From: Matthew 2:1-12
The Adoration of the Magi
 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the
king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,  “Where is
He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East,
and have come to worship Him.”  When Herod the kind heard this, he was
troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;  and assembling all the chief priests
and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: 
‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the
rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.’”
 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them
what time the star appeared;  and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go
and search diligently for the Child, and when you have found Him bring me word,
that I too may come and worship Him.”  When they had heard the king they
went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before
them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.  When they
saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy;  and going into the
house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and wor-
Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and
myrrh.  And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed
to their own country by another way.
1. “King Herod”: four different Herods are mentioned in the New Testament. The
first is Herod the Great, referred to in this passage and in the next; the second,
his son, Herod Antipas, who had St. John the Baptist beheaded (Matthew 14:1-
12) and who abused our Lord during His passion (Luke 23:7-11); the third, Herod
Agrippa I, a nephew of Herod the Great, who executed the Apostle St. James the
Greater (Acts 12:1-3), imprisoned St. Peter (Acts 12:4-7), and died suddenly and
mysteriously (Acts 12:20-23). The fourth, Herod Agrippa II, was Herod Agrippa’s
son. It was before him that St. Paul answered Jewish accusations when he was
a prisoner in Caesarea (Acts 25:23).
Herod the Great, who appears here, was the son of non-Jewish parents. He
came to power with the aid and as a vassal of the Romans. He was a consum-
mate politician and among other things he rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem on a
lavish scale. Herod the Great had a persecution complex; everywhere he saw ri-
vals to his throne. He was notorious for his cruelty: he killed over half of his ten
wives, some of his children and many people of standing. This information de-
rives largely from the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who wrote towards the
end of the first century, and it confirms the cruel picture drawn in the Gospels.
“Wise men”: these were learned men, probably from Persia, who devoted them-
selves to the study of the stars. Since they were not Jews, they can be consi-
dered to be the very first Gentiles to receive the call to salvation in Christ. The
adoration of the wise men forms part of the very earliest documented tradition:
the scene is already depicted at the beginning of the second century in the pain-
tings in the catacombs of St. Priscilla in Rome.
2. The Jews had made known throughout the East their hope of a Messiah. The
wise men knew about this expected Messiah, king of the Jews. According to id-
eas widely accepted at the time, this sort of person, because of his significance
in world history, would have a star connected with his birth. God made use of
these ideas to draw to Christ these representatives of the Gentiles who would
later be converted.
“The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their
guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews. In this way the
birth of Jesus would be known to all” (St. John Chrysostom, “Hom. on St. Mat-
St. John Chrysostom also points out that “God calls them by means of the
things they are most familiar with; and He shows them a large and extraordi-
nary star so that they would be impressed by its size and beauty” (”Hom. on St.
Matthew”, 6). God called the wise men in the midst of their ordinary occupations,
and He still calls people in that way. He called Moses when he was shepherding
his flock (Exodus 3:1-3), Elisha the prophet ploughing his land with oxen (1 Kings
19:19-20), Amos looking after his herd (Amos 7:15).... “What amazes you seems
natural to me: that God has sought you out in the practice of your profession!
That is how He sought the first, Peter and Andrew, James and John, beside their
nets, and Matthew, sitting in the custom-house. And — wonder of wonders! —
Paul, in his eagerness to destroy the seed of the Christians” (St. J. Escriva,
“The Way”, 799).
“Like the Magi we have discovered a star — a light and a guide in the sky of our
soul. ‘We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’ We
have had the same experience. We too noticed a new light shining in our soul
and growing increasingly brighter. It was a desire to live a fully Christian life, a
keenness to take God seriously” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ Is Passing By”, 32).
4. In all Jewish circles at the time of Jesus, the hope was widespread that the
Messiah would come soon. The general idea was that he would be a king, like
a new and even greater David. Herod’s worry is therefore all the more understan-
dable: he governed the Jews with the aid of the Romans and cruelly and jealous-
ly guarded his crown. Due to his political ambition and his lack of a religious
sense, Herod saw a potential King-Messiah as a dangerous rival to his own
In the time of our Lord, both Herod’s monarchy and the occupying Romans
(through their procurators) recognized the Sanhedrin as the representative body
of the Jewish people. The Sanhedrin was, therefore, the nation’s supreme coun-
cil which ruled on day-to-day affairs, both religious and civil. The handling of the
more important questions needed the approval of either the king (under Herod’s
monarchy) or the Roman procurator (at the time of the direct Roman occupation
of Palestine). Following Exodus 24:1-9 and Numbers 11:16, the Sanhedrin was
composed of 71 members presided over by the high priest. The members were
elected from three groupings: 1) the chief priests, that is, the leaders of the prin-
cipal priestly families; it was these families who appointed the high priest (the
chief priests also included anybody who had formerly held the high priesthood);
2) the elders, or the leaders of the most important families; 3) the scribes, who
were teachers of the Law or experts on legal and religious matters; the majority
of these scribes belonged to the party or school of the Pharisees.
