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cular explanations; and if they have erred, it has been in the littleness and unworthiness of their conceptions; the higher their conceptions have been, the more have they approached to the sublimity and infinity of God's works.
But it might be said, that this mode of interpretation has arisen from the nature of the Hebrew language, in which each word contains many deep and ulterior meanings, which may be considered as types of each other. But this observation will, in fact, lead us to the same conclusion of its Divine character; it is indeed only going further into the subject, sending us back one step more in tracing the chain which reaches from God's throne. For if the sacred language which the ALMIGHTY has chosen in order to reveal Himself to mankind is of this typical nature, it proves that such is the language of GOD; that in numerous analogies and resemblances, differing in time, importance, and extent, but with one drift and scope, He is used to speak to us, blending figure with word spoken.
But when we come to the matter of fact as proved by the Scriptures themselves, the principle itself must be allowed as right, whatever limitations men may prescribe to the application or use of it. It is very evident how much our blessed LORD has Himself pointed out to us these deep and latent meanings, where we could not otherwise have ventured to suppose them to exist; as, for instance, in the sign of the prophet Jonah, and the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness. And in almost all His references to the Old Testament, our LORD has led us to seek for mines of secret information disclosed to the eye of Faith beyond the letter.
And it is to be observed, that Scripture has not generally pointed out to us those instances in which an allegorical interpretation is most obvious and important, but often those in which it is less so; as if, thereby, it rather suggested to us a general law than afforded any direction respecting its limit and extent. If from our LORD's own example we pass to the writings of St. Paul, it is needless to mention the numerous striking instances in which he has unfolded to us the spiritual and high senses of the Old Testament. And passing from Apostles to Apostolical
writers, we find the same system acknowledged, as it were incidentally, but almost universally. To say nothing of Barnabas's Epistle, and its peculiar character in this respect, which must have great weight, as being the testimony of primitive antiquity, even though it be not apostolical, nor written by the companion of St. Paul, who has been called the great μvoraywyóc, even Clement of Rome, though his Epistle does not much admit of such allusions, yet has at least one remarkable instance of the kind, where he speaks of the scarlet thread held out by the harlot Rahab, as conveying a sign of " the blood of our LORD, by which there is redemption to all who trust and hope in GOD."
With regard therefore to this system of interpretation, we have in many instances Divine authority for it; and beyond where we have this authority, it might be thought that we have no sanction for such applications and explanations: in which case, it would be similar to the moral principles or doctrines that are deduced from Holy Scripture, which may be said to flow more or less clearly from the Word itself, and to be supported by analogy, natural consequence, or agreement with other passages; and these to be decided by the judgment of individuals, and that natural weight of authority which we allow to be due to the opinions of great and good men. But further than this, as with regard to moral principles of doctrine, so also with respect to such particular interpretations, it is perhaps the case, (as it has been well observed,) that for some of them there may be such a concurrent testimony in early and distinct Churches as to amount to a Catholic consent, which consent would of course have the same kind of sacred authority as would attend a similar agreement with respect to doctrine.
But all that is here required to be proved is, first, that such a mode of interpretation is that of the Universal Church; and secondly, that it is implied thereby that it is God's mode of dealing with mankind. And here again, as in the case of the Disciplina, the argument does not depend upon any vindication of the manner in which it may have been pursued in some cases. Even were it granted that the interpretations of Origen, Ambrose, and others were fanciful and untenable, as perhaps they sometimes are,
yet it cannot be supposed that they were wrong in the general principle of interpretation, but in the effort of human understanding to fathom the depths of Divine wisdom in the particular instance. There may be much beyond the letter, but it may be presumption in uninspired man to say what it is," Let God be true, but every man a liar." Sufficient for our purpose it is, that such a method of considering Holy Writ is Catholic, not to say Apostolical and Divine.
