Saturday 25th June 2016

Home » Frontpage » Currently Reading:

The Story Of The Star Of Bethlehem

December 18, 2013 Frontpage No Comments

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY

Around this time of year, articles and stories appear in the media on the subject of the Star of Bethlehem. Quite often they focus on the astronomical state of the heavens at the time of Christ’s birth and try to show that some natural phenomenon can be held to be responsible for the appearance of the star — a comet, a supernova, or a conjunction of stars or planets.
If we examine the biblical text, however, it becomes clear that it isn’t quite so easy to categorize the Star in this way, and that the truth may well turn out to be far more intriguing.
The references to the Star are found in St. Matthew’s Gospel, where we read in chapter two that when the Wise Men arrived at Jerusalem, during the reign of Herod, and after Jesus’ birth, they inquired where the newborn King of the Jews was: They had seen “his star in the East” and had come to worship him. This news troubled Herod, and on inquiring of the scribes, he learnt that Bethlehem, which was not far from Jerusalem, was the place prophesied by Micah as the birthplace of the Messiah (Micah 5:2). He then asked the Wise Men to search for the child so he too could worship him. Following this, the Wise Men went on their way, “and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was” (Matt. 2:1-9).
So there are only a few references to the Star in this Gospel, and we need to consider them carefully. From the Greek word for “wise men” we get the word “Magi.” In the ancient Orient, this was the name given to wise men, teachers, priests, astrologers, seers, and so on, and it can have a good or a bad sense. That is, a Magi could be a genuine seer or a false prophet, as was the case later on in the Book of Acts (13:6, 8). But obviously in the case of the biblical Wise Men, we are dealing with people who were well disposed.
The first thing is to note exactly what they said on meeting Herod, that they had seen his star in the East, and had come to worship him. In other words, they associated this new star with the newborn King of the Jews in a very precise way. It is thought that the Magi in fact came from Persia, modern Iran, or ancient Babylonia, modern Iraq, and that they may well have come to know about the Hebrew Scriptures in their own country, since the Prophet Daniel had lived in that area centuries before.
In particular, the Magi may have been familiar with this prophecy of Balaam on the future coming of the Messiah, which is recorded in the Book of Numbers: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (24:17). Or alternatively, they may possibly have become aware of Balaam’s prophecy in another way, since he was clearly a well-known seer in his own day.
In any event, whatever the exact reason, they realized the true significance of the Star and set out to find the new King. The interesting thing is that when they reached Jerusalem, it became clear to them that its inhabitants, including Herod, had not seen the Star, since, in secret, he asked the Magi when the Star had appeared. So it was probably only visible to them, which is a strong indication that it was a supernatural sign, rather than a natural heavenly object.
Several possibilities have been put forward to give a natural explanation for the Star, but there are problems with all of them. One theory is that it was due to a conjunction of planets; that is a situation where a planet apparently comes very close to another planet or star in the night sky, so that they may seem to touch and so look much brighter than normal.
There were a number of such conjunctions around the time of Christ’s birth, and it is certainly true that the Magi would have been more aware of this type of thing than most people at the time. However, only one such conjunction, in the year 2 BC, and involving the planets Jupiter and Venus, really comes into the category of a genuine conjunction, in which the two planets actually seemed to merge. But this only happened once, on one evening, and as already indicated, the Magi saw the star on more than one occasion. And this date is also later than the generally accepted date for Herod’s death in 4 BC.
Alternatively, if the Star were a supernova, an exploding star, then that would have been obvious to everyone. Similarly, if it were a comet, then that too would have been seen by all. And neither a supernova nor a comet, nor a conjunction of planets, does what the Star of Bethlehem did according to the biblical text, that is: “The star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was” (Matt. 2:9).
In other words, it stopped over Bethlehem, which is an impossibility for a natural heavenly object, since stars, planets, and comets apparently move in the heavens due to the earth’s rotation on its axis. And if they were not to be forced to look in every house in Bethlehem, which would have drawn unnecessary attention to the Holy Family, the Star must have been quite close to the earth, and not far away off in space.
And this is in fact what St. John Chrysostom, the early Church Father (c. 347-407) believed: “How then, tell me, did the star point out a spot so confined, just the space of a manger and shed, unless it left that height and came down, and stood over the very head of the young child? And at this the evangelist was hinting when he said, ‘Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was’.”
It is interesting to note that a number of biblical miracles involve the sun, which is a star in its own right. These includes Joshua telling the sun to stand still so he could defeat his enemies (Joshua 10:13-14), and God providing a sign for King Hezekiah, through the prophet Isaiah, that the sun should go backward as measured by the shadow on the sundial (Isaiah 38:7, 8).
And more recently, in connection with Fatima, we have the famous Miracle of the Sun, which occurred on October 13, 1917. These miracles — which were far greater in magnitude than that involving the Christmas Star — indicate that God can do whatever He wants, and thus the idea that the Star of Bethlehem was supernatural is quite feasible.
In fact, if anything, the Star of Bethlehem was more like the pillar of fire/cloud which went before the Israelites in the desert, when they escaped from Pharaoh — that is, a purely supernatural sign (Exodus 13:21).