In this passage of St. Matthew only the first and third of the above groups are
mentioned. This is understandable since the elders would have no authority in
the matter of the birth of the Messiah — a purely religious question.
5-6. The prophecy referred to in this passage is Micah 5:1. It is worth noting
that Jewish tradition interpreted this prophecy as predicting the Messiah’s exact
place of birth and as referring to a particular person. The second text thus tea-
ches us once more that the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Je-
8. Herod tried to find out exactly where the Child was — not, of course, to adore
Him, as he said, but to dispose of Him. Such was Herod’s exclusively political
view of things. Yet neither his shrewdness nor his wickedness could prevent
God’s plans from being fulfilled. Despite Herod’s ambition and his scheming,
God’s wisdom and power were going to bring salvation about.
9. “It might happen at certain moments of our interior life — and we are nearly
always to blame — that the star disappears, just as it did to the wise kings on
their journey.... What should we do if this happens?
Follow the example of those wise men and ask. Herod used knowledge to act
unjustly. The Magi used it to do good. But we Christians have no need to go to
Herod nor to the wise men of this world. Christ has given His Church sureness
of doctrine and a flow of grace in the Sacraments. He has arranged things so
that there will always be people to guide and lead us, to remind us constantly
of our way” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ Is Passing By”, 34).
11. The gifts they offered — gold, frankincense and myrrh — were those most va-
lued in the East. People feel the need to give gifts to God to show their respect
and faith. Since they cannot give themselves as a gift, which is what they would
wish, they give instead what is most valuable and dear to them.
The prophets and the psalmists foretold that the kings of the earth would pay
homage to God at the time of the Messiah (Isaiah 49:23). They would offer Him
their treasures (Isaiah 60:5) and adore Him (Psalm 72:10-15). Through this action
of the wise men and the offering of their gifts to Jesus, these prophecies begin to
The Council of Trent expressly quotes this passage when it underlines the vene-
ration that ought to be given to Christ in the Eucharist: “The faithful of Christ vene-
rate this most holy Sacrament with the worship of latria which is due to the true
God.... For in this Sacrament we believe that the same God is present whom the
eternal Father brought into the world, saying of Him, ‘Let all God’s angel worship
Him’ (Hebrews 1:6; cf. Psalm 97:7). It is the same God whom the Magi fell down
and worshipped (cf. Matthew 2:11) and, finally, the same God whom the Apostles
adored in Galilee as Scriptures says (Matthew 28:17)” (Decree, “De SS. Euchari-
sta”, Chapter 5).
St. Gregory of Nazianzen has also commented on this verse, as follows: “Let
us remain in adoration; and to Him, who, in order to save us, humbled Himself
to such a degree of poverty as to receive our body, let us offer not only incense,
gold and myrrh (the first as God, the second as king, and the third as one who
sought death for our sake), but also spiritual gifts, more sublime than those
which can be seen with the eyes” (”Oratio”, 19).
12. The involvement of the wise men in the events at Bethlehem ends with yet
another act of respectful obedience and cooperation with God’s plans. Christians
also should be receptive to the specific grace and mission God has given them.
They should persevere in this even if it means having to change any personal
plans they may have made.
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.
1. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2. Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship Him.
AUG. After the miraculous Virgin-birth, a God-man having by Divine power proceeded from a virgin womb; in the obscure shelter of such a cradle, a narrow stall, wherein lay infinite Majesty in a body more narrow, a God was suckled and suffered the wrapping of vile rags - amidst all this, on a sudden a new star shone in the sky upon the earth, and driving away the darkness of the world, changed night into day; that the day-star should not be hidden by the night. Hence it is the Evangelist says, Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
REMIG. In the beginning of this passage of the Gospel he puts three several things: the person, When Jesus was born, the place, in Bethlehem of Judea, and the time, in the days of Herod the king. These three circumstances verify his words.
JEROME. We think the Evangelist first wrote, as we read in the Hebrew, 'Judah,' not 'Judea.' For in what other country is there a Bethlehem, that this needs to be distinguished as in 'Judea'? But 'Judah' is written, because there is another Bethlehem in Galilee.
GLOSS. There are two Bethlehems: one in the tribe of Zabulon, the other in the tribe of Judah, which was before called Ephrata.
AUG. Concerning the place, Bethlehem, Matthew and Luke agree; but the cause and manner of their being there Luke relates, Matthew omits. Luke again omits the account of the Magi, which Matthew gives.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. Let us see to what serves this designation of time, In the days of Herod the king. It shows the fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy, wherein he spoke that Christ should be born after seventy weeks of years. For from the time of the prophecy to the reign of Herod, the years of seventy weeks were accomplished. Or again, as long as Judea was ruled by Jewish princes, though sinners, so long prophets were sent for its amendment; but now, whereas God's law was held under the power of an unrighteous king, and the righteousness of God enslaved by the Roman rule, Christ is born; the more desperate sickness required the better physician.
