THE

ALLEGORICAL INTERPRETATION

OF THE SCRIPTURES

 

Allegorism was well established in Alexandrian Judaism, especially by Philo, who made a systematic use of it to bridge the chasm between the Old Testament revelation and the Platonic philosophy. Philo compares the literal sense of Scripture to the shadow which the body casts, finding its authentic, profounder truth in the spiritual meaning which it symbolizes. He does not want to depreciate or abolish the literal or the historical meaning, but looks to it as man’s body which merits the fullest respect.

The School of Alexandria adopted the allegorical interpretation of the Holy Scripture, believing that it hides the truth and at the same time reveals it. It hides the truth from the ignorant, whose eyes are blinded by sin and pride, hence they are prevented from the knowledge of the truth. At the same time it always reveals what is new to the renewed eyes of believers. St. Clement of Alexandria is considered the first Christian theologian (writer) who uses allegorical interpretation, giving a cause of using it in a practical way. He says that the Bible has hidden meanings to incite us to search and discover the words of salvation, which are hidden from those who despise them. The truth is in the pearls which must not be offered to the swines. His disciple, Origen, adds other justifications of using allegorical interpretation to the Scriptures.

Nevertheless a vigorous reaction against the Alexandrian allegorism made itself manifest in the fourth and fifth centuries. Its center was Antioch, which concentrated on the literal sense of the holy Scriptures.

As Kelly says, "It has been fashionable to distinguish different schools of patristic exegesis, notably the Alexandrian with its bias towards allegory, and the Antiochene with its passion for literalism."

 

 

ALLEGORY

The word "allegory," is derived from the Greek "alla," meaning "other," and "agoreuo," meaning "proclaim." It originally referred to a figure of speech that Cicero defined as a "continuous stream of metaphors." According to St. Augustine, allegory is a mode of speech in which one thing is understood by another. Allegory differs from the parable in its more systematic presentation of the different features of the idea which it illustrates, as well as in its contents which are concerned with the exposition of theoretical truths rather than practical exhortation.

 

 

ALLEGORY AND TYPOLOGY

The holy Scriptures use at least three kinds of allegory: figurative allegory, narrative allegory and typological allegory. St. Paul’s Ode to Charity (Corinthians 13) is figurative allegory. So is Wisdom, as she is presented in Proverbs 8. In some parables - those for instance of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-35) and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) - the allegory is narrative. The most characteristic biblical form is the typological allegory, a New Testament exegetic method which treats events and figures of the Old Testament as combining historical reality with prophetic meaning in terms of the Gospels and the Christian Dispensation.

Modern distinction between allegory and typology stems from Antiochene criticism of Alexandrian allegory. For example, Jean Daniélou states, "It would be an entire abuse of language to include moral allegory with typology under the one heading of spiritual sense, as opposed to the literal sense: typology is a legitimate extension of literal sense, while moral allegory is something entirely alien: the former is in truth exegesis, the latter is not. Origen was the first to bring together these two interpretations in a forceful synthesis. But they are in reality two distinct approaches, artificially put side by side."

Some scholars distinguish "allegory," defined as a method in which earthly realities are interpreted symbolically to refer to heavenly realities, from "typology," in which historical reality is interpreted as foreshadowing another, especially the person and work of Christ.

The word "type," tupoi in Greek has its basic meaning, ‘something struck out; a print, impression of a seal.’ The seal is the New Testament event, which has struck out a prophetic impression of itself in the pages of the Old Testament.

J.N.D. Kelly gives a base for the distinction between allegory and typology, saying,

... the word (allegory) led to confusion even in the patristic age, and its accepted meaning to day denotes a somewhat different type of exegesis from typology. Since the fathers employed both typology and allegory (in its modern sense), the distinction between the two methods needs to be clearly brought out...

In allegorical exegesis the sacred text is treated as a mere symbol, or allegory, of spiritual truths. The literal, historical sense, if it is regarded at all, plays a relatively minor role, and the aim of the exegete is to elicit the moral, theological or mystical meaning which each passage, indeed each verse and even each word, is presumed to contain...

Typological exegesis works along very different lines. Essentially it is a technique for bringing out the correspondence between the two Testaments: a technique where the Old reflects the New, i.e. prefigures and anticipates the events and personages of the New. The typologist takes history seriously; it is the scene of the progressive unfolding of God’s consistent redemptive purpose...

Jean Daniélou also says, "The typology of the Fathers is based on the continuity which exists between the Old and New Testaments.

 

 

Allegory and the Jewish exegesis

According to Philo, the allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures was practiced in Palestinian Rabbinical schools.

In Palestinian Jewish exegesis, allegory provides material for haggadah, the interpretation of non-legal passages of Scripture. An example of this Jewish allegorical exegesis is Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai's (ca. A.D 70) explanation that a robber receives a lighter punishment than a thief because the thief, by acting secretly, has contempt for God's oversight. Also the interpretation that unclean animals, such as the hare and the pig, refer to Greece and Rome.

Although Palestinian allegory is generally more restrained than Hellenistic Jewish allegory and careful in particular to maintain legal validity, Rabbi Akiba (ca. AD. 50-132) could interpret the Song of Solomon allegorically to refer to the love between Israel and God.

The Alexandrian Jew Philo, as we mentioned above, uses two kinds of interpretation, literal and allegorical, which he links to the Platonic concept of a dual world - one of which is spiritual and immaterial like God, an archetype and model, and the other world being visible and corporeal. In Philo's opinion the literal sense, the written word, is concerned with appearance, while the allegorical sense expresses only what can be seized by intelligence and leads directly to the truth.

John Dillon in the preface of the book "Philo of Alexandria" says, "Philo did contribute enormously, through the Christian thinkers of the Alexandrian School, to the tradition of spirituality both in the Western Europe and in the Eastern Orthodox world, and the magnificent intellectual tour-de-force constituted by his Platonizing allegory of the Pentateuch deserves recognition and honor."

Jean Daniélou, in his speech of the effect of Philo on the Alexandrian Didascalia, assures that the Alexandrian Fathers who adopted Philo’s method of interpretation, christianized it, giving it a Christological and more spiritual understanding. He says,

In his treatise on Paradise, Ambrose, who was much influenced by Philo, writes as follows: "Philo confined his attention to the moral sense, because his Judaic outlook prevented him from a more spiritual understanding." Spiritualia here denotes the Christological or typological sense, while moralia implies philosophical allegory...

This allegorizing of Philo will be adopted by that succession of Alexandrian Didascalia which will transform it into a Christian theology. Not that this will be, as with Philo, the only interpretation; but whereas, until then, typology was the only Christian interpretation, afterwards Origen, St. Ambrose and the Middle Ages will make use of allegory also...

A whole stream of Patristic tradition shows us the union of the Pauline typological "mystery" with the Philonian allegorical "mystery." While borrowing from Philo his principle, quite unexceptionable in itself, of a hidden meaning in the whole Bible, the Christian exegesis of Alexandria will give to these themes a meaning which is quite beyond the allegorizing of Philo. It will endow them with the whole mystery of Christ, who is truly the "fullness of grace."

 

Allegory and TYPOLOGY IN the New Testament

The term "allegory" is used by St. Paul in Gal. 4:24, "which things contain an allegory." Some scholars believe that he introduces the allegorical interpretation of the Law by the question "Is it for the oxen that God cares, or says He altogether for our sake?" (1 Cor. 9:10) does not necessarily mean that Paul, besides abolishing this particular law with his advocacy of the abrogation of the Law as a whole, also denies that this law was ever meant to be taken literally.

The New Testament uses allegory and typology. Here are some examples.

* The Gospels present our Lord Jesus using allegory as a rhetorical device in his own parables (cf. Matt. 13:18-35; Mark 4:12-20, 33-34; Luke 8:11-15), and the two witnesses whose testimony is true (Deut. 19:15; John 8:17-18). The majority of the New Testament parables are examples of prophetic and situational allegory, not involving typology.

* Our Lord interprets allegorically the brazen serpent (Num. 21:9; John 3:14) as a type of salvation by His Cross.

* The words of our Lord in Matt. 12:42 concerning the queen of the south reveals that our Lord uses allegory to speak of the Song of Solomon in terms of the mutual love of Christ and the Church. Solomon is a type of Christ, the Queen of Sheba represents the Church, as well as the New Testament authority for the interpretation is to be found in Matthew 12:42.

* In Matt. 12:40-42 we acknowledge Jonah in the whale’s belly as an allegory of the Descent into Hell and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus during Good Friday and Bright Saturday.

