Sunday 29th November 2015

Home » Our Catholic Faith » Currently Reading:

The Senses Of Scripture

January 17, 2014 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Part 2

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that the spiritual sense of interpreting Sacred Scripture can be subdivided into three senses: allegorical, moral, and anagogical. Last week, we discussed the allegorical sense in some detail and found that through its use, as expressed by the Catechism, “we can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ” (n. 115). The specific historical event cited as an example of the application of this interpretative technique was the recognition of the hidden, deeper meaning of the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites during their flight from Egypt. In light of the coming of Christ, this Old Testament event can be seen “as a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism” (CCC, n. 115).
We also examined the closely related exegetical science of typology, “which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what He accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of His incarnate Son” (CCC, n. 128). Now, we will examine the moral and anagogic senses of scriptural interpretation.
The moral (or tropological) sense of biblical interpretation, as its name implies, is that which pertains to our moral life; it is the spiritual sense of Sacred Scripture that deals with acting justly. In his Summa Theologiae (STh), St. Thomas Aquinas explains the moral sense as follows: “So far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense” (STh, I, Q. 1, art. 1). And St. Paul alludes to how Scripture accomplishes this: by recording events, “written down for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11), that give us guiding principles for how to live virtuous and upright lives. Fr. John Hardon, SJ, explains the moral sense of a biblical event as one that “teaches us a lesson for our spiritual life” (The Faith, p. 32).
When interpreting in the moral sense, scriptural exegetes attempt to determine how the sacred text, literally and figuratively, provides the faithful with instructions and guidelines on how to live their day-to-day lives in a way that actualizes holiness, or love of God and love of neighbor. As such, just as the allegorical sense works to build up the theological virtue of faith, the moral sense works to build up the virtue of charity.
It is unmistakable that some teachings in Sacred Scripture clearly refer to the moral life. For example, the Ten Commandments (or Decalogue), as handed down to Moses (see Exodus 20:1-17 and Deut. 5:6-22), leave no doubt as to their moral imperative — specific, unambiguous behaviors incumbent upon faithful followers of Christ are explicitly stated. However, anyone who refers to a thorough guide for examining their conscience as they prepare to receive the Sacrament of Penance can’t help but recognize that much more is implied by each commandment than is contained in the written biblical word. When considered in light of other teachings and parables in Sacred Scripture and the natural law that is written on our hearts, use of the moral sense of interpretation will readily identify many additional moral points that correspond to virtuous (or vicious) behavior.
Many accounts in Sacred Scripture teach moral lessons in a more figurative manner. For example, consider the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. Who can miss the moral teaching implied by the eternal end arrived at by the rich man, “who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day,” as compared to that of Lazarus, “who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table”? Or the moral teaching contained in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the temple to pray (see Luke 18:9-14)? The moral maxim that follows the parable is self-explanatory: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). The example of interpreting with the moral sense given by Fr. Hardon in his book The Faith is as follows: “Abraham’s faith teaches us the obligation to believe in Christ” (p. 32).
The anagogical (or eschatological) sense of biblical interpretation refers to the future — to the afterlife and our final end. St. Thomas Aquinas expresses this sense as follows: “So far as [the words of Sacred Scripture] signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense” (STh, I, Q. 1, art. 1). And as Fr. Hardon puts it, this sense applies “when realities or events have a meaning for eternity” (The Faith, p. 32). The Catechism refers to a verse in the Book of Revelation to demonstrate this sense: “And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). The anagogical sense can be viewed as pertaining to the “last four things”: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Since it is forward-pointing and applies to our eternal destiny, this spiritual sense can be seen as corresponding to the theological virtue of hope.
But to fully comprehend the deeper, hidden meaning given by the spiritual sense of Scripture, there is an indispensable requirement that far outweighs learning, intelligence, or effort, and that is the grace and assistance of the Holy Spirit.
The third-century Scripture scholar Origen expressed this requisite condition as follows: “The Scriptures were written by the Spirit of God, and have a meaning, not such only as is apparent at first sight, but also another, which escapes the notice of most….The spiritual meaning which the law conveys is not known to all, but to those only on whom the grace of the Holy Spirit is bestowed in the word of wisdom and knowledge” (De Principiis, Preface, n. 8).
Having examined each of the four interpretative senses as outlined in the Catechism, it is important also to recognize that accurate interpretation cannot be gained by using individual senses autonomously; to discern the true meaning intended by the Holy Spirit, all must be considered together. Dr. Scott Hahn expresses this interpretative principle as follows: “In exegesis, we distinguish the four senses, not to separate them, but to unite them in the integral meaning of the text. Indeed, the literal and spiritual senses are inseparable and interdependent….Only if we see the literal and spiritual senses together can we discern the unity and integrity of the divinely intended meaning of the Scriptures” (Scripture Matters, pp. 53-54).
And Pope John Paul II called attention to this same standard: “One should not underestimate the danger inherent in seeking to derive the truth of Sacred Scripture from the use of one method alone, ignoring the need for a more comprehensive exegesis which enables the exegete, together with the whole Church, to arrive at the full sense of the texts” (Fides et Ratio, n. 55).
Before leaving this topic, it would be good to affirm that faith and reason work together in faithful interpretation of Scripture. Pope John Paul II, in his 1993 address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission (at which time he was presented with The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church), stated that magisterial documents regarding biblical exegesis “reject a split between the human and the divine, between scientific research and respect for the faith, between the literal sense and the spiritual sense. They thus appear to be in perfect harmony with the mystery of the Incarnation” (n. 5).
And as emphasized by Pope Benedict XVI in the foreword of his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, a prior act of faith is indispensable for all interpretative work. His starting point, as it must be for all authentic interpreters of Sacred Scripture, is a firm conviction and trust in the Resurrected Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels (cf. p. xxi).

