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 had small amounts of support in early Christianity, but support waned during the Middle Ages. Support for it grew again in the West during the Renaissance.

Ancient[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.

St. Augustine (354-430) believed that the determinism of astrology conflicted with the Christian doctrines of man's free will and responsibility, and God not being the cause of evil,[1] but he also grounded his opposition philosophically, citing the failure of astrology to explain twins who behave differently although conceived at the same moment and born at approximately the same time.[2]

Mediæval[edit]

Dante Alighieri meets the Emperor Justinian in the Sphere of Mercury, in Canto 5 of the Paradiso.

The first astrological book published in Europe was the Liber Planetis et Mundi Climatibus ("Book of the Planets and Regions of the World"), which appeared between 1010 and 1027 AD, and may have been authored by Gerbert of Aurillac.[3] Ptolemy's second century AD Tetrabiblos was translated into Latin by Plato of Tivoli in 1138.[3] The Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas followed Aristotle in proposing that the stars ruled the imperfect 'sublunary' body, while attempting to reconcile astrology with Christianity by stating that God ruled the soul.[4] The thirteenth century mathematician Campanus of Novara is said to have devised a system of astrological houses that divides the prime vertical into 'houses' of equal 30° arcs,[5] though the system was used earlier in the East.[6] The thirteenth century astronomer Guido Bonatti wrote a textbook, the Liber Astronomicus, a copy of which King Henry VII of England owned at the end of the fifteenth century.[5]

In Paradiso, the final part of the Divine Comedy, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri referred "in countless details"[7] to the astrological planets, though he adapted traditional astrology to suit his Christian viewpoint,[7] for example using astrological thinking in his prophecies of the reform of Christendom.[8]

Objections[edit]

The medieval theologian Isidore of Seville criticized the predictive part of astrology.

In the seventh century, Isidore of Seville argued in his Etymologiae that astronomy described the movements of the heavens, while astrology had two parts: one was scientific, describing the movements of the sun, the moon and the stars, while the other, making predictions, was theologically erroneous.[9][10] In contrast, John Gower in the fourteenth century defined astrology as essentially limited to the making of predictions.[9][11] The influence of the stars was in turn divided into natural astrology, with for example effects on tides and the growth of plants, and judicial astrology, with supposedly predictable effects on people.[12][13] The fourteenth century skeptic Nicole Oresme however included astronomy as a part of astrology in his Livre de divinacions.[14] Oresme argued that current approaches to prediction of events such as plagues, wars, and weather were inappropriate, but that such prediction was a valid field of inquiry. However, he attacked the use of astrology to choose the timing of actions (so-called interrogation and election) as wholly false, and rejected the determination of human action by the stars on grounds of free will.[14][15] The friar Laurens Pignon (c. 1368–1449)[16] similarly rejected all forms of divination and determinism, including by the stars, in his 1411 Contre les Devineurs.[17] This was in opposition to the tradition carried by the Arab astronomer Albumasar (787-886) whose Introductorium in Astronomiam and De Magnis Coniunctionibus argued the view that both individual actions and larger scale history are determined by the stars.[18]

Renaissance[edit]

'An Astrologer Casting a Horoscope' from Robert Fludd's Utriusque Cosmi Historia, 1617

Renaissance scholars often practised astrology to pay for their research into other subjects.[19] Gerolamo Cardano cast the horoscope of king Edward VI of England, while John Dee was the personal astrologer to queen Elizabeth I of England.[19] Catherine de Medici paid Michael Nostradamus in 1566 to verify the prediction of the death of her husband, king Henry II of France made by her astrologer Lucus Gauricus.[19] Major astronomers who practised as court astrologers included Tycho Brahe in the royal court of Denmark, Johannes Kepler to the Habsburgs and Galileo Galilei to the Medici.[19] The astronomer and spiritual astrologer Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for heresy in Rome in 1600.[19]

