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Reflections: Scripture (Lit./Sprtl. Interp.)

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Holy Scripture:

Literal / Spiritual Interpretation

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Literal / Spiritual Interpretation of Scripture



Literal / Spiritual Interpretation of Scripture

"Holy Writ expresses truth in two ways, first, through the literal sense, when things are signified by words; secondly, through the spiritual sense, when things are signified through other things." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"All the senses of Holy Scripture are built on the literal sense, from which alone, and not from allegorical passages, can arguments be drawn. The spiritual sense brings nothing needful to the faith which is not elsewhere clearly conveyed by the literal sense." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"The parabolical sense is contained in the literal, for by words things are signified properly and figuratively. Nor is the figure itself, but that which is figured, the literal sense. When Scripture speaks of God's arm, the literal sense is not that God has such a member, but only what is signified by this member, namely operative power. Hence it is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Writ." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"The multiplicity of these senses does not produce equivocation or any other kind of multiplicity, seeing that these senses are not multiplied because one word signifies several things, but because the things signified by the words can be themselves types of other things. Thus in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one - the literal - from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as [St.] Augustine says (Ep. 48). Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says (De Coelesti Hierarchia i) 'the New Law itself is a figure of future glory.' Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; 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. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Writ is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as [St.] Augustine says (Confessiones xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"The Divine Law is to be understood in a triple manner: first, historically; second, tropologically; third, mystically. It is to be interpreted historically according to the letter, tropologically according to the moral sense, and mystically according to the spiritual significance." (St. Isidore, Doctor of the Church)

"It is not necessary that all the divine words have an allegorical meaning. Consideration and perception is needed in order to know the meaning of the argument of each. It is needful also to make use of Tradition; for not everything can be gotten from Sacred Scripture. The holy Apostles handed down some things in the Scriptures, other things in Tradition." (St. Epiphanius of Salamis, circa 374 A.D.) 

"[St. Jerome says that] all interpretation rests on the literal sense, and that we are not to think that there is no literal sense merely because a thing is said metaphorically, for 'the history itself is often presented in metaphorical dress and described figuratively.' Indeed, he himself affords the best refutation of those who maintain that he says that certain passages have no historical meaning: 'We are not rejecting the history, we are merely giving a spiritual interpretation of it.' Once, however, he has firmly established the literal or historical meaning, Jerome goes on to seek our deeper and hidden meanings, as to nourish his mind with more delicate food. Thus he says of the Book of Proverbs - and he makes the same remark about other parts of the Bible - that we must not stop at the simple literal sense: 'Just as we have to seek gold in the earth, for the kernel in the shell, for the chestnut's hidden fruit beneath its hairy coverings, so in Holy Scripture we have to dig deep for its divine meaning.' When teaching Paulinus 'how to make true progress in the Bible,' he says: 'Everything we read in the Sacred Books shines and glitters even in its outer shell; but the marrow of it is sweeter. If you want the kernel you must break the shell. 'At the same time, he insists that in searching for this deeper meaning we must proceed in due order, 'lest in our search for spiritual riches we seem to despise the history as poverty-stricken.'" (Pope Benedict XV, "Spiritus Paraclitus", 1920 A.D.)

"The language of the Bible is employed to express, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, many things which are beyond the power and scope of the reason of man - that is to say, divine mysteries and all that is related to them. There is sometimes in such passages a fullness and a hidden depth of meaning which the letter hardly expresses and which the laws of interpretation hardly warrant. Moreover, the literal sense itself frequently admits other senses, adapted to illustrate dogma or to confirm morality." (Pope Leo XIII)

"What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use. For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East." (Pope Pius XII, Divino Afflante Spiritu)

"There can be no falsehood anywhere in the literal sense of Holy Scripture." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church and "greatest theologian in the history of the Church")