* St. Paul sees the relationship between the Church and the Synagogue prefigured in the story of Isaac and Ishmael. He applies allegory to the two mountains, Sinai and Zion, in Galatians 4:22-29. Hagar, Paul says, is a type of Mount Sinai, where Moses later received the Old Law, and so of the Jerusalem of his own day, the site of the Jewish Temple, and the center of the Jewish people and religion. Sarah is a type of the Heavenly Jerusalem of the Christian Church. The miraculous birth of Isaac typifies the virgin birth of Christ, as is further illustrated by the messianic quotation from Isaiah 54:I.

* Allegory is also applied to cleaning out the old leaven at the Passover to indicate the Christian community's purity (1 Cor. 5:6-8).

* Hebrews 8-10 interprets the Levitical sanctuary and sacrificial system as a temporary earthly manifestation of a heavenly reality revealed in Christ.

* In I Corinthians 10:6-13, St. Paul teaches that events mentioned in Exodus and Numbers, while the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness (Exod. 13:21-22; 14:22-29; 16:4,35), prefigure Christian sacraments. He further claims that such happenings are intended "typically" to forewarn Christians about the coming of Christ and the consequences of His ministry.

* In Romans 5:14 St. Paul suggests that Adam was a "type" of the Christ who was to come.

* The main Old Testament personages who typify aspects of the New Testament - ‘so great a cloud of witnesses’ - are listed in Hebrews 11. They are Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the Prophets. In this list we have a stage in the development of a new point of view, In the full Christian form, this sees history, not as sequence, but as process, directed from Creation and the Fall of Man towards the Incarnation and Redemption, and finally to Judgment Day. The ultimately significant events are concentrated into the few years of the earthly life of Jesus, the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. All history becomes a typology, whose meaning is to be assessed in terms of a single humble life which had apparently ended in ignominy.

Such explanations illuminate the New Testament idea that all incidents during the old dispensation predicted the major events of the career of Jesus Christ and of the early church, which relived them in a Christian sense. Most obvious analogies concern the flood and the ark, the liberation of the people of Israel from Egypt (the Exodus), the wandering in the wilderness, the crossing of the River Jordan, the later return from exile, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Actual historical episodes are seen to foreshadow later events not in a literal but in a spiritual sense; thus, the liberation from Egypt is paralleled in Christ’s freeing us from our sins. These types are perpetuated and enormously increased in the writings of the ancient Christian Fathers. Indeed, the Bible is ransacked to extract types regarded as fulfilled in the Christian dispensation, some of them absurd and farfetched...

The use of types in this manner may be said to have entered deeply into Christian prayer, worship, hymnology, and piety generally.

According to St. Augustine, the allegories which New Testament writers find in the Old Testament are not mere rhetorical figures but historical facts ("non in verbis sed in facto"); God, the true author of Scripture, foreordained certain facts recorded in the Bible in such a manner as to be, apart from historical reality, also a prophetic announcement of future events.

All the work of the prophets, which is of cardinal importance in the Old Testament, rests on a twofold movement; it recalls the great works of God in the past, but it recalls them only as a foundation for a faith in great works to come. The past is only recalled as a foundation for future hope. As God had set man in Paradise so must Israel wait to be brought into a New Paradise. This is precisely the essence of typology, which is to show how past events are a figure of events to come.

In the New Testament, we have four kinds of non-literal interpretations of Old Testament texts:

1. Interpretations dealing with predictions of the first coming of Christ.

2. Interpretations dealing with predictions of the second coming of Christ.

3. Interpretations dealing with the pre-existence of Christ.

4. Interpretations dealing with legal or moral matters.

We refer to these four kinds of non-literal interpretations as adventual, eschatological, pre-existential, and moral, respectively. All these non-literal interpretations are of the rabbinical midrashic kind; none of them is of the Philonic philosophical kind, except perhaps the pre-existential, which may reflect indirectly some philosophic view. Still, several instances of adventual, non-literal interpretation is explicitly described by the Philonic terms of allegory, type, shadow, and parable; undoubtedly it is only by mere accident that these terms are not used in connection with other instances of adventual interpretation, and also in connection with eschatological, pre-existential, and moral, non-literal interpretations. Thus, according to St. Paul, for a non-literal interpretation of a text of Scripture to be described by the Philonic term allegorical it is not necessary that it be philosophical. It is with these four kinds of non-literal interpretations found in the New Testament - adventual, eschatological, pre-existential, and moral - of which only some instances of the first kind are described by the term allegory or by the terms type, shadow, and parable, that the Fathers started on their discussion of the allegorical method.

Finally, it is worthy to note that even the Old Testament uses allegory. A whole book (Song of Songs) cannot be interpreted literally but allegorically. Also it is used in the Prophets, such as in Ezek. 27-32. Tyre is presented as a magnificent merchant ship, wrecked at sea, "The rowers have brought you into great waters; the east wind has broken you in the midst of the seas" Ezek. 28:26. The east wind is Nebuchadnezzar, who captured Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The Egyptian Pharaoh is the Nile crocodile, hooked and thrown out to rot on the desert. Also in the New Testament, there is the Book of Revelation, a connected series of visions, which cannot be interpreted except allegorically.

 

 

Allegory and TYPOLOGY IN the early church

Early Fathers such as St. Clement of Rome, St. Irenaeus, and Tertullian continued to use this method of interpretation which is found in the Epistle of Barnabas. Chapter 9 of the latter contends that in the dietary laws Moses expounded moral principles in a spiritual manner, but the Jews, being carnal, misunderstood them to refer literally to foods. Moses forbade eating pork in order to discourage associations with swinish people; that is, people who remember the Lord only when they are in need, are just like the pig which does not pay attention to its master while it is greedily feeding at the trough but squeals incessantly when it is hungry.

J. Daniélou states that primitive Christian tradition recognized two senses of Scripture, namely the literal and the typological. The latter is in reality a "Charistic," or "Christological" sense, having Christ in His totality as its object. He also states that there was at least five kinds of typological sense in early Christian literature:

1. Typology that aims at discovering the circumstances of Christ's earthly life in the Old Testament. This type of exegesis serves to characterize the Western tradition.

2. Typology, common to all the Fathers, which does not therefore bear distinctive marks of any particular current, scrutinizes the Old Testament with a view to discovering Christ there, not in the exterior circumstances of His earthly life, but in the mysteries which He came to accomplish.

3. Typology that concentrates on those features of the Old Testament which are figures of the Church's sacramental life; it is found in the sacramental catches and is particularly dear to the School of Antioch.

4. Typology which looks in the Old Testament for figures of the role that Christ plays in the souls of believers; it is in Alexandria that this typology is cultivated with special predilection. For this reason some scholars call the School of Alexandria, "the School of the Souls." This does not mean that the Alexandrian school ignored the sanctification of the body, but it concentrates on the ascent of the souls by the Holy Spirit to heavenly life while the believer still lives in this world, through the study of the Bible and worshipping God in his daily life.

5. Eschatological typology aims at discovering the traits of the Old Testament which are vestiges of Christ's glorious manifestation at the end of time. Daniélou notes that writers of Jewish apocalyptic literature favor this form of interpretation, without giving to it a Christological signification. Origen quotes many of them.

Although Marcion rejected allegory along with the Old Testament, allegory played a role in much of the biblical interpretations found in Gnosticism, which extended its use to the New Testament. Valentinus, for example, interpreted the woman in the parable of the leaven (Matt. 13:33-34; Luke 13:20-21) as the fallen aeon, Sophia; the three batches of meal as the three classes of human beings, material, psychic, and spiritual; and the leaven itself as the Savior. Valentinus' follower Heracleon interpreted the Gospel of John allegorically, presenting, for example, the "royal officer" of John 4:46-53 as the inferior Creator of the material world.

 

St. Clement of Alexandria believes that the Bible looks like St. Mary the Virgin who brought forth Jesus Christ and her virginity was preserved. Thus we discover spiritual meanings of the Bible, but its meaning is still virgin, as it has many hidden spiritual meanings. However, one must be careful not to exaggerate St. Clement's proneness to allegorism, for he tries not to abandon the historical sense of Scripture, as has often been done by some allegorical interpreters. St. Clement says once and again that the Scriptures do have a literal historical sense.

 

St. Clement of Alexandria distinguishes between literal, mystical, moral, and prophetic interpretations. C. Mondésert states that meditating on the text of the Scripture, St. Clement discovers at least five senses:

an historical sense;

a doctrinal sense;

a prophetic signification;

a philosophical sense;

and a mystical sense.

