Monday, July 13, 2009

Joshua: When the Sun Stood Still

Continuing my readings of Joshua (begun here), I was struck by the commentary upon the battle where, famously, "the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies" (Joshua 10:13).

I appreciate the explanations of using our very limited language and symbols to explain the divine. This can be a stumbling block for dialogue between literalists and scoffers, for one thing, to say nothing of the difficult it may provide for believers studying the word of God. Our priest is always at great pains to underline such circumstances, especially when dealing with the Old Testament.

However, of more interest and enlightenment to me were the thoughts upon "The Lord hearkened to the voice of a man" (Joshua 10:14). These made a connection that was eye opening. I share the entire commentary below.
This was one of the texts used in the famous debate about the relationship of sun to earth in the Galileo case. But as the basis of that whole argument lay a misunderstanding by theologians of the day as regards the nature of the sacred texts. St. Augustine and St. Thomas had already explained the salvific meaning of Holy Writ, a teaching which Leo XIII ws later to sum up in these words: "The sacred writers, or better said, 'the Spirit of God who spoke through them, did not seek to teach men those things (the knowledge of the nature of visible realities) that were of no consequence for their eternal salvation' (St. Augustine, De Gen, ad litt., 2, 9, 20); therefore, the sacred writers, while carrying out something much greater than an investigation of nature, sometimes describe objects and speak about them [...] as the language of the times demanded [...]. Since in ordinary discourse what is given to the sense is normally spoken of first, the sacred writer (as the Angelic Doctor has noted) 'addresses what appears to the senses' (Summa theologiae, I, q. 70, a.1, ad 3), that is, he takes account first of what God himself, in speaking to men, expressed in human terms in order to make himself understood by them" (Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus, EB 121).

"The Lord hearkened to the voice of a man" (v. 14). What is really noteworthy is not so muchthe sun's standing still as the fact that God should vary his way of working to obey the words of a man. Meditating on this passage, St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori comments: "It comes as a surprise to hear that God obeyed Joshua when he ordered the sun to stand still on its circuit [...]. but it comes as a greater shock to see how with a few words from the priest God himself descends to the altars and to where ever he is called, putting himself in the priest's hands every time he is called upon to do so" (Notes for Preaching, 1, 1, 3).

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