QUESTION 36: OF THE MANIFESTATION OF THE NEWLY BORN CHRIST
We must now consider the manifestation of the newly born Christ:
concerning which there are eight points of inquiry:
(1) Whether Christ's birth should have been made known to all?
(2) Whether it should have been made known to some?
(3) To whom should it have been made known?
(4) Whether He should have made Himself known, or should He rather have
been manifested by others?
(5) By what other means should it have been made known?
(6) Of the order of these manifestations;
(7) Of the star by means of which His birth was made known;
(8) of the adoration of the Magi, who were informed of Christ's nativity
by means of the star.
Article 1: Whether Christ's birth should have been made known to all?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ's birth should have been made known to
all. Because fulfilment should correspond to promise. Now, the promise of
Christ's coming is thus expressed (Ps. 49:3): "God shall come manifestly.
But He came by His birth in the flesh." Therefore it seems that His birth
should have been made known to the whole world.
Objection 2: Further, it is written (1 Tim. 1:15): "Christ came into this
world to save sinners." But this is not effected save in as far as the
grace of Christ is made known to them; according to Titus 2:11,12: "The
grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men, instructing us, that
denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and
justly, and godly in this world." Therefore it seems that Christ's birth
should have been made known to all.
Objection 3: Further, God is most especially inclined to mercy; according to
Ps. 144:9: "His tender mercies are over all His works." But in His second
coming, when He will "judge justices" (Ps. 70:3), He will come before the
eyes of all; according to Mt. 24:27: "As lightning cometh out of the
east, and appeareth even into the west, so shall also the coming of the
Son of Man be." Much more, therefore, should His first coming, when He
was born into the world according to the flesh, have been made known to
I answer that, It was unfitting that Christ's birth should be made known
to all men without distinction. First, because this would have been a
hindrance to the redemption of man, which was accomplished by means of
the Cross; for, as it is written (1 Cor. 2:8): "If they had known it,
they would never have crucified the Lord of glory."
Secondly, because this would have lessened the merit of faith, which He
came to offer men as the way to righteousness. according to Rm. 3:22:
"The justice of God by faith of Jesus Christ." For if, when Christ was
born, His birth had been made known to all by evident signs, the very
nature of faith would have been destroyed, since it is "the evidence of
things that appear not," as stated, Heb. 11:1.
Thirdly, because thus the reality of His human nature would have come into doubt. Whence Augustine says (Ep. ad Volusianum cxxxvii): "If He had not passed through the different stages of age from babyhood to youth, had neither eaten nor slept, would He not have strengthened an erroneous opinion, and made it impossible for us to believe that He had become true man? And while He is doing all things wondrously, would He have taken away that which He accomplished in mercy?"
Reply to Objection 1: According to the gloss, the words quoted must be understood
of Christ's coming as judge.
Reply to Objection 2: All men were to be instructed unto salvation, concerning
the grace of God our Saviour, not at the very time of His birth, but
afterwards, in due time, after He had "wrought salvation in the midst of
the earth" (Ps. 73:12). Wherefore after His Passion and Resurrection, He
said to His disciples (Mt. 28:19): "Going . . . teach ye all nations."
Reply to Objection 3: For judgment to be passed, the authority of the judge needs
to be known: and for this reason it behooves that the coming of Christ
unto judgment should be manifest. But His first coming was unto the
salvation of all, which is by faith that is of things not seen. And
therefore it was fitting that His first coming should be hidden.
Article 2: Whether Christ's birth should have been made known to some?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ's birth should not have been made known
to anyone. For, as stated above (Article , ad 3), it befitted the salvation
of mankind that Christ's first coming should be hidden. But Christ came
to save all; according to 1 Tim. 4:10: "Who is the Saviour of all men,
especially of the faithful." Therefore Christ's birth should not have
been made known to anyone.
Objection 2: Further, before Christ was born, His future birth was made known
to the Blessed Virgin and Joseph. Therefore it was not necessary that it
should be made known to others after His birth.
Objection 3: Further, no wise man makes known that from which arise
disturbance and harm to others. But, when Christ's birth was made known,
disturbance arose: for it is written (Mt. 2:3) that "King Herod, hearing"
of Christ's birth, "was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." Moreover,
this brought harm to others; because it was the occasion of Herod's
killing "all the male children that were in Bethlehem . . . from two
years old and under." Therefore it seems unfitting for Christ's birth to
have been made known to anyone.
On the contrary, Christ's birth would have been profitable to none if it
had been hidden from all. But it behooved Christ's birth to be
profitable: else He were born in vain. Therefore it seems that Christ's
birth should have been made known to some.