+    +    +

(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is doing research for writing a definitive biography of Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

Share Button

Comment on this Article:

In Australia, bishops face legal complaint for defending marriage

Sydney, Australia (CNA/EWTN News) — The Sydney archbishop has strongly defended the freedom of the Catholic Church in response to a legal complaint claiming the Australian bishops’ pastoral letter on marriage violated Tasmania’s strict anti-discrimination law. “Australia is party to…Continue Reading

Obama Just Sent MAJOR Threat To Every US State That Won’t Take Syrian Refugees

The Obama Administration is issuing a showdown with states that are refusing to accept Syrian refugees. The administration sent a letter telling states they would be subject to enforcement action if they do not comply with federal plans to import…Continue Reading

Pope at UN in Africa: We Have a Choice: Either Improve or Destroy the Environment

Says It Will Be ‘Catastrophic’ If Individual Interests Prevail Over the Common Good in Paris Meeting, and Information Is Manipulated to Protect ‘Plans and Projects’ Kenya, November 26, 2015 ( Staff Reporter Here is a Vatican translation of the address…Continue Reading

Cardinal Pell bets against the odds: insists Pope Francis will strongly reaffirm Catholic tradition

ROME, November 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — Contradicting the statements of some of the pope’s closest advisors, the Vatican’s financial chief Cardinal George Pell has declared that Pope Francis will re-assert and “clarify” longstanding Church teaching and discipline that prohibits Communion…Continue Reading

‘Bleeding host’ under investigation by SL Catholic diocese

(KUTV) The Salt Lake Catholic Diocese has started an investigation into what is being described as a ‘bleeding host’ at a local parish, St. Francis Xavier in Kearns. Images of the host, given to 2News, showed circles of deep red,…Continue Reading

How did heterodox prelates try to change doctrine at synod?

In this address delivered at the Catholic Voice conference Faith of Our Fathers, Matthew McCusker of Voice of the Family discusses three key elements of the “progressive” strategy deployed at the Ordinary Synod: arguing for changes in the Church’s language,…Continue Reading

Bishop Defends Against ‘Vicious’ Bill Donohue Attack

by Church Militant • • November 24, 2015 65 Comments Bishop Rene Henry Gracida is criticizing the Catholic League The bishop emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas is defending against what he calls the “vicious attack” by Catholic League’s…Continue Reading

Pope Francis to German Bishops: Your Church is a mess! Fix it and … GO TO CONFESSION!

