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1. To glance first at the Fathers of the Christian church,-the views which they entertained upon the subject, are chiefly to be gathered from the particular examples which are to be met with in their works; for in none of the earlier Christian writers do we find any clear and well-defined principles of interpretation laid down, either on this, or any other branch of theological study, unless perhaps some exception be allowed in favour of Origen. And even he, voluminous as his works are, may scarcely be excepted; for with such vagueness and confusion has he described the principles which guided his interpretations of Scripture, that by some he has been understood to hold, that there is a fourfold, by others a threefold, and by others again only a twofold sense in the sacred text. The truth seems to be, that while he contended for a fourfold application of Scripture, he held only a twofold sense, strictly so called; and, considered in a general point of view, his principles of interpretation were not materially different from those adopted by the great majority of the Greek fathers. But before stating how these bore upon the subject now under consideration, it will be necessary to point out a distinction, too often lost sight of both in earlier and later times, between allegorical and typical interpretations, properly so called. These have generally been confounded together, as if they were essentially one in principle, and differing only in the extent to which it is carried. And yet there is an important distinction between them, which Bishop Marsh, though he has applied the same general name to both, has to a certain extent so judiciously and clearly unfolded, that I shall introduce the subject in his words.
“ There are two different modes, in which Scripture history has been thus allegorized. According to one mode, facts and circumstances, especially those recorded in the Old Testament, have been applied to other facts and circumstances, of which they have been described as representative. According to the other mode, those facts and circumstances have been described as mere emblems. The former mode is warranted by the practice of the sacred writers themselves; for when facts and circumstances are so applied, they are applied as types of those things to which the application is made. But the latter mode of allegorical interpretation has no such authority in its favour, though attempts have been made to procure such authority. For the same things are then described, not as types, or as real facts, but as mere ideal representations, like the immediate representation in allegory. By this mode, therefore, history is not only treated as allegory, but converted into allegory; or, in other words, history is thus converted into fable.” The bishop goes on to vindicate the apostle Paul from having in this sense allegorized scripture, referring to what he says in Galatians of Sarah and Hagar, and showing that in the use made of it by the apostle, the historical verity of the Old Testament narrative was not destroyed, but preserved. “In short,” he concludes, “when St. Paul allegorized the history of the two sons of Abraham, and compared them with the two covenants, he did nothing more than
represent the first as types, the latter as antitypes. Though he treated that portion of the Mosaic history in the same manner as we treat an allegory, he did not thereby convert it into allegory. In the interpretation, therefore, of the Scriptures, it is essentially necessary
that we observe the exact boundaries between the notion of an allegory, and the notion of a type. And it is the more necessary, that some of our own commentators, and among others even Macknight, misled by the use of the term allegory in our authorized version, have considered it as synonymous with type. An allegory, as already observed, is a fictitious narrative; a type is something real. An allegory is a picture of the imagination; a type is an historical fact. It is true, that typical interpretation may, in one sense, be considered as a species of allegorical interpretation; that they are so far alike, as being equally an interpretation of things; that they are equally founded on resemblance; that the type corresponds to its antitype, as the immediate representation in an allegory corresponds to its ultimute representation. Yet the quality of the things compared, as well as the purport of the comparison, is very different in the two cases. And though a type in reference to its antitype is called a shadow, while the latter is called the substance, yet the use of these terms does not imply that the former has less historical verity than the latter.'
In the general principles here stated, and also in the particular view given of the passage in Galatians, the most judicious commentators concur with Bishop Marsh. For example, Calvin, in his annotations on that passage, thus writes: “Paul certainly does not mean, that Moses wrote the history for the purpose of being turned into an allegory, but points out in what way the history may be made to answer the present subject. This is done by observing a figurative representation of the church there delineated. And a mystical interpretation of this sort was not inconsistent with the true and literal meaning, when a comparison was drawn between the church and the family of Abraham. As the house of Abraham was then a true church, so it is beyond all doubt, that the principal and most memorable events which happened in it are so many types to us. As in circumcision, in sacrifices, in the whole Levitical priesthood, there was an allegory, as there is an allegory at the present day in our sacraments, so was there likewise in the house of Abraham; but this does not involve a departure from the literal meaning.”
