On the Star of Bethlehem

Angelic Star of Bethlehem

by Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (+407 AD)

On the Star of Bethlehem

For if you can learn what the star (of Bethlehem) was, and of what kind, and whether it were one of the common stars, or new and unlike the rest, and whether it was a star by nature or a star in appearance only, we shall easily know the other things also. Whence then will these points be manifest?

From the very things that are written. Thus, that this star was not of the common sort, or rather not a star at all, as it seems at least to me, but some invisible power transformed into this appearance, is in the first place evident from its very course. For there is not, there is not any star that moves by this way, but whether it be the sun you mention, or the moon, or all the other stars, we see them going from east to west; but this was wafted from north to south; for so is Palestine situated with respect to Persia.

In the second place, one may see this from the time also. For it appears not in the night, but in midday, while the sun is shining; and this is not within the power of a star, nay not of the moon; for the moon that so much surpasses all, when the beams of the sun appear, straightway hides herself, and vanishes away. But this by the excess of its own splendor overcame even the beams of the sun, appearing brighter than they, and in so much light shining out more illustriously.

In the third place, from its appearing, and hiding itself again. For on their way as far as Palestine it appeared leading them, but after they set foot within Jerusalem, it hid itself: then again, when they had left Herod, having told him on what account they came, and were on the point of departing, it shows itself; all which is not like the motion of a star, but of some power highly endued with reason. For it had not even any course at all of its own, but when they were to move, it moved; when to stand, it stood, dispensing all as need required: in the same kind of way as the pillar of the cloud, now halting and now rousing up the camp of the Jews, when it was needful.

In the fourth place, one may perceive this clearly, from its mode of pointing Him out. For it did not, remaining on high, point out the place; it not being possible for them so to ascertain it, but it came down and performed this office. For you know that a spot of such small dimensions, being only as much as a shed would occupy, or rather as much as the body of a little infant would take up, could not possibly be marked out by a star. For by reason of its immense height, it could not sufficiently distinguish so confined a spot, and reveal it to those who were desiring to see it. And this anyone may see by the moon, which being so far superior to the stars, seems to all that dwell in the world to be near to each and every one of them. How then, tell me, did the star point out a spot so confined, just the space of a manger and shed, unless it left that height and came down, and stood over the very head of the young child? And at this the evangelist was hinting when he said, “Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.”

Do you see by what store of proofs this star is shown not to be one of the many, nor to have shown itself according to the order of the outward creation? And for what intent did it appear? To reprove the lawless peoplefor their insensibility, and to cut off from them all occasion of excuse for their willful ignorance. For, since He who came was to put an end to the ancient polity, and to call the world to the worship of Himself, and to be worshipped in all land and sea, straightway, from the beginning, He opens the door to the Gentiles, willing through strangers to admonish His own people.

Thus, because the prophets were continually heard speaking of His advent, and they gave no great heed, He made even barbarians come from a far country, to seek after the king that was among them. And they learn from a Persian tongue first of all, what they would not submit to learn from the prophets; that, if on the one hand they were disposed to be candid, they might have the strongest motive for obedience; if, on the other hand, they were contentious, they might henceforth be deprived of all excuse. For what could they have to say, who did not receive Christ after so many prophets, when they saw that wise men, at the sight of a single star, had received this same, and had worshipped Him who was made manifest.

-The Gospel of St. Matthew, Homily VI. 3, 4, pp. 37-38

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When Perversion Was Replaced By Proper Order

by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon

RuthNo matter when we date the composition of the Book of Ruth, it was certainly not part of the canonical Scriptures until fairly late. We know this because its Hebrew text is found in the third section of the TaNaK.

It is very likely that the Septuagint translators moved it to a position between Judges and Kingdoms, where the Christian manuscripts of Holy Scripture have always placed it. This textual move was logical, inasmuch as the Greek text of Ruth begins,

“When the Judges judged . . .”

The moral expectations of the Judges period were so low that the likes of Jephthe and Samson were regarded as men of virtue.

The move was also felicitous, inasmuch as it provided the story of Ruth, not only with a historical setting, but also with its proper theological key. Recall how the Book of Judges ends:

“In those days there was no king in Israel; each man did what was acceptable in his own eyes.”

That is to say, the Book of Ruth commences by placing its tale in the setting of pre-monarchical chaos during the time of the Judges. In making this reference at the beginning, the author of Ruth prompts us to think of the depravity of the Judges period, so that he can contrast the spiritual health in the story he is about to write.

The Book of Ruth ends, however, by prophesying the transforming change yet to come, when

“Boaz begot Obed, and Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David.”

The story of Ruth introduces an approaching glimmer of hope in a setting of moral darkness. Cursing is replaced by blessing, violence by kindness, and perversion by proper order.

The contrast between darkness and the new light in these stories pertains in a significant way to sex. Whereas Judges ends with the sordid tales of the Levite’s gang-raped-to-death concubine and the abduction of the Jabesh virgins, the Book of Ruth portrays what is best described as the romance of Boaz and Ruth.

This “sexual accent” joins Ruth, not only to Judges, but also to Genesis. She is, after all, a Moabitess, a descendant from the incestuous conjunction of drunken Lot and his elder daughter. This detail is germane to Lot’s earlier decision to settle in Sodom. Those Sodomites, like the gang-rapists of Gibeah near the end of Judges, are portrayed as violent sex-offenders. In both accounts sex is expressed in distinctly unseemly ways.

These were very bad influences on Lot. Had it not been for Abraham’s intercession, he would have perished with those people.

“God remembered Abraham and delivered Lot from the destruction when he overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.”

In some sense, Ruth is the answer to Abraham’s prayer.

Ruth, by resolving to join the Israelites—and, especially, by conceiving Boaz’s child in wedlock—reverses her forebear’s ancient choice and his alienation from the children of Abraham. A son of Abraham marries a daughter of Lot.

In her childbearing, moreover, Ruth becomes a paradoxical channel through which Abraham reaches to David, thus fulfilling Jacob’s prophecy of the royalty promised, near the end of Genesis, to the tribe of Judah.

In addition, the famine at the beginning of the Book of Ruth further joins this work to Genesis. Once again, Abraham and Lot come into play: After a famine in the Promised Land forced Abraham to migrate to Egypt, he returned and, with Lot, began to tend his vast accumulation of livestock. When he and Lot discovered, however, they could not jointly support their herds on the available land, they parted from one another, thus beginning the separation not repealed until the appearance of Ruth.

The story of famine at the beginning of Ruth likewise looks back to Jacob, the patriarch with the good sense, when faced with famine, to send his sons down into the Nile Valley, where there was a better chance of finding food. At the beginning of Ruth, in contrast, Elimelech, simply crosses eastward into Moab, where the economic conditions were identical to those in the Promised Land. Why does Elimelech take this improbable step?

The author’s theological answer is: to pick up Ruth and bring her to Bethlehem!

Only thus can the light of the Davidic monarchy bring order to the chaos evident in the Book of Judges.

 

Calculating Christmas

William J. Tighe on the Story Behind December 25

In this, one of my favorite articles, William Tighe explodes the notion we were all taught in public school about the ‘Christianization’ of a pagan festival for the date of Christmas. He uses historical fact to prove his point, and has thereby offered all Christians that most precious of all jewels – the truth, regarding the Church’s celebration on Dec. 25th.

Enjoy!

Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.

Rather, the pagan festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the “pagan origins of Christmas” is a myth without historical substance. Continue reading Calculating Christmas