Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Father William Most Collection

Understanding Scripture

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

Assertions in Scripture

In spite of the harsh criticisms of Vatican II that some Catholics give, here is a short passage that is a real find. It enables us to solve numerous things that seem to be errors in Scripture.

In the Constitution on Revelation #11 the Council wrote that "everything that is asserted by the human writer is asserted by the Holy Spirit."

That little word "assert" tells the story. For not everything in Scripture is asserted by the human writer, and hence, is not asserted by the Holy Spirit.

For example, does the writer of Genesis chapters 1-3 assert that everything in them is to be taken as though written by a modern American? Then we would have to say, for example that the word "day", since otherwise it means 24 hours, must mean 6 periods of 24 hours for creation.

Some poor souls think they are being Oh so faithful to Scripture if they say and think that. But the astounding truth is that they are really being shockingly unfaithful. They are imposing on the words of the sacred text what the human writer never meant to assert.

But: the obvious question is: how can we know what the writer meant to assert?

We know it basically by study of the genre, or pattern of writing he uses, together with, of course, the teaching of the Church. In studying that we must not merely guess -- Pius XII had warned that real historical study of the ancient genres is needed --In other words, we must not just imagine things: By research we should find out what genres were in use in that part of the world at that age.

Now the Jews came from Mesopotamia. In that land people saw new land being constantly made where the waters of the Tigris and the. Euphrates mingled. So, we then wonder: did they mean to say the beginning of all things came about in that way? We do not know. . And specially they would seem to have implied that matter was there from eternity so they wanted to suppose the beginning of all things was in the same way as what they had been able to observe. Really to imagine matter always just existed without a cause is a childish thought. Yet so many "scientists" today still think that, in their desire to dispense with God.

Now of course, the Jews did not think matter always existed, or that creation was parallel to what they had observed. By no means! They knew the majestic power of God who had only to say," Let light be" and it was made.

But what we are gathering is this: The writer of Genesis used a sort of story to bring out things that were real. What things? That God made all things, not by a struggle against other gods, but by merely speaking and willing. That He in some special way made the first humans - they did not really think God had hands with which to take clay and sculpt a human image. St. Augustine warned centuries ago about so childish a concept. , saying we must take those words in some different sense. The story then teaches that God gave some command to the first humans - . was it about a fruit tree? We do not know. That seems to be just a detail given by the story. . But whatever His command was, they violated it, and fell from favor. That meant of course that they lost His favor or grace. The Hebrew hen means favor, and then also what God gave as a result of that favor. It took time under divine guidance, to grasp completely what that was. In St. Paul favor means any gift from God to us, which is grace. If we thought He just sat there and smiled without giving anything, then we would be doing good by our own power- - which would be Pelagian heresy.

So without fully realizing it, the ancient Jews were telling us about original sin. For as Pope John Paul II said in an audience of Oct 1, 1986, original sin is really a privation , a lack of what should have been there, a lack of grace.

God clearly had intended that Adam and Eve should transmit their favor/grace to their offspring. No longer having it, they could not hand it on. So, for a new baby to arrive without grace/favor, is exactly what original sin means. It is the lack of what should be there.

So we can see that Pius XII was very right when he said this story was not history in our style, but yet in a way "pertained to history". We have just found how that could work out.

To follow up in 1979 Pope John Paul II gave a series of conferences on Genesis in which he said that the genre is "myth". We must not be shocked: he explained he did not mean a sort of fairy tale with no basis. No, he meant that the ancient story was the means of conveying some truths, things that really happened.

There are other things we can learn by this way of reading. For example, after the sin, God called: "Adam: Where are you?" Adam replied: "I hid myself because I was naked." God said: "How did you find that out if you did not eat the forbidden fruit?"

Before sin, Adam was naked, but it did not bother him. Why not?: Clearly, God had given him an added gift that made it easy to keep all the drives of the human body in their proper places. But after sin, he no longer had the added gift, and so felt shame at being naked.

