Tracts for the Times
ON THE MYSTICISM ATTRIBUTED TO THE FATHERS OF THE CHURCH
by John Keble
§ vii. Warrant of Scripture for the Mystical View of Things Natural.
(1.) Enough, it is presumed, has been said on this subject, so far as mere illustration of the fact goes. The store of examples which has been adduced from two brief treatises only, the one by St. Basil, the other by St. Ambrose, on the six days' work of creation, must be enough to shew any attentive student, that if the Fathers were wrong in this matter, they were most perseveringly and obtrusively wrong. If the principle of Mystical Interpretation be at all an unhealthy symptom, it is so, not as a local evil, but as a constitutional taint.
But it will be the object of this section to give some reasons for believing that such use of external things was intended by the Almighty from the beginning of the Creation; reasons taken from Scripture, and to be illustrated perhaps hereafter by the apparent ways of Gods Providence, in preparing mankind for Gospel Truth.
(2.) First, then, attention is desired to the use of the word a l h q i n o z , True ; in the New Testament. It will be found very significant, and to some may appear almost decisive, on the point now under consideration.
Careful readers, of the Epistle to the Hebrews more especially, must have noticed how the things of the Christian Dispensation, as distinct from those of the Jewish, are characterized by this epithet, a l h q i n a . Thus our Saviour is designated as t v n a g i w n l e i t o u r g o z , k a i t h z a l h q i n h z , "a Minister of the Sanctuary, and of the True Tabernacle." And afterwards the holy places made with bands are spoken of as merely a n t i t u p a t v n a l h q i n v n , "Figures of the True241." The word has evidently a relative signification : it implies the substance in opposition to the shadow ; answering perhaps most exactly to "real" in the language of the present day. And this agrees well enough with the classical use of it : e. g. in Aristotles Ethics242 : "To be well and rightly framed by Nature towards the pursuit of the best end, must be, if such a thing exist, h t e l e i a k a i a l h q i n h e u f u i a , perfect and real excellence of Nature :" implying evidently that there were spurious qualities, claiming that name improperly. And again, in the same author243, "In our reasonings on practical matter, general statements are k o i n o t e r o i , more comprehensive, but particular ones are a l h q i n w e r o i , have more of reality in them." So Demosthenes speaks of f i l o i a l h q i n o i , "true friends244," and Polybius245 of a l h q i n h p a i d e i a , "true discipline," as opposed to pretences of extraordinary warmth of affection, or skill in training.
Such also will be found to be the force of the word in the LXX answering most frequently to the Hebrew substantive ___ much in the same usage as the substantive a l h q e i a , which, by the confession of all commentators, more especially in St. John, means the antitype as opposed to the type : "The Word dwelt among us, full of Grace and Truth :" "Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ :" "They that worship Him, must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth :" "Ye shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free :" "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life :" "When the Spirit of Truth is come, He shall guide you into all Truth." In all these places, and in others similar to them, the exposition of Theophylact seems to be generally received, "The word, Truth, may be understood by way of contrast to the old figures or types, which were not the Truth, o i t i n e z o u k h s a n a l h q e i a .
With this notion on our rninds of the force of a l h q e i a and its kindred words, let us proceed to, examine such places as the following : "That was the True Light, t o f v z t o a l h q i n o n , which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world :" "I am the True Vine, h a m p e l o z h a l h q i n h and My Father is the Husbandman :" Moses gave you not that Bread from Heaven, but My Father giveth you the True Bread from Heaven : t o n a r t o n e k t o u o u r a n o u t o n a l h q i n o n :" "If ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous Mammon, who will commit to your trust the True Riches ?" t o a l h q i n o n t i z u m i n d w s e i ; "who will give you that which is real and true, not merely pretence and shadow ?"
On these and the like places it seems natural to inquire, If the mention of the True Sanctuary, the True Tabernacle, the True Holy Place, leads us to think of those particulars, at least in the Jewish economy and ritual, as shadowy and typical of things far more real, far more perfect than themselves : does not the mention of the True Vine, the True Light, the True Riches, tend in the same manner to encourage a notion, that the external and visible objects, so referred to, have their counterpart in a world out of sight, wherein things exist in some manner secret to us, but as much more substantial and excellent than the mode of their being here, as the things of the Gospel and Church of Christ are better than those of the Law and Tabernacle of Moses ? As it was not possible for a thoughtful believing person, having once heard of the True Tabernacle, to consider that which stood in the wilderness as any other than an unreal figure of the true ; so when the Holy Spirit had spoken to men of the True Light, faithful hearers must have learned thenceforth to have far other and higher associations with this light which we see, than they could have had otherwise. They know that it is now but a faint earthly shadow of a radiance as much more real than itself, as it is purer and more unspeakably glorious. And so of the other instances, in which the same form of speaking is implied.
But further : as the mention of the Sanctuary and Tabernacle, the Ark and certain other particulars, must of course lead reflecting minds, even without further information, to the surmise, that in regard likewise of other points not specified, and in short in its whole range and detail, the Jewish economy was typical of the Christian ; so when the True Light and the True Vine are named, we are naturally carried on to say to ourselves, "What, if the whole scheme of sensible things be figurative ? What, if all a i s q h t a answer to n o h t a in the same kind of way as these which are expressly set down ? What, if these are but a slight specimen of one great use which Almighty God would have us make of the external world, and of its relation to the world spiritual?"