Allegory is developed and carried to excess by Origen. He believes that the Logos, the heavenly Groom, is present under the accidents of the Scriptures as Food, Educator and Groom for the soul. "I will endeavor to show," he says, "what the accepted methods of interpretation are, and therefore I will follow the rule which has always been used in Jesus Christ’s heavenly Church since the time of the apostles. According to him, the words of the Scriptures should be printed in the soul in one of three ways:

1- The simple people or the uneducated should be edified by the letter itself, which we call the obvious meaning or the straightforward historical sense. Origen himself is the foremost biblical scholar of antiquity and by no means ignores the literal meaning or the importance of history, when he thinks that one existed, he considers it inferior to the spiritual. Nearly all would have agreed with the fourth-century Didymus the Blind, who was influenced by Origen, that "in fact it is impossible to understand the spiritual or elevated thought without the shadow, which is the letter, or without the preliminary propaedeutic sciences." Origen interprets the past in terms of present faith in Christ, and he shares a tradition which is concerned with spirit rather than letter. The inner spiritual mysteries are concerned with the present: hodie, etiam hodie. The spiritual meaning of the law is found only in the mystery of the Cross and of the Church. The Gospels are chiefly concerned with present spiritual realities and point to the eternal gospel, to the time of the parousia when those who have lived according to the spirit on earth, 'will live in the kingdom of heaven according to the laws of the eternal gospel'. History remains the starting point for our ascent to the mystery, because it shows God's condescension, economy, providence and instruction. Law and prophets come together in Christ. The spiritual realities to which both testaments point are the Cross, the resurrection, and the kingdom of heaven; they are not Platonic forms or Gnostic aeons.

Literalism did not mean a blind acceptance of whatever was written in the Bible but the acceptance of the Law as meaningful in everyday life. To prove his point, De Lange also offers five examples of Origen’s indebtedness to Rabbinical sources.

Origen prefaces the Homilies on Leviticus with an example of how foolish following the literal meaning would be. If taken literally, the entire book of Leviticus would require Christians "to sacrifice calves and lambs and to offer fine wheat flour with incense and oil." In the same passage he calls those who insist on a literal meaning "wicked presbyters." He is quick to mention those passages which present particular difficulties. In replying to critics of his allegorical method of interpretation, Origen claims that the letter of the gospel kills. In addition literal teaching also can hinder the work of the Church.

Jean Daniélou gives an example of Origen’s interest in the literal and historical meaning, saying,

The second Homily on Genesis is a basic text for our purpose. We shall see how Origen both echoes tradition as he knew it and develops the historical outline in which he discusses difficulties raised against the veracity of the story of the Flood, in particular the very limited size of the ark to contain so many species of animals. Apelles, a disciple of Marcion, ironically remarked that it could hardly hold four elephants. Origen sets out to answer this difficulty. This is an important point, for we see that he does not dream of contesting the historicity of the event but falls back on a symbolic interpretation. He lays down first the literal meaning of the text with the help of all the sources at his command. Then only does he pass on to the allegorical meaning. The story of the ark is not, then, just symbolical . There was a real ark which did once float on the waters, typifying the Church of the future, escaping from the flames of the great conflagration to come. Origen is here more literal than many of the literal exegetes of our own day, a point which Pére de Lubac has made clear in his introduction to the Homilies sur la Genese.

Sometimes Origen denies the literal meaning. For example he says, "Could any man of sound judgment suppose that the first, second and third days (of creation) had an evening and a morning, when there were as yet no sun or moon or stars? Could anyone be so unintelligent as to think that God made a paradise somewhere in the east and planted it with trees, like a farmer, or that in that paradise he put a tree of life, a tree you could see and know with your senses, a tree you could derive life from by eating its fruit with the teeth in your head? When the Bible says that God used to walk in paradise in the evening or that Adam hid behind a tree, no one, I think, will question that these are only fictions, stories of things that never actually happened, and that figuratively they refer to certain mysteries." It is the same with the New Testament text which says that Satan took Jesus up a high mountain from which he could see all the kingdoms on earth. So much for the impossible and its symbolical interpretation.

2- People at the higher level should find edification for their souls through the moral meaning, or the lessons of the texts for the will. Jean Daniélou says "it might be said that Origen took from Philo the idea of looking to Scripture for allegories applying to the moral life. This is particularly evident at the beginning of the homilies on Genesis, where the whole of creation is regarded as an allegory of the soul, as the macrocosm of the microcosm. Man and woman are the two parts of the soul. If they are in harmony they have children, i.e., good impulses. The fish, birds, and beasts over which man reigns are the acts proceeding from the heart and soul (the birds) and the desires of the body and movements of the flesh (the fish and the beasts). All this is based on Philo."

In the Homilies on Leviticus, there are several instances of where this moral meaning is emphasized. The moral sense of Scripture speaks to the reason of a person. Reason is the ability to distinguish between good and evil. By offering holy doctrine from God’s word, the priest appeals to the moral sense of his hearers and thus cleanses their consciences.

According to De Lange’s conclusion, commenting on the wider body of Origen’s writing, that "the "moral" sense is not clearly undistinguished from the third [the spiritual]," is undoubtedly correct. Therefore, the second and third levels of meaning in Scripture are closely related in Origen’s understanding.

3- The perfect should be edified by the mystical or spiritual sense in relation to Christ, or the spiritual Law, as it contains the shadow of the blessings to come. Origen's real interest is the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture. "The priest," Origen said explaining Leviticus 1:6 (which mentions skinning the carcass of a sacrificial animal)."is the one who removes the veil of the letter from God's word and bares the members within , which are the elements of a spiritual understanding." For Origen the allegorical meaning is not hard, as he says, "The spiritual interpretation, however, is not so difficult and hard to come by. For the Bride of the Word, the soul who abides in His royal house - that is, in the Church - is taught by the Word of God, who is her Bridegroom, whatsoever things are stored and hidden within the royal court and in the King's chamber."

He recognizes that, as man is composed of body, soul and spirit, in the same way the structure of the Scripture has been planned by God for man's salvation, i.e., the literal, moral, and spiritual senses.

For example, Origen finds in the ark of Noah a materialization to his theory, as it was built of three stages. "In thus ascending by the various stages of accommodation, we arrive at Noah himself, whose name means ‘rest’ and ‘righteous,’ which is Jesus Christ."

a. The bottom serves as the foundation which refers to the literal or the historical explanation of Scripture.

b. The higher is the spiritual or the mystical. In his homilies on the Genesis, he says, "Those who live according to the dictates of the knowledge of the Spirit, and are capable not only of governing themselves, but of instructing others, because they are few in number, are typified by the small number of those saved with Noah, as Jesus Christ, the true Noah, has few who are close to him in relation and intimacy to share in his word and understand wisdom.

c. The middle represents the moral one.

The Scriptures must be interpreted spiritually because they are the work of the Spirit, who unites them in one book, and inspires both writer and reader.

According to Origen the understanding of the Scripture is "the art of arts," and "the science." The words of the Scripture are its body, or the visible element, that hides its spirit, or the invisible element. The spirit is the treasure hidden in a field: hidden behind every word, every letter but even behind every iota used in the written word of God. Thus "every thing in the Scripture is mystery."

This spiritual understanding of the Scripture is a grace given to the perfect believers by Christ. For only those who have the Spirit of Jesus can understand their spiritual meaning, i.e., to enter this chamber of eternal marriage between Christ and the soul.

We obtain this grace through praying, as we must weep and beg the Lord to open our inner eyes like the blind man sitting by the roadside at Jericho (Mat. 20:30). Origen says that we must pray for we are often beside the wells of running water-God's Scripture-and we yet fail to recognize them by ourselves.

Every time Moses is read to us, We should pray to the Father of the Word that the words of psalm: "open my eyes: and I will consider the wondrous things of Your law" (Ps. 118:8) may apply in our case too. Unless he opens our eyes himself, how can we see what great mysteries were wrought in the patriarchs, mysteries variously signified by the images of night, marriage and birth?

The Alexandrian theologians who followed him, from St. Dionysius to St. Cyril, are all to a greater or lesser extent infected with the predilection for allegory; and the same can be said of the Palestinian (Epiphanius was a notable exception) and Cappadocian Fathers.

The School of Antioch came on the scene comparatively late. It had a vigorous reaction against allegorism. Though not completely rejecting allegorical interpretation, used it very sparingly preferring the historical sense.