Taking The Gospels
Seriously

There is a danger nowadays of interpreting scriptural passages in a naturalistic sense, so as to fit in with modern ideas. This is the sort of thing that happens, when, for example, the accounts of the feeding of the five thousand in the Gospels are reinterpreted so as to remove their miraculous nature, and instead are seen as purely natural.
Some modern theologians have argued that what happened was that instead of Jesus miraculously multiplying the loaves and fishes, the people who had followed Him shared the food they had brought with them. Given human nature, that might well have been a greater miracle, but it is not what the biblical text says!
No, if we take the Gospels seriously, it is obvious that the Star of Bethlehem was a marvelous heavenly sign, a fitting manifestation of God’s power, and the way He first announced the birth of His Son to the Gentiles, and ultimately to us.

+    +    +

(Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related web site at www.theotokos.org.uk.)

Share Button

2016 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Catholic Bishops Blast Obama Admin for Forcing Churches to Pay for Abortions

The leading pro-life spokesmen for the Catholic bishops are blasting an Obama administration decision revoking federal protection for chruches in California forced to pay for abortions. As LifeNews reported, churches in California are officially subject to an onerous state regulation…Continue Reading

Church Leaders React to Supreme Tie on DAPA/DACA

Catholic leaders from around the country were expressing disappointment today in response to a Supreme Court tie vote that effectively terminates Obama administration initiatives on immigration that shielded millions from deportation. Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, described…Continue Reading

Catholic universities must insure abortion, Obama administration rules

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 22, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – The Obama administration has ruled against two Catholic universities, upholding a rule issued by the state of California requiring all employers to cover elective abortions in their insurance plans – even if the…Continue Reading

Progressive Catholic groups publish “Pope Francis” voter guide

While the IRS revoked the non-profit status of the George Soros-subsidized Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG) in October 2013 for failing to file a form 990 for three consecutive years, the organization recently re-emerged with a progressive…Continue Reading

Pope Francis: Most Catholic marriages are null, some ‘cohabitations’ are ‘real marriage’

June 17, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis spoke yesterday at a pastoral congress on the family for the Diocese of Rome, and his remarks are causing consternation among faithful Catholics. In off-the-cuff remarks, the pope made the dual claim that…Continue Reading

From Fox News . . .Enough is enough, Pope Francis should resign

By Adam Shaw ·Published June 17, 2016 · FoxNews.com Pope Francis’s three-year-old papacy, marred by controversy from the beginning, has hit a new low. After Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected to succeed Pope Benedict XVI in 2013, he quickly justified his…Continue Reading

Florida Bishop Blames Orlando Massacre on Catholic ‘Contempt’ for Homosexuality

The Catholic Bishop of St. Petersburg, Fla, has blamed Catholic disapproval of homosexual acts for the brutal slaughter of 49 people in the Pulse nightclub on Sunday. In a blogpost Monday, Bishop Robert Lynch said that Catholicism “targets” and “often…Continue Reading

WATCH: Congresswoman Blasts Sales of Aborted Baby Parts in Explosive Speech Filled With Evidence

Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler gave a recent speech on the flood of the House of Representatives blasting the sales of aborted baby parts. The member of the special panel investigating Planned Parenthood and the sales of aborted baby parts provided shocking…Continue Reading

