The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 122

“Indeed, “the economy of the Old Testament was deliberately SO oriented that it should prepare for and declare in prophecy the coming of Christ, redeemer of all men.” “Even though they contain matters imperfect and provisional. The books of the Old Testament bear witness to the whole divine pedagogy of God’s saving love: these writings “are a storehouse of sublime teaching on God and of sound wisdom on human life, as well as a wonderful treasury of prayers; in them, too, the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way.””

Obiter Dicta:  Sometimes members of a home sports team, such as a college basketball team, will declare the proclamation “not in our house” to make the point that the visiting team is not welcomed/invited to call-the-shots or be-in-charge on “our” home field/arena/stadium.  The word “economy” is derived from two Greek words which mean “home” (οἰκία; pronounced oy-key-ah) and “law” or “custom” (νόμος, pronounced no-mos).  These etymological roots indicate that the meaning of the word economy is the-way-things-are-done-here (in this house/home).  As used above in paragraph 122, the word economy means the way the Old Testament was arranged for God’s intended purpose/communication-of-meaning.

The word pedagogy is derived from two Greek words referring to children (παιδεία, pronounced pie-dee-ah) and “leader/guide/escort” (ἀγωγός, pronounced ah-go-gos).  The use of the word pedagogy in paragraph 122 (“…the…divine pedagogy of God’s saving love…”) implies that in relation to the content of the Sacred Scriptures and in relationship with the scriptural instructor (i.e. God) we always are and should be child-like; with a trusting sense of wonder excitedly hoping to be led to and into the experiences of the mysteries of the divine economy.  “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 121

“The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never been revoked.”

Obiter Dicta:  The Old Testament contains announcements of five covenants; of all human kind with God through Noah, of covenants with a select people chosen by God through Abraham, Moses, and David, and the covenant with God announced by the prophet Jeremiah.  The New Testament is the announcement of a salvific/redemptive relationship between God and all people effected through the incarnation and paschal mystery of Jesus the Christ.

The word testament is a translation of the Latin testamentum which was the word used to translate the Hebrew language word for covenant (בְּרִית, pronounced b’rith) into Latin.  For reasons of cultural/religious sensitivity, for a time it was a practice to call the Old Testament the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament the Christian Scriptures.  Though this solved the aforementioned sensitivity issue, it lost the notion of covenant which is essential for understanding the Sacred Scriptures.  The Sacred Scriptures are important because they are an announcement of a specific event/reality; the establishment of a blood like relationship of loyalty and loving kindness between God and us, i.e. covenant.  So as to retain the essential covenantal notion, it became a practice to refer to the Old Testament as the First Covenant and the New Testament as the Second Covenant.  This too was found to be inadequate due in part to the Old Testament containing the written announcements of a number of covenants only one of which was chronologically first, and also because from a Christian point of view the final covenant of human kind with God through Jesus is understood to be primary in importance.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 120

“It was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books. This complete list is called the canon of Scripture. It includes 46 books for the Old Testament (45 if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and 27 for the New. The Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, Tobit, Judith, Esther, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Baruch, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi. The New Testament: the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the Acts of the Apostles, the Letters of St. Paul to the Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, the Letter to the Hebrews, the Letters of James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2 and 3 John, and Jude, and Revelation (the Apocalypse).”

Obiter Dicta:  The final decision to decide and state what books are part of the divinely inspired sacred scriptures was made by the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.  However, that authority did not come to this conclusion on its own.  Before the canon was established, many other biblical books (gospels, letters, wisdom texts, etc.) had been written and were in circulation in the years of the early Church.  When the faith communities gathered for worship or when persons were involved in catechesis, many different books were selected for liturgical reading and for catechetical instruction.  Over time, those books/texts which struck the members of the early faith communities as more clearly and accurately describing the words and actions of Jesus the Christ; those texts began to be used more often in worship and for catechesis.  These texts which were used more often were more often copied and disseminated between local faith communities.  Those which were used less often were not copied or disseminated.  When the time came for Church authority to decide and state which books were inspired by God, primary consideration was given to those texts which had eventually become use and copied and disseminated.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 119

“”It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God.”  “But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me.””

Obiter Dicta:  Biblical exegetes are those scholars who interpret the meaning of biblical passages.  Exegesis is the scholarly activity of doing the research necessary to understand what the human authors of those biblical passages intended to communicate and what the understanding of these passages were by the authors’ intended audiences.  A biblical isogete is a person who attempts to impose her/his ideas about the biblical text onto the biblical text.  This imposition of the perspectives of the latter day “interpreter” on the biblical text being “investigated” is called isogesis.  (Isogesis is also sometimes spelled eisegesis.)

On the surface, it would seem that a latter day Church authority declaring the intended divine meaning of the biblical passages being considered would be isogetical.  And there are times when the human failings of the interpretive and applicative authority of designated Church persons causes biblical passages to be interpreted wrongly and applied wrongly.  Nevertheless, the Church established by Jesus the Christ is that entity to which the Word of God was delivered and to which authority was given to safeguard the appropriate uses of sacred scripture.  Simply said, the Church possesses an intuitive empathy for how the scriptures should be understood so that the exegetical portrayal of the meaning of texts accurately reflects what the Church knows to be true about the Word, about the primary deliverer of that Word (Jesus the Christ), and about the Gospel.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 118

“A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:  The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith; The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.”

Obiter Dicta:  Today is the liturgical feast day of Saint Robert Bellarmine (September 17).  Among his many memorable deeds is his involvement in the Vatican investigation of Galileo Galilei.  Galileo’s assertions about observational proof supporting the theory of heliocentrism (that the planets orbited the sun, rather than that the sun circled the earth) were declared by the Church investigation to be in error.  Of course, this finding was factually incorrect.

