Communion of The Epiphany of Our Lord

Matthew 2:2

We have seen His star in the East, and are come with gifts to adore the Lord.


Verse 2. We have seen his star. They knew it to be his star, either by some prophecy among them, or by divine revelation. This star was some lightsome body in the air, which at last seemed to point to them the very place where the world’s Redeemer lay. We know not whether it guided them during the whole course of their journey from the East to Jerusalem. We read nothing more in the gospel, but that it appeared to them in the East, and that they saw it again, upon their leaving Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem. Wi. — The wise men, in the Syrian tongue maguscha, are supposed to have come from Stony Arabia, near the Euphrates. They might have preserved in this country the remembrance of the prophecy of Balaam, which had announced the coming of the Messias by the emblem of a star, (Num. xxiv. 17.) which was to arise from Jacob. The star which appeared then, was the symbol of the star which Balaam had predicted. A.

Catena Aurea

1. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2. Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east, and ar

Aug.: After the miraculous Virgin-birth, a God-man having by Divine power proceeded from a virgin womb; in the obscure shelter of such a cradle, a narrow stall, wherein lay Infinite Majesty in a body more narrow, a God was suckled and suffered the wrapping of vile rags - amidst all this, on a sudden a new star shone in the sky upon the earth, and driving away the darkness of the world, changed night into day; that the day-star should not be hidden by the night. Hence it is that the Evangelist says, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.”

Remig.: In the beginning of this passage of the Gospel he puts three several things; the person, “When Jesus was born,” the place, “in Bethlehem of Judaea,” and the time, “in the days of Herod the king.” These three circumstances verify his words.

Jerome: We think the Evangelist first wrote, as we read in the Hebrew, ‘Judah,’ not ‘Judaea.’ For in what other country is there a Bethlehem, that this needs to be distinguished as in ‘Judaea?’ But ‘Judah’ is written, because there is another Bethlehem in Galilee.

Gloss. ord.: There are two Bethlehems; [Josh 19:15] one in the tribe of Zabulon, the other in the tribe of Judah, which was before called Ephrata.

Aug., de Cons. Evan., 2, 15: Concerning the place, Bethlehem, Matthew and Luke agree; but the cause and manner of their being there, Luke relates, Matthew omits. Luke again omits the account of the Magi, which Matthew gives.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Let us see to what serves this designation of time, “In the days of Herod the king.” It shews the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy, wherein he spake that Christ should be born after seventy weeks of years. For from the time of the prophecy to the reign of Herod, the years of seventy weeks were accomplished. Or again, as long as Judaea was ruled by Jewish princes, though sinners, so long prophets were sent for its amendment; but now, whereas God’s law was held under the power of an unrighteous king, and the righteousness of God enslaved by the Roman rule, Christ is born; the most desperate sickness required the better physician.

Rabanus: Otherwise, he mentions the foreign king to shew the fulfilment of the prophecy. “The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come.” [Gen 49:10]

Ambrose, in Luc., iii, 41: It is said, that some Idumaean robbers coming to Ascalon, brought with them among other prisoners Antipater. [ed. note: The same account of Herod’s parentage is given by Africanus, Euseb. Hist. i. 7. but Josephus says (Antiq. xiv. 1. n. 3. de Bell. Jud. i. 6. n. 2.) that Herod was an Idumaean, of noble birth, and that his father Antipas was governor of Idumaea under Alexander Jannaeus.] He was instructed in the law and customs of the Jews, and acquired the friendship of Hyrcanus, king of Judaea, who sent him as his deputy to Pompey. He succeeded so well in the object of his mission, that he laid claim to a share of the throne. He was put to death, but his son Herod was under Antony appointed king of Judaea, by a decree of the Senate; so it is clear that Herod sought the throne of Judaea without any connection or claim of birth.

Chrys.: “Herod the king,” mentioning his dignity, because there was another Herod who put John to death.

Pseudo-Chrys.: “When He was born … behold wise men,” that is, immediately on His birth, shewing that a great God existed in a little one of man.

Rabanus: The Magi are men who enquire into the nature of things philosophically, but common speech uses Magi for wizards. In their own country, however, they are held in other repute, being the philosophers of the Chaldaeans, in whose lore kings and princes of that nation are taught, and by which themselves knew the birth of the Lord.

