1. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of
Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2. Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have
seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.
Aug.: After the miraculous Virgin-birth, a God-man having by Divine
power proceeded from a virgin womb; in the obscure shelter of such a cradle,
a narrow stall, wherein lay Infinite Majesty in a body more narrow, a God
was suckled and suffered the wrapping of vile rags - amidst all this, on
a sudden a new star shone in the sky upon the earth, and driving away the
darkness of the world, changed night into day; that the day-star should
not be hidden by the night.
Hence it is that the Evangelist says, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem."
Remig.: In the beginning of this passage of the Gospel he puts three
several things; the person, "When Jesus was born," the place, "in Bethlehem
of Judaea," and the time, "in the days of Herod the king." These three
circumstances verify his words.
Jerome: We think the Evangelist first wrote, as we read in the Hebrew,
'Judah,' not 'Judaea.' For in what other country is there a Bethlehem,
that this needs to be distinguished as in 'Judaea?' But 'Judah' is written,
because there is another Bethlehem in Galilee.
Gloss. ord.: There are two Bethlehems; [Josh 19:15] one in the tribe
of Zabulon, the other in the tribe of Judah, which was before called Ephrata.
Aug., de Cons. Evan., 2, 15: Concerning the place, Bethlehem, Matthew
and Luke agree; but the cause and manner of their being there, Luke relates,
Matthew omits. Luke again omits the account of the Magi, which Matthew
gives. [p. 61]
Pseudo-Chrys.: Let us see to what serves this designation of time, "In
the days of Herod the king." It shews the fulfilment of Daniel's prophecy,
wherein he spake that Christ should be born after seventy weeks of years.
For from the time of the prophecy to the reign of Herod, the years of seventy
weeks were accomplished.
Or again, as long as Judaea was ruled by Jewish princes, though sinners,
so long prophets were sent for its amendment; but now, whereas God's law
was held under the power of an unrighteous king, and the righteousness
of God enslaved by the Roman rule, Christ is born; the most desperate sickness
required the better physician.
Rabanus: Otherwise, he mentions the foreign king to shew the fulfilment
of the prophecy. "The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver
from between his feet, until Shiloh come." [Gen 49:10]
Ambrose, in Luc., iii, 41: It is said, that some Idumaean robbers coming
to Ascalon, brought with them among other prisoners Antipater. [ed. note:
The same account of Herod's parentage is given by Africanus, Euseb. Hist.
i. 7. but Josephus says (Antiq. xiv. 1. n. 3. de Bell. Jud. i. 6. n. 2.)
that Herod was an Idumaean, of noble birth, and that his father Antipas
was governor of Idumaea under Alexander Jannaeus.] He was instructed in
the law and customs of the Jews, and acquired the friendship of Hyrcanus,
king of Judaea, who sent him as his deputy to Pompey. He succeeded so well
in the object of his mission, that he laid claim to a share of the throne.
He was put to death, but his son Herod was under Antony appointed king
of Judaea, by a decree of the Senate; so it is clear that Herod sought
the throne of Judaea without any connection or claim of birth.
Chyrs.: "Herod the king," mentioning his dignity, because there was
another Herod who put John to death.
Pseudo-Chrys.: "When He was born . . . behold wise men," that is, immediately
on His birth, shewing that a great God existed in a little one of man.
Rabanus: The Magi are men who enquire into the nature of things philosophically,
but common speech uses Magi for wizards. In their own country, however,
they are held in other repute, being the philosophers of the Chaldaeans,
in whose lore kings and princes of that nation are taught, and by which
themselves knew the birth of the Lord.
Aug., Serm. 202: What were these Magi but the first [p. 62] fruits of
the Gentiles? Israelitish shepherds, gentile Magians, one from far, the
other from near, hastened to the one Corner-stone.
Aug., Serm. 200: Jesus then was manifested neither to the learned nor
the righteous; for ignorance belonged to the shepherds, impiety to the
idolatrous Magi. Yet does that Corner-stone attract them both to Itself,
seeing He came to choose the foolish things of this world to confound the
wise, and not to call the righteous, but sinners; that nothing great should
exalt himself, none weak should despair.
Gloss: These Magi were kings, and though their gifts were three, it
is not to be thence inferred that themselves were only three in number,
but in them was prefigured the coming to the faith of the nations sprung
from the three sons of Noah.
Or, the princes were only three, but each brought a large company with
him. They came not after a year's end, for He would then have been found
in Egypt, not in the manger, but on the thirteenth day. To shew whence
they came it is said, "from the East."
