Christian views on astrology

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A 17th-century fresco from the Cathedral of Living Pillar in Georgia depicting Jesus within the Zodiac circle

Astrology is seen negatively by modern orthodox Christian doctrine. As Christianity spread, the astrologers lost their influence and reputation. Astrology had small amounts of support in early Christianity, but support waned during the Dark Ages. Support for it grew again in the West during the Renaissance.

Astrology in Christian history[edit]

An astrological wheel located in the main stained glass window of a Presbyterian church found in Canada. The church was finished in 1889. The wheel is not complete, it only contains eight of the twelve signs.

From the start the Christian Church strongly opposed astrology. The noted mathematician Aguila Ponticus was expelled from the Christian communion about the year 120, on account of his astrological heresies.

Once more astrology fell to the level of a vulgar superstition cutting a sorry figure among the classes that still had faith in the occult arts. The peasant held fast to his belief in natural astrology, and to this belief the progress of the art of printing and the spread of popular education contributed largely. For not only were there disseminated among the rural poor "farmer's almanacs", which contained information substantiated by the peasant's own experience, but the printing presses also supplied the peasant with a great mass of cheap and easily understood books containing much fantastic astrological nonsense. The remarkable physical discoveries of recent decades in combination with the growing desire for an elevated philosophico-religious conception of the world and the intensified sensitiveness of the modern cultured man—all these together have caused astrology to emerge from its hiding place among paltry superstitions. The growth of occultistic ideas, which should, perhaps, not be entirely rejected, is reintroducing astrology into society.[1] [emphasis added]

From this lengthy quote, with the final emphasis made to draw a point, it is obvious that, at the time of writing, although the Roman Catholic opinion of astrology was not enthusiastic, there was a small amount of leeway provided to make legitimate use of astrology. Perhaps the intent was to allow astrology to be studied by scholars, theologians, and members of the clergy. It is clearly not in support of modern astrology for divination, personal horary predictions, or for supporting superstitions.

At the same time, it does not seem to be anathema to Catholicism (see heterodoxy). Indeed, the gist of the article seems to be that astrology is merely anathema to modern scientific reasoning and therefore makes its usefulness in Western Christianity a tenuous one. The rise of astrology in and around the church in recent times is seemingly incongruous with modern science, yet it is arguably as present today as it was during the Renaissance, growing even as science advances our knowledge of the cosmos. St. Augustine fought against astrology and sought to prevent its amalgamation with pure natural science. Once more the East prepared a second period of prosperity for astrology.

The conversion of Constantine the Great put an end to the importance of this so-called science, which for five hundred years had ruled the public life of Rome. In 321 Constantine issued an edict threatening all Chaldeans, Magi, and their followers with death. Astrology now disappeared for centuries from the Christian parts of Western Europe. Only the Arabic schools of learning, especially those in Spain after the Moors had conquered the Iberian peninsula, accepted this dubious inheritance from the wisdom of classic times, and among Arabs it became incentive to pure Astronomical research.

Western church leaders throughout history have at times given different amounts of credibility to astrological investigations, predictions, and learning. A major Western orthodox witness to this, the Catholic Encyclopedia, says:

In 321 Constantine issued an edict threatening all Chaldeans, Magi, and their followers with death. Astrology now disappeared for centuries from the Christian parts of Western Europe.

...[E]arly Christian legend distinguished between astronomy and astrology by ascribing the introduction of the former to the good angels and to Abraham while the latter was ascribed to Cham. In particular St. Augustine [...] fought against astrology and sought to prevent its amalgamation with pure natural science.

Emperors and popes became votaries of astrology—Charles IV and V, and Popes Sixtus IV, Julius II, Leo X and Paul III. 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. Regiomontanus, the distinguished Bavarian mathematician practised astrology, which from that time on assumed the character of a bread-winning profession, and as such was not beneath the dignity of so lofty an intellect as Kepler. Thus had astrology once more become the foster-mother of all astronomers. In the judgment of the men of the Renaissance—and this was the age of a Nicholas Copernicus—the most profound astronomical researches and theories were only profitable insofar as they aided in the development of astrology. Among the zealous patrons of the art were the Medici. Catherine de' Medici made astrology popular in France. She erected an astrological observatory for herself near Paris, and her court astrologer was the celebrated "magician" Michel de Notredame (Nostradamus) who in 1555 published his principal work on astrology—a work still regarded as authoritative among the followers of his art. Another well-known man was Lucas Gauricus the court astrologer of Popes Leo X and Clement VII who published a large number of astrological treatises.[1]

Subsequently, this source described the eventual disintegration of astrology in popular, educated Western Christianity due to the perceived superiority of the Copernican system, the rise of experimental investigation in the natural sciences, and disillusionment of the people abused by the "pseudo-prophetic wisdom" of this "astrological humbug."[2] However, as the nineteenth century waned and the twentieth century began, a renewed interest was sparked in "the peasant" and astrology became quite popular again despite its unscientific mysticism.

Dark Ages and Middle Ages[edit]

Up to the time of the Crusades, Christian countries in general were spared any trouble from a degenerate astrology. But the gradually increasing influence of Arabic learning upon the civilization of the West, which reached its highest point at the time of the Crusades was unavoidably followed by the spread of the false theories of astrology. The public importance of astrology grew as the internal disorders of the Church increased and the papal and imperial power declined.

Arabian and Jewish scholars were the representatives of astrology in the Middle Ages, while both Church and State in Christian countries rejected and persecuted this false doctrine and its heathen tendencies. Unfortunately, at the same time the development of astronomy was checked, excepting so far as it was needed to establish certain necessary astronomic principles and to calculate the date of Easter. Yet early Christian legend distinguished between astronomy and astrology by ascribing the introduction of the former to the good angels and to Abraham, while the latter was ascribed to Cham.

Renaissance and Modern history[edit]

In the Renaissance, religion, also, was subordinated to the dictation of astrology. The hypothesis of an astrological epoch of the world for each religion was widely believed by Italian astrologers of the time, who obtained the theory from Arabo-Judaic sources. Thus it was said that the conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn permitted the rise of the Hebrew faith; that of Jupiter with Mars, the appearance of the Chaldaic religion; of Jupiter with the sun, the Egyptian religion; of Jupiter with Venus, Mohammedanism; and of Jupiter with Mercury, Christianity. At some future day the religion of Antichrist was to appear upon the conjunction of Jupiter with the moon.

The influence of the Copernican theory, the war of enlightened minds against pseudo-prophetic wisdom and the increasing perception of the moral and psychical damage wrought by astrological humbug at last brought about a decline in the fortunes of astrology, and that precisely in Wallenstein's time. At the same period astrological tracts were still being written by the most celebrated of English astrologers, William Lilly of Diseworth, Leicestershire.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  • Astrologer William Lilly's book Christian Astrology (1647) is a noted work.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907, Volume II, pp 18-25, Article on Astrology.
  2. ^ Ibid.