What may have been going on here is that the laity had not been properly catechized regarding sacred scripture and the distinctions which must be made in interpreting and applying biblical passages.  Probably, clergy responsible for catechetical instruction regarding the interpretation and application of sacred scriptures were, themselves, not well trained in making such distinctions.  Lacking the ability to distinguish between the various senses of sacred texts, members of the Church were unable to distinguish between biblical passages taken literally which seemed to be contradicted by Galileo’s scientific findings, and those passages which should have been understood in another spiritual sense (allegorical, moral, anagogical).  Not able to make such distinctions, the findings and assertions of Galileo tended to disturb the faith of persons who placed their trust in the literal understanding of sacred scripture and in the assertions made by their catechetical leaders.  Fearing a significant damage to the faith of those persons not able to make such distinctions, perhaps Bellarmine and others were led to error on the side of protecting the faith of their “sheep” rather than align with the truths of God’s natural creation being revealed through observational experimental mathematical science.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 117

“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.  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”.  3. the anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, “leading”). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.”

Obiter Dicta:  The Gospel of John contained one of the first attempts to describe the miracles of Jesus as signs.  The word for sign in the Greek language, σημεῖον (pronounced say-me-own), was the word this gospel used to identify/describe Jesus’ miracles.  The purpose of Jesus’ miraculous signs, according to the author of John, are to direct our attention and awareness to something other than the miraculous sign itself.  Specifically, miraculous signs by Jesus in John direct one’s attention to God, God’s goodness, and God’s gifts to us including the gifts of our existence and our salvation; eternal life of bliss with God in heaven.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 116

“The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.””

Obiter Dicta:  The philosophical attitude of realism is the belief that things (and persons and events) are real, that they can be known as they are in themselves, and that we can speak about them in meaningful ways.  Another way to say the same thing is that things have independent essences which can be discovered through reason and displayed through speech; written and/or oral. All the ways of using speech, literal and allegorical and moral and anagogical, are dependent on this realism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 115

“According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. the profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.”

Obiter Dicta:  From Wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegorical_interpretation_of_the_Bible ) comes the following definition of these four ways in which passages of sacred scripture can be understood:

“Scriptural interpretation is sometimes referred to as the Quadriga, a reference to the Roman chariot that was pulled by four horses abreast. The four horses are symbolic of the four submethods of Scriptural interpretation.  A Latin rhyme designed to help scholars remember the four interpretations survives from the Middle Ages:  Littera gesta docet, Quid credas allegoria, Moralis quid agas, Quo tendas anagogia.  The rhyme is roughly translated:  “The literal teaches what God and our ancestors did, The allegory is where our faith and belief is hid, The moral meaning gives us the rule of daily life, The anagogy shows us where we end our strife.”…St. Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354 to 430) used the four fold interpretive method in his explanation of Christian doctrine, On Christian Doctrine.  Due to the widespread popularity of “On Christian Doctrine” in the Middle Ages, the four fold method became the standard in Christian biblical exegesis of that period.

  • Literal interpretation: explanation of the meaning of events for historical purposes from a neutral perspective by trying to understand the text in the culture and time it was written, and location and language it was composed in.
  • Typological (or allegorical) interpretation: connecting the events of the Old Testament with the New Testament, particularly drawing allegorical connections between the events of Christ’s life with the stories of the Old Testament. Also, a passage speaks directly to someone such as when Francis of Assisi heard the passage to sell all he had. It can also typologically point to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the ark which held the Word of God; Judith, who slew a tyrant is a Marian type; the burning bush, which contains the fire of God but was not consumed, as Mary held the Second Person of the Trinity in her womb but was not burnt up.
  • Tropological (or moral) interpretation: “the moral of the story” or how one should act now. Many of Jesus’ parables and the Book of Proverbs and other wisdom books are packed with tropological meaning.
  • Anagogic interpretation: dealing with the future events of Christian history (eschatology) as well as heaven, purgatory, hell, the last judgement, the General Resurrection and second Advent of Christ, etc. (prophecies).”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 114

“Be attentive to the analogy of faith. By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.”

Obiter Dicta:  The roots of the word analogy are the Greek preposition ἀνά (pronounced ah-nah), which means “on board” or “distributively” and λόγος (low-gos) which means word or study or principle.  The Word of God is distributed throughout the faith; the faith’s history and body of beliefs and community which ascribes to it.  The Word is distributed holographically throughout this faith; each piece is connected to and contains the whole.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: 113

“Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church””

Obiter Dicta:  The Christ-following faith community which came into existence after Jesus’ ascension, the Church which he established, existed for twenty to thirty years prior to the writing of the first book now found in the New Testament (i.e. 1st Thessalonians) and up to seventy years before the final book was written.

In the years prior to the composition of the New Testament, many (hundreds) of texts floated around and through the various Christian churches.  It was the sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium) which determined which of those texts were incorporated into worship and which texts were used for catechetical instruction.  Those texts which, in the opinion of the faithful, best matched what Jesus taught and which best described what it meant to follow Jesus’ way, were used more often liturgically and catechetically.  Over time, when it became valuable to establish a canonical New Testament, those texts which had been frequently used and copied were included.

Thus, it is correct to state that (t)Tradition establishes canon; that Church creates sacred scripture.  It is the sense of the faithful which determines what becomes sacred scripture.  That the sacred written expression of the Word of God should be dependent on the beliefs and understandings of the faithful fits perfectly with the incarnation and with all of the intimate revelatory self-disclosures by God in ways using the speech, touch, presence, practices of the human faith community.