Powerful Rulers Bible
Sympathy Root Cause
Apologetics Augustine's Objection
Creature and Creator New Age
The Magi

LogoPowerful Rulers

Neoplatonist author Proclus, in his commentary on Plato's Timaeus, calls the planets "cosmocrators," another way of saying 'archons' or 'rulers:'

  • “For what are called the planets, are cosmocrators, or governors of the world, and are allotted a total power. And as the inerratic sphere has a number of starry animals, so likewise each of the planets is the leader of a multitude of animals, or of certain other things of this kind.”
  • (Proclus, Commentary on Plato's Timaeus, Book IV, translated by Thomas Taylor, p. 694).

LogoWhen astrology was first devised, this was the operative assumption: that the stars were powerful forces which determined events upon this earth by their own influence: "Some persons have conceived that the sun, and the moon, and the other stars are independent gods, to whom they have attributed the causes of all things that exist." (Philo Judaeus, On Monarchy, Book I, Chapter I). The concept is not so much that they are, in some mysterious way, in sync with events here below, so as to serve as advance notice, but that they actually cause earthly events to fall out the way they do:

“The scripture proceeds: 'And he said unto him I am God, who brought thee out of the land of the Chaldaeans, so as to give thee this land to inherit it.” These words exhibit not only a promise, but a confirmation of an ancient promise; for the good which was previously bestowed upon him was the departure from the Chaldaean philosophy, which was occupied about the things of the air, which taught men to suppose that the world was not the work of God, but was God himself; and that good and evil is caused in the case of all existing things, by the motions and fixed periodical revolutions of the stars, and that on these motions the origin of all good and evil depends. . ." (Philo Judaeus, Who is the Heir of Divine Things? Chapter XX).

Though the ancient astrologers seem to have believed that the stars ruled the world, modern practitioners of the astrological system mostly do not, as far as I can tell. People nowadays would mostly concede our companions and fellow-travellers in our journey round the sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn (Neptune and Uranus were unknown to the ancients) exert little gravitational attraction, emit little reflected light to earth, not so much as a flashlight, and are not in fact any powerful influence in what happens down here.

Neither are they sentient nor intentional beings, although this assumption is foundational to their identification as cosmocrators: "That Plato denominates the sun and moon, and the other five stars, as animals endued with soul and intellect, is manifest from his adding in what is now said, that the divinity made the bodies of each of them; in consequence of the stars themselves being intellectual and vital." (Proclus, Commentary on Plato's Timaeus, All Five Books, Book IV, p. 695). Nevertheless astrology is still very popular in our day; given the population increase, there are likely more people alive today who follow their horoscopes than ever did so in antiquity. It is up in the air how the modern system works; the older system assigned all power to the seven heavenly bodies, not only to influence, but to determine, what happens here below:

"What the animation is of the bodies of the seven cosmocrators, and what the order, has been shown through what has been already said. But how each of them is an animal, and is suspended from a more divine soul, and what each contributes to the perfection of the universe, Plato delivers in these words, to those who are able to perceive his meaning. For each of them is allotted an appropriate life and motion. For since the demiurgic sacred law distributes to each of the mortal natures that which is adapted to it, what will you say concerning the leaders and rulers of the universe? Must it not be this, that they receive from the father that which is adapted to them and is their good, and that being resplendent with beauty they not only co-operate with the father in the generation of time, but also lead and govern the whole world?" (Proclus, Commentary on Plato's Timaeus, translated by Thomas Taylor, Book IV, p. 705).

Readers may object to classing planets with stars, but in the terminology of the ancient astronomy, stars are 'fixed stars' and planets are 'wandering stars.' Since people today call meteorites 'falling stars,' we are hardly in a position to cast stones. The relation between the tangible objects up there and the powerful, world-ruling gods was difficult to define; are the gods as it were the souls of these composite beings, comprised of body and soul as are we, or are they just along for the ride?: "If, therefore, these divinities as being incorporeal, intellectual, and united, ride as it were in the celestial spheres, they have their origin in the intelligible world, and there intellectually perceiving the divine forms of themselves they govern the whole of heaven according to one infinite energy." (Proclus' On the Theology of Plato, by Thomas Taylor, Volume II, Book VII [Proclus' Book VII is missing, Taylor, a British enthusiast for the old pagan system, supplies it in his place], Chapter IV, p. 453). Possibly the earliest pagan theologians who initiated the system never asked, though for pagan theurgists like Proclus who wanted to merge Platonic philosophy with the earlier established Greek paganism, it was an issue, because the Platonists would really have preferred incorporeal and intellectual deities yet are stuck with these shiny things.