Remig.: It should be known that opinions vary respecting the Magi. Some
say they were Chaldaeans, who are known to have worshipped a star as God;
thus their fictitious Deity shewed them the way to the true God. Others
think that they were Persians; others again, that they came from the utmost
ends of the earth. Another and more probable opinion is, that they were
descendants of Balaam, who having his prophecy, "There shall rise a Star
out of Jacob," [Num 24:17] as soon as they saw the star, would know that
a King was born.
Jerome: They knew that such a star would rise by the prophecy of Balaam,
whose successors they were. But whether they were Chaldaeans, or Persians,
or came from the utmost ends of the earth, how in so short a space of time
could they arrive at Jerusalem?
Remig.: Some used to answer, 'No marvel if that boy who was then born
could draw them so speedily, though it were from the ends of the earth.'
Gloss: Or, they had dromedaries and Arabian horses, whose great swiftness
brought them to Bethlehem in thirteen days.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, they had set out two years before the Saviour's birth,
and though they travelled all that time, neither meat nor drink failed
in their scrips.
Remig.: Or, if they were the descendants of Balaam, their kings are
not far distant from the land of promise, and [p. 63] might easily come
to Jerusalem in that so short time.
But why does he write "From the East?" Because surely they came from
a country eastward of Judaea. But there is also great beauty in this, They
"came out of the East," seeing all who come to the Lord, come from Him
and through Him; as it is said in Zechariah, "Behold the Man whose name
is the East." [Zech 6:12]
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, whence the day springs, thence came the first-fruits
of the faith; for faith is the light of the soul. Therefore they came from
the East, but to Jerusalem.
Remig.: Yet was not the Lord born there; thus they knew the time but
not the place of His birth. Jerusalem being the royal city, they believed
that such a child could not be born in any other.
Or it was to fulfil that Scripture, "The Law shall go out of Sion, and
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." [Isa 2:3] And there Christ was first
Or it was to condemn the backwardness of the Jews.
Pseudo-Aug., Append. Serm. 132: Many kings of Judaea had been born and
died before, yet had Magi ever sought out any of them for adoration? No,
for they had not been taught that any of these spoke from heaven. To no
ordinary King of Judaea had these men, aliens from the land of Judaea,
ever thought such honour due. But they had been taught that this Child
was one, in worshipping whom they would certainly secure that salvation
which is of God. Neither His age was such as attracts men's flattery; His
limbs not robed in purple, His brow not crowned with a diamond, no pompous
train, no awful army, no glorious fame of battles, attracted these men
to Him from the remotest countries, with such earnestness of supplication.
There lay in a manger a Boy, newly born, of infantine size, of pitiable
poverty. But in that small Infant lay hid something great, which these
men, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, had learned not of earth but of
heaven; as it follows, "We have seen His star in the east." They announce
the vision and ask, they believe and enquire, as signifying those who walk
by faith and desire sight.
Greg., M. in Evan., i. 10. n. 4: It should be known that the Priscillianists,
heretics who believe every man to be born under the aspect of some planet.
cite this text in support of their error; the new star which appeared at
the Lord's birth they consider to have been his fate.
Aug., contr. Faust, ii, 1: And, according to Faustus this [p. 64] introduction
of the account of the star would lead us rather to call this part of the
history, 'The Nativity,' than 'The Gospel.'
Gregory: But far be it from the hearts of the faithful to call any thing,
Aug., City of God, book v, ch. 1: For by the word, 'fate,' in common
acceptation, is meant the disposition of the stars at the moment of a person's
birth or conception; to which some assign a power independent of the will
of God. These must be kept at a distance from the ears of all who desire
to be worshippers of Gods of any sort. But others think the stars have
this virtue committed to them by the great God; wherein they greatly wrong
the skies, in that they impute to their splendent host the decreeing of
crimes, such as should any earthly people decree, their city should in
the judgment of mankind deserve to be utterly destroyed.
Pseudo-Chrys.: If then any should become an adulterer or homicide through
means of the planets, how great is the evil and wickedness of those stars,
or rather of Him who made them? For as God knows things to come, and what
evils are to spring from those stars; if He would not hinder it, He is
not good; if He would but could not, He is weak.
Again, if it be of the star that we are either good or bad, we have
neither merit nor demerit, as being involuntary agents; and why should
I be punished for sin which I have done not wilfully, but by necessity?
The very commands of God against sin, and exhortations to righteousness,
overthrow such folly. For where a man has not power to do, or where he
has not power to forbear, who would command him either to do or to forbear?
