Gregory, St. Thomas, and all the rest.
Further, those who claim that the star of Bethlehem was an astronomical reality in outer-space end up rendering the Gospel account unintelligible: How could a star out in the universe indicate the very house in which the Christ Child lay? How could such a star or other astronomic reality (be it a comet or supernova or otherwise) come to rest over the very place in which Jesus and Mary rested?
Finally, if the star was in outer-space, why was it noticed only by the wise men and not by others? Indeed, the reason why only the wise men (and perhaps a few others) saw the star was because it wasn’t far above the earth but only up in the clouds and so was only visible to those in the immediate vicinity of the Magi.
If we are going to read the Bible as Catholics (that is, if we are going to read the Bible authentically), then we must look at how the Church Fathers and Doctors have interpreted the texts, rather than running off after the latest fad.

54 comments:

A Sinner said...

But then...how long was the Magi's journey from the East?? Surely it took them more than 13 days to get there? Unless they were from closer than typically imagined?

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Father. THANK YOU. I have grown weary of Catholics seeking materialistic solutions to mysteries and miracles.

The idea that the Wise Men were guided by an actual star is so preposterous - just go outside and look at the stars tonight- that it makes laughable all of the latest references to this or that Astronomical Report.

Father, you are an absolute treasure of Holy Mother Church and you keep routinely revealing the truths of Tradition in a pacific fashion that does not put the honest humble seeker of truth in the docket or on the defensive.

May God Bless and keep you

Father S. said...

@Father,

I think that you are overstating this. If the event is true—and it is—then seeking to explain it is not out of line. While we may find limits to the benefit of this, it certainly cannot do damage to the Faith to demonstrate things using all of the natural tools that we have at our disposal. Certainly, if we have more faith out astronomical analysis than in the Word of God, that is another issue altogether.

The Church has a long history of astronomical interest. We have the had the Vatican Observatory now for over 225 years, Fr. Geo. H. J. Lemaitre first theorized the Big Bang (before Einstein), and Nicolaus Copernicus was a priest. As new astronomical tools have developed, their use has been put at the service of the Church. Why should we limit ourselves to the astronomical understanding of earlier centuries? We might as well not say that Our Lord had no mitochondrial DNA because St. Thomas knew nothing of it.

Even further, what of the extensive scientific work that is done for the causes of saints or the questions of miracles? What of the immense study of the Shroud of Turin or the tilma of Tepeyac? These things are not modernism (which is heinous and must be avoided) but are great helps to the Faith, especially as people are more and more educated.

“Finally, if the star was in outer-space, why was it noticed only by the wise men and not by others? Indeed, the reason why only the wise men (and perhaps a few others) saw the star was because it wasn’t far above the earth but only up in the clouds and so was only visible to those in the immediate vicinity of the Magi.”

Why wasn’t heliocentrism postulated and listened to until the 16th Century? People had been looking at the sky for a long time. Astronomers had been doing so. These things are not obvious, even to the trained eye. It is very possible that these men noticed something that no one else ever had. Perhaps, in possession of prophecy and astronomical knowledge, they were the only ones who had what they needed. Even now, with incredibly sophisticated tools, astronomers discover new things all the time.

In short, I suppose I should simply ask the following: Why not use both the non-magisterial tradition and science?

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
Many (even some of the Fathers and great theologians) do doubt whether the wise men could have made the journey in 13 days. Personally, I think that they did.

It is tradition that they were from Persia, and Fr. Cornelius a Lapide says that this is about 300 leagues from Bethlehem (which is about 900 miles).
However, dromedaries can travel about 40 leagues (120 miles) in a day, if going quickly. Thus, the distance would not be too hard to cover.
[still, for the record, Lapide does not think that they made it in 13 days]

Others say that the wise men were not from Persia, but from a place closer (perhaps modern day Jordan).

St. Thomas gives the best answer (to my mind) when he says that they traveled the long distance in 13 days "owing partly to the divine assistance and partly to the speed of dromedaries".

Father S. said...

Please excuse me. In the last sentence of the first paragraph, I meant to say, "...faith in our astronomical..."

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Fr. S,
I do not dispute whether science can be helpful to understanding the faith ... most certainly it can.

However, I think that I am not Spartacus (above) hits the nail on the head when he points out that trying to see the Star of Bethlehem as an astronomical event in outer-space smacks of the rationalist tendencies of the modernists.
This was not a natural event ... it was a miracle ... and it is presented as a miracle in the Bible.


Its not that the star was hard to see and the wise men were very clever to discover it ... the star shown brightly day and night ... it was quite visible.
Thus, if it was in the heavens, it would have been noticed by all.

Further, the star suddenly disappeared and then reappeared ... showing it is a miraculous reality.

And again, the fact that the star indicates the very house where Jesus lay shows that it could not have been billions of miles away off in space, but came to rest in the air above the house (perhaps lower even than the clouds).


I'm not at all against reason and science ... what I am saying is that IN THIS CASE it is a terrible mistake to try and see the star as a real star (in the way that astronomers think of stars).
To do so would not only be to dismiss the tradition of the Church Fathers (maintained up through the counter-reformation period) but also would lead to dismissing certain specific aspects of the Biblical account.


Your reference to DNA is a red herring ... its not simple that St. Thomas and the Fathers did not know about astronomy, it is that they specifically denied that the "star" was a star, in the way modern astronomy understands stars and other astronomic events.
[your point would hold only if St. Thomas specifically denied that Jesus had DNA, rather than simply that he remained silent]


You may as well look for astronomical signs of the Pillar of Fire or of the plague of darkness.
You may as well try to discern an earthquake which made the Red Sea part in two.
These things didn't happen according to natural principles, but were miraculous (and left no historical trace [outside of Scripture and Tradition]).


