July 25th, 1995, Serial No. 00278

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New Testament Class

AI Summary: 





There's a little pandemonium as we begin, because I didn't know how many people would be here. And that won't be constant either, because people will be coming in and going out. The first handout you have, these handouts are denoted by H1, H2 and so on. That means Handout 1, that's a very sophisticated ancient terminology. And I've got down ten classes, this being number one, introductory. And you see we have a lot to cover, and not a whole lot of time to do it. If you want to study the whole Testament, you can spend your life doing it. But it was worse last time, because we had an introduction of the whole Bible in nine classes. And the frustration there is largely that you can't give to any text the attention that it deserves. Because the Bible is not... You can't read it, you have to open it, and you have to settle on a particular page, you have to read a text. And you can't do much of that when you take this approach, but we'll do some of it. Try to get to concrete text.


There's a frustration in trying to treat Paul in one hour, or trying to treat a given gospel, John's gospel, in one hour. So there's a kind of absurdity in that, but nevertheless we can get something as we go along. And you rapidly see what the bias of the class is. It is towards a sapiential theology, that is, towards a kind of unitive theology. And we'll talk about the basic two approaches to Scripture, whether it be the Old Testament or the New Testament, in a few minutes. Next time, I'd like to talk about the First Testament, or Old Testament, as background for the New Testament. And to do that, we'll have to refer to the New Testament repeatedly. And I wanted to ask you to read Dei Verbum, the Vatican II Constitution, on the Holy Scriptures. Especially Numbers 14 and 15, but I haven't given you a Xerox of it yet. Our staff has been slow in getting this work done.


So, maybe I can get that to you by next time. In any case, you can find it in the library. There's a big volume, a sort of reader's edition of the Vatican II documents. That's a good thing to have, is a copy of the Vatican II documents, by the way, of your own, so that you can refer to them. Because they've become, not Holy Scripture, but they're a primary text for us in our time. They are definitive, in some way, of our particular era in the history of the Church. Okay, a few practical things. These handouts, I won't attempt to explain them or justify them all now, but one at a time. There's one there which is particularly absurd, and that's the one that says, biblical hermeneutics at a glance. At a glance, that's intended to be ironic. You don't get biblical hermeneutics at a glance. But it's just a kind of outline, and it's based on the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, the long article on hermeneutics by Raymond Brown and Sandra Schneider,


which is a very helpful article, not easy to read. And of course, it's not easy to understand those things when you're reading about them, unless you're really reading the texts of those hermeneutic schools. You can't really understand what they're doing. But these are things we're passing by, because my purpose is not to give you a background in those methods. But you should know that they're there, and sooner or later you should have some experience of them. You're going to run into them anyway. Whenever you read a contemporary commentary on scripture, you'll be running into the products, the fruits of those methods, and sometimes even the workings of those methods. And there'll be a point at which you'll want to focus on them, probably, and find out what they really are. We're going to be focusing more on the... I don't think you could call it exactly the traditional reading of scripture. You'll see what it is. It's an attempt to pick up the tradition at its finer moments, and to try to find a revitalized version of it for today.


My premise being that the tradition is valid, the tradition of patristic exegesis, for instance, is valid, but it's incomplete. Is it possible to combine the gifts, the advantages, of the patristic, largely symbolic exegesis, and the historical, critical exegesis of today? Well, we'll try to look at that, without being too abstract and talking too much about methods, because we want to talk about the scripture, not about methods. So a lot of the methodology is one of those ology words I don't like. A lot of that will be implicit rather than explicit, as we go along. A few practical remarks. Please bring along your Bible to class each time, preferably the Bible, not just the New Testament, because we'll be using it. There'll be a class shelf and some reference books for the class in the same place that we have it, that is, in that dingy corner near the back door when you come in. There is a light switch there, you know. Or you can bring your flashlight.


And I'll put one of these on there. Another book I'll put on there is one by de Lubac, The Sources of Revelation. What this is about, actually, this is a condensation of de Lubac's copious, copious works in French on patristic exegesis, on the four senses of scripture, particularly, and the relationship to the Old Testament and the New Testament, the symbolic kind of exegesis that the Fathers do. And these two, actually, give you quite a contrast, because this one is 99% loaded with contemporary exegesis. And de Lubac is trying to find out what the Fathers were doing, and to make it intelligible. He's probably the primary, at least Catholic, expert on that subject. He made a cardinal for his pains very late in his life. We'll take the session so that anybody misses a class, they can't escape it entirely. The one handout you have is some preliminary texts,


and those I'll just leave for your own reading. One of them is a very important paragraph, a long paragraph from De Verbum, number 21. And then you have a couple of kind of savory texts from the tradition, rabbinical texts and so on. And next time, I'd like to talk about the First Testament or the Old Testament. And so I'd suggest that, if possible, you read De Verbum, that is the Constitution on Scripture from Vatican II. The little chapters four and five. And I'll try to get the Xerox to you, to make it easier. I'd like to read a couple of other texts to start with, sort of to establish our position before we talk about it.