The German bishops are making their ad limina visit. Every few years diocesan bishops have to go to Rome to meet with offices of the Roman Curia and, usually, the Pope. Pope Francis gave an address to the German bishops…Continue Reading

Germany’s bishops discuss decentralizing the Church in meeting with Pope Francis

ROME, November 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — The German bishops, sixty-seven of them, recently visited Rome together for their obligatory Ad Limina visit with the pope from November 16-20. This Ad Limina visit, which is obligatory for all bishops of the…Continue Reading

In Australia, Catholic Bishops Face Court Action, Huge Fines Over Traditional Views on Marriage

Australians have always viewed America’s litigious culture with suspicion. Our “no worries mate” approach to life means we tend not to rush off to court at the drop of a hat. So last week when a state government commissioner ruled…Continue Reading

Cardinal Wuerl’s Embassy Row Penthouse

Walking through the posh neighborhood of Embassy Row in October, I stumbled across a scoop: that Washington, D.C.’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl lives in a penthouse atop a mansion priced north of $40 million. That Embassy Row mansion is the Our…Continue Reading

Australia investigating archbishop for distributing pamphlet defending true marriage

TASMANIA, Australia, November 13, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — An Australian Catholic archbishop is facing legal action after recently distributing a pamphlet to local Catholic school children that supported Catholic teaching on marriage being between a man and woman. “Dear Friends, I…Continue Reading


Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our new website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for over 145 years in our weekly print edition. Now we are introducing the online daily version of our print journal.

  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 145 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

A Powerful Weapon: 15 Quotes on the Holy Rosary

We live in evil times. I hardly need elaborate the multitude of crises that fill the globe. Sadly, many are being swept away by this flood of evil and are succumbing to an overwhelming anxiety and discouragement. But no matter how tempting it is, we must not shrink back. We must pray and fast with a living faith and a firm confidence—and there is no better way to…Continue Reading

12 Ways to Become a Committed Catholic Man

There is a Catholic “man-crisis.” Large numbers of men who were baptized Catholic have left the Church and the majority of those who remain are “Casual Catholic Men”, men who do not know the Catholic faith and don’t practice it. This large-scale failure of Catholic men to commit themselves to Jesus Christ and His Church has contributed to the accelerating…Continue Reading

Today . . .

Pope to young: Jesus can transform walls into a path


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Saturday encouraged young people in Uganda to turn negative experiences into positive ones with the help of Jesus and his grace. In an address where the Pope ditched his prepared remarks and spoke off-the-cuff in Spanish, he urged the young people to open the door of their hearts to Jesus. More than 150,000 cheering and dancing young people had gathered at an airstrip near Kampala to hear the Pope and…Continue Reading

Pope Gives Youth Choice: Do You Want to Overcome Challenges or Be Overcome by Them?

Throwing Aside Script, Pope Francis Asks Kenya’s Young People If They’ll Allow Difficulties Destroy or Use Them As Opportunities Nairobi, November 27, 2015 ( Deborah Castellano Lubov Pope Francis has asked Kenya’s young people how they will respond to the challenges they face, including those of bad tribalism, corruption, and desperation, and challenged them to get out of vicious cycles. Speaking to tens of thousands gathered in Nairobi’s Kasarani Stadium, this morning, the Pope listened…Continue Reading

The Catholic Origins of Thanksgiving

Did you know that Thanksgiving is a Catholic holiday? True, it’s not on the Church calendar. And it is celebrated only in America, whereas Church holidays are universal. Our national holiday is certainly an event that has taken on a life of its own, with an established tradition involving turkey and mashed potatoes, football, shopping, and a four-day weekend—which is fascinating since none of those things have anything to do with the original event that…Continue Reading

Pope Mass in Kenya: Stand firm in faith

(Vatican Radio) On the first full day of his visit to Kenya, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Nairobi University. During his homily, which he gave on a specially constructed alter on the campus grounds, the Pope stressed the importance of the family noting that, “Kenyan society has long been blessed with strong family life, a deep respect for the wisdom of the elderly and love for children. The health of any society depends on the…Continue Reading

