Literal/ allegorical vs. tropological

a.) St. Thomas divides the literal from the allegorical sense of Scripture and gives some sort of primacy to the literal, but this primacy can’t consist in somehow being “more inspired”. Inspiration is divine authorship, and St. Thomas argues for an allegorical sense because he claims that God authors both words and of the realities they describe.

b.) The literal sense has a structural primacy in Scripture so far as the New Testament contains literally what is allegorical in the Old, and an argumentative primacy so far as doctrinal matters are based on the literal sense.

c.) Following Dionysius, “literal” includes what follows logically from it. If our words weren’t committed to everything that followed from them, we would not have to renounce what we said when some conclusion came to grief. It follows that only God speaks literally. None of us know all that our words commit us to.

d.) Following Erasmus (who is taking a cue from Augustine’s “Rule of Charity”) both the literal and allegorical senses are subordinate to the tropological sense, that is, scripture so far as it converts the heart. Just as God authors words and realities (1a) he also informs by language and directly acts on the heart. The literal sense is neither the basis nor material cause of the tropological sense since perfect conversion does not presuppose perfect grasp of the literal. We can teach persons from principles they already know; God can give insight even where there was no understanding before.

e.) Scripture scholarship easily becomes a systematic way of avoiding the tropological. Hebrew words! Later interpolations! A search for true authors! ANE motifs! All valuable to know, but all can be ways of avoiding Scripture.



1 Comment

  1. GeoffSmith said,

    December 28, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    Reblogged this on Geoff's Miscellany and commented:
    James Chastek has some really valuable thoughts on the first three aspects of the quadriga here. Augustine’s rule of charity is quite important and it, of course, itself derived from Matthew 7:12.

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