One of them is Hebrews, chapter 1, 1 to 3. The texts I'll be reading, curiously, are prologues. It's a prologue from Hebrews, a prologue from the first letter of John, and part of the prologue of John's Gospel. And a prologue is intended often to set a context. It's like the overture, you know, as it were, it frames out what's to follow, introduces you to what's to follow, but gives you a key of how to read what's to follow. And what's to follow may become very detailed, may become very complicated. So the prologue tends to be simple and profound. So prologues are very important for that reason. You've got some beginnings, like of letters, which are polite things, you know, or formal things. But these prologues are theological things. These are theological introductions, or theological keys for reading what follows, which begin by giving you the general view before you focus on the particulars. So they can be extremely important. That's especially obvious with John's prologue. It's a prologue to John's Gospel, which you might think has nothing to do with the rest of the Gospel in some way, but it's somehow the key for reading,


understanding, and summing up John's Gospel. So it's extremely important. It tells you what the author is really interested in before he loses himself and loses view into the particulars of the story. The first one is Hebrews 1, 1-3, which you've heard many times. But it's got a marvelous power to it. And many in various... This is the RSV. I'll use the RSV without attention to inclusive language, the reason being that I don't want to have to take the trouble to do that kind of broken-field running with it. I've seen the lectionary in this. Somebody's got so many changes in it that it's hard to read some of the Gospel. But not because I'm against inclusive language, but because I want to be as close to the Greek, as close to the original as I can when we do this. In many and various ways God spoke of all to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son


whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Now, you're getting some enormous statements there, aren't you? I mean, this introduction of who Jesus is, is tremendous. He is the culminating revelation of God, and through him the world was created. You don't expect to find this in the Letter to Hebrews, but there it is right at the outset, right at the beginning. He reflects the glory of God, and there's the very stamp of his nature. That refers to, I think, is it Sirach or the Book of Wisdom? In the Old Testament, where he talks about Sophia. Upholding the universe by his word of power, when he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs. It's a strange story, because you start out with this one who is somehow absolute,


who has within him the fullness of God, it appears, is the expression of God, and then who has to go through a kind of journey, who has to, in some way, earn, or... How should we say? Earn merit? At least attain what he already had, in some way. This strange story, this strange kind of parabolic story of the word. But the point I wanted to make is that God has spoken to us in many ways, and then he speaks to us in one way. And the one way that he speaks to us is in his Son, who is also the Word, according to John. Now, that's the whole of Revelation in some way, and in some way it's intended to contain and be equivalent to the whole of the Bible, but it's also Jesus Christ. And it becomes concentrated somehow, it becomes transparent at its core, and in its fullness in the New Testament. There's really a contrast here between the First Testament and the Second Testament,


and that the First Testament is multiple, it's varied. God spoke in many ways to our fathers, through the prophets, and through the other biblical writers. But now he has spoken once, and definitively. Now, there can be a shadow of that statement if you think that everything is all over, that there isn't any more action, there isn't any more history, there isn't any more dynamism. But I don't want to talk about that shadow now. Just about that culminating single and implicitly simple revelation of God in Christ. So that the New Testament somehow is one thing, and is saying one thing. Even though it's a narrative, it's a gospel, for instance, in each of the gospels, of many events, of many comings and goings, and words and actions, and miracles and sufferings, and all those things that Jesus does, undergoes, speaks, and so on. And that he passes through in his journey. And in Paul, it's a complex, as it were, structure of thought. But at its core, it's one.


It's absolutely simple with the simplicity of God, which somehow is beyond our comprehension, and yet contains all things, because all things came out of it. So it's that approach that I'd like to take to the New Testament, which is a biased approach, focusing not on the multiplicity, which is there in front of us, but on this core. Now, this is in line with patristic exegesis, patristic interpretation, but also, and particularly with monastic exegesis, the monastic reading of scriptures in the Middle Ages. Probably the best example, as Father Albert would say, would be the Cistercian writers of the 11th, 12th centuries. Bernard, William of St. Thierry, Gary Covigny, and the rest, Isaac of Stella, and those writers, who represent a kind of culmination in the West before the Eclipse. The second one is the prologue


to the first letter of John, which you will have heard many times, too. But these texts, these particular texts, are a kind of opening into the heart of things. Especially, I think, this one from the first letter of John. Now, it's coming from the same place that that prologue to Hebrews is coming from. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. The first line, the first affirmation is coming from where the letter to Hebrews is coming from, that which was from the beginning. The rest of it is coming from immediate experience, the second part. That which we have seen with our eyes, touched with our hands, heard with our ears. This is the Jesus whom they know. And this is what was from the beginning. That's the incredible thing. That what was from the beginning, that which is the source, out of which all things have come,


