The Star of the Magi

Courtney Roberts, M.A.

Astrology in the Christian Church - A Brief History

What did Christians believe about time and cosmology,  least  for the first 1600  years of the church?

Many contemporary Christians would hotly dispute the idea that their religion has any connection with astrology, but that is a modern delusion.
Our current split between religion and astrology is a 
relatively recent, post-Reformation development.
Astrology was Christian cosmology for the first 
1600 years of the church.
Astrology was practiced, taught, and published at the 
highest levels by priests, monks, abbots, bishops, 
cardinals, popes, and saints.

So is there something inherently 'un-Christian' about astrology?
   Let's take a closer look at the history and practice of astrology within the Christian Church.

A short list of famous Christians who taught, 
published and practiced astrology: 

St. Albertus Magnus, Adelard of Bath, St. Aldhelm; Bishop of Sherborne, 

Alcuin of York, Roger of Hereford, Michael Scot, Nostradamus, Roger Bacon, 

Guido Bonatti, Johannes de Sacro Bosco,   Angelo Catto (the astrologer of Louis XI of France,) Peter of Albano, Catherine de’Medici, Nostradamus, Willliam Lilly, Christopher Columbus, Phillip Melancthon, the Emperors Charlemagne, Charles IV and V, and Popes Sylvester II, Sixtus IV, Urban VIII, Julius II, Leo X, and Paul III.

According to the article in the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia by Max Jacobi, "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."

Among the earliest Christian writings, there was considerable argument over astrology, but not about whether the heavenly bodies exercised any influence. 
That they did was common knowledge. 

The argument was generally over how, and how much, and what was right and proper to do with that knowledge. "Natural astrology," and the wholesale influence of the sun, moon, and stars over everything from the weather to the infirmities of the body, was rarely the cause of contention.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the prince of theologians, patently confirmed this point in his Summa Theologica:

“The majority of men follow their passions, which are movements of the sensitive appetite, in which movements of the heavenly bodies can cooperate: but few are wise enough to resist these passions. Consequently astrologers are able to foretell the truth in the majority of cases, especially in a general way. But not in particular cases; for nothing prevents man resisting his passions by his free-will. Wherefore the astrologers themselves are wont to say that ‘the wise man is stronger than the stars’ [Ptolemy, Centiloquium, prop. 5], forasmuch as, to wit, he conquers his passions.

(Prima Pars: 115:  Reply to Objection 3)

Christians saved their invective for astrologers; those scandalous rascals whose vain attempts to forecast the future not only made planets into deities and duped the general public, but who threatened in their boldness to usurp the prerogatives of an almighty God.  

 Consequently, thinking Christians found themselves in a bit of a dilemma. While wanting to differentiate themselves from the gullibility and excesses of their pagan neighbours, who were generally quite fond of horoscopes,  Christians also coveted the cosmological implications of astrology's overarching worldview, and not only sought to attribute that orderliness to the hand of God, but to read the preordained sanctification of their own faith into the cosmic order. 

Their attempts to reconcile and re-attribute these conflicting drives animate many early texts, where Christians had long running arguments with fatalistic star worshipers, but the astrological order of the universe, as designed by the hand of God, remained the standard, accepted Christian cosmology.

For instance, the delightful plot of The Recognitions of Clement (approx. 3rd century CE) mounts a Christian literary attack on astrologers which confounds the pagan determination to read an unalterable future in the stars.


However, Book 8 of The Recognitions contains in 

Ch. 45-46 a most tidy description of natural astrology, attributing to the motions of the Sun and Moon the causes of everything from good and bad weather, 

to plague and pestilence, accordingly as God chooses 

to use these, the instruments of his design. 

Further, Book 1, Ch. 32 contains this most intriguing reference to Abraham:

"From the first this same man, being an astrologer, was able, from the account and order of the stars, to recognize the Creator, while all others were in error, and understood that all things are regulated by His providence."

In this implication that the father of monotheism also discovered astrology, within the same work that damns the predictions of horoscopy, 

the author straddles the very crux of the Christian dilemma.

 For an eye-opening look at the history of astrological practice 
within the Christian Church, here are links to some of 
my work on the subject: 

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