Epiphany Sunday

Statues1 of Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar started near the clock in our living room. I took those pictures of them on Wednesday. Their trip to the nativity scene ended today, Epiphany Sunday.

We read about “magi from the east” in today’s Gospel: Matthew 2:1 through 12:

1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, 2 behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,
“saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star 3 at its rising and have come to do him homage.'”
(Matthew 2:12)

“Magi” is how μάγοι, mágoi, looks in my native language. That’s the Greek version of an Old Persian word that would sound something like “magus” if I tried pronouncing it. “Magus” is from Avestan “magauno,” the the religious caste Zoroaster was born into; and don’t bother trying to remember all that.

The point is that magi were astrologers, which didn’t mean what it does today.

Seeking Truth

Folks thought that what happens in the sky affects what happens on Earth back when the Hittite empire was a major Mediterranean power.

That belief, and the very practical need for accurate calendars, made researchers who studied the stars and planets very important. I suppose today’s equivalent might be scientists from CERN.

The point is that when our Lord was born, astrologers had a reputation for having detailed knowledge of things that most folks had barely heard of.

Astronomy and astrology were pretty much the same thing until the last few centuries.2

Albertus Magnus, patron Saint of scientists, studied astrology around the time Pope Honorius III approved the Dominican and Franciscan Orders, and Batu Khan ran the Golden Horde.

Some correspondences between what we see in the sky and what happens on Earth are fairly obvious, like the tides and our moon’s position. Looking for more subtle connections seemed reasonable.

It wasn’t until the last few centuries that more data, increasingly precise timekeeping tech, and a whole lot of analysis showed that astrology’s predictive value was pretty much nil.

Astrology makes a short list of bad ideas under the ‘divination’ heading these days. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2116)

Astronomy, the scientific study of what’s in Earth’s sky, is a good idea. Studying this universe, and using that knowledge, is part of being human. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 22932295)

Like I keep saying, truth can’t contradict truth, and we’re supposed to be curious. This universe is filled with opportunities for greater admiration of God’s creation. (Catechism, 159, 214217, 283, 341)

“For You Gentiles”

Epiphany is a big deal for folks like me.

The reason I celebrate the Messiah’s birth, death, and resurrection, is that Jesus came for all nations. (Matthew 28:19; Mark 13:10; Romans 16:2526)

I’m a gentile, descended from folks in northwestern Europe.

We’re mentioned in the other New Testament reading today: Ephesians 3:23a, 56. Here’s a longer excerpt from that chapter in Ephesians:

1 Because of this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ 2 (Jesus) for you Gentiles –

“if, as I suppose, you have heard of the stewardship 3 of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit,

“(namely, that) the mystery 4 was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly earlier.

“When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,

“which was not made known to human beings in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit,

“that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
(Ephesians 3:23a)

That’s why Epiphany and the magi3 are a big deal for me.

I keep saying this, too: the Catholic Church is pretty much the opposite of an exclusive club. We’re literally catholic, καθολικός, universal: a united and diverse people, embracing all cultures and all times.

We’re doing what our Lord told us to do, just before leaving. That’s in Matthew 28:1920 and Acts 1:1011.

At the end of all things, I hope I’ll be in the “great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” (Revelation 7:9)

“…The Magi represent the peoples of the whole earth who, in the light of the Lord’s birth, set out on the way leading to Jesus and, in a certain sense, are the first to receive that salvation inaugurated by the Saviour’s birth and brought to fulfilment in the paschal mystery of his Death and Resurrection.
“When they reached Bethlehem, the Magi adored the divine Child and offered him symbolic gifts, becoming forerunners of the peoples and nations which down the centuries never cease to seek and meet Christ….”
(“Epiphany of the Lord,” Pope Saint John Paul II (January 6, 1997))


1 Catholics generally aren’t as jittery about visual aids as the more tightly-wound Christian outfits. We’re told that creating and enjoying art is part of being human. Like anything else we do, art can be misused: but it’s a basically good thing. (July 17, 2016)

We don’t worship statues, pictures, Mary, or anyone other than God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 21122114)

We do, however, recognize that some of us have done a remarkably good job of following our Lord:

VENERATION (OF SAINTS): Showing devotion and respect to Mary, the Apostles, and the martyrs, who were viewed as faithful witnesses to faith in Jesus Christ. Later, veneration was given to those who led a life of prayer and self–denial in giving witness to Christ, whose virtues were recognized and publicly proclaimed in their canonization as saints (828). Such veneration is often extended to the relics or remains of those recognized as saints; indeed, to many sacred objects and images. Veneration must be clearly distinguished from adoration and worship, which are due to God alone (1154, 1674, 2132).”
(Catechism, Glossary)

2 A bit about astrology, astronomy, and science:

3 More about our Lord, Epiphany and the Magi:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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6 Responses to Epiphany Sunday

  1. This is a great article with many good references. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    God bless.

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