Christianity and astrology


Christianity and astrology

Christianity and astrology are seen as incompatible by modern orthodox Christian doctrine. Additionally, astrology stands juxtaposed against the roots of modern scientific reasoning. Generally, the scientific community and others educated in the scientific method consider astrology a pseudoscience or superstition.[1][2]

Contents

Astrology within the Church

Western church leaders throughout history have at times given different amounts of credibility to astrological investigations, predictions, and learning. Astrology had small amounts of 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 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.[3]

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."[4] 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.[5] [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.

Astrological references in the Bible

Old Testament

At Deuteronomy 17:2-3, we read further about Israelites "whoring after" sun worship and astrotheology:[6]

"If there is found among you, within any of your towns which the LORD your God gives you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden..."

The Israelites, however, cannot stop their sun worshipping, which is engaged in even by the kings and priests, and which must be suppressed, as at 2 Kings 23:5:

"And he deposed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places at the cities of Judah and round about Jerusalem; those also who burned incense to Ba'al, to the sun, and the moon, and the constellations, and all the host of the heavens."

In the book of Daniel, God makes fun of astrologers and says that they can't really observe 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.

The passage "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?" is found in the Bible's Book of Job.

New Testament

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.

See also

References

  1. ^ "WordNet 2.1". Princeton. http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=astrology. Retrieved 2006-07-05. [dead link]
  2. ^ "Activities With Astrology". Astronomical society of the Pacific. http://www.astrosociety.org/education/astro/act3/astrology3.html#defense. 
  3. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907, Volume II, pp 18-25, Article on Astrology.
  4. ^ Ibid.
  5. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907, Volume II, pp 18-25, Article on Astrology.
  6. ^ http://stellarhousepublishing.com/jesussunexcerpt.html
  • Astrologer William Lilly's book Christian Astrology (1647) is a major work in the field.
  • See Signs for a Messiah: The First and Last Evidence for Jesus, Rolland McCleary, 2003, Hazzard Press. This book attempts to describe the exact birth date and time of Jesus Christ, using the Bible as a source document, historical astrology as insight into the magi, and computer ephemeris data to cast a horoscope.

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