Certainly the form itself of speaking, with which these symbols are introduced would seem to imply some such general rule : "That was the True Light;" "I am the True Vine;" "who will give you the True Riches?" taking for granted in a manner the fact, that there was somewhere in the nature of things a true counterpart of these ordinary objects,a substance, of which they were but unreal shadows,and only informing us in each case, with authority, what that counterpart and substance was.
Should it further appear, that among those to whom the Scriptures were addressed, there existed a feeling or opinion, call it poetical or philosophical, or let it have been a mere popular fancy, that such a connexion as this language seems to point to really exists between the worlds visible and invisible; the argument for the proposed interpretation of the word alhqinon , would seem to be so far strengthened. We may reason here as about real possession by Dæmons. The more popular the opinion, the less likely, surely, to and countenance in the language of inspiration, if it were an error.
Now it would seem, that to one large class at least, of those to whom the writings of St. John were at first addressed,the Hellenistical Jews, of Alexandria,this doctrine of correspondence between things seen and unseen was familiar and very acceptable.
(3.) But not to pursue this topic further at present ; let it be considered, whether there are not, on the face of Scripture itself, other obvious appearances in its favour. In the first place, there is the broad fact, that the revealed oracles deal so largely, I had almost said so unreservedly, in symbolical language taken from natural objects : and next, what is equally obvious, that the chosen vehicle for the most direct divine communications has always been that form of speech, which most readily adopts and invites such imagery ; viz. the Poetical. These are undeniable and surely most significant circumstances, and hardly to be accounted for by the sayings of those, who would reduce all Mysticism to the mere workings of human fancy. Let us reflect, distinctly and at large, on each of them.
And first, as to the symbolical language of Scripture, is there not something very striking, to a thoughtful reverential mind, in the simple fact of such language occurring there at all ? This is not meant of merely metaphorical and figurative language, expressing one human and temporal matter by another ; but the case intended is, when truths supernatural are represented in Scripture by visible and sensible imagery. Consider what this really, comes to. The Author of Scripture is the Author of Nature. He made His creatures what they are, upholds them in their being, modifies it at His will, knows all their secret relations, associations, and properties. We know not how much there may be, far beyond mere metaphor and similitude, in His using the name of any one of His creatures, in a translated sense, to shadow out some thing invisible. But thus far we may seem to understand, that the object thus spoken of by Him is so far taken out of the number of ordinary figures of speech, and resources of language, and partakes thenceforth of the nature of a Type.
For what is it, wherein our idea of a Scriptural Type differs from that of a mere illustration or analogy ? It appears to lie chiefly in these two things : first, that the event or observance itself, to which we annex the figurative meaning, was ordered, we know, from the beginning, with reference to that meaning : next, that the ideas having been once associated with each other, by authority of Gods own Word, reverential minds shall never thereafter be able to part with that association ; the sign will to them habitually prove a remembrance and token of the thing signified : and this also must have been intended in the first sanctioning of the type, being the inevitable result, in all minds that fear God, and watch for the signs of His presence. Thus Abrahams sacrifice of Isaac, for example, had it been related only by Josephus, might well have been used by way of similitude or comparison to illustrate the sacrifice of Gods only begotten Son on the same mountain, two thousand years after : but it is not clear that we could have positively called it a Type.
That which warrants us in doing so, is the constant interpretation of the Church, confirming the thought which would naturally enter into good and considerate hearts on reading of it, in the Scriptures.
Now let us transfer this notion of a Type, from historical events related in Scripture, to such allusions as are now in questionallusions to the works of nature, and the outward face of things. There also the same distinction is clearly conceivable. Let an uninspired poet or theologian be never so ingenious in his comparisons between earthly things and heavenly, we cannot build any thing upon them ; there is no particular certainty, much less any sacredness in them : but let the same words come out of the mouth of God, and we know that the resemblance was intended from the beginning, and intended to be noticed and treasured up by us ; it is therefore very nearly the case of a Type properly so called.
We read, for example, that Christ "Was the True Light which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world." This, perhaps, in some part of its sense, might be an image not unlikely to have occurred to an earthly orator, and we might have profited by it, as expressive and edifying, and there would be an end :but now we are informed by it, that even in the first creation of the material light, God had respect to this our spiritual Light; the one was designedly formed to be an image of the other ; and such an image as believers should recognise, having their attention drawn to the resemblance by the Word of God Himself. May we not then apply the same term in this case as in the former, and may we not say that the Light visible is a natural Type of God manifesting Himself by His Son, as Isaac on the mountain was an historical Type of our Lord yielding Himself to the death of the Cross?
(4.) Now if there were in the Book of God but one such image taken from the works of nature, it might cause in thoughtful minds a serious apprehension, that other cases might exist, of a like intended resemblance between the worlds visible and invisible, though none of them were as yet clearly and expressly declared to us. Our natural tendency to express things unseen by what we see, would seem to have acquired a real though slight sanction and warrant from above : and we might without irreverence begin to speculate (if the word may be used,) on other possible associations and mysterious meanings.
Indeed we should be almost driven to such speculations, in the case supposed, of earthly and heavenly Light. The idea of Light necessarily implies that of its opposite, Darkness ; and naturally, to beings framed and conditioned as we are, it implies also the ideas, of morning and evening, sun, moon, and stars, shadow and sunshine, twilight increasing and decreasing, and many others : for all which, many would be inclined to imagine counterparts in the spiritual world, after they had been once made aware that the Light itself was intended to be typical.