Aug., Serm. 202: What were these Magi but the first fruits of the Gentiles? Israelitish shepherds, gentile Magians, one from far, the other from near, hastened to the one Corner-stone. Aug., Serm. 200: Jesus then was manifested neither to the learned nor the righteous; for ignorance belonged to the shepherds, impiety to the idolatrous Magi. Yet does that Corner-stone attract them both to Itself, seeing He came to choose the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and not to call the righteous, but sinners; that nothing great should exalt himself, none weak should despair.

Gloss: These Magi were kings, and though their gifts were three, it is not to be thence inferred that themselves were only three in number, but in them was prefigured the coming to the faith of the nations sprung from the three sons of Noah. Or, the princes were only three, but each brought a large company with him. They came not after a year’s end, for He would then have been found in Egypt, not in the manger, but on the thirteenth day. To shew whence they came it is said, “from the East.”

Remig.: It should be known that opinions vary respecting the Magi. Some say they were Chaldaeans, who are known to have worshipped a star as God; thus their fictitious Deity shewed them the way to the true God. Others think that they were Persians; others again, that they came from the utmost ends of the earth. Another and more probable opinion is, that they were descendants of Balaam, who having his prophecy, “There shall rise a Star out of Jacob,” [Num 24:17] as soon as they saw the star, would know that a King was born.

Jerome: They knew that such a star would rise by the prophecy of Balaam, whose successors they were. But whether they were Chaldaeans, or Persians, or came from the utmost ends of the earth, how in so short a space of time could they arrive at Jerusalem?

Remig.: Some used to answer, ‘No marvel if that boy who was then born could draw them so speedily, though it were from the ends of the earth.’

Gloss: Or, they had dromedaries and Arabian horses, whose great swiftness brought them to Bethlehem in thirteen days.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, they had set out two years before the Saviour’s birth, and though they travelled all that time, neither meat nor drink failed in their scrips.

Remig.: Or, if they were the descendants of Balaam, their kings are not far distant from the land of promise, and might easily come to Jerusalem in that so short time. But why does he write “From the East?” Because surely they came from a country eastward of Judaea. But there is also great beauty in this, They “came out of the East,” seeing all who come to the Lord, come from Him and through Him; as it is said in Zechariah, “Behold the Man whose name is the East.” [Zech 6:12]

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, whence the day springs, thence came the first-fruits of the faith; for faith is the light of the soul. Therefore they came from the East, but to Jerusalem.

Remig.: Yet was not the Lord born there; thus they knew the time but not the place of His birth. Jerusalem being the royal city, they believed that such a child could not be born in any other. Or it was to fulfil that Scripture, “The Law shall go out of Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” [Isa 2:3] And there Christ was first preached. Or it was to condemn the backwardness of the Jews.

Pseudo-Aug., Append. Serm. 132: Many kings of Judaea had been born and died before, yet had Magi ever sought out any of them for adoration? No, for they had not been taught that any of these spoke from heaven. To no ordinary King of Judaea had these men, aliens from the land of Judaea, ever thought such honour due. But they had been taught that this Child was one, in worshipping whom they would certainly secure that salvation which is of God. Neither His age was such as attracts men’s flattery; His limbs not robed in purple, His brow not crowned with a diamond, no pompous train, no awful army, no glorious fame of battles, attracted these men to Him from the remotest countries, with such earnestness of supplication. There lay in a manger a Boy, newly born, of infantine size, of pitiable poverty. But in that small Infant lay hid something great, which these men, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, had learned not of earth but of heaven; as it follows, “We have seen His star in the east.” They announce the vision and ask, they believe and enquire, as signifying those who walk by faith and desire sight.

Greg., M. in Evan., i. 10. n. 4: It should be known that the Priscillianists, heretics who believe every man to be born under the aspect of some planet. cite this text in support of their error; the new star which appeared at the Lord’s birth they consider to have been his fate.

Aug., contr. Faust, ii, 1: And, according to Faustus this introduction of the account of the star would lead us rather to call this part of the history, ‘The Nativity,’ than ‘The Gospel.’