RABANUS.Otherwise, he mentions the foreign king to show the fulfillment of the prophecy. The Scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come (Gen 49:10).
AMBROSE; It is said, that some Idumean robbers coming to Ascalon, brought with them among other prisoners Antipater. He was instructed in the law and customs of the Jews, and acquired the friendship of Hyrcanus, king of Judea, who sent him as his deputy to Pompey. He succeeded so well in the object of his mission, that he laid claim to a share of the throne. He was put to death, but his son Herod was under Antony appointed king of Judea, by a decree of the Senate; so it is clear that Herod sought the throne of Judea without any connection or claim of birth.
CHRYS.Herod the king, mentioning his dignity, because there was another Herod who put John to death.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. When He was born . . . behold wise men, that is, immediately on His birth, showing that a great God existed in a little one of man.
RABANUS. The Magi are men who inquire into the nature of things philosophically, but common speech uses Magi for wizards. In their own country, however, they are held in other repute, being the philosophers of the Chaldaeans, in whose lore kings and princes of that nation are taught, and by which themselves knew the birth of the Lord.
AUG. What were these Magi but the first fruits of the Gentiles? Israelitish shepherds, gentile Magians, one from afar, the other from near, hastened to the one Corner-stone.
ID. Jesus then was manifested neither to the learned nor the righteous; for ignorance belonged to the shepherds, impiety to the idolatrous Magi. Yet does that Corner-stone attract them both to Itself, seeing He came to chose the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, and not to call the righteous, but sinners; that nothing great should exalt himself, none weak should despair.
GLOSS. These Magi were kings, and though their gifts were three, it is not to be thence inferred that themselves were only three in number, but in them was prefigured the coming to the faith of the nations sprung from the three sons of Noah. Or, the princes were only three, but each brought a large company with him. They came not after a year's end, for he would then have been found in Egypt, not in the manger, but on the thirteenth day. To show whence they came it is said, from the East.
REMIG. It should be known that opinions vary respecting the Magi. Some say they were Chaldaeans, who are known to have worshipped a star as God; thus their fictitious Deity showed them the way to the true God. Others think that they were Persians; others again, that they came from the utmost ends of the earth. Another and more probable opinion is that they were descendants of Balaam, who having his prophecy, There shall rise a Star out of Jacob (Numb 24:17), as soon as they saw the star, would know that a King was born.
JEROME. They knew that such a star would rise by the prophecy of Balaam, whose successors they were. But whether they were Chaldaeans, or Persians, or came from the utmost ends of the earth, how in so short a space of time could they arrive at Jerusalem?
REMIG. Some used to answer, 'No marvel if that boy who was then born could draw them so speedily, though it were from the ends of the earth.'
GLOSS. Or, they had dromedaries and Arabian horses, whose great swiftness brought them to Bethlehem in thirteen days.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. Or, they had set out two years before the Savior's birth, and though they traveled all that time, neither meat nor drink failed in their scrips.
REMIG. Or, if they were the descendants of Balaam, their kings are not far distant from the land of promise and might easily come to Jerusalem in that so short time. But why does he write from the East? Because surely they came from a country eastward of Judaea. But there is also great beauty in this, They came out of the East, seeing all who come to the Lord, come from Him and through Him; as it is said in Zechariah, Behold the Man whose name is the East (Zech 6:12).
PSEUDO-CHRYS.Or, whence the day springs, thence came the first-fruits of the faith; for faith is the light of the soul. Therefore they came from the East, but to Jerusalem.
REMIG. Yet was not the Lord born there; thus they knew the time but not the place of His birth. Jerusalem being the royal city, they believed that such a child could not be born in any other. Or it was to fulfill that Scripture, The Law shall go out of Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Is 2:3). And there Christ was first preached. Or it was to condemn the backwardness of the Jews.
PSEUDO-AUG. Many kings of Judea had been born and died before, yet had Magi ever sought out any of them for adoration? No, for they had not been taught that any of these spoke from heaven. To no ordinary King of Judea had these men, aliens from the hand of Judea, ever thought such honor due. But they had been taught that this Child was one, in worshipping whom they would certainly secure that salvation which is of God. Neither His age was such as attracts men's flattery; His limbs not robed in purple, His brow not crowned with a diamond, no pompous train, no awful army, no glorious fame of battles, attracted these men to Him from the remotest countries, with such earnestness of supplication. There lay in a manger a Boy, newly born, of infant size, of pitiable poverty. But in that small Infant lay hid something great, which these men, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, had learned not of earth but of heaven; as it follows, We have seen His star in the east. They announce the vision and ask, they believe and inquire, as signifying those who walk by faith and desire sight.
GREG. It should be known that the Priscillianists, heretics who believe every man to be born under the aspect of some planet, cite this text in support of their error; the new star which appeared at the Lord's birth they consider to have been his fate.
AUG. And , according, to Faustus this introduction of the account of the star would lead us rather to call this part of the history, 'The Nativity,' than 'The Gospel.'
GREG; But far be it from the hearts of the faithful to call anything 'fate.'
