Monday, January 07, 2008

Using the right lens

Marcellino D'Ambrosio offers a superb example of looking at the appearance of the Magi
through the right lens. As he puts it
If it is the right lens, it magnifies the text and allows us to get at its true meaning. If it is the wrong lens, we get a distorted image.
Are these camel-borne, gift bearing, three kings actually biblical? Well, using the narrow lens to read only the New Testament verses regarding the visit of the Magi, all that would seem... well un-biblical tradition.

But, step back and factor in the prophecies and Psalms, we get a more accurate picture.
It just so happens that the lens the Catholic tradition uses to read the story flows from Scripture itself — to be precise, it flows from the connection between holy words written hundreds of years apart. But despite the many years and different human authors, the texts were inspired by the same Divine Author, the Holy Spirit. In chapter 60 of Isaiah (Is 60:1-6), it is predicted that at a time of darkness, the glory of the Lord will shine over Jerusalem. The heavenly light will be a beacon to the pagan nations and even to their kings. Here we find mention of camels whose job it will be to bring the wealth of these nations, including frankincense and gold, to the city of the Lord. Psalm 72 agrees that far off kings will bring gifts to the Son of David.
So we can dispense with the fundamental error that comes from the narrow lens. Of course, there still is the issue of the names. Those came from a different source.
In the early Church, Epiphany was therefore second only to Easter vigil as the time to celebrate the sacrament of baptism. Blessed water from those baptisms were used to bless the dwellings of the faithful, and it became customary to write over the doorposts of blessed homes "C+B+M" meaning "Christ blesses this house (Christus bendicat mansionem). Since the three kings were also remembered at the same time, someone decided to give them names, and to use CBM as their initials — Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. The names stuck.
Which reminds me. We forgot to do that yesterday.

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