is that which has walked among us. It has walked among us, somehow, as one human being. That's what the Pauline letter, the Colossians will say when it says, in him bodily is all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God, or the fullness of the divinity is in him bodily. Now, this is not something just sort of objective, or a unity that's out there. This is a unity which you can experience. In other words, this simplicity and fullness, which is in Christ, is something that is offered to us, so that the reading of the word is not just a reading of a text outside yourself, but somehow is an entering into this oneness, entering into this simple fullness, which is in Christ, and which is the same as the fullness of God. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. Same concept as in Hebrews, in this sense,


that this is the expression, the full expression of divinity. The expression of God, which is not only telling you about something, but is communicating something to you. That which it communicates to you is not only intelligence, it's not only understanding, it's not only wisdom, but it's life. It's the word of life. It's as if there are two phases. There's the phase, somehow, of understanding, the phase of revelation, the phase of communication, and then that phase of life. And in the history of Jesus, of course, there really are two phases. In a sense, there are two phases, because Jesus speaks and then he dies and gives. He communicates the totality of what's in him, only through his death. The life was made manifest, and we saw it and testified to it and proclaimed to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us. Notice the kind of, there's a kind of liturgical quality to this. Somebody who's almost singing something, intoning something, who's mesmerized with something, who's drunk with something, and he's kind of going around in a circle, not following a straight line,


but kind of circling around this thing, saying, look, look, look what we've seen, look what's happened. He's saying, listen, it's happened. Whatever it is that you're waiting for, it's happened. Whatever it is that you want, it's there, it's here. The whole thing is here, somehow. It has come into the world. And not only has it come into the world to show itself, but somehow come into the world to give itself, so that you become one with it. And that's what he gets to now, when he says, that which we have seen and heard, we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us. Somehow there's a fellowship established by this which has come into the world. And the word in the Greek is koinonia, a very important word. If you only have one or two Greek words that you're going to acquire, acquire that one. Because it's the heart of Christianity, it's the heart of the Church. And it's the very divinity, it's the very fullness of God, somehow come into the world and participated by human beings, so that the core of the Church, the life of the Church, is the life of God. So it's not only an individual life, but it's a shared life in some way. And what is shared,


and the reason why people impoverish themselves in the early Church, is this very life of God, which is the ultimately precious thing. So that you may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ, our koinonia. He doesn't mention the Spirit there, does he? He doesn't mention the Spirit. But the Spirit is implicit in that very fellowship, that very breaking open of the Divine and pouring out of the Divine, which is this koinonia. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete. So that's a prologue which is saying very much of what the prologue to Hebrews is saying, but it's saying it in a more experiential way. And saying it with that special interior dimension and interior fullness, which is in the Johannine tradition. And the whole letter, the first letter of John, the whole letter is like that, practically, on that level.


Sometimes it gets polemic and dualistic, but the whole tone is that way. Finally, there's the prologue to the Gospel of John. I'm not going to read the whole thing, but just give you a few lines which resonate with these other two prologues, and which establish, I think, the point which I'm trying to make. A fundamental starting point. It's like, in order to create a prologue for our own study of the New Testament, we want to go back to the mind, the prologue mind of the New Testament itself. When the New Testament writers set down to put you in the right place to understand the New Testament, what do they say? This is what they say. When they try to get you at the angle from which you can understand and penetrate the rest of what they're going to say, where do they put you? Well, that's what these prologues tell you. And, of course, they're not intelligible just at the outset. You have to kind of live with them until those words become, somehow, part of your being. Until they become experiential. These are very familiar words to you.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Note the very close parallel with Hebrews. And the prologue of the first letter of John is a kind of contraction of this prologue. An extreme condensation of this prologue, leaving out a great deal of what's said. He was in the beginning with God, remember, in Hebrews. Remember, in the prologue to the letter, that which was from the beginning. All things that are K, are K's beginning. In the beginning, and are K, and are logos. All things were made through him and without him was not anything that was made. So what we're talking about here is the beginning and the source. Now, the source, out of which all things have come, somehow must contain the fullness of all things. Must contain the secret, the meaning of all things. Must contain, in some way, the life, the salvation, if you wish, of all things. The Judeo-Christian pattern


is a kind of moving away from a source, isn't it? And then a return to the source. But if we think of the source outside of ourselves, we're selling ourselves short. We're selling it short. The source is something that becomes one with us. In fact, it is one with us all the time, but we don't know it. In him was life, and the life was the light of man. Remember the word of life in 1 John. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Then there's a passage about John the Baptist, which I'll skip. The true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world. He came to his own, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. I think this is the center, geometrically, of the prologue of John. And it refers directly, I think, to baptism. We'll find that baptism is a principle, a first key for understanding the New Testament. Because the New Testament, by and large, very much of it is talking about the baptismal experience. It's basing itself upon that experience,


starting from there, but continually returning to that ground of the baptismal experience, the ground of the change which you'll experience, the thing that happened to you, so that you're no longer where you were before. The movement from darkness into light, the movement from death to life, and so on. Remember that, what is it, the Gayatri Mantra in the Upanishads, in Hinduism, which is very much the same thing. Eastern illumination and the Christian baptismal experience have a great deal in common. The non-dual experience of the East. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Now, the dwelling among us is not only Jesus dwelling in the flesh among the people of Israel, but is the Word coming and incarnating itself in us. And the baptism of Jesus here resonates with our own baptism, in which the Word somehow begins to become flesh in us. And the glory that we see, we have seen His glory, full of grace and truth,