AUG. For by the word 'fate,' in common acceptation, is meant the disposition of the stars at the moment of a person's birth or conception, to which some assign a power independent of the will of God. These must be kept at a distance from the ears of all who desire to be worshippers of Gods of any sort. But others think the stars have this virtue committed to them by the great God; wherein they greatly wrong the skies, in that they impute to their host the decreeing of crimes such as should any earthly people decree, their city should in the judgment of mankind deserve to be utterly destroyed.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. If then any should become an adulterer or homicide through means of the planets, how great is the evil and wickedness of those stars, or rather of Him who made them? For as God knows things to come, and what evils are to spring from those stars, if He would not hinder it, He is not good; if He would but could not, He is weak. Again, if it be of the star that we are either good or bad, we have neither merit nor demerit, as being involuntary agents; and why should I be punished for sin which I have done not willfully, but by necessity? The very commands of God against sin, and exhortations to righteousness, overthrow such folly. For where a man has not power to do, or where he has not power to forbear, who would command him either to do or to forbear?
GREG NYSS. How vain moreover is prayer for those who live by fate; Divine Providence is banished from the world together with piety, and man is made the mere instrument of the sidereal motions. For these they say move to action, not only the bodily members, but the thoughts of the mind. In a word, they who teach this take away all that is in us and the very nature of a contingency; which is nothing less than to overturn all things. For where will there be free will? but that which is in us must be free.
AUG. It cannot be said to be utterly absurd to suppose that sidereal afflatus should influence the state of the body, when we see that it is by the approach and departure of the sun that the seasons of the year are varied, and that many things, as shells and the wonderful tides of the Ocean, increase or decrease as the moon waxes or wanes. But not so, to say that the dispositions of the mind are subject to sidereal impulse. Do they say that the stars rather foreshow than effect these results? how then do they explain that in life of twins, in their actions, their successes, professions, honors, and all other circumstances of life, there will often be so great diversity, that men of different countries are often more alike in their lives than twins, between whose birth there was only a moment's, and between whose conception in the womb there was not a moment's, interval. And the small interval between their births is not enough to account for the great difference between their fates. Some give the name of fate not only to the constitution of the stars, but to all series of causes, at the same time subjecting all to the will and power of God. This sort of subjection of human affairs and fate is a confusion of language which should be corrected, for fate is strictly the constitution of the stars. The will of God we de not call 'fate,' unless indeed we will derive the word from 'speaking,' as in the Psalms: God has spoken once, twice have I heard the same (Ps 62:11). There is then no need of much contention about what is merely a verbal controversy.
AUG. But if we will not subject the nativity of any man to the influence of the stars, in order that we may vindicate the freedom of the will from any chain of necessity; how much less must we suppose sidereal influences to have ruled at His temporal birth, who is eternal Creator and Lord of the universe? The star which the Magi saw, at Christ's birth according to the flesh, did not rule His fate, but ministered as a testimony to Him. Further, this was not of the number of those stars, which from the beginning of time creation observe their paths of motion according to the law of their Maker; but a star that first appeared at the birth, ministering to the Magi who sought Christ, by going before them till it brought them to the place where the infant God the Word was. According to some astrologers such is the connection of human fate with the stars, that on the birth of some men stars have been known to leave their courses and go directly to the newborn. The fortune indeed of him that is born they suppose to be bound up with the course of the stars, not that the course of the stars is changed after the day of any man's birth. If then this star were of the number of those that fulfill their courses in the heavens, how could it determine what Christ should do, when it was commanded at His birth only to leave its own course? If, as is more probable, it was first created at His birth, Christ was not therefore born because it arose, but the reverse; so that if we must have fate connected with the stars, this star did not rule Christ's fate, but Christ the stars.
CHRYS. The object of astrology is not to learn from the stars the fact of one's birth, but from the hour of their nativity to forecast the fate of those that are born. But these men knew not the time of the Nativity to have forecast the future from it, but the converse.
GLOSS. 'His star,' i.e. the star He created for a witness of Himself.
GLOSS. To the Shepherds, Angels, and the Magians, a star points out Christ; to both speaks the tongue of Heaven, since the tongue of the Prophets was mute. The Angels dwell in the heavens, the stars adorn it, to both, therefore, the heavens declare the glory of God.
GREG.To the Jews who used their reason, a rational creature, i.e. an Angel, ought to preach. But the Gentiles who knew not to use their reason are brought to the knowledge of the Lord, not by words, but by signs; to the one prophecy, as to the faithful; to the other signs, as to the unbelievers. One and the same Christ is preached, when of perfect age, by Apostles; when an infant, and not yet able to speak, is announced by a star to the Gentiles; for so the order of reason required; speaking preachers proclaimed a speaking Lord, mute signs proclaimed a mute infant.
