When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Juda in the days of King Herod, behold there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying: Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and are come to adore Him. And king Herod hearing this was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And assembling together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born. But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda. For so it is written by the Prophet: And thou Bethlehem, the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the Captain that shall rule My people Israel. Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them: and sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the Child, and when you have found Him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore Him. Who having heard the king went their way. And behold the star, which they had seen in the East, went before them until it came and stood over where the Child was. And seeing the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering into the house, they found the Child with Mary His mother, [here genuflect] and falling down they adored Him. And opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their country.
Verse 1. King Herod the Great, surnamed Ascalonite, was a foreigner, but a proselyte to the Jewish religion. S. Jerom. — This city is called Bethlehem of Juda, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem, which was situated in the division of the tribe of Zabulon. A. — Wise men. Both the Latin and Greek text may signify wise philosophers and astronomers, which is the common exposition. The same word is also many times taken for a magician or soothsayer, as it is applied to Simon, (Acts viii. 9,) and to Elymas, Acts xiii, v. 6. and 8. Some ancient interpreters think these very men might have been magicians before their conversion. See a Lapide, &c. — From the east. Some say from Arabia, others from Chaldea, others from Persia. Divers interpreters speak of them as if they had been kings, princes, or lords of some small territories. See Baron. an. i. sect. 29. Tillemont, note 12. on Jesus Christ. The number of these wise men is uncertain. S. Leo, in his sermons on the Epiphany, speaks of them as if they had been three, perhaps on account of their three-fold offerings. What is mentioned in later writers as their names, is still of less authority, as Bollandus observed. There are also very different opinions as to the time that the star appeared to these wise men, whether before Christ's birth, or about the very time he was born, which seems more probable. The interpreters are again divided as to the year, and day of the year, when they arrived at Bethlehem, and adored the Saviour of the world. Some think not till two years after Christ's birth. See S. Epiphan. hær. xxx. num. 29. p. 134. And S. Jerom puts the massacre of the Holy Innocents about that time in his chronicle. But taking it for granted that the wise men came to Jerusalem and to Bethlehem the same year that Christ was born, it is not certain on what day of the year they adored him at Bethlehem. It is true the Latin Church, ever since the 4th or 5th age, has kept the feast of the Epiphany on the 6th day of January. But when it is said in that day's office, This day a star led the wise men to the manger, it may bear this sense only, this day we keep the remembrance of it; especially since we read in a sermon of S. Maximus (appointed to be read in the Roman Breviary on the 5th day within the octave of the Epiphany) these words: What happened on this day, he knows that wrought it; whatever it was, we cannot doubt it was done in favour of us. The wise men, by the 11th verse, found Jesus at Bethlehem, where his blessed mother was to remain forty days, till the time of her purification was expired. And it seems most probable that the wise men came to Bethlehem about that time, rather than within thirteen days after Christ's birth: for had they come so soon after Christ was born, and been directed to go, and make diligent inquiry at Bethlehem, which was not above five miles from Jerusalem, it can scarcely be imagined that so suspicious and jealous a prince as Herod was, would have waited almost a month for their return without searching for the new-born king. But it is likely, being again alarmed by what happened when Jesus was presented in the temple at his mother's purification, he thereupon gave those cruel and barbarous orders for the massacre of those innocent infants. Wi.
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.
Verse 3. Through fear of losing his kingdom, he being a foreigner, and had obtained the sovereignty by violence. But why was all Jerusalem to be alarmed at the news of a king so long and so ardently expected? 1. Because the people, well acquainted with the cruelty of Herod, feared a more galling slavery. 2. Through apprehension of riots, and of a revolution, which could not be effected without bloodshed, as the Romans had such strong hold. They had also been so worn down with perpetual wars, that the most miserable servitude, with peace, was to the Jews an object rather of envy than deprecation. A.
Verse 6. And thou Bethlehem, &c. This was a clear prophecy concerning the Messias, foretold by Micheas; (c. v. 2,) yet the words which we read in the evangelist are not quite the same as we find in the prophet, either according to the Hebrew or to the Greek text of the Sept. The chief difference is, that in the prophet we read: And thou Bethlehem art little; but in the evangelist, thou art not the least. Some answer that the words of the prophet are to be expounded by way of an interrogation, art thou little? It is certain the following words, both in the prophet and in the gospel, out of thee shall come forth a leader or a captain, &c. shew that the meaning is, thou art not little. S. Jerom's observation seems to clear this point: he tells us, that the Jewish priests, who were consulted, gave Herod the sense, and not the very words of the prophet; and the evangelist, as an historian, relates to us the words of these priests to Herod, no the very words of the prophet. Wi. — The testimony of the chief priests proves that this text of Micheas was even then generally applied to the Messias, and that to Him alone it must be referred according to the letter. V.