Now, on further examination of the Scriptures, they would find these their anticipations verified. They would find that as Light was the regular symbol of Him, by whom the Father is manifested, who is God of God, Light of Light, the Word who hath declared the Invisible ; so is the Sun in the heavens the scriptural token of the Word Incarnate, "coming forth as a bridegroom out of His chamber, and rejoicing as a Giant to run His course." They would find the condition of the world without Christ represented as "darkness covering the earth, and gross darkness the people ;" the dawnings of His manifestation, when incarnate but yet unborn, compared to the morning twilight or "dayspring from on high :" and the severe trials and apparent failures of the faith, which are to be expected even under ,the Gospel dispensation, these they would find compared to an evening twilight, endeavouring to prevail, but overcome by the sun which never sets : as we read, "At evening time there shall be light."
Other passages would shew them, the Moon as the chosen emblem of mortal imperfect human nature, reflecting more or less of the Light which flows from Christ, less in the Synagogue, more in the Church of the Now Testament: and again the stars, as lesser, lights, Patriarchs, Apostles, Bishops, such as are any how employed in turning many to righteousness. Eclipses, rainbows, and other phenomena might be added.
(5.) But if the one idea of light and darkness, with their various relations and modifications, were found thus, from beginning to end, allegorized, not by our imaginations, but by Scripture itself ;one might reasonably conclude the like in the case also of the other great and leading parts and attributes of the material world : one might without presumption infer details and particulars, where express, Scripture gave only the general and comprehensive statement. Thus if we only found the Church called generally, the Vineyard of the Lord, His pleasant field, and the like, we might reason on the processes of cultivation, the marks of a good or unwholesome stock, the tokens of wrath and favour though we nowhere read such parables as those of Isaiah and our Lord, developing the idea with authority.
If one of two contraries were clearly Symbolical, the other would be understood to be so likewise : if good seed and noble vines are Gods obedient and accepted ones, there would be no need to tell us that weeds and thorns and tares are the children of the Wicked One.
Where two things are by nature inevitably and inseparably related to each other, if Scripture give us the spiritual force of the one, it should seem hardly possible to avoid inferring that of the other. Thus if Gods regenerate ones, taken separately, are as good seeds cast into the ground, the loaf which comes of that good seed, stands naturally for the same persons formed into one Church or company : an imagination proved to be a verity by the double offering sanctioned in Gods law, first of ears of corn, afterwards of consecrated loavesand this, (to anticipate another part of our subject) is an example of the manner in which Gods ancient ritual gives apparent sanction to the symbolical use of things natural.
(6.) Now considering to what an extent nature (so to speak,) delights in pairs, and groupings, and relations; how "one thing," as the son of Sirach observes, is every where set against another ;" how impossible it is to find an object single and uncombined with all others, or to limit the extent of the associations and connexions, which manifest themselves one after another, when we set about tracing any one of the works of creation, through all its influences and aspects on the rest ; it ought not perhaps to seem over strange, if the symbolical and mystical use of any one thing were thought to imply the possibility at least of a similar use and bearing in all things.
And this presumption will evidently be strengthened, as the instances which Holy Scripture furnishes multiply, and as we find, on more and more acquaintance with it, that its typical allusions are more developed, and come out on its surface, as stars meet the eye more abundantly, when we continue gazing for any time on what seemed at first merely a space of open sky. St. Augustine appears to have been particularly gifted with the power of discerning this kind of holy imagery. It is really, wonderful, as one reads his descants, on the Psalms more especially, how many allusions he detects and brings out, with more or less ingenuity in the particular instance ; so that it must require, one would think, a mind prepossessed altogether with dislike of the principle of Mysticism, not to be carried away with him. But even without stopping to discern these more latent allusions, it should seem that on the very surface of Scripture so many of the chief visible objects are invested with spiritual meanings, that to affirm the same of the whole world of sense ought not to sound too hard a saying. The symbols which are mentioned are almost enough to make up between them "a new heaven and a new earth," and to complete the proof, that "the first heaven and the first earth" are to be regarded both generally and in their parts, as types and shadows of those which are out of sight.
On this head there appears something instructive in the circumstance that the phrase just referred to, "a new heaven and a new earth," occurs both in the Old and in the New Testament at the very conclusion of a great body of Prophecy246, in the course of which the imagery of the visible world has been, one may say, unreservedly employed to represent the scenes and transactions of the invisible one. That is, after the devout mind has been accustomed in detail to associations of that kind, comes in the most comprehensive phrase that could be employed, apparently confirming, by the Creators authority, the view of creation, thus become familiar. Perhaps it adds something to the argument, that in the second instance the phrase occurs within a few sentences of the conclusion of the whole Bible.
(7.) Nominalists however of various classes are ready enough with their solutions of these appearances. They say, "it is the imperfection of language ; the Almighty Himself condescending to employ human words and idioms, could no otherwise convey ideas of the spiritual world, than by images and terms taken from objects of sense." Or again, "it is the genius of Orientalism : if God vouchsafed to address the men of any particular time or country, He would adopt the modes of speech suited to that time and country." Or "the whole is mere poetical ornament, the vehicle of moral or historical truth, framed to be beautified and engaging in its kind, in mere indulgence to the infirmity of human nature."
But as to the particular point in question, would it not be enough to say, in answer to all these statements together, that even if granted in fact, they fail as explanations? since the question would immediately occur, Who made Language, or Orientalism, or Poetry, what they respectively are ? Was it not One, who knew beforehand that He should adopt them one day, as the channel and conveyance of His truth and His will to mankind ? Surely, reason and piety teach us, that Gods providence prepared language in general, and especially the languages of Holy Scripture, and the human styles of its several writers, as fit media through which his supernatural glories and dealings might be discerned: and if they be so formed as necessarily to give us notions of a certain correspondence between the supernatural and the visible, we can hardly help concluding that such notions were intended to be formed by us ; except there be some direct text, or strong analogy of faith, against it.