LEO; Christ Himself, the expectation of the nations, that innumerable posterity once promised to the most blessed patriarch Abraham, but to be born not after the flesh, but by the Spirit; therefore likened to the stars for multitude, that from the father of all nations, not an earthly but an heavenly progeny might be looked for. Thus the heirs of that promised posterity, marked out in the stars, are roused to the faith by the rise of a new star, and where the heavens had been at first called in to witness, the aid of Heaven is continued
CHRYSOST. This was manifestly not one of the common stars of Heaven. First, because none of the stars moves in this way, from east to south, and such is the situation of Palestine with respect to Persia. Secondly, from the time of its appearance, not in the night only, but during the day. Thirdly, from its being visible and then again invisible; when they entered Jerusalem it hid itself and then appeared again when they left Herod. Further, it had no stated motion, but when the Magi were to go on, it went before them; when to stop, it stopped like the pillar of cloud in the desert. Fourthly, it signified the Virgin's delivery, not by being fixed aloft, but by descending to earth, showing herein like an invisible virtue formed into the visible appearance of a star.
REMIG. Some affirm this star to have been the Holy Spirit: He who descended on the baptized Lord as a dove, appearing to the Magi as a star. Others say it was an Angel - the same who appeared to the shepherds.
GLOSS. In the east. It seems doubtful whether this refers to the place of the star, or of those that saw it; it might have risen in the east, and gone before them to Jerusalem.
AUG. Will you ask, from whom had they learned that such an appearance as a star was to signify the birth of Christ? I answer from Angels, by the warning of some revelation. Do you ask, was it from good or ill Angels? Truly even wicked spirits, namely the demons, confessed Christ to be the Son of God. But why should they not have heard it from good Angels, since in this their adoration of Christ their salvation was sought, not their wickedness condemned? The Angels might say to them, 'The Star which you have seen is the Christ. Go worship Him, where He is now born, and see how great is He that is born.'
LEO; Besides that star thus seen with the bodily eye, a yet brighter ray of truth pierced their hearts; they were enlightened by the illumination of the true faith.
PSEUDO-AUG. They might think that a king of Judea was born, since the birth of temporal princes is sometimes attended by a star. These Chaldean Magi inspected the stars, not with malevolence, but with the true desire of knowledge; following, it may be supposed, the tradition from Balaam; so that when they saw this new and singular star, they understood it to be that of which Balaam had prophesied, as marking the birth of a King of Judea.
LEO.What they knew and believed might have been sufficient for themselves, that they needed not to seek to see with the bodily eye, what they saw so clearly with the spiritual. But their earnestness and perseverance to see the Babe was for our profit. It profited us that Thomas, after the Lord's resurrection, touched and felt the marks of His wounds, and so for our profit the Magians' eyes looked on the Lord in His cradle.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. Were they then ignorant that Herod reigned in Jerusalem? Or that it is a capital treason to proclaim another King while one yet lives? But while they thought on the King to come, they feared not the king that was; while as yet they had not seen Christ, they were ready to die for Him. O blessed Magi! who before the face of a most cruel king, and before having beheld Christ, were made His confessors.
3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4. And when he had gathered all the Chief Priests and Scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5. And they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judea; for thus it is written by the prophet,
6. And you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of you shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.
AUG. As the Magi seek a Redeemer, so Herod fears a successor.
GLOSS. The King, he is called, though in comparison with him whom they are seeking he is an alien and a foreigner.
PSEUDO-CHYRS. Herod was troubled when he heard that a King was born of Jewish lineage, lest, himself being an Idumean, the kingdom should return again to native princes, and himself be expelled, and his Seed after him. Great station is ever obnoxious to great fears; as the boughs of trees planted in high ground move when never so little wind blows, so high men are troubled with little rumors; while the lowly, like trees in the valley remain at peace.
AUG. If His birth as an infant makes proud kings tremble, what will His tribunal as a Judge do? Let princes fear Him sitting at the right hand of His Father, whom this impious king feared while He hanged yet on His mother's breast.
LEO. you art troubled, Herod, without cause. Your nature cannot contain Christ, nor is the Lord of the world content with the narrow bounds of your dominion. He, whom you would not should reign in Judea, reigns everywhere.
GLOSS. Perhaps He was troubled not on His own account, but for fear of the displeasure of the Romans. They would not allow the title of King or of God to any without their permission.
GREG. At the birth of a king of Heaven, a king of earth is troubled; surely, earthly greatness is confounded, when heavenly greatness shows itself.
LEO. Herod represents the Devil, who as He then instigated him, so now he unweariedly imitates him. For he is grieved by the calling of the Gentiles, and by the daily ruin of his power.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. Both have their own causes of jealousy, both fear a successor in their kingdom; Herod an earthly successor, the Devil a spiritual. Even Jerusalem is troubled, which should have rejoiced at that news, when a Jewish King was said to be risen up. But they were troubled, for the wicked cannot rejoice at the coming of the good. Or perhaps it was in fear that Herod should wreak his wrath against a Jewish King on his race.
GLOSS. Jerusalem was troubled with him, as willing to favor him whom it feared; the vulgar always pay undue honor to one who tyrannizes over it. Observe the diligence of his inquiry. If he Should find him, he would do to him as he showed afterwards his disposition; if he should not, he would at least be excused to the Romans.