  • “Since however, Plato says, that the figures and motions of the heavenly bodies cause terror, and exhibit tokens of future events, to such as are able to discover their signification, it is requisite to observe, that they not only signify future events, but also are tokens of past events. Hence also he makes mention of energies which are in themselves precedaneously significant. But Theophrastus says, that in his time, the theory of the Chaldeans, about these things, was most admirable, as it predicted both other particulars, and the life and death of each individual, and not common events only, such as stormy and fair weather.”
  • (Proclus, Commentary on Plato's Timaeus, Book IV, translated by Thomas Taylor, pp. 772-773).

On the assumption that the sun, moon and planets control events in our world, keeping track of their peregrinations makes sense. On any other assumption, less so. To be sure, some of the systems of divination popular in pagan antiquity did not make any claim to have unravelled a secret system of causation. Foretelling the future by studying the flight patterns of birds, for instance, did not arise from any conviction that birds rule the world. Rather, this was imagined to be some sort of communication in code from those archons who did rule the world, or else some phenomenon produced in harmony by the same cause, as the pen of a pantograph draws, not over the lines traced, but a design proportional to the lines traced. Nineteenth century Neopagan Thomas Taylor suggests the configurations into which the rulers align themselves are a communication medium: "For they extend terrific appearances and signs to those who are able to see and read the letters in the universe, which the framers of mortal natures during their revolutions write by their configurations." (Proclus' On the Theology of Plato, translated by Thomas Taylor, Volume II, Book VII, Chapter XII, p. 475).

Most modern astrology buffs would, I suspect, make some such claim for their 'science' as this: that it proceeds from hidden correspondences in the world, a secret sympathy, not any direct chain of causation as its originators imagined. However even this semaphore system is somewhat at odds with the power of gravitation, which takes these objects where they must go, not allowing much free play for penmanship. While some enthusiasts have revived the old pagan theology almost in its entirety, I suspect the typical modern horoscope reader believes more in a system with no working parts, a vehicle whose motor and wheels have been removed and put up on blocks. It wasn't so at the start:

"For the Chaldaeans were, above all nations, addicted to the study of astronomy, and attributed all events to the motions of the stars, by which they fancied that all the things in the world were regulated, and accordingly they magnified the visible essence by the powers which numbers and the analogies of numbers contain, taking no account of the invisible essence appreciable only by the intellect. But while they were busied in investigating the arrangement existing in them with reference to the periodical revolutions of the sun, and moon, and the other planets, and fixed-stars, and the changes of the seasons of the year, and the sympathy of the heavenly bodies with the things of earth, they were led to imagine that the world itself was God, in their impious philosophy comparing the creature to the Creator." (Philo Judaeus, On Abraham, Chapter XV).

Modern practitioners of this discipline should realize the original claim was causation; sympathy is a scaled-down version, more palatable perhaps but no more effectual:

"What hints experience did to search impart
They joined, and observation grew to art;
Thus rules were framed, for by example shown
They knew what would be, from what had been done;
They saw the stars their constant round maintain,
Perform their course, and then return again;
They on their aspects saw the Fates attend,
Their change on their variety depend;
And thence they fixed unalterable laws,
Settling the same effect on the same cause."
(Manilius, The Science of Nature, Modern Library, The Latin Poets, p. 498).

There isn't really any cause and effect here, and few I think would defend it that way today. But the people who invented the system thought so:

"For Fate rules all, its stubborn laws must sway
The lower world, and man confined obey.
As we are born we die, our lots are cast,
And our first hour disposeth of our last.
Then as the influence of the stars ordains,
To empires kings are doomed, and slaves to chains."
(Manilius, The Rule of Fate, p. 502, Modern Library, The Latin Poets).

Since one really can't envision any mechanism by which the stars could, even if they wished, doom any one to chains, this viewpoint has fallen by the wayside. Moreover, the strong form of astrology, that the stars are "powerful rulers" who determine human destiny, is pagan to the core.