Ephemerides with complex astrological calculations, and almanacs interpreting celestial events for use in medicine and for choosing times to plant crops, were popular in Elizabethan England.[20] In 1597, the English mathematician and physician Thomas Hood made a set of paper instruments that used revolving overlays to help students work out relationships between fixed stars or constellations, the midheaven, and the twelve astrological houses.[21] Hood's instruments also illustrated, for pedagogical purposes, the supposed relationships between the signs of the zodiac, the planets, and the parts of the human body adherents believed were governed by the planets and signs.[21][22] While Hood's presentation was innovative, his astrological information was largely standard and was taken from Gerard Mercator's astrological disc made in 1551, or a source used by Mercator.[23][24]

English astrology had reached its zenith by the 17th century.[25] Astrologers were theorists, researchers, and social engineers, as well as providing individual advice to everyone from monarchs downwards. Among other things, astrologers could advise on the best time to take a journey or harvest a crop, diagnose and prescribe for physical or mental illnesses, and predict natural disasters. This underpinned a system in which everything—people, the world, the universe—was understood to be interconnected, and astrology co-existed happily with religion, magic and science.[26]

Enlightenment period[edit]

During the Enlightenment, intellectual sympathy for astrology fell away, leaving only a popular following supported by cheap almanacs.[27] One English almanac compiler, Richard Saunders, followed the spirit of the age by printing a derisive Discourse on the Invalidity of Astrology, while in France Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire of 1697 stated that the subject was puerile.[27] The Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift ridiculed the Whig political astrologer John Partridge.[27]

Modern[edit]

Astrology saw a popular revival starting in the 19th century, as part of a general revival of spiritualism and, later, New Age philosophy,[28]:239–249 and through the influence of mass media such as newspaper horoscopes.[28]:259–263 Early in the 20th century the psychiatrist Carl Jung developed some concepts concerning astrology,[29] which led to the development of psychological astrology.[28]:251–256[30][31]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church maintains that divination, including predictive astrology, is incompatible with modern Catholic beliefs[32] such as free will:[2]

All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.[33]

