Typology As a Way Forward in Bible Reading

I have previously posted about the fourfold sense of Scripture here and here. Among the spiritual senses, we find typology. Typology, as you may recall, is when we see events, items, and persons in the Old Testament as prefigurations of New Testament theology. It is distinguished from allegory as allegory is when we see parallels in events in the Old Testament not only of the New Testament but also of our own spiritual journey. Thus, an allegorical reading of Genesis 3, while not denying the real Fall of humanity, will say that this is the story of Everyman.

Typology, on other hand, sees a moment as a single flash of the greatness of the fulfillment of the promises in Christ and the Church — Melchizedek is a type of Christ; the flashing sword in Eden is a type of Mary; the crossing of the Red Sea is a type of Baptism, Jerusalem is a type of the heavenly city, and so forth. I have already posted on Noah’s Ark as a type of Mary.

This approach to Scripture is never meant to entirely supplant the literal or historical meaning, something even its most famous proponent, Origen, acknowledges. Yet it seeks to see with spiritual eyes a new, different layer of meaning. Since the purpose of Scripture is to reveal to us the things of God and empower us to lead godly lives, I see no difficulty in this way of reading Scripture.

Indeed, many see this way of reading the Bible as a way forward for western biblical interpretation. Sebastian Brock writes:

the typological approach to the Bible as found in the Syriac (and of course other) Fathers is essentially a fluid one, refusing to be contained by dogmatic statements on the one hand, or considerations of modern biblical scholarship and its findings on the other. Indeed, one wonders whether this approach does not offer the openings of a via tertia for twentieth-century western Christianity in its dilemma when faced with the liberal critical approach to the Bible that to many seems purely destructive, on the one side, and a distastefully fundamentalist approach on the other. (p. 188)*

Now, one may argue that there already exists middle ground between liberal criticism and fundamentalism, but the idea of typology as being part of that middle ground is not a bad idea. With typology, we are able to say, “Indeed, the points of the liberal’s modernist critique may be valid, and the doctrinal concerns of the fundamentalist are also worthy of consideration, and with typology I am able to honour both.”

Suddenly, Scripture is not limited to a single, literal meaning at every turn of the page. Through prayerful consideration and the reading of other spiritual books, the Holy Spirit can guide us to spiritual truths about ourselves and the Gospels that perhaps we would never have thought of if shackled to the liberal/fundamentalist approach.

Typology can be beautiful and can stir the thoughts of the reader, as we see in Brock on Ephrem the Syrian:

Ephrem’s highly allusive poetry, shifting almost relentlessly from one set of symbols to another, makes considerable demands on the reader who, above all, if he is to appreciate Ephrem to the full, must know his Bible as well as Ephrem did. Much of this typological exegesis will appear to modern readers as forced, or it may even be described as ‘wrong’, but I think it is misleading to speak of this kind of exegesis in absolute terms of ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’. The very fact that quite often one finds side by side two pieces of typological exegesis which are logically incompatible when taken together, seems to be an indication that what is being offered was never meant to be the ‘correct exegesis’, such as modern biblical scholarship likes to impose, but possible models which are held up, and whose purpose is to make meaningful, and give insight into, some aspects of a mystery that cannot be fully explained. (185-186)

If we remind ourselves that our doctrine of the Trinity is smaller than the Trinity, that our Christology is a feeble attempt to encapsulate in words the wonders of God Incarnate, if we keep in mind the smallness of ourselves and our doctrines about God in the Face of God Himself, then typology and its difficulties make a certain sense — God is ultimately incomprehensible and a great mystery. Ought not His self-revelation to the world to be filled with wonder and beauty?

Now, most of us probably aren’t reading to do our own typologies, for it is a way of thinking that is foreign to us. Here are some places to begin:

Typology in Action

The Orthodox Study Bible. The NT of this study Bible has been out for a long time, and a couple of years ago they released the entire Bible, Septuagint and NT. Its footnotes provide us with a primarily typological reading of the OT, so it can stand alongside most Protestant study Bibles that give us the literal account and thus bring us deeper into the spiritual world of the Word.