Gregory Nyss.: How vain moreover is prayer for those who live by fate;
Divine Providence is banished from the world together with piety, and man
is made the mere instrument of the sidereal motions. For these they say
move to action, not only the bodily members, but the thoughts of the mind.
In a word, they who teach this, take away all that is in us, and the very
nature of a contingency; which is nothing less than to overturn all things.
For where will there be free will? but that which is in us must be free.
Augustine, City of God, Book 5, ch. 6: It cannot be said to be utterly
absurd to suppose that sidereal afflatus should influence the state of
the body, when we see that it is by the approach and departure of the sun
that the seasons of the year are [p. 65] varied, and that many things,
as shells and the wonderful tides of the Ocean, increase or decrease as
the moon waxes or wanes. But not so, to say that the dispositions of the
mind are subject to sidereal impulse. Do they say that the stars rather
foreshew than effect these results? how then do they explain, that in the
life of twins, in their actions, their successes, professions, honours,
and all other circumstances of life, there will often be so great diversity,
that men of different countries are often more alike in their lives than
twins, between whose birth there was only a moment's, and between whose
conception in the womb there was not a moment's, interval.
And the small interval between their births is not enough to account
for the great difference between their fates. Some give the name of fate
not only to the constitution of the stars, but to all series of causes,
at the same time subjecting all to the will and power of God.
This sort of subjection of human affairs and fate is a confusion of
language which should be corrected, for fate is strictly the constitution
of the stars. The will of God we do not call 'fate,' unless indeed we will
derive the word from 'speaking;' as in the Psalms, "God hath spoken once,
twice have I heard the same." [Ps 62:11] There is then no need of much
contention about what is merely a verbal controversy.
Aug., cont. Faust. ii, 5: But if we will not subject the nativity of
any man to the influence of the stars, in order that we may vindicate the
freedom of the will from any chain of necessity; how much less must we
suppose sidereal influences to have ruled at His temporal birth, who is
eternal Creator and Lord of the universe? The star which the Magi saw,
at Christ's birth according to the flesh, did not rule His fate, but ministered
as a testimony to Him. Further, this was not of the number of those stars,
which from the beginning of the creation observe their paths of motion
according to the law of their Maker; but a star that first appeared at
the birth, ministering to the Magi who sought Christ, by going before them
till it brought them to the place where the infant God the Word was.
According to some astrologers such is the connexion of human fate with
the stars, that on the birth of some men stars have been known to leave
their courses, and go directly to the new-born. The fortune indeed of him
[p. 66] that is born they suppose to be bound up with the course of the
stars, not that the course of the stars is changed after the day of any
If then this star were of the number of those that fulfil their courses
in the heavens, how could it determine what Christ should do, when it was
commanded at His birth only to leave its own course? If, as is more probable,
it was first created at His birth, Christ was not therefore born because
it arose, but the reverse; so that if we must have fate connected with
the stars, this star did not rule Christ's fate, but Christ the stars.
Chrys.: The object of astrology is not to learn from the stars the fact
of one's birth; but from the hour of their nativity to forecast the fate
of those that are born. But these men knew not the time of the nativity
to have forecast the future from it, but the converse.
Gloss. interlin.: 'His star,' i.e. the star He created for a witness
Gloss. ord.: To the Shepherds, Angels, and the Magians, a star points
out Christ; to both speaks the tongue of Heaven, since the tongue of the
Prophets was mute. The Angels dwell in the heavens, the stars adorn it,
to both therefore "the heavens declare the glory of God."
Greg., Hom. in Ev. Lib. i. Hom. 10: To the Jews who used their reason,
a rational creature, i.e. an Angel, ought to preach. But the Gentiles who
knew not to use their reason are brought to the knowledge of the Lord,
not by words, but by signs; to the one prophecy, as to the faithful; to
the other signs, as to the unbelievers. One and the same Christ is preached,
when of perfect age, by Apostles; when an infant, and not yet able to speak,
is announced by a star to the Gentiles; for so the order of reason required;
speaking preachers proclaimed a speaking Lord, mute signs proclaimed a
Leo, Serm. 33, 2: Christ Himself, the expectation of the nations, that
innumerable posterity once promised to the most blessed patriarch Abraham,
but to be born not after the flesh, but by the Spirit, therefore likened
to the stars for multitude, that from the father of all nations, not an
earthly but an heavenly progeny might be looked for.
