Thursday 18th December 2014

Home » Our Catholic Faith » Currently Reading:

The Senses Of Scripture

January 10, 2014 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By DON FIER

Last week’s installment introduced the two main senses which the Church’s Magisterium instructs are to be used for faithful interpretation of Sacred Scripture: the literal sense and the spiritual sense. The spiritual sense can be subdivided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses; thus, the senses of Scripture are classically referred to as fourfold. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains: “The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church” (CCC, n. 115). We ended by embarking on an explanation of the literal sense, which according to St. Thomas Aquinas is the foundation of all the senses of Sacred Scripture.
When one interprets the literal sense of Scripture, he is seeking to discover what the human author intends to convey with his written words. Fr. John Hardon, SJ, explains that the literal sense is, once again, twofold: “The precise literal sense is that which the written words have in their own exact meaning, like the narrative of the Passion. The literal figurative sense is the meaning expressed in a metaphor, as when Christ is spoken of as a lamb, or a lion, or a vine” (The Faith, p. 32). The historical context, then, in which the words were written, plays a key role in their accurate interpretation.
An interpretative approach that has emerged and been quite popular among biblical scholars and scriptural exegetes for the past several decades, and which would be classified under the umbrella of the “literal sense” of Scripture, is the historical-critical methodology (HCM). As expressed in the 1993 Pontifical Biblical Commission document The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (IBC), “the historical-critical method, as its name suggests, is particularly attentive to the historical development of texts or traditions across the passage of time” (Intro-A) and “is the indispensable method for the scientific study of the meaning of ancient text” (I-A). However, as Pope Benedict XVI warns in his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth (JoN), caution must be observed — it cannot be used in isolation.
The Holy Father clearly asserts that the HCM “is an indispensable tool” in the interpretative task, but that “its very precision in interpreting the reality of the past is both its strength and its limit” (JoN, p. xvi). In other words, it takes one only so far in the interpretative task in that it is not intrinsically open to transcending the human word. The “deeper” meaning of Sacred Scripture is inherently beyond what the scientific, analytical HCM can address. Used in isolation, the method presents a real danger of separating the “Jesus of history” from the “Christ of faith,” who is one and the same figure according to the faith we profess.
Real seekers of the truth, those who see the inspired Word of God in the unity of the Bible as a whole, must be open to the complementarity of other methods. As expressed by Pope Benedict, “the four senses of Scripture are not individual meanings side by side, but dimensions of the one word that reaches beyond the moment [in history]” (JoN, p. xx).
As we now proceed to examine the spiritual sense of Scripture, an analogy put forth by Dr. Scott Hahn superbly expresses its relationship to the literal sense: “What the soul is to the body, the spiritual sense is to the literal. You can distinguish the two; but if you try to separate them, death follows….As St. Augustine taught, the literal sense without the spiritual is not only dead, but deadly” (Scripture Matters, pp. 1-2). The spiritual sense of Scripture, then, expresses its deeper or hidden meaning. As taught by Fr. Hardon, “The spiritual or mystical sense is not in the words themselves but as suggested by the things signified by the words” (The Faith, p. 32).
The significance of the four senses and how they interrelate is summarized in n. 118 of the Catechism by a medieval couplet:
“The Letter [Literal] speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;/ The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.”
The allegorical sense, as indicated in the couplet, works to build up the virtue of faith. It comes into play “when some account in the Bible refers to a doctrine of the faith. For example, the story of Jonah refers to Christ’s burial and Resurrection” (The Faith, p. 32). It was the predominant sense of biblical interpretation used by the Early Church Fathers. It is used to unveil the hidden spiritual and prophetic meaning of Sacred Scripture and provides a means for finding meaning for obscure and seemingly inconsistent passages of the Bible. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians, gives a scriptural example of the allegorical sense:
“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother” (Gal. 4:22-26).
Closely related to the allegorical sense of Scripture is typology. Fr. Hardon defines scriptural type in his Modern Catholic Dictionary as “a biblical person, thing, action, or event that foreshadows new truths, new actions, or new events….A likeness must exist between the type and the archetype, but the latter is always greater.” What is distinctive about typological interpretation when contrasted to allegorical interpretation is that it maintains a greater respect for the strict literal sense of the text.
Along with his definition, Fr. Hardon gives some examples of typology: “In the Old Testament, Melchizedech and Jonah are types of Jesus Christ; God’s call for the return of the Israelites from Pharaoh’s bondage typifies the return of Jesus Christ from His flight into Egypt; in the New Testament the destruction of Jerusalem, foretold by Christ, was the antitype of the end of the world.” Another example is the crossing of the Red Sea by the Israelites which is seen as a type of Baptism.
Scripture itself speaks of Adam as a type of Jesus in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the One who was to come” (Romans 5:14).