(8.) It is not very easy to see what is gained by the very rigorous mode of interpretation, which some would apply to the phraseology of the Bible. Illustrations, they say, and analogies, are never to be pressed a hairs breadth further than the least which the context itself, and the turn of the reasoning or sentiment, makes absolutely necessary. We must never be contented till we have exhausted them, as nearly as possible, of all supernatural meaning : just as the same people count it an axiom, that in historical narratives there must be as few miracles, and in Church ceremonies as few sacraments, as may be.
These rules hardly approve themselves to natural piety, which is ever anxious to trace God as near at hand as it can, alike in His words and in His works. Neither do they well agree with the manner in which the Old Testament is commented on in the New, nor with the sort of expansion and development in detail, which subsequent passages not seldom furnish, of an idea only just thrown out at first. In short, it seems equally absurd to say, on the one band, that the minimum of mystical sense is always to be preferred, as it would be on the other, always to be trying to extract as much of it as ever we can :equally absurd, and perhaps not quite so reverential. Surely it will always be a question of degree, not so much how far each sensible image has some spiritual meaning, as how far we are able to extract that meaning with any sort of certainty or satisfaction ; saving, as was just now said, the analogy of faith and the truth of other Scriptures. Certainly there is no very obvious reason why we should incline to the defect, rather than the excess in this matter.
(9.) Waving, however, these remarks, which would seem to render all attempts of the kind nugatory, let us see how the Bible imagery will accommodate itself to the particular theories above mentioned, of those who would resolve it into mere accidents of language. First, if the whole were mere necessity, arising out of the imperfection of human speech ; or if it were oriental boldness of phrase, or poetical ornament; the symbols would probably be more varied than we find them to be : the same external object would not so constantly occur, to express the same invisible thing, through so large a collection of compositions, so widely differing in style and tone. As to the imperfection of human speech, we all feel every hour how it causes us to modify and alter our images : we take the best symbol which occurs at the time, but we use it in a kind of restless unsatisfied way, like persons aware that it is not simply the best; and by the time we need it again, we have lighted very likely on something far truer and more vivid : and thus, we go on in conversation or in writing, improving or marring our imagery, as the case may be, but still letting it be felt that it is by no means fixed and unchangeable.
Again, as to poetical ornament, variety and versatility of resource is obviously a great ingredient of that sort of excellency : to be always resorting to the same similitude or analogy would rather of course betray want of skill or power.
The third solution, that of Orientalism, may seem at first sight to be more satisfactory as to this particular circumstance, of the same figure constantly repeated. Granting, however, that the literature of the Eastern nations is in some respects, like their manners, more fixed and monotonous than ours, and accordingly, that it uses to express things out of sight by a certain uniform imagery, suggesting the notion of a settled and understood allegory : yet in the first place, we know not how far this literature may have been originally modeled on the Hebrew Scriptures, instead of their taking any tone from some previous form of it, the very existence of which, after all, is but conjectural. Next, such a statement would put in a stronger light the fact of that kind of style having been adopted by the Holy Ghost, whereby its symbolical words would seem to be raised to the rank of Divine Hieroglyphics, so to call them. And thirdly, except we suppose such a foundation of truth in them, it seems hard to explain the sanction given to them by the writers of the New Testament, using as they did a language, and applying themselves (St. Paul and St. Luke especially) to a condition of literature and society, well nigh the opposites of what this theory supposes to have existed in Asia and the East.
The fixedness therefore of the Scriptural Imagery does not appear to be sufficiently accounted for by any criticism of this kind : but it is accounted for, if we suppose the material world originally constructed with a view to the sacred analogies which this symbolical alphabet of Scripture (if we may so denominate it) suggests.
(10.) But here an objection occurs, of no small moment. The fact may perhaps be denied, that the symbols of Scripture are so fixed and regular, as this part of our argument Supposes. And the authority of St. Augustin may be appealed to, who seems to lay down a rule at first sight inconsistent with it. He says247:
"Because, there are a variety of ways in which one thing may appear to resemble another, we are not to imagine it a set-rule, Whatsoever in any one place any thing has stood for in the way of simile, that we are always to account its signification. For the image of leaven has been employed by the Lord Himself, both in the way of reproof, as when He said, Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and in the way of praise, when He said, The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a woman which hid leaven, in three measures of meal, until the whole was leavened."
And then he proceeds to point out that this variety of symbolical meaning may be in all degrees.
"The same thing may sometimes stand for contraries, here in a good sense, there in a positively bad one, as in the instance just mentioned of leaven ; or again, as the lion is the emblem of Christ. The lion of the Tribe of Judah hath prevailed and it is the emblem also of the Devil ; He goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom be may devour: so the serpent, now in a good sense; Be ye wise as serpents; and now in a bad one; The serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty:Bread, in a good sense; I am the living Bread, which came down from Heaven ; and in a bad one, Bread eaten in secret is pleasant. And there are many other such.
"Now of these which I hive mentioned, the signification is not doubtful : because, our object being to exemplify, none but clear cases could properly be introduced. But there are also some whereof it is doubtful what turn we ought to give them : as, In the hand of the Lord there is a cup of pure wine, full mixed. For here it is doubtful, whether he means the anger of God, stopping short of the last penalty, i. e. not exhausted quite to the dregs ; or rather, the grace of the Scriptures passing from Jew to Gentiles, expressing by Inclinavit ex hoc in hoc : He hath stooped it away from this side, and entirely towards that : there remaining with the Jews only the outward observances, whereof, they have but a carnal understanding : and to this purpose may be, The dregs thereof are not emptied."
