Friday, November 25, 2011

Why didn't Jesus tell us the day and the hour of his return?

1st Sunday of Advent, Mark 13:33-37
Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.
As we enter upon the season of Advent, the Church with all her children looks to the coming of the Christ. There are, of course, three advents of our Savior: First, when he came as a child (and this is the mystery celebrated on Christmas); second, when we will come at the end of time (and this is the focus of Christ the King and of the first days of Advent); and then a “middle coming”, when he enters the soul by sanctifying grace.
This Sunday’s Gospel focuses on the second coming, the Parousia, the Final Judgment. Our Savior stresses that we do not know the day or hour of his return, and therefore we must watch and pray. Still, we may ask why it was that Jesus didn’t tell us when he would return in glory. Would it not be helpful for us to know the exact time of the judgment?

Christ knew the day and hour of his return
Some will say that our Lord did not tell us the time of his return on account of his ignorance – as though the Savior did not know the day and the hour. Indeed, the Lord at first seems to say this himself: Of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father (Mark 13:32).
The Church has, however, interpreted this passage to mean not that the Son does not know absolutely, but rather that he “does not know” in the sense that he does not make it to be known – just as we say that a day is “happy” not because it is happy itself, but because it makes us happy. Further, St. Gregory the Great specifies that while Jesus did not know the day and the hour from his humanity, he did know it in his humanity. Finally, we must all admit that, as God, Christ Jesus most certainly knew and knows all things – therefore, he knew the day and the hour of his coming, but chose not to reveal it to us.
Let a quote from Pope Vigilius suffice: “If anyone says that the one Jesus Christ who is both true Son of God and true Son of man did not know the future or the day of the Last Judgment […] anathema sit.” (Constitutum I of 14 May 553)
For a further discussion of this verse, consider our previous article – here.
We cannot discern the day of the final judgment
Further, we must hold that man cannot discover the time of the judgment, it has not been revealed and it will not be made known until it occurs.
St. Thomas Aquinas, following St. Augustine, offers the following explanation of why the “signs” given in Scripture cannot lead to an exact knowledge of the time of the judgment (ST Supplement, q.88, a.3, ad 2):
“As Augustine says, in his letter to Hesychius concerning the day of judgment (Ep. cxcix), ‘the signs mentioned in the Gospels do not all refer to the second advent which will happen at the end of the world, but some of them belong to the time of the sack of Jerusalem, which is now a thing of the past, while some, in fact many of them, refer to the advent whereby He comes daily to the Church, whom He visits spiritually when He dwells in us by faith and love.’
“Moreover, the details mentioned in the Gospels and Epistles in connection with the last advent are not sufficient to enable us to determine the time of the judgment, for the trials that are foretold as announcing the proximity of Christ's coming occurred even at the time of the Early Church, in a degree sometimes more sometimes less marked; so that even the days of the apostles were called the last days (Acts 2:17) when Peter expounded the saying of Joel 2:28, It shall come to pass in the last days, etc., as referring to that time. Yet it was already a long time since then: and sometimes there were more and sometimes less afflictions in the Church. Consequently it is impossible to decide after how long a time it will take place, nor fix the month, year, century, or thousand years as Augustine says in the same book (Ep. ad Hesych. cxcix).
“And even if we are to believe that at the end these calamities will be more frequent, it is impossible to fix what amount of such calamities will immediately precede the judgment day or the coming of Antichrist, since even at the time of the Early Church persecutions were so bitter, and the corruptions of error were so numerous, that some looked forward to the coming of Antichrist as being near or imminent; as related in Eusebius' History of the Church (vi, 7) and in Jerome's book De Viris Illustribus LII.”
On a more fundamental level, we hold that man cannot discern the day of judgment because this day will occur without any human intervention or assistance. It is not that man will continue to progress and bring about heaven on earth, but rather God (entirely according the judgment of his own free will) will come suddenly upon the earth and all will be changed.
Because the last day is not a result of man’s acting or willing it, neither can man discern the time of the judgment without the special revelation of God. And Jesus has told us that no such revelation will be given. Therefore, we cannot know the time of the second coming of our Savior.
It is to our benefit that we do not know
If Jesus did not reveal to us the time of his return, though he could have, then we know that it was to our benefit that he kept this mystery hidden. Whatsoever Jesus does, he does out of love for us and for our salvation. Hence, we must realize that it is conducive to our salvation that we know not the time of judgment.
Still, we must admit that, at first glance, one could think that it would be better to know – after all, then one could be sure to be prepared. How shall we respond to this?
St. Thomas Aquinas quotes St. Theophylus in the Catena Aurea: “See again that He has not said, I know not when the time will be, but, you know not. For the reason why He concealed it was that it was better for us; for if, now that we know not the end, we are careless, what should we do if we knew it? We should keep on our wickednesses even to the end.”
It is better that we do not know, because then we will be vigilant and will strive all the more to live a virtuous life. Indeed, if we knew the hour of our death and the hour of judgment, then we would be tempted to put of conversion until the last moment – but what chance would we have of reforming our lives or making a true act of contrition at the last moment, if we had purposely remained in sin throughout our life? The sin of presumption would be so strong in us as to be overpowering – and we would not (for the most part) succeed in converting, but would be lost to our sin and vice. If we put off converting to the end, we will never convert.
Further, we add that virtue is its own reward – and we are happier if we live a life in union with God than if we live a life of sin. However, in the beginning especially, fear of judgment can be a great help to sever our vice and increase our virtue; and then we move from fear to love, as we gain more freedom from sin and freedom for God.
 Therefore, it is good for us that we watch and pray. It is good that we know neither the day nor the hour. And Christ our Savior, who hid this knowledge from us, is very merciful indeed.