Still another valuable insight comes from this remarkable story. The tempter tells Eve that if she eats :You will become like gods!" What a deception! They were already sharing in the divine nature by grace , but may not have understood it. So they threw away what they already had, to gain it. Utter perversity!

But note the insult to God. It was as if she said: God may know what is good in some things, but right now I know better. I can just see that the fruit is really good.

Every sinner in every sin does this, as if to say: "God may know some things -- but right now I know better."

Right after the fall, God spoke to the sinners, and said to the tempter (Gen 3. 15): "I will put enmity between you and the woman. Between your offspring and hers. He will strike at your head, you will strike at his heel."

Scholars ask who was the woman whose offspring will strike at the tempter? Commonly scholars say: There was only one woman on the scene: Eve. But Vatican II makes a wonderful comment on this much discussed line. In speaking of this verse and Isaiah 7. 14 it said: "These primeval documents, as they are read in the Church, and understood in the. light of later and full revelation, gradually bring before us the figure of the Mother of the Redeemer." We note the extremely careful language. Scholars had long debated about the possibility of a "fuller sense" of Scripture, namely a passage in which the Chief Author, the Holy Spirit, had in mind more than the human author saw. .

For it spoke of what the Church now sees, with later and full revelation. It says the Church came to see it gradually. The possibility is carefully left open: perhaps the original human writer did not see all that the Church now sees. But the Chief Author still may have had more in mind, namely the identity of the Mother of the Redeemer. In other statements the Church makes clear it really was Mary, in as much as Eve announced her in advance (prefigured).

Vatican II itself was to teach at length, in ยงยง56 & 61 of the same Constitution, that she really did cooperate in redeeming us -an astounding but true thought!. We hope to explore it sometime in the future.

Another Important Passage

Another really valuable help for understanding Scripture comes to us from the Constitution on Divine Revelation of Vatican II. We just read in it that whatever is asserted by the human author is also asserted by the Holy Spirit. Since not everything is asserted- - the very pattern or genre of writing makes clear that some things are not asserted - we do not just say we must believe everything in Scripture without distinction: only the things asserted.

Now we find still another major help from that same conciliar document. In section 12 we read: "Since Sacred Scripture is to be read with the same Spirit by which it was written, to rightly obtain the sense of the sacred texts we must not less carefully look to the content and unity of all of Scripture, taking into account the living Tradition of the whole Church and the analogy of faith."

Some unsound writers of today noticing that each Evangelist has his own special way of picking out and presenting things, have dared to say, for example, that Mark 3. 20-35 seems to present Our Lady as not even believing in her own Divine Son, while Luke pictures her as the first believer, who, as LG 56 said, already at the Annunciation, "completely dedicated herself to the Person and work of her Son." Let us be charitable and not name the writer, but he even dared to say that in Mark she seems "to be outside the sphere of salvation!" As if she were on the road to hell!

Pius XII in Divino afflante Spiritu pointed out that not many times does the Church as it were put its finger down on a text and assure us of its sense. Yet when we combine this with DV 12 we find a beautiful structure of truths.

Now Genesis tells us that God was pleased with the sacrifice of Abel, but not with that of Cain. Yet both offered gifts which were good, and even going to be commanded by the law of Moses. The mention of Abel in Eucharistic Prayer 1 gives us some hint at what the difference was. But the real light come when we go ahead to the words of God Himself in Isaiah 29. 13; "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." From this we easily gather that there are two elements in a sacrifice, the outward sign (lips), and the interior disposition (heart). The Jews in the day of Isaiah were very good at what some call "participation". They loved to sing, to make responses, to march in processions. Yet God was entirely displeased. For the exterior without the interior is worthless. Those people were guilty of all sorts of sins, of which Isaiah speaks at length. The lacking interior disposition was obedience to God, which is the same as love of God (cf. 2 John 6). In passing, we wonder what God may think of people today who do sing and answer prayers, but have empty hearts?

We said the ancient Jews of the time of Isaiah were lacking in love of God or obedience. To love in general means to will good to another for the other' sake. (Love is not really a feeling, though they may run together. So a couple may be full of feeling, chemistry, but have no real love, and hence when the first glow of marriage simmers down, my find themselves locked into a loveless match.

