Interpreting the Truth Part II: The Senses of Scripture


These things happened to them as an example and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of all ages has come.   I Cor. 10:11   (NAB)

What are the senses of Scripture?  “According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual with the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical.” (CCC 115)

“The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation,”( CCC 116). (see previous post, Interpreting the Truth Part I, for the “rules of sound interpretation”)

What is exegesis? It’s the critical explanation or analysis of a text. (American Heritage Dictionary)

“The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God’s plan, not only the text of scripture, but, also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

1. The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christ’s victory and also of Christian Baptism, (1 Cor.10:2).

2. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says they were written for our instruction, (1Cor. 10:11, Heb. 3:1-4:11).

3.The anagogical sense. (Greek: anagoge,”leading”) We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us to our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem, (Rev.21:1-22:5).” (CCC 117)

 To summarize;” The Letter (literal) speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith; The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny,” Augustine of Dacia, (CCC 188)

One of the biggest misconceptions I had about the Catholic Church, as a Protestant, was  their interpretation of Scripture. I thought you had to see it their way or hit the highway, and we see clearly, that is not the case. There is still room for my personal application along side the Church’s interpretation and they should never contradict each other. If they do, then someone is wrong. But for true students of the Word, you’ll find you line up with Church teaching.

God uses rules and structure to protect His children. He wants us to be safe and secure in His love and fellowship. The way He has chosen to do this, is through the Church He established.

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4 Responses

  1. I think it was St. Augustine who said that any interpretation of Scripture that leads to greater love of God and neighbor is a good and legitimate interpretation.

    The only thing we have to add to that — and it’s something true to the thought of Augustine — is this: the interpretation cannot deny a dogma of the Church.

    But you’re correct in that the Church allows (and even encourages) personal interpreatation. The same Spirit that authored the Bible is the same Spirit that guides the Church is the same Spirit given to us at Baptism. Therefore, any personal interpreation done “in the Spirit” cannot contradict either the meaning of the Word or the infallible interpreation of the Church.

  2. Yes! Isn’t that what St. Paul says,” There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” Eph. 4:4-6

  3. Amen! I find that my interpretation in line with the Church’s allows me a greater and deeper understanding of God. I’m amazed how the puzzle pieces all fit together. As a Protestant, I always felt like I was forcing pieces to fit that simply didn’t belong… And now, I can see the picture of the puzzle forming piece by piece!

  4. Amber, I really like the puzzle analogy. That’s exactly it!

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