Thus the heirs of that promised posterity, marked out in the stars,
are roused to the faith by the rise of a new star, and where the heavens
had been at first called in to witness, the aid of Heaven is continued.
Chrys.: This was manifestly not one of the common stars of Heaven. First,
because none of the stars moves in this way, from east to south, and such
is the situation of Palestine with respect to Persia. Secondly, from the
time of its appearance, not in the night only, but during the day. Thirdly,
from its being visible and then again invisible; when they entered Jerusalem
it hid itself, and then appeared again when they left Herod. Further, it
had no stated motion, but when the Magi were to go on, it went before them;
when to stop, it stopped like the pillar of cloud in the desert. Fourthly,
it signified the Virgin's delivery, not by being fixed aloft, but by descending
to earth, shewing herein like an invisible virtue formed into the visible
appearance of a star.
Remig.: Some affirm this star to have been the Holy Spirit; He who descended
on the baptized Lord as a dove, appearing to the Magi as a star. Others
say it was an Angel, the same who appeared to the shepherds.
Gloss. ord: "In the east." It seems doubtful whether this refers to
the place of the star, or of those that saw it; it might have risen in
the east, and gone before them to Jerusalem.
Aug., Serm. 374: Will you ask, from whom had they learned that such
an appearance as a star was to signify the birth of Christ? I answer from
Angels, by the warning of some revelation. Do you ask, was it from good
or ill Angels? Truly even wicked spirits, namely the daemons, confessed
Christ to be the Son of God. But why should they not have heard it from
good Angels, since in this their adoration of Christ their salvation was
sought, not their wickedness condemned? The Angels might say to them, 'The
Star which ye have seen is the Christ. Go ye, worship Him, where He is
now born, and see how great is He that is born.'
Leo, Sermon 34, 3: Besides that star thus seen with the bodily eye,
a yet brighter ray of truth pierced their hearts; they were enlightened
by the illumination of the true faith.
Pseudo-Aug., Hil. Quaest. V. and N. Test. q. 63: They might think that
a king of Judaea was born, since the birth of temporal princes is sometimes
attended by a star. These Chaldean Magi inspected the stars, not with malevolence,
but with the true desire of knowledge; following, it may be supposed, the
tradition from Balaam; so that [p. 68] when they saw this new and singular
star, they understood it to be that of which Balaam had prophesied, as
marking the birth of a King of Judaea.
Leo: What they knew and believed might have been sufficient for themselves,
that they needed not to seek to see with the bodily eye, what they saw
so clearly with the spiritual. But their earnestness and perseverance to
see the Babe was for our profit. It profited us that Thomas, after the
Lord's resurrection, touched and felt the marks of his wounds, and so for
our profit the Magians' eyes looked on the Lord in His cradle.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Were they then ignorant that Herod reigned in Jerusalem?
Or that it is a capital treason to proclaim another King while one yet
lives? But while they thought on the King to come, they feared not the
king that was; while as yet they had not seen Christ, they were ready to
die for Him. O blessed Magi! who before the face of a most cruel king,
and before having beheld Christ, were made His confessors.
3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and
all Jerusalem with him.
4. And when he had gathered all the Chief Priests and Scribes of
the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5. And they said unto him, "In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it
is written by the prophet,
6. 'And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among
the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall
rule my people Israel.' "
Aug.: As the Magi seek a Redeemer, so Herod fears a successor.
Gloss. ord.: "The King," he is called, though in comparison with him
whom they are seeking he is an alien and a foreigner.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Herod "was troubled" when he heard that a King was born
of Jewish lineage, lest, himself being an Idumaean, the kingdom should
return again to native princes, and himself be expelled, and his seed after
[p. 69] him.
Great station is ever obnoxious to great fears; as the boughs of trees
planted in high ground move when never so little wind blows, so high men
are troubled with little rumours; while the lowly, like trees in the valley,
remain at peace.
Aug., Serm. 200, 2: If His birth as an infant makes proud kings tremble,
what will His tribunal as a Judge do? Let princes fear Him sitting at the
right hand of His Father, whom this impious king feared while He hanged
yet on His mother's breast.
Leo: Thou art troubled, Herod, without cause. Thy nature cannot contain
Christ, nor is the Lord of the world content with the narrow bounds of
thy dominion. He, whom thou wouldest not should reign in Judaea, reigns
Gloss. ord.: Perhaps he was troubled not on his own account, but for
fear of the displeasure of the Romans. They would not allow the title of
King or of God to any without their permission.
