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Wise Men Still Seek Him

BY Father Mullady

January 5, 1997 Issue | Posted 1/5/97 at 2:00 PM

 

By BRIAN MULLADYOP

WISE MEN still seek him. Aristotle says that men first began to seek wisdom in philosophy after being wonder-struck at the world experienced with their senses. Man has a natural desire to know the truth.

This desire for knowledge can only be stilled in the direct vision of God in heaven. “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27). This desire of knowledge was also satisfied through the giving of the law to the Jews on Mount Sinai. The Gentiles search for God and are led to him through nature. “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom 1, 20).

At Epiphany, we celebrate the fact that the wise and powerful among the Gentiles come now to know the Redeemer, the King of the Jews, through nature. This was to fulfill the prophecy of Balaam, who had announced that “a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel (Nm 24, 17). The word “epiphany” means manifestation. Christ is manifested to the Jews through the angels because it was through the angels that God revealed the Old Law. He is manifested to the Gentiles through their study of nature and the heavens because it is through nature and the heavens that the pagan philosophers came to know the truth.

The Magi were mysterious figures in the ancient world. They were natural philosophers, which today would also mean that they were scientists. Hailing from a priestly tribe of the Medes, they also represent natural religion. They also apparently belonged to the upper class because they brought costly gifts. The Magi represent the rich, the powerful and the wise among the pagans.

They observe a new star in the heavens. This is an external sign that shows that faith does need preambles; faith and reason do not contradict each other. Faith is not based on myths or fables or mere projections of the human mind. The star, which is brighter than others in the heavens, is a “motive of credibility” for the Gentiles. The “preaching of the heavens” (Gregory the Great, Sermons, XXXIV) evangelizes the Magi. The star points to a new knowledge that, though it is not contradictory to reason, cannot be attained by reason. Because the Magi are rightly disposed within, the external light of the star becomes an interior light— the light of faith. They are led by an external light, but they are also led by their inner faith. The rays of truth touched their minds and enlightened them with divine knowledge. They set out on the road led by their faith, which for them was “by no means a blind impulse of the mind” (Catechism, 156).

Their faith, which was “a light of revelation for the Gentiles” (Lk 2, 32), led them to Israel. Though they were Gentiles, they identified the source of the light, the creator of the world, with the King of the Jews. They naturally sought him in the city of the King of the Jews, Jerusalem. The Jewish wise men and king interpret the prophecies correctly for the natural scientists as to the place of the birth of the Messiah. Yet, because they did not understand that the kingdom of Christ was one of holiness, grace, truth, justice, love and peace, the star does not lead them. There is no faith in their hearts to connect them with the light of the star.

The star leads the Magi to Bethlehem where they find Jesus with Mary. They prostrate themselves before him. The powerful, rich and wise of the earth acknowledge that grace is true power, wealth and wisdom. What a great example for the learned and clever in this age! Science and reason prostrate before faith as its handmaidens. The Magi's knowledge is not concerned with the power of manipulation, but with the truth of receiving the gift of divine life.

Their gifts mystically show the fullness of revelation about the Child. Gold to show he is a king of hearts, frankincense to show He is God, myrrh to show he will give us grace through his death. The star of believing should lead the wise men of each age to find in Him the completion of their hearts' wonder at the nature of the world. “O Herod, wicked foe, why fear that Christ the Lord approaches near, he does not take your earthly sway, who heavenly kingdoms gives away” (Divine office: hymn for Epiphany).

Father Mullady is a professor of theology at Holy Apostles Seminary, Cromwell, Conn.