Through the influence of the Alexandrian theologians the tradition of allegory passed to the West, and is visible in the expository writings, for example, of St. Hillary and St. Ambrose. The greatest of Latin exegetes, St. Jerome, though in his later days he became suspicious of allegorism, accepted Origen’s three senses of Scripture, deeming that recourse to the spiritual meaning was made necessary by the anthropomorphism’s inconsistencies and incongruities with which the Bible abounded. St. Augustine employs allegory with the greatest freedom, delighting particularly in the mystical significance of names and numbers. St. John Cassian, following St. Clement of Alexandria, establishes the division which re-distinguishes four senses, viz. the literal, the allegorical (applying passages to Christ and the Church Militant), the typological or moral (understanding of the soul and its virtues), and the analogical (applying passages to heavenly realities).

 

 

THE ALEXANDRIANS' JUSTIFICATIONS OF ALLEGORICAL INTERPRETATION

As we have already said, St. Clement believes that allegory incites believers to discover the hidden meanings of the Scripture. Alexander Kerrgan says,

Much agreement reigns among the older Alexandrians in regard to the raison d'etre of the spiritual sense. Clement, who was primarily a moralist and an educator, is inclined to emphasize its pedagogical value: the symbols which intimate it pique curiosity and stimulate the mind to discover the words of salvation.

Other scholars state that the biblical authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, used allegory to keep simple Christians from doctrines they are not mature enough to handle and piques the curiosity of the more intelligent and spiritually advanced. Finding the deeper meaning is thus the process by which God gradually leads those to whom He would reveal himself from the sensible to the intelligible world. In this way the genuine gnostic, pondering the obscurer passages of the Bible, takes flight from this world to the other and becomes like God.

Origen discusses two problems which the early Church faced, concerning the Old Testament:

1. The Jews, who stick to the letter of the prophecies of the Old Testament, were expecting that the Messiah would fulfill them literally, such as He must be their King who reigns over the whole world. Therefore, they refused Jesus as the true Messiah, because He does not literally promise the release of captives (Isa. 61:1, rebuild what they take to be the true "City of God," destroy the chariots of Ephraim and the horses of Jerusalem (Zach. 9:10) or eat milk and honey (Isa. 7:22). They could not acknowledge Him as Lord, for they did not see the wolf and the lamb feed together (Isa. 65:25), leopard be at ease with kid, or calf, lion and sheep led together to pasture (Isa. 11:7). Nicolas De Lange states, "It is no exaggeration to say that, for Origen, the whole of the debate between the Church and the Synagogue can be reduced to the one question of an interpretation of the Scriptures. ‘Jesus is the Son of God who gave the law and the prophets,’ and ‘the religion of Moses and the prophetic writings form the introduction to the faith of Christians;’ Christianity is thoroughly rooted in the Jewish Bible. The difference between Judaism and Christianity is that the Christians perceive the mysteries which are only hinted at in the Bible, whereas the Jews are only capable of strictly literal reading of the text."

"Both Jews and Christians," Origen says, "believe that the Bible was written by the Holy Spirit, but we disagree about the interpretation of what is contained in it. Nor do we live like the Jews, since we consider that it is not the literal interpretation of the law which contains the spirit of the legislation."

Elsewhere he says, "We in the Church do not overlook the fact that Jesus is the Son of God who gave the law and the prophets, but while we have avoided the mythologies of the Jews we derive practical wisdom and education from the mystical contemplation of the law and the prophets." Origen often speaks of "Jewish Mythology," a phrase borrowed from Titus 1:14, and he describes the Jewish mythology as "useless" and "fetid." There is no doubt that he means by "Jewish myths" the literal interpretations of the law, indeed "Jewish" can be used simply as a synonym for "literal," but this is an exaggerated and one sided characterization of the Jewish attitude, which is presented as a contrast to Origen’s own, richer interpretation. Indeed, its use is not confined to Jews; he can even apply it to Christians who adopt what is to him a narrow view of the meaning of Scripture.

Origen says, "If therefore both the Lord and God are "Spirit," we ought to hear spiritually those things which the Spirit says."

2. The Gnostics rejected the Old Testament, for they were scandalized by some passages which refer to God as being angry, or that He regretted or changed His mind. They were scandalized because they interpreted them literally and not spiritually. Origen suggests that allusions to anthropomorphism, such as God's anger, are not to be understood literally. "If you hear of God's anger and wrath, do not think of wrath and anger as emotions experienced by God." God is simply accommodating human language to serve the purpose of correcting human faults, as a human father corrects a child. "We too put on a severe face for correcting children, not because that is our true feeling but because we are accommodating ourselves to their level. If we let our kindly feelings show in our face ... we spoil the child." But God is not really wrathful or angry, yet we experience the effects of wrath when we find ourselves in trouble on account of our wickedness, which is the discipline of the "so-called wrath of God."

In Jos. hom 9:8 Origen expresses his position with regard to the Old Testament quite admirably. It represents a system which is done away with. Yet the Church, unlike the Gnostics, does not reject it; she preserves it, simply because it contains the type of Christ. But carnal man, the slave of the letter, is incapable by himself of deciphering this type of Christ. Christ Himself must grant that spiritual understanding by bestowing His own Spirit. This is the reason why a spiritual exegesis is so closely linked with the ideal of a spiritual perfection. "Jesus it is who reads the Law, when he reveals the secrets of the Law. We, who belong to the Catholic Church, do not reject the Law of Moses, but receive it if and when it is Jesus who reads it to us. For it is only if Jesus reads the Law in such wise that through his reading we grasp its spiritual significance, that we correctly understand the Law. Do not think they have grasped the meaning who could say: Was not our heart burning within us when he opened to us the Scriptures, and, beginning at Moses and the Prophets and expounding them all showed that they wrote of him." By linking Joshua’s reading of the Law with Jesus’ reading to the disciples of Emmaus, Origen gives us an exegesis of the Matthew type, which is not usual with him, yet which emphasizes the profound continuity of the Old Testament, the Gospel and the interior Christ who instructs each Christian.

Origen sees that these two groups of people (the Jews and the Gnostics) misinterpreted the Scripture as they held the literal sense exclusively. For this reason he set his theory that there are three various meanings in the Scriptures, the literal, the moral and spiritual meanings.

Alexander Kerrgan writes,

Both he and Origen allude to a reason that is invoked by profane exegetes in justification of the allegorical interpretation of the Homeric poems: the purpose of the higher sense is to explain and transmit Scripture in a manner that is worthy of God.

Origen dwells at length on a third reason: the spiritual sense is justifiable on the grounds that the institutions of the Old Testament prefigured Christ. "In what is written in the law," he writes, "everything is either a figure or an enigma of Christ." The spiritual sense, accordingly, is the expression of the relationship of the Old Testament to the New; it aims at discovering the connections that exist between them. This principle is known to Clement but he invokes it rarely. (As we shall see presently) it is a cardinal principle of St. Cyril’s exegetical method. (We have already noted that) St. Cyril regards the spiritual sense as a hinge on which his theory of the identity of both Testaments hangs. He expresses his views on this point for the first time during a discussion in which he endeavors to harmonize the implications of texts like Mt. 5,17 f. and Phil. 3, 7-9 (which imply that the Mosaic law is still in force) with those of John. 4, 21-24, Gal. 5, 4 f., Heb. 7,18f., 8, 7-10 and 13 (which imply that the law is abolished).

In dealing with St. Cyril's views, Kerrgan further writes,

Three conclusions are reached which, though formulated negatively, are quite positive in their contents:

1. It is a mistake to hold that the law has been abolished to the extent that none of its prescriptions have any force.

2. It is likewise a mistake to think that it is altogether useless; (ta anayxaia), if they are explained, they are still useful.

3. Finally, it is erroneous to claim that the law cannot be used as a proof of the truth.

Three reasons are adduced in support of these conclusions:

1. "the law is a type, shadow, or form of religion that brings forth in childbirth, as it were, the beauty of the truth which is hidden inside."

2. "The law is a teacher that leads beautifully to the mystery concerning Christ."

3. "The law contains the first elements of God's words."

Kerrgan also writes,

On these biblical foundations the Patriarch of Alexandria (St. Cyril) builds his theory of the higher sense of Scripture. We must not lose sight of the fact that this higher sense is primarily a mode of utterance existing in the Scriptures themselves. A few quotations will illustrate this point. "The law brings forth spiritual things in its depths, as it were, and contains the meaning of more subtle ideas in delicate shadows." With regard to the prophecy of Aggeus, Cyril writes: "His discourse is mixed. And the mystical (Sophia) befitting spiritual things is buried in the deeds and utterances of history." "Great spiritual wealth," our author remarks elsewhere, "was pounded into the Mosaic oracles."