I answer that, As the Apostle says (Rm. 13:1) "what is of God is well
ordered." Now it belongs to the order of Divine wisdom that God's gifts
and the secrets of His wisdom are not bestowed on all equally, but to
some immediately, through whom they are made known to others. Wherefore,
with regard to the mystery of the Resurrection it is written (Acts 10:40,41): "God . . . gave" Christ rising again "to be made manifest, not
to all the people, but to witnesses pre-ordained by God." Consequently,
that His birth might be consistent with this, it should have been made
known, not to all, but to some, through whom it could be made known to
Reply to Objection 1: As it would have been prejudicial to the salvation of
mankind if God's birth had been made known to all men, so also would it
have been if none had been informed of it. Because in either case faith
is destroyed, whether a thing be perfectly manifest, or whether it be
entirely unknown, so that no one can hear it from another; for "faith
cometh by hearing" (Rm. 10:17).
Reply to Objection 2: Mary and Joseph needed to be instructed concerning Christ's
birth before He was born, because it devolved on them to show reverence
to the child conceived in the womb, and to serve Him even before He was
born. But their testimony, being of a domestic character, would have
aroused suspicion in regard to Christ's greatness: and so it behooved it
to be made known to others, whose testimony could not be suspect.
Reply to Objection 3: The very disturbance that arose when it was known that
Christ was born was becoming to His birth. First, because thus the
heavenly dignity of Christ is made manifest. Wherefore Gregory says (Hom.
x in Evang.): "After the birth of the King of heaven, the earthly king is
troubled: doubtless because earthly grandeur is covered with confusion
when the heavenly majesty is revealed."
Secondly, thereby the judicial power of Christ was foreshadowed. Thus
Augustine says in a sermon (30 de Temp.) on the Epiphany: "What will He
be like in the judgment-seat; since from His cradle He struck terror into
the heart of a proud king?"
Thirdly, because thus the overthrow of the devil's kingdom was
foreshadowed. For, as Pope Leo says in a sermon on the Epiphany (Serm. v
[*Opus Imperfectum in Matth., Hom. ii, falsely ascribed to St. John
Chrysostom]): "Herod was not so much troubled in himself as the devil in
Herod. For Herod thought Him to be a man, but the devil thought Him to be
God. Each feared a successor to his kingdom: the devil, a heavenly
successor; Herod, an earthly successor." But their fear was needless:
since Christ had not come to set up an earthly kingdom, as Pope Leo says,
addressing himself to Herod: "Thy palace cannot hold Christ: nor is the
Lord of the world content with the paltry power of thy scepter." That the
Jews were troubled, who, on the contrary, should have rejoiced, was
either because, as Chrysostom says, "wicked men could not rejoice at the
coming of the Holy one," or because they wished to court favor with
Herod, whom they feared; for "the populace is inclined to favor too much
those whose cruelty it endures."
And that the children were slain by Herod was not harmful to them, but
profitable. For Augustine says in a sermon on the Epiphany (66 de
Diversis): "It cannot be questioned that Christ, who came to set man
free, rewarded those who were slain for Him; since, while hanging on the
cross, He prayed for those who were putting Him to death."
Article 3: Whether those to whom Christ's birth was made known were suitably chosen?
Objection 1: It would seem that those to whom Christ's birth was made known
were not suitably chosen. For our Lord (Mt. 10:5) commanded His
disciples, "Go ye not into the way of the Gentiles," so that He might be
made known to the Jews before the Gentiles. Therefore it seems that much
less should Christ's birth have been at once revealed to the Gentiles who
"came from the east," as stated Mt. 2:1.
Objection 2: Further, the revelation of Divine truth should be made especially
to the friends of God, according to Job 37 [Vulg.: Job 36:33]: "He
sheweth His friend concerning it." But the Magi seem to be God's foes;
for it is written (Lev. 19:31): "Go not aside after wizards [magi],
neither ask anything of soothsayers." Therefore Christ's birth should not
have been made known to the Magi.
Objection 3: Further, Christ came in order to set free the whole world from
the power of the devil; whence it is written (Malachi 1:11): "From the
rising of the sun even to the going down, My name is great among the
Gentiles." Therefore He should have been made known, not only to those
who dwelt in the east, but also to some from all parts of the world.
Objection 4: Further, all the sacraments of the Old Law were figures of
Christ. But the sacraments of the Old Law were dispensed through the
ministry of the legal priesthood. Therefore it seems that Christ's birth
should have been made known rather to the priests in the Temple than to
the shepherds in the fields.
