Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Divination and Catholicism

One thing we can learn from the story of the three magi (Remembered and celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany) is that astrology can lead to Christ, which was eloquently pointed out in my parish priest, Fr. Sean Finnegan's sermon on Sunday. He explained that we can see what are called types of the dying and rising god in mythologies across the world. These 'types' are prefigurings of Christ, who as C S Lewis said was the 'true myth' - all the other dying and rising gods had never claimed to inhabit actual historical time and space, the world of the mundane.

The learned, such as the three magi, Persian astrologers, would always have been able to study lore and the wisdom of the heavens (which is the stuff of myth), and been able to get an 'inkling' of this truth - the truth of Christ. Just as the Old Testament prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah, so the pagan wise men would have been able to study the signs which pointed to the cosmos-transforming moment of the incarnation and birth of the Christ child. 

That the study of the stars can lead to knowledge and wisdom is also evident from Psalm 19, which says:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

In Christian thought the creation is the work of the Logos, or Word of God, by which everything is set into harmony and given order. Indeed the word cosmos implies an ordered harmonious system. The heavens are the clearest place to look for the language of the Word which orders all, being as they are the domain of cyclical and regular movements of planets and stars. A horoscope, or birth chart, is simply a map of the movements of these heavenly bodies from a position on the Earth, or the intersection of time and space in a certain moment.

Whatever the 'star' was which the magi followed, whether it was an exceptionally bright conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn with Regulus, the star of Kings in the constellation of Leo, or some other less predictable phenomenon, doesn't matter too much - what we need to see is that the coming of the Christ not only utterly changed the world from that moment onwards, but also redeemed time past, and with it the cultures that inhabited those past times. That does not mean that any belief of any culture is equally valid or true, but that what truths pre-Christian cultures were able to discern can be 'taken up' into the Christian framework. In other words, it is possible and indeed necessary to 'baptise' what is true in pagan cultures.

In an excellent essay on esoteric Christianity Stratford Caldecott notes:

"A Jesuit contemporary of de Lubac’s puts the case more strongly: "It is partly because contemporary Christianity has failed to recognize the value, both immanent and transcendent, of the great symbols which are so prolific in its tradition and ritual that the human psyche is today possessed by so many demons and tempted to look elsewhere for symbols which can nourish it. It is not betrayal of the affirmations of the faith for the theologian to explore this dimension of religious symbolism, which has been too much neglected hitherto, and to accept in this matter the assistance of mythologists and psychologists."

Why then does the Church condemn astrology? As a system of divination, it is seen as an attempt to take on power that does not belong to one's self, so that one may be like God - ie. the promise of the serpent. In this sense astrology and divination can be tools of the heresy of gnosticism, which is to revel in an endless spiritual search on an intellectual level, thinking that one is possessed of all the answers, to which the common people are not party. It is thus world-denying and body-denying, as well as elitist. Divination can give us this false sense of power over fate, and can stop us from relying on the will of God, but rather helps to build up our own wills.

If astrology does not lead to Christ it leads to the Devil. In the letter The Hanged Man, of Valentin Tomberg's Meditations on the Tarot, he talks about the 'zodiacalised will'. This is the will which has cut off its own inclinations and allowed the will of the heavens to work through it. It is only in this sense that astrology can be baptised. There is a Christian gnosis, as Balthasar writes:

"the gnostic Christian does not outgrow the proclamation of the Church, but in the kerygma he finds, revealing himself, the Logos, who, in the most comprehensive sense, ‘enlightens’ the believer ever more clearly and, indeed, draws him, as John was drawn, to his breast ever more intimately and unites him interiorly with himself.... What is here involved is, therefore, nothing other than the turning of faith to its own interior authenticity, as faith in a proposition (‘belief that Christ’) becomes faith in a person (‘faith in Christ’).... Truly to find the Father in the Son is to open up the sphere of absolute trinitarian truth, and of the knowledge in which we grow more deeply the more we entrust ourselves to the Son in faith and allow ourselves to be drawn into his innermost disposition. Christ turns to men, and says: ‘I give you the Logos, the gnosis of God; I give myself wholly to you. For I am he, and this is what God wills."

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