The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. This series of commentaries gathers together selections from the Fathers on the entirety of Scripture. A great many, though not all, patristic passages herein provide a typological understanding of the Scriptural passage at hand.

Ephrem the Syrian, referenced by Brock in the second passage above, has a number of works translated at the CCEL; there is also a volume in the Classics of Western Spirituality Series from Paulist Press and another of the Hymns on Paradise in the Popular Patristics Series from SVS Press. His hymns on the incarnation are especially beautiful, as I’ve noted on this blog before; he takes your mind in worship to places it has likely never gone before.

Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses, mentioned here before, is worth a read, combining both the allegorical and typological readings of Scripture after giving the straight historical reading of the text. The same translation exists in the Classics of Western Spirituality series as well as in the HarperCollins Spiritual Classics; the latter has a less extensive introduction but is also cheaper.

Origen of Alexandria is the most famous of the exegetes who apply “spiritual” methods to Scripture. His Commentary on the Gospel of John provides an introduction to his method of reading Scripture. I’m still working on Origen, myself, so I do not know what else of his to recommend.

About Typology

Hall, Christopher A. Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers. This book deals with the Four Doctors of the Western and the Four Doctors of the Eastern Church and how they read Scripture, including space devoted to Origen and Diodore of Tarsus. Space is thus given to the more spiritual readings of Scripture that lead us to typological understandings. This is a popular level book, geared towards pastors and students.

de Lubac, Henri. Medieval Exegesis: The Fourfold Sense of Scripture. This monumental work, a product of the Ressourcement that began in the 1950s (not ’20s, sorry), taking up three volumes in English, will give you all you want to know about Patristic and western Mediaeval approaches to the reading and interpretation of Scripture. This is a work of scholarship, but the rewards are no doubt hefty for those who persevere to the end (I have yet to do so).

*S. Brock, “Mary in the Syriac Tradition,” in Mary’s Place in Christian Dialogue, ed. Alberic Stacpoole. Pp. 182-191.

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From the Gelasian Sacramentary

It is, indeed, right that, with hearts raised up on high, we worship the divine mystery* by which the human condition, with the old and earthly law ceasing, is brought forth as a new and heavenly substance, miraculously restored, so that which is carried out by the great gift of God may be celebrated with the great joy of the Church. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

From Communion Prayers at Prime for Christmas morning. My terrible translation.

*Sc. the Incarnation.

The Venerable Bede a Church Father?

You may have noticed that when St. Bede the Venerable was Saint of the Week on Wednesay that I mentioned his commentaries on Scripture being used in IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. This may seem more than a little odd, given that the Venerable Bede is, well, mediaeval.

Indeed, Bede is thoroughly and indisputably mediaeval. He was born in the 600’s and died in 735. The fiction of a Roman Empire existed in the West as Italy was nominally under the Emperor in Constantinople, but in reality the Roman Empire in the West was long gone, with no Emperor in Italy since 476. Justinian, the great codifier of Roman law and sponsor of the last flourishing of Classical art as well as the first flourishing of Byzantine art had died in 566. Barbarians had divided the West into a variety of kingdoms — Frankish, Anglo-Saxon, Visigothic, and so forth.

Bede is not ancient.

So why include him in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture?

Those, such as Thomas C. Oden, who are calling for mainline and evangelical Christians alike to rediscover the Church Fathers and “paleo-orthodoxy” usually call us to the first five centuries of consensual Christian thought. Yet even Oden, general editor of IVP’s ACCS, knows that that isn’t really enough.

AD 500 is an acceptable cut-off point for the Classical world, although I’m willing to stretch it to Justinian’s death because of how monumental his reign was and how decidedly different the map of the world was — legally, artistically, politically — be the end of his reign. Yet if we cut of the age of the Church Fathers at 500, we’re missing Second Constantinople and its very important recasting of Chalcedonian doctrine into terms a Monophysite could hopefully reconcile with.