Like you, I want to understand and explain the reality of the "star" ... but I do it by following the Church Fathers and Doctors, comparing the star to the pillar of fire (which has a much richer theological importance as well).

Hope that makes sense ... and apologies if this comment seems forceful, I only want to make the point clear!
Peace to you always, good Father! +

I am not Spartacus said...

Tangentially to this post; I have a copy of St Robert Bellarmine's, "A Commentary on the Book of Psalms" and just the other day I was reading his teachings on
Psalm 71;9 and I just realised how it spiritually connects with your excellent post by advising us what presents we ought bring to Jesus :

" ....the gold of love, the incense of prayer, and the myrrh of prayer..."

Do you have access to his Commentary?

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Fr. S. Geocentrism is not only logically acceptable by science (as was confessed to be so by Einstein) , it is taught in Holy Writ but, that is a very very deep black rabbit hole :)

Father S. said...

@ Father,
I would like to respond to a few of your points.

“However, I think that I am not Spartacus (above) hits the nail on the head when he points out that trying to see the Star of Bethlehem as an astronomical event in outer-space smacks of the rationalist tendencies of the modernists.
This was not a natural event ... it was a miracle ... and it is presented as a miracle in the Bible.”

Unless I am mistaken, Johannes Kepler (if I remember my senior college astronomy course) tried explaining the astronomical origins of the Star of Bethlehem in the 17th Century, well before Pope Piux X and “Pascendi.” This is not before the Reformation but it is also not from the height of modernism.

“Its [sic] not that the star was hard to see and the wise men were very clever to discover it ... the star shown [sic] brightly day and night ... it was quite visible.
Thus, if it was in the heavens, it would have been noticed by all.”

More properly, it would have been noticed by those who were looking. If it were clearly obvious, to all, why did Herod not just follow the wise men? It seems that these men were in possession of some skill or knowledge that allowed them both see and understand.

“Further, the star suddenly disappeared and then reappeared ... showing it is a miraculous reality.”

The Scripture does not say this. It says that the star appeared (v. 7), that the wise men noticed the same star that they saw in the East (v. 9) and that the star rested over Bethlehem. It never says that they did not see it the entirety of the time that they came from the east, though we reasonably can presume that they did not see it either in the day or during cloud cover.

“And again, the fact that the star indicates the very house where Jesus lay shows that it could not have been billions of miles away off in space, but came to rest in the air above the house (perhaps lower even than the clouds).”

Again, the Scripture does not say this. The Scripture says that the star “stood where the child was,” or, “hestE epanO hou En to paidion.” This does not indicate whether this was a town, house or sheepfold. This does not leave out the possibility of what you describe, but what you describe is not what the Scripture says.

Your reference to the Church Fathers ought to be considered, but it is most certainly not definitive and it is speculative. While that point of view may rationally cohere and be logically valid, it does not make the possibility of the astronomical explanation cohere any less.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Fr. S,
Two brief points, in charity -- and I do enjoy having a good theological discussion with a brother priest!

1) The reason Herod did not see the star is because it disappeared ... this is near unanimous among the Fathers ... it is the only reasonable explanation as to why the wise men had to ask directions in Jerusalem ... further, it says "behold, the star" in verse 9, indicating that it re-appeared.

2) The star had to do more than simply indicate the town of Bethlehem ... else, how could the wise men have found the Christ Child? ... the context and the tradition (not just the Fathers, but also the scholastic doctors) holds that the star indicated the very place.


Finally, you are correct about Kepler ... though, apparently, his thesis has been pretty well rejected by the modern scientists.

I suppose I should not have said "modernist" since that does remind us more of Pascendi ... What I mean is the "modern" notions that have plagued us since the 17th century ... this is why Fr. Cornelius a Lapide is so valuable, he died the year that Descartes started publishing.

Peace to you! +

Veronica said...

"Father, you are an absolute treasure of Holy Mother Church and you keep routinely revealing the truths of Tradition in a pacific fashion that does not put the honest humble seeker of truth in the docket or on the defensive."

Agreed!

Thank you for this, Father. I've learned something new today.

God bless you!

Father S. said...

@ I Am Not Spartacus,

In response to your first post, I simply have a question. It seems to me that you are saying that the a star could not have guided the wise men. Since stellar navigation far predates the Nativity and is used to locate cities all over the world, why could it not have been use by the Magi to find Bethlehem?

Kind Regards,
Father S.

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Fr S. Your education appears to have resulted in you giving less weight to the orthodox exegesis of Catholic Saints (You can also read Catena Aurea online re the subject under dispute) than you give to the speculations of a protestant scientist who never produced proof of his speculation.

When it comes to the Bible, it is, everywhere and always, the case that Catholics - who own all of the Scriptures Lock, Stock, and Barrel -are the experts for if a protestant were to become a Biblical expert, he would cease to be a protestant; he would convert to The One, True, Faith.

The so-called enlightenment fashioned a scientific shroud over much of what is true and, thereby, obscured from the eyes of the simple, humble, believer, the witness of the Catholic Church Saints and that Shroud is being lifted by such wonderful Priests as Fr. Erlenbush and, Thanks be to the Holy Ghost who works through him, much light is being shed from Traditional Sources in these dark days of materialism and modernism

Father S. said...

@ Father,

Also in charity, I do not oppose the possibility of what you have to say being true. If there was a miraculous light that led the Magi, that seems perfectly reasonable. The issue in my mind, though, is that you are definitively rejecting the possibility of this being both miraculous and natural (i.e., an astronomical event). Even if this is the witness of the Fathers, it is still speculative. In other words, it is both logically and factually possible that this was an astronomical event.

Further, the desire to demonstrate this is a completely natural desire on behalf of the astronomer. He uses his art to describe the work of God, just as Beethoven used his in the Missa Solemnis. What believing astronomer would not try to explain the most conspicuous star in all of the Scripture? He does not have to be a historical-critical theologian to search for an explanation.

