A Look at the History of Biblical Exegesis


By Fr. Raymond Taouk


I. the ancient period


1)           The Jews

·      The Hellenic Jews borrowed the allegorical system of interpretation from pagan writers (from fables and myths as from Homer). Philo (Alexandrian school 30 BC-42 AD) knew the Platonic philosophy and the Stoics. He uses the allegorical method to explain the Torah. He gives the preference to the cosmic or moral order over the historical order : he changed the character of the SS, by replacing God’s teaching by a series of philosophical instructions.[1]  Being superior to the Gentiles in moral and doctrinal truths, they tried to be superior also in culture and philosophy.

·      The Palestinian Jews. The Rabbis are essentially casuist, trying to justify their traditions by the written Law.[2] Casuistry predominates in the Talmud (oldest form of exegesis of Pal. Jews) and Midrashim, w. various rules of interpretations. In the Talmud the interpretation of the norm of life ‘quid agendum est’ predominates in the Midrashim, it is the doctrine and history of the people, ‘quid credendum est’. [3]


2)           Apostolic Fathers and Apologists. St. Justin martyr shows that the Messianic prophecies were fulfilled in Christ, St. Irenaeus uses them to refute heretics; St. Cl. of Rome, St. Ignatius to increase the religious devotion of the faithful.


3)           School of Alexandria.

·      It was the first Christian school to be founded, being firstly a catechetical school for the instruction of neophytes, finally the first Christian theological school or seminary. Pantanus, the founder, Cl of Alex. the follower, teaches 3 senses in the Bible (literal, moral and prophetic or allegorical).

·      Origen was the real master (186-255) wrote his Hexapla and Tetrapla, making him the father of textual criticism. He distinguishes 3 senses, the corporeal for the simple minds, the psychical for the proficient, the pneumatic for the perfect. 3 features characterise his SS works : a prodigious erudition (superior even to St. Jerome), an excessive love for allegory, an audacity of views which makes him fall into errors.

·      Eusebius of Cesarea (265-340), the great historian of antiquity, follows the works of the school. St. Athanasius (d. 375) follows the simple literal meaning in his dogmatic and polemic works, but the allegorical interpretation in the Cant. of Cant, Job and Psalms.

·      The school of Alex., despite its overdose of allegorism, did much for the exegesis by opening the way to the textual critique, philology, and sacred archeology (Eusebius).


4)           The school of Antioch

·      founded at the end of III c. by Lucian (d.312), followed by Diodorus of Tarsus (till 360) and Theodore of Mopsuestia (360-430). Its principles are the insistence on the grammatical and historical meaning and opposition to the allegorical system of interpretation. It admits also the typical sense of the Bible called theory.

·      St. John Chrysostom and Th. of Mopsuestia were the pupils of Diodorus of Tarsus. St Jn has explained almost the entire Bible in his homilies (250 hom. on St. Paul’s ep. are considered one of the best commentaries of St. Paul). His principles are the prudent rejection of the allegorical and admission of the typical meaning. There are 3 kinds of meanings in SS : the literal, the allegorical (improper literal sense), the anagogical sense (typical sense)

·      Theodore of Mopsuestia commented almost all the Bible and is the most audacious of the Antiocheans (he gives the preference of internal critique over ext. and does not respect tradition de facto). He was called the father of Nestorianism (condemned by Chalcedon in 453 by St. Leo I).


5)           The Latin Fathers

·      St. Hippolytus follows Origen in his taste for the spiritualist exegesis, although less, erudite is however more sober, more rational and hence safer. Tertullian (d. 240) and St. Cyprian (d.258) frequently explained Biblical passages, usually in the literal sense. Many Latin Frs. due to the theological difficulties in Asia Minor followed rather the Alex. school. St. Hilary (315-367) follows closely Origen, St. Ambrose (340-397) Philo, Origen and St. Basil.

More independent writers :

·      Ambriosiaster (unknown author of comm. of 13 ep. of St. Paul, once attributed to St. Ambrose). His comment. of the ep. is the best among the ancients (dixit Lagrange).

·      St. Jerome (342-420) tried a middle course between the 2 schools of interpretation.

·      He preferred the allegorical meaning of Origen whenever the proper literal sense seemed to him to render a text dishonest or ridiculous. In his later works he insisted more upon the literal meaning.

·      His main work are the comment. on the Prophets.