By cutting off the Age of the Fathers at 500, in the East, we’re missing Severus of Antioch and his brilliant statements of Cyrilline Christology in the 500’s. We’re missing St. Maximus the Confessor and St. John Climacus (saint of the week here) in the 600’s — one very important for Christology, the other for mysticism East and West — and St. John of Damascus (saint of the week here) in the 700’s — very important for his defence of icons and consolidation of orthodox doctrine.

In the West, we miss St. Benedict of Nursia and St. Gregory the Great in the 500’s — one vital for the development of monasticism and spirituality in the West, the other for biblical interpretation, conversion of the Germanic peoples, and pastoral concern — as well, of course, as Boethius and Cassiodorus, also very important and very popular Christian writers of the 500’s. We have to leave out Isidore of Seville from the 600’s — important for pretty much every idea under the sun (and beyond) throughout the Middle Ages.

Perhaps a temporal designation for “Church Father” does not quite work. The Eastern Orthodox do not do this, but instead consider the Fathers as a conceptual designation, thus including St. Simeon the New Theologian (1100’s) and St. Gregory Palamas (1300’s) as Church Fathers although they stand outside the Age of the Fathers.

Nonetheless, the idea of a Church Father tends towards the early, not the late, towards the ancient, not the mediaeval.

The Church Fathers are those who men* who have left behind a written legacy that is orthodox, who had a certain holiness of life, and who were part of the formation of Christian orthodoxy. So men like the Cappadocians or St. Augustine of Hippo who have laid foundations of theology that are so important that even today’s heterodox read them to gain insight, or those like St. Benedict and the Desert Fathers and Mothers who laid the foundations for monasticism and spirituality that are so important that our vision of monasticism would have been wildly different without them are easy choices for Church Fathers.

However, there is no ancient consensus, just as there was no mediaeval consensus, no Reformation consensus, and there is no contemporary consensus. What the early mediaeval and Byzantine theologians and spiritual writers provide us is a consolidation and synthesis of the patristic legacy.

Thus we get settlements over the date of Easter, the spread of Benedictine monasticism and Augustinianism in the West as well as a certain level of liturgical systemisation. By 735, the western church was inescapably mediaeval, but without the early mediaeval synthesists, the shape of the mediaeval church and beyond would have been very different.

In the East we have a similar story with Christology, icons, hesychastic monasticism and so forth in the early Byzantine world. By 749, with the death of John of Damascus, we have a thoroughly Byzantine church in the East.

Back to the Venerable Bede. What Bede provides us is the same thing any of the other Fathers provides us. He gives us a different perspective from today’s. He provides us an insight into an older form of orthodoxy and an older way of reading Scripture. He also gives us insight into the holiness of the people who lived in the age that forged our own orthodoxy and our reading of Scripture.

So, no, Bede isn’t ancient. But I believe that Bede is a Church Father and well worth reading, especially since he is the only Englishman whom the Church of Rome recognises as a Doctor of the Church!

*The “Church Mothers”, sadly, do not exist because most women in antiquity and the Early Middle Ages did not write. Our ancient Christian female writers are Perpetua (possibly), a few of the Desert Mothers (who are not so much writers as part of an oral tradition), and Egeria who left us a travelogue of her trip to the Holy Land in the fourth century. Sadly, the other holy women of this period did not leave us a written record, despite the high level of literacy amongst many of them.

The Cult of the Cross & Christ the King Sunday

Tomorrow is Christ the King Sunday.  Rick Dugan has a good meditation on the topic over at St. George the Dragonslayer.  The image of Christ as the King he is was one easily taken up by the Anglo-Saxon world, reflected in many pieces of literature, such as Andreas where Christ is portrayed as a King and the Apostles his thegns.

One piece of devotional poetry that comes from the earliest days of English writing and is preserved for us in the tenth-century Vercelli Book, a manuscript containing various pieces of Old English literature.  It describes a dream the narrator had wherein he beheld the Rood (ie. Cross), and the Rood spoke to him, relating in dramatic verse and forceful power the scene of Christ’s crucifixion.  There is a translation of the whole poem here.  Read it; it’s worth the time, trust me.

