Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Magi believed in the divinity of Christ, or The Meaning of the Three Gifts

It may seem to us anachronistic to say that the Magi certainly believed in the divinity of Christ.  How could this be?  Was not Christ's divinity only clearly defined by the First Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.?  Was there no gradual discovery of the Lord's two natures throughout the Church's experience of reflecting on the Preaching of the Apostles? 

Such thinking may be common and it may be understandable (from a natural point of view), but it is not Christian.  The Fathers of the Church are clear that the Scriptural and Traditional witness to the Adoration of the Magi indicates that these wise men, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as Thomas Aquinas says, knew that the Child they were adoring was no ordinary human king.

As we read in St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae III, Q. 38, A. 8, Reply to Objection 4:

As Chrysostom says (Hom. ii in Matth. [From the supposititious Opus Imperfectum): "If the Magi had come in search of an earthly King, they would have been disconcerted at finding that they had taken the trouble to come such a long way for nothing. Consequently they would have neither adored nor offered gifts. But since they sought a heavenly King, though they found in Him no signs of royal pre-eminence, yet, content with the testimony of the star alone, they adored: for they saw a man, and they acknowledged a God." Moreover, they offer gifts in keeping with Christ's greatness: "gold, as to the great King; they offer up incense as to God, because it is used in the Divine Sacrifice; and myrrh, which is used in embalming the bodies of the dead, is offered as to Him who is to die for the salvation of all" (Gregory, Hom. x in Evang.). And hereby, as Gregory says (Hom. x in Evang.), we are taught to offer gold, "which signifies wisdom, to the new-born King, by the luster of our wisdom in His sight." We offer God incense, "which signifies fervor in prayer, if our constant prayers mount up to God with an odor of sweetness"; and we offer myrrh, "which signifies mortification of the flesh, if we mortify the ill-deeds of the flesh by refraining from them."

On this Solemnity of the Epiphany (which my particular church celebrates today), let us imitate these Wise Men, the first Gentiles to believe in Christ, and offer from our hearts the gifts of golden wisdom of mind for our King, sweet frankincense of prayer to our God, and the loving myrrh of mortification to our High Priest, Who is not unable to sympathize with our weakness. 


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Iosephus, it's good to have you back posting on NTM! Thanks for the quote from the Summa, also I love the picture you chose for the article!

Bernardus said...

Dear Fr. Iosephesus,
After reading some background in "Catena Aurea" on the Gospel passage and some thought by Dom Prosper Gueranger, I am a bit confused in connecting the readings Holy Church chooses for this day (Is. 60: 1-6/20, Eph 3:2-3a,5-6, Matt 2:1-12). I can make the connection between Is and Matt, but am left wondering St. Paul's words to the Ephesians. Would he not have known the prophecy of Balaam in Hebrews which many church fathers reference? Thus they qualify the Magi's country of origin and knowledge of the Nativity and they would signify the salvation of the gentiles. Perhaps I am missing something here. I know the sermon I listened to a Mass made no connections.
Peace and Blessings to you. I will pray for you, please pray for me.

Solomons Chariots said...

Perhaps you can help me. I recently heard in a homily that many people today say that the Wise Men we practicer of Astrology. This doesn't seem right to me, but I can't put my finger on why.

Perhaps Reginaldus or Iosephus have something to say about this?

James Zahler said...

@Bernardus I think you are looking for the connections in the wrong place (in the Magi). The Epiphany is about the mystery that salvation is available to not just the Jews but the Gentiles. In the first reading we see, "Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” In the Gospel, we see that the Gentile kings came to worship the Child Jesus, an obvious act of devotion and faith in the True God. This is an indication of the Gentile’s value in the eyes of God. This is in contrast to the Jews who were “greatly troubled” by the arrival of our Lord when they should be rejoicing. Mathew is demonstrating that the Gentiles have received God better than the Jews. Lastly, Paul says it clearly, “It was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body.” This is a great and wonderful day for the Church because it celebrates its catholicity! Its universality! This is also why it is called “The Epiphany.” For all peoples (even the principalities and authorities in heaven) have been enlightened through the Church in regards to the salvation of the Gentiles (Eph 3:9-10). A very grand revelation for us non-Jews to celebrate!

By the way, I didn’t exactly figure this out on my own. I recently read a book by Scott Hahn that talked about the first 10 verses of Ephesians and their significance, so after praying The Office of Readings and looking at the readings for Mass this morning, everything cohered. I had my own epiphany about The Epiphany this morning! Sadly, before this morning, I had no real idea why today was called the Epiphany…

Iosephus Sebastianus said...

Thank you, James! Bernardus, I hope that helps.

Solomons, the Magi certainly were astronomers and probably were Zoroastrian philosophers, who divined wisdom from the stars. It was to these pagan astrologers that the Gospel was preached through the Christmas star. Their former paganism, of course, can never be interpreted as an approbation of or invitation to neo-pagan astrology, which is a grave violation of the First Commandment.

Christmas blessings to all!

jim.carroll said...

Fr. Iosephus, if I may expand a bit upon your comments to Solomons:

While they probably did cast horoscopes for individuals (most notably kings and other rulers), the astrological symbols used by the Zoroastrian priesthood would have been more concerned with the fates of nations. They (usually) would not have been predicting the future, but analyzing the signs to interpret the present. This use is in keeping with G_D's plans. Genesis 1:14 says, And God said: Let there be lights made in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years. Luke 21:25 says And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars;... G_D announces His plans in the Heavens.

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