De Lubac points out that the organic connection of the allegorical, moral and analogical senses means that we have fundamentally a twofold division here between the literal and the allegorical, and (with reason) traces this twofold division back to Origen …

A twofold distinction between the literal and the allegorical, the letter and the spirit, shadow and reality, the old and the new: this is, in fact, de Lubac insists, the distinction between the two testaments, the old and the new – this is the fundamental contrast that lies behind the distinction between the literal and the allegorical. Distinction, or perhaps better: movement, for it is the movement from old to new, a movement of fulfilment, not of change simply, or progress. Rather it is a movement to the new not simply as novum, but as novum et aeternum, as novissimum, the last; it is this movement that is accomplished in the transition from the literal to the allegorical. A movement of fulfilment: and it is in Christ that we find this fulfilment, it is Christ who fulfils the old, it is Christ in whom the hints and guesses of the old are realized in the reality of the new and eternal. The movement from the literal sense to the allegorical is a movement of understanding the mystery which the facts revealed by the literal sense disclose.

Andrew Louth, Discerning the Mystery. An Essay on the Nature of Theology, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1983). 117.

Father Louth proceeds to discuss how the different senses of Scripture have been understood historically. The best known schema is that presented by Origen in De Principiis which distinguishes between the literal, the moral and the mystical or allegorical senses (to which the analogical is sometimes added) which correspond to the threefold nature of human beings as comprising body, soul and spirit (although it is worth noting that Origen is by no means systematic in his own use of these categories). However, Louth draws on De Lubac’s work to show that there are in fact two different traditions regarding the ordering of these senses. The most common and most traditional order is first the literal, then the allegorical, then the moral and finally the analogical. It is this order, claims Louth, that is not only the most traditional but also the most fundamental and profound:

For it is not just a list of senses, but an order or a movement: we move from history to allegory, and within allegory we perceive first the dogmatic dimensions of the Christian mystery, then the response it calls for on our part (the moral sense), and then finally we are given a glimpse of the fruition of the mystery which calls us on (the analogical sense). (116)

Seen like this, there is an organic connection between the allegorical, moral and analogical senses which are not divorced from history but rather based on it, and which provide us with the means to grow in appreciation of its significance. It is worth noting here that Louth rejects Daniélou’s distinction between allegory and typology, which sees the former as being concerned with words and the later with events. He does so not only because it is not an accurate reflection of the Fathers’ vocabulary, but, more fundamentally, because it is not simply the events that are important but also the significance that is given to them in an unfolding process of revelation. But the relationship between history and allegory cannot be arbitrary and interpretation has to be rooted in history.

This is, moreover, not simply an intellectual process but is about realising our participation in the Christian mystery. While this has a dogmatic dimension, these dogmas are not lifeless propositions but disclose rather the lineaments of the mystery of Christ, which has to be fulfilled in us. It is then hardly surprising that it is in the liturgy that the allegorical way comes into its own.

For in the liturgy the mystery of Christ, the paschal mystery, is celebrated and adored, and the readings from Scripture, combined with the liturgical year which concentrates successively on different aspects of the mystery always celebrated, draw out of the mystery the wealth and variety of its signification. The prophets, the wandering of the children of Israel in the wilderness, the life of the early Church, the sacred events of the Incarnation themselves, are seen in relation to the mystery celebrated in our midst and invite and interpret our participation. And in this we see that the way of allegory is a way of prayer, the prayer of the Church and the prayer of each one of us with the Church, anima ecclesiastica. (122)

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