For our purposes, I’ll quote the following from that translation:

The young hero stripped himself–he, God Almighty–
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me. I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth’s fields, but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared. I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together. All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man’s side, after ghost he gave up.
Much have I born on that hill
of fierce fate. I saw the God of hosts
harshly stretched out. Darknesses had
wound round with clouds the corpse of the Wielder,
bright radiance; a shadow went forth,
dark under heaven. All creation wept,
King’s fall lamented. Christ was on rood.

And this, later on:

Death he tasted there, yet God rose again
by his great might, a help unto men.
He then rose to heaven. Again sets out hither
into this Middle-Earth, seeking mankind
on Doomsday, the Lord himself,
Almighty God, and with him his angels,
when he will deem–he holds power of doom–
everyone here as he will have earned
for himself earlier in this brief life.

This is a clear, unequivocal statement of the Kingship of Jesus.  Jesus is King.  He truly reigns on high, perfectly indivisible from the Father as true God.  Each age and culture tries to cast him into its own image of the ideal leader — we smile at the Dream of the Rood and Christ’s thegns and grimace at Thomas Bradwardine (d. 1349) when he says that God can do whatever He pleases since He is a Lord — and what we have to realise is that Christ is unlike any earthly ruler.

Christ is the King who laid down His life for His subjects.

His crown is of thorns.

His throne is the seat of his own execution.

He calls us to obedience and to follow his own example of self-giving love and endless charity.  We are to give of ourselves for others, give our lives for life.  We are to be humble.  We are to turn the other cheek.  We are not to consider our own esteem as something to be grasped.  If we live walking in His path, then we shall see Him when He comes to “deem . . . everyone here”.  He is King and, unlike any modern monarch, demands complete and utter obedience — an obedience, a service, that is perfect freedom.

So, “worship the King, all glorious above.”  He is seated on a sapphire throne today; let us remember the glory of the Cross of yesterday.

Medieval Marriage Ceremony (trans. by me)

If you are interested, I have translated and posted the Order for the Consecration of Marriage, Sarum Use, in the right-hand sidebar.

If you were wed in mediaeval England, this ceremony would have been what you’d have used — except that everything save the vows would be in Latin.  This ceremony, like all traditional liturgies, is rich in symbol and beauty.  When the groom gives the ring, he also places a bag of silver and of gold on the priest’s Bible for all three items to be blessed.  Thus, he says by his action that he can support the new family that is made that day.  Once the ring is blessed, it is given thus:

With this ring I thee wed, this gold and silver I thee give, and with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.

Then the husband shall place the ring on the thumb of his wife, saying: In the name of the Father,

Then on the forefinger, saying: And of the Son,

Then on the middle finger, saying: And of the Holy Ghost,

Then on the ring finger, saying: Amen.

Then he shall release the ring.  For it is [taught] in medicine that there is a certain vein proceeding all the way to the heart, and in the melodiousness of silver is symbolised internal love, which now young ought always to be between them.

That manner of exchange of rings — without the gold and silver — was that used by my sister in her mediaeval wedding.  Thus is the Holy Trinity invoked in the most common symbol of marriage, the endless circle of a ring.  God is present with us in our marriages, Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

I like the canopy that is held above the bride and groom as the priest blesses their marriage.  My sister also used this aspect of Sarum in her own wedding ceremony, and I understand that it symbolises the new household the bride and groom are creating that day.

Something you may wonder at in the ceremony is the Pax during the Communion.  The Pax was a physical object, of wood or stone, with a picture of Christ or a saint on it, that was kissed and passed around during the Eucharist in the Sarum Use.  This was a tangible symbol of Christ’s peace which He communicates to us in the Eucharist.  We share it with him.  We share it with one another.  And with the Pax, it is sealed with a holy kiss.

This ceremony, as is common in mediaeval liturgies, comes complete with a wide variety of prayers, chiefly blessings upon the couple.  The blessing upon the bride following the Sacramental benediction includes this lovely phrase:

May she endure among the saintly women.  May she be as loveable as Rachel to her husband; as wise as Rebecca; as long-lived and faithful as Sarah.