LogoThe Bible

The Bible does not leave much room for the practice of any of the pagan forms of divination:

"When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you." (Deuteronomy 18:9-14).

If you take 'don't do it' in its most natural signification, as meaning 'don't do it,' then divination is out.



The weaker form of astrology, which I suspect is what most modern practitioners would defend, does not submit that the stars and planets are powerful rulers who determine human destiny. Rather, it asserts that there is a universal harmony or sympathy, as expressed by the Neoplatonic philosopher Plotinus:

"All teems with symbol; the wise man is the man who in any one thing can read another, a process familiar to all of us in not a few examples of everyday experience.
"But what is the comprehensive principle of co-ordination? Establish this and we have a reasonable basis for the divination, not only by stars but also by birds and other animals, from which we derive guidance in our varied concerns.
"All things must be enchained; and the sympathy and correspondence obtaining in any one closely knit organism must exist, first, and most intensely, in the All. There must be one principle constituting this unit of many forms of life and enclosing the several members within the unity, while at the same time, precisely as in each thing of detail the parts too have each a definite function, so in the All each several member must have its own task — but more markedly so since in this case the parts are not merely members but themselves Alls, members of the loftier Kind."
(Plotinus, The Enneads, The Second Ennead, Third Tractate, Section 7).

Plotinus did not believe in the strong form of astrology, that of causation, but he did believe in the predictive value of star-study: "That the circuit of the stars indicates definite events to come but without being the cause direct of all that happens, has been elsewhere affirmed. . ." (Plotinus, The Enneads, The Second Ennead, Third Tractate, Section 1). He defends the practice on the basis of sympathy or harmony. It is difficult to wrap one's thoughts around this mind-boggling concept, that everything is connected to everything else. The idea of universal sympathy or correspondence is not so directly contradictory to monotheism as is the strong form of the doctrine.

However, the inutility of astrology continues to strike the inquirer. Jacob and Esau were born at the same time and in the same place, but "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." (Romans 9:13).


LogoRoot Cause

When the pagans invented these systems, they were not looking for correspondence. This is a later, fall-back position. Divination aims, at its heart, for causes, not simply for concomitants, although astrology would later by salvaged by weaker claims. Once you have uncovered the cause of a phenomenon, you can be fairly confident in basing predictions upon it:

  • “But the one right boundary, and the one principle of all these particulars, is by no means to produce without a cause the foreknowledge of futurity, from things which have no prescience in themselves, but to survey from the Gods who contain in themselves the terminations of all the knowledge of beings, divination distributed about the whole world, and about all the natures that are separately contained in it. For such a cause as this is primordial, and is especially most common, containing in itself primarily those things which it gives to its participants, and particularly imparting truth, of which divination is in want; and antecedently comprehending the essence and cause of future events, from which foreknowledge necessarily and incessantly proceeds.”
  • (Iamblichus, On the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians, Section III, Chapter I, p. 66).

LogoThe success rate of this system of predication was abysmal from the start, leading to persecution:

"Cn. Cornelius Hispalus, Foreign Praetor, in the Consulship of M. Popillius Laenas and L. Calpurnius, ordered the astrologers by edict to leave Rome and Italy within ten days. For they spread profitable darkness with their lies over frivolous and foolish minds by fallacious interpretation of the stars." (Valerius Maximus, Book I.3, p. 47 Loeb edition).

While this approach is wrong,— the remedy for bad speech is more speech!— the astrologers were beyond controversy spreading "profitable darkness." The early astrologers were quite forthright in their predictions, a dangerous strategy. Some of their modern successors have scaled down these claims: "When Brinkley consulted astrologer Evangeline Adams of New York City, America's most fashionable seer, she gave him a mild scolding at first: 'I still feel that you expect too much from Astrology, and that you do not realize that it is only one factor in determining what will happen. . .For instance, if you choose to throw yourself in front of an express train on one of your lucky days, it will kill you just the same as though it were one of your bad ones.'" (Charlatan, Pope Brock, pp. 182-183). If the day you got run over by an express train was a 'lucky day,' the predictive value of this discipline is not high.