Transgender bathroom debate: Lawmakers in Massachusetts pass bill allowing use of restrooms based on gender identity

The Massachusetts’ House of Representatives has passed a bathroom bill on Wednesday that will allow transgenders to use restrooms according to their gender identity. Voting 116-36, lawmakers passed the bill despite protests from people who went to the House to…Continue Reading

Bishop Schneider: Pope’s exhortation will lead to practice that ‘trivializes and profanes … three sacraments’

June 7, 2016 (Voice of the Family) — Bishop Athanasius Schneider has made his strongest comments yet on the “real spiritual danger” posed by the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The bishop said that the document contains expressions that are “objectively…Continue Reading

Kasich admin gives Planned Parenthood waiver to continue abortions in defiance of state law

COLUMBUS, Ohio, June 2, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – A Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Cincinnati can continue performing abortions, despite the fact that it is breaking state law, because Gov. John Kasich’s administration issued a waiver. On Friday, Ohio Department of…Continue Reading

Amoris Laetitia is ‘objectively unclear’ since even bishops have conflicting interpretations: Cardinal Caffarra

ROME, May 30, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The cardinal tasked by Saint Pope John Paul II 36 years ago with founding an institute to study marriage and the family has criticized Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation on the family for lacking…Continue Reading

Newsmax

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our new website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for over 145 years in our weekly print edition. Now we are introducing the online daily version of our print journal.


  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
 
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 145 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
 
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “An Introduction To The Problem Of Euthanasia”

By BRIAN CLOWES Part 2 (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, a 150-page treatise on all of the aspects of euthanasia, e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.) + + + We have covered the definitions of the varieties of…Continue Reading

Enter Comments Below

This Weeks Comments And Letters . . .

Today . . .

Pope Francis arrives in Armenia

popef99

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis arrived in Armenia’s capital Yerevan at 12.55 pm Rome time on Friday 24th June to begin his 14th apostolic journey abroad. Armenia is a landlocked mountainous nation which borders with to the west Turkey, to the East Azerbaijan, to the north Georgia and to the South Iran. He was warmly welcomed by the President of the nation’s Republic Serzh Sargsyn and the Catholicos of All Armenia Karekin II. Also present were…Continue Reading

Thomas Aquinas and the Art of Making a Public Argument

taqun

Zenit.org June 22, 2016•Bishop Robert Barron I would like to revisit a time when people knew how to have a public argument about the most hotly-contested matters … There is, in many quarters, increasing concern about the hyper-charged political correctness that has gripped our campuses and other forums of public conversation. Even great works of literature and philosophy – from Huckleberry Finn and Heart of Darkness to, believe it or not, Kant’s Critique of Pure…Continue Reading

Pope: All of Amoris Laetitia is ‘sound doctrine’; ban the death penalty

Francis doubles down on Amoris Laetitia In the wake of substantial criticisms of his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis has stated that “everything” written in the document is “sound doctrine.” The remarks are especially pertinent in light of the first critical observations on the exhortation issued by Raymond Cardinal Burke which stressed that parts of the document were the Pope’s personal opinion and not to be taken as magisterial. Speaking at the opening of…Continue Reading

Valencia’s Card. Cañizares persecuted for defending nature, common sense against “gender theory”, homosexualist agenda

I was in Spain recently, having breakfast – as one does – and, while munching the ubiquitous toast with tomato looked up at the TV only to see a discussion of Card. Canizares Llovera and the trouble he was in for giving what sounded like a really good sermon in Valencia. I shot a photo of the screen… it I can find it… Since then the Cardinal’s problems have multiplied. BTW… he had the nickname…Continue Reading

Papal comments on cohabitation and civil marriage suggest a direction

June 18, 2016 11:51 EST Edward N. Peters The pope’s most recent comments on marriage point in a disturbing direction but let’s address two important matters first. Point One. Cohabitation is not marriage. Largely overlooked amid the furor caused by Pope Francis’ rash claim that “the great part of our sacramental marriages are null”—an assertion reckless if false (which it is) and brimming with despair if true (which it is not), a claim followed not…Continue Reading

Islam & The West: Irreconcilable Conflict?