we have beheld His glory. Glory as of the only Son of the Father. Remember those baptismal words, this is my beloved Son, whom I'm all pleased. At the center of the prologue, the baptism of Jesus and the glory of Jesus, is the glory, is our own glory, is given to us. That's what this is about, see, this prologue. And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. From His fullness have we all received. The fullness that is in Him becomes our fullness. This event of deification, of divinization, the deifying of the human person, that's what the New Testament is about. In which the mystery becomes one with our own being. The whole event becomes one with our own being. And the very core of the event is this oneing of humanity with divinity. That can sound very ironic, and perhaps very inflated, and I don't know what you'd call it,


exaggerated in our time, but when Christianity loses that, somehow it loses the key to its power, I think. When it loses that simple truth of divinization at the heart of the Gospel, the heart of the New Testament. Now see, that's included in the baptismal experience. The baptismal experience is like the planting of this seed of divinization. It's like the conferring of this spark and light of divinity in the human person. Or the releasing of it, you can say whatever you want. But anyway, in the New Testament history, that's where it starts. That's what happens there. And the New Testament needs to be read in that light. Of the enkindling of the divinity within the human person. And not only individually, somehow communally, somehow in a shared gift. Which we've called the koinonia. For the law was given through Moses. He sees it here, as Paul often does, as an external kind of communication. A communication of God which is still dualistic in some way. God speaking to you and giving you something,


an external framework by which you live. That's not entirely true of the Torah in the Old Testament, is it? Because the Torah is much deeper than that, much more one with the human being. But that's the way the New Testament tends to look at it at the beginning, as it were. Like the child pushing itself away from its parent, in order to get that distance that it has to have to discover itself. The law was given through Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. The bosom of the Father, I think there, is a metaphor for union, is a metaphor for oneness with God. It's not a place. It's a condition of divinity. It's the condition of the children of God, which begins in baptism. No one has ever seen God. That is, you don't see God somehow dualistically. You don't see the face of God like a vision. I don't believe. You know God by being God, if it's possible to say that. You know God by identity.


You know God by oneness. You know God by the resonance of your being, not only with itself, but with all things, when you are in God, when God is in you. When that's liberated in you. And that's when you really discover who you are. So all our self-images and our concepts of identity up to that point are just provisional kind of scaffolding for that final revelation of who we are in God. For which, actually, we have no words. We have no name for that. Maybe there's a secret word. That's what it says in Revelation. But we don't know the word, the name, that can convey anything of that. It would be a luminous name, a shining name. Remember, like the name of the angel, he wouldn't tell Jacob, why do you ask what my name is? My name is wonderful. No one has ever seen God in that way. You can't encompass the fullness of God by vision, either through your senses or even through the intellect. The only son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. Now, all these prologues are sort of


the ultimate stutterings of human language trying to say this which is unspeakable, and which is the divinity itself, as it manifests itself as one with our own being, individually, personally, interiorly, but also, ultimately, externally and communally and altogether in it. Okay, I want to say something about the two basic approaches to scriptural interpretation. This refers both to the Old Testament and the New Testament. In early Christian tradition, in the Fathers of the Church, after they get going, in the fourth century or so, you find, earlier than that too, because you have Origen, of course, in the third century. These two basic levels in the Bible, there's a certain crudity about this, but it's a very strong and enduring structure. First of all, the literal sense, the letter of the Bible, the historical sense,


historia, they call it in Latin very often, the outer meaning, the surface meaning, the flesh of the word. The plain meaning of a scriptural text. Sometimes they thought of it in terms of what the author meant to write, that is, the human author meant to write. That's the way they understand it nowadays, but they didn't so much think about that in those days because they didn't give so much attention to the human author. They were so, what would you call it, sort of blinded by the notion of divine inspiration, by the quality of divine inspiration in the scriptures, they didn't think too much of the human author. But the plain meaning of the words, without any spiritual, theological, transcendent overtones. And then you have the spirit, as distinguished from the letter, the spiritual sense, as contrasted with the literal sense, the symbolic sense, the inner meaning, the mystical meaning. Just for example,


the hackneyed example is to use Jerusalem for all of these things, especially for the doctrine of the four senses in the scriptures. You have the city of Jerusalem, which is in Israel, which can be geographically defined, you can put a pin in it on a map. And then you have the Jerusalem that is the heart, you have the Jerusalem that is the church, you have the Jerusalem that is the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation, right? All of these would be spiritual meanings. The city of Jerusalem in Palestine would be the literal meaning. So that's the simplest possible exemplification of that. The idea, the separation of these two senses, and the notion of these two senses, the outside, the inside, the letter and the spirit, is partly in the New Testament itself. If you read Paul in, where is it, 2 Corinthians, about chapters 3, 4, where he talks about the Jewish scriptures, the Old Testament, and you can either be outside them or you can be inside them.