It is to be understood, that these quotations are made simply for the purpose of explaining a distinction in regard to two modes of interpretation, the one only of which is warranted in scripture, and not as if every expression they contain were approved of. cannot but regard it, in particular, as unhappy, that after pointing out the distinction so clearly, Bishop Marsh should still have given to both kinds the one name of allegory, and should have stated, that although the apostle in Galatians had not converted the Mosaic narrative into allegory, he had yet treated it as allegory. No doubt the apostle himself calls the use he makes of the history an allegorizing of it; and in an abstract general point of view, there is so much common to type and allegory, that the name of the one may, especially where precise distinctions are not aimed at, be at times applied to the other. But as the use, which the apostle makes of that portion of Old Testament history, is essentially what we understand by a typical application of it, and as allegorical interpretations, in the ordinary acceptation, and also the more proper sense of the term, have been applied to extract a very different use from Old Testament history, it is certainly to be regretted that the two names should still be interchanged, as it inevitably leads to the two things being improperly confounded. An allegory is a narrative, either expressly feigned for the purpose, or if describing facts which really took place, describing them only for the purpose, of representing certain higher truths or principles, than the narrative in its immediate representation, whether real or fictitious, could possibly have taught. The immediate representation, therefore, is either invented, or at least used, as a mere cover for the higher sense, which may refer to things ever so remote from those primarily denoted, if only the corresponding relations are preserved. So that allegorical interpretations of scripture properly comprehend the two following cases, and these only: 1. When the scriptural narrative is actually held to have had no foundation in fact, to be a mere mythos or fabulous representation, devised for the sole purpose of exhibiting the mysteries of divine truth; 2. Or when, without moving any question about the real or fictitious nature of the narrative, it is yet considered in its immediate representation as incapable of any adequate or satisfactory sense, and is consequently applied precisely as if it had been fabulous, to unfold something of an entirely different kind from what it could be understood, in its direct and obvious sense, to relate to. The difference between allegorical interpretations, in either of these senses, and those which are properly called typical, will only be fully brought out, when we have explained the proper nature of a type, and the grounds both in reason and scrip, ture on which it rests. It will be enough meanwhile to say, that typical interpretations of the historical parts of Old Testament scripture, differ from the former kind of allegorical ones, in that they indispensably require the reality of the facts contained in the history; and from the latter, in requiring, besides this, that the same truth or principle be embodied equally in the type and the antitype. The typical is not a different or a higher sense, but a different or higher application of the same sense.
* Marsh's Lectures on the Criticism and Interpretation of the Bible, pp. 350–354.
Now to return with these explanations to the writings of the earlier fathers, and using the expressions typical and allegorical in the senses now respectively ascribed to them, there can be no doubt, that the fathers generally were much given both to typical and allegorical interpretations,—the Greek fathers more to allegorical than to typical,--and to allegorical more in the second, than
in the first sense described above. They do not seem for the most part to have discredited the plain truth or reality of the statements made in Old Testament seripture; they seem rather to have regarded the sense of the letter as true and good so far as it went, but capable only of yielding & very meagre and elementary instruction, and therefore chiefly to be used as the vehicle of a much more refined and ethereal instruction. Origen, however, certainly went farther than this, and expressly denied that many things in the Old Testament had any foundation in reality. In his Principia (lib. iv.) he affirms, that “when the scripture history could not otherwise be accommodated to the explanation of spiritual things, matters have been inserted which did not take place, nay, which could not have taken place, and others again, which though they might have occurred, yet never actually did so."
Again, when speaking of some notices in the life of Rebecca, he says, “In these things, I have often told you, there is not a relation of histories, but a concoction of mysteries. And in like manner, in his annotations on the first chapters of Genesis, he plainly scouts the idea of God's having literally clothed our first parents with the skins of slain beasts, calls it absurd, ridiculous, and unworthy of God, and declares that in such a case the naked letter is not to be adhered to as true, but exists only for the spiritual treasure, which is concealed in it.