Of course, in order that these riches be unearthed, the literal sense must necessarily be superseded. On this subject St. Cyril, apparently, can never say too much." The law is perfect and imperfect at one and the same time. It is perfect, if it is understood spiritually (since it speaks to us of Christ's mystery). But it is imperfect, if the mind of those who are being instructed does not go beyond the letter. The crudity of the letter is only half-knowledge." In another place the Patriarch states that the law, considered precisely as a system of types and shadows, did not constitute food which could be eaten; to become food, it needed to be transformed into an evangelical Sophia and then deflected towards Christ's mystery. Quoting Lev. 19, 23f he endeavors to give a somewhat more artistic finish to these ideas. "...The writings of Moses, since they yield a variegated growth of oracles and are adorned with trees (namely laws concerning each single thing) seem to us to be like most fertile gardens. But you must purify the impurity of each tree, that is to say, you must cut off the worthlessness of history and remove the woodiness of the letter. Then you may reach the heart of the plant, you may investigate the interior fruit of the oracle and make food of it."

Ideas like these St. Cyril hears again and again. The saying of St. Paul "the letter kills but the spirit vivifies" 2 Cor. 3:6 is frequently invoked and made a universal norm. Just one quotation more: "For the letter kills, that is to say, the letter of the law as the wise Paul says. Of itself the shadow is useless. But in regard to us , who understand, the shadow has become most useful, since it enables us to grasp the things of Christ. It has become, as it were, a kind of spiritual rain which irrigates the earth in a certain fashion. If it is true that the ancient law was bitter and unbearable for the ancients, it has become for us a Paidagogos to Christ's mystery, so that we can bring forth fruit in him, by peeling off the thickness of the shadow."

 

 

THE ANTIOCHENE REACTION

There was a reaction against allegorism in Antioch, the ecclesiastical metropolis of Syria, where a tradition of Bible study, with meticulous attention to the text, had been fostered since the days of Lucian of Antioch (martyred A.D 312).

The beginnings of the school of Antioch seem to have been very modest; it never could boast a head like Origen. It was not a regular institution with a continuous secession of teachers, like the Catechetical School of Alexandria, but a theological tendency, more particularly a peculiar type of hermeneutics and exegesis.

The Antiochene Fathers used few typological elements in their writings, since their exegesis reduced this element to a minimum. We noticed that the Alexandrians faced the Hellenic culture, and were obliged to use even their terms to defend the Christian faith and to attract the well-educated pagans and Jews to Christianity. The Antiochenes were strongly influenced by the Jewish literalist tradition of Antioch. They were convinced that the primary level of the interpretation was the historical level. They gave attention to the revisions of the text, a close adherence to the plain, natural meaning according to the use of language and the condition of the writer, and justice to the human factor. In other words, its exegesis is grammatical and historical, in distinction from the allegorical method of the Alexandrian School. Yet, as regards to textual criticism, Lucian followed the steps of Origen. Besides the Antiochenes did have regard for the spiritual sense, and the divine element in the Scriptures.

With regard to prophecies and psalms that were generally understood to be Messianic, the Antiochenes allowed for a fuller sense alongside the historical sense. Thus, they understood passages to refer to Christ, the Church and the spreading of the gospel; but they did this only in certain clearly defined circumstances.

J. Quasten states that the scholars in the two different schools were convinced of a deep-seated discord, a fundamental contradiction, in their respective approaches. At Antioch, the object was to find in Holy Writ its most obvious meaning; at Caesarea or Alexandria the search was for the figures of Christ. The one site accused allegory of destroying the value of the Bible as a record of the past, of travestying it into mythological fable; the other dubbed ‘carnal’ all who clung to the letter. Still between the two there was no absolute opposition; there was even broad agreement on entire traditional exegesis; but special emphasis fell on distinct points of view. For Origen discovers types not just in certain episodes, but in every detail of the inspired word. Each line is filled with mystery. On the other hand, Antioch made it a fundamental principle to see figures of Christ just occasionally, not always, in the Old Testament. Where the resemblance was marked and the analogy clear, only there would it admit a foreshadowing of the Savior. Types were the exception, not the rule; the Incarnation was everywhere prepared, but not everywhere prefigured.

 

Lucian of Antioch: The Arians and Nestorians claimed descent from, or affinity with, Lucian and his school. J. Quasten states "Its (the school of Antioch) rationalistic tendency led to its becoming the womb of heresy; Lucian, its founder, was the teacher of Arius. He was not a prolific writer. St. Jerome refers to his ‘small treatise on faith’ without indication of its contents. He was a Hebrew scholar and corrected the Greek version of the Old Testament from the original. This revision of the Septuagint was adopted by the greater number of the churches of Syria and Asia Minor from Antioch to Byzantium, and was highly esteemed. Large fragments of it are extant in the writings of St. John Chrysostom and Theodoret. Lucian extended his textual criticism to the New Testament also, but limited it most probably to the four Gospels.

Theodoret quotes the following passage from the letter of St. Alexander of Alexandria, ten years after Lucian’s death, which was sent to all the bishops of Egypt, Syria, Asia and Cappadocia.

You yourselves have been instructed by God; you are not unaware that this teaching, which is setting itself up again against the faith of the Church, is the doctrine of Ebion and Artemas; it is the perverse theology of Paul of Samosata, who was expelled from the Church at Antioch by a councilor sentence of bishops from all place; his successor Lucian remained for a long time excommunicated under three bishops; the dregs of the impiety of those heretics have been absorbed by these men who have risen from nothing....., Arius, Achillas, and the whole band of their companions in malice

In fact, Arius and the future upholders of his heresy were educated by Lucian at Antioch. Arius himself boasted of being a pupil of his, called himself a ‘Lucianist,’ and addressed Lucian’s successor, Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, as ‘Collucianist.’ All this indicates that Lucian is the father of Arianism. Thus this heresy has its roots not in Alexandria, where it was first taught, but at Antioch.

The chief theologians concerned with this were Diodore of Tarsus (c.330-c.390). The Exegetical School of Antioch produced one of its greatest scholars and teachers in Diodore of Tarsus. Highly esteemed as a pillar of orthodoxy during his lifetime, he was accused of heresy and condemned as the originator of Nestorianism a century after his death.

Eusebius twice mentions him and his glorious martyrdom, but is silent about his theological opinions. St. Alexander of Alexandria, in an encyclical of 321, associates him with Paul of Samosata and makes him responsible for the Arian heresy; he also says that he was excommunicated or kept aloof from the church during the episcopate of Domnus, Timaeus, and Curillus; intimating that his schismatic condition ceased before his death. The charge brought against him and his followers is that he denied the eternity of the Logos, and the human soul of Christ (the Logos taking the place of the rational soul). Arius and the Arians speak of him as their teacher.

In his exegesis, Diodore follows firmly the historical and grammatical method and strenuously opposes the allegorical interpretation peculiar to the Alexandrian School. He does not look for a hidden meaning in the text, but for the sense intended by the inspired writer.

His best work is his Commentary on the Psalms, which gives a good idea of how Antiochene exegesis is both historical and Christological. David is held to be the author of the Psalms, but, by the gift of prophecy, some of the Psalms refer historically to the times of later kings and prophets, the exile, and even the Maccabean period. His treatment of Psalms 2 and 22 show the two extremes of the Antiochene exegesis. Psalm 2 is about the Lord Jesus Christ, and tells how the Jews handed Him over to Herod and Pilate, how He will save those who believe in Him, and how He will crush those who do not believe. Against this thoroughly Christological interpretation of Psalm 2, Diodore firmly rejects the idea that Psalm 22 has anything to do with Christ in spite of the use of the words of Jesus when He was on the Cross in the opening lines of the Psalm.

In Diodore’s formula ‘We do not forbid the higher interpretation and theoria, for the historical narrative does not exclude it, but is on the contrary the basis and substructure of loftier insights... We must, however, be on our guard against letting the theoria do away with the historical basis, for the result would then be, not theoria, but allegory.’

Theodore of Mopsuestia (c. 350-428): Diodore’s pupil, Theodore, was like his teacher born at Antioch. He studied rhetoric and literature under the famous sophist Libanius, in whose school he began his lifelong friendship with St. John Chrysostom. Highly esteemed by his contemporaries but condemned as a heretic 125 years after his death, he shared the fate of his master Diodore of Tarsus. He is the most typical representative of the Antiochene school of exegesis and by far its most famous author. His works show that he was much more restrained in using the Christological interpretation of the Old Testament.