Sometimes the astrologers got it right, often they got it wrong. Those in the early church who disputed with them realized that some of the time the astrologers had to get it right. A stopped clock is right twice a day! The unknown author of the Clementine Homilies was aware that practitioners of astrology tended to chalk up the 'misses' to the interpreter's imperfect understanding of the 'science,' but to credit the art with the successes. As the author points out, one might with equal logic ascribe the lucky hits, not the failutres, to accident:

"'I know, indeed, that astrologers both make many mistakes, and frequently speak the truth. I suspect, therefore, that they speak the truth so far as they are accurately acquainted with the science, and that their mistakes are the result of ignorance; so that I conjecture that the science has a firm foundation, but that the astrologers themselves speak what is false solely on account of ignorance, because they cannot know all things with absolute accuracy.' And Peter answered: 'Consider whether their speaking of the truth is not accidental, and whether they do not make their declarations without knowing the matters accurately. For it must by all means happen that, when many prophecies are uttered, some of them should come true.'" (Clementine Homilies, Homily 14, Chapter 11, p. 685).

  • “You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels; let now the astrologers, the stargazers, and the monthly prognosticators stand up and save you from what shall come upon you.
  • “Behold, they shall be as stubble, the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame; it shall not be a coal to be warmed by, nor a fire to sit before!
  • “Thus shall they be to you with whom you have labored, your merchants from your youth; they shall wander each one to his quarter. No one shall save you.”
  • (Isaiah 47:13-15).


The Bible incorporates considerable argumentation against the religion of the nations and in favor of monotheism. Imagine a confrontation between a Chaldean star-worshipper and a Biblical monotheist. The Biblicist leads off, 'Your gods are no gods.' Chaldean: 'What are you blind. Look up there! Those stately, resplendent, moving bodies: they are my gods.' Biblicist: 'They are lovely indeed but they are created. They have none of the properties you ascribe to them.' Chaldean: 'You are a fool. If you fail to propitiate them, they will destroy you. They give you the means to tell the future if you follow their leading.' Biblicist: 'Oh? Is this why you lost the battle and we won?' Chaldean: 'They are still powerful gods!' Biblicist: 'Well, obviously then they are fighting for us not for you.'

This is a worthwhile line of argument, not to be disparaged. But be wary if there are any Jehovah's Witnesses listening, because they take it to mean the star-gods are for real! Their proof-text for star-gods is, "The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera..." (Judges 5:20). However, the prophets of Israel specifically negated the idea of star-gods, an idea very popular with neighboring peoples, and even taken up at times by apostate Israel:

"Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves." (Amos 5:25-26).

It goes against the grain to insist the star-gods are for real, when those who acknowledge the host of heaven are so roundly condemned. The Jehovah's Witnesses are not interested in the star-gods for their own sake, but only hope to introduce a plurality into the category 'god,' a word whose application to Jesus Christ distresses them. According to them, the Bible acknowledges the real existence, and the real deity, of the gods of the nations, forbidding only their worship. But this is not right, "For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the LORD made the heavens." (Psalm 96:5). The planets exist of course, but they do not determine our lives here on earth.

Those who bow down before the starry host of heaven are worshipping gods who at one time did not exist, and at some time in the future, once their usefulness is done and their fuel is exhausted, will cease to exist. Like us, they have a life-span, albeit a long one. Jewish legend recounts Moses' fruitless search to find a mediator: "When Moses saw that God lent no ear to his prayers, he sought to invoke God's mercy through the pleadings of others. . .Moses then took his request to the Stars and the Planets, but these, too, replied: 'Before we venture to plead for thee, we must plead for ourselves, for "all the host of heaven shall be dissolved."'" (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 3, Kindle location 4920). The Eternal One is a better comforter, never having come into existence and therefore not being subject to dissolution.

When the ancient Babylonians began their monumental research project, of correlating events here on earth with the movements of the planets, it seemed plausible enough, given that the risings and settings of particular stars do herald changing seasons. The farmer who schedules his planting to coincide with the seasonal rising of a familiar star is a wise man, not a babbling fool. If the stars can accurately 'predict' the transition from spring to summer, what else can they foretell? After all you don't know what is correlated and what is not until you start keeping records; it is perhaps an excess of empiricism which started the ball rolling:

"'It is a curious superstition,' says a recent pioneer in Borneo, 'this of the Dusuns, to attribute anything — whether good or bad, lucky or unlucky — that happens to them to something novel which has arrived in their country. For instance, my living in Kindram has caused the intensely hot weather we have experienced of late.' What is this curious superstition but the Method of Difference?" (John Maynard Keynes, A Treatise on Probability, Kindle location 8806).

