Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Apologetic/On Idolatry/Professions of Some Kinds Allied to Idolatry. Of Astrology in Particular

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Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III, Apologetic, On Idolatry by Tertullian, translated by Sydney Thelwall
Professions of Some Kinds Allied to Idolatry. Of Astrology in Particular

Chapter IX.—Professions of Some Kinds Allied to Idolatry. Of Astrology in Particular.

We observe among the arts[1] also some professions liable to the charge of idolatry. Of astrologers there should be no speaking even;[2] but since one in these days has challenged us, defending on his own behalf perseverance in that profession, I will use a few words. I allege not that he honours idols, whose names he has inscribed on the heaven,[3] to whom he has attributed all God’s power; because men, presuming that we are disposed of by the immutable arbitrament of the stars, think on that account that God is not to be sought after. One proposition I lay down: that those angels, the deserters from God, the lovers of women,[4] were likewise the discoverers of this curious art, on that account also condemned by God. Oh divine sentence, reaching even unto the earth in its vigour, whereto the unwitting render testimony! The astrologers are expelled just like their angels. The city and Italy are interdicted to the astrologers, just as heaven to their angels.[5] There is the same penalty of exclusion for disciples and masters. “But Magi and astrologers came from the east.”[6] We know the mutual alliance of magic and astrology. The interpreters of the stars, then, were the first to announce Christ’s birth the first to present Him “gifts.” By this bond, [must] I imagine, they put Christ under obligation to themselves?  What then? Shall therefore the religion of those Magi act as patron now also to astrologers? Astrology now-a-days, forsooth, treats of Christ—is the science of the stars of Christ; not of Saturn, or Mars, and whomsoever else out of the same class of the dead[7] it pays observance to and preaches? But, however, that science has been allowed until the Gospel, in order that after Christ’s birth no one should thence forward interpret any one’s nativity by the heaven. For they therefore offered to the then infant Lord that frankincense and myrrh and gold, to be, as it were, the close of worldly[8] sacrifice and glory, which Christ was about to do away. What, then?  The dream—sent, doubtless, of the will of God—suggested to the same Magi, namely, that they should go home, but by another way, not that by which they came. It means this: that they should not walk in their ancient path.[9] Not that Herod should not pursue them, who in fact did not pursue them; unwitting even that they had departed by another way, since he was withal unwitting by what way they came. Just so we ought to understand by it the right Way and Discipline. And so the precept was rather, that thence forward they should walk otherwise. So, too, that other species of magic which operates by miracles, emulous even in opposition to Moses,[10] tried God’s patience until the Gospel.  For thenceforward Simon Magus, just turned believer, (since he was still thinking somewhat of his juggling sect; to wit, that among the miracles of his profession he might buy even the gift of the Holy Spirit through imposition of hands) was cursed by the apostles, and ejected from the faith.[11] Both he and that other magician, who was with Sergius Paulus, (since he began opposing himself to the same apostles) was mulcted with loss of eyes.[12] The same fate, I believe, would astrologers, too, have met, if any had fallen in the way of the apostles. But yet, when magic is punished, of which astrology is a species, of course the species is condemned in the genus. After the Gospel, you will nowhere find either sophists, Chaldeans, enchanters, diviners, or magicians, except as clearly punished. “Where is the wise, where the grammarian, where the disputer of this age? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this age?”[13] You know nothing, astrologer, if you know not that you should be a Christian. If you did know it, you ought to have known this also, that you should have nothing more to do with that profession of yours which, of itself, fore-chants the climacterics of others, and might instruct you of its own danger. There is no part nor lot for you in that system of yours.[14] He cannot hope for the kingdom of the heavens, whose finger or wand abuses[15] the heaven.


  1. “Ars” in Latin is very generally used to mean “a scientific art.” [See Titus iii. 14. English margin.]
  2. See Eph. v. 11, 12, and similar passages.
  3. i.e., by naming the stars after them.
  4. Comp. chap. iv., and the references there given. The idea seems founded on an ancient reading found in the Codex Alexandrinus of the LXX. in Gen. vi. 2, “angels of God,” for “sons of God.”
  5. See Tac. Ann. ii. 31, etc. (Oehler.)
  6. See Matt. ii.
  7. Because the names of the heathen divinities, which used to be given to the stars, were in many cases only names of dead men deified.
  8. Or, heathenish.
  9. Or, sect.
  10. See Ex. vii., viii., and comp. 2 Tim. iii. 8.
  11. See Acts viii. 9–24.
  12. See Acts xiii. 6–11.
  13. 1 Cor. i. 20.
  14. See Acts viii. 21.
  15. See 1 Cor. vii. 31, “They that use this world as not abusing it.” The astrologer abuses the heavens by putting the heavenly bodies to a sinful use.