You either have the veil over the scriptures, and the veil over your heart, over your eyes as you read the scriptures, or you turn to Christ and the veil is removed and you see into the scriptures, you see the interior meaning, and for him the interior meaning is Christ or the mystery of Christ. So that's right in Paul. And it's been evident from the beginning of Christianity that there's more than the surface level in the scriptures. Now, first of all, you find that in the Gospels. Everywhere the Old Testament is quoted with a spiritual sense, a typical sense, a symbolic sense, where David is a symbol of Jesus, where the psalm is picked up, the Lord said to my Lord, and so on. But wherever the words applied to David are applied to Jesus, immediately you're reading a spiritual sense inside or beneath, beyond the literal sense. Read the Gospel of Matthew, it's simply full of this. But the other Gospels are loaded with it too. Here we reach the point, we arrive at the conclusion that the language of the New Testament


is the Old Testament. That is, the theological language, the very mentality, the consciousness in which the New Testament is written is the Old Testament, the First Testament. It's almost like the ink and the paper and the vocabulary and the ideas and the images and everything. It's the stock, the stock of material of revelation, which then the New Testament molds and compresses and in some way transforms and infuses and illuminates to create its own words. So we'll get to that next time. This business of the two senses is also influenced by Greek thought, of course, especially Platonism. Remember where you have the ideas which are reality, which are truth, and then you have the images. The things down here are only images and vestiges and little reflections of the reality which is up above in the world of the divine ideas and so on. That's one thing, but there's also the notion of incarnation


where John says the word became flesh in the pull-up. The word became flesh. You have the Logos, which we've just been reading about, which is this plenitude somehow of meaning and of power. And then you have the things down here including Jesus walking around on the earth. So when we speak of the word incarnate, we speak of two levels being somehow brought together. And so it's natural to extend that since Jesus is thought of as the word incarnate. It's natural to extend that notion to the scriptures themselves which in some sense are also the word incarnate, aren't they? They're the Logos of God, the revelation of God, that fullness of revelation which is expressed in human words with all the limitations and the complexities and the dualism that's inherent in human language. So there's a theological, a strong theological basis for this notion of the two senses. What is the literal sense?


It seems like that ought to be obvious and sometimes it is obvious and sometimes it's not at all obvious. The more you take that notion of literal sense and try to determine exactly what it is in the scriptures, the more complicated you'll find it is, the more complex and deep a question it becomes. Medieval definition, as Brown gives it, from Aquinas for instance, the sensus literalis was the meaning conveyed by the words of scripture as distinct from the sense contained in the things of scripture which was the spiritual sense. That's pretty profound actually. The idea is that the words say one thing but the thing that the words are referring to has other meanings in it, has other references. The words refer to something and there you have the literal sense but the something refers to something else and there you have the spiritual sense. That's a theoretical imposition but it's pretty strong thinking. So that God communicates


not just in the words of scripture but he's actually communicating and revealing in the things which he does, the things which he creates, the things which happen. So that the history of the Old Testament is itself, beyond the words, whatever the relation of the history to the words might be, that history is itself symbolic, is indicative of something else. So to find the reference, to find the resonance of the history, the Old Testament history, is to go to the spiritual sense. And for the Fathers, of course, that reference and resonance all converges and culminates in Christ, centered in Christ. A contemporary definition of the literal sense would be the sense which the human author directly intended in which the written words conveyed, at the time that is. In other words, what the words meant at the time they were written. Let's say by Paul or by the evangelist, by Matthew, or whoever it was. Now that's likely to be a simple sense. I think the mistake is to think in too crisp terms about these things, however.


That is to think that God speaks in the conceptual, the hard conceptual containers of our own thinking. That God speaks in circumscribed, clearly defined, logical terms. Distinct enough from one another. Distinct as like checkers, or distinct as pieces you can move around. They're not that way. It doesn't work that way. The whole thing is an organism. That's the problem. The word is all one thing. And so the literal sense is a kind of, what do you call it, a kind of collapse of the word. This is saying one side of it. A collapse of the word to say one thing. Whereas in the spiritual sense, it's like the whole word vibrating in this one little word. You've got those two dimensions. That's not a very good expression. I'll come back to it. The sense which the human author directly intended, and which the written words conveyed. The spiritual sense, then, would be whatever is beyond that. Whatever you're reading in it beyond the intention of the human author. But, but, but, suppose the human author intended the spiritual sense.


