And then I wrote… part II of an article that dates from 2011 but I have no idea where it ever got published...
The Physical and the Spiritual: Even after the adoption of a cosmology based on a spherical earth, a common feature of most cosmologies was the belief that the physical universe mirrored the spiritual realm.
This often involved positing a “chain of creation” in which different levels or aspects of the physical universe were assigned to different elements, different gods, or different ranks of angels. Those different ranks were given names (thrones, dominions) and are what St. Paul was referring to in his letters, cited above. By the Middle Ages, it was assumed that the home of the saints and the biblical firmament were the outer spheres of the universe; below them were the spheres of each planet, moved by angels, and their perfect eternal circular motions stood in contrast to the irregular and finite movements of objects on earth. Earth stood not at the centre of the universe, but at the bottom of the chain of creation, only one level removed from the Inferno, or Hell, and (unlike the reset of the universe) subject to its own laws of corruption and death.
C. S. Lewis describes this cosmology in his book, The Discarded Image: “…the spheres are moved by the love of God… each sphere, or something resident in each sphere, is a conscious and intellectual being, moved by ‘intellectual love’ of God… the planetary Intelligences, however, make a very small part of the angelic population which inhabits… the vast aetherial region between the Moon and the Primum Mobile [thrones, dominions, etc.]… below the Moon is the [realm] of the arial beings, the daemons.” And, in fact, this is only the beginning of the census of all the different kinds of inhabitants of the universe as understood in the medieval cosmology, a complexity that is only faintly echoed in modern fantasies like the Lord of the Rings.
The Latin equivalent for the Greek word daemon was genius, and various genii were each associated with a different planetary intelligence. Each sphere’s genii were the source of gifts and abilities bestowed on human beings; one “genius” might bestow music, another the gift of speech.
The nature and strength of the genius, and thus the gift, for any given person depended on which planet had the strongest influence on that individual. In this way, astrology was given a firm basis in the cosmology. It is interesting to note that, even while the ancient Hebrews roundly condemned the use of astrology to predict future events because it denied the power of God (see, for example, Deuteronomy 4:19, or Isaiah 47:10-14, or the Book of Wisdom, chapters 7 and 13) they nonetheless accepted that it was a natural way to describe how the universe worked. One can find mosaics of zodiacal constellations in ancient synagogues. In fact, the familiar phrase mazel tov is actually a short-hand way of saying that “one lives under favorable stars.”
This cosmology was, in fact, a beautiful system that underlay not only the physics and astronomy of its day but also provided the framework for great literature and music. You can’t read Chaucer or Dante without knowing the cosmology they assumed, and which they assumed their readers would also know. Again to quote Lewis: “Few constructions of the imagination seem to me to have combined splendour, sobriety, and coherence in the same degree. It is possible that some readers have long been itching to remind me that it had a serious defect: it was not true.”
Where Does Jesus Fit In? It had another defect besides being untrue, however...
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