Objection 5: Further, Christ was born of a Virgin-Mother, and was as yet a
little child. It was therefore more suitable that He should be made known
to youths and virgins than to old and married people or to widows, such
as Simeon and Anna.
On the contrary, It is written (Jn. 13:18): "I know whom I have chosen."
But what is done by God's wisdom is done becomingly. Therefore those to
whom Christ's birth was made known were suitably chosen.
I answer that, Salvation, which was to be accomplished by Christ,
concerns all sorts and conditions of men: because, as it is written (Col.
3:11), in Christ "there is neither male nor female, [*These words are in
reality from Gal. 3:28] neither Gentile nor Jew . . . bond nor free," and
so forth. And in order that this might be foreshadowed in Christ's birth,
He was made known to men of all conditions. Because, as Augustine says in
a sermon on the Epiphany (32 de Temp.), "the shepherds were Israelites,
the Magi were Gentiles. The former were nigh to Him, the latter far from
Him. Both hastened to Him together as to the cornerstone." There was also
another point of contrast: for the Magi were wise and powerful; the
shepherds simple and lowly. He was also made known to the righteous as
Simeon and Anna; and to sinners, as the Magi. He was made known both to
men, and to women---namely, to Anna---so as to show no condition of men
to be excluded from Christ's redemption.
Reply to Objection 1: That manifestation of Christ's birth was a kind of
foretaste of the full manifestation which was to come. And as in the
later manifestation the first announcement of the grace of Christ was
made by Him and His Apostles to the Jews and afterwards to the Gentiles,
so the first to come to Christ were the shepherds, who were the
first-fruits of the Jews, as being near to Him; and afterwards came the
Magi from afar, who were "the first-fruits of the Gentiles," as Augustine
says (Serm. 30 de Temp. cc.).
Reply to Objection 2: As Augustine says in a sermon on the Epiphany (Serm. 30 de
Temp.): "As unskilfulness predominates in the rustic manners of the
shepherd, so ungodliness abounds in the profane rites of the Magi. Yet
did this Corner-Stone draw both to Itself; inasmuch as He came 'to choose
the foolish things that He might confound the wise,' and 'not to call the
just, but sinners,'" so that "the proud might not boast, nor the weak
despair." Nevertheless, there are those who say that these Magi were not
wizards, but wise astronomers, who are called Magi among the Persians or
Reply to Objection 3: As Chrysostom says [*Hom. ii in Matth. in the Opus Imperf.,
among the supposititious works of Chrysostom]: "The Magi came from the
east, because the first beginning of faith came from the land where the
day is born; since faith is the light of the soul." Or, "because all who
come to Christ come from Him and through Him": whence it is written
(Zach. 6:12): "Behold a Man, the Orient is His name." Now, they are said
to come from the east literally, either because, as some say, they came
from the farthest parts of the east, or because they came from the
neighboring parts of Judea that lie to the east of the region inhabited
by the Jews. Yet it is to be believed that certain signs of Christ's
birth appeared also in other parts of the world: thus, at Rome the river
flowed with oil [*Eusebius, Chronic. II, Olymp. 185]; and in Spain three
suns were seen, which gradually merged into one [*Cf. Eusebius, Chronic.
II, Olymp. 184].
Reply to Objection 4: As Chrysostom observes (Theophylact., Enarr. in Luc. ii,
8), the angel who announced Christ's birth did not go to Jerusalem, nor
did he seek the Scribes and Pharisees, for they were corrupted, and full
of ill-will. But the shepherds were single-minded, and were like the
patriarchs and Moses in their mode of life.
Moreover, these shepherds were types of the Doctors of the Church, to
whom are revealed the mysteries of Christ that were hidden from the Jews.
Reply to Objection 5: As Ambrose says (on Lk. 2:25): "It was right that our
Lord's birth should be attested not only by the shepherds, but also by
people advanced in age and virtue": whose testimony is rendered the more
credible by reason of their righteousness.
Article 4: Whether Christ Himself should have made His birth know?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ should have Himself made His birth
known. For "a direct cause is always of greater power than an indirect
cause," as is stated Phys. viii. But Christ made His birth known through
others---for instance, to the shepherds through the angels, and to the
Magi through the star. Much more, therefore, should He Himself have made
His birth known.
Objection 2: Further, it is written (Ecclus. 20:32): "Wisdom that is hid and
treasure that is not seen; what profit is there in them both?" But Christ
had, to perfection, the treasure of wisdom and grace from the beginning
of His conception. Therefore, unless He had made the fulness of these
gifts known by words and deeds, wisdom and grace would have been given
Him to no purpose. But this is unreasonable: because "God and nature do
nothing without a purpose" (De Coelo i).