Proceeds St. Augustin:
"But thirdly, the same thing is sometimes spoken of not absolutely in contrary, but only in diverse meanings; as water signifying both the people:as we read in the Apocalypse, The waters where the whore sitteth are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues: and the Holy Spirit ; whence is that saying, Out of His belly shall flow rivers of living water: and so there may be other things here and there, whereof water is understood to be the emblem, according to the context of the places where it occurs."
Thus far St. Augustin : but when his instances come to be examined, it will be found perhaps that his differences of signification may be all reduced to different shades or aspects of the same meaning. The Leaven, whether it be bad or good, equally represents moral impressions silently communicated from one to another : the Lion represents a royal warrior, the Serpent, one who counsels deeply and craftily, be their nature and their cause what it may : Bread is that which satisfies the cravings of the soul, in its healthy or in its diseased state : Wine in Gods Hand (the allusion is too sacred to be expressed without fear and hesitation,) may, consistently with the rest of Holy Scripture, be interpreted of the highest and most mysterious of all privileges, which is either life or death as men choose to receive it. Of water in its several meanings we shall speak presently.
(11.) But now, if the expression of different objects by the same symbol, which St. Augustin thus largely illustrates, is reconcileable with the general uniformity of the scriptural imagery, much more the converse of it ; I mean when the same object is represented by different symbols. To take the highest and most obvious, and also the most frequent example: our Lord Christ in His several offices and relations may be represented by symbols as different from each other as a Lamb and a Lion, the Sun in Heaven and a Vine among trees, a Serpent of brass or a Stone cut out of a mountain : and yet no violence be done to, the harmony (so to call it) of the symbolical language : not only things positively unlike may answer well enough to each in the way of analogy, and so may represent Him in someone of His relations ; but also because it is reasonable to think, that the whole creation can hardly be too large or too various to shadow out His manifold aspects, who is all in all to every one of His creatures.
In the greatest possible variety, whether of objects typified by one symbol, or of symbols typifying the same object, there must still be substantial uniformity, because all point or converse towards Him, His work and His everlasting kingdom : just as all languages, however unlike in sound and structure, must be made up virtually of the same parts of speech, having to express the same mental processes, and the same external world.
(12.) With regard then to both grounds of scruple, we may thankfully acquiesce in the practical rule of St. Augustin248.
"When from the same words of Holy Writ not one single meaning, but two or more occur to our minds ; though we know not what was in the mind of him who wrote the words, there is no danger, if it can be shown from other passages of the Holy Scriptures that either one of these senses is in harmony with the truth ; provided always that the person engaged in searching out the Divine Words make this his object, to come at the meaning of the author, by whose agency the Holy Ghost wrought out this Scripture. Either this, I say, he must attain, or be must frame some other meaning out of those words, not opposed to the right faith, providing himself with authority from some other portion of Gods Word. For possibly the author himself saw the same meaning in the passage we wish to explain ; and certainly, at least, the Spirit of God, Who by him composed those words, foresaw that it would occur to the reader or hearer ; nay, He took care that it should occur, seeing that it also, by hypothesis, rests on the truth. For what larger or more abundant provision could have been made by Divine care in the authoritative words of God, than for the same words to be capable of more acceptations than one, other sayings no less Divine testifying to the same, and demanding our approbation for them?"
Thus far St. Augustin; and it seems well worth consideration, whether there be not somewhat in the ordinary experience of us all, to confirm his view, high and transcendental as it is. Consider how very differently the same words sound in our ears, according to our different moods of mind ; how much more meaning we find, not only in a text of Scripture, but in a chance passage of a book or a stray remark of a friend, when we recall it by and by, more seriously than at first we listened to it ; nay, and how much beyond what we suspected we discover occasionally in our own words, uttered perhaps at first by instinct, we hardly knew how : so that not only are we always uncertain whether any two persons receive exactly the same impressionthe same moral impression, that is, from any given words, but even whether, to the same person the same ideas are conveyed by them twice. And yet there is truth and definite meaning in the words so spoken, although they go so much deeper with one man than they do with another. Surely then it ought not to seem strange that the words of the Most High, spoken with full knowledge of the thoughts of all who should read or hear them, should be intended to give out more or less of signification according to our preparation of heart ; and that, in that sense, their meanings should be even infinite in number and variety. It is only the fact which our own experience suggests, applied to the case of those sayings which are inspired.
Again; we know well that our good and serious moods are those, in which we most surpass ourselves in our apprehension of deep and grave sayings ; and what is this in effect, but St. Augustins remark, "That practice strengthened by the exercise of pietyusus pietatis exercitatione roboratuswill greatly aid us in coming to a true signification ?" Well is it for those, who are able to confirm this, from the help which they have found in pure imaginations, and rightly tuned affections, rather than contrariwise, from the hindrance they have brought on themselves by indulging base and frivolous fancies. But in one way or the other, we must all more or less have experienced it.