Suppose he intended a whole octave of spiritual senses. Suppose he had nine ideas in his mind when he wrote that, which Paul sometimes does. He's got a whole scale of different notions. Like a poet does, you know. When a poet writes a line of poetry, he doesn't kind of, what would you call it, squeeze the ideas out of it until they fall onto the table and he can line them up one, two, three, four, five, six. And they're not clearly defined ideas. Exactly what he's doing is communicating, poetry is so much about this, is communicating a world of possibility or a world of potential or a world of fullness which you glimpse through the individual words and through the individual metaphors and through contrasting things rubbing against one another as they do in metaphors. He's trying to communicate a world of possibility which can't really be expressed clearly, can't be translated, can't be flattened out into verbal expression. But by a plurality of language and even a collision of language, by paradox and irony


and every kind of twisting and turning of human words, you'll try to communicate that which is beyond words, which is a living whole, a living organism. Call it a human consciousness, call it a human experience, or in this case, call it this fullness, this divine fullness which we're talking about, which is a divine human fullness too, not just divine. So to talk about a literal sense is really pruning things down, is really nailing things down more than a word will really permit itself to be nailed down. Consequently, when you go with that confident idea of literal sense into the Bible, you find yourself getting very confused. For instance, sometimes the literal sense is itself immediately symbolic. I am the bread of life. What's the literal sense? The literal sense goes beyond the literal immediately, doesn't it? It forces you out of the literal because it's symbolic itself. Sometimes you have a lot of statements in Scripture, in the New Testament and the Old Testament, which are purely literal. You can say that any spiritual resonances


are probably not in the author's intention and probably not very significant. When James tells you to take care of the widow in the orphan, and so on. Now that's meant to be understood literally, isn't it? That's to be taken literally and not to be spiritualized away. If you spiritualize that, you destroy it because you destroy the immediacy of the imperative. You destroy the power of the word. The historical and personal and moral power of the word. So we have to be very careful of that. And it's there that you see how the literal sense itself has to be cherished, maintained, and so on. And because the literal sense was not properly attended to and respected, for much of Christian history the word of God lost its historical power. It would be moralized so that you could understand it personally and morally, but you couldn't understand it in a larger historical way, in the sense of social criticism, in the sense of actual transforming society, transforming structures,


in the sense of transforming the Church, because it would immediately be spiritualized. Or it would be blocked by saying that Jesus came and brought the finish of everything and all we have to do is live in that building until the end of time. But he didn't come to make another building. So the historical sense becomes extremely important and the historical sense is inseparable from the literal sense. It's very close to it. We'll get back to that sometime. So sometimes the spiritual sense isn't really different from the literal sense, except maybe in being a more experiential reading. The spiritual sense, if it's to be valid, must be solidly rooted in the literal sense. The declarations from Rome have been very explicit about this, even from the time of Pius XII. In fact, it should be, ideally, a depth resonance or a larger reading of the literal sense. The two have to be one. But we can overstress this, because they're one, but they're also in some way two. But the spiritual sense,


if the literal sense is hard to grab sometimes, or hard to define, hard to circumscribe, the spiritual sense is much harder to circumscribe. Because sometimes the spiritual sense would include all of the resonance of the word. You take a symbol like bread, it can include all of the resonance of that as it moves back from the explicit and visible, back into what? Back into infinity. Back into the infinity of the divine, which sacramentally and symbolically it will express. So the spiritual sense very often can't be, can hardly be expressed at all, can only be implied, can only be intimated. And remember that the spiritual sense is also beyond the notion of sense, because it's experience and it's union. So when we talk about, for instance, the four senses of scripture, it's like you're in a comb, which at the point of the literal sense is at its fine point, at its focus, like a pencil.


The point of the pencil, which is very precise and makes a circumscribed figure, a mark. But as you go up into the spiritual senses, and when you get to the unitive sense, it becomes less and less verbal, and less and less possible to put into regular human language, especially rational, logical human language. You're opening up. The top of the cone is infinity, and so on. So the idea of four, for instance, spiritual, four senses, literal and allegorical and so on, moving on up, each of which is going to be explicit, I think is much too narrow, much too rigid. But nevertheless, it's a helpful framework. We'll talk about those four senses in a little while, but I don't want to get too hung up on them. The distinction between literal and spiritual sense usually turns around symbolism. That is, a symbol is something that has more than one layer, more than one level of meaning. It's something visible, and it implies something more. It has a surface, a literal, a visible,


a clear significance, and then it implies another significance. We'll need to talk about symbolism more deeply later. And things and events and actions and persons may be symbols. But we'll also need to talk about metaphor, I think, which operates in a somewhat different way. So I think we can maybe speak better of a spectrum, a kind of gradation of interpretations moving between letter and wisdom. From a very circumscribed... That's divine wisdom, as it were, the word itself, with a capital W. From a very circumscribed sense to a completely open sense. It's like moving from a particle to the energy field. It's not a perfect analogy, but it's a very helpful one. Or moving from body to soul, in a sense. That doesn't say exactly what I want to say, because we're moving from body to spirit. If you move from the human body to the human spirit, you're moving from something which is very circumscribed. I mean, you can perfectly measure and weigh the human body


and locate the human person who is occupying, who is that body. When you move up to the soul, the psyche, it's not so easy to do that. The psyche is relational. It's like an aura. It's not only in us, it's around us. And it doesn't have boundaries the same way as the body does. It's like it's feeling and moving into things. And it's interrelating with other psyches. It's a relational aspect of it. When you move to the spirit, where the human spirit, somehow, at the center of the human person, is indistinguishable from God, you've moved all the way up the cone into the infinite in some way, the unbounded. Is there a point in us which is unbounded? Is there a place in us where we are one with God and where somehow we, at our own center, encompass all of reality? Do you see what I mean? Karl Rahner says that the body is the symbol of the person, and therefore the body of Christ is the symbol of the fullness of Christ. And the fullness of Christ, the Logos, is the symbol of God.