Statements of this kind are of too frequent occurrence in the writings of Origen to have arisen from inadvertence or oversight; they were, indeed, intimately connected with the vicious system of interpretation which he adopted, and render it impossible to defend him from the serious charge of having sought, in the worst and most obnoxious sense, to turn portions of the word of God into fable. The error was essentially the same in kind, though originated by a different form of philosophy, and applied to purposes correspondingly different, with that which was lately so rampant in Germany, and which ran out at last into the wild extravagance of maintaining the entire history of Jesus to be only one great mythos, or fabulous representation of divine truths. At the same time, it must be admitted in behalf of Origen, that however possessed of what has been called “the allegorical fury,” he does not appear generally to have discredited the facts of sacred history, and probably differed from the other divines of the Alexandrian school chiefly in the excess to which he went in decrying the literal sense as carnal and puerile, and extolling the mystical as alone suited for those who had become acquainted with the true wisdom. It would be out of place here, however, to enter into the investigation of this point, as it is not immediately connected with our present inquiry; but to make more manifest the arbitrary nature of this mode of interpretation, and the distinction between it and . what is strictly typological, it may be of use to bring forward a single specimen. We shall take it from Origen's homily on Abra
* Works, Vol. II., p. 88, Ed. Delarue.
| Ibid. p. 29.
ham's marriage to Keturah. He does not actually disown the fact of such a marriage having actually taken place in real life, though his language most naturally carries that interpretation, but he intimates that this, in common with the other marriages of the patriarchs, contained a sacramental mystery. And what might this be? Why, nothing less than to teach us, “ that there is no end to wisdom, and that old age sets no bounds to improvement in knowledge. The death of Sarah (he says) is to be understood as the perfectionment of virtue. But he who has attained to a consummate and perfect virtue must always be employed in some kind of learning-which learning is called by the divine word, his wife. Abraham, therefore, when an old man, and his body in a manner dead, took Keturah to wife. I think it was better, according to the exposition we follow, that the wife should have been received when his body was dead, and his members were mortified. For we have a greater capacity for wisdom, when we bear about the dying of Christ in our mortal body. Then, Keturah, whom Abraham married in his old age, is by interpretation incense, or sweet odour. For he said, even as Paul did, “We are a sweet savour of Christ.' Sin is a foul and putrid thing; but if any of you, in whom this no longer dwells, have the fragrance of righteousness, the sweetness of mercy, and by prayer continually offer up incense to God, ye also have taken Keturah to wife.”* And on he goes to show, how many such wives may be taken; hospitality is one, the care of the poor another, patience a third, each virtue, in short, a wife; and hence it was that the patriarchs had so many wives, and that Solomon possessed them even by hundreds, he having received plenitude of wisdom like the sand on the sea-shore, and consequently grace to exercise the largest number of virtues.
This is a genuine specimen of allegorical interpretation, having for its subject-matter a story, either entirely fabulous, or at least treated as if it were so. It is of no moment for all the purposes which such a mode of interpretation might serve, whether Abraham and Keturah had any substantial existence, and whether their marriage was a real fact in history, or an incident fitly thrown into a fictitious narrative, constructed for the purpose of symbolizing the hidden doctrines of a divine philosophy. If it had been treated as a type, and not as an allegory, whatever meaning might have been ascribed to it as a representation of gospel mysteries, the story must have been assumed as real, and the act of Abraham made to correspond with something essentially the same in kindsome sort of union, for example, between parties holding a similar relation to each other, as Abraham did to Keturah. In this, though there might have been error in the particular use and application made of it, there would at least have been some appearance of a probable ground for it to rest upon; but in the true allegorical form, which it presents in the above quotation, all seems what may
well be called “the baseless fabric of a vision.” For
• Hom. VI. in Genes.