Greg., Hom. in Evan., 1, 10: At the birth of a King of Heaven, a king
of earth is troubled; surely, earthly greatness is confounded, when heavenly
greatness shews itself.
Leo, Serm. 36, 2: Herod represents the Devil; who as he then instigated
him, so now he unweariedly imitates him. For he is grieved by the calling
of the Gentiles, and by the daily ruin of his power.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Both have their own causes of jealousy, both fear a successor
in their kingdom; Herod an earthly successor, the Devil a spiritual. Even
Jerusalem is troubled, which should have rejoiced at that news, when a
Jewish King was said to be risen up. But they were troubled, for the wicked
cannot rejoice at the coming of the good. Or perhaps it was in fear that
Herod should wreak his wrath against a Jewish King on his race.
Gloss. ord.: "Jerusalem was troubled with him," as willing to favour
him whom it feared; the vulgar always pay undue honour to one who tyrannizes
over it. Observe the diligence of his enquiry. If he should find him, he
would do to him as he shewed afterwards his disposition; if he should not,
he would at least be excused to the Romans.
Remig.: They are called Scribes, not from the employment of writing,
but from the interpretation of the Scriptures, for they were doctors of
the law. Observe, he does not enquire where Christ is born, but where He
should be born; the subtle purpose of this was to see if they would shew
pleasure at [p. 70] the birth of their King. He calls Him Christ, because
he knew that the King of the Jews was anointed.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Why does Herod make this enquiry, seeing he believed
not the Scriptures? Or if he did believe, how could he hope to be able
to kill Him whom the Scriptures declared should be King? The Devil instigated
Herod; who believed that Scripture lies not. Such is the faith of devils,
who are not permitted to have perfect belief, even of that which they do
believe. That they do believe, it is the force of truth constrains them;
that they do not believe, it is that they are blinded by the enemy. If
they had perfect faith, they would live as about to depart from this world
soon, not as to possess it for ever.
Leo, Serm. 31, 2: The Magi, judging as men, sought in the royal city
for Him, whom they had been told was born a King. But He who took the form
of a servant, and came not to judge but to be judged, chose Bethlehem for
His birth, Jerusalem for His death.
Theodotus, Serm. 1, ap. Conc. Eph.: Had He chosen the mighty city of
Rome, it might have been thought that this change of the world had been
wrought by the might of her citizens; had He been the son of the emperor,
his power might have aided Him. But what was His choice? All that was mean,
all that was in low esteem, that in this transformation of the world, divinity
might at once be recognized. Therefore He chose a poor woman for His mother,
a poor country for His native country; He has no money, and this stable
is His cradle.
Gregory, Hom. in Evan., 8, 1: Rightly is He born in Bethlehem, which
signifies the house of bread, who said, "I am the living bread, who came
down from heaven."
Pseudo-Chrys.: When they should have kept secret the mystery of the
King appointed of God, especially before a foreign king, straightway they
became not preachers of the word of God, but revealers of His mystery.
And they not only display the mystery, but cite the passage of the prophet,
Gloss. ord.: He quotes this prophecy as they quote who give the sense
and not the words.
Jerome, Epist. 57: The Jews are here blamed for ignorance; for whereas
the prophecy says, "Thou Bethlehem Ephrata;" they said, 'Bethlehem in the
land of Judah.'
Pseudo-Chrys.: By cutting short the prophecy, they became the cause
of the murder of [p. 71] the Innocents. For the prophecy proceeds, "From
thee shall go forth a King who shall feed My people Israel, and His day
shall be from everlasting." Had they cited the whole prophecy, Herod would
not have raged so madly, considering that it could not be an earthly King
whose days were spoken of as "from everlasting."
Jerome, in Mich. v. 2: The following is the sense of the prophecy. Thou,
Bethlehem, of the land of Judah, or Ephrata, (which is added to distinguish
it from another Bethlehem in Galilee,) though thou art a small village
among the thousand cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall be born Christ,
who shall be the Ruler of Israel, who according to the flesh is of the
seed of David, but was born of Me before the worlds; and therefore it is
written, "His goings forth are of old. In the beginning was the Word."
Gloss: This latter half of the prophecy the Jews dropped; and other
parts they altered, either through ignorance, (as was said above,) or for
perspicuity, that Herod who was a foreigner might better understand the
prophecy; thus for "Ephrata," they said, "land of Judah;" and for "little
among the thousands of Judah," which expresses its smallness contrasted
with the multitude of the people, they said, "not the least among the princes,"
willing to shew the high dignity that would come from the birth of the
Prince. As if they had said, "Thou art great among cities from which princes
Remig.: Or the sense is; though little among cities that have dominion,
yet art thou not the least, for "out of thee shall come the Ruler, who
shall rule My people Israel;" this Ruler is Christ, who rules and guides
His faithful people.
