Summary: The magisterium is a two-thousand year old gift.

Thursday of 2nd Week in Course 2018


Our first lesson from First Samuel today documents the strong friendship that Jonathan, king Saul’s son, and David enjoyed. It also tells us that Saul was jealous of David because the people saw him as a better military leader than the king. The line that is omitted is the next one, in verse 10 and 11: “‘And on the morrow an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand; and Saul cast the spear, for he thought, ”I will pin David to the wall.“ But David evaded him twice.’ That statement about “an evil spirit from God” is disturbing, so it deserves an explanation.

Primitive science, especially psychological science, was–well–primitive. In fact, the first writer to explore the psyche in any way was St. Augustine, in his Confessions. Every abrupt change in a person’s personality was attributed to the gods, so the Hebrews attributed such things to the One God. Saul was probably bipolar, and certainly paranoid. The human author heard about Saul’s behavior, so he wrote these lines out of the mindset of his times and culture. If God is the first cause, then He sent the evil spirit. Our understanding is more nuanced. And the Catholic Church understands the human weaknesses shown in the Scriptures, so She helps us understand such pasages.

The problem with the Protestant revolution is that what the first Protestants found most attractive about their movement is also its biggest weakness. By assigning to the individual the interpretation of the Bible, they make “every man his own pope.” There is no infallible authority to correct error. A Lutheran theologian named William Wrede read this passage from St. Mark’s Gospel and introduced Christians to the idea of the “Messianic secret,” that for some reason Jesus did not want his followers to call Him “Messiah,” or deliverer. Now Catholics interpret this to mean that Jesus understood most people of His day believed that when the Messiah came, He would lead them to military victories, as Saul and David did. But Jesus would be a different kind of Anointed, of Messiah. He would be the Suffering Servant Isaiah predicted, one who would deliver us from the real enemies–Satan and sin.

Catholics do this because we understand the Son of God to be anointed Messiah in the womb. In His human nature, which was intimately bound to His divine nature in what we call the hypostatic union, He was always to some degree aware of His special mission to do the Father’s will.

Protestants feel free to speculate from the Messianic secret to something we cannot hold–that Jesus told folks He was not the Messiah because He didn’t understand His mission until late in His ministry. Scholars who do that will then selectively point out the passages that show Jesus always intended to be the Suffering Servant were maybe added by the authors. It’s not too far from those kinds of theories to the ones that deny the fact that the Scriptures are inspired by God and entirely trustworthy. That gives us abominations like the so-called “Jesus Seminar” of the last part of the last century. Those folks would vote on what sayings of Jesus were authentic or not. And, of course, most of the New Testament didn’t pass muster.

As I have grown older, I have come to understand that the best way to understand Jesus, and His teachings, is to follow the guidance of the Church fathers. The magisterium may sometimes be a little hard to accept, but it has stood the tests of time and heresy. We should give thanks for the two-thousand year old gift it represents.

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