Mystery of the Vocation of the Magi
A reflection each day during the Octave of the Epiphany
by Dom Prosper Gueranger, 1870
January 8th: The Third Day
Within the Octave of the Epiphany
The great Mystery of the Alliance of the Son of God with the universal Church, and which is represented in the Epiphany by the Magi, was looked forward to by the world in every age previous to the coming of our Emmanuel. The Patriarchs and Prophets had propagated the tradition; and the Gentile world gave frequent proofs that the tradition prevailed even with them.
When Adam, in Eden, first beheld her whom God had formed from one of his ribs, and whom he called Eve, because she was the Mother of all the living (Gen. iii. 20),–he exclaimed: “This is the bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. Man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh (Ibid. ii. 23, 24).” In uttering these words, the soul of our first Parent was enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and, as we are told by the most profound interpreters of the Sacred Scriptures, (such as Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, &c.,) he foretold the Alliance of the Son of God with His Church, which issued from His Side, when opened by the spear, on the Cross; for the love of which Spouse, He left the right hand of His Father, and the heavenly Jerusalem, His mother, that He might dwell with us, in this our earthly abode.
The second father of the human race, Noe–after he had seen the Rainbow in the heavens, announcing that now God’s anger was appeased–prophesied to his three Sons their own respective future, and, in theirs, that of the world . Cham had drawn upon himself his father’s curse; Sem seemed to be the favoured son–for from his race, there should come the Saviour of the world; but, the Patriarch immediately adds: “May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Sem (Gen. ix. 27).” In the course of time, the ancient alliance, that had been made between God and the people of Israel, was broken; the Semitic race fluctuated in its religion, and finally fell into infidelity; and, at length, God adopts the family of Japheth, that is, the Gentiles of the west, as his own people; for ages, they had been without God, and now the very Seat of religion is established in their midst, and they are put at the head of the whole human race.
Later on, it is the great God Himself that speaks to Abraham, promising him that he shall be the father of a countless family. “I will bless thee,” says the Lord, “and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven (Ibid. xxii. 17).” As the Apostle tells us, more numerous was to be the family of Abraham according to the faith, than that which should be born to him of Sara. All they that have received the faith of a Mediator to come, and all they that, being warned by the Star, have come to Jesus as their God–all are the children of Abraham.
The Mystery is again expressed in Rebecca, the wife of Isaac. She feels that there are two children struggling within her womb (Ibid. xxv. 22); and this is the answer she receives from God, when she consulted him: “Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be divided out of thy womb; and one people shall overcome the other, and the elder shall serve the younger (Gen. xxv. 23).” Now, who is this “younger” child that overcomes the elder, but the Gentiles, who struggle with Juda for the light, and who, though but the child of the promise, supplants him who was son according to the flesh? Such is the teaching of St. Leo and St. Augustine.
Next, it is Jacob, who, when dying, calls his twelve sons, the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel, around his bed, and prophetically assigns to each of them the career they were to run. Juda is put before the rest; he is to be the King of his brethren, and from his royal race shall come the Messias. But the prophecy concludes with the prediction of Israel’s humiliation, which humiliation is to be the glory of the rest of the human race. “The sceptre shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a Ruler from his thigh, till He come that is to be sent, and he shall be the Expectation of the Nations (Ibid. xlix. 10).”
When Israel had gone out of Egypt, and was in possession of the Promised Land, Balaam cried out, setting his face towards the desert, where Israel was encamped: “I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not near. A Star shall rise out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel. Who shall live when God shall do these things? They shall come in galleys from Italy; they shall overcome the Assyrians, and shall waste the Hebrews, and, at the last, they themselves also shall perish (Num. xxiv. 17, 23, 24).” And what kingdom shall succeed this? The kingdom of Christ, who is the Star, and the King that shall rule for ever.
David has this great day continually before his mind. He is forever celebrating, in his Psalms, the Kingship of his Son according to the flesh: he shows Him to us as bearing the Sceptre, girt with the Sword, anointed by God His Father, and extending His kingdom from sea to sea: he tells us, how the Kings of Tharsis and the Islands, the Kings of the Arabians and of Saba, and the Princes of Ethiopia, shall prostrate at his feet and adore him: he mentions their gifts of gold (Ps. lxxi).