Verse 11. And going into the house. Several of the Fathers in their homilies, represent the wise men adoring Jesus in the stable, and in the manger. yet others, with S. Chrys. take notice, that before their arrival, Jesus might be removed into some little house in Bethlehem. — Prostrating themselves, or falling down, they adored him, not with a civil worship only, but enlightened by divine inspiration, they worshipped and adored him as their Saviour and their God. — Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Divers of the ancient Fathers take notice of the mystical signification of these offerings; that by gold was signified the tribute they paid to him, as to their king; by incense, that he was God; and by myrrh, (with which dead bodies used to be embalmed) that now he was also become a mortal man. See S. Amb. l. 2. in Luc. c. ii. S. Greg. &c. Wi. — The Church sings, “hodie stella Magos duxit ad præsepium,” but it is not probable that the blessed Virgin should remain so long in the open stable, and the less so, because the multitude, who hindered Joseph from finding accommodations either among his relatives or in the public caravansaries, had returned to their own homes. E. — They adored Him. Therefore, in the eucharist also, Christ is to be adored. For it is of no consequence under what appearance he is pleased to give himself to us, whether that of a perfect man, a speechless child as here, or under the appearance of bread and wine, provided it is evident that he is there; for in whatever manner or place he appears, he is true God, and for that alone he is to be adored. Frivolous is the objection of certain sectarists, that Christ does not give himself to us in the blessed eucharist to be adored, but to be eaten. For Christ was not in Bethlehem, nor did he descend from heaven to be adored: He tells us in the xxth chap. of Matthew, v. 28, that the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister; yet he was adored on earth, even while he was in his mortal state, by the magi, by his disciples, by the blind man that was cured of his blindness, &c. &c. “Let us imitate the magi. Thou seest him not now in the crib, but on the altar; not a woman holding him, but the priest present, and the Holy Ghost poured out abundantly upon the sacrifice.” S. Chrys. hom. xxiv. in 1 Cor. Hom. vii. de Sancto Philog.
878 — The Worship and Veneration to be Shown to this Most Holy Sacrament
COUNCIL OF TRENT SESSION XIII (Oct. II, 1551) Decree On the Most Holy Eucharist
There is, therefore, no room left for doubt that all the faithful of Christ in accordance with a custom always received in the Catholic Church offer in veneration [can. 6] the worship of latriawhich is due to the true God, to this most Holy Sacrament. For it is not less to be adored because it was instituted by Christ the Lord to be received [cf. Matt. 26:26 ff.]. For we believe that same God to be present therein, of whom the eternal Father when introducing Him into the world says: “And let all the Angels of God adore Him” [Heb. 1:6; Ps. 96:7], whom the Magi “falling down adored” [cf. Matt. 2:11], who finally, as the Scripture testifies [cf. Matt. 28:17], was adored by the apostles in Galilee. The holy Synod declares, moreover, that this custom was piously and religiously introduced into the Church of God, so that this sublime and venerable sacrament was celebrated every year on a special feast day with extraordinary veneration and solemnity, and was borne reverently and with honor in processions through the streets and public places. For it is most proper that some holy days be established when all Christians may testify, with an extraordinary and unusual expression, that their minds are grateful to and mindful of their common Lord and Redeemer for such an ineffable and truly divine a favor whereby the victory and triumph of His death is represented. And thus, indeed, ought victorious truth to celebrate a triumph over falsehood and heresy, that her adversaries, placed in view of so much splendor and amid such deep joy of the universal Church, may either vanish weakened and broken, or overcome and confounded by shame may some day recover their senses.
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 are come to worship Him.
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.3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4. And when he had gathered all the Chief Priests and Scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5. And they said unto him, "In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6. 'And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.' "
Aug.: As the Magi seek a Redeemer, so Herod fears a successor.
Gloss. ord.: “The King,” he is called, though in comparison with him whom they are seeking he is an alien and a foreigner.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Herod “was troubled” when he heard that a King was born of Jewish lineage, lest, himself being an Idumaean, the kingdom should return again to native princes, and himself be expelled, and his seed after him. Great station is ever obnoxious to great fears; as the boughs of trees planted in high ground move when never so little wind blows, so high men are troubled with little rumours; while the lowly, like trees in the valley, remain at peace.
