In treating the senses in which Scripture can be read, St. Thomas saw “literal” as synonymous with “historical”. This sense, however, was nothing more than when “words stood for things” and which was opposed to the figurative senses. Note that there is nothing in such an account that can explain Scripture as historical – for words stand for things even when one is not writing history.
Nevertheless, this raises the question of what we are supposed to do when history develops to such an extent that it means a good deal more than what is merely opposed to a figurative reading. For St. Thomas, one was reading Scripture literally – and therefore historically – when he read God’s statement to Moses “I am who am” as speaking to a metaphysical claim that was only articulated by philosophers 2000 years after Moses. There is no time when, in considering the divine name, St. Thomas gives a historical account in the sense of history that is familiar to us. In fact, we would oppose the sort of analysis that St. Thomas gives of the divine name to a historical account.
This creates a problem for Thomists – and for Scholastics in general since none of them had a very robust sense of history – about what to say about the relation between literal readings and historical ones.