·      The great merit of St. Jerome is to have put the Latins in touch with the riches of the Greek science, to which is added a philological erudition, the direct sight of the sacred places and a serious knowledge of the Hebrew tradition.

·      His negative point is that he followed the methods of his time. He does not seek to show the synthesis, the main point of a work, the connexion of parts... He is so avid to make his reader profit by what others said before him that he looks stms more like a compiler than a commentator. He also sees the whole O.T. as a vast symbolic prophecy of the N.T., although he knows that the allegory must always be based on the literal sense.

·      St. Augustine (354-430),

·      This great genious was limited in SS since he ignored Hebrew and wasn’t familiar enough w. the Greek. He has too much a taste for the allegories and the symbolism of the numbers. Yet, he wanted to know carefully the literal sense and to avoid the audacious interpretations agst it and against science. In his theological works, he adhered to the literal sense.

·      He wrote De consensu Evangelistarum, Adnotationes in Job, Enarrationes in Ps, De sermone Dñi in monte, Tractus in Joannis Evang, Genesis (3 comment.), 2 on Romans, Galatians.


6)           The Cappadocian Fathers.

St. Basil the Gt (330-379) tog. w. St. Greg. of Naz. was an admirer of Origen. However, he rejected allegories as mere dreams and old ladies’ fables. Homelies on the Hexaëmeron, Psalms (moral sense). St. Greg. of Nyssa (335-395) : 8 hom. on Eccle., 15 on Cant. and Hexaëmeron, the life of Moses (very allegorical). St. Greg. of Nazianzus (328-389) interpreted Mt, explained the SS in his poems.


7)           Syrian Fathers. St. Ephraem (306-373) in Edessa surpassed the Gk Frs in that he explained the Syriac version (Peshitto) and was able to penetrate more deeply into the sense of the O.T., following the interpr. of the Antiochian school.


8)           Late Patristic Period

·      Cassiodorus (477-570) of Viarium in Calabria, Italy, collected a library of all the books which he could find. His voluminous comment. on the Psalms was based on St. Aug., and he edited comment. of the Ep., Acts, and the Apocalypse.

·      St. Greg. Gt (540-604) follows a practical purpose in explaining the H. Bible, and often neglected the literal meaning for the allegorical (esp. Job).

·      St. Bede (674-735) wrote comment. on the Pentateuch, Prov., Cant. etc.




II. the scholastic period


            “The scholastics were solicitous about the genuineness of the Latin version, cf. Correctoria Biblica or emendations. To them, we owe the clear distinction of the various senses of the sacred words; the value of ‘sense’ in theology, the division of books into parts, and the summaries of the various parts, the investigation of the purpose of the writers, the demonstration of the connection of sentence with sentence and clause with clause. The valuable work of the scholastics in SS is seen in their theological treatises and their Scriptural commentaries. The greatest name among them all is ST” (Providentissimus Deus).


            The renewal of theology in the XII cent. had its repercussion on the Scriptural studies also. As the syllogism showed the mechanism of reasoning, a minute analysis of the SS pierced more through the inspired text. Such a method was to hold in honour the literal sense, and if it was not used more than it happened, that was maybe because the execrated Jews were cultivating the literal exegesis, frowned upon as carnal and somewhat suspect to their adversaries.


1)           Oriental Church. From the V cent. onwards, the Gk theology declines, the compilers and summarisers work and only register the int. results from the past. It is the time of the chains-catena. St. Jn Damascenus (W749) his work is that of a compiler (dogma, ascesis, exegesis and history), esp. of St. Jn Xom. Photius (820-897) who caused the Eastern schism was a literate and produced comment. on N.T., the Psalms and the Amphilochiae (240 questions of exegesis). Theophylactus (W1107) has comment. of the N.T. inspired from St. Jn Xom.


2)           XII cent. St. Bernard is more a preacher and a mystic than an exeget. His comment. on Cant. of Cant. was the book most enjoyed in the M.A. His homelies are truly scriptural mosaics. P. Lombard (W1160)commented on Ps.:glossa magistralis/magna glossatura based on gl. ordinaria.