Liturgy is not simply words upon a page, as we often imagine when we think of “liturgical” vs. “non-liturgical” churches or worship.  Liturgy, or leitourgeia, is the work of the people.  It include standing, sitting, kneeling.  It includes hymns and prayers.  It includes symbolic actions, powerfully demonstrated herein with the canopy, the exchange of rings with gold and silver, the Pax.  In liturgy, we enact in the sanctuary the spiritual reality of our lives.  We worship God there and leave there to bring the truths and symbols of the liturgy into “daily life” — the blessings upon our homes (canopy), the provision for our families (gold & silver), endless love between husband and wife (the ring) bound up in the Trinity, the peace of Christ that passes all understanding and permeates our entire existence (the Pax).

These symbols are all evangelical truths enacted for our benefit.  Alas that the liturgies of today are so bereft of such depth and beauty!

Uneasy with the Mother of Our Lord

St. Mary (a purposefully papist picture)

For those interested in medieval drama, check out my thoughts on the Chester Cycle.

My mother organises a youth musical and drama group associated with her church.  One year, she decided to try and shake things up a little, to move away from Dennis and Nan Allan and songs by Steven Curtis Chapman and Michael W Smith, and to try out something medieval.  So she thought they might enjoy “The Second Shepherds’ Pageant” of Wakefield as found in the Everyman edition Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays.  At the time, this group included a number of Baptists — a God-fearing people who are also suspicious of all scent of Popery.

As I understand it, they were not chiefly uneasy with the silly plot-line about Mak casting spells on the shepherds and stealing a sheep and then pretending it was his child, but, rather, with the Blessed Virgin.  I am dumbfounded by this fact, for here are the references to the Mother of Our Lord:

“They prophesied by clergy — that in a virgin / should he light and lie, to sloken our sin” (ll. 676-677)

“Hail, maker, as I mean, [born] of a maiden so mild!” (l. 711)

“Farewell, lady, so fair to behold, / with thy child on thy knee.” (ll. 746-747)

The Virgin herself has this one line to the Shepherds:

The Father of heaven, God omnipotent, / That set all on seven, his Son has he sent. / My name could he neven, and light ere he went. / I conceived him full even through might, as he meant; / And now is he born. / He keep you from woe! — / I shall pray him so. / Tell forth as ye go, / And min on this morn.

There is nothing in this play that is not simply what the Bible teaches. Jesus was born of a virgin, the power of God conceived Him in her.  I suppose the Bible says nothing of whether she be fair or no, yet that is but a small matter.

Protestants need to wake up and realise that the unconscious anti-Marian stance is unbiblical and unwarranted.  The Mother of Our Lord belongs in any discussion of the Incarnation, and she ought to have a central role in any retelling — artistic, dramatic, narrative — of the Nativity.  Furthermore, she belongs in a good number of the Gospel stories, from the Wedding at Cana to the Crucifixion, and probably the Empty Tomb as well.  She is a figure in the life of Christ, and one upon whom the favour of the Lord rests.

If we push St. Mary to the fringes of our understanding of the life of God while He was incarnate, then we fail at coming near a complete understanding of that Incarnate Life.  Given that the Incarnation is God’s most powerful revelation of Himself unto us, to fail at understanding Jesus’ life in any way, we are failing to understand God, Who He Is, and What He Does.

Saint of the Week: Saint Boniface, Patron Saint of Germany

Mosaic of St. Boniface, Immaculate Heart Roman Catholic Church, Windsor, ON

Since St. Augustine of Canterbury was our saint last week, let us turn to another missionary saint, St. Boniface (675-754), the Apostle of Frisia and Germany (so, I guess, emphatically not of the Dutch?).

One of the notable realities of the Anglo-Saxon Church was its missionary enterprise.  The English were a people who came to Christ in the 600’s, and by the end of that century they were sending out missionaries themselves.  Saint Cuthbert is remembered not only as a monk and hermit but as a missionary.  He engaged in the work of evangelism amongst the unsaved English.  St. Boniface is amongst the body of English missionaries, but unlike Cuthbert his mission was a sending out to the pagan world on the Continent.