Photius seems acquainted only with an interpretation of Genesis. He states in his very biased report:

Read the work of Theodore of Antioch entitled Commentary on Genesis, the first book which contains seven volumes. The style is neither brilliant nor very clear. The author avoids the use of allegory as much as possible, being only concerned with the interpretation of history. He frequently repeats himself, and produces a disagreeable impression upon the reader. Although he lived before Nestorius, he vomits up his doctrines by anticipation. This is that Theodore of Mopsuestia, from whom on several occasions John Philoponus demanded a serious explanation of his method of interpretation in his own work on the Creation.

Theodore is the first interpreter to insist that the Psalms must be read against a historical background. He recognizes the Davidic authorship of all the Psalms but at the same time is convinced that the context and setting of many of the Psalms are altogether unsuitable to David. His solution to this problem is that those Psalms which reflect another period were written by David, but as a prophet revealing the future state of Israel. Thus he classifies the Psalms chronologically from David to the Maccabees. He maintains that the prophetic horizon of David did not reach further than the Maccabees, and that there is consequently no direct Messianic message in the Psalms. He justifies the Messianic use in the New Testament as an accommodation. But he recognizes four exceptions: Ps. 2; 8; 44; 109. Though he does not regard even these as properly Messianic in the sense of referring to the future prepared for the chosen people, he explains the Messianic interpretations proposed by the allegorical school of Alexandria which violate his sound principle that each Psalm must be treated as a literary whole and that a verse cannot be divorced from its context.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (c.393-c.460): His exegetical works deal with a large number of the Old Testament books. These works shows the Antiochene attitude in the method of interpretation.

The practical illustrations of the Antiochene method are to be found in the sermons of the other great representative of this School St. John Chrysostom (c.347-407), who is furthermore deeply rooted in the common tradition and furnishes a large number of typical interpretations.

The sermons of St. John Chrysostom give evidence of his strict and intelligent training in the tenets of that School. Always anxious to ascertain the literal sense and opposed to allegory, he combines great facility in discerning the spiritual meaning of the Scriptural text with an equal ability for immediate, practical application to the guidance of those committed to his care. The depth of his thought and the soundness of his masterful exposition are unique and attract even modern readers. He is equally at home in the books of the Old and the New Testaments and has the skill to use even the former for the conditions of the present and the problems of daily life.

He combines the historical interpretation of his predecessors with doctrinal and didactic gifts.

St. John Chrysostom brings out the same point when he divides Scriptural statements into:

a. those which allow a ‘theoretical’ in addition to the literal sense,

b. those which are to be understood solely in the literal sense, and

c. those which admit only of a meaning other than the literal, i.e. allegorical statements.

Valid though this contrast is, it should not be pressed to the extent of overlooking the underlying unity, at the deeper level of typology, of the fathers ’approach to the Scriptural revelation. There is general agreement about cardinal issues, such as that Adam, or again Moses the law-giver, in a real sense, foreshadowed Christ; the flood points to baptism, and also to the judgment; all the sacrifices of the old law, but in a pre-eminent way the sacrifice of Isaac, are anticipations of that of Calvary; the crossing of the Red sea and the eating of manna looks forward to baptism and the Eucharist; the fall of Jericho prefigured the end of the world. The list of correspondences could be expanded almost indefinitely, for the fathers were never weary of searching them out and dwelling on them. They unanimously believe that what Origen calls the Jewish mystery (or dispensation) in its entirety’ was, as it were, a rehearsal of the Christian mystery. Alexandria, famous in the late second and third centuries for its Matt school, became the home of allegorical exegesis, with the great Biblical scholar, Origen, as its leading exponent.

Despite differences of emphasis among the Antiochene Fathers, the whole believed that allegory was an unreliable, indeed illegitimate, instrument for interpreting Scripture. The true key to its deeper spiritual message where this was not already fully explicit, as in genuine prophecy, was what they called ‘insight.’ By this they meant the power of perceiving, in addition to the historical facts set out in the text, a spiritual reality to which they applied themselves to indicate. Thus they accepted typology proper indeed, the classic definition of a type as ‘a prophecy expressed in terms of things’ was framed by Chrysostom but tried to rescue it from being exploited arbitrarily. For theoria to operate they considered it necessary

a. that the literal sense of the sacred narrative should not be abolished,

b. that there should be a real correspondence between the historical fact and the further spiritual object discerned, and

c. that these two objects should be apprehended together, though of course in different ways.

 

V V V

 

EXAMPLES OF

THE ALEXANDRIAN

ALLEGORY AND TYPOLOGY

 

The following is an attempt to give a clear picture of Alexandrian allegory and typology through some examples. Although it is extremely hard task to do; it is considered worthwhile.

 

 

 

THE NUMBERS

 

The mystical significance of numbers was developed especially at Alexandria, beginning with Philo and developed by Origen. Jean Daniélou gives signs of Origin’s dependence on Philo, saying,

The third sign... is to be seen in the way he treats symbolism in certain cases. One thing, however, needs pointing out in this connection, and that is that there is a certain amount of numerical symbolism in the Bible itself, where it often constitutes the literal meaning of the text. The use of the number seven is a case in point. It is clear that there is a feeling for symbolism in the Bible; it is discernible, for instance, in the story of creation. Hence, when Origen says that the "number six seems to denote effort and labor and the number seven to signify rest," he is proceeding on the same lines as Scripture itself. But when referring to the number fifty, Pentecost and the number one hundred, which he takes to denote fullness, he says, "The people who were refreshed by (= resting in, ) the food that Jesus gave them had to be in groups of a hundred - which is a sacred number, dedicated to God because of the monad in it - or in groups of fifty, a number signifying remission, as you can see from Pentecost and the mystery of the Jubilee, which took place every fifty years," he is combining the legitimate symbolism of the Bible with pagan symbolism. It is true that fifty is a symbol of forgiveness in the Old Testament, both in the case of the Jubilee and in the case of the annual celebration of Pentecost. And Origen may very likely be right when he claims to find the same thing in the New Testament. But when he takes a hundred as a symbol of perfection, he is inserting into this genuine symbolism a kind of symbolism which is based on external considerations and foreign to the text. The idea that a hundred is the holy number par excellence is in fact embedded deep in Hellenistic tradition...

St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Caesarius of Arles and others borrowed their numerical symbolism from Origen.

 

 

* Number 2 = The two Testaments

Concerning the sacrifice of peace, the priest eats the meat through two days (Lev. 7:17). Origen comments, "To the best of my understanding, I think in these two days the two Testaments can be understood." In other words, through the two Testaments we can participate in the spiritual sacrifice of peace, joy and thanksgiving. The holy Scripture reveals God’s pleasure in believers, and the believers’ joy with their God.

For St. Augustine number two refers to love. He says,

The precepts of love, given to us by the Lord, are two: "You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind;" and, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:37-40). With good reason did the widow cast " two mites;" all her substance, into the offerings of God. With good reason did the host take "two" pieces of money for the poor man who was wounded by the robbers. Jesus spent two days with the Samaritans, to establish them in love.

 

* Number 3 = The Holy Trinity, the resurrection of Christ, the three kinds of sin, and the three elements of man.

Abraham knew that he prefigured the type of things to come, he knew Christ would be born of his seed, to be offered as a true victim for the whole world and the resurrection of the dead... He arrived at the place to which the Lord had directed him on the third day (Gen. 22:4). The third day is always a fit one for mysteries. When the people went forth from Egypt they offered sacrifice to God on the third day (Exod. 3:18), and the Lord’s Resurrection is on the third day.

Origen sees in these three days which precede the Passover the Paschal "triduum" of the Lord.

Pharaoh did not allow the children of Israel to go forward to the place of signs, and wished to prevent them advancing till they could enjoy the mysteries of the third day. Hear what says the Prophet: "The Lord will revive us after two days: on the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight."

The first day is for us the Lord’s passion;

the second that of the descent into hell, and

the third that of the Resurrection.

That is why, on this third day, God will go before them, by day a pillar of cloud, and by night a pillar of fire. If, according to what we said above, the Apostle rightly teaches us that these words enshrine the mystery of baptism, then it will follow that "those who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized into his death and buried together with him" (Rom 6:3), and rise with him on the third day. When you have made your own the mystery of the third day, God will begin to lead you and himself to show you the way of salvation.

By the "Mystery" of the three days Origen is able to harmonize the crossing of the Red Sea with the general theology of Baptism as a sharing in the death and Resurrection of Christ. Later he sees in the pursuit of the Egyptians a stereotype of the devils straining to keep the soul from Baptism.

Through the trip of the wilderness, the camp of the people was divided into four divisions, each one consisted of three tribes (Num. 2). According to Origen, it was a symbol of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He States that the inhabitants of the four corners of the world are censured by the Holy Trinity alone, those who call God and sit with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the Heaven (Matt. 8:11).

