- Article (book chapter)
- 22 pages
- Level: university
This article on the Star of Bethlehem by David J. Collins, S.J. appears in the 2019 book The Sacred and
the Sinister, published by the Pennsylvania State University Press. While Collins emphasizes that the
“striking contribution of Albert’s commentary on the story of the magi is its highly advanced
astronomical reflection on the star”, the article focuses mostly on the idea of the star as a supernatural
phenomenon, and on what various commentators have had to say about the magi and their focus on
this phenomenon. For example, was such a focus a good thing or a bad thing? Were the magi
practitioners of astronomy, or of magic?
Albert identified five unusual characteristics of the star pursued by the magi. Each reveals links between
natural knowledge, occult knowledge, and revealed knowledge of the natural world…. [He] considered
each characteristic of the star from a natural philosopher’s perspective, grappling with the question of
what this star was on the basis of its biblical description and with reference to what the state of
astronomical science indicated should be the case. Albert admitted certain characteristics as rarities but
explained how a correspondence to the accepted knowledge made sense of the rarity. Anomalies opened
the opportunity for a more strictly theological consideration. His answers are a tour de force of medieval
learning and take explicit advantage of his particular expertise in natural philosophy, giving his
commentary at times a depth and vigor that one does not find in the earlier commentaries.
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