He was born in Devon (whence the Hoskins hail!) of free, land-owning peasants and received his education amongst the monasteries at Exeter and Nursling.  He became a monk, producing England’s first Latin primer (an achievement not to be passed over) and writing poems and acrostics.  When he was thirty years of age, he was ordained priest, and his knowledge of the Scriptures was used by the Spirit to bring him success in preaching and teaching.  This skill at preaching and teaching made him known beyond the monastery walls, and King Ina of Wessex and his synod sent him as their envoy to Archbishop Burchard of Canterbury.

Boniface could have continued his ecclesiastical career in England.  He would probably have been able to write a number of clever books and commentaries and preach to many more Christian souls if he had.  He may have gotten a nice, comfortable English bishopric.  He would certainly have become an abbot.  Instead, he followed the call to mission and crossed over to Frisia, following the footsteps of Sts. Wilfrid and Willibrord.  There he met with much opposition from militant pagans and was forced to return to Nursling in England.

In 717, he refused to accept his election as abbot of this monastery but set off the next year to Rome.  There he went to Pope Gregory II for a definite mission for preaching and was given Bavaria and Hesse.  On his way, hearing things were less volatile in Frisia, he spent three years with the aging Willibrord, assisting with his mission there.  Only then did he go on to Hesse.

The Pope ordained him bishop and gave him a letter to Charles Martel (victor at Tours and grandfather of Charlemagne).  Charles Martel gave Boniface his protection, and the English monk proceeded to evangelise Hesse.  His zeal in Hesse is best remembered in the story of the sacred oak at Geismar.  He took an axe to it and felled it.  The pagan gods neither protected the people of Geismar and the oak nor did they avenge its felling.  This demonstration, reminiscent of Elijah vs. the prophets of Baal, was instrumental in the conversion of many.

St. Boniface moved his mission on to Thuringia where he continued preaching and making disciples for Christ.  As St. Boniface made disciples, he also made monasteries.  These were populated by English monks and nuns and served as centres of Christianity and civilisation.  This was a typical approach for the time, and it strikes me as a very clever use for the monks, incorporating them into Christ’s Kingdom-growing mission and its frontlines.

Pope Gregory III made him archbishop in 732, enabling him to consecrate bishops in that part of Germany beyond the Rhine.  In 738, a new mission field opened amongst the Saxons of Westphalia when Charles Martel defeated them.  Boniface tried to recruit prayers and support from the Anglo-Saxons in England, given their common ancestry; but this mission field soon became closed when the Franks lost it, remaining closed to Christian missionaries until Charlemagne conquered it and forced the locals to convert by the sword.

During his career as archbishop, St. Boniface recruited more missionaries to join him, held synods and councils amongst the newly-converted German Christians, and sought reform in the Church in France following Charles Martel’s death in 741, curtailing such abuses as simony and vacant bishoprics, and establishing the Benedictine Rule as the standard for all Carolingian monasteries.

Many of Boniface’s decrees regarding the Frankish church went unenforced, especially following the accession of Pippin the Short, who engaged in many of the same bad practices as Charles Martel.  Boniface was getting on in years and left these matters to younger minds, retiring instead to Frisia where his missionary efforts had begun.  In these last years, he not only re-evangelised parts where paganism had had a resurgence, but pushed the Christian mission into new places.

One day, while awaiting some converts to come for their confirmation at the River Borne, a band of angry pagans attacked at killed Bishop Boniface and his companions.  So ended his activity in the evangelism of the Frisians and the workings of the Church in the Early Middle Ages.  His feast day is today.

May his example of missionary zeal and reform spur all of us onward to bring more disciples into the Kingdom of God regardless of the cost, for such will cost our whole lives, whether bands of pagans kill us by the side of a river or not.

I owe the bulk of this information to David Hugh Farmer’s The Oxford Dictionary of Saints. The opinions and certain connections with the wider mediaeval church, however, are all mine; so is the photo.