As to your first point, the word "idou," or "lo" or "behold," does not say anything about appearance and reappearance. While it may well have been miraculous, the textual evidence that you cite is certainly not definitive and at least, inconclusive.

As to your second point, it is altogether possible that while following the star, they happened upon the location outside of Bethlehem where the Holy Family was. It is on the way from Jerusalem. If we hold that their journey was miraculous to begin with, it is no stretch to think that their path, so long as they followed the star, would lead them to the site of the Nativity.

I appreciate your explaining your position to me. I also appreciate your explanation of the Fathers. I simply mean to say, as I stated to begin with, that you have overstated this. It seems to me that you have inflated the certainty of something that is, per se, speculative.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

To all,
I do want to be clear ... Fr. S is a very solid priest and is most certainly faithful to the tradition ... in this particular matter, we are in disagreement ... but I would want to be clear that he has many times offered excellent clarifications here on this blog and has helped me many times to understand the mysteries more fully.


@Fr. S,
Regarding the use of stars for navigational purposes ... my understanding is that one star alone is not enough to direct the way, but the "star" of Bethlehem was sufficient by itself to direct the wise men not only to the city, but to the very place (i.e. the very house - stable) where the Child lay.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@I am not Spartacus and Veronica,
Thank you for your kind words. Please continue to pray for me that I may be a good and holy priest after the Heart of my Lord.
Know also that I pray for you! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Father S.,
Regarding whether or not I have overstated the issue ... do you think I have gone further than either St. Thomas or St. John Chrysostom, both of whom are quite emphatic that it was not a star of the heavens?

Father S. said...

@ I Am Not Spartacus,

I have not asserted anything about the "weight [of] the orthodox exegesis of Catholic Saints." The only protestant scientist that I mentioned was Kepler, but I only mentioned him to demonstrate that the theories about the astronomical origin of Star of Bethlehem predate Modernism, or at least the majority thereof. I gave no indication of any personal assent to what Kepler said. I also do not deny the Faith or that authoritative Scriptural interpretation resides within the Church. For that matter, I did not say that I hold that this was an astronomical event.

Nonetheless, my question still remains unanswered. It seems to me that you implied in your first post that stellar navigation was somehow impossible. Since it works all over the world, I am not sure why it would not work at the Nativity.

I would appreciate it if we could please leave insults out of this conversation. I asked a legitimate series of respectful questions and provided a legitimate series of respectful answers. There is no need to insult my education.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father S. said...

@Father,

I don't think that you have gone further than the saints in your interpretation. I actually agree with the interpretation.

I think that the overstatement is in terms of the value of seeking to find the astronomical event. I think that we need to be able to respond to those who ask us questions with more than the tradition, even if the tradition is correct and sufficient. Refutation can be on logical grounds and on magisterial grounds. As you know, the argument from authority, even if correct, is the weakest argument.

I would like to cite St. Thomas, as you are fond of doing. In Book I of the "Summa Contra Gentiles," he refers to the "Office of the Wise Man." In I.3, the translation says, "It belongs to one and the same science, however, both to pursue one of two contraries and to oppose the other. Medicine, for example, seeks to effect health and to eliminate illness. Hence, just as it belongs to the wise man to meditate especially on the truth belonging to the first principle and to teach it to others, so it belongs to him to refute the opposing falsehood." The investigation of this as an astronomical event can only serve to be helpful in apologetics and to strengthen the explanatory power of the Patristic position.

Thank you for your kind words above, too. I appreciate your work here very much.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Fr. S,
Somehow something seems to be confusing us ... either I am not correctly understanding you, or you me, or both each other.

To be clear, as I read the Scriptures and the Fathers, Doctors, theologians, the "star" cannot possibly be an astronomical event.
The Fathers especially are very clear on this point (St. John Chrysostom in particular) -- it was not a star or any other reality in the heavens (i.e. in space) but was a thing in the air just a little above the earth (perhaps a few hundred feet up).

If we read the Scriptures carefully and if we follow the tradition, then the "star" can't possibly be whatever these people (for example "BethlehemStar.net") say it is ... it can't possibly be something in outer-space, something which can be discerned by astronomers, an astronomical reality.
This is why it is a serious mistake to look to astronomy in this instance.

Thus, if you "agree with the interpretation", I cannot see how you can possibly think it would be the least bit beneficial to try to use astronomy to discover the "star".
It would be like trying to discover the earthquake that parted the Red Sea -- the task is useless, because there was no earthquake in the first place (just as there was no such "star" in the heavens).

Hope that my point is clearer now.
Peace to you always! +

Father S. said...

@ Father,

I think that we understand each other. I think that we simply do not agree on two things.

1. We do not agree on the plausibility of this having been an astronomical event. I think that this falls in the arena of speculative theology and you do not. That being said, I can still speculate with the Fathers while considering it an open question. So, I suppose that I should say that I agree with part of the interpretation. Further, I am free to believe as such until this is definitive teaching.

2. We do not agree on the fruitfulness of studying the astronomical event, even if the matter is not speculative. What you bring up about the Red Sea is a good example. I agree that there was no earthquake, but so long as there are those who will assert otherwise, it is useful to defend the position on the terms of the one who postulates the error. So, if we had the tools to understand geological history and so demonstrate whether or not there was an earthquake, we ought to look into that. The reason to look into that is to demonstrate that the postulated argument is false.

This applies to the argument in question, too. Defeating the astronomical argument--which is very well presented and represented--requires am ability to respond to all of those things which could logically be true. Obviously, those who assert that position are not convinced by the weight of non-definitive (in the technical sense) Patristic and Medieval evidence. Why not respond to them with their own tools?

Take, for example, the pro-life cause. As I understand it, among the most successful tools for convincing a mother that she has a living child inside of her is to show her a 3D ultrasound of her child. We can tell her all day long that abortion is equivalent to murder, but the doctor is telling her that there is no baby or that the baby can't feel pain, etc. As such, we use scientific tools in favor of the moral argument. Why not do the same here?