Pope Francis en route to Kenya


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has departed from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport amid tight security and is scheduled to arrive in Kenya on Wednesday afternoon at the beginning of his six-day Apostolic Visit to three African Nations. Linda Bordoni is in Nairobi awaiting the Pope and sent us this report: Day one of Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to Kenya begins at five pm Nairobi time on Wednesday when he touches down at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport…Continue Reading

How An Americanist/Modernist Continued To Undermine Catholic Teaching

By JAMES LIKOUDIS The author of Pilgrim Church: A Popular History of Catholic Christianity (Revised & Expanded; Twenty-Third Publications, 1989) that continues to circulate in Catholic parishes is Fr. William J. Bausch, who may be remembered by veterans of the sex education battles of the 1970s for his book A Boy’s Sex Life when he…Continue Reading

The End Of Obamaworld

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN In denouncing Republicans as “scared of widows and orphans,” and castigating those who prefer Christian refugees to Muslims coming to America, Barack Obama has come off as petulant and unpresidential. Clearly, he is upset. And with good reason. He grossly, transparently underestimated the ability of ISIS, the “JV” team, to strike…Continue Reading

The Fictional Islamic State

By JUDE DOUGHERTY There is reason to believe that the so-called “Islamic State” is a fictional being rather than a reality. A state has borders, a central government, and a bureaucratic structure. None of this has been claimed for ISIS, although some have spoken of ISIS as a proto-state. What we have in fact is…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “How To Organize A Pro-Family Group”

By BRIAN CLOWES Part 1 (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For the complete guide to organizing an effective pro-family group, e-mail him at + + + Our problem: Many people are concerned about the homosexual special rights agenda, and are amazed at…Continue Reading

Cardinal Burke . . . Marriage Catechesis Should Be Priority For Catholic Schools

By ADAM CASSANDRA (Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted from the November 16 Catholic Education Daily, an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. All rights reserved.) + + + Sound catechesis on marriage is “a great, great responsibility” for Catholic schools and colleges, Raymond Cardinal Burke told a representative of The Cardinal Newman Society…Continue Reading


Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

The Communion Of Saints

By DON FIER For the past six weeks, we have examined and elaborated upon the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) on a state of life embraced by many loyal followers of Christ who have freely responded to a special call to follow with radical fidelity the way of life that the Lord Himself led. These generous…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Q. I know the word “friend” appears many times in the Bible, but sometimes it is capitalized. For example, at daily Mass today there was a reading from 1st Maccabees which said that King Antiochus, who was about to die, “called in all his Friends” to tell them of his tribulations, and he chose Philip, “one of his Friends,” to…Continue Reading

The New Jerusalem

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Second Sunday Of Advent (YR C) Readings: Baruch 5:1-9 Phil. 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6 In the Gospel reading today we hear about the preaching of St. John the Baptist. However, unlike what we read in the other Gospels, St. Luke does not record the Baptist as saying that he is the voice in the desert calling…Continue Reading

Irish Priest In Kenya . . . Describes What The Pope Will Find

By KATHLEEN NAAB (Editor’s Note: Fr. Conor Donnelly is a priest of the Prelature of Opus Dei, a medical graduate from University College Dublin, and has a doctorate in theology from the University of Navarre. He has lived for 10 years in Manila, 12 in Singapore, and has been in Nairobi for ten years. (In the November 17 interview below…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World… Defenseless Europe A Lesson For Defending Faith

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK While recently on retreat in New York, you might say I celebrated the Church’s year of consecrated life as I prayed daily Mass for the sisters who kindly hosted me. I invited them to kneel at the Communion rail to receive our Lord as I do at every Mass at my home parish. They all…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… Blessed Maria Virgo

By CAROLE BRESLIN When I visited my aunt in St. Louis, Mo., we would visit the basilicas, the museums, and other places of interest. She had many sites near her that were particularly special to her, such as her parish, The Little Flower, in Richmond Heights. In addition, she described a place where she frequently went for eucharistic adoration at…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Raphael Kalinowski

By CAROLE BRESLIN There are many terms we use in our language which are clichés. We hear people say that somebody “kicked the bucket,” meaning that he has died, or “I’ll send you to outer Mongolia,” meaning that they will ship you so far away no one will find you. Fr. Kalinowski not only went to a place just north…Continue Reading