I originally wrote this for Fr. Z’s com box for this article. But frankly, it got so long that I had to post it here. Even if you are squicky about religion, go and read the article anyway. This article might start to make sense. Or maybe not. It is after midnight after all.
Ok. About Astrology. It is possible (I don’t know because I haven’t read the Holy Father’s work) that when he referred to “the End of Astrology” he meant “the end of the ascension of astrology over God,” that is, the destruction of the <i>deific dignity</i> of astrology, rather than the practice itself.
You see, astrology was, in the olden times, integral to pagan religion.
One of those religions was Zoroastrianism. The Zoroastrians were great scholars of their day, trying to bring all religions together into one. They took symbolism from every known culture and created a complex, coherent symbol system that from which astrology has greatly benefited.
As far as we can tell, the Magi were Zoroastrians, and so a good many of them became Christians thanks to these predictions relating to the birth of Christ. Some few remain in the world even to today, but a good deal of them followed the Magi…over time if nothing else.
What the Holy Father might be saying, is that all astrologers since the Magi have had to admit that the mechanism of astrology does not itself govern the Universe, but it is merely the machinery by which God orders His Universe. After that, debunking the whole mess was inevitable… though eventual.
I can see a fairly clear argument against astrology. For one thing, while the idea that the positions of stars govern various stations of life and personality, does not seem to contradict the beliefs of Christianity. However, there are other things to consider.
First of all, Catholic Christianity is the Truth. That is, what ever analysis we have made of our surroundings that matches closest to reality is the right one. Why? Because God would not lie to us, as He is the bastion of Truth.
Also, I have read that several scientific studies have dis-proven personality astrology, and predictive astrology is… well… divination. The Bible and the Catechism are pretty clear that predicting the future (outside word from On High) is contrary to God’s will, and is the same sin as eating of the tree. It is us trying to be gods.
And a good deal of the rest of astrology has to do with the doctrine of signatures and lucky timing and environmental placement reminiscent of Feng Shui. That is, efforts to tilt the “luck plane” in your favor. All that is covered by superstition. It wouldn’t surprise me if the doctrine of signatures hasn’t been relegated to the practice of magic by the Magisterium.
While this might suggest that many many people were following grievous error for most of our Church’s history, it doesn’t necessarily. Why not? We are told that we are to use the model that we have to best fit the reality that we observe. So at one time that was Aristotle and Astrology. Today it’s nature/nurture, germ theory, the Big Bang and all the rest.
If people indulged in other pursuits that lead to superstitious behavior… well, it’s not like today’s scientists, Catholics, and other modern people who should know better don’t do that too. That’s a part of the human condition.
And just to annoy those who might say that it was all that religion clogging up the logical pipes that kept astrology around so long, I will say the following.
Not only were religious men and popes interested (sometimes obsessed) over astrology, but the the founder of the Royal Society was, too. That would be Newton, who was also an alchemist. Admittedly, the orthodoxy of his Christianity was somewhat sketchy, but what difference did that make in England, so long as he was not Catholic?
So even the early scientists believed that there was enough evidence to suggest it being true. It was even used as a means to organize the early efforts into chemistry, that is, alchemy. You can still see it’s footprints in the periodic table, or in the original Linnean names for things.
Before you tell me that my analysis can’t be right because the examples I have are all religious, I will say that there are modern scientists of faith who are doing work today that is scientifically credible. That is, the results are repeatable, and somehow their ‘irrational’ beliefs just don’t interfere with their science. In fact, Physics was a mere distraction for the great Newton, who put most of his time, money and energy into Alchemy. Yet his work on physics was so useful and repeatable and so on that people still use it to good effect.
So, in those days, by the analysis of the latest scientific experts (which is all most people have, really) astrology was true. All the early scientists were doing were trying to learn more about God through natural law and observation of His creation. Maybe not all of them believed it, but it was the most prevalent impetus in those days. So, while astrology could easily skew one to error, the folks back then were also not dummies. They were so much closer to their faith than we are, despite apparently believing such incredible things.