Christ is born, astrology dies – a comment on the Pope’s new book about Jesus

First, if you plan to buy the Holy Father’s new book online, will you please my links?  You’ll get your book quickly and at a good price and I will also benefit.  Thanks!

US hardcover HERE.  Kindle HERE. Unabridged audio HERE. Large print HERE.
UK hardcover HERE. Kindle HERE.  Large print HERE.

Also, amazon has lots of discounts right now.  If you enter amazon using one of my links, I’ll benefit from everything you buy, from new tires to shredded suet for your Christmas puddings.

This would be a nice gift for your parish priest or a seminarian.

Andrea Tornielli at Sacri Palazzi wrote about the Holy Father’s new book, which was presented today.

He mentioned this, in my translation:

When the star that guided the Magi in the account by Matthew, Benedict XVI recalled that “on the cusp of the years 7 and 6 BC – which today is considered the probable year of the birth of Jesus – there was a conjunction of the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars”. To this, according to the astronomer Johannes Kepler, there was added a supernova, of which there seem to be mentions “in Chinese chronological tables” relative to the year 4 BC.

Citing Gregory Nazianzus, the Pope writes that “in the very moment in which the Magi were prostrating themselves before Jesus, the end of astrology took place, because in that moment the stars would have spun in the orbit established by Christ”. A demythologization, “a anthropological turning point”, because, Ratzinger explains, “man assumed by God – as is seen in the Only-begotten Son – is greater than all the material forces of the world and is of greater worth than the whole of the universe.”

Classic Ratzinger.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mamajen says:

    I have just started reading his first Jesus of Nazareth book. I have to admit that it’s not quite what I expected (this is the first book of his that I have ever read), but I am enjoying it and have been fascinated by the revelations that never crossed my mind before. It gives the Bible so much more meaning and credence. I will definitely read this one next.

  2. JacobWall says:

    I just started reading “An Introduction to Christianity.” So far, I’m only a few pages in, but it seems really good! I’m pretty sure once I get through it, I’ll be ready for another book by Joseph Ratzinger. Maybe I could jump from his second published book to his most recent one. I’m excited to read more of Pope Benedict’s writings!

    I’ve heard something similar to this idea of events in the universe lining up; I think I read somewhere that the Pope also embraces the idea that the spring equinox was in fact that exact day that Christ was conceived as well as the day the earth was created (following St. Ambrose?) Or am I mixing up people and ideas?

  3. anna 6 says:

    I love this Pope so much.
    Can’t wait to get the book.

  4. JonPatrick says:

    I read the other 2 Jesus of Nazareth volumes, can’t wait for this one.

    And by the way, Amazon really does sell shredded suet! Amazing.

  5. Spaniard says:

    Fantastic web and study on the star of Bethlehem. Speaks of the mentioned conjunction, I strongly recomend it:http:

  6. BenFischer says:

    Jacob, that sounds like something our Holy Father might have said in Spirit of the Litutgy where he went into some depth about seasons of the year, cycles of the moon and Liturgical feasts. It’s quite interesting, the way he lays it out.

  7. inara says:

    “in the very moment in which the Magi were prostrating themselves before Jesus, the end of astrology took place”…wow, perfect tie-in with the Scott Hahn CD I was listening to in the car not five minutes ago!
    He explains how the Magi were not “kings” or “wise men” bringing “gifts”, as popular myths portray, but rather they were practitioners of the dark arts & occult. It was never proper to bring a gift to a king, since it was acknowledged that all you had (including your skills & talents) rightfully belonged to him anyway. Instead, what was brought was *tribute* ~ often tools of your particular trade, which in this case were myrrh (used to make the special ink used to write out incantations) & gold/frankincense, which were sprinkled over the spells as embellishment or to increase their efficacy. So when they brought these items to the infant Jesus, it was indeed symbolic of the “end of astrology”/sorcery/soothsaying, in submission to the One True King.

  8. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Can anyone share the exact St. Gregory Nazianzus reference?

    And, inara (or anyone else), is there a written version of the Scott Hahn commentary, with references to his sources? (The word in Matthew 2:11 really is “gifts” – with apparent verbal echoes of Psalm 72: 10, 15 [Hebrew numbering] and Isaiah 60:6 (which is presumably why people have come to refer to the “magi” as “kings”, unless there is another reliable reason…) – and not the word for “tribute” as found in Luke 20:22, for example, while “magus” is a word with a complicated history in the ancient world: so, it would be good to known exactly how Scott Hahn arrived at his interpretation.)

    The words of the Holy Father (citing St. Gregory) sound not unlike Tertullian, ‘On Idolatry’, ch. 9, but it not really clear to me in either why what seems to be an accurate ‘astrological’ observation (or whatever the best term is) would constitute “the end of astrology”.

