Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

"Praise ye Him, O sun and moon: praise Him, all ye stars and light''

The Traditional Catholic View of Astrology

Some people hear the word "Zodiac" and freak out, their minds going to New Age thinking, not realizing that the Zodiac is just a set of stars -- stars that God made and called "good." But since the question will come up, what does the Church teach about astrology?

It's not uncommon at all to hear people -- even educated people, even priests -- express not just the idea that astrology is just bunk (which they, of course, have every right to believe), but that it's forbidden by the Church. Some are vehement about it, passionately insisting that astrology, in se, is forbidden, an occultic practice inherently akin to necromancy or divination. In my experience, this tends especially to be true when it comes to converts from certain Protestant sects -- often the same type who insists that ghosts don't exist, that it's forbidden to think ghosts exist, that magic doesn't work (it does, but it's forbidden. By definition, it derives its power from demons), that curses and cursed objects don't exist, and so on (learn about these things in the "The Preternatual World" sub-section of this website).

But that belief is simply not true. In the medieval world, astrology was given a great deal of very serious thought
-- including by great Doctors and Saints --  and in everything from medicine to farming, astrological considerations were often taken into account. Our glorious heritage of Catholic art -- including paintings, church architecture, stained glass, and illuminated manuscripts -- especially in Books of Hours, in which the zodiacal signs were almost always included along with depictions of the seasonal labors of man1 -- proves just how ubiquitous and accepted astrological thought was.  Here is one of many examples of a "Zodiac Man" which illustrates the idea that the different zodiacal signs influence various parts of the body:

Medieval literature is filled with astrological thought. Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales" speaks often of planetary influences, and even Dante's great religious work, "Divine Comedy," relates each the seven "planets" of medieval astrology to one of the Cardinal and Theological Virtues.

Consider a description of a church window that relates how that window is covered in astrological symbols and includes depictions of men going about their daily business. One might -- understandably, given how things are these days -- leap to the conclusion that such a church window would be located in some modernist church building somewhere, likely designed by some woefully misled or ill-intentioned "progressive Catholic" (may God have mercy on them!) -- the sort of parish in which parishioners are encouraged to refer to God as "She," in which the Buddha is treated as a Catholic Saint, and other insults to the Holy Faith we hear about lately are manifest. But those words actually describe this very beautiful window found in Chartres Cathedral:

Or consider the following bit of text:

The Ram (Aries) or the Lion (Leo) or the Archer (Sagittarius) carved [on stones] by reason of Fire and the Eastern triplicity, indicate that stones have a property against fevers and such infirmities as dropsy, paralysis, and the like. And since heat has a beneficial effect, these are said make their wearers skilful and clever, and to raise them to positions honour in the world; the Lion especially [has this effect].

The Twins (Gemini), the Scales (Libra) and the Waterman (Aquarius) if carved on stones, by reason of the triplicity of Air and the West, are said to predispose their wearers towards friendship and righteousness and good manners, diligent observation of laws, and concord.

The Crab (Cancer), the Scorpion (Scorpius) and the Fishes (Pisces), carved on stones, by reason of the triplicity of Water and the North, temper dry fevers, like [those called] ethica and causon, and the like. But according to The Art of Images, they produce an inclination towards lying and unrighteousness and inconstancy and licentiousness. Evidence of this is that the Scorpion is the image of Mahommet, who never taught anything except lies and unrighteousness.

And if the Bull (Taurus), the Maiden (Virgo) or the Horned Goat (Capricornus) are engraved [upon stones], by reason of the triplicity of Earth and South, they are cold and dry, so far as their effects [are concerned]; hence they are said to cure their wearers of fainting fits and hot infirmities. And they incline their wearers towards religious devotion, and wards country occupations, such as agriculture and the planting of vineyards and gardens.

The same considerations [hold good] for the images that have been scribed outside the Zodiac.