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN On Saturday night, June 11, Omar Mateen was a loner and a loser. Sunday, he was immortal, by his standards, a hero. Mateen had ended his life in a blaze of gunfire and glory. Now everybody knew his name. He had been embraced by ISIS. His face was on every TV…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101… “The First Time Around: Euthanasia In Nazi Germany”

germ2

By BRIAN CLOWES Conclusion (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, a 150-page treatise on all of the aspects of euthanasia, e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.) + + + Step 2: Dehumanization The first…Continue Reading

Fr. Pavone Says . . . Trump Speech “Crystal Clear” Supporting Life, Religious Liberty

By DEXTER DUGGAN Presumed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has an entire political-party structure behind him that is pro-life, so it’s not a matter of simply having to hope that Trump will follow pro-life principles, Fr. Frank Pavone told The Wanderer after attending an important Trump speech for social and religious conservatives. Pavone, national director…Continue Reading

We Should Not Aim For Purgatory

By JOHN YOUNG “I’ll be satisfied if I get to Purgatory.” I recently heard that statement from a Catholic, and I think that mindset is probably quite widespread. It may be said in a thoughtless way, or may even be a sign of humility, confessing that one is far from the holiness one should have.…Continue Reading

A Book Review… Principles Of Interpretation

By JUDE DOUGHERTY BOLD INSERT Polanyi, Michael. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Enlarged Edition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2015. xxviii + 428 pp. This is an old book, first published in 1958 but still relevant, that the University of Chicago Press has seen fit to reproduce in a new edition with a…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Catholic Replies

Q. I just want to ask what James J. Drummey’s qualifications are for answering the questions that subscribers ask. Does he have a title or does he consult with an authority on these issues? — K.C., via e-mail. A. My qualifications for writing the Catholic Replies column for the past 25 years include reading, studying, pondering, praying, writing, speaking, and teaching…Continue Reading

Take Up Your Cross

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Fourteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR C) Readings: Isaiah 66:10c-14 Gal. 6:14-18 Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 In the Gospel reading today we hear about the seventy-two men the Lord had sent out ahead of Him. He had given them authority to heal people and to expel demons. That sounds great, but when one actually sees it happen…Continue Reading

Benedict XVI On His 2011 Ordination Anniversary… Long Experience Of The Goodness Of The Lord

(Editor’s Note: Below we reprint the text of Pope Benedict XVI’s homily on his 60th anniversary of Ordination to the priesthood, given at St. Peter’s Basilica, June 29, 2011. The text is from the website of Catholic News Agency. (Pope Emeritus Benedict was preparing to celebrate the 65th anniversary of his Ordination as The Wanderer went to press this week.…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World… “Mass, The Musical”

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK I write to you shortly after the massacre in Orlando, witnessing the divisions that some are making in reaction to this great sin in the sight of God. Above all, and first of all, those who died are human beings, created lovingly by God in His image and likeness, and it is this truth we…Continue Reading

The Marvel Of The Catholic Church . . . More On The Miraculous Apparitions Of Mary

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Part 5 “Contra factum non valet argumentum,” taught St. Thomas Aquinas. “It is useless to argue against facts.” When shallow-minded people smile and say that all private apparitions are just the result of self-hypnosis, or auto-suggestion, delirium, or hallucination, it is our time to smile at them. When 70,000 people in Fatima saw the sun…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . Mother Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala

By CAROLE BRESLIN Which basilica in the country of Mexico has been visited by both Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Francis? The Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan. Like Our Lady of Guadalupe, the story of Our Lady of Zapopan begins in the year 1531. Beginning in 1531, the same year that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. John Francis Regis

By CAROLE BRESLIN In the late 16th century, Calvinism began to make significant advances in the Catholic population of France. More and more Catholics left the faith, or simply stopped going to Mass and practicing their faith. Then God sent a man to the French who preached tirelessly and then spent hours in the confessional, helping the penitents return to…Continue Reading

COMPLETE 3 PART Interview With Cardinal Burke . . . Insights On The State Of The Church In The Aftermath Of The Ordinary Synod On The Family

Cburke3

By DON FIER Part 1 (Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, recently traveled from Rome to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., a magnificent place of worship which he founded and dedicated. (His Eminence graciously granted an extensive interview to The Wanderer during which he…Continue Reading