    However odd it may seem, it certainly does not seem to have done so in practice, in any case, throughout the greater part of the history of the Church! C.S. Lewis, for example, says, “The statement that the medieval Church frowned upon the discipline is often taken in a sense that makes it untrue. Orthodox theologians could accept the theory that the planets had an effect on events and on psychology, and, much more, on plants and minerals”, quoting examples from St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Albertus Magnus, in The Discarded Image (CUP, 1964), pages 103-04. And M. Jacobi, in his 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia article, notes “Emperors and popes became votaries of astrology– the Emperors 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.” He also refers to “Lucas Gauricus, the court astrologer of Popes Leo X and Clement VII, who published a large number of astrological treatises.”

    All of which makes one the more eager to see exactly what the Holy Father says in his new book!

  9. inara says:

    Venerator Sti Lot, I’m sorry I don’t have a reference for you ~ I was wondering about that myself, since this was an interpretation I had never heard before (though I found it quite fascinating). If I track one down, I will be sure to let you know!

    Thanks for the info on the Church’s prior thought on astrology, that’s new to me as well. I will have to delve into that further, since I have always felt there was something to the personality/birth sign relationship (that didn’t seem to me to contradict a Christian mindset), but gave up thinking about or discussing that when I became Catholic, since it appeared to me that it was forbidden.

    I think what Hahn was mostly trying to get at (and maybe St. Gregory Nazianzus as well) was not so much the end of strict “astrology”, but a more general, symbolic end of the age of “magicians” (those who attempted to use spells, incantations, divinations & other occult practices to affect/control/understand the world around them). With Christ’s birth, He was now the reference point, instead of looking to nature, at least for those (like the Magi) who saw the signs & believed.

  10. Pingback: Christianity and Astrology, a Commentary | Margot St. Aubin

  11. VLL says:

    This is my comment.” It’s my blog, too. I go into some stuff about astrology. Not details about how it ‘works’ but generalities that I allegedly know about it’s history and my semi-educated guesses as to what Pope Benedict meant about the “Death of Astrology”.

  12. torch621 says:

    The thing I remember most about this book in a comment on a piece about it on Catholic Vote ranting about how it didn’t address the “impossibility” of the census that led Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem. Liberal interpretations of Scripture are both amusing and sad.

  13. Supertradmum says:

    I wrote a series of poems, book length on the Magi in 1979 using the conjunction of the planets for my star and adding a missing magi. I am glad the Pope used that astronomical theory, as I saw a conjunction of planets in 1971 and at the right time, they do form giant star-very impressive. What a great Pope we have who is so intellectual and yet writes for his entire Church. I have the first book only and happen to have it with me. Would like to get the other two.

  14. akp1 says:

    @JacobWall ‘An Introduction to Christianity is a tough start to Ratzinger books! I found once I’d read one, I think I read ‘Spirit of the Liturgy’ first, the rest are very readable. I haven’t got through my ‘Intro to Christianity’ yet though. The first two Jesus of Nazareth Books are like a retreat. They are so packed with insights. I re-read the first one in Lent last year and continued the second one through Holy Week and Eastertide. I’m already about a quarter through the new one – bought on kindle through your link of course Fr. Z!
    @ Supertradmum – you could put an Amazon wishlist on your blog! I am certain that you will get some Christmas gifts!

  15. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    With apologies for the span from the Feast of St. Cecilia to that of St. Clement of Alexandria in answering (in the hope you may yet happen to revisit the post), your last paragraph sounds right!

    With respect to “something to the personality/birth sign relationship (that didn’t seem to me to contradict a Christian mindset)” – and to astrology in general – may I humbly recommend one of the first fruits of my now trying to look into ther matter further, St. Augustine’s City of God, Book V, chapters 1-8. Part of what he is doing (which I understand to be among the things the Church has always been doing) is to resist any astrological temptation to determinism or fatalism. From such observations as that “the variation of the seasons depends on gthe approach of withdrawal of the sun, and the waxing and waning of the moon produces […] the marvellous variations of the tides” (ch. 6), he considers how very, very difficult it is to see what other solar, lunar, planetary, stellar influences might be. This, not least by considering the lives of twins, and how very different lives correspond to about as identical a horoscope as possible – and how any objection as to the difference in time between the birth of one and the other does not make the matter of discerning possible influences easier (and if it is important, would not a conception-horoscope be the only reliable one?: but that would usually have its own great difficulties to precision as to time of occurrence).

    I’ll add, so far I’ve read Henry Bettenson’s Penguin translation, without comparing it to any translation available online (such as at New Advent) – or attempting to look at the original Latin!

    When one sees how clearly St. Augustine puts his finger on the problems, the long, broad, varied ‘carreer’ of astrology in the history of the Church becomes all the more mysterious!

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