One final point.

Michelangelo said...

Dear Father,

Thank you for your elegant exposition and defense of your argument! We actually have a modern example of a miraculous event in the skies similar to that of the Star of Bethlehem, and of course, it is the miracle of the sun at Fatima. Non-believers attested to the fact of what they saw, and it was seen for a certain distance around Fatima by people not right at the Cova, but not farther away. It was a miracle, not an astronomical, or solar, event. Was it real? Youbetcha. Happy Feast of St. Frere Andre! Make the pelerinage a L'Oratoire St-Joseph a Montreal! Que le bon Dieu vous benisse, M. l'Abbe.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Michelangelo,
You are quite right about Fatima ... I wrote on this last year, if any are interested - http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2011/05/fatimas-miracle-of-sun-star-of.html

Blessings to you! +

Father S. said...

@Father,

I must have left off the end of my comment before and my "one final point." Please excuse me. Since I posted this, I've had a wake a some visits here to the rectory, as well as preparations for Low Mass and a funeral tomorrow morning. Now I cannot even remember what my last point was!

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Rat-biter said...

A real star behaving as the Evangelist says would have burned up the countryside for miles around, & everyone within thne radius of the damage - rather a high price to pay for coming so close to the earth as to indicate one building in particular !

Everything about the passage in Matthew 2 points to its being a theological story about the Messianic kingship of Jesus: the use of Psalm 72, the emphasis on kingship, the universalism, the non-recognition of Jesus, even the folklore motif of the wicked king who tries to kill his infant rival; not to mention the Moses-typology & the use of Exodus-motifs. These are some of the principal motifs in the gospel - not that Biblical Fundamentalism notices them :(

Jordanes551 said...

Bravo! I get so weary of astronomers and their attempts to explain away the obviously supernatural Star of Bethlehem as a supernova or conjunction of planets or a comet. There is no doubt that the "Star" of which St. Matthew speaks is not a natural star or light in the heavens.

As for whether or not the Magi arrived in Bethlehem 13 days after Jesus was born, the Gospel accounts indicate that they arrived much later than that -- perhaps as much as two years later. Whenever it was, by the time the Magi arrived, the Holy Family had found a "house" in Bethlehem in which to live, and Jesus was no longer a "babe" but a "child" (Greek brephos indicates not a newborn but an older baby or even a toddler). Anyway, it is not an article of faith that the Magi arrived on Jan. 6 (or its Hebrew calendrical equivalent), just as it is not an article of faith that Jesus was both baptised in the Jordan and turned the water into wine in Cana on Jan. 6 -- yet Epiphany celebrates all three of those epiphanies of Our Lord, not just the epiphany to the Magi.

Deacon Yuhanna said...

The controversy has been settled by Dale Allison III, "The Magi's Angel" in his "Studies in Matthew". He builds an overwhelming case, based on ancient texts, that the "star" was, at the time of St Matthew's Gospel, understood to be a way of referring to an angel. A blessed Epiphany, Deacon Yuhanna

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Rat-biter,
There is no reason why God could not have arranged for the historical event to be prefigured by the Old Testament.
Simply pointing out that the account in Matthew 2 points to Jesus' Messianic kingship does not prove that the story of the wise men is not an accurate account of a real historical event.

Indeed, looking at the text itself, there is no indication that Matthew means it as a parable or as lore ... rather, it is presented as a real historical event which fulfilled the prophecies.

So, no, there was no "star" as an astronomic reality ... but there were wise men and they did see something that looked to them like a star, and they did make their journey and adore the Christ Child.
To deny this is to lose the Faith.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Jordanes551,
It seems to me that the Gospel text alone is inconclusive as to when the wise men arrived ... but it certainly cannot be said that it "indicates" that they arrived "much later" ... the Gospel doesn't indicate much of anything one way or the other.

On point I would make is that, after the presentation at the Temple, the Holy Family returned to Nazareth (per St. Luke).
Now, if the presentation was 40 days after Jesus' birth (according to Jewish Law), and the Holy Family was still in Bethlehem when the wise men came ... then that would "indicate" that the wise men must have arrived in less than 40 days.
Hence, "much later" would seem an overstatement.

While I admit that the 2 year idea seems to solve the problem of the slaughtering of the innocents (2 years and younger), it causes many more problems.
I wrote about this last year, if you are interested -- http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2010/12/when-did-star-first-appear-to-magi.html

In any case, you are right to point out that it is not a matter of faith ... so we are certainly free to have different opinions.
Peace and blessings to you! +

Msgr. Pope said...

A fascinating post especially in terms of it's strong appeal to antiquity.

I do think though that Fr. S above well states some concerns that I have with the use of words like "error" "terribly misguided" inauthentic, over correction, misguided etc are and unnecessarily sharp rebuke.

The exact reality of the star is, to my mind, ultimately mysterious and is best left in that realm. Fr. Cornelius has things a little too well figured out to my mind, in actually trying to speak of it as "a condensed mass of dust and air which was illuminated and moved about by angels." Why be that specific?

Even if some roots of this thinking can be found in the Fathers and doctors, I would still have the personal preference to allow the mystery to remain largely unspecified as Scripture does. It is after all the source document, and specifications beyond its data are speculative.

I see no real harm in some speculating about it being this star or that, or a comet, or the coming together of planets such as Jupiter and Saturn, or of compressed dust and air, as long as we are all clear that these are speculations of what is ultimately mysterious and unspecified.

Thank you again for supplying this context and hosting this conversation.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Msgr,
I suppose you are right that I come on a bit strong ... I do tend to do that from time to time! :-)

However, I just cannot see any way that the theories about Jupiter or Saturn can possibly line up with the clear biblical words that the star "went before them [the wise men]" and that it "came and stood over where the child was".