Gregory: But far be it from the hearts of the faithful to call any thing, ‘fate.’

Aug., City of God, book v, ch. 1: For by the word, ‘fate,’ in common acceptation, is meant the disposition of the stars at the moment of a person’s birth or conception; to which some assign a power independent of the will of God. These must be kept at a distance from the ears of all who desire to be worshippers of Gods of any sort. But others think the stars have this virtue committed to them by the great God; wherein they greatly wrong the skies, in that they impute to their splendent host the decreeing of crimes, such as should any earthly people decree, their city should in the judgment of mankind deserve to be utterly destroyed.

Pseudo-Chrys.: If then any should become an adulterer or homicide through means of the planets, how great is the evil and wickedness of those stars, or rather of Him who made them? For as God knows things to come, and what evils are to spring from those stars; if He would not hinder it, He is not good; if He would but could not, He is weak. Again, if it be of the star that we are either good or bad, we have neither merit nor demerit, as being involuntary agents; and why should I be punished for sin which I have done not wilfully, but by necessity? The very commands of God against sin, and exhortations to righteousness, overthrow such folly. For where a man has not power to do, or where he has not power to forbear, who would command him either to do or to forbear?

Gregory Nyss.: How vain moreover is prayer for those who live by fate; Divine Providence is banished from the world together with piety, and man is made the mere instrument of the sidereal motions. For these they say move to action, not only the bodily members, but the thoughts of the mind. In a word, they who teach this, take away all that is in us, and the very nature of a contingency; which is nothing less than to overturn all things. For where will there be free will? but that which is in us must be free.

Augustine, City of God, Book 5, ch. 6: It cannot be said to be utterly absurd to suppose that sidereal afflatus should influence the state of the body, when we see that it is by the approach and departure of the sun that the seasons of the year are varied, and that many things, as shells and the wonderful tides of the Ocean, increase or decrease as the moon waxes or wanes. But not so, to say that the dispositions of the mind are subject to sidereal impulse. Do they say that the stars rather foreshew than effect these results? how then do they explain, that in the life of twins, in their actions, their successes, professions, honours, and all other circumstances of life, there will often be so great diversity, that men of different countries are often more alike in their lives than twins, between whose birth there was only a moment’s, and between whose conception in the womb there was not a moment’s, interval. And the small interval between their births is not enough to account for the great difference between their fates. Some give the name of fate not only to the constitution of the stars, but to all series of causes, at the same time subjecting all to the will and power of God. This sort of subjection of human affairs and fate is a confusion of language which should be corrected, for fate is strictly the constitution of the stars. The will of God we do not call ‘fate,’ unless indeed we will derive the word from ‘speaking;’ as in the Psalms, “God hath spoken once, twice have I heard the same.” [Ps 62:11] There is then no need of much contention about what is merely a verbal controversy.

Aug., cont. Faust. ii, 5: But if we will not subject the nativity of any man to the influence of the stars, in order that we may vindicate the freedom of the will from any chain of necessity; how much less must we suppose sidereal influences to have ruled at His temporal birth, who is eternal Creator and Lord of the universe? The star which the Magi saw, at Christ’s birth according to the flesh, did not rule His fate, but ministered as a testimony to Him. Further, this was not of the number of those stars, which from the beginning of the creation observe their paths of motion according to the law of their Maker; but a star that first appeared at the birth, ministering to the Magi who sought Christ, by going before them till it brought them to the place where the infant God the Word was. According to some astrologers such is the connexion of human fate with the stars, that on the birth of some men stars have been known to leave their courses, and go directly to the new-born. The fortune indeed of him that is born they suppose to be bound up with the course of the stars, not that the course of the stars is changed after the day of any man’s birth. If then this star were of the number of those that fulfil their courses in the heavens, how could it determine what Christ should do, when it was commanded at His birth only to leave its own course? If, as is more probable, it was first created at His birth, Christ was not therefore born because it arose, but the reverse; so that if we must have fate connected with the stars, this star did not rule Christ’s fate, but Christ the stars.

Chrys.: The object of astrology is not to learn from the stars the fact of one’s birth; but from the hour of their nativity to forecast the fate of those that are born. But these men knew not the time of the nativity to have forecast the future from it, but the converse.

