Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

"Praise ye Him, O sun and moon: praise Him, all ye stars and light''


Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Stars



It is quite clear that the Sun affects the earth in exceedingly important ways, for example, by its mass, heat, brilliance, and path that is artfully angled relative to us, giving us our four seasons. The Moon pulls on the earth's waters, lights the night, and affects us emotionally with its beauty. It is the same with all planets and stars to some degree or other, and studying the effects of such influences -- a science called "natural astrology" -- is a fascinating topic, perfectly in keeping with the Faith.

The sort of astrology which is usually meant by the word "astrology" today, meaning seeing one's individual future as if cast in stone, imagining that one's destiny is tightly fated by the position of the planets in the Zodiac's constellations -- these things are forbidden to Christians. A few verses to keep you on track:

Isaias 47:13-14
Thou hast failed in the multitude of thy counsels: let now the astrologers stand and save thee, they that gazed at the stars, and counted the months, that from them they might tell the things that shall come to thee. Behold they are as stubble, fire hath burnt them, they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flames: there are no coals wherewith they may be warmed, nor fire, that they may sit thereat.

Jeremias 10:2
Thus saith the Lord: Learn not according to the ways of the Gentiles: and be not afraid of the signs of heaven, which the heathens fear.

Wisdom 13:1-2
But all men are vain, in whom there is not the knowledge of God: and who by these good things that are seen, could not understand him that is, neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman: But have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon, to be the gods that rule the world.

Such admonitions were necessary in a world in which the stars were often seen as not just as living things, but living things to be worshipped and which controlled our destinies. Even as late as the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas felt the need to address the question "Whether the lights of heaven are living beings?" -- something about which the Church Fathers were divided. From his Summa Theologica, I-70-3:

...Philosophers have differed on this question. Anaxagoras, for instance, as Augustine mentions, "was condemned by the Athenians for teaching that the sun was a fiery mass of stone, and neither a god nor even a living being." On the other hand, the Platonists held that the heavenly bodies have life. Nor was there less diversity of opinion among the Doctors of the Church. It was the belief of Origen and Jerome that these bodies were alive, and the latter seems to explain in that sense the words, "The spirit goeth forward, surveying all places round about." But Basil and Damascene maintain that the heavenly bodies are inanimate. Augustine leaves the matter in doubt, without committing himself to either theory, though he goes so far as to say that if the heavenly bodies are really living beings, their souls must be akin to the angelic nature.

After explaining how Plato (and, therefore, the early Church Fathers) describe the union of soul and body as a contact of a moving power with the object moved, and how "since Plato holds the heavenly bodies to be living beings, this means nothing else but that substances of spiritual nature are united to them, and act as their moving power," St. Thomas concludes:

From what has been said, then, it is clear that the heavenly bodies are not living beings in the same sense as plants and animals, and that if they are called so, it can only be equivocally. It will also be seen that the difference of opinion between those who affirm, and those who deny, that these bodies have life, is not a difference of things but of words.

"Living" or not in any sense of the word, the stars are not to be worshiped. However, it isn't against the Faith to consider the possiblity that the stars and planets influence us, even the characteristics of our personalities -- our inclinations or temperaments. St. Thomas Aquinas, again in his Summa Theologica (II-II-95-5) acknowledges this:

Hence the heavenly bodies cannot be the direct cause of the free-will's operations. Nevertheless they can be a dispositive cause of an inclination to those operations, in so far as they make an impression on the human body, and consequently on the sensitive powers which are acts of bodily organs having an inclination for human acts.

Many people, even educated, intelligent Catholics, are surprised to learn that astrology isn't, in itself, against Church teaching. I believe this is especially true in the United States, where Protestantism has a large cultural influence, even affecting how Catholics see their own Faith, how they see Christianity itself -- a religion that their Church has dominion over. I imagine, as well, that the prevalence of bad astrology out there -- the newspaper Sun Sign nonsense -- doesn't help astrology's cause either. Still, contrary to what Protestants and Protestantized Catholics think, and in spite of how the doings of silly, modern alleged astrologers affect how many people think of "astrology," astrology can be entertained as a field of study by the faithful. Aquinas says further, in answering the question, "Whether the heavenly bodies are the cause of human actions?":