3)           13th cent. in general. The biblical commentaries are lessons of the Masters of theology, who endeavour not only to uncover the sense of the text, but also to find the solution to dogmatic or moral problems, from which they try to establish the theological systematization ex professo. Hugh of St. Cher o.p. (W1280) comments on Job, Ps, Lament, Baruch, Prophets, 4 gospels and Apoc., he produced the first biblical concordance. St. Albert Gt o.p. (W1280) commented esp. 4 gospels; St. Bonaventure (1221-1274) comm. (Ecl. Sap. Lk, Jn) delights in moral applications.


4)           ST Thomas Aquinas. His commentaries have 2 forms : the exposition written by him, and the lesson (or report)  written by an auditor of the class orally given on a special text. Most of his works came from the 2d form. He left us the best commentaries on the paulinian ep. and the 4th gospel. He wrote also a comment. of the 1st gospel, and the Catena aurea, gloss from the Fathers.


5)           XIV c. Nicolas of Lyre, franc. (W1340) produced a popular comment. of all the books of the Bible, following the literal sense. It became for 3 cent. a popular commentary.





1)           After the fall of Constantinople (1453), the affluence of the Greeks to the West produced a renewal of the sacred studies as much as the profane literature. The immigrants brought in their MSS of the N.T. and of the Septuagint. The invention of the printing press produced as first book the Latin Bible (Gutenberg, 1456). The C.T. (1546) gave precise rules for the diffusion of a solid scriptural teaching, which stimulated the movement. The cent. between 1563 to 1663 represents the golden age of the Cath. exegesis.


2)           Before the C.T., Cajetan o.p. (1470-1534) commented on almost the entire Bible, where he acts as critique and theologian, revealing the literal sense, yet daring in some of his ideas.


3)           After CT, the S.J. included in their Ratio studiorum the study of Gk, Hebrew and other oriental lggs, which put them in the first rank of exegets, esp. Spain. Ribera (W1591), Prado (W1595); Salmeron (W1585) bases the theology on the SS, Maldonado (W1583) famous for his comment. on 4 gospels, Tolet (W1596), Montanus (W1598) worked on the Polyglot Bible of Antwerp. Cornelius a Lapide (W1637) wrote a large comment. of the entire Bible (except Job and Ps.). St. Robert Bellarmine (W1621) has a commentary on the Ps.,  one of the best for its piety and unction.


4)           The Protestants, who had proclaimed the Bible as the only rule of faith, fell into the same abuses of allegorism which they had reproached to the Catholics. Worse, their doctrine of private interpretation (‘scrutamini Scripturas’) was to lead sooner or later to rationalism. Today’s Protestants are the first to recognise the weakness of Luther’s and Calvin’s exegesis, which is subjective, being based on individual tastes of the soul. This was because in principle, the exegesis of the literal sense came not from the theological magisterium but from a personal illumination (Erasmus said the same thing wo falling into all the excesses of Prot.) S. Bochart (W1667) wrote on the nat. history of the Bible and a sacred geography. Grotius (W1645) has a great philological and historical work, but often rationalist.


5)           The Jews. Abarbanel (W1508) in Portugal produced some comment. on the Pentateuch and the Prophets. Elias Levita (W1549) from Bavaria produced the first scientific work on the Massora.



iv. the beginnings of the critique



1)           To the previous causes of biblical studies of the Renaissance,  we must add the Cartesian spirit (XVII c.) which seeks a rational method similar to geometry, which in biblical studies would be a technical reading of the Bible.

·      The Jewish Spinoza states that most theologians assume a priori the principle that the Holy Scripture is infallible whereas this should be the end result of a long scientific and mere rational study, i.e. a study of the internal criteria and abstracting totally from the dogma and the CC magisterium.

·      The Protestant Cappelus (W1658) and the Catholic Oratorian Richard Simon (W1712) led the exeg. studies into the textual biblical critique. Simon is the first to attempt a project of ecumenical Bible with the Protestants. He wrote on the critical history of the Bible, with a tone of self-sufficiency. In them, he raises questions on the authenticity of the s. texts. For him there are 2 senses, the letter and the sense of tradition and mystical theology (understood in the same sense as de Lubac and Ratzinger) similar to the Jewish Midrashim, i.e. a theological and spiritual development, but not present in the s. text. He places a wedge between the letter (what remains after the work of critique) and the dogmatic and biblical theology.[4] He was contradicted by Bossuet, most of his works were put in the Index.

