Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism          


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


A Tour of the Heavens

The three magi following the Star of Bethlehem

 
 

 
St. Basil, Doctor of the Church, (d. 379), wrote the following in the sixth homily of his Hexaemeron, and I can think of no better way to extend an invitation to tour the Heavens:

It is because it is absolutely necessary that all lovers of great and grand shows should bring a mind well prepared to study them. If sometimes, on a bright night, whilst gazing with watchful eyes on the inexpressible beauty of the stars, you have thought of the Creator of all things; if you have asked yourself who it is that has dotted heaven with such flowers, and why visible things are even more useful than beautiful; if sometimes, in the day, you have studied the marvels of light, if you have raised yourself by visible things to the invisible Being, then you are a well prepared auditor, and you can take your place in this august and blessed amphitheatre.

Come in the same way that any one not knowing a town is taken by the hand and led through it; thus I am going to lead you, like strangers, through the mysterious marvels of this great city of the universe.

The focus of this tour will be to teach about the Zodiacal constellations since they are the stars that can be seen from all over the populated areas of the world and are the ones that St. Paul seems to have had in mind when he quoted Psalm 18 with his words, "Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world." These are also the stars -- along with the easily visible planets of our solar system -- classically seen as influencing our inclinations. To this end, I will first give you some important background information: a way to model the heavens. Before beginning, though, here are a couple of things that might help you with all this.

 
Tips and Tools

Two things I most heartily recommend to get the most out of these pages are:
 

  • Stellarium: Stellarium is a free, open source planetarium program for Windows, Mac, or Linux. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, and allows you to look around in all directions, choosing times and dates and landscapes and all manner of good things. The link to Stellarium will open in a new browser window.
     

  • Star Maps for Beginners: by I. M. Levitt and Roy K. Marshall. This slight, inexpensive, easy-to-use book has been described by Sky and Telescope as "The best way to learn the constellations that we have ever run across." It is designed especially for those who live around 40o N (a good 20% of the world's population, according to the book), but will be useful, too, for those who live within 6o North or South of that exact latitude. Note the chart on page 15 which helps you select which of its twelve maps to use for any given date and time. The link to this book will open in a new browser window.

When going out to view the stars with your star maps, go as far away as possible from light. This simply cannot be stressed enough; the differences in the appearance of the night sky in the typical city as opposed to its outskirts or, even better, far out in the country, are vast. Drive outside of the cities, away from brightly lit gas stations and mini-marts and the street lights that line our roads. Go to the darkest place you can find, taking with you as a light source a flashlight with its end wrapped in three layers of red cellophane, and giving your eyes plenty of time to adjust to the darkness. And why not make it cozy and take some hot chocolate or coffee and something to snack on while you're out there? Make it fun!

With a prayer to St. Dominic, the patron Saint of astronomers, 2 let's begin our tour...

 

Wonderful Saintly Founder
of the eloquent Order of Preachers,
and friend of Saint Francis of Assisi,
you were a fiery defender of the Faith
and a fighter against the darkness of heresy.
You resembled a great star that shone close to the world
and pointed to the Light which is Christ.
Help astronomers to study the stars
and admire their wonderful Maker, proclaiming:
"Give glory to God in the highest." Amen.

 
Table of Contents

The Zodiac

Introduction
A Tour of the Heavens

Envisioning the Celestial Sphere

The Constellations of the Zodiac

Virgo

Libra

Scorpius

Sagittarius

Capricornus

Aquarius

Pisces

Aries

Taurus

Gemini

Cancer

Leo

Summary and a Few Odds and Ends

The Traditional Catholic View of Astrology

 
 

 
Footnotes:
1 Ptolemy (b. ca. A.D. 90) could only account for the constellations he could readily see, which are mostly those easily viewed from the Northern Hemisphere. The forty-eight he enumerated are:

• Andromeda • Aquarius • Aquila • Ara • Argo Navis • Aries • Auriga • Bo÷tes
• Cancer • Canis Major • Canis Minor • Capricornus • Cassiopeia • Centaurus
• Cepheus • Cetus • Corona Australis • Corona Borealis • Corvus • Crater • Cygnus
• Delphinus • Draco • Equuleus • Eridanus • Gemini • Hercules • Hydra • Leo
• Lepus • Libra • Lupus • Lyra • Ophiuchus • Orion • Pegasus • Perseus • Pisces
• Piscis Austrinus • Sagitta • Sagittarius • Scorpius • Serpens
• Taurus • Triangulum • Ursa Major • Ursa Minor • Virgo

In the 18th century, Argo Navis, seen as a great ship in the southern sky, was split into four constellations: Carina (Keel), Puppis (Stern) , Pyxis (Compass), and Vela (Sails).

Modern astronomers count eighty-eight constellations, including those of the Southern hemisphere.

2 St. Dominic's patronage of star-gazers derives from a story told about his Baptism. Here it is, from The Golden Legend (Aurea Legenda), compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, A.D. 1275:

And his mother, tofore that he was born, saw in her sleep that she bare a little whelp [a little dog] in her belly which bare a burning brand [torch] in his mouth, and, when he was issued out of her womb, he burnt all the world. And also it seemed to a woman that was godmother to him at the font and held him, that the child Dominic had a star right clear in his forehead, which enlumined all the world.


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