In his mysterious Canticle of Canticles, Solomon describes the joy of the spiritual union between the divine Spouse and His Church, and that Church is not the Synagogue. Christ invites her, in words of tenderest love, to come and be crowned; and she, to whom he addresses these words, is dwelling beyond the confines of the land where lives the people of God. “Come from Libanus, my Spouse, come from Libanus, come! Thou shalt be crowned from the top of Amana, from the top of Sanir and Hermon, from the dens of the lions, from the mountains of the leopards (Cant. iv. 8).” This daughter of Pharaoh confesses her unworthiness: I am black, she says; but, she immediately adds, that she has been made beautiful by the grace of her Spouse (Cant. i. 4).
The Prophet Osee follows with his inspired prediction: “And it shall be in that day, saith the Lord, that she shall call me, My Husband, and she shall call me no more Baali. And I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and she shall no more remember their name. And I will espouse thee to me forever. And I will sow her unto me in the earth, and I will have mercy on her, that was without mercy. And I will say to that, which was not my people: Thou art my people; and they shall say: Thou art my God.”
The elder Tobias, whilst captive in Babylon, prophesies the same alliance. The Jerusalem, which was to receive the Jews, after their deliverance by Cyrua, is not the City of which he speaks in such glowing terms; it is a new and richer and lovelier Jerusalem. “Jerusalem! City of God! bless the God eternal, that He may rebuild His tabernacle in thee, and may call back all the captives to thee. Thou shalt shine with a glorious light. Nations from afar shall come to thee, and shall bring gifts, and shall esteem thy land as holy. For they shall call upon the great Name in thee. All that fear God shall return thither. And the Gentiles shall leave their idols, and shall come into Jerusalem, and shall dwell in it. And all the kings of the earth shall rejoice in it, adoring the King of Israel (Tob. xiii. & xiv).”
It is true, the Gentiles shall be severely chastised by God, on account of their crimes; but, that justice is for no other end, than to prepare those very Gentiles for an eternal alliance with the great Jehovah. He thus speaks, by His Prophet Sophonias: “My judgment is to assemble the Gentiles, and to gather the kingdoms: and to pour upon them my indignation, all my fierce anger: for, with the fire of my jealousy shall all the earth be devoured. Because, then I will restore to the people a chosen lip, that all may call upon the name of the Lord, and may serve Him with one shoulder. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia shall my suppliants, the children of my dispersed people, bring me an offering (Soph. iii. 8, 9, 10).”
He promises the same mercy by his Prophet Ezechiel: “One King shall be over all, and they shall no more be two nations, neither shall they be divided any more into two kingdoms. Nor shall they be defiled any more with their idols: and I will save them out of all the places in which they have sinned. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. And they shall have One Shepherd. And I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will establish them, and will multiply them, and will set my Sanctuary in the midst of them forever (Ezechiel, xxxvii. 22 & seqq).”
After the prophet Daniel has described the three great Kingdoms, which were successively to pass away, he says there shall be a Kingdom, “which is an everlasting Kingdom, and all kings shall serve Him, (the King,) and shall obey Him.” He had previously said: “The power” (that was to be given to the Son of man) “is an everlasting power, that shall not be taken away; and His Kingdom shall not be destroyed (Dan. vii. 27).” Aggeus thus foretells the great events which were to happen before the coming of the One Shepherd, and the establishment of that everlasting Sanctuary, which was to be set up in the very midst of the Gentiles: “Yet one little while, and I will move the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land. And I will move all Nations, and the Desired of all nations shall come (Agg. ii. 7, 8).”
But, we should have to cite all the Prophets, in order to describe, in all its grandeur, the glorious spectacle promised by God to the world, when, being mindful of the Gentiles, He should lead them to the feet of Jesus. The Church has quoted the Prophet Isaias in the Epistle of the Feast, and no Prophet is so explicit and so sublime as this son of Amos. The expression of the same universal expectation and desire is found also among the Gentiles. The Sibyls kept up the hope in the heart of the people; and in Rome itself, we find the Poet Virgil repeating, in one of his poems, the oracles they had pronounced. “The last age,” says he, “foretold by the Cumean Sibyl, is at hand; a new and glorious era is coming: a new race is being sent down to earth from heaven. At the birth of this Child, the iron age will cease, and one of gold will rise upon the whole world. No remnants of our crimes will be left, and their removal will free the earth from its never-ending fear (Ecolog. iv).” If we are unwilling to accept, as did St. Augustine and so many other holy Fathers, these Sibylline oracles as the expression of the ancient traditions–we have pagan philosophers and historians, such as Cicero, Tacitus, and Suetonius, testifying, that, in their times, the world was in expectation of a Deliverer; that this Deliverer would come, not only from the East, but from Judea; and that a Kingdom was on the point of being established, which would include the entire world.