·      Good authors were still working : Bossuet gave some bibl. interpretations in his Meditations on the Gospels and Elevations on the mysteries; and Calmet o.s.b. (W1757) gave his literal commentary on all the works of the Bible, which served as script. basis for both Cath. and Prot. Before the XX c. we must also mention Le Hir (W1868) and Migne who produced in SS 2 monumental compilations, the Scripturae Sacrae cursus completus (28 vol, w. unequal comment.), the Evgcl demonstrations (20 vol.), plus 3 encyclopedias. These works are marked by grave defects : ‘byzantine’ exegesis (mere compilation), exegesis over apologetical and w. little in depth of work, exegesis careful to avoid thorny problems.


2)           The precursors of the rationalist critique in Germany. The Protestants had replaced the eccl. magisterium perfectly defined by St. Augustine[5], by the interior testimony of the Holy Ghost. The rationalists were going to replace this sentiment by the historical proof. Kant sets the tone : the supreme rule of exegesis was not so much to find out what an author, even inspired, had said, but what he should have said in conformity with the natural religion. Semler (W1791) disciple of the philosopher Wolf, was a pioneer and held most of the accepted theories of the liberal protestants. With him, the Christian idea disappears, he retains the name and suppresses the thing. Christ and his Apostles accommodated their teaching to the ideas of their milieu. Eichhorn (W1827) follows on the path of the historical proof. Venturini and Paulus try to explain ‘naturally’ everything in the Gospels re. Jesus by distinguishing the fact from its application. But such a psychological exegesis which pretended to safeguard the gospels without the Evangelists was so extravagant that it contributed to confirm the gospels instead of ruining their authority.


3)           The liberal Prot. exegesis of the end of XIX c : the Historico-critical method.


·      Strauss (W 1874) follows the system of Hegel, which is the most radical idealism, (everything is known and analysed; the rational is the real, the real is rational, denial of the supernatural order). Strauss, in his ‘Life of Jesus’ (1835), makes the critical science a system of absolute rational knowledge (the rational is the real, whatever is not rational is not real), based on the mythical method used to explain the profane histories of Antiquity : whatever is supernat. in the SS is a myth. The problem was to explain how these myths had time to come up before the composition of the gospel texts. Strauss profited by the opinions of the neighboring school of Tubinguen where Christian Baur dated the Gospels at the end of the II c. Such a mythical gospel did not destroy the Church directly since the church was the religious idea within the mind of the believers. Renan drew the conclusion in his own ‘Vie de Jésus’ (1863) : Christ is only a man, but the ideal  man portrayed in the gospels which are considered as an ideal legend. The Christ-idea is a perfect hegelian type.


·      The School of Tubinguen. Baur founds the school of Tubinguen, with the system of antinomies. The gospels are not a spontaneous construction of the popular faith, but the fruit of the conflict between the Petrine and the Paulist parties. The N.T. expresses the evolution between the particularist Judeo-Christian tendency of the Petrine party as shown in the gospel of St. Matthew, and the universalist Pagano-Christianism of the Paulists (gosp. of St. Luke?),  which produced the Catholic synthesis (of St. Mark and Acts of Ap. written end of II c.). Unfortunately for Baur, the ulterior studies of his own school have revealed all the contrary, re. the date and the order of the Gospels, and re. the alleged initial division. Holtzmann, Juelicher, Harnack part. (W1930) renounced to deal with the conflictual tendencies to study the sources. They pretend that Mt and Lk used Mk and the ‘Discourses of the Lord’ called ‘Q’[6]. Harnack states that the synoptics are at the latest from the y. 70 AD.  The latest critique attacked even St. Mark’s gospel : it would be a second hand work. The authenticity of the 4th gospel is criticised, called the johannic question.

·      Another change tries to precise the character of tradition contained in the gospels. They would be coming from very active religious tendencies and ideas.  These tendencies, creative of the final gospel writing, vary according to the critiques : the eschatological school is represented by Weiss, Schweitzer and Loisy (the entire gospel  must be understood by the conception which Jesus had of a purely eschatological kingdom of God); the messianic secret is the key to understand the gospel for Wrede; Harnack reduces all the preaching of Jesus to the notion of God-Father.

·      In summary, the historico-critical method, under whichever form, pretends that the primitive community has added and reconstituted (“disfigured and transfigured” for Loisy) the facts to adapt them more easily to the O.T. prophecies, to prove that these prophecies were realised in J.C. the Messiah. This a priori is typical of the idealist philosophy, the intellect cannot know the external reality, but only some appearances (phenomena). Loisy thus speaks of the Jesus of the Gospel as hiding the historical Jesus. The H. C. Method places a screen between the events & ours., the first community.[7]



v. The exegesis of the 20th Century.


