THE MAGI; OR THE THREE KINGS OF COLOGNE By Henry R. Evans, Litt. D., 33° Hon.
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"According to the narrative (Matthew ii, 1-12), the Three Wise Men came from the East to Jerusalem, led by a star, which at length guided them safely to the place of the Nativity at Bethlehem, where they offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."—Ency. Americana.
IN THE great cathedral of Cologne, the tourist is shown a superb shrine wherein repose the bones of the Wise Men of the East, who came to Bethlehem, guided by a resplendent star, to the place of the Nativity, where they offered homage to the infant Christ., ? The remains of the Magi, it is said, were discovered in Persia and carried to Constantinople by St. Helena. During the first crusade they were transported to Milan and finally brought to Cologne in the year 1163. (Acta SS. I , 323.) I confess to a healthy skepticism regarding the genuineness of these sacred relics.
Who were the Magi?
St. Matthew, who records the fact of their visit to Palestine, is strangely silent on the subject. He does not even give their names. But among the Latins of the seventh century, we find them called Caspar, Melchoir and Balthasar— three in all! Syrian and Armenian legends make the number more than three. Finally we hear them spoken of as the Three Kings of Cologne, although the Fathers of the Church never held them to have been sovereigns in the Orient, notwithstanding the fact that the Roman Church, in its liturgy, applies to the Magi the words: "The Kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents; the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts; and all the kings of the earth shall adore him." (Ps. lxxi, 10.)
It is the opinion of some scholars that the Magi belonged to the priestly caste of Persia; they were followers of Zoroaster, and were learned in astrology and the art of interpreting dreams. They certainly were not magicians (for that is but a modern development or corruption of the word), because the religion of Zoroaster forbade sorcery and necromancy. Can we place any credence in the Gospel narrative of the visit of these disciples of Zoroaster to the humble cradle of the Nazarene, guided by a star? Rationalists class the chronicle of the Magi with the so-called legends of the childhood of Jesus, later apocryphal additions to the Gospels. Students of comparative religions claim that similar stories have grown up about the childhood of other great religious leaders, and therefore belong to the realm of myth. Occultists regard the story as an allegory. In fact, many occult writers (like Anna Bonus Kingsford, in The Perfect Way, Mrs. Annie Besant, in Esoteric Christianity, and Dr. J. D. Buck, in Mystic Masonry) assert that the entire account of the Lord's life on earth is a Gnostic allegory which rehearses the descent of Spirit into Matter; the necessity for crucifying the lower animal self in order to attain perfection; the redemption of the sold through suffering, and its final elevation to a state of harmony with the divine—at-one-ment (atonement) with the Father—the source of all Being. It is the great drama of the soul. The same stories told of Christ were told of Krishna, the Hindoo saviour; Osiris, the redeemer of the Egyptians, and Mithra, the Persian sun-god; the mediators between the human and the divine. Says Buck: "From the Essenes, the Schools of Alexandria, then in all their glory, from the Cabala and the philosophy of Plato the Christian Mysteries were derived. During the first three centuries of our era these doctrines flourished, but were finally crushed by the conquests of Constantine, and then came the dark ages." The Gospels, according to these thinkers, are occult works, containing the Secret Doctrine of the ancient temples—the principles underlying all religions—hidden beneath parables and allegories, and not to be taken in a literal or historical sense. Says Buck:
Masonic lodges are dedicated to the Saints John; one of whom, the Evangelist, opens his Gnostic Gospel with the Greek philosophy of the Logos, the principle of emanation; and the other, the Seer of Patmos, writes a book symbolical of ancient initiations, which many a non-initiate has tried in vain to interpret. Take for example, Revelations xvi, 16: "And the city lieth four-square, and the length is as large as the breadth; and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length, and the breadth and the height of it are equal" (a perfect cube). "And he measured the wall thereof, a hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, an angel." The language is evidently a veil, designed to conceal the real meaning from the uninitiated. As the measure of man; that is, a perfect man, or "angel" we have the cube as a symbol of perfect proportion. Hence a Square Man. The temple of Sol-om-on; the Cubical City—which unfolded becomes a cross, and hence the "measure of a man"—all these refer to the work of regeneration, or initiation.
