Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar are the names that tradition has given to the magi. But who said there were three? According to the evangelist Matthew (2:1–12), they were magi of the Orient who brought gold, incense, and myrrh to Jesus. The Christian imagination decided that each gift required someone to present it, and so the number of wise men was set at three. Since they were magi who came following a star, they had to be astologers. Tracking the constellation of stars that formed the famous Star of Bethlehem, they came looking for the recently born King of Israel. Since they were looking for a king, later Chistians gave them the role of kings. It is suggested that these magi kings represented the nations of the world in their journey to Israel to meet with God. For this purpose it was decided that the three Magi symbolized the three known continents in medieval times: Asia, Africa, and Europe.

In order to be more universal, in addition to representing the three races of the old world, they also represent three stages of humankind: youth, maturity, and old age. Melchior ("king of light") was an old European who gave gold to King Jesus; Caspar ("treasurer") was a young Asian who gave incense to the Child Jesus; Balthazar ("God protects the king") was a middle-aged African who gave myrrh to the Son of Man.

Today we would have to include perhaps an American mestiza girl and an adolescent Australian aborigine girl to the list of the magi kings. Thus, they would be more representative of the human reality in which the Church finds itself. I imagine the American girl would take chocolate, corn, and tomatoes to the Baby Jesus, and the Australian girl would take wool and sheep.

Fray Gilberto Cavazos-González, ® J. S. Paluch Co.


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