Pure, unvarnished induction, unguided by any a priori assumptions as to where the chain of causation might lead, can be a scary thing. But the path to the stars is a rabbit trail that leads nowhere. No doubt the Babylonians discovered spurious connections between star movements and crop failures or catastrophic weather, just as today we find correlations between the American League team winning the World Series and events in the stock market. But once it became apparent that all this industrious record-keeping resulted in nothing of any serious predictive value, the approach should have been dropped. Apparently the system has survived, even down to the present day, more for its aesthetic or emotional value than any real utility.



LogoAugustine's Objection

Augustine used the case of twins born at the same time and place against the astrologers of his day, who were willing to make falsifiable predictions, about the date and manner of death of the client, for example. History provides many instances in which two twins, who must have had nearly identical horoscopes, met very different fates. Some of the astrologers were careful to say that the stars 'signify' or 'point to' various events rather than cause them, which was the original contention of the Babylonians. Even upon this retreat, however, the instance of twins with different destinies should not occur, yet manifestly does occur, repeatedly; Elvis had a twin who was stillborn:

  • "But, nevertheless, though we grant that they do not speak as they ought, and that we ought to accept as the proper form of speech that employed by the philosophers in predicting those things which they think they discover in the position of the stars, how comes it that they have never been able to assign any cause why, in the life of twins, in their actions, in the events which befall them, in their professions, arts, honors, and other things pertaining to human life, also in their very death, there is often so great a difference, that, as far as these things are concerned, many entire strangers are more like them than they are like each other, though separated at birth by the smallest interval of time, but at conception generated by the same act of copulation, and at the same moment?"
  • (Augustine, City of God, Book 5, Chapter 1).

  • "In the time of the ancient fathers, to speak concerning illustrious persons, there were born two twin brothers, the one so immediately after the other, that the first took hold of the heel of the second. So great a difference existed in their lives and manners, so great a dissimilarity in their actions, so great a difference in their parents’ love for them respectively, that the very contrast between them produced even a mutual hostile antipathy. Do we mean, when we say that they were so unlike each other, that when the one was walking the other was sitting, when the one was sleeping the other was waking, — which differences are such as are attributed to those minute portions of space which cannot be appreciated by those who note down the position of the stars which exists at the moment of one’s birth, in order that the mathematicians may be consulted concerning it? One of these twins was for a long time a hired servant; the other never served. One of them was beloved by his mother; the other was not so. One of them lost that honor which was so much valued among their people; the other obtained it. And what shall we say of their wives, their children, and their possessions? How different they were in respect to all these! If, therefore, such things as these are connected with those minute intervals of time which elapse between the births of twins, and are not to be attributed to the constellations, wherefore are they predicted in the case of others from the examination of their constellations?"
  • (Augustine, City of God, Book 5, Chapter 4)

Logo This argument was not novel with Augustine; prior investigators had realized that the accuracy of the system could be checked by looking at people with the same chart. Just as today, when we hear those promoting the LGBTQ cause say that they are 'born that way,' we can verify their assertions by looking at identical twins raised separately,— and, as it happens, their claims are not verified,— so we can look at people with the same birth-dates and locales to discern the predictive value of astrology. Perhaps our pairs were not born at the same micro-second, but then astrologers usually do not work with such precise information, nor think it necessary to do so. When we look at such pairs, like Jacob and Esau, we encounter a problem. This was known early on:

"Homer informs us that Hector and Polydamas were born on the same night, and yet how different was their fate! M. CŠlius Rufus and C. Licinius Calvus were born on the same day, the fifth before the calends of June, in the consulship of C. Marius and Cn. Carbo; they both of them lived to be orators, it is true, but how different their destiny! The same thing, too, happens every day, and in every part of the world, with respect to men that are born in the self-same hour; masters and slaves, kings and beggars, come into the world at the same moment." (Pliny, Natural History, Book VII, Chapter 50 (49).