Objection 3: Further, we read in the book De Infantia Salvatoris that in His
infancy Christ worked many miracles. It seems therefore that He did
Himself make His birth known.
On the contrary, Pope Leo says (Serm. xxxiv) that the Magi found the
"infant Jesus in no way different from the generality of human infants."
But other infants do not make themselves known. Therefore it was not
fitting that Christ should Himself make His birth known.
I answer that, Christ's birth was ordered unto man's salvation, which is
by faith. But saving faith confesses Christ's Godhead and humanity. It
behooved, therefore, Christ's birth to be made known in such a way that
the proof of His Godhead should not be prejudicial to faith in His human
nature. But this took place while Christ presented a likeness of human
weakness, and yet, by means of God's creatures, He showed the power of
the Godhead in Himself. Therefore Christ made His birth known, not by
Himself, but by means of certain other creatures.
Reply to Objection 1: By the way of generation and movement we must of necessity
come to the imperfect before the perfect. And therefore Christ was made
known first through other creatures, and afterwards He Himself manifested
Reply to Objection 2: Although hidden wisdom is useless, yet there is no need for
a wise man to make himself known at all times, but at a suitable time;
for it is written (Ecclus. 20:6): "There is one that holdeth his peace
because he knoweth not what to say: and there is another that holdeth his
peace, knowing the proper time." Hence the wisdom given to Christ was not
useless, because at a suitable time He manifested Himself. And the very
fact that He was hidden at a suitable time is a sign of wisdom.
Reply to Objection 3: The book De Infantia Salvatoris is apocryphal. Moreover,
Chrysostom (Hom. xxi super Joan.) says that Christ worked no miracles
before changing the water into wine, according to Jn. 2:11: "'This
beginning of miracles did Jesus.' For if He had worked miracles at an
early age, there would have been no need for anyone else to manifest Him
to the Israelites; whereas John the Baptist says (Jn. 1:31): 'That He may
be made manifest in Israel; therefore am I come baptizing with water.'
Moreover, it was fitting that He should not begin to work miracles at an
early age. For people would have thought the Incarnation to be unreal,
and, out of sheer spite, would have crucified Him before the proper time."
Article 5: Whether Christ's birth should have been manifested by means of the angels and the star?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ's birth should not have been manifested
by means of the angels. For angels are spiritual substances, according to
Ps. 103:4: "Who maketh His [Vulg.: 'makest Thy'] angels, spirits." But
Christ's birth was in the flesh, and not in His spiritual substance.
Therefore it should not have been manifested by means of angels.
Objection 2: Further, the righteous are more akin to the angels than to any
other, according to Ps. 33:8: "The angel of the Lord shall encamp round
about them that fear Him, and shall deliver them." But Christ's birth was
not announced to the righteous, viz. Simeon and Anna, through the angels.
Therefore neither should it have been announced to the shepherds by means
of the angels.
Objection 3: Further, it seems that neither ought it to have been announced to
the Magi by means of the star. For this seems to favor the error of those
who think that man's birth is influenced by the stars. But occasions of
sin should be taken away from man. Therefore it was not fitting that
Christ's birth should be announced by a star.
Objection 4: Further, a sign should be certain, in order that something be
made known thereby. But a star does not seem to be a certain sign of
Christ's birth. Therefore Christ's birth was not suitably announced by a
On the contrary, It is written (Dt. 32:4): "The works of God are
perfect." But this manifestation is the work of God. Therefore it was
accomplished by means of suitable signs.
I answer that, As knowledge is imparted through a syllogism from
something which we know better, so knowledge given by signs must be
conveyed through things which are familiar to those to whom the knowledge
is imparted. Now, it is clear that the righteous have, through the spirit
of prophecy, a certain familiarity with the interior instinct of the Holy
Ghost, and are wont to be taught thereby, without the guidance of
sensible signs. Whereas others, occupied with material things, are led
through the domain of the senses to that of the intellect. The Jews,
however, were accustomed to receive Divine answers through the angels;
through whom they also received the Law, according to Acts 7:53: "You
[Vulg.: 'who'] . . . have received the Law by the disposition of angels."
And the Gentiles, especially astrologers, were wont to observe the course
of the stars. And therefore Christ's birth was made known to the
righteous, viz. Simeon and Anna, by the interior instinct of the Holy
Ghost, according to Lk. 2:26: "He had received an answer from the Holy
Ghost that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the
Lord." But to the shepherds and Magi, as being occupied with material
things, Christ's birth was made known by means of visible apparitions.