A Little Cloud

An excellent illustration of this interpretative method was given in the homily at daily Mass on the very day I composed this article. Recall the account from the First Book of Kings about the multi-year drought that descended upon the land during the reign of King Ahab (see 1 Kings 17-18). On Mount Carmel, the Prophet Elijah sent his servant seven times to “look toward the sea . . . and on the seventh time, [his servant] said, ‘Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising out of the sea’” (1 Kings 18:43-44).
The Early Church Fathers, especially in the Carmelite tradition, have long held that the little cloud was a foreshadowing of the Blessed Virgin Mary: It is seen as “a symbol of the Virgin Mary who by her divine motherhood brought new life and fruitfulness to an arid world. Like the cloud, Mary was born from the sea of sinful human nature, but even in her conception, she was free from all sin, even as the cloud was vaporous and clean” (Fr. Gabriel Barry, OCD, “The Blessed Mother,” II-G).
We’ll conclude our examination of the spiritual senses of scriptural interpretation in next week’s column by taking a close look at the moral and anagogical senses.

+    +    +

(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:

Cardinal Burke . . . “The Church depends on sound Catholic family life, and it depends on sound Catholic families.”

An Interview with Cardinal Burke  On Vatican II Q. Your Eminence, you grew up before the Second Vatican Council. How do you remember those times? A. I grew up in a very beautiful time in the Church, in which we…Continue Reading

Did Pope Francis really say all dogs go to heaven? UPDATED

That nice man, Pope Francis, says you get to see your pets again in Heaven. But Pope Benedict is a mean old Grinch who wants to remove the animals from your Nativity scene Christmas decorations. Oh, really? Please don’t believe…Continue Reading

Catholic Church in Australia links celibacy to child abuse

By Jonathan Pearlman, Sydney, and Nick Squires in Rome 8:04PM GMT 12 Dec 2014 Priests’ vows of celibacy may have led to paedophilia, the Roman Catholic Church in Australia has said, in what is believed to be the first such…Continue Reading

Pope Calls For More ‘Integration’ Of Divorced Catholics, Gays

By Francis X. Rocca Catholic News Service VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church must consider various ways to integrate the divorced and civilly remarried in the life of the church — not merely allowing them…Continue Reading

‘I’m not worried’ about resistance, Pope Francis says in new interview

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2014 / 11:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In an interview with the Argentine daily “La Nacion” published Sunday, Pope Francis spoke on a variety of topics, giving specific attention to the ongoing reform of the Roman Curia,…Continue Reading

Catholic Church Severs Ties with Agency over Gay Adoption Ruling

The Catholic Church in Northern Ireland is pulling the plug on a long-standing relationship with the Family Care Society, a Catholic adoption agency, after a judge ruled that all adoption services must be willing to place children with same-sex couples…Continue Reading

Reaction to Chicago archbishop’s remarks on pro-abort pols receiving Communion

n a radical departure from the position of Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Blase Cupich – said to have been handpicked by Pope Francis for Chicago – has presented giving Holy Communion to pro-abortion politicians as a positive move. Asked Sunday…Continue Reading

Pope Francis dodges reporter’s question on treatment of homosexuality in Synod’s controversial mid-term report

Since the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, reporters around the world have been wondering where Pope Francis stands on the controversial language about homosexuality in the mid-term Synod report.  The opportunity to ask the pope…Continue Reading

Archbishop Cupich Says Yes to Communion for Pro-Abortion Politicians

In October of last year veteran Italian journalist Sandro Magister wrote of the new path that many believed the Church was embarking upon. Magister observed: “In Italy, but not only there, it was the cardinal and Jesuit Carlo Maria Martini…Continue Reading

Francis calls for a change mentality in the Church, easier homilies and flexible times

Francis addresses participants of the International Pastoral Congress on the World’s Big Cities: “Go out and facilitate”, don’t be afraid of multicultural contexts or of proclaiming Jesus DOMENICO AGASSO JR ROME Francis was honest from the start: “I don’t want…Continue Reading

Chaput: It Isn’t Possible To Be Pro-life And Simultaneously Forget The Cries Of The Poor

Interview with the Archbishop of Philadelphia who is preparing to receive the Pope for the World Meeting of Families in September 2015: defending the unborn child is a vital part of the social doctrine of the Church. We need to…Continue Reading

Homosexual Activist Organization in New York Receives Catholic Grant

Washington, DC—The Lepanto Institute issued a report exposing the activities of an organization which received a $35,000 grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).  According to the report, the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) launched its…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 subscribe 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

'From our friends at The Foundry'


Today . . .