Aug., Serm. 200, 2: If His birth as an infant makes proud kings tremble, what will His tribunal as a Judge do? Let princes fear Him sitting at the right hand of His Father, whom this impious king feared while He hanged yet on His mother's breast.
Leo: Thou art troubled, Herod, without cause. Thy nature cannot contain Christ, nor is the Lord of the world content with the narrow bounds of thy dominion. He, whom thou wouldest not should reign in Judaea, reigns every where.
Gloss. ord.: Perhaps he was troubled not on his own account, but for fear of the displeasure of the Romans. They would not allow the title of King or of God to any without their permission.
Greg., Hom. in Evan., 1, 10: At the birth of a King of Heaven, a king of earth is troubled; surely, earthly greatness is confounded, when heavenly greatness shews itself.
Leo, Serm. 36, 2: Herod represents the Devil; who as he then instigated him, so now he unweariedly imitates him. For he is grieved by the calling of the Gentiles, and by the daily ruin of his power.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Both have their own causes of jealousy, both fear a successor in their kingdom; Herod an earthly successor, the Devil a spiritual. Even Jerusalem is troubled, which should have rejoiced at that news, when a Jewish King was said to be risen up. But they were troubled, for the wicked cannot rejoice at the coming of the good. Or perhaps it was in fear that Herod should wreak his wrath against a Jewish King on his race.
Gloss. ord.: “Jerusalem was troubled with him,” as willing to favour him whom it feared; the vulgar always pay undue honour to one who tyrannizes over it. Observe the diligence of his enquiry. If he should find him, he would do to him as he shewed afterwards his disposition; if he should not, he would at least be excused to the Romans.
Remig.: They are called Scribes, not from the employment of writing, but from the interpretation of the Scriptures, for they were doctors of the law. Observe, he does not enquire where Christ is born, but where He should be born; the subtle purpose of this was to see if they would shew pleasure at the birth of their King. He calls Him Christ, because he knew that the King of the Jews was anointed.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Why does Herod make this enquiry, seeing he believed not the Scriptures? Or if he did believe, how could he hope to be able to kill Him whom the Scriptures declared should be King? The Devil instigated Herod; who believed that Scripture lies not. Such is the faith of devils, who are not permitted to have perfect belief, even of that which they do believe. That they do believe, it is the force of truth constrains them; that they do not believe, it is that they are blinded by the enemy. If they had perfect faith, they would live as about to depart from this world soon, not as to possess it for ever.
Leo, Serm. 31, 2: The Magi, judging as men, sought in the royal city for Him, whom they had been told was born a King. But He who took the form of a servant, and came not to judge but to be judged, chose Bethlehem for His birth, Jerusalem for His death.
Theodotus, Serm. 1, ap. Conc. Eph.: Had He chosen the mighty city of Rome, it might have been thought that this change of the world had been wrought by the might of her citizens; had He been the son of the emperor, his power might have aided Him. But what was His choice? All that was mean, all that was in low esteem, that in this transformation of the world, divinity might at once be recognized. Therefore He chose a poor woman for His mother, a poor country for His native country; He has no money, and this stable is His cradle.
Gregory, Hom. in Evan., 8, 1: Rightly is He born in Bethlehem, which signifies the house of bread, who said, “I am the living bread, who came down from heaven.”
Pseudo-Chrys.: When they should have kept secret the mystery of the King appointed of God, especially before a foreign king, straightway they became not preachers of the word of God, but revealers of His mystery. And they not only display the mystery, but cite the passage of the prophet, viz. Micah.
Gloss. ord.: He quotes this prophecy as they quote who give the sense and not the words.
Jerome, Epist. 57: The Jews are here blamed for ignorance; for whereas the prophecy says, “Thou Bethlehem Ephrata;” they said, ‘Bethlehem in the land of Judah.’
Pseudo-Chrys.: By cutting short the prophecy, they became the cause of the murder of the Innocents. For the prophecy proceeds, “From thee shall go forth a King who shall feed My people Israel, and His day shall be from everlasting.” Had they cited the whole prophecy, Herod would not have raged so madly, considering that it could not be an earthly King whose days were spoken of as “from everlasting.”