And since this birth was not only earthly, but also, in a way, heavenly,
to both (shepherds and Magi) it is revealed through heavenly signs: for,
as Augustine says in a sermon on the Epiphany (cciv): "The angels
inhabit, and the stars adorn, the heavens: by both, therefore, do the
'heavens show forth the glory of God.'" Moreover, it was not without
reason that Christ's birth was made known, by means of angels, to the
shepherds, who, being Jews, were accustomed to frequent apparitions of
the angels: whereas it was revealed by means of a star to the Magi, who
were wont to consider the heavenly bodies. Because, as Chrysostom says
(Hom. vi in Matth.): "Our Lord deigned to call them through things to
which they were accustomed." There is also another reason. For, as
Gregory says (Hom. x in Evang.): "To the Jews, as rational beings, it was
fitting that a rational animal [*Cf. FP, Question , Article , ad 2]," viz. an
angel, "should preach. Whereas the Gentiles, who were unable to come to
the knowledge of God through the reason, were led to God, not by words,
but by signs. And as our Lord, when He was able to speak, was announced
by heralds who spoke, so before He could speak He was manifested by
speechless elements." Again, there is yet another reason. For, as
Augustine [*Pope Leo] says in a sermon on the Epiphany: "To Abraham was
promised an innumerable progeny, begotten, not of carnal propagation, but
of the fruitfulness of faith. For this reason it is compared to the
multitude of stars; that a heavenly progeny might be hoped for."
Wherefore the Gentiles, "who are thus designated by the stars, are by the
rising of a new star stimulated" to seek Christ, through whom they are
made the seed of Abraham.
Reply to Objection 1: That which of itself is hidden needs to be manifested, but
not that which in itself is manifest. Now, the flesh of Him who was born
was manifest, whereas the Godhead was hidden. And therefore it was
fitting that this birth should be made known by angels, who are the
ministers of God. Wherefore also a certain "brightness" (Lk. 2:9)
accompanied the angelic apparition, to indicate that He who was just born
was the "Brightness of" the Father's "glory."
Reply to Objection 2: The righteous did not need the visible apparition of the angel; on account of their perfection the interior instinct of the Holy Ghost was enough for them.
Reply to Objection 3: The star which manifested Christ's birth removed all
occasion of error. For, as Augustine says (Contra Faust. ii): "No
astrologer has ever so far connected the stars with man's fate at the
time of his birth as to assert that one of the stars, at the birth of any
man, left its orbit and made its way to him who was just born": as
happened in the case of the star which made known the birth of Christ.
Consequently this does not corroborate the error of those who "think
there is a connection between man's birth and the course of the stars,
for they do not hold that the course of the stars can be changed at a
In the same sense Chrysostom says (Hom. vi in Matth.): "It is not an
astronomer's business to know from the stars those who are born, but to
tell the future from the hour of a man's birth: whereas the Magi did not
know the time of the birth, so as to conclude therefrom some knowledge of
the future; rather was it the other way about."
Reply to Objection 4: Chrysostom relates (Hom. ii in Matth.) that, according to
some apocryphal books, a certain tribe in the far east near the ocean was
in the possession of a document written by Seth, referring to this star
and to the presents to be offered: which tribe watched attentively for
the rising of this star, twelve men being appointed to take observations,
who at stated times repaired to the summit of a mountain with faithful
assiduity: whence they subsequently perceived the star containing the
figure of a small child, and above it the form of a cross.
Or we may say, as may be read in the book De Qq. Vet. et Nov. Test., qu.
lxiii, that "these Magi followed the tradition of Balaam," who said, "'A
star shall rise out of Jacob.' Wherefore observing this star to be a
stranger to the system of this world, they gathered that it was the one
foretold by Balaam to indicate the King of the Jews."
Or again, it may be said with Augustine, in a sermon on the Epiphany
(ccclxxiv), that "the Magi had received a revelation through the angels"
that the star was a sign of the birth of Christ: and he thinks it
probable that these were "good angels; since in adoring Christ they were
seeking for salvation."
Or with Pope Leo, in a sermon on the Epiphany (xxxiv), that "besides the
outward form which aroused the attention of their corporeal eyes, a more
brilliant ray enlightened their minds with the light of faith."
Article 6: Whether Christ's birth was made known in a becoming order?
Objection 1: It would seem that Christ's birth was made known in an unbecoming
order. For Christ's birth should have been made known to them first who
were nearest to Christ, and who longed for Him most; according to Wis.
6:14: "She preventeth them that covet her, so that she first showeth
herself unto them." But the righteous were nearest to Christ by faith,
and longed most for His coming; whence it is written (Lk. 2:25) of Simeon
that "he was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel."
Therefore Christ's birth should have been made known to Simeon before the
shepherds and Magi.
