Why the Magisterium makes sense to me

[ 10 ] February 2, AD 2012 |

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.
  • http://virtuouspla.net/ Nathaniel Gotcher

    I have noticed this in my exposure to Italians. Both my translations into italian and theirs into English are very strange. My knowledge of Italian idioms make so may of their translations make sense.

  • mary gordon

    “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.”

    “The original Aramaic that Jesus and His followers spoke had no concept of “cousin.””

    Huh? I’m sorry, this doesn’t fly. Why do you say they didn’t have the concept of cousin? If you have a cousin, you know he’s a close relative. If you have a word for that, you use it. In any language. Your argument is a bit of a stretch.

    Why shouldn’t Mary and Joseph have a normal marriage? Mary was human. She had to be. Jesus was Son of God. He was also Son of Man. If Mary was divine, Jesus could only be Son of God and not be “tempted in all things” as we are as humans.

    A good book along these lines, about an interesting man, is _Cat’s Cradle_ by Kurt Vonnegut.

    Respectfully
    Mary Gordon

  • Lynn

    @MaryGordon, you might enjoy googling around for info on “kinship terms” in different cultures. An example in English is our term “brother-in-law.” This man could be my sister’s husband, or my brother’s wife’s brother. My “aunt” could be my mother’s sister, my father’s sister, my mother’s brother’s wife, my father’s brother’s wife, or a close family friend. Even English, which we think of as the norm if it is our native language, can be extremely imprecise with regard to identifying kinship. I have a foreign friend who constantly confused me in grad school, by telling stories about his “brother,” which did not match up to the actual fraternal brother with whom I was acquainted. Turns out he was a cousin by marriage on the mother’s side. So when I first heard that Jesus’ “brothers” were likely his cousins, it made total sense to me.

  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    I studied french in High school but never went to France. I’m now a grandma and have decided to “take my daughter to Paris for her sweet 16″ (lame excuse for me to go to when Im sweet 47.5).

    So Im relearning french…I wanted to be able to tell people about my grandson so I looked up the translation
    “petit-fils” is the word…technically it means “little son”. At my age, if I told Americans I had a “little son” they might be charmed at my late-in-life baby yet (just ask my grandson’s mother were I to act like I was the mom) , the meaning is quite different.

    Similarly, the term for mother-in-law is “Belle-Mere” (Beau-pere for men) which translates as “beautiful mother”…golly that phrase is fraught with peril, no?

    The authors argument is quite valid…when we’re discussing something as important as whether or not the God of the Universe has blood siblings (and whether the Church who taught for 2000 years that He did not could be trusted) this is all quite important.

    I was a Mary-minimizing protestant for years and was barely on board when I converted…it has taken me years to get to a better understanding of her and what salvation history really tells me…perhaps partially because I did ignore the Magesterium at first. My individualistic American attitude taught me such a silly old idea was simply optional for me.

    For anyone who is still denies that Jesus was Mary’s only child…would you ever describe Jesus words from the Cross as being casual or optional? If there were siblings, why would Jesus have had to delegate the care of His mother to John? Being good Jews who would care for their mother, if she had other kids, she would have gone to live with her daughter’s or son’s families.

    Additionally, my primitive and limited understanding of scripture is that everything in it has a physical/concrete actual meaning and a deeper spiritual meaning. If that is true (and actual scholars can tell you the real words for those concepts) if that is so then what did Jesus words “behold your Mother” mean? The God of the universe was in the midst of His bloody execution, the idea that He meant “hey John watch out for my mom; keep her in bread and tunics since my lowlife brothers forgot the 4th commandment” is truly absurd when you really think about it.

  • http://virtuouspla.net/ Colin Gormley

    @Mary Gordon

    “Why do you say they didn’t have the concept of cousin? If you have a cousin, you know he’s a close relative. If you have a word for that, you use it.”

    I meant to say that the word “cousin” did not exist in the Aramaic. My apologies for the confusion. But this does not mean that a native non-Greek speaker is going to use it, esp when relating as accurately as possible the words of Jesus Himself.

    “Why shouldn’t Mary and Joseph have a normal marriage?”

    It’s not that they couldn’t or shouldn’t but the question is “did they?” The text is ambiguous in this regard.

    Finally I am simply illustrating the general principle using a specific example. The intent is not to start the whole “Did Jesus have brothers from Mary” argument. I also thank the other commenters for their examples.

    God bless!

  • patrick mccauley

    I enjoyed the article on ,The Magisterium.Without the teaching authority of the Church there would be error and confusion.On the note by a reader on why couldn’t BVM have had children after Christ birth. Vatican II ,Lumen Gentium states,His birth,(Christ), “did not diminish but consecrated her virginal integrity”. The word integrity refers to physical condition. St. Thomas Aquinas states in his Summa Theologica,”infinite dignity as mother of God given by God”. These are but two of many statements on the eternal virginity. If one thinks about it,Mary as Mother of God,with all the praise and glory given to Mary since the angel Gabriel announced Mary “Hail Mary full of grace,the Lord is with you,blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” Mary would be preserved a virgin eternally!

  • http://www.almostnotcatholic.com Brent

    Mary G,

    Any Jewish boy knew better than to stumble into the Most Holy Place and touch the ark. Ergo, he also knew not to put his, you know, man part there either.

    Just sayin. It’s a crude way of understanding it, but it works. Also, all of the Church Fathers, theologians throughout time memorial, and all the magisterial reformers held to Mary’s perpetual virginity.

    The Blessed Virgin is not a goddess or divine. Adam was not a god or divine. Neither were born in sin. Sin is not a human condition, it is a sub-human condition. Christ calls us out of sin and back to the dignity of our humanity. He is the second-Adam.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  • Marion R.

    I am generally sympathetic to your point.

    However, think again about saying:

    “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.”

    Our hope is in neither an efficacious translation of Scripture nor in any Magesterium, but in Christ Jesus.

    We are not doomed.

    Nevertheless, the Magesterium is clearly a gift from God, as many Christians who have lived without it will freely admit nowadays.

  • Perinatal Loss Nurse

    <>

    What if instead of “doomed” he said “In perilous danger of misdirection” ? 30,000 different denominations all claiming to be seeking the truth with Scripture alone…all 30,000 cant be right. I was protestant until adulthood and I didnt feel doomed either, I am Catholic now and appreciate the treasure of 2000 years of wisdom I can rely on.

  • patrick mccauley

    Just to change subject.I enjoy reading conversion and reversion stories. I say this because it is the Holy Spirit working.No other explanation is possible.My favorite is conversion stories of atheist.These are always amazing,in that ,the only explanation is the work of the Holy Spirit on these people.