"When they have given such an interpretation, especially, as we have said, theological interpretation, let them effectively silence those who assert that with difficulty do they find anything by way of Biblical commentary to raise the mind to God, nourish the soul, and promote the interior life, and declare that recourse must be had to a certain spiritual and so-called mystical interpretation. How far from rightly they profess this the experience of many shows, who frequently considering and meditating upon the word of God, perfect their souls, and are moved by a strong love toward God; and this is clearly proved by the everlasting institution of the Church and the admonitions of the most eminent Doctors. Surely, all spiritual meaning is not excluded from Sacred Scripture. For what was said and done in the Old Testament, was most wisely so ordered and disposed by God that past events in a spiritual manner presignified what would take place in the new covenant of grace. So the exegete, just as he should find and expound the so-called literal significance of the words, which the sacred writer intended and expressed, so also he should the spiritual significance, provided it can be rightly established that it was given by God. For God alone could know this spiritual significance and reveal it to us. Indeed, the divine Savior Himself indicates such a sense to us in the Holy Gospels and teaches us; the apostles, also, imitating the example of the Master, in speaking and writing profess this; so does the teaching handed down by the Church; finally, the ancient practice of the liturgy declares, wherever that famous pronouncement can rightly be applied: The law of praying is the law of believing. So, let Catholic exegetes make clear and set forth this spiritual sense, intended and ordained by God Himself, with that diligence which the dignity of the divine Word demands; but let them beware religiously lest they proclaim other transferred meanings of things as the genuine sense of Sacred Scripture." (Pope Pius XII, "Divino Afflante Spiritu", September 30, 1943 A.D.)

"But to return to the new opinions ... many things are proposed or instilled in the mind (of the faithful) to the detriment of the divine authority of Sacred Scripture. Some boldly pervert the meaning of the definition of the [First] Vatican Council, with respect to God as the author of Sacred Scripture; and they revive the opinion, many times disproved, according to which the immunity of the Sacred Writings from error extends only to those matters which are handed down regarding God and moral and religious subjects. Again, they speak falsely about the human sense of the Sacred Books, under which their divine sense lies hidden, which they declare is alone infallible. In interpreting Sacred Scripture they wish that no account be taken of the analogy of the faith and of the tradition of the Church, so that the teaching of the Holy Fathers and of the holy magisterium is to be referred, as it were, to the norm of Sacred Scripture as explained by exegetes in a merely human manner, rather than that Sacred Scripture be interpreted according to the mind of the Church, which was established by Christ the Lord as the guardian and interpreter of the whole deposit of truth revealed by God. And besides, the literal sense of Sacred Scripture and its exposition, as elaborated by so many great exegetes under the watchful eye of the Church, according to their false opinions, should yield to the new exegesis which they call symbolic and spiritual; by which the Sacred Books of the Old Testament, which today are as a closed source in the Church, may be opened sometime to all. They declare that by this method all difficulties vanish, by which they only are shackled who cling to the literal sense of Scripture. Surely, everyone will see how foreign all this is to the principles and norms of interpretation rightly established by Our predecessors of happy memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter 'Providentissimus,' Benedict XV in the Encyclical Letter, 'Spiritus Paraclitus,' and also by us in the Encyclical Letter, 'Divino afflante Spiritu.' And it is not strange that such innovations, as far as pertains to almost all branches of theology, have already produced poisonous fruit. It is doubtful that human reason, without the aid of divine revelation and divine grace, can demonstrate the existence of a personal God by arguments deduced from created things; it is denied that the world had a beginning, and it is disputed that the creation of the world was necessary, since it proceeds from the necessary liberality of divine love; eternal and infallible foreknowledge of the free actions of men is likewise denied to God; all of which, indeed, are opposed to the declarations of the [First] Vatican Council." (Pope Pius XII, "Humani Generis", August 12, 1950 A.D.) 

Also See: The Church's Traditional Interpretation of Holy Scripture Is Not Subject To Correction | Difficulty of Scripture | Holy Scripture is Truthful / Free From Error | Misinterpretation of Scripture | Modernists / Scripture | Multiple Meanings / Holy Scripture | Private Interpretation / Twisting Scripture | Proper Interpretation of Scripture | Written / Oral Tradition

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