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Wise Men from the East -- Epiphany, ^ | 01-03-09 | Sandra Miesel

Posted on 01/03/2010 1:59:59 PM PST by Salvation

Wise Men from the East | Sandra Miesel | The Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord

We Three Kings of Orient are,
Bearing gifts we traverse afar. . . .

Who were these gift-bearing kings, these Wise Men of the East? What has their mission meant to Christians across the ages?

The Wise Men—not yet called kings—make only a single appearance in Holy Scripture. St. Matthew's Gospel (Mt 2:1-12) tells of their arrival in Jerusalem shortly after the birth of Jesus. They have come seeking the newborn King of the Jews because they had seen his star rise in the East. Herod, the current ruler, knows nothing of an upstart princeling but learns that prophecies place him in Bethlehem. Herod directs the Wise Men to search there for the Child and keep him informed. Following their star, the Wise Men find Jesus with his Mother. They worship him and bestow gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Warned by an angel, they do not reveal the Child's location to jealous Herod but return secretly to their own land.

In ancient texts of Scripture the Wise Men are Magoi in Greek and Magi in Latin. The singular form, Magos/Magus, is the source of our English word "magician" but had multiple meanings in Biblical times. A magus could be a Zoroastrian priest from Persia, an occultist, a magician, or a charlatan. Because the New Testament Magi study the stars, their mystic wisdom presumably includes astrology. Hence some recent Bible translations call them "astrologers," a less evocative term than the more traditional "Wise Men."

Some early Christians equated the Magi with Chaldean star-readers from Babylon, masters of the occult familiar throughout the Roman Empire. St. Justin Martyr and Tertullian thought they were Arabians but most believers in Patristic times took their Persian origin for granted.

Church Fathers were quick to see deeper symbolism in this curious episode, first through its Old Testament parallels. Origen suggested that the Magi were descendants of the pagan prophet Balaam who had predicted that "a star shall rise out of Jacob" (Num. 24:17). Other Old Testament figures including the priest-king Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20), the generous Queen of Sheba (1 Kgs. 10), and the faithful Three Young Men in the Fiery Furnace (Dan. 3) were also seen as counterparts of the Wise Men from the East.

Strangers who worship the new King of Judah and bring gifts fulfill Messianic prophecies. "The kings of Tarshish and the Isles shall offer gifts; the kings of Arabia and Seba shall bring tribute" (Ps. 72:10). "All they from Sheba shall come, bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord." (Isa. 60:6) Because the Scriptures speak of tributary kings, Tertullian called the Magi kings. Origen specified that they numbered three to match their gifts and their named kingdoms. St. John Chrysostom preached about twelve Wise Men but his interpretation failed to find favor.

These foreigners, the first Gentiles to see the Light, recognize what Herod and the Temple priesthood cannot: the newborn Savior. The wealthy, learned, alien Magi of St. Matthew's Gospel complement the poor, ignorant, local shepherds of St Luke's Gospel. Foreshadowing the universality of the Church, these Gentiles and Jews worship God Incarnate to show that salvation is offered to all men.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons was the first Church Father to equate the Wise Men's gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh with Christ's roles as King, God, and Sacrifice. This became the dominant reading, still familiar through the beautiful Victorian Christmas carol, "We Three Kings of Orient Are." But other interpretations also appeared in which the gifts stand for the virtues of faith, chastity, and purity of heart or else for almsgiving, prayer, and mortification.

The Christ Child's adoration by the Magi is known as his Epiphany ("Manifestation") because it announces his mission to redeem the world. Ancient Christendom spoke of multiple manifestations (initially including the Nativity) by linking the revelation of the newborn Christ with his later baptism in the Jordan and his first miracle at Cana. These key points in his mission, which were imagined to have occurred on the same calendar date, also used to be celebrated in the pre-Vatican II Roman breviary. As an Epiphany antiphon at Vespers proclaims, "We honor the holy day adorned with three miracles: today the star led the Magi to the crib: today wine was made from water for a wedding: today Christ willed to be baptized by John in the Jordan." In medieval Europe, Epiphany was often connected with the miracle of the loaves and fishes and with the raising of Lazarus.
The traditional date of Epiphany is January 6th although in some places, including the United States, the feast is transferred to the nearest Sunday. Epiphany is an older feast than Christmas for it is attested in the East from the first half of the third century, at least 75 years before Christmas is mentioned as a holy day in Rome.

