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Why the Magisterium makes sense to me

February 2, AD 2012 10 Comments

I am married to a Korean national.  I mention this not just because it is cool (and it is cool) but I’ve learned quite a few things about my Faith from being close to someone of a very different culture.

Because of my wife’s nationality I know quite a few Koreans by association.  They come from education backgrounds that make your humble scribe feel quite inferior, or at least I’d feel that way if they weren’t so humble about it.  And one of the core components of this education is learning the English language.

To me they do indeed speak English well.  Some can even speak without the hint of a Korean accent.  I know firsthand how difficult this is given my own extremely difficult time learning Korean.

(What does this have to do with the Magisterium?  Please bear with me).

However despite their best efforts I have come to notice that no matter how fluent they were certain ways they would speak seemed…well..awkward.  For example, almost to a man, when one of my wife’s friends say something like they were sick yesterday they would say “My condition was not good.”  This was true regardless of how well any of them spoke English.  I pointed it out to my wife and she noted that it was more or less a direct translation of the Korean expression for having been sick in the past.  Despite the quality of their English, they were still speaking Korean using English words.

Another time my wife was telling me about her college days and describing a particular student and his relationship to the students in her freshman group.  There literally is no English word for the particular position that this person held.  It is something of a cross between a mentor, a Resident Assistant, and a full blown teacher.  The attempt of my wife to explain this concept actually took a bit of time, and my above description is my best attempt to explain this position.

What I’m trying to say is that one’s culture has a powerful effect on one’s exposure to concepts as well as how one is going to express themselves.  The ability to communicate with one another is heavily dependent on the concepts being discussed and the modes of expression that the communicants share.  The greater the disparity in either, the more communication it takes to attempt to bridge the gap.

At one point this started me thinking about the Bible.  The books are written a long time ago by a culture with wildly different concepts and modes of expression than we have in modern English.  And the New Testament was a translation of one culture into another, from the Jewish culture and language (Aramaic) to the Common Greek.  Not only are these cultures different from ours (the Jewish and the Greek) but both cultures have grown and developed over time.

Just to give one example is the notion of “brother” in Jewish culture.  The original Aramaic that Jesus and His followers spoke had no concept of “cousin.”  To describe the relationship of one cousin to another they would say something like, “He is the son of my father’s brother.”  Given how wordy this is they would simplify it to “he is my brother.”

Now someone might object to this by pointing out that the Common Greek had a word for cousin and if the authors wanted to say “cousin” they would have.  But to me this doesn’t fly for two reasons.  First, that knowledge of a language does not bestow the modes of expression the language uses.  As in my first example, the Korean expressing that they were sick still use the Korean wording of the concept rendered into English.  Second, given that Jesus and his people used Aramaic to communicate, it is actually more accurate to have a word for word translation, complete with ambiguity, rather than to impose a meaning on the words by trying to translate the wording into something more friendly to the new language.

These things led me to realize that if the Body of Christ has to go at Faith with a Bible Alone approach we are doomed.  The time, culture and language separations are a huge obstacle to getting at the actual meaning of the texts, with all the nuance and subtlety that comes with theological understanding and the development of those concepts.  This is readily apparent with our Protestant brethren, who continue to split into numerous sects and sects within sects.

The Bible is a product of the times and cultures that produced it.  Despite the fact that it is the inerrant Word of God it still uses human culture and language to communicate to us.  And because of the limits of both human language and cultural concepts, the existence of the Magisterium and Sacred Tradition simply make sense.

Our Lord provided us with an authoritative body that can express the Truths of Revelation over time and cultures without error.  A body that has the authority to interpret the Sacred Texts and present them to all cultures and times.  A body that lives and breathes with the cultures in time but stands above them.  That such a body, the Magisterim, exists is not only to my mind beneficial, but necessary for preserving the Word of God and revealing the Word to us using the concepts and modes of communication we use.

My exposure to a foreign culture as different as the Korean one only illustrates the need for the Sacred Tradition, and the need for the authority of the Magisterium to guarantee the transmission of that Tradition.  There is more to the Truth of the Word than our cultures and languages can transmit.  The Magisterium exists to teach us in the ways we communicate today, and will exist to teach the cultures of the future.  Through the Magisterium we overcome the Tower of Babel now and in the future.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Colin-Gormley-e1313149728861.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a contract worker for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.[/author_info] [/author]

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About the Author:

Colin Gormley is a 30 something Catholic who is married. By day he is a contract worker for the state of Texas. By night, or whenever he’s trapped with his wife in her biology lab, he blogs about the Catholic faith from an apologetics perspective. He often strays into politics given the current debates in the country, but he tries to see all issues with the eyes of the Church. His website is Signs and Shadows.