Gloss. interlin.: ‘His star,’ i.e. the star He created for a witness of Himself.

Gloss. ord.: To the Shepherds, Angels, and the Magians, a star points out Christ; to both speaks the tongue of Heaven, since the tongue of the Prophets was mute. The Angels dwell in the heavens, the stars adorn it, to both therefore “the heavens declare the glory of God.”

Greg., Hom. in Ev. Lib. i. Hom. 10: To the Jews who used their reason, a rational creature, i.e. an Angel, ought to preach. But the Gentiles who knew not to use their reason are brought to the knowledge of the Lord, not by words, but by signs; to the one prophecy, as to the faithful; to the other signs, as to the unbelievers. One and the same Christ is preached, when of perfect age, by Apostles; when an infant, and not yet able to speak, is announced by a star to the Gentiles; for so the order of reason required; speaking preachers proclaimed a speaking Lord, mute signs proclaimed a mute infant.

Leo, Serm. 33, 2: Christ Himself, the expectation of the nations, that innumerable posterity once promised to the most blessed patriarch Abraham, but to be born not after the flesh, but by the Spirit, therefore likened to the stars for multitude, that from the father of all nations, not an earthly but an heavenly progeny might be looked for. Thus the heirs of that promised posterity, marked out in the stars, are roused to the faith by the rise of a new star, and where the heavens had been at first called in to witness, the aid of Heaven is continued.

Chrys.: This was manifestly not one of the common stars of Heaven. First, because none of the stars moves in this way, from east to south, and such is the situation of Palestine with respect to Persia. Secondly, from the time of its appearance, not in the night only, but during the day. Thirdly, from its being visible and then again invisible; when they entered Jerusalem it hid itself, and then appeared again when they left Herod. Further, it had no stated motion, but when the Magi were to go on, it went before them; when to stop, it stopped like the pillar of cloud in the desert. Fourthly, it signified the Virgin’s delivery, not by being fixed aloft, but by descending to earth, shewing herein like an invisible virtue formed into the visible appearance of a star.

Remig.: Some affirm this star to have been the Holy Spirit; He who descended on the baptized Lord as a dove, appearing to the Magi as a star. Others say it was an Angel, the same who appeared to the shepherds.

Gloss. ord: “In the east.” It seems doubtful whether this refers to the place of the star, or of those that saw it; it might have risen in the east, and gone before them to Jerusalem.

Aug., Serm. 374: Will you ask, from whom had they learned that such an appearance as a star was to signify the birth of Christ? I answer from Angels, by the warning of some revelation. Do you ask, was it from good or ill Angels? Truly even wicked spirits, namely the daemons, confessed Christ to be the Son of God. But why should they not have heard it from good Angels, since in this their adoration of Christ their salvation was sought, not their wickedness condemned? The Angels might say to them, ‘The Star which ye have seen is the Christ. Go ye, worship Him, where He is now born, and see how great is He that is born.’

Leo, Sermon 34, 3: Besides that star thus seen with the bodily eye, a yet brighter ray of truth pierced their hearts; they were enlightened by the illumination of the true faith.

Pseudo-Aug., Hil. Quaest. V. and N. Test. q. 63: They might think that a king of Judaea was born, since the birth of temporal princes is sometimes attended by a star. These Chaldean Magi inspected the stars, not with malevolence, but with the true desire of knowledge; following, it may be supposed, the tradition from Balaam; so that when they saw this new and singular star, they understood it to be that of which Balaam had prophesied, as marking the birth of a King of Judaea.

Leo: What they knew and believed might have been sufficient for themselves, that they needed not to seek to see with the bodily eye, what they saw so clearly with the spiritual. But their earnestness and perseverance to see the Babe was for our profit. It profited us that Thomas, after the Lord’s resurrection, touched and felt the marks of his wounds, and so for our profit the Magians’ eyes looked on the Lord in His cradle.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Were they then ignorant that Herod reigned in Jerusalem? Or that it is a capital treason to proclaim another King while one yet lives? But while they thought on the King to come, they feared not the king that was; while as yet they had not seen Christ, they were ready to die for Him. O blessed Magi! who before the face of a most cruel king, and before having beheld Christ, were made His confessors.