REMIG. They are called Scribes, not from the employment of writing, but from the interpretation of the Scriptures, for they were doctors of the law. Observe, he does not inquire where Christ is born, but where He should be born; the subtle purpose of this was to see if they would show pleasure at the birth of their King. He calls Him Christ, because he knows that the King of the Jews was anointed.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. Why does Herod make this inquiry, seeing he believed not the Scriptures? Or if he did believe, how could he hope to be able to kill Him whom the Scriptures declared should be King? The Devil instigated him, who believed that Scripture lies not; such is the faith of devils, who are not permitted to have perfect belief; even of that which they do believe. That they do believe, it is the force of truth constrains them; that they do not believe, it is that they are blinded by the enemy. If they had perfect faith, they would live as about to depart from this world soon, not as to possess it forever.
LEO; The Magi, judging as men, sought in the royal city for Him, whom they had been told was born a King. But He who took the form of a servant, and came not to judge but to be judged, chose Bethlehem for His birth, Jerusalem for His death.
THEODOTUS; Had He chosen the mighty city of Rome, it might have been thought that this change of the world had been wrought by the might of her citizens; had He been the son of the emperor, his power might have aided Him. But what was His choice? All that was mean, all that was in low esteem, that in this transformation of the world, divinity might at once be recognized. Therefore He chose a poor woman for His mother, a poor country for His native country; He has no money, and this stable is His cradle.
GREG; Rightly is He born in Bethlehem, which signifies the house of bread, who said, I am the living bread, who came down from heaven.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. When they should have kept secret the mystery of the King appointed of God, especially before a foreign king, straightway they became not preachers of the word of God, but revealers of His mystery. And they not only display the mystery, but cite the passage the prophet, viz. Micah.
GLOSS. He quotes this prophecy as they quote who give the sense and not the words.
JEROME; the Jews are here blamed for ignorance; for whereas the prophecy says, you Bethlehem Ephrata; they said, 'Bethlehem in the land of Judah.'
PSEUDO-CHRYS.By cutting short the prophecy, they became the cause of the murder of the Innocents. For the prophecy proceeds, From you shall go forth a King who shall feed My people Israel, and His day shall be from everlasting. Had they cited the whole prophecy, Herod would not have raged so madly, considering that it could not be an earthly King whose days were spoken of as from everlasting.
JEROME; The following is the sense of the prophecy. You, Bethlehem, of the land of Judah, or Ephrata, (which is added to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Galilee,) though you are a small village among the thousand cities of Judah, yet out of you shall be born Christ, who shall be the Ruler of Israel, who according to the flesh is of the seed of David, but was born of Me before the worlds; and therefore it is written, His goings forth are of old. In the beginning was the Word.
GLOSS. This latter half of the prophecy the Jews dropped; and other parts they altered, either through ignorance (as was said above) or for perspicuity, that Herod who was a foreigner might better understand the prophecy; thus for Ephrata, they said, land of Judah; and for little among the thousands of Judah, which expresses its smallness contrasted with the multitude of the people, they said, not the least among the princes, willing to show the high dignity that would come from the birth of the Prince. As if they had said, you art great among cities from which princes have come.
REMIG. Or the sense is, though little among cities that have dominion, yet are you not the least, for out of you shall come the Ruler, who shall rule My people Israel; this Ruler is Christ, who rules and guides His faithful people.
CHRYS.Observe the exactness of the prophecy; it is not He shall be in Bethlehem, but shall come out of Bethlehem - showing that He should be only born there. What reason is there for applying this to Zorobabel, as some do? For his goings forth were not from everlasting, nor did he go forth from Bethlehem, but was born in Babylonia. The expression, are not the least, is a further proof, for none but Christ could make the town where He was born illustrious. And after that birth, there came men from the utmost ends of the earth to see the stable and manger. He calls Him not 'the Son of God,' but the Ruler who shall govern My people Israel; for thus He ought to condescend at the first, that they should not be scandalized, but should preach such things as more pertained to salvation, that they might be gained. Who shall rule My people Israel, is said mystically, for those of the Jews who believed; for if Christ ruled not all the Jews, theirs is the blame. Meanwhile he is silent respecting the Gentles, that the Jews might not be scandalized. Mark this wonderful ordinance: Jews and Magi mutually instruct each other; the Jews learn of the Magi that a star had proclaimed Christ in the east, the Magi from the Jews that the Prophets had spoken of Him of old. Thus confirmed by a twofold testimony, they would look with more ardent faith for One whom the brightness of the star and the voice of the Prophets equally proclaimed.