1)           Protestant exegesis (Bultmann, Dibelius)

·      Until then, the exegesis dealt with the question of the contents of the dogma and history of the Gospels. From 1920 onwards, the question bears on the forms or literary genera of the gospel narration, by using the contemporaneous sociological methods. Dibelius and Bultmann assume that the gospels are a late composition, and thus we need to analyse the sociological context to understand how they were composed.

·      negative exegesis : the history of the forms (Formgeschichtliche Schule). Every gospel is a mosaic of most diverse fragments. We need to distinguish them, which is done in 3 steps :

·      a) determination of the basic materials are the logia, the miraculous narrations, the paradygmas, the legendary episodes, the mythical events. Dibelius brings up another classification than that of Bultmann (which shows the artificial character of their ‘scientific method’!).

·      b) From the basic classification, we need to analyse the origin of each of the genera by placing them in their literary milieu by a process which is deductive (the primitive community for Bultmann) or inductive (texts reveal community motives, for Dibelius).

·      c) application of the forms to the gospel. Result : practically nothing remains of the gospels. For B., everything is a product of the primitive community (fast, cure of the leper, resurr. of son of Naim, first call of St. Peter), the apostles firstly, the community next, have made up legendary events and details[8]. The kerygma, the nucleus is that the historical Jesus was simply a Galilean, taken for a prophet, who spoke and acted wo knowing exactly who he was, and died a lamentable death. Everything else, the Incarnate Son of God, the myst. of Redemption and Resurrection of Christ,  is the ‘Christus mythus’ of St. Paul.

·      positive philosophical aspect.

·      The existentialist Heidegger after the political failure of Germany, evidence of the failure of reason, swings the German phil., from a subjective idealism, into a concrete thought, human and existential, with the glorification of the individual conscience. Man alone, anguished, is travelling towards being, ineffable and never found. This ‘being’ is not the essence of things, objective and exterior (every representation is a convocation, i.e. a humiliation and needs to be abolished). It is only the inarticulate echo of ourselves, the awareness of a call.

·      Bultmann translates Heidegger’s philosophy into his Christian exegesis and solves the enigma of the gospel. The cross, the life and miracles of Jesus, the person of Jesus are all concrete events, mere objects of human representation (objectivation) which need to be dissolved by the process of demythologising. The gospel text does not give us a message, a portrait of Christ, a doctrine. It simply calls us back to our existential contingent existence. It is a calling to our personal answer of faith. This existential and personal conception of the gospel as well as the subjectivity of the conscience will be an integral element of the modern ‘Catholic’ exegesis.

·      Bultmann, like the Protestants of the previous cent., adapts his exegesis to the philosophical stream : rationalist, then idealist, and finally existentialist and empiricist. This subjection of theology to philosophy, which is against nature, came from the cartesian autonomy of philo from faith, which deprived philosophy of its natural regulator, theology.

·      Can Heidegger be the basis of theology?  Hans Jonas[9], former heideggerian philosopher, tells the theologians that Heid.’s philosophy is utterly pagan. Heidegger gets rid of the “God is being” (ontotheologism) to adopt the “God is possibility” (post-metaphysical concept). This is how he opposes the Creator of the world to the Revelator of the end of history. The “being which is revealed” (the key concept of his existentialism) is nothing but an immanent revelation of man to the world but in fact, to himself. Now, such a concept of revelation is contradictory to the Christian revelation, since it evokes a permanent revelation, the auto-revelation of being, always renewed, never terminated, always in the making, leading to the future, which is the negation of truth and of true doctrine. To speak of a non-objectivating discourse is to return to the pneumatic theology and meaningless glossolaly. Theology then becomes only poetry and incantation (expression of the initial thought wo explanation), whereas the true office of theology is to define under pain of falling into anarchy and arbitrary judgment.


2)           the new Approaches and hermeneutics


·      SQ. The text of the Biblical Commission (1993, headed by Ratzinger) brings out 2 objections re. the HCMethod : 1º No scientific method can reveal all the riches of the Bible, so that we need to synchronise the diverse senses and see the whole picture rather than the details (= structural analysis of the text); 2º the contemporaneous philosophy has shown the part played by subjectivity in knowledge. These 2 objections find in the new Approaches their corresponding solution, the structural analysis  and the new view of hermeneutics.