By the late fourth century Christmas was also being celebrated in the East so Epiphany lost its Nativity connection there. The Baptism of the Lord became the chief focus of Epiphany and the subject of its special feast day icon. The public manifestation of Christ as the Divine "beloved Son" outranked the private homage of the Magi, who were relegated to the background of Nativity icons.

Nevertheless, the Adoration of the Magi has been a popular subject for artists since Late Antiquity. The earliest surviving examples are catacomb paintings from the second and third centuries and carvings on stone coffins from the first half of the fourth century. On the coffins, three nearly identical Magi process toward the enthroned Madonna and Child. Their gifts allude to the alms the deceased person had given in his lifetime. Famous mosaics depicting the Magi also appear in the churches of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome (440) and S. Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna (561). The Magi are represented in exotic "Eastern" garb, wearing tunics, leggings, and soft peaked caps. They observe imperial Roman court etiquette by presenting their gifts with covered hands or on trays. The gold is often in the form of a royal wreath and the star appears as an emblem of divine kingship.

By the tenth century, Western artists are portraying the Wise Men with crowns. They grow distinguishable because they have come to stand for the three ages of man, the three known continents of the Old World, and three races descended from the sons of Noah. In later medieval art the Magi lay aside their crowns to interact with the Christ Child and receive his blessing. Their garments become increasingly fantastic and their faces are often modeled on contemporary rulers. By the fourteenth century, the youngest Magus is portrayed as a black African in many Northern European paintings. In subsequent centuries, other racial types joined the trio, including East Indians, Asians, Incas, and Canadian Indians, so that the Wise Men could represent all nations.

The thirteenth century Golden Legend gives the Magi's names in Greek as Apellius, Amerius, and Damascus; in Hebrew as Galgalat, Malgalat, and Serchin; and in Latin as Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior—the favorite set. There are inconsistencies about which Magus is which but in Germanic lands, Casper (gold) is elderly; Melchior (frankincense) is middle-aged; and Balthasar (myrrh) is young. The gifts are presented in order of age.

The center of the Magi's cult is Cologne. The cathedral there boasts a splendid golden shrine holding their relics that has drawn swarms of pilgrims since the twelfth century. The Kings' protection is traditionally invoked against travel dangers, plague, fever, and sudden death. Their initials C+M+B form a protective acronym for Christus mundum benedicat ("Christ blesses the world"). The faithful carry this symbol on holy cards or chalk it over their doors to ward off evil.

The alleged remains of the Magi are claimed to have been discovered in the East by St. Helena and brought to Milan in 400, whence they were looted by Frederick Barbarossa in 1162 and given to Cologne. Historian Patrick Geary has argued persuasively that Milan never had any relics of the Wise Men. Yet the bones in the shrine were wrapped in genuine purple silk from St. Helena's lifetime so some ancient parties unknown have been passing as the Magi for eight centuries.

Regardless of authenticity, the Three Holy Kings have had great cultural impact on Cologne as the city's male patron saints. Their crowns appear on the arms and banner of the city as well as on the seals of her archbishop and university. The Magi themselves bear heraldic arms. Caspar's are a golden star and crescent on a blue field; Melchior's six gold stars on a blue field, and Balthasar's a red-clad Moor holding a lance with pennant on a golden field.

Thus Scripture and legend have combined to honor the Wise Men of the East as universal symbols of mankind adoring God Incarnate. May these first pilgrims who traveled by the light of a star "guide us to the Perfect Light."

Originally published in the Catholic Herald newspaper, January 2007. Reprinted by permission of the author.

