Astrology is the occult science of predicting free future events and human personality traits by means of the stars. It was believed, for example, that gods inhabited the planets, and that a person who was born when a particular planet was dominant would inherit the characteristics of that planet’s god.
Judaism and Christianity have always rejected such theories and its practices as being overtly pagan, in that they supplant the supreme will of the one true God with that of the influences of multiple gods and goddesses; in a word, astrology is inherently polytheistic. The future belongs to the true God, who does not direct His universe in accord with other gods, or man-made charts, or numerological systems. Rather, it is determined by His unforeseeable holy will, which is always purposeful, rather than arbitrary or fatalistic.
Astrology belongs to the general practice of divination, which includes the many occult methods of attempting to predict the future. These would include the reading of palms, crystal balls, and tarot cards, as well as the interpretation of signs, omens, numbers, dreams, and the behavior of fire, water, and animals. And to state a most important and unpopular truth – to consult a psychic is to practice that form of divination called psychomancy. Tragically, many Christians now turn to psychics for their mental and spiritual needs as they once would have turned to a priest or minister.
Because in biblical times the Jews were surrounded by pagan peoples, the Old Testament makes many references to divination and related occult practices. And since the modern world has largely renounced the one true God and resumed its pagan superstitions, Christians should recognize in these passages a most prudent and wise legislation for the present age. For example,
“When you come into the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the abominations of the nations there. Let there not be found among you anyone who causes their son or daughter to pass through the fire, or practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, 11or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the LORD, and because of such abominations the LORD, your God, is dispossessing them before you. You must be altogether sincere with the LORD, your God. Although these nations whom you are about to dispossess listen to their soothsayers and diviners, the LORD, your God, will not permit you to do so” (Dt. 18:9-14).
“Do not be deceived by the prophets and diviners who are among you; do not listen to those among you who dream dreams, for they prophecy lies to you in my name; I did not send them.” (Jer. 29:8-9).
In the New Testament, converts to the new faith who had formerly practiced divination – most probably astrology – renounced both the practices and the materials involved:
“Many of those who had become believers came forward and openly acknowledged their former practices. Moreover, a large number of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned in public” (Acts 19:18-19).
Note that “magic” was often used as a general name for divinatory techniques.
Divination is a by-product of the mistrust of God. The person who practices Christianity and occult techniques is actually trying to manipulate God in various ways, in the hope that one form of manipulation will work with Him. But the true Christian entrusts all to God, most especially the future. Their constant prayer is “Thy will be done, not mine.” As a result of this trust, they do not live in constant fear of the future; nor do they feel the need to be warned about it beforehand by means of divinatory practices.
Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
“All forms of divination are to be rejected…[including] consulting horoscopes, astrology” (CCC 2116).
Catholic teaching on occult practices, divination, and astrology are clear. Nevertheless, an argument to the contrary is often made regarding the Magi and astrology. Such is the claim:
“Every year on the solemnity of the Epiphany, we read the account of three eastern astrologers who, in seeing an extraordinary star, rightly interpret the phenomenon as indicating a great king had been born. God used astrology to lead these Magi to Bethlehem, and the Holy Family graciously received their pious visit. Therefore, God clearly approves of the practice astrology, and so, too, must the Church.”
Actually, astrology did not lead the Magi to the Christ Child in Bethlehem. It led them only to the paranoid bloodthirsty dictator, King Herod the Great. And yet, it did not lead them even to him. Astrology had almost nothing to do with the visit of the Magi, and God certainly did not endorse it.
The stars and planets belong to God, not to astrology. God does not bow to the charts and maps of mere men; He does not conform His activities to man-made assessments of the zodiac intended to foresee His free actions from heaven or free human events on earth. Hence, the appearance of the star of Bethlehem suggested to the Magi only that an important figure had been born. That God used such an indication in no way suggests that the complex theories of astrology are correct or reliable, but only that God uses from time to time natural elements to announce supernatural events. That one instance of this should coincide with the eyes and minds of three astrologers means nothing for astrology. Hence, in spite of the star seen in the East, the Magi could not find their way to Christ, except by inquiring about Him in Jerusalem. If astrological theory had been true and correct, then this visit to the center of Judaism would have been unnecessary, and the Magi would have left their Persian homes and headed directly for the stable or cave of Bethlehem. But astrology could offer them no such guidance. As it happened, it was Old Testament prophecy that correctly directed them to the Messiah’s manger.
But why, when the Magi saw the Star of Bethlehem from the East, did they think of Jerusalem? What astrological notion brought them to the Holy City?
Once again, astrological theory had nothing to do with Jerusalem. At the time of Our Lord’s birth, Israel was rife with Messianic expectation. One can see this in the excitement generated by the ministry of John the Baptist. The Jewish authorities were anxious to ask him whether or not he was the One to come. The Jews were prepared to believe Jesus was the Messiah as well, until He showed Himself to be a type of Messiah quite different from the one they expected and wanted.
The Old Testament contains many Messianic prophecies, and the Jewish scholars would mentally pour over these passages night and day. But the Jews did not live only in Israel; they were also dispersed throughout the Gentile world. This dispersion is called the “diaspora.” By means of this diaspora, the Jewish faith was spread throughout the world, and with it, knowledge among the Gentiles of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
If the Magi were truly “wise men,” then they would have been at least somewhat familiar with Judaism, its wisdom literature, and its prophetic books. Seeing the star and believing it signaled the birth of a great figure, the Magi would have recalled the mysterious Old Testament references to a Jewish Messiah, such as this passage from the Book of Numbers:
“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come forth out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17).
Hence, the Magi decided to inquire at the center of Judaism – the city of Jerusalem – regarding the place of the Messiah’s birth. And in this city, they found their answer as provided, not by divination or astrology, but by the Jewish prophet Micah:
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephratha, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Mic. 5:2).
God searches for us wherever we are to be found. He comes to us even in the depths of our sin and unbelief. But if He speaks to us under such circumstances, He certainly is not endorsing such sin and unbelief, but calling us out of it. Imagine the logical absurdity of suggesting that, because a person turned to God in the midst of an act of adultery or murder, God, therefore was endorsing adultery or murder. And so it was with the Magi. God found them in the midst of pagan superstition, and then called them from it to turn to the Jewish prophets in order to discover the Christ Child. In doing so, God in no way endorsed the superstitions of divination and astrology.