Father Joseph Wong has written about that extensively. So we have to distinguish, especially today, the literal sense and the spiritual sense, but we can't oppose them. The spiritual sense was further developed into three senses, you know, the three spiritual senses. The allegorical sense, you've got that list on one of your handouts there, which could also be called the Christological sense, or the typological sense. And then you've got the moral sense, or tropological sense. And then you've got the anagogical, or mystical sense. The way I'm going to present those, just put it up here now. This would be the literal sense.


You also couldn't put it at the bottom. This would be the, what they call the anagogical sense. This would be what they call the moral, or maybe tropological. I don't know if it's a big word. Anagogical is a big one too. I'm going to call it the unitive sense. The literal sense is, well, let's see what we can do with Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the city of Palestine, is the literal sense. The allegorical sense would be, would be the church.


When you go to the allegorical sense, from the literal sense, taking something in the Old Testament, you move either to Christ, or to the church. Or to something immediately referring to Christ, or to the church. And that's called typology. The Old Testament thing is a type. And this is the classical, which is also in Jerusalem, and this is part of the classical definition. When you get to the moral, when Jerusalem is in you, it's your own heart. Probably. And what you're talking about there is your response, somehow, your response to the gospel. What does the gospel mean? Or the Old Testament commandment mean, in terms of obligation to you? I shouldn't say the Old Testament commandment, because whatever this is, it has to undergo a transformation here. In other words, you can't directly apply


an Old Testament commandment to yourself and call that the moral, the typological sense. It has to pass through the typological sense first. It has to pass through the Christ sense first. In other words, it's the heavenly combination of things. That's the heavenly Jerusalem, which is very explicit in the book of Revelation. The way that this works, and to move on to a very good object, is that when you move from the literal sense to the allegorical sense, to the sense of the mystery of Christ, you're actually moving to a center from which the other senses open up. It's more like this. You move from the literal to the Christ mystery. Within the literal sense,


you read the Christ mystery, and then that opens up into the moral ways. Take a look here, and up here. One, two, three, four. So the thing that makes the four senses of Scripture work is this explosion that happens in the Christ mystery, which illuminates what's inside the literal sense of Scripture. We're speaking particularly of the Old Testament. Because in the New Testament, the Christ mystery is very often right there. But sometimes you can do this in the New Testament, too. If you take the parables of Jesus, for instance, sometimes you can apply the same scheme. Now, you move from the literal sense to the Christ mystery, and in the Christ mystery, first of all, you recognize Christ, let us say, in whom? In the Noble Testament figure, let us say.


Or in the Paschal Lamb, let's say. You recognize Christ in the Paschal Lamb. Or in the manna, in the desert. And then that is going to apply to your life in some way. For instance, the Paschal Lamb, well, does that mean that my life is going to have to be a sacrificial life, too? You read it in the Gospels, it confirms that. For instance, come follow me in the Passion Traditions, and all of that. Unless you take every course, then follow me, and so on. So it begins to fall in there. You begin to elaborate a moral sense, in your own life, through that Christ mystery, through that opening up of the original symbol. And then finally, it's going to have an ultimate meaning. Anagogically, it's going to be leading up. And that ultimate meaning will be the hermitage meaning, in some way. So, you've got the Lamb, let us say, in Heaven, who is the edifying center of what's there.


But you've also got the Lamb, which is Eucharistic, which is somehow communion, which is participative. In other words, a unitive interpretation of the symbol, whatever it was, in which you yourself find yourself inside of some of what's there. So what I want to contend is that this structure, the basic structure, I think, of the human principle, that you move from the outside to the inside, and the inside, as it were, manifests itself, articulates itself in two directions. The active direction, or the exterior direction of response, or the direction of movement, of doing, of history, of a kind of journey, a journey which has steps in it, a journey which has details in it, which is not one thing. But finally, through this unitive sense, in which you find yourself in one with the ultimate, one with the absolute, one with God. And that is what it's all about. This is the journey for getting there, and this is the ultimate. So at a certain point, I'll call these two senses,


the, what do you call it? I don't like to say historical, because often you use historical down here. But the dimension of movement, the dynamic sense, you could say. And this, finally, the unitive sense. So that we can say that our reading of Scripture goes through, first of all, the literal reading, the reading of the letter. Secondly, the finding of the Christ mystery there. And the Christ mystery is not just saying, oh, that's Jesus, that's Christ, David is Christ, and so on. It's an opening of that figure to these other dimensions. To the dimension of my own response, or whatever the lesson is there for me. But not only in a moral sense, and not only in an individual sense, but this opens up to the understanding of history itself, of the history of the Church, our history, our history as brothers participating in this history of Christ, or this history of David, or the history of the people of Israel in the Old Testament. But then finally, and this is already there at the beginning, this unitive experience, which is the end,


