Dear Father Angelo,
It is wonderful to read the responses from “Dominican Friends”.
The last one I read concerns the deception one falls into when studying astrology and the influence it has on people. It is therefore going against the first commandment. And I agree with you.
My question is, how do the three wise men fit into this? Did they make use of the occult science of astrology regarding the birth and place of the Messiah or what else?
I look forward to your complete (as always) reply.
1. The magi mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew do not have to do with the magicians.
As you can see, already in the Italian language there is a distinction made between magi and magicians (maghi)
And not only in the plural form (magi and not “maghi”) but also in the singular one: the first is called the Wise King, the second is simply a magician.
2. Wizards are often cheaters.
But not infrequently they are in contact with the occult, that is, with the hellish world from which they try to get information, especially about the future.
But the devil does not know the future, he can only conjecture it from the actions of men.
These actions are in turn subject to free will which is the prerogative of the human soul in which he cannot read and much less can enter in it.
Therefore the devil is wrong in his conjectures, without forgetting that the Lord says of him that he is “a murderer from the beginning”, “he was not steadfast in the truth”, “when he tells falsehood, he says what is his, because he is a liar and father of lies “(Jn 8:44).
3. Who were the Magi?
Here is the answer we find in the Gospel of Jesus Christ by father M.J. Lagrange: “The ancients and especially the Westerners considered them as priests of the Persian religion. This is the official meaning of the word, but this expression was also used to designate astronomers, a little bit also astrologers, because in the East, with the exception of the great school of astronomy of Alexandria, one did not pay attention to the stars and especially theplanets, except to divine the fate of children born under this or that influence.
The bad reputation attributed to astrologers has led the Church fathers to see Persian priests in the gospel magi. But Persia is not precisely to the east of Palestine and the fathers who were born in the holy land, St. Justin (2nd century) and St. Epiphanius (4th century), thought the Magi came from the East, that is, from the country situated beyond the Jordan, from Arabia, which is well indicated by the nature of their gifts.
These same gifts made Tertullian believe they were kings because the Psalm 72 (Vulgate 71) depicts the kings of Arabia and of Sheba as bringing gifts to the Messiah. Popular tradition adds a splendid complement and names them Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar as representatives of the Semites, other white races and blacks respectively.
It is enough for us that we take the Magi to be serious men, busy with the study of the sky, eager to read the future and especially concerned about the coming of a great king expected at that time by the Jews.
The Jews since that time were very numerous in Arabia where they made their hopes known and where perhaps kept alive that prophecy of Balaam of the prophet of the land of Moab (Num 24.17) who had announced that a star would come out of Jacob and a scepter would arise from Israel.
From the days of that seer, a contemporary of Moses, vague hopes for a great kingdom had been kept alive. They were also widespread throughout the ancient world. The rising of a star and the coming of a king were joined in public opinion and the first was considered a prediction of the second. Now the Magi had seen a new star rise up in the east, probably a comet. Everyone believed for certain it was the omen of a glorious kingdom (Justin, History, 37,2; Servius in Aeneid X, 272).
The magi were thinking of the future king of the Jews, of whom such glorious things were told to them. Thinking therefore that he had been born, they went to Jerusalem, the holy city of Judaism and, scarcely aware of the circumstances and in particular of Herod’s ferocious jealousy, which had even manifested itself against his own children, without qualms expressed their intention to go and give homage to the newborn, the place of his birth having been indicated to them. None of the inhabitants of that privileged land should have ignored it.
But the exact opposite happened and they aroused only the general astonishment and the disturbance that naturally follows from the spread of extraordinary news…. “(pp. 38-39).
4. Another biblical scholar, Giuseppe Ricciotti, on the other hand, precisely stressing that the term Orient indicated besides Arabia also Mesopotamia and far away Persia (as can be seen from Is 41,2) says that the Magi came from Persia because the term “Magi ” is originally Persian and closely related to the person and doctrine of Zarathushtra” (Zoroaster).
Of Zarathushtra the magi were originally disciples; to them he had entrusted his doctrine of reform of the peoples of Iran, and they were then its custodians and transmitters. Their class appears to have been very powerful since ancient times, already in the era of the Medes and even more so in that of the Achaemenids (…).
In the cultural field they will also have dealt with the course of the stars like all educated people in those times and in those regions, but astrologers and sorcerers they certainly were not: indeed, as disciples of Zarathushtra and faithful transmitters of the Avesta, they had to be the natural enemies of the astrological and mantic doctrines of the Chaldeans, which are firmly condemned in the Avesta ”(Life of Jesus Christ, pp. 270-271
5. Another author, Abbè Foulard, says that “this name (magi) is borrowed from the sacred language of Persia and designates the priestly class; from which it can be inferred that the Magi were priests and were Persians”.
This opinion is also confirmed by the paintings of the catacombs where we find the Magi always dressed in the costume of the Persians: long cap, a tunic girded at the loins, over which a cloak folded back flaps, bare legs or covered with tightly closed trousers, conforming to the use of that people.
Ministers of a religion superior to the different forms of paganism, the Magi seem to have worshipped from the earliest times a supreme deity to whom they held a bare-bones cult: no altars, no statues in their temples; the choirs were formed only to proceed with gravitas, lifting songs and prayers to God.
These beliefs remained intact among the Persians until the time when they descended, following Cyrus, into the plains of Mesopotamia. There, mixed with the Chaldean Magi, they no longer kept the purity of their faith, or at least underwent the influence that the enslaved Israelites then exercised on their victors, and in particular that of Daniel.
In fact we know from Scripture that this prophet, brought into in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, showed himself to be far superior in science to all the priests and astrologers of Chaldea, and was immediately, at the behest of the Prince, placed at their head. This power grew more and more under four other princes and under three dynasties, and reached its apogee in the triumph of the Persians, since these new conquerors agreed with Israel in hating idolatry.
Thus subjected to the authority of Daniel, the Magi, both Chaldean and Persian, could not ignore his predictions about the Messiah, in which he got specific enough to note the years, weeks and the very hour of his birth. From him, therefore, they learned that the Holy of Holies who would receive divine anointing would be the same one that Balaam had beheld rising from Jacob like a star.
From the Magi these prophecies passed on to the people, and at the time of Jesus it was a constantly-held opinion throughout the East that a king was about to leave Judea to conquer the world “(Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, pp. 96-98).
6. So, that’s who the Magi were. With some variations from one author to another, they are essentially wise, powerful, priests.
And it is because of their authority that Herod, not troubled by the rumor that had certainly resounded from Bethlehem about the birth of the Messiah, attested to only by humble and despised shepherds, now at the appearance of the Magi, not at all ordinary characters, is troubled, and with him all Jerusalem is upset.
I wish you well, I entrust you to the Lord and I bless you.