Is the fact that the system simply doesn't work a problem? Yup. Cicero mentions some of the same difficulties:

"Again, is it no small error of judgment that the Chaldeans fail to realize the effect of the parental seed which is an essential element of the process of generation? For, surely, no one fails to see that the appearance and habits, and generally, the carriage and gestures of children are derived from their parents. This would not be the case if the characteristics of children were determined, not by the natural power of heredity, but by the phases of the moon and by the condition of the sky. And, again, the fact that men who were born at the very same instant, are unlike in character, career, and in destiny, makes it very clear that the time of birth has nothing to do in determining man's course in life. That is, unless perchance we are to believe that nobody else was conceived and born at the very same time that Africanus was. For was there ever anyone like him?" (Cicero, On Divination, Book II, Chapter 45).

Nowadays astrologers mostly confine themselves to vague generalities like, 'You enjoy spending time with people, but sometimes you like to be alone,' with which virtually anyone can agree and no one disagree. In the old days, however, they made bold to predict when and how their clients would die, and other falsifiable assertions, which, as it happens, were often falsified, unless one took care, as did Hermocleides, to deliver one's oracle after the fact:

"All the astrologers as from one mouth prophesied to my father that his brother would reach a great old age; Hermocleides alone said he was fated to die early; and he said so, when we were mourning over his corpse in-doors." (Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology, Chapter X, Poem XXXII (Kindle Locations 2241-2243).).

Or, better yet, 'Nice day if it don't rain:'

"Some one came inquiring of the prophet Olympicus whether he should sail to Rhodes, and how he should have a safe voyage; and the prophet replied, 'First have a new ship, and set sail not in winter but in summer; for if you do this you will travel there and back safely, unless a pirate captures you at sea'." (Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology, Chapter X, Poem XXIII (Kindle Locations 2243-2245).).

Creature and Creator

Stars are created beings. It is their calling to worship, not to be worshipped:

  • “Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.”
  • (Psalm 148:3-5).

LogoIn the early years of the church, it was understood that astrologers do not really fit in:

"He that is guilty of sins not to be named, a sodomite, an effeminate person, a magician, an enchanter, an astrologer, a diviner, an user of magic verses, a juggler, a mountebank, one that makes amulets, a charmer, a soothsayer, a fortune-teller, an observer of palmistry; he that, when he meets you, observes defects in the eyes or feet of the birds or cats, or noises, or symbolical sounds: let these be proved for some time, for this sort of wickedness is hard to be washed away; and if they leave off those practices, let them be received; but if they will not agree to that, let them be rejected." (Apostolic Constitutions, Book 8, Section 4, Chapter XXXII, p. 986).

It scarcely needs to be explained that this is a pagan belief system! In time however this initial understanding would be watered down to the point where medieval and Renaissance popes had their horoscopes cast. After the Black Death swept through Europe, reducing the population by one third to one half, the secular authorities naturally wanted to know why this had happened. What steps could the government take in the future to protect the populace from a recurrence? They inquired of the medical faculty at the University of Paris, hoping these learned acolytes of Galen and Hippocrates would have some valuable insight to share. Not likely:

"Various theories were propounded from time to time but the classic exposition was that laid down by the Medical Faculty of the University of Paris in the report prepared on the orders of King Philip VI in 1348. On 20 March, 1345, at 1 p.m., there occurred a conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the house of Aquarius. The conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter notoriously caused death and disaster, while the conjunction of Mars and Jupiter spread pestilence in the air (Jupiter, being warm and humid, was calculated to draw up evil vapors from the earth and water which Mars, hot and dry, then kindled into infective fire). Obviously the conjunction of all three planets could only men an epidemic of cataclysmic scale." (Philip Ziegler, The Black Death, pp. 35-36).