(13.) Further, one may conceive a person arguing, that this view is dangerous and apt to unsettle foundations, making ail doctrines subjective rather than objective; true to the individual, not true in themselves. There is obviously danger of this ; but here too the experience we have appealed to will help us. Great as the interval may be between one man and another in their understanding of a given passage,or between our own ordinary perception of it, and that which we enjoy when our thoughts are most elevated and refined,yet these variations are all within certain limits : the imagery tends all in the same general direction, though some go never so much deeper, higher, wider, than others : just as we do not question the real significancy of words, or the existence of coloured objects, because we are not sure that the shades of meaning or of colour are quite the same to any two different minds. The Catholic Faith, the Mind of Christ testified by His universal Church, limits the range of symbolical interpretation both in Scripture and in nature : the Protestant watchword, Verbum Dei, must be made primitive by the constant addition, Verbum Deus : or, as St. Augustin again expresses it, "We that are made the Body of Christ, let us not fail to recognise our own voice in the Psalms and other Scriptures :" our own voice, because it is the Voice of Him in whom we are all made one. "Christ," he proceeds, "wheresoever in those Books, wheresoever in those Scriptures I am journeying and panting for breath, in that sweat of our face which is part of our sentence as men,Christ is there, openly or secretly to meet and refresh me. It is He Himself, who, by the very difficulty which I sometimes have in finding Him, inflames my longing, so that what I do find of His I may eagerly suck in, and retain to my souls health, absorbed in my very joints and marrow." And, "In reading the Scriptures, he only, who finds no pleasure in these holy manifestations of Christ, is turned unto fables, not enduring sound doctrine." In other words, the analogy of faith, Christ set before us in the Creeds of the Church, will give a fixedness and reality to our symbolical interpretations, how wide soever in other respects the latitude and variety which seems to be allowed in them.
It need only just be mentioned that the apparent double or manifold senses of a great portion of the Prophecies, and the manner in which the New Testament generally accommodates, as it is called, texts from the Old, obviously harmonize with what has been advanced out of St. Augustin on this head.
(14.) Closely connected with this topic, of the fixedness of the sacred symbols, is what may be called their complexity ; the manner in which, not seldom, the primary and simple ones among them are varied and combined, as letters are combined into syllables, words, and sentences, retaining each somewhat of their original sound : or rather, as those compound derivatives which are made up of significant terms, each term modified, not changed, in its import. To take an example, than which none can be more holy and venerable, none, as it may seem, more unquestionable. The appropriate symbol of the Holy Spirit is, as the name implies, Breaththe Breath of the Father and the Son, omnipresent, all powerful : and hence it is sometimes represented by the air or wind, as in our Lords well known words to Nicodemus, and when the disciples on the day of Pentecost heard a sudden sound as of a rushing mighty wind ; and His function as the Lord and Giver of Life is represented by the gift of respiration to living things. "God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul ;" and "when He letteth His breath go forth, they are made; and He reneweth the face of the earth."
But breath has not only in it air, but moisture; and this condensed is first clouds, then drops of rain, then water gushing out in springs, or flowing in rivers; or in a way of approach yet more silent and invisible, dew : and all these are scriptural emblems of the Holy Spirit ; in Its several aspects and relations. The overshadowing and guiding cloud, in which as well as in the Red Sea, the Israelites were baptized unto Moses, was a token, we know from St. Paul, of the descent of the regenerating Spirit of Christ, with a hovering, brooding motion, like that of a dove, first on our Lord Himself, then on each of His Members at their baptism : its appearing over the Tabernacle in glory, and filling both it and the Temple, prefigured the warmth and brightness of the heavenly Comforter, diffusing Itself over the whole Church at once, and entering into every corner of the new-born soul : the descent of a cloud in rain or dew, is the Spirit communicating Himself in gifts and sanctifying graces ; becoming (if one may so speak,) water for the nourishment of our souls, as He was air to give them life ; according to that verse in the Psalm, "Thou, O Lord, sentest a gracious rain upon Thine inheritance, and refreshedst it when it was weary :" and it may be that the express words of the Holy Ghost are compared to distinct drops of rain, and His silent promptings to the dews, more aërial and impalpable. So, Moses, "My doctrine," my set and formal instructions, "shall drop as the rain ; my speech," my incidental hints and whispers, "shall distil as the dew."
The fountains again and depths of pure water, gushing out for our purification and refreshment, how or from whence we know not, except that we are sure they are originally derived from above,these are the Holy Ghost in His larger communications of baptismal, sacramental grace; opening fountains in the hard dry heart of man, which seem to belong to it, but are entirely the gatherings of His rain. And this image is kept up even to the final description of the Churchs glory; where, as it should seem, the goings forth of the Comforter are typified by "a pure river of water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb," with the Tree of Life growing beside it for the hearing and quickening of the nations. And indeed all that is said in every part of the Scriptures, concerning the righteous as trees of the Lords planting, the Church as His vineyard, the wicked as corrupt and wild plants,in itself one of the plainest and most abundant of all the sources of scriptural parables,combines wonderfully well with the thought of air and water, as emblems of the life-giving, sanctifying Breath of the Most High.
On the other hand, as the Breath of God thus becomes water, to cherish, and refresh, and cleanse those souls which have not forfeited the Divine Life, so in It's severer influences, either to purify or consume, (for purgation is partial consuming,) It becomes fire from heaven : first to try, and prove, and refine, every mans work here ; next, utterly to destroy and waste what shall be found vile and refuse hereafter. Thus He who is a consuming fire, and who had so shewn Himself on Mount Sinai, and on so many other occasions when the ungodly were to perish at His presence ; He made His coming known by cloven tongues like as of fire, when that flame was to be kindled which Christ came to send upon the earth : and we have an awful notice given, that it is "the Breath of the Lord," which "as a stream of brimstone, kindles" the fire which is "ordained of old" and "prepared for the devil and his angels."