In any case, it is good to recognize that these recent theories (going back, as far as I can tell, not much further than Kepler in the 17th century) are very very different from the interpretation of the saints of the Church.

At least this much is clear -- it is not "traditional" or "conservative" to think the Bethlehem Star was a real star ... that doesn't mean it is wrong, of course.

Peace always! +

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Fr. S. I intended no personal insult and if the imprecision of my writing left that impression I apologise.

To me it appears you are saying that a star could have led the Magi whereas it is quite clear from Traditional Catholic Biblical Exegesis that it could not have been a star such as the putative one the protestant Kepler speculated about.

Over the years, I have lost track (tangential pun) of the number of stars identified as the one that led The Magi. It is almost as though the Bible is not to be trusted unless it can be found to be in agreement with an enlightenment science that long ago successfully sued for divorce from Sacred Theology and has since that time produced endless bastard-theories before whom we are expected to bow.

Science is supposed to be subservient to Scripture is what I was learnt long ago in the hills of Vermont and, yet, this Southern Vermont Crank would not end this response by writing, once again, that I intended no insult to an Alter Christus; my Uncle Fr. Francis, an LaSalette Priest, would be in his grave spinning like an anemometer atop Mt Washington if he knew I was doing such a thing.

Dismas said...

It has always been a personally troubling question of mine why St. Gabriel was tasked with the Annunciation and not St. Michael. St. Michael's apparent absence at this point in salvation history has always bugged me.

It also had never occurred to me until now that the Star of Bethlehem could be anything other than some kind of miraculous astronomical occurrence.

St. Michael, is that you? This thought and it's implications, God willing, will keep me busy until next Christmas. Holy possible Epiphany! Thanks for this.

Father S. said...

@I Am Not Spartacus,

I think that I have already made this point above in a post to Fr. Erlenbush, but I am happy to make it again here. Perhaps I have not yet been sufficiently clear.

Insofar as the nature of the star described in St. Matthew's Gospel has not been magisterially defined, this matter is, per se, speculative and open to a variety of interpretation. Even if the weight of Patristic and Medieval exegesis holds that the star is purely miraculous and not astronomical, the lack of magisterial definition leaves the matter open to interpretation.

Speaking for myself, considering only the text of the pericope in question and no secondary sources, it seems to me that the argument can be logically made that this was as astronomical event. I have already cited above the relevant passages in the transliterated Greek text.

I suppose that I can put this another way. Weight of interpretation does not, in itself, provide definition. This is a fundamental tenet of theology. For example, rather famously, in the case of the Immaculate Conception, there is substantial weight on both sides of the question of whether or not Our Lady died before being assumed into Heaven. The Church has only solemnly defined that "having completed the course of her earthly life..." Our Lady was assumed. A Catholic is free to believe that she died or that she did not die; it is a speculative matter.

In the case of the Star of Bethlehem, even less has been said definitively about it than about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As such, there is even more freedom of belief. Short of denying that the star existed--which would dismiss the witness of Scripture--or saying that the star was something totally different, like a spaceship--which would add too much to the text in question--there is a great deal of latitude in what a Catholic may believe.

I do hope that this makes my position clearer.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I would add, as a minor point, that it is a teaching of the ordinary magisterium of the Church that Mary did die and was then resurrected and raised ... hence, a Catholic at least ought not to publicly say that she did not die.

-- http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2011/08/death-of-blessed-virgin-mary-latin.html --

Thus, to get to the heart of Fr. S's point ... there is probably more room for diversity of opinion about the "star" than about the death of Mary.

Still, I am convinced that searching for an astronomical reality is a terrible mistake (on the weight of both Scripture and tradition).

Rat-biter said...

"Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Rat-biter,
There is no reason why God could not have arranged for the historical event to be prefigured by the Old Testament."

## It depends what you mean - are you talking about texts, such as Numbers 24.17, or about events; or about both, or about something else ? And it's not easy to talk about the "historical event" being "prefigured", if the historicity of the Matthean account as narrated is the point at issue.

"Simply pointing out that the account in Matthew 2 points to Jesus' Messianic kingship does not prove that the story of the wise men is not an accurate account of a real historical event."

## Agreed - but since the text presumably has an intelligible meaning, and since there are serious objections to understanding the text to be referring to a star, & since there are many reasons, not least in this gospel itself, to think that the point of the narrative is to witness to the significance of Jesus including His Identity, ISTM that the narrative is a theological construction using a number of OT passages, fused together by Matthew's theological POV, that witness to the significance of Jesus by telling a story about Him. AFAICS, the truth of the passages lies not in answering questions about astronomy or where the Magoi came from, but in the theological message of the Evangelist; rather as the truth of the Ascension lies not in answering questions about the escape velocity of the glorified body of the Risen & Ascended Christ, but in understanding the significance of the "machinery" used to tell of the Ascension. (That does not imply that the Ascension "did not happen" BTW - the similarity between the Matthean narrative, & the narratives of the Ascension, is in how the narratives are related; not in their relation to historical reality.

"Indeed, looking at the text itself, there is no indication that Matthew means it as a parable or as lore ... rather, it is presented as a real historical event which fulfilled the prophecies."

....

Rat-biter said...

"Indeed, looking at the text itself, there is no indication that Matthew means it as a parable or as lore ... rather, it is presented as a real historical event which fulfilled the prophecies."