9. Reverence and caution observable in the Fathers.
The mode in which it is spoken of by so early a writer as St. Irenæus, is important; he is condemning fanciful expositions of the parables, proving thereby that it was an error that age was liable to, and, in so doing, thoroughly acknowledges the principle in the light in which we consider it, viz., that this knowledge is not to be attained by mere natural acuteness or critical sagacity, that God is throughout the teacher, that man is to wait on and reverently to learn of Him. "Those things," he says, "in Scripture which we cannot discover we ought to leave to GOD, being most fully assured that the Scriptures are perfect, for they are spoken by the WORD of GOD and His SPIRIT, but we as the last and the least in His WORD and in His SPIRIT, must need His help for the knowledge of those mysteries. And it is not to be wondered at if in things spiritual and heavenly, and which are the subjects of Revelation, this should be the case, since even in those things which are before our feet (such as are in the natural creation, which are handled and seen by us and dwell about us) many things escape our knowledge, and these we commit to GOD." After mentioning some particulars of this kind in the natural world, he says, "If therefore in the natural creation some things are laid up with GOD, and some come to our knowledge, where is the difficulty in supposing this to be the case in those things which we seek to know in Scripture, since all the Scriptures are spiritual, and that some things according to the grace of God we should explain, and that others should be laid up with Him? So that God should be throughout the teacher, and man throughout
should be learning of Him." "If therefore in the manner which I have mentioned we will lay up some of our questions with GOD, we shall persevere in maintaining our faith, and continue without danger, and find all scripture which God has given us, to be in harmony. The parables will harmonize with things spoken openly, and things openly spoken explain the parables, and in variety of statement we shall perceive within us but a multiplicity of voices, combining together to form one accordant and harmonious melody."
This passage serves very admirably to set before us the very reverent and holy manner in which the Fathers looked on this principle of interpretation: and St. Augustine may speak for another age, in thoughts very similar, and alike expressive of the general tone of feeling in the Ancient Church on this subject. "Expect not," he says, to hear from us those things which the LORD was then unwilling to say to His disciples, for as yet they could not bear them; but rather advance in charity, which is diffused in your hearts through the HOLY SPIRIT which is given you; that, being fervent in spirit, and loving spiritual things, ye may be able to discern the spiritual light and spiritual voice which men cannot bear; not by any sign appearing unto your bodily eyes, nor by any sound which is heard by bodily ears, but by the inward sight and hearing. For that is not loved which is altogether unknown. But when that is loved which is known, in howsoever small a part, then by that very love itself it is effected, that it should be better and more fully known. If therefore ye advance in charity, which the HOLY SPIRIT sheds in your heart, He will teach you all truth:""not altogether in this life," he afterwards adds, "but so far in this life, as shall be a pledge of fulness hereafter." (In Joan. Evang. Tract. xcvii. vol. iii. p. 2338.) Thus, it is well known, St. Augustine and others often speak. All imply a certain reverential sobriety to be most needful in approaching God's word, lest we obtain harm instead of benefit thereby. In another passage, the same writer has occasion to condemn, like St. Irenæus, those who otherwise attempted that knowledge. "The Evangelical Sacraments," he says, "which are signified in the sayings and actions of our LORD JESUS CHRIST,
are not open to all, and some by interpreting them with too little diligence, and too little soberness, obtain oftentimes destruction instead of safety, and error instead of the knowledge of truth." (Lib. de Div. Quæst. lxxxiii. vol. vi. p. 80.) In another place St. Augustine speaks to the same effect. "By many," he says, "and manifold obscurities and ambiguities are they deceived who read carelessly, conceiving one thing for another; but in some places they find not enough even to suggest false surmises; so obscurely do some things envelope themselves in thickest darkness. All of which, I doubt not, is a Divine provision, in order to subdue pride by labour, and to recall the intellect from its fastidiousness, to which those things generally appear mean which are easily investigated." (De Doct. Chris. lib. ii. vol. iii. p. 49.) And again, "Now no one doubts that both objects become known to us with greater delight by means of similitudes, and things that are sought for with some difficulty are discovered with more pleasure. Magnificently therefore, and healthfully for us, hath the HOLY SPIRIT SO adapted the sacred Scriptures, as to satisfy our hunger by passages more manifest, and by those that are more obscure to prevent fastidiousness. For generally out of those obscurities nothing is elicited, but is elsewhere more plainly spoken."
10. Reserve in Revelation not confined to God's Word. But the principle upon which ancient writers explain Scripture they do not apply to that alone, but to all the ways of GOD, and frequently connect this also with our LORD's conduct. It is not Holy Writ only with them, but the visible creation also, and natural providence, and sacramental mysteries, which are the veils of Divinity, through which and by which the ALMIGHTY speaks darkly to His creatures, concealing or disclosing Himself as they are found worthy. The words, by which they speak of these, might be applied also to what has been stated of our SAVIOUR'S Conduct when manifested in the flesh.
Thus Chrysostom, in speaking of the Christian mysteries, applies to them words which he might at another time use of Holy Scripture, or of our LORD as seen through the veil of the flesh,