Many moderns might mistake that for something written by a New Age hippie. But it was, in fact, written by one of the very greatest Doctors of the Church, St. Albertus Magnus ("St. Albert the Great"), mentor of St. Thomas Aquinas, in his De Mineralibus (On Minerals). And as to St. Albert's illustrious pupil, in the first part of his Summa Theologica, Aquinas writes about the influences the Heavenly bodies might have on us. Excerpts from that section of his greatest work -- found in Question 115, which you can read in full here -- follow. In responding to the question, in Article 3, "Whether the heavenly bodies are the cause of what is produced in bodies here below?", he writes:

Since every multitude proceeds from unity; and since what is immovable is always in the same way of being, whereas what is moved has many ways of being: it must be observed that throughout the whole of nature, all movement proceeds from the immovable. Therefore the more immovable certain things are, the more are they the cause of those things which are most movable. Now the heavenly bodies are of all bodies the most immovable, for they are not moved save locally. Therefore the movements of bodies here below, which are various and multiform, must be referred to the movement of the heavenly bodies, as to their cause.

In response to the question posed in Article 4, "Whether the heavenly bodies are the cause of human actions?", he writes:

It must be observed, however, that indirectly and accidentally, the impressions of heavenly bodies can reach the intellect and will, forasmuch, namely, as both intellect and will receive something from the inferior powers which are affixed to corporeal organs. But in this the intellect and will are differently situated. For the intellect, of necessity, receives from the inferior apprehensive powers: wherefore if the imaginative, cogitative, or memorative powers be disturbed, the action of the intellect is, of necessity, disturbed also. The will, on the contrary, does not, of necessity, follow the inclination of the inferior appetite; for although the passions in the irascible and concupiscible have a certain force in inclining the will; nevertheless the will retains the power of following the passions or repressing them. Therefore the impressions of the heavenly bodies, by virtue of which the inferior powers can be changed, has less influence on the will, which is the proximate cause of human actions, than on the intellect... 

... The spiritual substances, that move the heavenly bodies, do indeed act on corporeal things by means of the heavenly bodies; but they act immediately on the human intellect by enlightening it. On the other hand, they cannot compel the will...

...The majority of men follow their passions, which are movements of the sensitive appetite, in which movements of the heavenly bodies can cooperate: but few are wise enough to resist these passions. Consequently astrologers are able to foretell the truth in the majority of cases, especially in a general way. But not in particular cases; for nothing prevents man resisting his passions by his free-will. Wherefore the astrologers themselves are wont to say that "the wise man is stronger than the stars" [Ptolemy, Centiloquium, prop. 5], forasmuch as, to wit, he conquers his passions. 

In other words, according to the Father of Scholasticism, yes, the Heavenly bodies not only may, but do influence us on the corporeal level, which includes the intellect to some degree, and the will to a lesser degree. But the will cannot be "overridden" by any such influence; the will is supreme. However, because so many men allow themselves to be ruled by their passions, form bad habits, and don't exercise their will in the right way, the power the Heavenly bodies may exert upon them is more evident. Or, to put it another way, the Heavenly bodies may influence our inclinations and basic personalities, but that influence only has the power we grant to it, that we allow it to have by not using our will to overcome any negative inclinations they might cause. An analogy: the stars may influence what cards we're dealt in a game of poker, and they may influence how we play our hand, but they can't determine how we play our hand unless we refuse to use our will to play the hand correctly.

In addition to such writings, you will also find many Church Fathers who wrote against astrology, but they refer to astrology as practiced at that time -- astrology done wrong, astrology that ignores free will, astrology that crosses the line into divination, etc.
But even St. Augustine, famous for writing against astrology, conceded, in Book V, Chapter VI of his "City of God", my emphasis:

But, while it is not altogether absurd to say that certain sidereal influences have some power to cause differences in bodies alone—as, for instance, we see that the seasons of the year come round by the approaching and receding of the sun, and that certain kinds of things are increased in size or diminished by the waxings and wanings of the moon, such as sea-urchins, oysters, and the wonderful tides of the ocean—it does not follow that the wills of men are to be made subject to the position of the stars.