## It's not a parable, so that possibility doesn't arise. What do you mean by "lore" BTW ? The text of Matt. 2 has the form of a narrative of a real historical event - but so does the Temptation-narrative. So do many others that are not historical: some texts have verisimilitude, but are not historical. There is the difficulty that the concept of the "historical" has at least six different shades of meaning (as an essay by C. S. Lewis shows in detail); & then ther are are complications arising from the history of history-writing. In one sense Genesis 5 is history - but it's not what a reader today would think of as history. It may be the case that some of the events in Matt. 2 happened, like the Massacre of the Innocents - but the business ogf the styar, no;not as related. You yourself seem to put the star on one side , even though you want me to accept the rest of the details :) Why though ? The star is as much part of the narrative as the Magoi - the narrative becomes pointless without the combination of star with Magoi, & of both with their journey and with the Christ-Child & the gifts. AFAICS, the explanation I incline to does a better job of accounting for the detail of the text than yours does, because the former allows all the details to be significant, without having to leave any on one side for reasons extraneous to the text. The explanation is weak where yours is strong - for you hold to the historicity of the narrative, which does not clash with the "obvious" meaning of the narrative. The price you pay, is that the star is left out, as though it had no function for the Evangelist. A second weakness is that the reasons for leaving out the star do not come from within the passage - whereas the idea that St. Matthew was writing theology in the form of a story can be argued for by comparing his treatment of passages in the gospel with one another, & with passages in other gospels.

"So, no, there was no "star" as an astronomic reality ... but there were wise men and they did see something that looked to them like a star, and they did make their journey and adore the Christ Child.
To deny this is to lose the Faith."

## The text says there was a star - on what principle does one accept as really historical some of the ingredients in the text, & not others ? The suggestion I believe to be valid has a principle: it accepts as historical the Mother & Child, while seeing the rest of the ingredients in the narrative (& their inter-relation) as the product of theological reflection on the significance of Jesus. A second argument for this position is that this gospel is arranged in a chiastic pattern. If that is so, & as it is so, one might expect a narrative near the end of the gospel to mirror this near the beginning. I think there is one, in Matt.27.51-53. ISTM that both narratives are Jewish-Christian theology in the form of legends - legends that are true in their witness to the Identity of Jesus, albeit not true as relations of historical fact. They have rather similar messages - both witness to the Kingship of the unrecognised Jesus, & both rely on OT passages - for Matt.27.51-53 is based on the famous passage in Ezekiel 37 about the dry bones. That passage is fulfilled - not as an event in history, but in its Christian theological meaning - in the Death of Jesus; & may be behind Revelation 7. IOW,the second argument is one from the structure of this gospel.

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Fr. S. I will post this and then disengage.

Here is what Trent taught re Biblical Exegesis:

“Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,–in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, –wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,–whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,–hath held and doth hold; [Page 20] or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.

Of course in this instance of the putative conundrum of whether or not it was a star or not , this teaching from Trent suggests, to me at least, that one who avers that a normal star accounts for what Tradition everywhere teaches is a miraculous event not involving what the protestant Kepler considers a star, then one ought happily accept the burden of producing Catholic Church Fathers/Saints whose exegesis is consistent with the protestant speculation of Kepler so as not to leave the impression that enlightenment science is somehow a key component of Biblical exegesis.

As it currently stands, if all of the weight of traditional Catholic exegesis about this being a miraculous event were to be suddenly dropped onto a set of scales the individual occupying the scale of the rational/materialistic/enlightenment scientific/protestant side would be suddenly launched over an actual star.

Pax tecum, Father S.

Alessandro said...

I don't know why nobody ever proposed a third alternative view. The Star of Bethlehem may be a literal conjunction or star in the heavens and still miraculously appear to lead the Wise Men and stand still over the house Jesus was living. I know that might sound rather strange, or even foolish - but we have at least one precedent of a Star appearing removed from its position in the heavens and moving through the sky - the Dancing Sun at Fatima!

Would anyone say that the Sun was actually removed from its 8-light-minutes-from-Earth location entering the atmosphere? Not at all. There was a miracle down there so that the Sun stood in its place but appeared to actually move in the sky. God can bind light in miraculous ways, and our eyes position all luminous objects at the apparent source of light. So, there might well be a real conjunction or star phenomenon (I don't buy the 7-6 BC conjunctions, I subscribe the December 25, 2 BC one), but the Magi may have been led by the miraculously altered apparent position of the Star.

I know many people won't like it, but that's a third chance to adjust the account - after all, the Bible reads "A star" and not "an angel" or anything else.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Rat-biter:
two points,
1) I do not dismiss the historicity of the star ... rather, I affirm that there was a "star" according to what the word itself was meant to indicate -- that is, a bright light in the sky.

2) I am amazed that so many people today are comforatable reading the Bible as though nobody else before them has ever read it -- how can we possibly read the Scriptures without taking consultation with the great saints and theologians who have come before us?
They say that it was not a star out in the universe, and (upon reading the text carefully) I see their reasoning ... therefore, I follow them.

Many moderns, however, ignore the 2000 years of tradition, dismiss the saints and theologians, and try to make up their own theories -- and this, without even making any reference to the tradition (they don't even take the time to dismiss it ... it simply isn't mentioned ... as though there were no Christian interpretations until today).

Father S. said...

@I Am Not Spartacus,

Even though you have decided not continue the discussion, I will still offer two points.

First, it is inescapable that there is room for opinion on this point. In particular, that room allows for diverse opinion on the nature of the star.

Second, "enlightenment science" is a key component of Biblical exegesis. It is one component among many, but it is still very important. Historical understanding is aided by tools developed by science. Understanding historical context is important for Exegesis. This does not mean that modern science is essential for exegesis, as if the Scripture cannot be understood without microscopes, but it is to say that modern tools are helpful tools.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Rat-biter said...

Last things first: about the Fathers

Having said so much, I don't whether to reply or not LOL. The points you (& the poster before you) raise, deserve responses - all the more as people's reasons & premises for believing as they do are so often misunderstood - the notion that one cannot value St. Augustine in some ways, while seeing that he is not a well-informed guide in others, is an example. I think I prefer St. Thomas - that doesn't mean one can't learn from Calvin & the Puritans. But to read about the the present state of scholarship on a Biblical book, one has to read modern authors. This is as insulting to the Fathers as reading Garrigou-Lagrange, or John of St. Thomas, is: there were no Thomist Fathers, & no Thomism in their times. Neither were they anti-Thomist; they were pre-Thomist, and did not have to cope with the same issues as St. Albert & St. Thomas faced.