Jerome, in Mich. v. 2: The following is the sense of the prophecy. Thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Judah, or Ephrata, (which is added to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Galilee,) though thou art a small village among the thousand cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall be born Christ, who shall be the Ruler of Israel, who according to the flesh is of the seed of David, but was born of Me before the worlds; and therefore it is written, “His goings forth are of old. In the beginning was the Word.” Gloss: This latter half of the prophecy the Jews dropped; and other parts they altered, either through ignorance, (as was said above,) or for perspicuity, that Herod who was a foreigner might better understand the prophecy; thus for “Ephrata,” they said, “land of Judah;” and for “little among the thousands of Judah,” which expresses its smallness contrasted with the multitude of the people, they said, “not the least among the princes,” willing to shew the high dignity that would come from the birth of the Prince. As if they had said, “Thou art great among cities from which princes have come.”
Remig.: Or the sense is; though little among cities that have dominion, yet art thou not the least, for “out of thee shall come the Ruler, who shall rule My people Israel;” this Ruler is Christ, who rules and guides His faithful people.
Chrys.: Observe the exactness of the prophecy; it is not He shall be in Bethlehem, but shall come out of Bethlehem; shewing that He should be only born there. What reason is there for applying this to Zorobabel, as some do? For his goings forth were not from everlasting; nor did he go forth from Bethlehem, but was born in Babylonia. The expression, “art not the least,” is a further proof, for none but Christ could make the town where He was born illustrious. And after that birth, there came men from the utmost ends of the earth to see the stable and manger. He calls Him not ‘the Son of God,’ but “the Ruler who shall govern My people Israel;” for thus He ought to condescend at the first, that they should not be scandalized, but should preach such things as more pertained to salvation, that they might be gained. “Who shall rule My people Israel,” is said mystically, for those of the Jews who believed; for if Christ ruled not all the Jews, theirs is the blame. Meanwhile he is silent respecting the Gentiles, that the Jews might not be scandalized. Mark this wonderful ordinance; Jews and Magi mutually instruct each other; the Jews learn of the Magi that a star had proclaimed Christ in the east, the Magi from the Jews that the Prophets had spoken of Him of old. Thus confirmed by a twofold testimony, they would look with more ardent faith for One whom the brightness of the star and the voice of the Prophets equally proclaimed.
Aug., Serm. 374. 2, 373. 4: The star that guided the Magi to the spot where was the Infant God with His Virgin Mother, might have conducted them straight to the town; but it vanished, and shewed not itself again to them till the Jews themselves had told them “the place where Christ should be born;” Bethlehem of Judaea. Like in this to those who built the ark for Noah, providing others with a refuge, themselves perished in the flood; or like to the stones by the road that shew the miles, but themselves are not able to move. The enquirers heard and departed; the teachers spake and remained still. Even now the Jews shew us something similar; for some Pagans, when clear passages of Scripture are shewn them, which prophesy of Christ, suspecting them to be forged by the Christians, have recourse to Jewish copies. Thus they leave the Jews to read unprofitably, and go on themselves to believe faithfully.7. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also." 9. Whey they had heard the king, they departed.
Pseudo-Chrys.: As soon as Herod had heard the answer, though doubly authenticated, both by the authority of the Priests, and the passage from the Prophets, he yet turned not to worship the King that was to be born, but sought how he might put Him to death by subtilty. He saw that the Magi were neither to be won by flattery, nor awed by threats, nor bribed by gifts, to consent to this murder; he sought therefore to deceive them; “he privily called the wise men;” that the Jews, whom he suspected, might not know of it. For he thought they would incline the rather to a King of their own nation.
Remig.: “Diligently enquired;” craftily, for he feared they would not return to him, and then he should know how he should do to put the young Child to death.
Pseudo-Aug., Serm. in App. 131, 3: The star had been seen, and with great wonder, nearly two years before. We are to understand that it was signified to them whose the star was, which was visible all that time till He, whom it signified, was born. Then as soon as Christ was made known to them they set out, and came and worshipped Him in thirteen days from the east. [ed. note: This is written upon the notion that the Magi presented themselves to Christ twelve days after His birth, according to the Latin date for celebrating the event. It seems really to have taken place after the Purification, on the return of St. Mary to Bethlehem. However, Aug. (Cons. Evan., ii. 11) places it before the Purification.]
Chrys.: Or, the star appeared to them long time before, because the journey would take up some time, and they were to stand before Him immediately on His birth, that seeing Him in swaddling clothes, He might seem the more wonderful.
Gloss: According to others, the star was first seen on the day of the nativity, and having accomplished its end, ceased to be. Thus Fulgentius [margin note: Serm. de Epiph.] says, “The Boy at His birth created a new star.” Though they now knew both time and place, he still would not have them ignorant of the person of the Child, “Go,” he says, “and enquire diligently of the young Child;” a commission they would have executed even if he had not commanded it.