Chrys.: Observe the exactness of the prophecy; it is not He shall be
in Bethlehem, but shall come out of Bethlehem; shewing that He should be
only born there. What reason is there for applying this to Zorobabel, as
some do? For his goings forth were not from everlasting; nor did he go
forth from Bethlehem, but was born in Babylonia. The expression, "art not
the least," is a further proof, for none but Christ could make the town
where He was born illustrious.
And after that birth, there came men from the utmost ends of the earth
to see the stable and manger. He calls Him not 'the Son of God,' but "the
Ruler who shall govern My people Israel;" [p. 72] for thus He ought to
condescend at the first, that they should not be scandalized, but should
preach such things as more pertained to salvation, that they might be gained.
"Who shall rule My people Israel," is said mystically, for those of
the Jews who believed; for if Christ ruled not all the Jews, theirs is
the blame. Meanwhile he is silent respecting the Gentiles, that the Jews
might not be scandalized. Mark this wonderful ordinance; Jews and Magi
mutually instruct each other; the Jews learn of the Magi that a star had
proclaimed Christ in the east, the Magi from the Jews that the Prophets
had spoken of Him of old. Thus confirmed by a twofold testimony, they would
look with more ardent faith for One whom the brightness of the star and
the voice of the Prophets equally proclaimed.
Aug., Serm. 374. 2, 373. 4: The star that guided the Magi to the spot
where was the Infant God with His Virgin Mother, might have conducted them
straight to the town; but it vanished, and shewed not itself again to them
till the Jews themselves had told them "the place where Christ should be
born;" Bethlehem of Judaea.
Like in this to those who built the ark for Noah, providing others with
a refuge, themselves perished in the flood; or like to the stones by the
road that shew the miles, but themselves are not able to move.
The enquirers heard and departed; the teachers spake and remained still.
Even now the Jews shew us something similar; for some Pagans, when clear
passages of Scripture are shewn them, which prophesy of Christ, suspecting
them to be forged by the Christians, have recourse to Jewish copies. Thus
they leave the Jews to read unprofitably, and go on themselves to believe
7. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired
of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and search diligently
for the young Child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that
I may come and worship Him also."
9. Whey they had heard the king, they departed.
Pseudo-Chrys.: As soon as Herod had heard the answer, though doubly
authenticated, both by the authority of the Priests, and the passage from
the Prophets, he yet turned not to worship the King that was to be born,
but sought how he might put Him to death by subtilty. He saw that the Magi
were neither to be won by flattery, nor awed by threats, nor bribed by
gifts, to consent to this murder; he sought therefore to deceive them;
"he privily called the wise men;" that the Jews, whom he suspected, might
not know of it. For he thought they would incline the rather to a King
of their own nation.
Remig.: "Diligently enquired;" craftily, for he feared they would not
return to him, and then he should know how he should do to put the young
Child to death.
Pseudo-Aug., Serm. in App. 131, 3: The star had been seen, and with
great wonder, nearly two years before. We are to understand that it was
signified to them whose the star was, which was visible all that time till
He, whom it signified, was born. Then as soon as Christ was made known
to them they set out, and came and worshipped Him in thirteen days from
the east. [ed. note: This is written upon the notion that the Magi presented
themselves to Christ twelve days after His birth, according to the Latin
date for celebrating the event. It seems really to have taken place after
the Purification, on the return of St. Mary to Bethlehem. However, Aug.
(Cons. Evan., ii. 11) places it before the Purification.]
Chrys.: Or, the star appeared to them long time before, because the
journey would take up some time, and they were to stand before Him immediately
on His birth, that seeing Him in swaddling clothes, He might seem the more
Gloss: According to others, the star was first seen on the day of the
nativity, and having accomplished its end, ceased to be. Thus Fulgentius
[margin note: Serm. de Epiph.] says, "The Boy at His birth created a new
star." Though they now knew both time and place, he still would not have
them ignorant of the person of the Child, "Go," he says, "and enquire diligently
of the young Child;" a commission they would have executed even if he had
not commanded it.
Chrys.: "Concerning the young Child," he says, not 'of the King;' he
envies Him the regal title.
Pseudo-Chrys.: To induce them to do this, he put on the colour of devotion,
beneath which he whetted the sword, hiding the malice of his heart under
colour of [p. 74] humility. Such is the manner of the malicious, when they
would hurt any one in secret, they feign meekness and affection.