Thirteen hundred years into the Christian era, the best the doctors could do was to resort to this long-exploded system of pagan divination? People were dying! Of what possible use was this type of 'diagnosis'?: "Of the astral influence which was considered to have originated the “Great Mortality,” physicians and learned men were as completely convinced as of the fact of its reality.  A grand conjunction of the three superior planets, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars, in the sign of Aquarius, which took place, according to Guy de Chauliac, on the 24th of March, 1345, was generally received as its principal cause." (Hecker, J. F. C. (Justus Friedrich Carl). The Black Death The Dancing Mania (p. 47).) Just think what good the doctors could have done, if they had turned their eyes away from the alluring lights of Jupiter and Mars, to the sewage running down the muddy streets beneath their feet. Plumbers have saved more lives than have doctors; if they had had enough sense to recommend prudent sanitary measures, that would have reduced the rat population, and consequently the case load from plague. Astrology is not a harmless pastime, it's an illusion which has cost lives. Incidentally, a careful study of Moses' legislation on these matters would have led them more in the right direction than ever did pagan science.

One would like to think it ended with Protestantism, but Kepler cast horoscopes. Not everyone was bewitched; John Calvin saw through it: "But in the meantime we must recollect what I have lately glanced at, that they not only led others into error, but were also deceived, because they thought there was some science in the deceptions of their magic; as now-a-days we see that the fortune-tellers and other impostors, who call themselves judicial astrologers, so pride themselves in their follies, as to have no hesitation in taking the first rank amongst the learned." (John Calvin, p. 127, Chapter 19, The Four Last Books of Moses, Harmony of the Law, Volume 1, The Exodus, Exodus 8). Even though the Bible condemns taking this approach, this alluring 'system of everything' kept casting its spell yet after, and to this day. Richard Hooker wants us to know about the "secret influence" of the moon and the stars:

"What good the sun doth, by heat and light: the moon and stars, by their secret influence: the air, and wind, and water, by their several qualities: what commodity the earth, receiving their services, yieldeth again unto her inhabitants: how beneficial by nature the operations of all things are: how far the use and profit of them is ex-tended: somewhat the greatness of the works of God, but much more our own inadvertency and carelessness, doth disable us to conceive."

(Richard Hooker, Sermon on the Nature of Justice, The Great Orators of the Reformation Era (Kindle Locations 1696-1699). Gideon House Books.)

Instead of saying 'secret,' say 'non-existent.' This heritage from antiquity was useless baggage which should have been discarded long ago.


LogoNew Age

The idea that stars are powerful gods who control our lives has not been discarded altogether, although I doubt the average newspaper horoscope reader subscribes to it. The theory remains popular among neo-Pagans of the present day. Like the pagans of old, these people believe that everything stars do, and and refrain from doing, is of paramount significance, although their feeble light and faint gravitational force cannot realistically impact us here on earth:

"And evidently, again, the planets are not merely spheres, twinkling in Space, and made to shine for no purpose, but the domains of various beings with whom the profane are so far unacquainted; nevertheless, having a mysterious, unbroken, and powerful connection with men and globes. Every heavenly body is the temple of a god, and these gods themselves are the temples of GOD, the Unknown 'Not Spirit.'" (Madame Helena P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled and the Secret Doctrine, Complete Illustrated Edition, Kindle location 45098, SD p. 578).

Astronomy and its sister discipline were intertwined even until the days of Johannes Kepler, who, for that matter, employs pusher angels as a motive force in the heavenlies. Thomas Aquinas left room for the possibility that astrology is true in his system of the world, saying that "the celestial bodies move and govern the lower bodies." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book Three: Providence, 82.5):

"Now, the celestial bodies, alone among bodily things, are inalterable; their condition shows this, for it is always the same. So, the celestial body is the cause of all alteration in things that are changed by alteration. . .Therefore, the heavens must be the cause of all motion in these lower bodies. Thus, it is evident that lower bodies are ruled by God through the celestial bodies." (Thomas Aquinas, summa Contra Gentiles, Book Three: Providence, Chapter 82, 7-8 pp. 276-277)

This seems to open a door that should have been closed. Consequently it is not suprising to learn that there were even Popes who had their horoscopes cast. People who should have known better, just did not know better; Moses Maimonides claims that the stars are appointed by God "to be the means of governing His creatures:"

"The philosophers further agree that this world below is governed by influences emanating from the spheres, and that the latter comprehend and have knowledge of the things which they influence." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 163).