Chrys.: “Concerning the young Child,” he says, not ‘of the King;’ he envies Him the regal title.
Pseudo-Chrys.: To induce them to do this, he put on the colour of devotion, beneath which he whetted the sword, hiding the malice of his heart under colour of humility. Such is the manner of the malicious, when they would hurt any one in secret, they feign meekness and affection.
Greg., Hom. in Ev. i. 10. 3: He feigns a wish of worshipping Him only that he may discover Him, and put him to death.
Remig.: The Magi obeyed the King so far as to seek the Lord, but not to return to Herod. Like in this to good hearers; the good they hear from wicked preachers, that they do; but do not imitate their evil lives.9. And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
Pseudo-Chrys.: This passage shews, that when the star had brought the Magi nearly to Jerusalem, it was hidden from them, and so they were compelled to ask in Jerusalem, “where Christ should be born?” and thus to manifest Him to them; on two accounts, first, to put to confusion the Jews, inasmuch as the Gentiles instructed only by sight of a star sought Christ through strange lands, while the Jews who had read the Prophets from their youth did not receive Him, though born in their country. Secondly, that the Priests, when asked where Christ should be born, might answer to their now condemnation, and while they instructed Herod, they were themselves ignorant of Him. “The star went before them,” to shew them the greatness of the King.
Aug.: To perform its due service to the Lord, it advanced slowly, leading them to the spot. It was ministering to Him, and not ruling His fate; its light shewed the suppliants and filled the inn, shed over the walls and roof that covered the birth; and thus it disappeared.
Pseudo-Chrys.: What wonder that a divine star should minister to the Sun of righteousness about to rise. It stood over the Child's head, as it were, saying, ‘This is He;’ proving by its place what it had no voice to utter.
Gloss. Anselm: It is evident that the star must have been in the air, and close above the house where the Child was, else it would not have pointed out the exact house.
Ambrose, in Luc. 2, 45: The star is the way, and the way is Christ; and according to the mystery of the incarnation, Christ is a star. He is a blazing and a morning-star. Thus where Herod is, the star is not seen; where Christ is, there it is again seen, and points out the way.
Remig.: Or, the star figures the grace of God, and Herod the Devil. He, who by sin puts himself in the Devil's power, loses that grace; but if he return by repentance, he soon finds that grace again which leaves him not till it have brought him to the young Child's house, i.e. the Church.
Gloss. ord.: Or, the star is the illumination of faith, which leads him to the nearest aid; while they turn aside to the Jews, the Magi lose it; so those who seek counsel of the bad, lose the true light.10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 11. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Gloss: This service of the star is followed by the rejoicing of the Magi.
Remig.: And it was not enough to say, “They rejoiced,” but “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”
Pseudo-Chrys.: They rejoiced, because their hopes were not falsified but confirmed, and because the toil of so great travel had not been undertaken in vain.
Gloss. ord.: He rejoices indeed who rejoices on God's account, who is the true joy. “With great joy,” he says, for they had great cause.
Pseudo-Chrys.: By the mystery of this star they understood that the dignity of the King then born exceeded the measure of all worldly kings.
Remig.: He adds, “greatly,” shewing that men rejoice more over what they have lost than over what they possess.
Leo, Serm. in Epiph., 4. 3: Though in stature a babe, needing the aid of others, unable to speak, and different in nothing from other infants, yet such faithful witnesses, shewing the unseen Divine Majesty which was in Him, ought to have proved most certainly that was the Eternal Essence of the Son of God that had taken upon Him the true human nature.
Pseudo-Chrys.: “Mary His mother,” not crowned with a diadem or laying on a golden couch; but with barely one garment, not for ornament but for covering, and that such as the wife of a carpenter when abroad might have. Had they therefore come to seek an earthly king, they would have been more confounded than rejoiced, deeming their pains thrown away. But now they looked for a heavenly King; so that though they saw nought of regal state, that star's witness sufficed them, and their eyes rejoiced to behold a despised Boy, the Spirit shewing Him to their hearts in all His wonderful power, they fell down and worshipped, seeing the man, they acknowledged the God.
Rabanus: Joseph was absent by Divine command, that no wrong suspicions might occur to the Gentiles.
Gloss, Anselm: in these offerings we observe their national customs, gold, frankincense, and various spices abounding among the Arabians; yet they intended thereby to signify something in mystery.