In the same way, the Fathers were not anti-critical, but pre-critical - they did not have the material available to them that is now available even to students being introduced to scientific Biblical exegesis. But moderns do. Biblical scholarship today has been shaped by certain methods, issues, presuppositions, emphases, questions, difficulties - so it has had to respond to them them in a specific historically & culturally contingent manner. So, in a rather different setting, had the Fathers to, in their times & places.The Fathers were not well up on the history on the Ancient Near East - modern scholars are much better off in that way; therefore, they deserve to be consulted. The Fathers are as silent on Sumer as on Australia - must modern scholars, if Catholic, also be silent on Sumer ? But if they are not - & they are not, and never have been - why must the fellow-Catholic exegetes follow the Fathers, even when they have so much more to take account of and learn from than the Fathers could or had ? Biblical exegesis deserves the best methods available - & those of the Patristic era are not now adequate. The Fathers are still worth reading - but they were dealing with the issues of their times, not of ours, in the form they took in their times, which is not always the form these take in ours. And that exactly what one might expect. And what they did in those times & ways, we - including exegetes need to do & try to do in the present time in the ways available to us.

If even something as abstract as logic has a history, it should shock no-one to find that Biblical interpretation has one. Yet people are upset to find that scholars in 1990 or 1950 or 1910 or 1890 or 1850 don't agree with the Fathers. The Fathers say nothing of Australia - does that make Australia a nasty Protestant invention raised up to tease & scandalise Catholics, to be shunned like a plague by the faithful ? Is there a heresy of Australianism, condemned as a blasphemy for implying that St.Paul did not preach to all the world ? No, to all points. But if the novelty of Australia is not disrespectful to the Fathers & Sacred Tradition & the Magisterium - why is the use of Biblical subsidia available to later generations (including ours but not including theirs) thought to be ?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Rat-biter,
This is a comment box, not a dissertation box ... please keep the comments concise and to the point.

I do not have time to read your last comment thoroughly, but (from skimming it), I do notice at least one very good point (which I think you are affirming) -- we have to recognize the difference between what the Fathers explicitly reject, and what they neither affirm nor deny but simply are unaware of.
That which they are unaware of is a fount for the legitimate development of doctrine.

Now, in terms of the star, the Church Fathers (and every saint I have read up to the modern age) who dealt with the issue have explicitly said that it was not a star in outer-space, but was closer to the earth.
And this touches upon the Scriptural text itself -- since the star rests over the place where Jesus lay.

Hence, there is a big difference between speculation about Jupiter as the "star" and speculation about Australia.

I am by no means opposed to new thoughts and insights ... but I am troubled by the way that so many completely ignore the Scriptural commentaries of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church -- it isn't right.

Peace to you! +

Anonymous said...

Gentlemen,

I don't think this has to be a traditionalist versus modernist issue. I hold the Church Fathers in the utmost esteem, but they were not astronomers. A website was cited earlier...it is bethlehemstar.net. The support for the star being an actual astronomical event and also miraculous is astounding. It did not cause me to doubt my faith. In fact, it strengthened my belief. The "star" that is proposed to be the star of Bethlehem is Jupiter, according to the website. Jupiter, in 2 BC (if I remember correctly) behaved exactly as described by scripture. It also appeared to be inside the constellation Virgo (virgin). During the day, the constellation Virgo appeared near the sun (clothed in the sun). The moon appeared below the constellation Virgo (the moon at her feet). Jupiter (which is the name of the king of the roman gods) was so bright because it was near a star called Regulus (which is also translated "king"). Jupiter exhibited odd movements that are normal for planets observed from Earth, which parallel the movements described in Scripture. This is just a small amount of data that is observed scientifically and does not contradict scripture. Check out the site. It will grow your faith, not harm your faith.

Respectfully,

Layman Paul

I am not Spartacus said...

In the same way, the Fathers were not anti-critical, but pre-critical - they did not have the material available to them that is now available even to students being introduced to scientific Biblical exegesis. But moderns do. Biblical scholarship today has been shaped by certain methods, issues, presuppositions, emphases, questions, difficulties - so it has had to respond to them them in a specific historically & culturally contingent manner. So, in a rather different setting, had the Fathers to, in their times & places.The Fathers were not well up on the history on the Ancient Near East - modern scholars are much better off in that way; therefore, they deserve to be consulted

Dear Rat-Biter. What you have done in a few sentences is summarise that which was condemned in the Encyclical on Modernism.

The Modernists pass judgment on the holy Fathers of the Church even as they do upon tradition. With consummate temerity they assure the public that the Fathers, while personally most worthy of all veneration, were entirely ignorant of history and criticism, for which they are only excusable on account of the time in which they lived.

You might give it a read;

http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius10/p10pasce.htm

Jim Jordan said...

Having led a bible discussion group for several years in our parish, I am quite familiar with the fundamental differences between historical critical and traditional exegeses. Even though I generally subscribe to reliance upon the Church Fathers for guidance, and have long held that the "star" cannot be explained by science, and scoffed at those who hold that flocks of sheep would not be out in the winter, I do find some benefit to the modern so-called "proofs" that are out there.