—Catechism of the Catholic Church

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ Veenstra, J.R. (1997). Magic and Divination at the Courts of Burgundy and France: Text and Context of Laurens Pignon's "Contre les Devineurs" (1411). Brill. pp. 184–185. ISBN 978-90-04-10925-4. 
  2. ^ a b Hess, Peter M.J.; Allen, Paul L. (2007). Catholicism and science (1st ed.). Westport: Greenwood. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-313-33190-9. 
  3. ^ a b Campion, 1982. p. 44.
  4. ^ Campion, 1982. p. 45.
  5. ^ a b Campion, 1982. p. 46.
  6. ^ North, John David (1986). "The eastern origins of the Campanus (Prime Vertical) method. Evidence from al-Bīrūnī". Horoscopes and history. Warburg Institute. pp. 175–176. 
  7. ^ a b Durling, Robert M. (January 1997). "Dante's Christian Astrology. by Richard Kay. Review". Speculum 72 (1): 185–187. JSTOR 2865916. Dante's interest in astrology has only slowly been gaining the attention it deserves. In 1940 Rudolf Palgen published his pioneering eighty-page Dantes Sternglaube: Beiträge zur Erklärung des Paradiso, which concisely surveyed Dante's treatment of the planets and of the sphere of fixed stars; he demonstrated that it is governed by the astrological concept of the "children of the planets" (in each sphere the pilgrim meets souls whose lives reflected the dominant influence of that planet) and that in countless details the imagery of the Paradiso is derived from the astrological tradition. ... Like Palgen, he [Kay] argues (again, in more detail) that Dante adapted traditional astrological views to his own Christian ones; he finds this process intensified in the upper heavens. 
  8. ^ Woody, Kennerly M. (1977). "Dante and the Doctrine of the Great Conjunctions". Dante Studies, with the Annual Report of the Dante Society 95: 119–134. JSTOR 40166243. It can hardly be doubted, I think, that Dante was thinking in astrological terms when he made his prophecies. [The attached footnote cites Inferno. I, lOOff.; Purgatorio. xx, 13-15 and xxxiii, 41; Paradiso. xxii, 13-15 and xxvii, 142-148.] 
  9. ^ a b Wood, 1970. p. 5
  10. ^ Isidore of Seville (c. 600). Etymologiae. pp. L, 82, col. 170. 
  11. ^ Gower, John (1390). Confessio Amantis. pp. VII, 670–84. Assembled with Astronomie / Is ek that ilke Astrologie / The which in juggementz acompteth / Theffect, what every sterre amonteth, / And hou thei causen many a wonder / To tho climatz that stonde hem under. 
  12. ^ Wood, 1970. p. 6
  13. ^ Allen, Don Cameron (1941). Star-crossed Renaissance. Duke University Press. p. 148. 
  14. ^ a b Wood, 1970. pp. 8–11
  15. ^ Coopland, G. W. (1952). Nicole Oresme and the Astrologers: A Study of his Livre de Divinacions. Harvard University Press; Liverpool University Press. 
  16. ^ Vanderjagt, A.J. (1985). Laurens Pignon, O.P.: Confessor of Philip the Good. Venlo, The Netherlands: Jean Mielot. 
  17. ^ Veenstra, 1997. pp. 5, 32, passim
  18. ^ Veenstra, 1997. p. 184
  19. ^ a b c d e Campion, 1982. p. 47.
  20. ^ Harkness, Deborah E. (2007). The Jewel House. Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. Yale University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-300-14316-4. 
  21. ^ a b Harkness, Deborah E. (2007). The Jewel House. Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. Yale University Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0-300-14316-4. 
  22. ^ Astronomical diagrams by Thomas Hood, Mathematician (Vellum, in oaken cases). British Library (Add. MSS. 71494, 71495): British Library. c. 1597. 
  23. ^ Johnston, Stephen (July 1998). "The astrological instruments of Thomas Hood". XVII International Scientific Instrument Symposium. Soro. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  24. ^ Vanden Broeke, Steven (2001). "Dee, Mercator, and Louvain Instrument Making: An Undescribed Astrological Disc by Gerard Mercator (1551)". Annals of Science 58: 219–240. doi:10.1080/00033790016703. 
  25. ^ Cummins A (2012) The Starry Rubric: Seventeenth-Century English Astrology and Magic, p. 3. France:Hadean Press
  26. ^ Cummins A (2012) The Starry Rubric: Seventeenth-Century English Astrology and Magic, p. 43–45. France:Hadean Press
  27. ^ a b c Porter, Roy (2001). Enlightenment: Britain and the Creation of the Modern World. Penguin. pp. 151–152. ISBN 0-14-025028-X. he did not even trouble readers with formal disproofs! 
  28. ^ a b c Campion, Nicholas (2009). History of western astrology. Volume II, The medieval and modern worlds. (first ed.). London: Continuum. ISBN 978-1-4411-8129-9. At the same time, in Switzerland, the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) was developing sophisticated theories concerning astrology ... 
  29. ^ Jung, C.G.; Hull, edited by Gerhard Adler, in collaboration with Aniela Jaffé; translations from the German by R.F.C. (19uu). C.G. Jung Letters: 1906–1950. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-09895-1. Letter from Jung to Freud, 12 June 1911 "I made horoscopic calculations in order to find a clue to the core of psychological truth."  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  30. ^ Gieser, Suzanne. The Innermost Kernel, Depth Psychology and Quantum Physics. Wolfgang Pauli's Dialogue with C.G.Jung, (Springer, Berlin, 2005) p. 21 ISBN 3-540-20856-9
  31. ^ Campion, Nicholas. "Prophecy, Cosmology and the New Age Movement. The Extent and Nature of Contemporary Belief in Astrology."(Bath Spa University College, 2003) via Campion, Nicholas, History of Western Astrology, (Continuum Books, London & New York, 2009) pp. 248, 256, ISBN 978-1-84725-224-1
  32. ^ editor, Peter M.J. Stravinskas, (1998). Our Sunday visitor's Catholic encyclopedia (Rev. ed.). Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor Pub. p. 111. ISBN 0-87973-669-0. 
  33. ^ "Catechism of the Catholic Church - Part 3". Retrieved 8 July 2012.