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Michael Ward


C. S. Lewis and the Star of Bethlehem

Recovering the medieval imagination.

"It was beautiful," C.S. Lewis confided, "on two or three successive nights about the Holy Time, to see Venus and Jove blazing at one another, once with the Moon right between them: Majesty and Love linked by Virginity—what could be more appropriate?" Thus Lewis wrote to the poet Ruth Pitter early in January 1953, recalling what he had seen in the night sky during the Christmas that had just passed.

As the Nativity story is retold year by year, all those who hear it are bound to think—however briefly—about the original Star of Bethlehem that led the Magi to the cradle of Christ, but few would then go and scan the horizon for vestiges of its rising. Lewis was different. He was fascinated by the heavens and by astrology—although what he meant by "astrology" is different from what most modern people understand by the word, as we shall see.

He was a keen amateur astronomer and had a telescope on the balcony of his bedroom at The Kilns, his Oxford home. According to one of the girls evacuated there during World War II, he used it to introduce his youthful charges to many of the sidereal wonders of the universe. Using the naked eye, he did the same for his pupils at Magdalen College: Derek Brewer remembers how Lewis once "pointed out to us the extremely rare conjunction of five planets all brilliantly visible in a circle." His letters frequently detail the pleasures he took in the firmament: "Isn't Jupiter splendid these nights?" he exclaimed to one correspondent in 1938; "Do you ever notice Venus these mornings at about quarter past seven?" he asked his godson in 1946. "She has been terrifically bright lately, almost better than Jupiter."

Jupiter (Jove) was Lewis' favorite object of attention in the night sky; that was because, according to medieval cosmology, Jupiter was the "best planet," Fortuna Major. Lewis used to tell his university lecture audiences, "Those born under Jupiter are apt to be loud-voiced and red-faced." He would then pause before ...

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