AUG. The star that guided the Magi to the spot where was the Infant God with His Virgin Mother, might have conducted them straight to the town; but it vanished, and showed not itself again to them till the Jews themselves had told them the place where Christ should be born: Bethlehem of Judea. Like in this to those who built the ark for Noah, providing others with a refuge, themselves perished in the flood; or like to the stones by the road that show the miles, but themselves are not able to move. The inquirers heard and departed; the teachers spoke and remained still. Even now the Jews show us something similar; for some Pagans, when clear passages of Scripture are shown them, which prophesy of Christ, suspecting them to be forged by the Christians, have recourse to Jewish copies. Thus they leave the Jews to read unprofitably, and go out themselves to believe faithfully.
7. Then Herod, when he had privately called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when you have found Him bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also.
9a. When they had heard the king, they departed.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. As soon as Herod had heard the answer, though doubly authenticated both by the authority of the Priests, and the passage from the Prophets, he yet turned not to worship the King that was to be born, but sought how he might put Him to death by subtlety. He saw that the Magi were neither to be won by flattery, nor awed by threats, nor bribed by gifts, to consent to this murder; he sought therefore to deceive them; he privately called the wise men, that the Jews, whom he suspected, might not know of it. For he thought they would incline the rather to a King of their own nation.
REMIG. Diligently inquired; craftily, for he feared they would not return to him, and then he should know how he should do to put the young Child to death.
PSEUDO-AUG. The star had been seen, and with great wonder, nearly two years before. We are to understand that it was signified to them whose the star was, which was visible all that time till He, whom it signified, was born. Then as soon as Christ was made known to them they set out, and came and worshipped Him in thirteen days from the east.
CHRYSOST.Or, the star appeared to them long time before, because the journey would take up some time, and they were to stand before Him immediately on His birth, that seeing Him in swaddling clothes, he might seem the more wonderful.
GLOSS. According to others, the star was first seen on the day of the nativity, and having accomplished its end, ceased to be. Thus Fulgentius says, "The Boy at His birth created a new star." Though they now knew both time and place, he still would not have them ignorant of the person of the Child, Go, he says, and inquire diligently of the young Child; a commission they would have executed even if he had not commanded it.
CHRYS. Concerning the young Child, he says, not 'of the King'; he envies Him the regal title.
PSEUDO-CHRYS.To induce them to do this, he put on the color of devotion, beneath which he whetted the sword, hiding the malice of his heart under color of humility. Such is the manner of the malicious, when they would hurt anyone in secret, they feign meekness and affection.
GREG. He feigns a wish of worshipping Him only that he may discover Him and put Him to death.
REMIG. The Magi obeyed the King so far as to seek the Lord, but not to return to Herod. Like in this to good hearers; the good they hear from wicked preachers, that they do; but do not imitate their evil lives.
9b. And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
PSEUDO-CHRYS.This passage shows, that when the star had brought the Magi nearly to Jerusalem, it was hidden from them, and so they were compelled to ask in Jerusalem, where Christ should be born? and thus to manifest Him to them; on two accounts: first, to put to confusion the Jews, inasmuch as the Gentiles instructed only by sight of a star sought Christ through strange lands, while the Jews who had read the Prophets from their youth did not receive Him, though born in their country. Secondly, that the Priests, when asked where Christ should be born, might answer to their now condemnation, and while they instructed Herod, they were themselves ignorant of Him. The star went before them, to show them the greatness of the King.
AUG. To perform its due service to the Lord, it advanced slowly, leading them to the spot. It was ministering to Him, and not ruling His fate; its light showed the suppliants and filled the inn, shed over the walls and roof that covered the birth; and thus it disappeared.
PSEUDO-CHRYS.What wonder that a divine star should minister to the Sun of righteousness about to rise. It stood over the Child's head, as it were saying, 'This is He,' proving by its place what it had no voice to utter.
GLOSS. It is evident that the star must have been in the air, and close above the house where the Child was, else it would not have pointed out the exact house.
AMBROSE; The star is the way, and the way is Christ; and according to the mystery of the incarnation, Christ is a star. He is a blazing and a morning-star. Thus where Herod is, the star is not seen; where Christ is, there it is again seen, and points out the way.
REMIG. Or, the star figures the grace of God, and Herod the Devil. He, who by sin puts himself in the Devil's power, loses that grace; but if he return by repentance, he soon finds that grace again which leaves him not till it have brought him to the young Child's house, i. e the Church.
GLOSS.Or, the star is the illumination of faith, which leads him to the nearest aid; while they turn aside to the Jews, the Magi lose it; so those who seek counsel of the bad, lose the true light.
10. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him; and when they had opened their treasures, they presented to Him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
GLOSS. This service of the star is followed by the rejoicing of the Magi.
REMIG. And it was not enough to say, They rejoiced, but they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. They rejoiced, because their hopes were not falsified but confirmed, and because the toil of so great travel had not been undertaken in vain.
GLOSS.He rejoices indeed who rejoices on God's account, who is the true joy. With great joy, he says, for they had great cause.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. By the mystery of this star they understood that the dignity of the King then born exceeded the measure of all worldly kings.
REMIG. He adds greatly, showing that men rejoice more over what they have lost than over what they possess.