Whether an allegory designed to teach certain esoteric truths, or not, the exquisite story of the Nativity of the Saviour brought about the Holy Christmastide, which has done so much to elevate
motherhood and make childlife beautiful and sacred. The shepherd keeping watch at night, and suddenly overcome and bewildered by the sight of the Celestial Host proclaiming the birth of the Prince of Peace; the coming of the Magi from the East, guided by a glorious star, to lay their gifts at the feet of the royal babe form so many exquisite pictures which great artists and poets have delighted to paint and portray. There is a significance in the narrative of the Nativity of the Lord which occultists and mystics have pointed out, and which has peculiar interest to Freemasons. Christ is a symbol of the Ineffable Word which the Initiates are in search of. He is born in a rock-cut cavern (still shown at Bethlehem as the scene of the Nativity) like Mithra, the sungod. Three Magi or wise men—and three is the mystic number—come from the East in search of the Word which is lost. They are led by a star—the Star of Bethlehem, in other words, by the weird pentagram of the occultists— to the cavern, or place of initiation, and there they discover the True Word, or Secret Doctrine, the understanding of which means God, the soul, and immortality. From whence came the Wise Men—from India, Persia, and Egypt? Many artists depict them as men of the above nationalities, and I think correctly, because in India the Royal Secret took its rise, and from thence filtered into Persia and Egypt. In the monstrous rock-cut temples of India the Brahmins whispered the strange doctrine to their Initiates; the disciples of Zoroaster in the sacred flame beheld the "three in one;" and the priests of Mizraim carved it in rock and engraved it upon stone. So then let us conceive the Magi as Hindoo, Persian, and Egyptian, coming with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—their several philosophies, to worship at the shrine of the Word. They must reconcile their religions with the Jewish conception of Jehovah, in other words, the immanence of Deity with the idea of transcendence. The union of the two doctrines is the truth. The finding of the Word in Judea is therefore significant.
Gen. Lew Wallace in his exquisite story of Ben Hur makes one of the Magi a Hindoo, one an Egyptian, and the third a Greek. They meet in the desert, ere they come to Jerusalem, and gravely discuss the merits of their respective religious systems. The scene, which forms the prologue to the book, is a superb one. Says the Egyptian: "Religion is merely the law which binds man to his Creator; in purity it has but these elements—God, the Soul, and their mutual recognition; out of which, when put in practice, spring Worship, Love, and Reward." Making one of the Wise Men a Greek was a subtle point, for the identification of Christ with the logos idea of the Greek philosophies laid the foundation of Christian theology.
Charming legends sprang up in the Middle Ages about these three Kings, or Magi. Tradition says that "when St. Thomas the apostle traveled into the Indies, he found these Wise Men there, and did administer to them the rites of baptism; and that afterwards, in carrying the light of truth into the far East, they fell among barbarous Gentiles, and were put to death; thus each of them receiving, in return for the earthly crowns they had cast at the feet of the Saviour, the heavenly crown of martyrdom and of everlasting life." (Jameson's Legends of the Madonna.)
So much for the allegorical interpretation. Nevertheless, I agree with Matthew Arnold and others that internal evidences, in the Gospels, such as the depiction of a remarkable personality, the naturalness of the loggia of the Master, the sublimity and newness of his doctrines all point to the fact that Jesus was an historical personage, and no mere figment of Gnostic imagination, whatever attitude one may take regarding his divinity.
Roman Catholics and orthodox Protestants regard the narrative of the Magi as founded on fact. Putting aside as incredible the idea of a "miraculous star" which guided them on their way, comparable to the pillar of fire which stood in the camp by night during Israel's Exodus, there is nothing unreasonable in the story that learned astrologers from Persia or Babylon fully acquainted with the Messianic ideas of the Jews and beholding in the heavens a wonderful conjunction of stars, should have journeyed to Jerusalem to be present at the birth or exaltation of some great adept or leader of the people.
In regard to the Messianic conceptions of the Hebrews and the Magi, the Catholic Encyclopedia says:
"It is likely that the Magi were familiar with the great Messianic prophecies. Many Jews did not return from exile with Nehemias. When Christ was born, there was undoubtedly a Hebrew population in Babylon, and probably one in Persia. At any rate, the Hebrew tradition survived in Persia. Moreover, Virgil, Horace, Tacitus (Hist., V. xiii), and Suetonius Vespas., iv) bear witness that, at the time of the birth of Christ, there was throughout the Roman Empire a general unrest and expectation of a Golden Age and a great deliverer. We may readily admit that the Magi were led by such Hebraistic and Gentile influences to look forward to a Messias who should soon come."