Thus remarkably does the one idea of the Breath of the Lord, followed up and variously combined with others, explain almost all the principal symbols used in Scripture to denote the influences and operations of the Holy Spirit of God. Surely the Ancient Church was justified in thinking that analogies so uniformly kept up, and at the same time so elaborate and complex, were intended for something beyond mere poetical ornament. When, with hearts and memories full of Scripture, they looked out on Nature and her operations, they could not but be conscious that the lessons which they had read and heard were perpetually coming before them in what they saw: and how was it possible for them to help believing that the association was providential and divine; they who were accustomed to behold Gods hand in far lesser and more ordinary things?
(15.) Besides, they found this kind of correspondence repeatedly taken for granted and reasoned on in the Holy Scripture itself. Did they not see how St. Paul works out in the minutest detail the notion of the Church being the Body of Christ? how he teaches us to deduce from it our every day duties and relations to each other? And could they doubt that all this was intended, in the first formation of the human body, by Him who caused all things to be for the Churchs sake? In these analogies unfolded by St. Paul, and still more strikingly in our Lords Parables, they would perceive the principle sanctioned, and the means afforded, of spiritualizing all the chief objects and processes of which common life, and the world of sense, are made up: and they would think themselves justified in reverently carrying on these analogies, according to their skill, to other points of detail, not expressly mentioned in Scripture.
As an example, take St. Augustins comment on an exquisite pastoral image in the Song of Solomon. He is not, observe, reasoning in proof of our principle, that was always taken for granted by the Fathers, but he is descanting on the beauty and usefulness of it. He asks249 :
Why is the hearer less, delighted, when he is told literally of holy and perfect men, whose life and conduct are the means, whereby Christs Church separates those who come to her from all superstitions, and unites them, imitating the good which they see, to her own body, which same good and faithful and true servants of God have cast off the burthens of the world, and have drawn near to the Holy Laver of Baptism, and going up from thence, are now, through the quickening Spirit, bearing the fruit of both kinds of love, the love of God and of our neighbour :why is it, I say, that the literal statement of these things affords less satisfaction to the hearer, than if one expound to the same effect that verse in the Song of Songs, where it is said to the Church, receiving praise under the similitude of a beautiful woman, Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep even shorn, which are gone up from the washing, which every one of them bear twins, and there is none barren among them ? Certainly the instruction one receives is in substance no more, than in listening to the former statement, made as it was in the most literal words, without the support of this similitude. And yet there is, I know not how, an additional pleasure in contemplating those saints, when I see them, quasi denies Ecclesiæ, cutting off men from their native errors, and transferring them in a manner into the substance of her body, divided into morsels, and champed, and their hardness mollified. Again, I recognise with great delight the sheep newly shorn, their earthly burthens, as fleeces, deposited, and going up from the bath, i. e., from Baptism. I see how they all bring forth twins, the two commandments, namely, of love ; and not one of them is barren of that holy fruit."
This, it will he observed, is produced by St. Augustin himself as a specimen of the mode of interpretation, which the Church in his time received undoubtingly, as the true mind of the Spirit: and whatever may be thought of the particular instance, many will feel that there is both piety and probability in such a mode of using the riches of Scripture and of Nature, mutually to illustrate and bring out each other ; and will see in this eager profuse way of heaping simile upon simile, something not unlike St. Pauls own manner of passing rapidly, even in the gravest arguments, from one analogy to another more or less connected with it : as from the seed changed in the ground to the difference between earthly bodies and heavenly ; and again, from the unequal magnitude of the stars to the inequality of the Saints in glory. There is no discrepancy between the tone of the Apostles and that of the Church in after ages, in respect of their both assuming, clearly and deliberately, a certain correspondence, intended by the Creator, between the material and spiritual worlds.
(16.) Something perhaps is added to this argument by the manner in which our Lords own example teaches us to take up and use proverbial sayings. "Lift up your eyes and look unto the fields, for they are white already unto the harvest;" "If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" By instructing His disciples to affix a divine sense, an interpretation connected with the things of His kingdom, to familiar household words such as these, He seems to sanction the idea, that there is perhaps nothing so low and trivial in our ordinary life, but a spiritual and heavenly meaning may be found for it. And further, He seems to hint to us, that this correspondence of things seen with unseen, is by no means so high and transcendental a matter, but that it may well be set before the minds even of very simple uneducated Christiansthe class which is most apt to be attracted by proverbs, and to use them frequently.
(17.) Another, and a yet more direct sanction appears to be afforded by the large use of material signs for spiritual objects and processes in the, inspired Mosaic Ritual. The whole of that Ritual served, we know, to the example and shadow of heavenly things; it was made and ordered according to the pattern shewed to Moses in the Mount. Here, therefore, were no inconsiderable number of visible materials, forms, and actions, concerning which the Fathers knew for certain that they were intended to express heavenly thingsthat their archetypes, so to speak, existed in the Mount. By reference to these they might prove and check, as it were, the conclusions to which they had come in other ways, whether by instinct, or obscure tradition, or examination of scriptural imagery in general, regarding the symbolical meaning of external objects. If they had been led, for example, to conjecture that certain animalsthe lamb, the dove, the ox, the goat, and the likewere types, or tokens, in nature, of certain spiritual beings or truths: they would be confirmed in such their conjecture by the use of those animals, or their images, in the worship and furniture of the Tabernacle. The like may be said of plantsthe palm, the cedar, the hyssop, and others; of colours, such as white, purple, and scarlet; of materials, linen and woollen; metals and precious stones : the use of any such thing in the divinely ordained ritual would give a new and heavenly significance to any mention of it which might occur in Isaiah and the Psalms, and both together would set it apart for ever, in the judgment of affectionate and imaginative minds, as a natural symbol or sacrament of something out of sight.