Greg., Hom. in Ev. i. 10. 3: He feigns a wish of worshipping Him only
that he may discover Him, and put him to death.
Remig.: The Magi obeyed the King so far as to seek the Lord, but not
to return to Herod. Like in this to good hearers; the good they hear from
wicked preachers, that they do; but do not imitate their evil lives.
9. And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them,
till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
Pseudo-Chrys.: This passage shews, that when the star had brought the
Magi nearly to Jerusalem, it was hidden from them, and so they were compelled
to ask in Jerusalem, "where Christ should be born?" and thus to manifest
Him to them; on two accounts, first, to put to confusion the Jews, inasmuch
as the Gentiles instructed only by sight of a star sought Christ through
strange lands, while the Jews who had read the Prophets from their youth
did not receive Him, though born in their country.
Secondly, that the Priests, when asked where Christ should be born,
might answer to their now condemnation, and while they instructed Herod,
they were themselves ignorant of Him.
"The star went before them," to shew them the greatness of the King.
Aug.: To perform its due service to the Lord, it advanced slowly, leading
them to the spot. It was ministering to Him, and not ruling His fate; its
light shewed the suppliants and filled the inn, shed over the walls and
roof that covered the birth; and thus it disappeared.
Pseudo-Chrys.: What wonder that a divine star should minister to the
Sun of righteousness about to rise. It stood over the Child's head, as
it were, saying, 'This is He;' proving by its place what it had no voice
Gloss. Anselm: It is evident that the star must have been in the air,
and close above the house where the Child was, else it would not have pointed
out the exact house.
Ambrose, in Luc. 2, 45: The star is the way, and the way is Christ;
and according to the mystery of the incarnation, Christ is a [p. 75] star.
He is a blazing and a morning-star. Thus where Herod is, the star is not
seen; where Christ is, there it is again seen, and points out the way.
Remig.: Or, the star figures the grace of God, and Herod the Devil.
He, who by sin puts himself in the Devil's power, loses that grace; but
if he return by repentance, he soon finds that grace again which leaves
him not till it have brought him to the young Child's house, i.e. the Church.
Gloss. ord.: Or, the star is the illumination of faith, which leads
him to the nearest aid; while they turn aside to the Jews, the Magi lose
it; so those who seek counsel of the bad, lose the true light.
10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child
with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they
had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense,
Gloss: This service of the star is followed by the rejoicing of the
Remig.: And it was not enough to say, "They rejoiced," but "they rejoiced
with exceeding great joy."
Pseudo-Chrys.: They rejoiced, because their hopes were not falsified
but confirmed, and because the toil of so great travel had not been undertaken
Gloss. ord.: He rejoices indeed who rejoices on God's account, who is
the true joy. "With great joy," he says, for they had great cause.
Pseudo-Chrys.: By the mystery of this star they understood that the
dignity of the King then born exceeded the measure of all worldly kings.
Remig.: He adds, "greatly," shewing that men rejoice more over what
they have lost than over what they possess.
Leo, Serm. in Epiph., 4. 3: Though in stature a babe, needing the aid
of others, unable to speak, and different in nothing from other infants,
yet such faithful witnesses, shewing the unseen Divine Majesty which was
in Him, ought to have proved most certainly that was the Eternal Essence
of the Son of [p. 76] God that had taken upon Him the true human nature.
Pseudo-Chrys.: "Mary His mother," not crowned with a diadem or laying
on a golden couch; but with barely one garment, not for ornament but for
covering, and that such as the wife of a carpenter when abroad might have.
Had they therefore come to seek an earthly king, they would have been more
confounded than rejoiced, deeming their pains thrown away.
But now they looked for a heavenly King; so that though they saw nought
of regal state, that star's witness sufficed them, and their eyes rejoiced
to behold a despised Boy, the Spirit shewing Him to their hearts in all
His wonderful power, they fell down and worshipped, seeing the man, they
acknowledged the God.
Rabanus: Joseph was absent by Divine command, that no wrong suspicions
might occur to the Gentiles.
Gloss, Anselm: in these offerings we observe their national customs,
gold, frankincense, and various spices abounding among the Arabians; yet
they intended thereby to signify something in mystery.
Greg., Hom. in Evan., 1, 106: Gold, as to a King; frankincense, as sacrifice
to God; myrrh, as embalming the body of the dead.