Obviously, we cannot will that God may be well off, that He may get what He needs- He is infinitely rich. But Scripture pictures Him as pleased if we obey, displeased when we disobey. Why? Our obedience does Him no good. . He gives His commandments not to gain for Himself -- He cannot gain anything - but they make us open, disposed , to receive what He so generously wants to give. St. Teresa of Avila wrote that He would love to do nothing but give, if only He could find souls open to receive.

Secondly, He wants us to obey because of His love of what is good in itself, objective goodness, which says creatures should obey their Creator, and children their Father. .

Thanks to the full revelation brought by Jesus, we are accustomed to hearing that God is our Father. The ancient Jews heard that word spoken of Him at times, but not nearly so often. Yet in Isaiah 63. 15: "You are our Father. Even were Abraham not to know us... you O Lord are our Father". And in Is 49. 15: "Can a woman forget the child of her womb?... even thought she may forget, yet I will not forget you. For I have graved you on the palms of my hands"-- with the nails. . St. Paul in Romans 10. 20 cites Isaiah: "I have been found by those who did not seek me." But of Israel He said: "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people." And in Romans 5. 8; "God proves His love for us, for when we were still sinners, Christ died for us." And in Romans 8. 32: "He who did not spare His ony Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him?" His Son, by paying the infinite price of redemption has as it were bought and paid for all forgiveness and grace, Now, after accepting that infinite price, the Father has bound Himself; He simply cannot hold back on what He gives us.

Of course this does not mean we could go on a spree of sin, counting on this infinite grace, and still be saved. No: for by the end of such a spree we would have hardened ourselves. We would be simply incapable of taking in what He so earnestly wills to give us. St. Paul even wrote (Gal 2. 20) ":He loved me, and gave Himself for me." So that infinite price counts not just for our race in a bloc as it were: it is for each individual man!.

What we have done is to simply follow out the principles given us by Vatican II. We have recognized that the Holy Spirit is the author of all of Scripture, so that what we learn from one part can often be supplemented by another.

Something additional to be noted. God did gradually advance His revelation to us over the centuries. From all eternity He planned for His Son and His Blessed Mother. But He did not spell out explicitly everything at once. Some things had to wait for explicit revelation for the very end of the Old Testament period. Now we do have the fullness of revelation in one way - though not in all ways. We do not have explicit messages of all things to all parts of the globe at once. We have it all in that all is now contained in the revelation brought by Jesus. When Jesus, then, promised at the Last Supper to send the Holy Spirit, "to lead you into all truth" He did not mean there would be new revelations. But He did mean that the Holy Spirit would gradually lead the Church into an ever deepening revelation of what had been there only implicitly at the start. So we gained the definition of the Immaculate Conception only in 1854, and of the Assumption in1950.

His love for us was indeed always there from eternity. But it is only over a period that we have been brought to see it explicitly. However, even though He did not reveal all so clearly at once, yet His love was always there. As He said through Isaiah (54. 7): "I have loved you with an everlasting love". - And even before Jesus had earned infinitely, God could and did anticipate. it in giving graces. This is clear in the Immaculate Conception as the definition itself said. But we would not dare to suppose He did not offer grace, even abundantly, to others before Jesus had died. If He did not, millions would have been lost. And there would not have been wonderfully holy men in the OT period.

Is there still more to be seen this side of eternity? Definitely yes. His love for us, as we said, was eternally present. But only gradually has it been made fully clear. In fact He judged best to reveal the depths of the love of the human Sacred Heart only later on, and did it precisely at time when some heretics had denied it. Some had even said He did not die for all men, that in effect He did not really want all to be saved. Luther and Calvin both denied that He willed all to be saved. They said explicitly that we have no control over whether or not we are saved: God alone, blindly, picks some, a small percent, to save. In the magnificent apparitions given through St. Margaret Mary, we have been led to see what was always present: that He paid an infinite price to save all men We are indeed privileged to have so full a knowledge of His love today.



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