O Jesus, our Emmanuel! this universal expectation was that of the holy Magi, to whom Thou didst send the Star. No sooner do they receive the signal of thy having come, than they set out in search of Thee, asking–where is He born, that is King of the Jews? The oracles of thy Prophets were verified in them; but, if they received the first-fruits of the great promise, we possess it in all its fulness. The Alliance is made; and our souls, for love of which thou didst come down from heaven, are Thine. The Church is come forth from Thy divine side, with the Blood and Water; and all that Thou dost for this Thy chosen Spouse, Thou accomplishest in each of her faithful children. We are the sons of Japheth, and we have supplanted the race of Sem, which refused us the entrance of its tents; the birth-right, which belonged to Juda, has been transferred to us. Each age, do our numbers increase, for we are to become numerous as the stars of heaven.
We are no longer in the anxious period of expectation; the Star has risen, and the Kingdom it predicted will now forever protect and bless us. The Kings of Tharsis and the Islands, the Kings of Arabia and Saba, the Princes of Ethiopia, are come, bringing their gifts with them; all generations have followed them. The Spouse has received all her honors, and has long since forgotten Amana, and Sanir, and Hermon, where she once dwelt in the midst of wild beasts; she is not black, she is beautiful, with neither spot nor wrinkle upon her, but in every way is worthy of her divine Lord. Baal is forgotten forever, and she lovingly speaks the language given her by her God. The One Shepherd feeds the one flock. The last Kingdom, the Kingdom which is to continue forever, is faithfully fulfilling its glorious destiny.
It is thou, O Divine Infant! that bringest us all these graces, and receivest all this devoted homage of thy creatures. The time will soon come, dear Jesus! when Thou wilt break the silence Thou hast imposed on Thyself in order that Thou mightest teach us humility–Thou wilt speak to us, as our Master. Caesar Augustus has long ruled over Pagan Rome, and she thinks herself the kingdom that is to have no end; but she and her Rulers must yield to the Eternal King and His eternal City: the throne of earthly power must now give place for the Throne of Christian charity, and a new Rome is to spring up, grander than the first.
The Gentiles are looking for Thee, their King; but the day will come, when they will have no need to seek Thee, but Thou, in Thy mercy, wilt go in search of them, by sending them apostles’ and missioners, who will preach thy Gospel to them. Show Thyself to them, as He to whom all power has been given in heaven and on earth; and show them also Her, whom thou hast made to be Queen of the universe. May this august Mother of Thine be raised up from the poor Stable of Bethlehem, and from the humble dwelling of Nazareth, and be taken, on the wings of Angels, to that throne of mercy which thou hast made for her, and from which she will bless all peoples and generations with her loving protection.
Hymn: En Persici ex Orbis
Lo! in the heart of Persia’s world, where opens first the fate unto the rising sun, the Magi, most wise interpreters, perceive the standard of the King.
It shone, and the other stars of heaven put out their lights: not even would lovely Day-Star show his face.
“Who,” say they, “is this great King, who commands the stars? at whose presence the heavens tremble, and light and air do His bidding?
“The sign we see tells us of that great Being, who is eternal and infinite–the most high, exalted, boundless One, who existed before heaven and earth were made.
“This is He that is King of the Gentiles, and King of the Jews: He was promised to our Father Abraham, and to his seed forever.
“For Abraham, the first parent of believers, and the sacrificer of his only Son, was told that his race should become numerous as the stars of heaven.
“At length the Flower of David is come, springing from Jesse’s root: blooming by His sceptre’s rod, He now rules over the universe.”
Then quickly do they follow, with their gaze fixed aloft, and the Star sails through the air, pointing the bright path to be pursued.
But when the Star had reached the point direct above the Child’s head, it hovered there: then stooping down its torch, it showed the sacred face they sought.
The Magi looked upon the Babe, then opening their eastern treasures, prostrate, and offer Him the votive homage of incense, myrrh, and kingly gold.
These, dear Babe, are the rich tokens of thy power and kingdom, for they mark the triple character, which thy Father would have us recognise.
The Gold proclaims him King; the sweet-smelling Saba Incense declares Him to be God; and the Myrrh signifies that He is Man, for it is the symbol of His future tomb;
That Tomb, whereby God broke open the prison of Death, after He had permitted His sacred Body to suffer death, and the Tomb had raised it up again to life.