Objection 2: Further, the Magi were the "first-fruits of the Gentiles," who
were to believe in Christ. But first the "fulness of the Gentiles . . .
come in" unto faith, and afterwards "all Israel" shall "be saved," as is
written (Rm. 11:25). Therefore Christ's birth should have been made known
to the Magi before the shepherds.
Objection 3: Further, it is written (Mt. 2:16) that "Herod killed all the male
children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two
years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently
inquired from the wise men": so that it seems that the Magi were two
years in coming to Christ after His birth. It was therefore unbecoming
that Christ should be made known to the Gentiles so long after His birth.
On the contrary, It is written (Dan. 2:21): "He changes time and ages."
Consequently the time of the manifestation of Christ's birth seems to
have been arranged in a suitable order.
I answer that, Christ's birth was first made known to the shepherds on
the very day that He was born. For, as it is written (Lk. 2:8,15,16):
"There were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the
night-watches over their flock . . . And it came to pass, after the
angels departed from them into heaven they [Vulg.: 'the shepherds'] said
one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem . . . and they came with
haste." Second in order were the Magi, who came to Christ on the
thirteenth day after His birth, on which day is kept the feast of the
Epiphany. For if they had come after a year, or even two years, they
would not have found Him in Bethlehem, since it is written (Lk. 2:39)
that "after they had performed all things according to the law of the
Lord"---that is to say, after they had offered up the Child Jesus in the
Temple---"they returned into Galilee, to their city"---namely,
"Nazareth." In the third place, it was made known in the Temple to the
righteous on the fortieth day after His birth, as related by Luke (2:22).
The reason of this order is that the shepherds represent the apostles
and other believers of the Jews, to whom the faith of Christ was made
known first; among whom there were "not many mighty, not many noble," as
we read 1 Cor. 1:26. Secondly, the faith of Christ came to the "fulness
of the Gentiles"; and this is foreshadowed in the Magi. Thirdly it came
to the fulness of the Jews, which is foreshadowed in the righteous.
Wherefore also Christ was manifested to them in the Jewish Temple.
Reply to Objection 1: As the Apostle says (Rm. 9:30,31): "Israel, by following
after the law of justice, is not come unto the law of justice": but the
Gentiles, "who followed not after justice," forestalled the generality of
the Jews in the justice which is of faith. As a figure of this, Simeon,
"who was waiting for the consolation of Israel," was the last to know
Christ born: and he was preceded by the Magi and the shepherds, who did
not await the coming of Christ with such longing.
Reply to Objection 2: Although the "fulness of the Gentiles came in" unto faith
before the fulness of the Jews, yet the first-fruits of the Jews preceded
the first-fruits of the Gentiles in faith. For this reason the birth of
Christ was made known to the shepherds before the Magi.
Reply to Objection 3: There are two opinions about the apparition of the star
seen by the Magi. For Chrysostom (Hom. ii in Matth. [*Opus Imperf. in
Matth., falsely ascribed to Chrysostom]), and Augustine in a sermon on
the Epiphany (cxxxi, cxxxii), say that the star was seen by the Magi
during the two years that preceded the birth of Christ: and then, having
first considered the matter and prepared themselves for the journey, they
came from the farthest east to Christ, arriving on the thirteenth day
after His birth. Wherefore Herod, immediately after the departure of the
Magi, "perceiving that He was deluded by them," commanded the male
children to be killed "from two years old and under," being doubtful lest
Christ were already born when the star appeared, according as he had
heard from the Magi.
But others say that the star first appeared when Christ was born, and
that the Magi set off as soon as they saw the star, and accomplished a
journey of very great length in thirteen days, owing partly to the Divine
assistance, and partly to the fleetness of the dromedaries. And I say
this on the supposition that they came from the far east. But others,
again, say that they came from a neighboring country, whence also was
Balaam, to whose teaching they were heirs; and they are said to have come
from the east, because their country was to the east of the country of
the Jews. In this case Herod killed the babes, not as soon as the Magi
departed, but two years after: and that either because he is said to have
gone to Rome in the meanwhile on account of an accusation brought against
him, or because he was troubled at some imminent peril, and for the time
being desisted from his anxiety to slay the child, or because he may have
thought that the Magi, "being deceived by the illusory appearance of the
star, and not finding the child, as they had expected to, were ashamed to
return to him": as Augustine says (De Consensu Evang. ii). And the reason
why he killed not only those who were two years old, but also the younger
children, would be, as Augustine says in a sermon on the Innocents,
because he feared lest a child whom the stars obey, might make himself
appear older or younger.