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; History; Theology
KEYWORDS: archaeoastronomy; catholic; catholiclist; christmas; godsgravesglyphs; johanneskepler; starofbethlehem; staroftheeast
**The thirteenth century Golden Legend gives the Magi's names in Greek as Apellius, Amerius, and Damascus; in Hebrew as Galgalat, Malgalat, and Serchin; and in Latin as Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior—the favorite set. There are inconsistencies about which Magus is which but in Germanic lands, Casper (gold) is elderly; Melchior (frankincense) is middle-aged; and Balthasar (myrrh) is young. The gifts are presented in order of age.**

Interesting thoughts and theories here.

1 posted on 01/03/2010 2:00:01 PM PST by Salvation
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To: nickcarraway; Lady In Blue; NYer; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; Catholicguy; RobbyS; markomalley; ...
Catholic Discussion Ping!

Please notify me via FReepmail if you would like to be added to or taken off the Catholic Discussion Ping List.

2 posted on 01/03/2010 2:01:59 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation

I’ve heard that the Magi were thought to be from Persia and Babylon. I also seem to remember hearing that Balthasar is the Latinized form of Belshazzar, which is a Babylonian name.

This from Wikipedia:

In contrast, the Syrian Christians name the Magi Larvandad, Gushnasaph, and Hormisdas. These names have a far greater likelihood of being originally Persian, though that does not, of course, guarantee their authenticity.

In the Eastern churches, Ethiopian Christianity, for instance, has Hor, Karsudan, and Basanater, while the Armenians have Kagpha, Badadakharida and Badadilma.

The phrase from the east is the only information Matthew provides about the region from which they came. Traditionally the view developed that they were Babylonian or Arabs or Jews from Yemen as the Makrebs or kings of Yemen then were Jews, a view held for example by John Chrysostom. The majority belief was they were from Babylon, which was the centre of Zurvanism, and hence astrology, at the time; and may have retained knowledge from the time of their Jewish leadership by Daniel.

3 posted on 01/03/2010 6:01:12 PM PST by G8 Diplomat
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To: Salvation
There are other references in the old testament regarding people from the East. I doubt that the wise men were from Persia.

Judg. 6: 3, 33

3 And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the East, even they came up against them;

33 ¶ Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east were gathered together, and went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel.

Judg. 8: 10-11 10 ¶ Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and their hosts with them, about fifteen thousand men, all that were left of all the hosts of the children of the east: for there fell an hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword.

Ezek. 25: 4, 10

4 Behold, therefore I will deliver thee to the men of the east for a possession, and they shall set their palaces in thee, and make their dwellings in thee: they shall eat thy fruit, and they shall drink thy milk.

10 Unto the men of the east with the Ammonites, and will give them in possession, that the Ammonites may not be remembered among the nations.

4 posted on 01/03/2010 6:22:31 PM PST by Alan2
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To: Alan2
Also from Isaiah in today's First Readings:

Reading I
Is 60:1-6
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!  Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light,
and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about;
they all gather and come to you:
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.

Then you shall be radiant at what you see,
your heart shall throb and overflow,
for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,
the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Caravans of camels shall fill you,
dromedaries from Midian and Ephah;
all from Sheba shall come
bearing gold and frankincense,
and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.

5 posted on 01/03/2010 6:51:44 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation

The magi were agents of Herod, whether three or not is unknown.

6 posted on 01/04/2010 9:17:11 AM PST by count-your-change (You don't have be brilliant, not being stupid is enough.)
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To: count-your-change

They came to worship Christ; Herod tried to point them to another mission and they refused.

“They returned home by another route.”

7 posted on 01/04/2010 3:51:33 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation

“They returned home by another route.”

They were warned by God not to return to inform Herod. They were sent to Bethlehem by Herod so whatever their motives they were still agents of Herod and of Satan.

8 posted on 01/04/2010 8:24:08 PM PST by count-your-change (You don't have be brilliant, not being stupid is enough.)
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 GGG managers are SunkenCiv, StayAt HomeMother & Ernest_at_the_Beach
Thanks Salvation.

Note: this topic is from 1/03/2010.

Blast from the Past.

Just adding to the catalog, not sending a general distribution.

To all -- please ping me to other topics which are appropriate for the GGG list.

9 posted on 12/10/2011 1:46:57 PM PST by SunkenCiv (It's never a bad time to FReep this link --
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