Pre-existing condition

Question: Is Jesus Christ eternal, or did his life begin when he was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary?

Florence Lacroix, Shawinigan, Quebec

Answer: Jesus Christ is eternal. He has existed from all eternity as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the eternal Son of God. Regarding Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, Scripture says, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us” (1 Jn 1:1-2).

Scripture also says of Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. ... And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:1-3, 14). Jesus also describes his eternal existence when he said, “Before Abraham came to be, I AM” (Jn 8:58).

We refer to the eternal quality of Jesus as his “pre-existence.” That is, prior to his taking on a human nature in our time, Jesus has always existed with the Father and the Holy Spirit as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. As such, he is the eternal son of the Father.

There is a saying from the early Church: “The never was a time when the Son was not.” So, there was never a time when the Father was alone.

Jesus always has been the son of the Father, and they together have the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from them both.

Identity of the Magi

Question: Who were the Magi? What does the term mean?

Carol Clarke, Towson, Maryland

Answer: Exactly what “Magi” are is debated. The Greeks of antiquity (c. 450 B.C.) used the term to refer to a priestly class of men among the Medes and later the Persians, but in later centuries it was used in a wider sense; it came to be applied to men skilled in hidden knowledge and magic. By 200 B.C., its meaning would include men skilled in astronomy and those given to visions and the interpretation of dreams. This expanded definition continued into New Testament times.

What is interesting is that Matthew presents these Magi as men of great dignity while other references to magi (magicians) in the New Testament are generally negative. Given that the Magi are following a star, in using the term “Magi,” Matthew likely has in mind their role as astronomers. He may not have intended significant references to magic, dream interpretation or fortune-telling. So it is likely that they are wise men, ancient astronomers in particular.

But their key identity is that they are Gentiles and have been called. Up to their entry in the Christmas story, Jesus was manifest only to Jews in Bethlehem — but now the Gentiles come. This detail cannot be overlooked; it is clear that the Gospel will be going out to all the world, and the seeds of this teaching are here, even in the infancy narratives.

Rejoice, fellow Christians, especially if you are of Gentile origin. The truest identity of the Magi is you. You are among the magi who seek him.

Yes, wise men still seek the Lord.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.