Skip to comments.A Benedict XVI Epiphany
Posted on 01/02/2013 2:39:17 PM PST by NYer
The solemnity of the Epiphany typically gets short shrift in Latin-rite Catholicism, for while Eastern Christianity lifts up the Epiphany as the apex of the Christmas season, Epiphany in the Western Church tends to get overwhelmed by the tsunami of Christmas, both liturgically and (especially) culturally.
When the Epiphany fell in the middle of the week and was a holy day of obligation, its importance as the commemoration of the manifestation of the Messiah was underscored; transferred to a Sunday, it tends to become one Sunday among others. The pre-1970 liturgical calendar recognized the significance of the Epiphany by designating Sundays after Epiphany between the conclusion of the Christmas season and the beginning of pre-Lent, thus stretching out the Churchs meditation on the Epiphany over several weeks. Now, Epiphany is quickly succeeded by the feast of the Lords Baptism, after which the liturgical period known by that dreadful neologism Ordinary Time begins.
While we wait in joyful hope (as we no longer say) for the restoration of some sanity to the liturgical calendar, we can be grateful for the insights into the Epiphanyand especially into those emblematic characters in the story, the Magi and the staroffered by Pope Benedict XVI in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (Image).
As always with this scholar-pope, its the theology that counts, and Benedicts theological reading of the Epiphany and the Magi story makes several important points.
The Magithe Wise Men, the Three Kingsare crucial figures in salvation history, for they were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah promised to the people of Israel, through whom all the nations of the world will be blessed. Thats not a new insight, of course; what is striking in Benedicts interpretation of their story is his expansion of the meaning of the Magis journey. The Wise Men from the east, he writes, mark a new beginning. In them, we find the journeying of humanity toward Christ.
Thus these Three Kings initiate a procession that continues throughout history. Moreover, they represent more than those who have actually found the Lord: they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason toward Christ. The Magi embody the truth of which Paul wrote in one of his great Christological hymns: all things were created through him and for him (Colossians 1:16).
Then there is the star. After noting that this extraordinary phenomenon might have been the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces in 7-6 B.C. (that is, just about the time of the birth of Christ), the pope gets down to the real point, which is not astronomy but theology. The stars, Benedict recalls, were once thought to be divine powers that controlled the fates of men and women: thus the phrase, its in the stars, and thus the pseudo-science of astrology. The Epiphany and the Magi story reverse all of this.
For it is not the star that determines the childs destiny, the pope writes; it is the child that directs the star. Astrology is out; humanity, so to speak, is in. And so, Benedict continues, we may speak here of a kind of anthropological revolution: human nature assumed by Godas revealed in Gods only-begotten Sonis greater than all the powers of the material world, greater than the entire universe.
The star, perceived with the eyes of faith and understood by the tools of theology, tells a brilliant, if not fully comprehended, story. If the Wise Men were led by a star to find the newborn king of the Jews who is in truth the universal savior, Benedict tells us, this implies that the entire cosmos speaks of Christ, even though its language is not yet fully intelligible to man in his present state. The language of creation points us toward the truth about the Creator, which is that God who creates is also God who redeems.
Thus the Epiphany points us toward the Cross (anticipated in the Magis gift of myrrh, which is also used at Jesus burial) and, ultimately, to the Resurrection.
In this icon of the Baptism, Christ receives baptism at the hands of John the Baptist, the last of the prophets of the Old Covenant. Here, the Old and New Covenants meet in the water of the Jordan- the old baptism for repentance of sins, and the lasting baptismal rebirth of water and the spirit, as brought by Jesus in the New Covenant (Lk 3:16). For this reason, the bottom of this icon depicts symbols of the initiation Sacraments of the Christian Church- Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist. On either side are representations of confirmation of the Holy Spirit in purifying water: the Spirit of God hovering over the waters in creation (Ge 1:2), and the traditional "Blessing of the Waters" with the Cross in the Epiphany liturgy. In this icon of the Baptism, Christ is stripped of His eternal robe of glory and naked, is robed in the waters of the Jordan which itself shines forth with the beams of His glory and light. Here, He is clothed in our humanity, that we, in our baptism, might be clothed in His eternity. The symbol of the sun and the moon represent the cosmic light that Christ brings on his Feast of Epiphany.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Eastern Churches, this feast is known by two names: Epiphany and Theophany. The Greek word, "Epiphany" means a "manifestation" or an "apparition" and the word, "Theophany", an appearance of God. On this day we celebrate the appearance or manifestation of Christ among us as God's Son.
The feast of Epiphany was first celebrated in the East around the third century and eventually was adopted by the Western Church. In the Eastern Churches, the celebration of the Epiphany originally centered on both the Birth of our Lord and his baptism. When the later Western feast of Christmas was introduced into the East, Christmas became the feast of the Birth of our Lord and the Epiphany, that of his baptism.
The feast of the Epiphany is intimately connected with the mystery of our Lord's birth. The Child who was born for us and the Son who was given to us is manifested before us to be the Son of the Most High. Christ begins his public life with his baptism by John in the Jordan river. At his baptism, Christ is seen as the fulfillment of John's preaching: he is the Messiah and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Father and the Holy Spirit are witnesses to Christ for he is the beloved Son of the Father and upon him the Spirit rests. Thus at the baptism of the Lord, we have not only an epiphany or manifestation of Christ as God's Son, but also a theophany or manifestation of the Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The feast of the Epiphany reminds us not only of the baptism of Christ but also of our own baptism. St. Ephrem, in his Hymn on Epiphany, says: " ... our blessed Lord came to be baptized with sinners and because of his glory, the heavens were opened. The One who purifies all creatures, desiring to cleanse them, went into the waters and sanctified them for our baptism." It is for this reason that we bless water on this day. Originally, the mystery of baptism was celebrated on this feast and the waters blessed were those of baptism.
Today let us call to mind the grace of God who has appeared for the salvation of all, and thank him for the baptism through which we have been begotten in the Spirit and through which we have put on Christ and become children of the Father.
Well, at least this year January 6 falls on a Sunday, so we get to celebrate it on the traditional day.
THank you for posting the beloved and brilliant B16. He is always worth reading.
Very beautiful and profound, as always!
I notice that Weigel mentioned the lunacy of the new calendar. That is one thing I wish the Pope would address: bring back the old calendar (add the new saints, of course) and structure the liturgical year properly again.
If I offend anyone with my thoughts, please feel free to disregard them as those of an old woman -
I completely agree that the “stars” are not to be worshipped as divine powers, and with the Bible’s admonitions regarding soothsaying, prognostication, fortune-telling, and other such nonsense.
Pope Benedict is wise to make this point, but there is another way of understanding astrology, in my opinion. God created it all, the heavens and the earth, and has appointed “times and seasons” for everything under His heavens.
We are not to know His plans, as we are only human. But, as we understand the seasons of the year, we can vaguely understand what is said in Ecclesiastes, and we certainly get a good “smack upside the head” when we read Job 38.
I see astrology as part of the language of His creation. I wish Pope Benedict could give a better explanation of the exquisite wisdom of God’s plan for the universe, and our solar system. But, I agree that fortune tellers should be ridiculed, and people warned against such charlatans.