Aug.: Gold, as paid to a mighty King; frankincense, as offered to God;
myrrh, as to one who is to die for the sins of all.
Pseudo-Chrys.: And though it were not then understood what these several
gifts mystically signified, that is no difficulty; the same grace that
instigated them to the deed, ordained the whole.
Remig.: And it is to be known that each did not offer a different gift,
but each one the three kings, each one thus proclaiming the King, the God,
and the man.
Chrys.: Let Marcion and Paul of Samosata then blush, who will not see
what the Magi saw, those progenitors of the Church adoring God in the flesh.
That He was truly in the flesh, the swaddling clothes and the stall prove;
yet that they worshipped Him not as mere man, but as God, the gifts prove
which it was becoming to offer to a God. Let the Jews also be ashamed,
seeing the Magi coming before them, and themselves not even earnest to
tread in their path.
Greg.: Something further may yet be meant here. Wisdom is typified by
gold; as Solomon saith in the Proverbs, "A treasure to be desired is in
the mouth of the wise."
By frankincense, which is burnt before God, the power of prayer [p.
77] is intended, as in the Psalms, "Let my speech come before thee as incense."
[Ps 141:2] In myrrh is figured mortification of the flesh. To a king at
his birth we offer gold, if we shine in his sight with the light of wisdom;
we offer frankincense, if we have power before God by the sweet savour
of our prayers; we offer myrrh, when we mortify by abstinence the lusts
of the flesh.
Gloss, Anselm: The three men who offer, signify the nations who come
from the three quarters of the earth. They open their treasures, i.e. manifest
the faith of their hearts by confession. Rightly "in the house," teaching
that we should not vaingloriously display the treasure of a good conscience.
They bring "three" gifts, i.e. the faith in the Holy Trinity. Or opening
the stores of Scripture, they offer its threefold sense, historical, moral
and allegorical; or Logic, Physic, and Ethics, making them all serve the
12. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return
to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
Aug.: The wicked Herod, now made cruel by fear, will needs do a deed
of horror. But how could he ensnare him who had come to cut off all fraud?
His fraud is escaped as it follows, "And being warned."
Jerome: They had offered gifts to the Lord, and receive a warning corresponding
to it. This warning (in the Greek 'having received a response') is given
not by an Angel, but by the Lord Himself, to shew the high privilege granted
to the merit of Joseph.
Gloss. ord.: This warning is given by the Lord Himself; it is none other
that now teaches these Magi the way they should return, but He who said,
"I am the way." [John 14:6] Not that the Infant actually speaks to them,
that His divinity may not be revealed before the time, and His human nature
may be thought real. But he says, "having received an answer," for as Moses
prayed silently, so they with pious spirit had asked what the Divine will
bade. "By another way," for they were not to be mixed up with the unbelieving
Chrys., Hom. 8: See the faith of the Magi; they were not offended, nor
said within themselves, What need now of flight? or [p. 78] of secret return,
if this Boy be really some great one? Such is true faith; it asks not the
reason of any command, but obeys.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Had the Magi sought Christ as an earthly King, they would
have remained with Him when they had found Him; but they only worship,
and go their way. After their return, they continued in the worship of
God more steadfast than before, and taught many by their preaching. And
when afterwards Thomas reached their country, they joined themselves to
him, and were baptized, and did according to his preaching. [ed. note:
S. Thomas is said to have preached to the Parthians, Persians, or Indians.
Euseb. Hist. iii. 1. Clem. Recogn. ix. 29. Greg. Naz. Or. 25. p. 438. The
Margi are mentioned, Pseudo-Hippol. de Duod. Apost. (ed. Fabr. Append.
p. 30) Combefis conjecturing Mardi.]
Greg., Hom. in Ev. i. 10. 7: We may learn much from this return of the
Magi another way. Our country is Paradise, to which, after we have come
to the knowledge of Christ we are forbidden to return the way we came.
We have left this country by pride, disobedience, following things of sight,
tasting, forbidden food; and we must return to it by repentance, obedience,
by contemning things of sight, and overcoming carnal appetite.
Pseudo-Chrys.: It was impossible that they, who left Herod to go to
Christ, should return to Herod. They who have by sin left Christ and passed
to the devil, often return to Christ; for the innocent, who knows not what
is evil, is easily deceived, but having once tasted the evil he has taken
up, and remembering the good he has left, he returns in penitence to God.
He who has forsaken the devil and come to Christ, hardly returns to the
devil; for rejoicing in the good he has found, and remembering the evil
he has escaped, with difficulty returns to that evil.