Greg., Hom. in Evan., 1, 106: Gold, as to a King; frankincense, as sacrifice to God; myrrh, as embalming the body of the dead.
Aug.: Gold, as paid to a mighty King; frankincense, as offered to God; myrrh, as to one who is to die for the sins of all.
Pseudo-Chrys.: And though it were not then understood what these several gifts mystically signified, that is no difficulty; the same grace that instigated them to the deed, ordained the whole.
Remig.: And it is to be known that each did not offer a different gift, but each one the three kings, each one thus proclaiming the King, the God, and the man.
Chrys.: Let Marcion and Paul of Samosata then blush, who will not see what the Magi saw, those progenitors of the Church adoring God in the flesh. That He was truly in the flesh, the swaddling clothes and the stall prove; yet that they worshipped Him not as mere man, but as God, the gifts prove which it was becoming to offer to a God. Let the Jews also be ashamed, seeing the Magi coming before them, and themselves not even earnest to tread in their path.
Greg.: Something further may yet be meant here. Wisdom is typified by gold; as Solomon saith in the Proverbs, “A treasure to be desired is in the mouth of the wise.” By frankincense, which is burnt before God, the power of prayer is intended, as in the Psalms, “Let my speech come before thee as incense.” [Ps 141:2] In myrrh is figured mortification of the flesh. To a king at his birth we offer gold, if we shine in his sight with the light of wisdom; we offer frankincense, if we have power before God by the sweet savour of our prayers; we offer myrrh, when we mortify by abstinence the lusts of the flesh.
Gloss, Anselm: The three men who offer, signify the nations who come from the three quarters of the earth. They open their treasures, i.e. manifest the faith of their hearts by confession. Rightly “in the house,” teaching that we should not vaingloriously display the treasure of a good conscience. They bring “three” gifts, i.e. the faith in the Holy Trinity. Or opening the stores of Scripture, they offer its threefold sense, historical, moral and allegorical; or Logic, Physic, and Ethics, making them all serve the faith.12. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Aug.: The wicked Herod, now made cruel by fear, will needs do a deed of horror. But how could he ensnare him who had come to cut off all fraud? His fraud is escaped as it follows, “And being warned.”
Jerome: They had offered gifts to the Lord, and receive a warning corresponding to it. This warning (in the Greek ‘having received a response’) is given not by an Angel, but by the Lord Himself, to shew the high privilege granted to the merit of Joseph.
Gloss. ord.: This warning is given by the Lord Himself; it is none other that now teaches these Magi the way they should return, but He who said, “I am the way.” [John 14:6] Not that the Infant actually speaks to them, that His divinity may not be revealed before the time, and His human nature may be thought real. But he says, “having received an answer,” for as Moses prayed silently, so they with pious spirit had asked what the Divine will bade. “By another way,” for they were not to be mixed up with the unbelieving Jews.
Chrys., Hom. 8: See the faith of the Magi; they were not offended, nor said within themselves, What need now of flight? or of secret return, if this Boy be really some great one? Such is true faith; it asks not the reason of any command, but obeys.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Had the Magi sought Christ as an earthly King, they would have remained with Him when they had found Him; but they only worship, and go their way. After their return, they continued in the worship of God more steadfast than before, and taught many by their preaching. And when afterwards Thomas reached their country, they joined themselves to him, and were baptized, and did according to his preaching. [ed. note: S. Thomas is said to have preached to the Parthians, Persians, or Indians. Euseb. Hist. iii. 1. Clem. Recogn. ix. 29. Greg. Naz. Or. 25. p. 438. The Margi are mentioned, Pseudo-Hippol. de Duod. Apost. (ed. Fabr. Append. p. 30) Combefis conjecturing Mardi.]
Greg., Hom. in Ev. i. 10. 7: We may learn much from this return of the Magi another way. Our country is Paradise, to which, after we have come to the knowledge of Christ we are forbidden to return the way we came. We have left this country by pride, disobedience, following things of sight, tasting, forbidden food; and we must return to it by repentance, obedience, by contemning things of sight, and overcoming carnal appetite.
Pseudo-Chrys.: It was impossible that they, who left Herod to go to Christ, should return to Herod. They who have by sin left Christ and passed to the devil, often return to Christ; for the innocent, who knows not what is evil, is easily deceived, but having once tasted the evil he has taken up, and remembering the good he has left, he returns in penitence to God. He who has forsaken the devil and come to Christ, hardly returns to the devil; for rejoicing in the good he has found, and remembering the evil he has escaped, with difficulty returns to that evil.