·      The structural analysis.

·      Unlike the HC method which required that one purify the text and exit it, the structural analysis remains in the text. It is based on the principle that every written word follows structural relations, and has some meaning because it obeys these structures. It brings out the coherence, the architecture of the sacred text. This idea was born in 1970 with Dufour in the Chantilly Congress and the structural method became very popular since we can always find stg in the SS, which combines easily the most absolute subjectivism with an appearance of objectivity based on the text : this was the method used in the biblical circles and the gospel sharings. Ratzinger seems to prefer this method, “It is necessary to come back to the unity...”  The problem is that, once more as it happened with the HC method, we expect from the form more than what it can reveal : the sense of the SS.

·      Subjective key : They haven’t solved the problem of the sense of the SS. To discover it, they want to come back to an exterior reference, the words are only signs which give the sense only in reference to someone. The present day spiritual exegesis speaks of the meaningful readings, based on the reader : the reading acquires some sense, a new sense as often as we read it. This is a revenge against the HC method which was based on the principle of only one sense  which needed to be determined for each given text of the SS. Here the spiritual exegesis admits the equivocity of the scriptural texts, the polysemy.

·      Protestant Hermeneutics. For Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur, hermeneutics consists in discovering the sense of the SS. Ricoeur, for one, bases his hermeneutics on 3 main notions :

·      a) the world-of-the-text is a statement made about reality, but subject to the interpretation of the successive readers, which opens to them original experiences and possibilities (Husserl and Heidegger);

·      b) distance, there must be a distance between the text and its author (then the text begins to carry its own sense, not the one given by the author) and between the text and the successive readers (giving it a sense it did not have originally). This system pretends to avoid the criticism of subjectivism by saying that the new sense is verified by the ‘world-of-the-text’, and by having recourse to the traditions (whichever they may be, Fathers of the CC, Scholasticism, or Hinduism...);

·      c) symbol. When it deals w. the transcendent God, the world-of-the-text must be interpreted as a symbol or fiction. The symbolic language by its obscurity and distance from the common langg reaches a more fundamental world, the ‘reality of the possible’, more important than reality. Fr. de la Potterie cites Ricoeur ‘the common language grasps only the foam of life; beyond is the essential, that is the appearance of things, the phenomena’. The symbolic sense does not speak to our reason, it speaks to our love and freedom.

·      Ccls : the system of Ricoeur and Cy, although it departs from the HC method by remaining more faithful to the integral text, nevertheless remains very dependent on the past methods. It is a mixture of idealism and of existentialism, very much in tune with modern life. It inaugurates a return to a reading which has a soul (Vs. HC method) and these elements explain its success.


3)           Catholic’ Synthesis by a return to a spiritual exegesis


·      Urs Von Balthasar and de Lubac were the promoters of the new exegesis among the Catholics. De Lubac explains that in writing his ‘Histoire de l’exégèse médiévale’, his intention was to articulate the 2 testaments one upon the other, a return to a form of spiritual theological exegesis. But for this:

·      he uses as a basis the HC method (in vogue among the SJ of Fourvière & Lubac works).[10]

·      he uses also the method of the plurality of senses : the literal reading and the spiritual reading (Vs. R. Simon). Yet, in traditional Cath. theology, polysemy is a false principle. There are 2 senses possible to the SS, the literal and the spiritual, but the spiritual sense is not a second reading of the text. The spiritual sense is the sense of things, not of the text, so that there are never 2 heterogeneous or equivocal senses in the same text, which would place equivocity and double meaning to the SS!

·      Consequences of this conception of the biblical exegesis (Jeffrey on 100 y. of Bibl. school).

·      Revelation. Since the sense comes from the world-of-the-text, revelation evolves and surpasses the text itself. Also the reader, and not only the author, is inspired.

·      Tradition. Like Jesus, who did not write, but interpreted the OT, the primitive community interpreted what Jesus said, and this began the tradition, the ceaseless chain of the living word perfected by the fecund union of the word of the text. Without a living chain, there is no tradition. Tradition, far from being the deposit of the faith, very poor in content, is essentially living and is open to original possibilities of the sense, without being totally subjective because it follows the text.