LEO. Though in stature a babe, needing the aid of others, unable to speak, and different in nothing from other infants, yet such faithful witnesses, showing the unseen Divine Majesty which was in Him, ought to have proved most certainly that that was the Eternal Essence of the Son of God that had taken upon Him the true human nature.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. Mary His mother, not crowned with a diadem or laying on a golden couch, but with barely one garment, not for ornament but for covering, and that such as the wife of a carpenter when abroad might have. Had they therefore come to seek an earthly king, they would have been more confounded than rejoiced, deeming their pains thrown away. But now they looked for a heavenly King, so that though they saw nothing of regal state, that star's witness sufficed them, and their eyes rejoiced to behold a despised Boy, the Spirit showing Him to their hearts in all His wonderful power, they fell down and worshipped, seeing the man, they acknowledged the God.
RABANUS. Joseph was absent by Divine command, that no wrong suspicions might occur to the Gentiles.
GLOSS.In these offerings we observe their national customs: gold, frankincense, and various spices abounding among the Arabians; yet they intended thereby to signify something in mystery.
GREG. Gold, as to a King; frankincense, as sacrifice to God; myrrh, as embalming the body of the dead.
AUG. Gold, as paid to a mighty King; frankincense, as offered to God; myrrh, as to one who is to die for the sins of all.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. And though it were not then understood what these several gifts mystically signified, that is no difficulty; the same grace that instigated them to the deed, ordained the whole.
REMIG. And it is to be known that each did not offer a different gift, hut each one the three things, each one thus proclaiming the King, the God, and the man.
CHRYS. Let Marcion and Paul of Samosata then blush, who will not see what the Magi saw, those progenitors of the Church adoring God in the flesh. That He was truly in the flesh, the swaddling clothes and the stall prove; yet that they worshipped Him not as mere man, but as God, the gifts prove which it was becoming to offer to a God. Let the Jews also be ashamed, seeing the Magi coming before them, and themselves not even earnest to tread in their path.
GREG. Something further may yet be meant here. Wisdom is typified by gold; as Solomon said in the Proverbs, A treasure to be desired is in the mouth of the wise (Prov 21:20). By frankincense, which is burnt before God, the power of prayer is intended, as in the Psalms, Let my speech come before you as incense (Ps 141:2). In myrrh is figured mortification of the flesh. To a king at his birth we offer gold; if we shine in his sight with the light of wisdom, we offer frankincense; if we have power before God by the sweet savor of our prayers, we offer myrrh, when we mortify by abstinence the lusts of the flesh.
GLOSS.The three men who offer, signify the nations who come from the three quarters of the earth. They open their treasures, i.e. manifest the faith of their hearts by confession. Rightly in the house, teaching that we should not vain-gloriously display the treasure of a good conscience. They bring three gifts, i. e the faith in the Holy Trinity. Or opening the stores of Scripture, they offer its threefold sense: historical, moral, and allegorical; or Logic, Physic, and Ethics, making them all serve the faith.
12. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
AUG. The wicked Herod, now made cruel by fear, will needs do a deed of horror. But how could he ensnare him who had come to cut off all fraud? His fraud is escaped as it follows, And being warned.
JEROME; They had offered gifts to the Lord, and receive a warning corresponding to it. This warning (in the Greek 'having received a response') is given not by an Angel, but by the Lord Himself, to show the high privilege granted to the merit of Joseph.
GLOSS. This warning is given by the Lord Himself; it is none other that now teaches these Magi the way they should return, but He who said, I am the way (John 14). Not that the Infant actually speaks to them, that His divinity may not be revealed before the time, and His human nature may be thought real. But he says, having received an answer, for as Moses prayed silently, so they with pious spirit had asked what the Divine will bade. By another way, for they were not to be mixed up with the unbelieving Jews.
CHRYS.See the faith of the Magi; they were not offended, nor said within themselves, What need now of flight? or of secret return, if this Boy be really some great one? Such is true faith; it asks not the reason of any command, but obeys.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. Had the Magi sought Christ as an earthly King, they would have remained with Him when they had found Him; but they only worship, and go their way. After their return, they continued in the worship of God more steadfastly than before, and taught many by their preaching. And when afterwards Thomas reached their country, they joined themselves to him, and were baptized, and did according to his preaching.
GREG. We may learn much from this return of the Magi another way. Our country is Paradise, to which, after we have come to the knowledge of Christ we are forbidden to return the way we came. We have left this country by pride, disobedience, following things of sight, tasting forbidden food; and we must return to it by repentance, obedience, by condemning things of sight, and overcoming carnal appetite.
PSEUDO-CHRYS. It was impossible that they, who left Herod to go to Christ, should return to Herod. They who have by sin left Christ and passed to the devil, often return to Christ; for the innocent, who knows not what is evil, is easily deceived, but having once tasted the evil he has taken up, and remembering the good he has left, he returns in penitence to God. He who has forsaken the devil and come to Christ, hardly returns to the devil; for rejoicing in the good he has found, and remembering the evil he has escaped, with difficulty returns to that evil.
Catena Aurea Matthew 2