Precisely what Aquinas said.

The early Fathers wrote passionately against any sort of fatalism, and many wrote against astrologers of the day who were consulted in an illicit manner, had inordinate sway over those in power, and who, in essence, were scam artists in the same way that bogus "astrologers" of the sort who write silly newspaper columns are today.

All of this is akin to the phenomenon of clairvoyance: there are a multitude of lying, self-professed "psychics" who'll give "readings" for a lot of money. Consider Sylvia Browne, a con-woman who claimed special powers and went on to fame and fortune based on that false claim, breaking hearts2 and defrauding people along the way. But it's nonetheless a fact that God -- and even perhaps God through Nature, per natural laws we haven't scientifically discovered -- grants to some the ability to see things others can't. The Bible expressly speaks of those given the ability read souls and to prophesy. As an example, St. Padre Pio was able to know the sins of his penitents before they came to confess to him. He was, ergo, "psychic." Psychic powers exist, and none of the scammers out there -- even all of them put together -- makes those sorts of gifts any less genuine.

And so it may well be with astrology, properly understood. Again, no Catholic is bound to believe in astrology -- i.e., no Catholic must believe the that the Heavenly bodies can and do influence us. A Catholic can consider it to be complete hokum; all of that is a question of fact and, ultimately, a matter of science, not of eternal Truths or dogma that we need to know to save our souls. But a Catholic may believe that "the stars" influence us, and he can be perfectly orthodox while doing so. It's no mortal sin to cast a natal chart to try to determine the planetery influences that may affect your inclinations. What is absolutely forbidden is the casting of charts to foretell the future as if it's cast in stone by the stars (a form of divination), or to believe in any form of astrology that denies free will. If you're not crystal clear on these concepts, it's best to stay away from it altogether.


1 See this site's pages on Ember Days

2 One example of Sylvia Browne's cruelty is this: In October of 2002, an 11-year old boy named Shawn Hornbeck was abducted as he was riding his bike near his Missouri home. His parents were distraught, frantic, and did all in their power to find their boy. Unfortunately, they met up with Sylvia Browne on the Montel Williams Show -- a television talk show -- and this is what happened:

The boy was later found alive, in 2007. He'd been abducted and enslaved for years. She got lucky in getting the first name of his abductor right -- Michael -- but everything else was wrong. He was not dark-skinned, was not Hispanic, did not have dreadlocks, is not built like a basketball player, and did not drive an old model blue sedan, but drove a white pick-up truck, which is the vehicle he used to abduct Shawn.

Sylvia Browne did the same thing to yet another parent of a child who'd disappeared, a girl named Amanda Berry, who went missing in Cleveland in 2003. Even though Miss Berry had been kidnapped, and held as a slave with two other girls in a Cleveland house -- Amanda had been held for a decade -- Sylvia Browne told the girl's mother that her daughter was dead. The mother, of course devastated, went home, got rid of her daughter's things, and died from heart failure a couple of years later.

Browne even told a woman whose mother had died that the man she believes to be her father isn't really her biological father at all. In other words, she accused the woman's mother of adultery (or fornication), and tore from that woman the contentment of knowing that the man she loved as her father wasn't truly her biological father at all, and was, in fact, a cuckold. If her father was also dead, neither of her parents had any way of defending themselves against such calumny or detraction, as the case may be. Further, if the father was alive and believed Browne, he'd be left thinking his now dead wife had betrayed him:

Utterly vile. All of it. That sort of evil is unspeakable. Preying on the weak and vulnerable, on those who are in mourning, is the lowest of the low. But her evil-doing does nothing to disprove the existence of "paranormal" abilities any more than bogus "newspaper 'astrologers'" disprove the basic principle of astrology in itself.

Table of Contents

The Zodiac


A Tour of the Heavens

Envisioning the Celestial Sphere

The Constellations of the Zodiac













Summary and a Few Odds and Ends
The Traditional Catholic View of Astrology

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