 

Number 3 refers also to the three kinds of sin.

Man’s way of sinning is three fold: sin is committed in deed, or in word or in thought.

What is the "journey of three days" which we are to go, that going out from Egypt we can arrive at the place in which we ought to sacrifice? I understand "way" to refer to him who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."(John 14.6.) We are to go this way for three days. For he who "has confessed with his mouth the Lord Jesus and believed in his heart that God raised him from the dead" on the third day, "will be saved" (Cf. Rom 10:9). This, therefore, is "the way of three days" by which one arrives at the place in which the "sacrifice of praise"(Cf. Ps. 49.14.) is sacrificed and offered to the Lord. What we have said pertains to the mystical meaning.

But if we also require a place for the moral meaning which is very useful for us, we travel a "journey of three days" from Egypt if we thus preserve ourselves from all filth of soul, body, and spirit, that, as the Apostle said, "our spirit and soul and body may be kept whole in the day of Jesus Christ"(1 Thess 5:23). We travel a "journey of three days" from Egypt if, ceasing from worldly things we turn our rational, natural, moral wisdom to the divine laws. We travel a "journey of three days" from Egypt if, purifying our words, deeds, or thoughts - for these are the three things by which men can sin - we would be made "pure in heart" so that we could "see God" (Cf. Matt. 5:8).

 

* Numbers 5, 50, 250, and 500

And the number five hundred, or two hundred and fifty, either contains the mystery of the five senses perfected a hundred-fold in Him; or else, as being the pardonable number, fifty multiplied five times, it signifies the remission of sins that is bestowed through Him.

St. Augustine like Origen believes that number five refers to the five senses. However he gives another explanation to number fifty, as he says,

The number of fifty is made up by multiplying 7 by 7, with the addition to 1, for 7 times 7 makes 49. (Number 7 refers to perfection, for on the seventh day God rested after the creation) And the 1 is added to show that there is one who is expressed by seven on account of His sevenfold operation; and we know that it was on the fiftieth day after our Lord’s resurrection that the Holy Spirit was sent, for whom the disciples were commanded to wait according to the promise (Acts 4; 2:2-4).

* Number 10

Now the number ten is a sacred one, not a few mysteries being indicated by it.

* Numbers 22, 273 and 1000

According to Origen, the Levites were counted (Num. 3). The count of all the males a month old and upwards. They were 22,000. The numeral 22 coincides with the number of the Hebrew Alphabet, the numeral 1000 is a symbol of heaven. As if their work was to register the names of all the people in a heavenly language so that everyone may share in the heavenly glory.

The number of the firstborns from all the people of Israel was 22,273. The 273 souls were left uncompensated for. For the redemption of each one of them, 5 golden shekels were to be presented to Aaron and his sons. The numeral 273 is a symbol of our redemption through baptism or spiritual birth. The physical birth requires the fetus to remain two hundred and seventy days in his mother's womb (9 X 30 = 270), and this spiritual birth is accomplished by 3 immersions. As for the five shekels they symbolize the sanctification of the five senses, so that we may resemble the five wise virgins (Matt. 25).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Number 25

Origen states that the Levites start their work at age 25, spending five years for attaining their experience (Num. 4). Number 25 denotes the perfect sanctification of the five senses (both spiritual and physical: (5 X 5 = 25).

 

 

* Number 300

With regard to these foxes (Judges 15:3-5) that differ from and disagree with one another, however, the number three hundred itself signifies that there are three kinds of sins. For every sin is committed either in deed, or in word, or by the consent of the mind.

Jean Daniélou says,

The length (of the ark of Noah) of 300 cubits unites 100 and 3.

The number 100 indicated fullness and "contains the mystery of the totality of the Spiritual creation, as we read in the Gospel, when it is said that a man having a hundred sheep and losing one of them left the ninety-nine others and went to seek the lost one.... This ‘hundredth,’ the fullness of Spiritual creation, does not subsist of itself, but proceeds from the Trinity and receives from the Father, through the Son and Holy Spirit, the length of life, that is the grace of immortality; it is because of this multiplied by three, so that having fallen from the ‘hundred’ through ignorance, it is restored in the three hundred by the knowledge of the Trinity."

The breadth has fifty cubits, "because that number is consecrated to redemption and remission." It is the interpretation already given by Clement and comes from Philo.

The number thirty contains the same "mystery" as 300. Finally, the top of the building leads to the number one because ‘one God is Father and Lord ; there is one faith of the Church and one baptism" and "all things hasten to the one end of divine perfection." Origen has worked out his own theology in these mysteries of the ark as Clement has previously worked out his.

 

V V V

 

 

THE NAMES

 

Ronald E. Heine says, "Etymological exegesis of names is one of the techniques of Origen's allegorical interpretation of Scripture. This is his attempt to draw spiritual significance from the meaning of the names of various persons and places in the Scriptural narrative by relating the names to words from which they are derived or, what is often the case, which they resemble."

 

 

* Aaron and his sons = Christ and His apostles

Origen states that our Lord Jesus Christ is "Aaron," and His apostles are the sons of Aaron. According to Lev. 10:9, they do not drink wine or strong drink when they go into the Tent of Witness or when they approach the Altar. In other words they cannot rejoice while we are in iniquity, and are in need of Christ’s redeeming work and the apostles’ ministry.

According to the authority of the Apostle Paul, our Lord and Savior is called "the High-priest of the good things to come" Heb. 9:11. Thus, this one is "Aaron," but "his sons" are His apostles to whom He Himself was saying, "My little children.." John 13:33...

Let us now see how our Savior drinks no wine "until He drinks it" with the saints "anew in the kingdom of God" (Matt. 26:29).

My Savior even now laments my sins. My Savior cannot rejoice while I continue in iniquity. Why not? Because He is "an Advocate for our sins before the Father," as John, his fellow priest, proclaims, saying that "if anyone should sin, we have an Advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous; and He Himself is the Propitiation for our sins" (1 John 2:1-2)....

As long as we do not act so that we may ascend to the kingdom, He cannot drink alone the wine which He promised to drink with us. Therefore, He is in sorrow as long as we persist in error.

 

* Agar and Sara

For Origen the opposition of Agar and Sara is not the opposition of two historical peoples. It is rather a stereotype of the interior conflict which goes on in each individual Christian. The historical conflict becomes that of Jew and Christian which each of us bears in himself. Thus the history of nations becomes the history of the individual soul, a transposition along the lines of authentic typology.

 

 

 

 

 

* Balaamý

From the symbolic aspect, Origen believes that the angel who appeared to Balaam, depicts the Angel of God who was leading His people (Exod. 23:43), while Balaam represents the non-believers, his name denotes "vain people." As for the donkey it refers to the simple Church that serves non-believers. The Church that reveals to them what they cannot perceive.

 

 

* Bethabara

They say that Bethabara is pointed out on the banks of the Jordan, and that John is said to have baptized there. The etymology of the name, too, corresponds with the baptism of him who made ready for the Lord a people prepared for Him; for it yields the meaning "House of preparation," while Bethany means "House of obedience."

* Etham (Exod. 13:21) = signs for them

Etham, they say, is translated in our language as "signs for them," and rightly so, for here you will hear it said: "God was preceding them by day in a column of cloud and by night in a column of fire" (Exod. 13:21). You do not find this done at Ramesse nor at Socoth, which is called the second encampment for those departing. It is the third encampment in which divine signs occur. Recollect what was read above when Moses said to Pharaoh, "We will go a journey of three days in the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God" (Exod. 5:3). This was the three days to which Moses was hastening and Pharaoh was opposing, for he said, "You shall not go far"(Exod. 8:28 [LXX 8:24]). Pharaoh would not permit the children of Israel to reach the place of signs; he would not permit them to advance so that they could enjoy fully the mysteries of the third day. Hear what the prophet says: "God will revive us after two days, and on the third day we will arise and live in his sight" (Hos. 6:2). The first day is the passion of the Savior for us. The second is the day on which he descended into hell. The third day is the day of resurrection (Cf. Matt. 16.21). Therefore, on the third day "God went before them, by day in a column of cloud, by night in a column of fire" (Cf. Exod. 13:21).

* Jacob and Esau

Since Jacob now stands for the Church, Esau, the older brother, will represent the Jews. Origen comments on Genesis 25:23: "How the one people (the Church) has overcome the other (the Synagogue), and how the elder is the servant of the younger, is known even to the Jews, although they do not believe it." The implication of the last words is that the argument is familiar to the Jews, but that they do not realize that it works against themselves. Again, read Jacob as a symbol for the Church, Origen finds new meaning for the sheep won from Laban.