Article 7: Whether the star which appeared to the Magi belonged to the heavenly system?
Objection 1: It would seem that the star which appeared to the Magi belonged
to the heavenly system. For Augustine says in a sermon on the Epiphany
(cxxii): "While God yet clings to the breast, and suffers Himself to be
wrapped in humble swaddling clothes, suddenly a new star shines forth in
the heavens." Therefore the star which appeared to the Magi belonged to
the heavenly system.
Objection 2: Further, Augustine says in a sermon on the Epiphany (cci):
"Christ was made known to the shepherds by angels, to the Magi by a star.
A heavenly tongue speaks to both, because the tongue of the prophets
spoke no longer." But the angels who appeared to the shepherds were
really angels from heaven. Therefore also the star which appeared to the
Magi was really a star from the heavens.
Objection 3: Further, stars which are not in the heavens but in the air are
called comets, which do not appear at the birth of kings, but rather are
signs of their approaching death. But this star was a sign of the King's
birth: wherefore the Magi said (Mt. 2:2): "Where is He that is born King
of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east." Therefore it seems
that it was a star from the heavens.
On the contrary, Augustine says (Contra Faust. ii): "It was not one of
those stars which since the beginning of the creation observe the course
appointed to them by the Creator; but this star was a stranger to the
heavens, and made its appearance at the strange sight of a virgin in
I answer that, As Chrysostom says (Hom. vi in Matth.), it is clear, for
many reasons, that the star which appeared to the Magi did not belong to
the heavenly system. First, because no other star approaches from the
same quarter as this star, whose course was from north to south, these
being the relative positions of Persia, whence the Magi came, and Judea.
Secondly, from the time [at which it was seen]. For it appeared not only
at night, but also at midday: and no star can do this, not even the moon.
Thirdly, because it was visible at one time and hidden at another. For
when they entered Jerusalem it hid itself: then, when they had left
Herod, it showed itself again. Fourthly, because its movement was not
continuous, but when the Magi had to continue their journey the star
moved on; when they had to stop the star stood still; as happened to the
pillar of a cloud in the desert. Fifthly, because it indicated the
virginal Birth, not by remaining aloft, but by coming down below. For it
is written (Mt. 2:9) that "the star which they had seen in the east went
before them, until it came and stood over where the child was." Whence it
is evident that the words of the Magi, "We have seen His star in the
east," are to be taken as meaning, not that when they were in the east
the star appeared over the country of Judea, but that when they saw the
star it was in the east, and that it preceded them into Judea (although
this is considered doubtful by some). But it could not have indicated the
house distinctly, unless it were near the earth. And, as he [Chrysostom]
observes, this does not seem fitting to a star, but "of some power
endowed with reason." Consequently "it seems that this was some invisible
force made visible under the form of a star."
Wherefore some say that, as the Holy Ghost, after our Lord's Baptism,
came down on Him under the form of a dove, so did He appear to the Magi
under the form of a star. While others say that the angel who, under a
human form, appeared to the shepherds, under the form of a star, appeared
to the Magi. But it seems more probable that it was a newly created star,
not in the heavens, but in the air near the earth, and that its movement
varied according to God's will. Wherefore Pope Leo says in a sermon on
the Epiphany (xxxi): "A star of unusual brightness appeared to the three
Magi in the east, which, through being more brilliant and more beautiful
than the other stars, drew men's gaze and attention: so that they
understood at once that such an unwonted event could not be devoid of
Reply to Objection 1: In Holy Scripture the air is sometimes called the
heavens---for instance, "The birds of the heavens [Douay: 'air'] and the
fishes of the sea."
Reply to Objection 2: The angels of heaven, by reason of their very office, come
down to us, being "sent to minister." But the stars of heaven do not
change their position. Wherefore there is no comparison.
Reply to Objection 3: As the star did not follow the course of the heavenly stars, so neither did it follow the course of the comets, which neither appear during the daytime nor vary their customary course. Nevertheless in its signification it has something in common with the comets. Because the heavenly kingdom of Christ "shall break in pieces, and shall consume all the kingdoms" of the earth, "and itself shall stand for ever" (Dan. 2:44).
Article 8: Whether it was becoming that the Magi should come to adore Christ and pay homage to Him?
Objection 1: It would seem that it was unbecoming that the Magi should come to
adore Christ and pay homage to Him. For reverence is due to a king from
his subjects. But the Magi did not belong to the kingdom of the Jews.
Therefore, since they knew by seeing the star that He that was born was
the "King of the Jews," it seems unbecoming that they should come to
Objection 2: Further, it seems absurd during the reign of one king to proclaim
a stranger. But in Judea Herod was reigning. Therefore it was foolish of
the Magi to proclaim the birth of a king.
