The heavens are telling the glory of God
the wonder of His work displays the firmament

Troparion - Tone 4  - Orthodox Liturgy - Feast of the Nativity

Your Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom! 
For by it, those who worshipped the stars,
Were taught by a Star to adore You,

The Sun of Righteousness
And to know You, the Orient from on High.

O Lord, glory to You!

Your average medieval Christian was quite comfortable with astrology as a science, and indeed saw it as another manifestation of divine power and beneficence.  Thomas Aquinas, one of the foremost theologians of the period, was to reflect that, if the moon could influence the tides of the ocean, there was no reason to deny that the planets could influence mankind. (Thomas, however, did not believe that such knowledge should be used for divination, that is, predicting the future, except in serious cases, for reasons of which you may read in this link.)

One cannot understand much of the medieval literature and poetry without acknowledging the influence that concepts of astrology had in its content. There also is an element of spirituality that can be seen in the attitude towards some of the principles of astrology. If the art of divination was condemned as the evil work of the sorcerer, astrology itself was the tool of the physician, in fact the core of medical studies in the period.

Though medieval attitudes would have considered magic to be a way of communing with the devil, the idea of the universe as reflecting the hand of the Creator remained strong. Astrology was used particularly by physicians. No pain - including sickness - would have been viewed as not having an element of the religious, whether as a punishment for sin or as a means of sacrifice that would foster virtue. Being able to read the influence of the planets was a means of discerning divine influence through a creation which was also "in His service." Such use of the signs within nature, by contrast with that considered to involve evil spirits, would endure for centuries.

In the early days of the Christian era, the gods of ancient Rome, whose actions had been frequently seen as reflected in those of the planets, were memories with which those fostering the new religion needed to reckon. Apparently, in the Middle Ages, though the Church opposed many of the pagan practises that remained popular amongst the people, the planets were not identified with the gods, but with the magnificent power of God Himself, as reflected in his creation. The very prohibition against divination was based on the notion that it was a possibility.

The popular literature and entertainment of the period, with Geoffrey Chaucer's Miller's Tale being a prime example, shows that concepts of astrology were much a part of the general thought. (Chaucer's tale, of course, hardly illustrates that consulting the astrologers was wise!) The concept of the planets influence on us and of divine providence working through this was not questioned.

Those of the Middle Ages, whose minds were focused on divine power, could wonder at the thought that, when each of us came into the world, the divine grace that delighted in this unique individual was accompanied by an entire universe's being part of the tools of this creation. The divine art declared that all of the planets would have some influence, at this singular time and place, in welcoming a new soul that was different from any other.

In these days, long before B.F. Skinner, the concept of free will was never denied. Such influences as the planets (or any other element of creation) may have on the individual's destiny were nothing more than the reflection of divine providence. Each situation provided the opportunity to grow in virtue, and, should a lack of its practise lead one from the ways God revealed, the divine mercy could make this an experience of trusting in Him and changing for the better. Then, as now, no method of divination is seen as dictating man's actions. The outcome of a situation remains in the control of the intellect and will that was given us when we were created in the divine image.

Any influences that God ordained could only be the work of His providence. He created us to love Him, on earth and in eternity, and, if He ordained that the planets play a role in presenting us with certain elements of our destiny, it could be only to that end.

Many of the elements of the astrologer's art are beyond the scope of this page, though the links can introduce the reader to more of these. My emphasis is on the elements of spirituality that one could gain, in an era far more focused on God than the present, through a respectful and worshipful attitude towards the entire created Universe.

The magnificence of the planets, which only we of the age of Voyager had the pleasure of observing in full glory, can leave no believer without awe for the divine hand that ordained their existence. Yet, if medieval man could see little of the planets, he would have remained more aware of their being part of a divine plan.

Francis of Assisi, as is expressed in the Canticle of the Creatures, was keenly aware that all of creation mirrors the hand of its Divine Creator. Today, when ecology and the like are stressed, it generally is with an emphasis on conserving resources, but the attitude of the medieval mind was quite different. Their being, which God ordained, glorified Him. Francis was not thanking God for the warmth of the sun or its benefits to us - but was acknowledging that its very being glorified its Creator.

Find the latest books on topics related to the essays at Gloriana's Court: store store

Links - not all in accord with Christian thought, but related to this topic:



© 1997 by Elizabeth G. Melillo, Ph.D.
"All that is not eternal is eternally out of date." - C.S. Lewis