For those lucky enough to have found and viewed Rick Larson's "The Star of Bethlehem" [BethlehemStar.com], and taken the time to consider its merits, there is a positive conclusion that can be drawn from it. Since it convincingly shows how the stars and planets could have guided astrologers to Jerusalem, and from there to Bethlehem, and that Jupiter "came to rest" over Bethlehem on Dec 25, 2 B.C. as seen from Jerusalem, we can conclude that these signs may have been ordered by God in order to present scientific evidence to an increasingly apostasizing society that perhaps there is some validity to the Biblical narrative. We can (and I do) take exception with some of Rick Larson's conclusions, such as Dec 25, not being the date of birth, but rather, the date of epiphany, etc. But, the data should not be ignored.

When I show these things to our Bible study group, I include my own "revisions" to the conclusions, state that these "evidences" are not Authoritative, and need not be believed, but also include some other usually "overlooked" data. Shortly after the star came to rest, shortly before the required Presentation to the Temple (40 days after the birth of a male child), Herod the Great, who was declared King of "the Jews" (Judea) by Rome, died. Rome declared no new King in Judea during the lifetime of Jesus, except as written by Pontius Pilate upon the Cross of Christ. The next King proclaimed in the Judean region followed Christ's death by several years. The close proximity of the birth of Jesus, followed by Herod's death, resembles (symbolically) Jacob's birth, wherein Jacob, the second twin to be born, was clutching the heel of Esau as he was born, and eventually usurped Esau's "throne" (birthright). Which should be no surprise, as Jesus was descended from Jacob, as Herod was descended from Esau.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@layman Paul and Jim Jordan,
What I think you are missing is that the Fathers (and the whole tradition) has believed that the star indicated not simply the city of Bethlehem, but the very stable/inn/house where the Child was.
[and this is founded on the Scriptures -- since the wise men already knew that they had to go to Bethlehem, but what they didn't know is where in Bethlehem]

Now, there is no way in which Jupiter could indicate the very place, the very stable/house where the Child lay.
And this is why the Fathers and Doctors and counter-reformation theologians are united in rejecting any notion of the star of Bethlehem being one of the heavenly bodies.

Further, if it is Jupiter, then it is not a miracle (i.e. it is not something beyond the ordinary laws of nature) -- but the Church has always considered the star to be a miracle.


It's not that the Fathers didn't know astronomy ... they understood plenty well enough.

Rick Larson and the Bethlehem Star people read the Bible as though they were the first Christians, the first people ever to have read it. They ignore the Fathers and the tradition ... it is not right, and it is most certainly not "conservative" or "traditional" (though, unfortunately, many Catholics think it is).


So, I'm glad that they don't say the star is a simple myth or folk-lore ... but saying it is "Jupiter" is still terribly misguided.

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear FR. Amen!!

As Pascendi... taught

To hear them descant of their works on the Sacred Books, in which they have been able to discover so much that is defective, one would imagine that before them nobody ever even turned over the pages of Scripture. The truth is that a whole multitude of Doctors, far superior to them in genius, in erudition, in sanctity, have sifted the Sacred Books in every way, and so far from finding in them anything blameworthy have thanked God more and more heartily the more deeply they have gone into them, for His divine bounty in having vouchsafed to speak thus to men. Unfortunately. these great Doctors did not enjoy the same aids to study that are possessed by the Modernists for they did not have for their rule and guide a philosophy borrowed from the negation of God, and a criterion which consists of themselves .

Juventutem London said...

Awesome picture, where's it from?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The image is by Edward Burne-Jones (I believe), from 1890.
Apharently it was the largest watercolor of the 19th century (at 101 1/8 x 152 inches).
"The Star of Bethlehem"

Peace! +

James Joseph said...

I sort of have tended to figure that Mary is the Star that was still where the Child was.

T said...

Fr. Ryan,

I find this to be an absolutely fascinating topic, I love reading scientific explanations for phenomena described in the Bible – or for other phenomena such as the Shroud all the amazing and inspiring things science has found there - Or the incredible scientific investigations into Lanciano – I could go on! - it increases one's appreciation for God's power, rather than diminishing it!

As I read the article and comments I was immediately wondering whether anyone would bring up one of my favorite websites - http://bethlehemstar.net/ and eagerly looking to see whether anyone would mention it.

To my delight, Jim Jordan did!

I wonder if you've taken the time to read the full and complete text there?

It's pretty detailed as to Scriptural, historical and astronomical points, very logically argued.

Furthermore, it calls attention to several other beautiful astronomical events that took place in Jesus' life.

That the astronomical events took place can be observed by consulting any historical sky map such as this one http://www.fourmilab.ch/yoursky/(just look up the coordinates for a city near persia, then Bethlehem and enter them along with the dates mentioned at Bethlehemstar.net). That the events were intended by God to fulfill Scriptural prophecies is another matter, but dealt with pretty thoroughly in the articles.

I am wondering if you have read it and have specific answers to arguments presented at bethlehemstar.net? If it happens that it’s way off the mark historically or – somehow – Scripturally or something, I’d love to know, because to all appearances (to someone with my level of knowledge - less than yours :)), it’s a pretty solid case and very inspiring!

- T

T said...

Please excuse my comment, Fr.! In my excitement at seeing Jim Jordan's reference to that fascinating website, I overlooked your reply to his comment!

I may follow up with some more questions, later though! :)

- T

T said...

In response to I am not Spartacus commenting along the lines that Catholics should not seek materialistic explanations for miracles and mysteries, I would urge that on the contrary it's a very Catholic thing to do!

Take the canonization process for instance, every effort must be made to scientifically explain the claimed miracle before it can be accepted as such. Plus, many miracles yield even deeper marvels upon close scientific investigation. For example, the blood type of Lanciano matching the blood type on the Shroud of Turin, or the paint of the Guadalupe image inexplicably hovering above the fibers it’s “on”, or the figures in Our Lady’s eyes in the same image, or the various blood clots of Lanciano weighing the same whether in groups or individually – how would any of these deeper marvels be known unless close scientific investigation had been applied to the initial wonder? It’s a very Catholic thing to do, and gives a deep sense of awe at what God has wrought!
-T

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