General Audience: Jesus Chose To Come To The World As Part Of A family

POPE700

Vatican City, 17 December 2014 (VIS) – The family is the “great gift that the Lord has given to the world ever since the beginning, when he entrusted to Adam and Eve the mission of multiplying and filling the earth; the gift that Jesus confirmed and sealed in His Gospel”, said the Holy Father during this Wednesday’s general audience, in…Continue Reading

Happy Birthday, Pope Francis!

pope693

(Vatican Radio) There was a festive atmosphere at the weekly General Audience on Wednesday, as Pope Francis celebrated his 78th birthday. As he made his way through the crowds, Pope Francis stopped by a group of seminarians from the Legion of Christ, who offered him a birthday cake, complete with lighted candles. The Holy Father also took the opportunity to…Continue Reading

Pope Francis Recalls His 1st Communion, Says to Remember Catechists

Rome, December 15, 2014 (Zenit.org) Staff Reporter On a visit to a Roman parish Sunday evening, the Pope had lively discussions with various groups from the congregation, including children preparing to receive their First Communion. He told them about his own First Communion 70 years ago. On his arrival at the parish of Saint Joseph all’Aurelio, in the western sector…Continue Reading

Pope Francis: Rigidity Is A sign Of A Weak Heart

pope692

(Vatican Radio) The day’s Gospel reading, which relates how the chief priests asked Jesus by what authority He did His works, was the focus of the Pope’s homily on Monday. It is a demand, the Pope explained, that demonstrates the “hypocritical heart” of those people – people who were not interested in the truth, who sought only their own interests,…Continue Reading

Ten Complacent Maxims

By DONALD DeMARCO Mark Strand, Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate, passed away recently (November 29, 2014). He was a staunch atheist, declaring that he had never met God and had never been to Heaven. He said: “Although there are a lot of people claiming that God is telling them what to do,…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “Abortifacient Brief: Depo-Provera”

By BRIAN CLOWES (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 2 of The Facts of Life, “Abortifacients,” e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.) + + + Depo-Provera is an injectable contraceptive drug that sometimes has an abortifacient effect. It also possesses…Continue Reading

An Advent Reflection . . . The Very Visible Sin Of Gluttony

By REY FLORES Ever since I can remember, I have always had a problem with the fluctuation of my weight. As a child, my nickname was “Gordo,” which means fat in Spanish. I wasn’t bothered when my own family called me that, but it did bother me when the other school kids would make fun…Continue Reading

Gosnell Filmmakers Reopen Crowdfunding Campaign

By LISA BOURNE (LifeSiteNews) — The producers of the forthcoming Kermit Gosnell “House of Horrors” movie are reopening their crowdfunding campaign after Indiegogo changed its rules to allow campaigns without a deadline. Magdalena Segieda, Phelim McAleer, and Ann McElhinney surpassed their previous crowdfunding goal of $2.1 million earlier this year, and the Indiegogo fundraising site…Continue Reading

The CIA And Its Torturers

By ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO When the head of the CIA’s torture unit decided to destroy videotapes of his team’s horrific work, he unwittingly set in motion a series of events that led to the release this past week of the most massive, detailed documentation of unlawful behavior by high-ranking government officials and intentional infliction of…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

The Law Of The Lord

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Feast Of The Holy Family (YR B) Readings: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 Col. 3:12-21 Luke 2: 22-40 Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. In a particular way this refers to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. However, it also refers to all families that are striving to live according to the ways of holiness and truth.…Continue Reading

Pope’s Message For World Day of Peace . . . “No Longer Slaves, But Brothers”

VATICAN CITY (ZENIT) — Here is the text of Pope Francis’ message for the 48th World Day of Peace, which is celebrated on January 1, 2015. For a text with footnotes, go to www.zenit.org. + + + At the beginning of this New Year, which we welcome as God’s gracious gift to all humanity, I offer heartfelt wishes of peace…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World . . . True Joy Awards Intense Preparation For Christmas

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK With the arrival of these days of late Advent, we have already journeyed through the Solemnity of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception and Gaudete, or joy, Sunday. We have taken the opportunity to deepen our love and devotion for our heavenly Mother in celebrating the singular prevenient grace of God that equipped her unique preparation for…Continue Reading

Debunking The Sola Scriptura Myth… Summing Up

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Part 8 According to Sacred Scripture itself, the Bible is not, and was never meant to be, the only source of divine Revelation and sole rule of faith. Jesus neither wrote anything Himself nor commanded anybody to write. On the contrary, He commanded the apostles to preach, viva voce. He commanded the apostles to preach…Continue Reading

The Canon Of Scripture

By DON FIER For several weeks in this series we’ve been examining how God, in His loving Providence, has made Himself known to us. We’ve discussed the twofold means by which His divine Revelation has been transmitted to mankind — Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture — and how the two together are inseparable elements of a single Deposit of Faith.…Continue Reading

Cast A Gauntlet – Sola Scriptura: Part 1

Catholic Heroes . . . Blessed Urban V

By CAROLE BRESLIN The year 1309 marked the beginning of the Avignon papacy, under Pope Clement V, who was French. The Popes of Avignon built a papal palace, increasing it in size over the next 70 years. The first crack in the control of the papacy by the French began when Pope Urban V left Avignon to reside in Rome…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Sabbas

By CAROLE BRESLIN Silence. Quiet. The search for peace, serenity, and calm has led many in today’s world to take up Yoga, Eastern mysticism, or life in remote areas to escape the noise of our modern world. This is not a modern quest. The quest for quiet has been with man for millennia. Although St. Anthony the Great (died 356)…Continue Reading

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