and which the Old Testament, which the New Testament, particularly, is all concerned about. We've been reading that in the prologue, and which is already inside us as soon as we hear the word. And particularly the baptism. But the word comes ultimately to incarnate itself somehow with your being, so that you are one with God. So that you're taken into oneness with God. But we'll work on this later. I don't want to make things too complicated for you. Maybe I should quit now. Even though there's quite a lot that I haven't covered. Ask if there are any questions at this point. And I hope you won't be distressed if we seem to be moving over too many things. Often the questions that you ask may be helpful in clarifying things, bringing things back to the center. But even if we seem to be moving around in a lot of things,


we should be orbiting around a single center. And we'll come back to that from time to time. It seems like this monastic and contemplative approach, too, brings out in a modern world an important way that we experience Jesus. A lot of people in searching for the historical Jesus are pounding the text to get back through the text, and historically finding out who Jesus was, what he said, is an important element that can leave out the very word itself, brings that Christ Presence into the contemporary moment. And so we're experiencing the risen Christ now through the word, as well as through the meaning of the text. And that's what you're pointing out here. And all the gradations of that, or how much you develop that. There's a presence there immediately in the reading of the word,


and that's what tends to be forgotten. The kind of, what do you call it, the placid and contemplative dimension of that presence. And that's like the inside of the word, it seems to me. The word comes and breaks open and becomes a kind of Eucharist, becomes a kind of fullness and an immediacy. But the other side of it, which has so often been neglected, is the edge of the word, and how it becomes an imperative and a prophetic kind of incisiveness for our time. And both of those have to be. And they might seem to cancel one another, but they're simply like the left and right hands of the word. They're simply the two dimensions of the word. And people very often, they get on one bandwagon and they completely want to submerge the other side, and that's the trouble, you know. And the same thing happens in the history of interpretation. For a long while, the Fathers seem almost, at least many of the Fathers in our line, the Alexandrian line and so on, you know, and Augustine too, seem to just chuck the literal sense very often and submerge the indifferent to it. And it can disappear for centuries. And then you'll get the revenge, you know,


when the other side comes over and completely excludes the spiritual sense as being a kind of insidious nonsense. And we've been going through that for a little while now. The problem is to get it all together. The word is very big. To be able at least to be in touch with both sides of it. Let me see what else is indispensable here. We'll have to talk about fundamentalism. We'll come back to that again and again. I kept thinking of fundamentalism in terms of literalism, and it is a literalism, but it's been nicely pointed out that it's not actually a use of the literal sense. There's a kind of prejudice with which fundamentalism starts out. There's a dogmatic bias in which it brings its preconception in and then calls out the literal sense. Kind of a terrific energy, so it hypnotizes you for a while, or stuns you. But it's not the real literal sense.


It's very often not what the author intended at all. But it is, by and large, an insistence on literalism and a refusal to go deeper. Essentially it's a refusal to move into the spiritual sense. I'd put the two poles, in a sense, of this horizon, of this spectrum, as being fundamentalism on one side and wisdom on the other side. A true sapiential or unitive reading on the other side. We need to affirm both the scientific and the sapiential or symbolic and unitive approach. But you can't do the two at the same time. That's part of the problem. It's like the two sides of the brain. We can't operate on both rails, both wavelengths at the same time. We have to go back and forth between the two. And usually the scientific thing will come first so that we can at least know what the word is. So that we can be looking at the right word. There have been so many comical things that have happened in the past.


Also you can find them in the literature of the Fathers. There's an interpretation of something, a nice spiritual interpretation, and then you discover it's based on the Latin translation of something instead of the original word. So it's a complete fiction. Which can be nice, but it's a little disappointing. I gave you a handout with some texts on it. They're four-line texts. And the notion... It's a good idea to go through those texts and if you have one of those colored felt pens, to mark the word mystery or underline it. What I'm getting at there is this mystery of Christ. One approach to this unity of the word is that the word itself is a mystery. The word, the Logos, as we find it in John's prologue in the first letter of John, implicitly in the prologue to Hebrews. Another approach is this mystery of Christ, which is in Paul. And in which you see that he's talking about one thing.


And that one thing, from one aspect, is the whole history of salvation. From the creation through Abraham, through Moses, all the way down. And from the other point of view, it's just Christ. It's Christ himself. And most centrally, it's the death and resurrection of Christ and then the body of Christ as he conceives it. But all these things are one. Paul is thinking in a unitive way. So that's what those texts are about, is to persuade you of the unity of the word in this Pauline vision of the mystery of Christ. So, if you take a look at those texts and give a little accent to the word mystery there, we can come back to it next time. I shouldn't keep you any longer this time. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.