·      Truth and history. The profound sense appears progressively in the life of the CC. Truth is in the making. Ratzinger says “The word of God must not be read with a historicist reading but supra-historical” because this one alone gives life.

·      Biblical actualization and inculturation. JP II said to the Bibl. Comm 23 Ap. 1993 : “The Bible exercises a constant process of actualisation. (We must) adapt its interpretation to the mentality of the contemporaneous world... It is necessary to translate ceaselessly the language, faithful to the original, and not to force the text by an approach in vogue at a given moment... There is need of an inculturation (through the Bible) according to the genius proper to each people”.


vi. correction of the exegetical critique accdg to the pples of St. Thomis Aquinas


1)           St. Thomas's doctrine supposes a realist doctrine and not essentially symbolic of the existence of X...

2)           ST. sThomas's   exposé of the 4 senses, their order and importance (I 1, 10 c.) :

·      the literal sense ‘significatio qua voces significant res, manifestatio quae est per verba’, the sense of the words themselves. It is the sense intended by the author, and the author of SS is God. There is no room for the search of a hypothetical intention of the human author.

·      the spiritual or typical sense :

·      ‘significatio qua res, a voce significatae, alias res significant’ : the things signified signify something else. This can happen because only a divine author can have things signify the future.

·      this sense is known not by ourselves but by revelation (SS, tradition, cf Gal iv 24 Agar and Sara signify the 2 alliances), and it is not ncssy that the hagiographer had known it. This sp. sense is relatively rare and always indicated in tradition or the SS, given by the unanimity of the FFrs.

·      CC sets 3 conditions necessary for the existence of the sp. sense : a) the thing signifying (Abraham) must exist historically, otherwise it could not figure stg (Vs. the symbolic re-reading which could be wo real foundation); b) a certain similitude between the type and the anti-type; c) the intention of God to signify (else, simple accomodation).

3)           The spiritual sense, in concreto:

·      division : dogmatic or allegorical sense (signifies a dogmatic reality); moral or tropological (moral reality); future or anagogical (re. future life).

·      priority of the literal sense :  the literal sense founds the sp. sense. There is always a literal sense in every text, not ncssly a sp. sense. ‘Ex solo sensu litterali potest trahi argumentum’. Moreover, the sp. sense is revealed elsewhere in other places of the Bible as the literal sense, so that, as a rule, to ignore the spiritual sense is not detrimental to the study of SS. There is no polysemy (heterogen. ss)

4)           Exegesis is always for the sake of theology (pples and goal), even though it uses scientific tools. It is part of theology (1º scriptural or biblical theology; 2º tradition ( Church Fathers/Doctors/Councils), 3º speculatv.



[1]The Alex. Jews loved such an exegesis bec. of their desire to show that their sacred books were on a par with the Greek philosophical books. The atmosphere was also such that everyone used mythology and poetry.

[2]In this they meet with Philo “in the absence of truly literal and historical exegesis. The rabbis seek in the SS a foundation for their traditions, Philo a starting point for his allegories” (Lagrange).

[3]The Mishna (repetition) is the second law, text and codification of the oral traditions of ancient scribes, often stigmatised by O.L. , composed at the end of IIc. AD.  It was completed and explained by the Gemara (completion) : both of them form the Talmud (though it suits more the Gemara alone): Talmud of Jerusalem (end IV cent), of Babylon (V cent). “Both Talmud constitute a formidable juridical work, where one finds fine discussions sometimes clear, stms lost in a flood of legend, of hist. narrations, of anecdotes, of scientific data on any topic, including sorcery” (Vincent).

[4]He wrote : Critical history of the Old T., of the N.T., crit. hist. of the versions of the N.T., of the commentators of the N.T.

[5] “Evangelio non crederem nisi me catholicae Ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas” Contra Manich 5,6. ML XLII col 176.

[6] The theory of the 2 sources of the Gospels is still widely the opinio recepta among independent critics, and prevalent among modern Cath. exegets, although it was condemned by the Biblical Comms(SisiNono 1994).

[7]And maybe a second screen, the text itself which translates imperfectly the thoughts of the primitive community.

[8]Dibelius says : to the words “behold thy mother...”, the primitive community has added “whoever does the will...”

[9]Esprit, Juillet-Août 1988.

[10]Fr. de la Potterie e.g. says that the ‘miracle of the multiplication of loaves’ must be reduced to a fundamental narration.