 

 

* Jesus and Joshua

Origen notes that this name appears for the first time in Exod. 17:9, when Moses sends Joshua to fight against Amalek:

We meet the name of Jesus for the first time when we see him as head of the army. From this first acquaintance with the name of Jesus I learn the mystery of its symbolism (sacramentum mysterii): Jesus is the leader of the army."

 

 

* Moses = The Law

This Church, therefore, coming from the Gentiles finds Moses in the marsh lying cast off by his own people and exposed, and gives him out to be reared. He is reared by his own family and spends his childhood there. When, however, "he has grown stronger" (Exod. 2:10), he is brought to her and adopted as a son. We have already frequently argued in many places that the Law is referred to as Moses.

The Church, therefore, coming to the waters of baptism, also took up the Law.

The Law, however, had been enclosed in "a basket" and smeared with pitch and "bitumen" (Cf. Exod. 2:3). The "basket" is a kind of covering woven together from twigs or papyrus or even formed from the bark of trees.

The infant placed within this basket was seen exposed. The Law, therefore, was lying helpless enclosed in coverings of this kind, besmeared with pitch and bitumen. It was dirty and enclosed in cheap and offensive meanings of the Jews until the Church should come from the Gentiles and take it up from the muddy and marshy places and appropriate it to itself within courts of wisdom and royal houses.

This Law, however, spends its childhood with its own people. With those who are not able to understand it spiritually. It is little, an infant, and has milk as its food. But when Moses comes to the Church, when he enters the house of the Church, he grows stronger and more robust. For when the veil of the letter is removed "perfect and solid food" (Cf. Heb 5:12-14) is discovered in its text.

But let us also take up the Law of God to ourselves when we come to the waters even if we had Pharaoh as father, even if "the prince of the world" (John 16:11) begot us in evil works.

Let not its cheap and obscure cover of the letter be despised by us. Let us give up what is small and milky. Let us take up what is perfect and robust and let us set these up within the royal dwellings of our heart.

Let us have Moses large and strong. Let us think nothing small, nothing lowly about him, but let him be totally magnificent, totally distinguished, totally elegant. For whatever is spiritual, whatever of elevated understanding is great in every respect. And let us pray our Lord Jesus Christ that he himself might reveal and show us in what manner Moses is great and elevated (Cf. Exod. 11:3). For he himself "reveals" it to whom he wishes "by the Holy Spirit" (Cf. 1 Cor 2:10). "To him belong glory and sovereignty forever and ever. Amen."(Cf. 1 Pet. 4:11).

 

* Og

Victory over Ogý (crookedness), the king of Bashan "Shame." So we destroy every distorted thought that will deter us from preoccupying ourselves with heavenly matters, and every disgrace is removed, consequently we enter into the inner divine glory.

 

 

* Sara = princess (royal virtue)

I think that Sara which is interpreted "princess" or having the sovereignty is the type of virtue, because virtue is in the mind. That is true virtue which lives with a wise and faithful husband. That is why God said to Abraham, ‘In all that Sara has said to you, hearken to her voice’: words which do not fit a merely carnal marriage.

 

* Sephora and Phua

The king of Egypt called Sephora and Phua, the midwives and asked them to kill the Hebrew males and preserve the males; but they disobeyed him for they feared God. According to Origen "Sephora" means a "sparrow," and "Phua" means either "blushing" or "modest." The two midwives also refer to the Two testaments.

For one midwife is like a sparrow who teaches lofty things and calls forth souls to fly to the heights on rational wings of instruction. The other, who is blushing or modest, is moral. She regulates morals, teaches modesty, and institutes integrity.

It seems to me, however, since Scripture says of these women, "Because they feared God, they did not carry out the command of the king of Egypt" (Exod. 1:17), that the two midwives serve as a figure of the two Testaments. "Sephora," which is translated as sparrow, can be applied to the Law which "is spiritual" (Cf. Rom 7 ;14). But "Phua," who is blushing or modest, indicates the Gospels which are red with the blood of Christ and glow reddish through the whole world by the blood of His passion. The souls, therefore, which are born in the Church are attended by these Testaments as if by midwives, because the entire antidote of instruction is conferred on them from the reading of the Scriptures.

But let us apply these words also to ourselves. If you too fear God, you do not carry out the command of the king of Egypt. For he commands you to live in pleasure, to love the present world, to desire present things (Cf. 1 John 2:15-16). If you fear God and perform the office of midwife for your own soul, if you desire to confer salvation on it, you do not do these things. You keep alive the male which is in you. You attend and assist your inner man(Cf. 2 Cor 4:16) and seek eternal life for him by good actions and understandings.

 

 

* Sihon

According to Origen, Sihon (Num. 21:12-30) means "haughty" and "barren." He refers to the devil, the king of the Amorites "bitterness." He is the king of the evil world (John 14:30; 12:31), who grants sinners a kind of bitterness. He resists God's peace, so he ends up being defeated. As for the battle field it was called Jahaz "the fulfillment of the commandment," where we are triumphant (Jer. 6:16), by the blade of the Spirit which is God's word (Eph. 6:17). Hence we occupy all his land from Arnon to Jabbok (i.e. from the curses up to the struggles, we enter into the land of curses, and we struggle until it is superseded by blessings), and we occupy Heshbon , meaning "reckoning or thought" moreover we recover our ideology after it had been under the proud enemy's control.

 

V V V

 

 

THE EVENTS

 

* Adam

Just as through having Adam as the first example, the head, of our natural mode of birth, we are all said to have in this respect one body, even so do we register Christ as our head through the divine regeneration of his death and resurrection which has become a pattern for us.

* The coat of skin

Origen states that the Fall has caused man to put on the garments of mortality and of frailty. These are the "coats of skin" (Gen. 3:21) made by God for Adam and Eve when they were being expelled from Paradise. Following Philo and the Gnostics, who had interpreted the coats of skin as bodies, Origen sees the Fall not simply as a moral but as a metaphysical event. The Fall means that man enters a world which is separate from God, and takes on a dual nature of spirit and of flesh because he is now clothed in a physical body.

 

 

* Ark of Noah

Jean Daniélou says,

We noted (previously) that Noah is considered explicitly as a type of Christ... Origen cites Gen. 5:29: "he shall comfort us concerning our work and toil." But he adds that this cannot apply to Noah. "How can it be true that Noah will give rest to Lamech or to the people then on earth, or how was there in the time of Noah an end to the sadness, or how was the crude upon the earth lifted (Gen 5:29), seeing that the divine anger was revealed as very great.....But if you consider our Lord Jesus Christ of whom it is said: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sin of the world’ and ‘Come to me, all you that labor, and I will refresh you’, you will find that it is he who has truly given rest to the world and freed man from that curse"...

Origen next deals with the building of the ark: "It is to this spiritual Noah who has given rest to man and taken away the sin of the world that the order was given to build the ark with square columns." These square columns indicate firmness according to an idea which comes from Philo, and which we have found in Clement of Alexandria. Origen sees in this a type of the Doctors of the Church who fight against the assaults of the heretics. This idea is always present in the "Gnostic" point of view.

* Drawing water from a well = depth of knowledge

Rebecca came with the other women to draw water from the well and because she came every day to the well, it was possible for her to be found by Abraham’s servant and married to Isaac. You think that these are myths, and that the Holy Spirit only records history in the Scriptures. Here is an instruction for the soul and spiritual teaching which instructs you to come daily to the wells of the Scriptures... All that has been written, points to mysteries: Christ wishes to wed you, too, and for that reason sends his servant to you. This servant is the word of the prophets. You cannot be wed to Christ, if you have not at first received him.

Origen borrows from Philo this symbolism of the wells as the "depths of knowledge," and gives it quite a different significance.

 

 

* The souls who descended into Egypt with Jacob (Exod. 1:5) = The spiritual birth in Jesus Christ through the Gospel.

Those are the souls which Jacob begot. I do not think that any man can beget a soul unless, perhaps, he be someone like that man who said, "For although you have many thousand teachers in Christ, you have not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus I begot you through the Gospel."(1 Cor. 4.15.) Such are those men who beget and give birth to souls, as he says elsewhere, "My little children, with whom I am in labor again, until Christ be formed in you."(Gal. 4.19.) For others either do not wish to have the trouble of this kind of begetting or are not able. In short, what did Adam himself say at the beginning? "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh."(Gen. 2.23.) He does not add, however, "and soul of my soul."