Objection 3: Further, a heavenly sign is more certain than a human sign. But
the Magi had come to Judea from the east, under the guidance of a
heavenly sign. Therefore it was foolish of them to seek human guidance
besides that of the star, saying: "Where is He that is born King of the
Objection 4: Further, the offering of gifts and the homage of adoration are
not due save to kings already reigning. But the Magi did not find Christ
resplendent with kingly grandeur. Therefore it was unbecoming for them to
offer Him gifts and homage.
On the contrary, It is written (Is. 60:3): "[The Gentiles] shall walk in
the light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising." But those who walk
in the Divine light do not err. Therefore the Magi were right in offering
homage to Christ.
I answer that, As stated above (Article , ad 1), the Magi are the
"first-fruits of the Gentiles" that believed in Christ; because their
faith was a presage of the faith and devotion of the nations who were to
come to Christ from afar. And therefore, as the devotion and faith of the
nations is without any error through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost,
so also we must believe that the Magi, inspired by the Holy Ghost, did
wisely in paying homage to Christ.
Reply to Objection 1: As Augustine says in a sermon on the Epiphany (cc.):
"Though many kings of the Jews had been born and died, none of them did
the Magi seek to adore. And so they who came from a distant foreign land
to a kingdom that was entirely strange to them, had no idea of showing
such great homage to such a king as the Jews were wont to have. But they
had learnt that such a King was born that by adoring Him they might be
sure of obtaining from Him the salvation which is of God."
Reply to Objection 2: By proclaiming [Christ King] the Magi foreshadowed the
constancy of the Gentiles in confessing Christ even until death. Whence
Chrysostom says (Hom. ii in Matth.) that, while they thought of the King
who was to come, the Magi feared not the king who was actually present.
They had not yet seen Christ, and they were already prepared to die for
Reply to Objection 3: As Augustine says in a sermon on the Epiphany (cc.): "The
star which led the Magi to the place where the Divine Infant was with His
Virgin-Mother could bring them to the town of Bethlehem, in which Christ
was born. Yet it hid itself until the Jews also bore testimony of the
city in which Christ was to be born: so that, being encouraged by a
twofold witness," as Pope Leo says (Serm. xxxiv), "they might seek with
more ardent faith Him, whom both the brightness of the star and the
authority of prophecy revealed." Thus they "proclaim" that Christ is
born, and "inquire where; they believe and ask, as it were, betokening
those who walk by faith and desire to see," as Augustine says in a sermon
on the Epiphany (cxcix). But the Jews, by indicating to them the place of
Christ's birth, "are like the carpenters who built the Ark of Noe, who
provided others with the means of escape, and themselves perished in the
flood. Those who asked, heard and went their way: the teachers spoke and
stayed where they were; like the milestones that point out the way but
walk not" (Augustine, Serm. cclxxiii). It was also by God's will that,
when they no longer saw the star, the Magi, by human instinct, went to
Jerusalem, to seek in the royal city the new-born King, in order that
Christ's birth might be publicly proclaimed first in Jerusalem, according
to Is. 2:3: "The Law shall come forth from Sion, and the Word of the Lord
from Jerusalem"; and also "in order that by the zeal of the Magi who came
from afar, the indolence of the Jews who lived near at hand, might be
proved worthy of condemnation" (Remig., Hom. in Matth. ii, 1).
Reply to Objection 4: As Chrysostom says (Hom. ii in Matth. [*From the
supposititious Opus Imperfectum]): "If the Magi had come in search of an
earthly King, they would have been disconcerted at finding that they had
taken the trouble to come such a long way for nothing. Consequently they
would have neither adored nor offered gifts. But since they sought a
heavenly King, though they found in Him no signs of royal pre-eminence,
yet, content with the testimony of the star alone, they adored: for they
saw a man, and they acknowledged a God." Moreover, they offer gifts in
keeping with Christ's greatness: "gold, as to the great King; they offer
up incense as to God, because it is used in the Divine Sacrifice; and
myrrh, which is used in embalming the bodies of the dead, is offered as
to Him who is to die for the salvation of all" (Gregory, Hom. x in
Evang.). And hereby, as Gregory says (Hom. x in Evang.), we are taught to
offer gold, "which signifies wisdom, to the new-born King, by the luster
of our wisdom in His sight." We offer God incense, "which signifies
fervor in prayer, if our constant prayers mount up to God with an odor of
sweetness"; and we offer myrrh, "which signifies mortification of the
flesh, if we mortify the ill-deeds of the flesh by refraining from them."