On the vexed question of whether the planets are animate, thinking beings, as Origen held, Thomas Aquinas seems to come down. . .right in the middle:

“There is a diversity of opinion, both among philosophers and among the doctors of the faith, concerning the animation of the celestial bodies. For among the philosophers, Anaxagoras maintained that the agent intellect was altogether simple and existed apart from things, and that the celestial bodies were inanimate. Hence it is said that he was even condemned to death because he claimed that the sun was a fiery stone, as Augustine relates in the work De civitate Dei. Other philosophers, indeed, maintained that the celestial bodies are animated. . .If the celestial bodies are animated, their souls belong to the society of the angels.” (Thomas Aquinas, Disputed Questions on the Soul, Article 8, Answer to Objections 3-5).

Yes, I'm going to shake glad hands with the elders, tell my kindred good morning, and wave to Mars and Jupiter if they're there though they might not be. He seems to be hedging his bets a bit more than is required.

It's a shame this ancient error of astrology is still with us. As has long been realized, even by the pagans, it runs counter to the concept that human beings have any meaningful degree of free will and thus moral accountability:

"Moreover, he thought that the most intolerable thing was their belief that not only occurrences and events of an external nature, but even men's very deliberations, their purposes, their various pleasures, their likes and dislikes, the chance and sudden attractions and aversions of their feelings on trifling matters, were excited and influenced from heaven above; for example, if you happened to wish to go to the baths, and then should change your mind, and again should decide to go, that all this happens, not from some shifting and variable state of mind, but from a fateful ebb and flow of the planets. Thus men would clearly be seen to be, not λογικα ζωα or reasoning beings, as they are called, but a species of ludicrous and ridiculous puppets, if it be true that they do nothing of their own volition or their own will, but are led and driven by the stars." (Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, Book XIV, Chapter I).

This objection to astrology, that it vitiates the concept of free will, continues to be heard down through the ages, here by John of Damascus:

"Now the Greeks declare that all our affairs are controlled by the rising and setting and collision of these stars, viz., the sun and moon: for it is with these matters that astrology has to do. But we hold that we get from them signs of rain and drought, cold and heat, moisture and dryness, and of the various winds, and so forth, but no sign whatever as to our actions. For we have been created with free wills by our Creator and are masters over our own actions. Indeed, if all our actions depend on the courses of the stars, all we do is done of necessity: and necessity precludes either virtue or vice. But if we possess neither virtue nor vice, we do not deserve praise or punishment, and God, too, will turn out to be unjust, since He gives good things to some and afflicts others." (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book 2, Chapter 7, p. 683).

But astrology just kept rolling with the punches, and is still with us today. Would you believe, Christianity is a secret code expressing an astrological message: the truism that the Age of Pisces began in 1 A.D., not the year of Jesus' birth, and the Age of Aquarius will get underway some two thousand years after that? If you are an atheist, you might be just that gullible. We know these things because Jesus never said a mumbling word about astrology and showed no interest in the topic. Or, rather, Jesus being a fictional character, those who wrote about Him never put a mumbling word in His mouth evincing any interest in the topic:


LogoThe Magi

But what about the Magi, who followed the star to Bethlehem? Were they not "pagan astrologers," like everybody says:

"Ironically, none of the Bible scholars who had the Old Testament memorized and knew the prophecies about the Messiah's coming were present at Christ's birth. The only people who were present were those who were led to Bethlehem by revelation. All of them happened to be shepherds and pagan astrologers, not Bible scholars." (Frank Viola, Revise Us Again, p. 133).

It seems unlikely that the Magi, who came from regions where Israelites had been deported, were not in some sense Bible scholars, at least enough to realize that the birth of a king of the Jews was a world historical event of consequence to themselves. This small nation, under Rome's thumb, with no independent relations with Eastern states, would not have rated a visit by an Eastern delegation without some extraneous consideration; and that consideration must have been general familiarity with the Bible promise of a Messiah to save the world and gather the Gentiles to His Kingdom. The wise men do seem to have been using some system of astronomical divination, according to which they found it possible to map events on earth to locales in the heavens. Perhaps God, in His condescension, was willing to set out a sign-post which all could understand, even if their system is not generally valid. Just as God is willing to speak to us in human languages, like Hebrew and Greek, perhaps He was willing to speak to these people in a language they could make out, even if predictive star-language is no more God's native tongue than is Greek, and implications drawn from star predictions are no more generally reliable than are Greek etymologies. Exactly what kind of phenomenon God chose for the star of Bethlehem is open to lively dispute, so it is difficult to say more.