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!


Marko Ivančičević said...

Simply awesome.
Thanks Father!+

(Is this a repost of some sort, because i think i saw a similar post?)

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

While I was still living in the Diocese of Portland (entire state of Maine) the Bishop published a Fr McBrien column in which Father - citing that scriptural passage - claimed that Jesus was ignorant; he also went on to claim that Jesus was in error (there were a few stones on other stones after the Temple was destroyed) and that Jesus was sexually tempted (He was tempted like all of us are sexually tempted.)

That is the sort of execrable bile Bishops allowed to be pumped into the minds of Catholics which helped to poison and corrupt the pellucid Doctrine of Holy Mother Church and so, Father, I thank you for this clear explanation of that putative difficult passage.

Such confusion abounds in protestant theology and that is why I find is so lamentable that Our Holy Father's books on Jesus of Nazareth includes references to far more protestant theologians than Traditional Catholic Theologians.

Harry said...

Can you respond to that one troubling verse, where Jesus says that there are those around him that will see all those signs come to pass?

Liam Ronan said...

Well said, Father.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, I have written on Christ's knowledge quite a few times -- I believe that this is one of the most neglected areas of Catholic Doctrine.
Thanks for the kind words! +

Peace and blessings of Advent to you. Thank you for your kind comment. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@I am not Spartacus,
That sounds like a terrible terrible article! I'm very sorry to hear that a bishop would allow such trash to be published.
Indeed, I agree, this is very much the result of the protestantization of the Church.
Let us pray for one another! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I presume you are thinking of Matthew 16:28 - "Amen I say to you, there are some of them that stand here, that shall not taste death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom."

The Fathers interpret this as referring to the transfiguration ... in fact the very next verse (17:1) is the transfiguration.

I wrote on this once before --

Hope that is more clear now. +

Rev. Dr. Victoria A. Howard, Anchorite said...

Even if I knew when Christ was coming, I would be vigilant. I try not to sin at all. Even if some things we do offend the Lord, I believe it is possible to be practically sinless now, not later. It is the tongue which commits most sin, and controlling that is what we must do or all fall into Hell. Lies are probably the sin Jesus hates most, since his Adversary Satan was the Father of Lies...

Rev. Dr. Victoria A. Howard, Anchorite said...

I know some really evil Catholics who are putting off confession so they can sin all they want. They just keep on doing mortal sin after mortal sin, sure that they will have time to get to confession before they die. It is almost enough to make me a Protestant, protesting their utter hypocrisy! But my motto is: You love as much as you forgive, and as much as you give!

Shane Kapler said...

Father, I was wondering where you obtained the artwork for the above piece? Is it in the public domain, or would you know how I could obtain permission to use it? (I just taped a CD series on the Book of Revelation with St. Joseph Radio, and am looking for appropriate cover art.). My sincere thanks, Shane Kapler
P.S. I am sorry if this posted twice. It didn't look like my first attempt went through.

Maximilian said...

Father Ryan,

Thank you very much for clarifying one of the most difficult sayings of Jesus, that He did not know FROM His humanity, but He did know IN His humanity. Happy Advent, Father! Thanks for your prayers for us poor sinners who still act like there's no Judgment! (I keep forgetting!)

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Shane Kapler,
The image is "The Last Judgment" by Jean Cousin the Younger (Le Jeune), in the late 16th century -- it is reserved at the Louvre.

Public domain:

Peace! +

Shane Kapler said...

Thanks Father! I forwarded the link on. Here is another image that I have been considering:

Happy Advent to you.

regie said...

Thank you for the explanation. It is very helpful. I have been reading this blog since last year and I am truly grateful that I found this.

Regie, SVD

Fritz Dlier said...

Jesus certainly knew the day and hour of his return although he said: "only the Father knows" which the Father established from his own power.
What we should be concerned about is our own individual departure from this earth as that time will decide final destiny.
If the present order is to last another 2000 years or 200 years or even 20 years, how knowing that can benefit us if we do not qualify to meet the Lord.
Fritz Dlier 11/30/11

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