It must be observed, however, that indirectly and accidentally, the impressions of heavenly bodies can reach the intellect and will, forasmuch, namely, as both intellect and will receive something from the inferior powers which are affixed to corporeal organs. But in this the intellect and will are differently situated. For the intellect, of necessity, receives from the inferior apprehensive powers: wherefore if the imaginative, cogitative, or memorative powers be disturbed, the action of the intellect is, of necessity, disturbed also. The will, on the contrary, does not, of necessity, follow the inclination of the inferior appetite; for although the passions in the irascible and concupiscible have a certain force in inclining the will; nevertheless the will retains the power of following the passions or repressing them. Therefore the impressions of the heavenly bodies, by virtue of which the inferior powers can be changed, has less influence on the will, which is the proximate cause of human actions, than on the intellect.

To maintain therefore that heavenly bodies are the cause of human actions is proper to those who hold that intellect does not differ from sense. Wherefore some of these said that "such is the will of men, as is the day which the father of men and of gods brings on" (Odyssey xviii 135). Since, therefore, it is manifest that intellect and will are not acts of corporeal organs, it is impossible that heavenly bodies be the cause of human actions.

Reply to Objection 1. The spiritual substances, that move the heavenly bodies, do indeed act on corporeal things by means of the heavenly bodies; but they act immediately on the human intellect by enlightening it. On the other hand, they cannot compel the will, as stated above (111, 2).

Reply to Objection 2. Just as the multiformity of corporeal movements is reducible to the uniformity of the heavenly movement as to its cause: so the multiformity of actions proceeding from the intellect and the will is reduced to a uniform principle which is the Divine intellect and will.

Reply to Objection 3. The majority of men follow their passions, which are movements of the sensitive appetite, in which movements of the heavenly bodies can cooperate: but few are wise enough to resist these passions. Consequently astrologers are able to foretell the truth in the majority of cases, especially in a general way. But not in particular cases; for nothing prevents man resisting his passions by his free-will. Wherefore the astrologers themselves are wont to say that "the wise man is stronger than the stars" [Ptolemy, Centiloquium, prop. 5], forasmuch as, to wit, he conquers his passions.

In other words, it is possible -- and not against the Catholic Faith to believe -- that the stars  influence our temperaments, our passions, and our sensitivSt. John Damascenee appetites, but in no way can it be believed that they "cause" human actions in any sense that denies human responsibility or negates free will. A way of thinking about this using a metaphor is this: the stars might be able to lead a horse to desire water, but they can't make it drink. To take that metaphor further, it isn't against the Faith to believe that the astrologer might be right in saying that the celestial circumstances a horse might find itself in would make it prone to being thirsty and drinking lots of water, but if the horse drinks it, it's still the horse's decision, a result of his free will (well, horses don't have "free will," but you get the point). And finally, because most horses, say, don't control themselves very well and will drink water when they're thirsty, an astrologer might be right if he were to say that most horses will, in fact, drink water when the celestial circumstances lead them to feel thirst. What he cannot say and remain consistent with the Holy Faith is that the stars indicate that a particular horse should feel thirst now, and, so, he will, in fact, drink water because the stars have said he will, have caused him to. St. John Damascene (A.D. 676 - 754/787) also made clear that the Christian view of astrology cannot deny free will. Writing in his "Exposition of the Orthodox Faith," he said: 

For we have been created with free wills by our Creator and are masters over our own actions. Indeed, if all our actions depend on the courses of the stars, all we do is done of necessity: and necessity precludes either virtue or vice. But if we possess neither virtue nor vice, we do not deserve praise or punishment, and God, too, will turn out to be unjust, since He gives good things to some and afflicts others.

Nay, He will no longer continue to guide or provide for His own creatures, if all things are carried and swept along in the grip of necessity. And the faculty of reason will be superfluous to us: for if we are not masters of any of our actions, deliberation is quite superfluous. Reason, indeed, is granted to us solely that we might take counsel, and hence all reason implies freedom of will.

So, to sum up, the stars are not to be worshipped or feared, and the stars do not control our fate or negate our freedom -- but it is most certainly not against Christian belief to consider that the heavenly bodies influence our inclinations.


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