Now what astrological aspect of the heavens gave these Persian or Babylonian star-gazers the idea that some great event was expected in Judea? Says Dr. William Notz, a Protestant writer: . ,
"According to Kepler's modified theory the Star of Bethlehem consisted in a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of the fishes (Pisces) in the year 7 B.C., when these two planets formed a conjunction three times. In the course of time Kepler's theory has been perfected and developed as well as modified by a number of astronomers, but in its main points it has remained unchanged. Whereas a simple conjunction of these two planets takes place but once every twenty years, a threefold conjunction is something so unusual that, according to Kritzinger, all planets meet more frequently in one and the same constellation than a threefold conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn takes place. Besides, the distance between the two planets was unusually small at that time. It seems quite impossible that the astrologers of Babylonia should have failed to observe, and, moreover, have neglected to seek the import of this unusual phenomenon."
With the insufficient means at his command Kepler was not able to compute the exact date of these conjunctions; but recently May 28th, October 3d, and December 4th, of the year 7 B. C, have been fixed as the exact dates* by the German scientists Hontheim, Esch, and Kritzinger. As is well known, our calendar and the date it assigns to the birth of Christ are based on Dionysius Exiguus (555) and are not exact, Christ having been born from five to seven years earlier than the beginning of the Christian era.
We continue to ask, however, How did the Magi on the basis of this unusual phenomenon in the skies reach their well-known interpretation? In order to answer this with any degree of certainty we would have to know the exact astrological rules that guided the Magi of that time and of their respective countries in that special case. Even though we are not able to do this, nevertheless the great mass of astrological tablets that have been found in the countries of the Tigris and the Euphrates, and our present-day knowledge of the Omen literature of that part of the Ancient Orient, enable us to point out in a general way the principles that guided the astrologers of that time in coming to a conclusion and in formulating their interpretations. Thus we can show how the Babylonian astrologers would have interpreted the unusual phenomenon of the year 7 B.C., and what very likely caused the Magi mentioned in connection with the birth of Christ to go to Judaea in search of a newborn king.
In ancient Babylonia astrology had been developed and practiced according to a regular system of rules and facts. The principals of this mystic science lacked to a great extent any reasonable objective proofs, and were thus, like most mystic cults, handed down from one generation to another with extreme accuracy and faithfulness. Accordingly we find the rules of interpretation that were in vogue in ancient Babylonia, in a more or less unaltered form, underlying the astrological systems of other countries many centuries later. It was a fundamental dogma of Babylonian science that everything on earth is but a reflex of what takes place in the heavens. In order, therefore, to forecast the future one must first find out the will of the gods, which evidences itself in the movement of the stars. Furthermore, different parts of the earth correspond to certain regions of the heavens. The North corresponds to Akkad, or Babylonia; the South, to Elam: the West, to the "Westland," which comprised a part of Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine; the East, to Assyria. A second principle of the magicians and astrologers of Assyria and Babylonia was that also the nature of an event that was to be forecasted could be deduced from heavenly phenomena. The sun and the moon represented the king; and since the sun is but seldom visible in the heavens together with the stars, Saturn becomes his representative. Jupiter also was considered a royal star.
On the basis of the above-mentioned two principles of Babylonian astrology, Professor Steinmetzer, of Prague, has offered an interpretation of the threefold conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the year 7 B.C. which we shall briefly follow in our discussion. For our purpose it is noteworthy that astronomic documents have actually been found, which go to show that the astrologers of the Ancient Orient paid special attention to astral conjunctions. For instance, from the time of Cambyses we have a tablet that gives a list of a number of such phenomena that happened during six months of the year 523 B. C. This tablet, which is a copy, served as a reference table for other similar chronicles. The Berlin Museum contains a most interesting and important witness to the fact that in the time of Christ the study of the heavens was not neglected. It is a papyrus (P 8279) which contains data concerning the position of five planets in the zodiac during the years 14-21 of the Emperor Augustus. How reasonable and probable does not this papyrus make it that such an unusual astronomical occurrence as the threefold conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the year 7 B. C. was observed and studied by the astronomers of the time!
But how did they interpret it? Since Jupiter and Saturn were both royal stars, the astrologers would naturally surmise that the phenomenon referred to some king. A further important means of solution was offered by the position of the planets, for they met in the constellation of Pisces. Each point of the zodiac bore a significance of its own. The constellation of Pisces coincided with the "Westland." The order of arrangement of the different constellations of the zodiac begins with the "Taurus," since the point of spring was located there when astrology was developed in Babylonia about 3000-800 B. C.
As mentioned above, the "Westland" included Palestine, and in this way the Magi were caused to travel to the land of the Jews. Here we have a satisfactory explanation of the important question as to how the Magi came to connect Palestine with the particular star which they observed.
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