(18.) The historical Scriptures too would often furnish additional presumptions to the same effect, by the recorded use of certain materials and forms,the material of wood for instance, and the form of the Cross,in Gods miraculous and providential dealings. Indeed, so many and so clear are the correspondencies in this kind, that there have not been wanting ingenious writers, both in ancient and modern times, who have explained particular parts, both of the ritual and history, such as the forms of the Tabernacle and Temple, and the construction of the Ark, as physical allegories, designed to represent the system of the world, or the frame of the human body : theories seemingly too wild and strange to be maintained by men of learning and piety, but accounted for, if we may be allowed to suppose that both the history or ritual on the one hand, and the system of the world or of the body on the other, are separate sets of visible symbols shadowing out invisible truths.
(19.) There is one way more, and a very obvious one, in which the consideration of the Ritual and History might confirm the early Christians in their mystical explanations of the whole external world. They found some particulars, both ritual and historical, mystically expounded in the New Testament, and plain implications, almost assertions, that the whole, was capable of similar expositione. g. that "Moses made all things according to the pattern shewed him in the Mount;" and that "all things that befel Gods people in the wilderness happened unto them as types of us." When therefore in the natural world they had ascertained a few chief symbols, it was reasonable for them to infer that these too were but specimens, single chords of a harmony to be fully made out hereafter : they would feel like learners of a language, who have picked up the meaning as yet but of a few words here and there, but have no doubt whatever that the whole has its meaning : and perhaps they would think that they found warrant for this in such texts as that of St. Paul to the Romans, "The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made." This would seem to lay down the principle or canon of mystical interpretation for the works of Nature, as the other texts, just now specified, for the Mosaic ceremonies and the history of the Jews.
(20.) So much for the direct encouragement given in the Bible to the symbolical use of things natural. There is, as was mentioned above, another indirect yet real presumption to the same effect, which at present can only just be adverted to : and that is, the studied preference of poetical forms of thought and language, as the channel of supernatural knowledge to mankind. Poetry, traced as high up as we can go, may almost seem to be Gods gift from the beginning, vouchsafed to us for this very purpose: at any rate the fact is unquestionable, that it was the ordained vehicle of revelation, until God Himself was made manifest in the flesh. And since the characteristic tendency of poetical minds is to make the world of sense, from beginning to end, symbolical of the absent and unseen, any instance of divine favour shewn to Poetry, any divine use of it in the training of GOD's people, would seem, as far as it goes, to warrant that tending to set Gods seal upon it, and witness it as reasonable and true. Much might be said on this head : but it is enough now to have just indicated it, as one among the many reasons for thinking that Christian Antiquity was far more scriptural, than at first we might be apt to imagine, as in many other things, so in the deep mystical import, which it unreservedly attributes to the whole material world, and to all parts of it
(To be continued.)
- In 1631
- Pref.. § 2. ed. 1714.
- Pref. p. xxxii
- Bishop Law, as quoted by Middleton, p. 57.
- Bp. Van Mildert, B. L. 239, ap. Horne, Introd. ii. 724; Macknight, oil St. Pauls Ep. iv. 439.
- Pref. p. 8, 9.
- Whitby, pp. 201-3
- Ibid. Pref. lxxvi-lxxviii.
- p. 57
- C. xvi.
- C. xii.
- Ep. S. Barnab. C. ix.
- For example, S. Clem. Alex. Strom. vi. 84 ; S. Ambr. de Fide, i. init. and § 121; S. Aug. Quæst. in Jud. 37; S. Hil. de Synod. 86.
- Compare Gen. 17:27; 14:14
- See Isai. 56:7; Jer. 7:11.
- Strom. vi. 11.
- In loc. S. Barn.
- De Doct. Christ. ii. 22.
- De Civ. Dei, xviii. 43.
- Heb. 9:15-20.
- S. Aug. ubi sup.
- Prolog. in Gen. t. ix. p. 10. Ed. Vallars. Venet. 1770.
- I Cor. 12:28.
- De Cor. Mil. c. 3.
- De S. S. Interp. p. 9.
- See S. Jerome on Ezek. ix.4. t. v. pars i. P. 95,6
- S. Barnab. Ep. c. xi.
- Opp. p. 312314.
- Free Inquiry, &c. p. 29.
- p. 367 c.
- 2 Apol. p. 90. B.
- Lamentations 4:20.
- Ep. 86. Ed. Fell, p.231.
- C. xxiii. 29.
- 1 Ep. ad Cor. c. xii.
- i. 18.
- iv. 37.
- Dial. cum Tryph. p. 338. D.; Ed. Paris 1636.
- De Civ. Dei, xvi. 2.
- See Warburton, Int. to Julian, Works, iv. 340, 341. Ed. 1788.
- In Joan. t. x. c. 2.
- Hom. 2. in Gen. § 3.t.ii. 63. A. Ed. Bened. 1733.
- Comm. In Matt. xiv. § 11 t.iii. 629. B, C, E.
- In Matt. xv. § 31 t.iii. 699. B.
- Ep. 137. § 18, t. ii. p. 310.
- III. 5.
- Hexaëm. ix.
- Hooker, E. P. v. 50. 3.
- t. iii. pars 1. p. 90; Ed. Bened. 1702
- Whitby, Pref. in Diss. de Interp. S. S. p. lviii.
- De Genes ad lit. viii. 4.
- Ibid. 5.
- De Princip. iv. 6. t. i. 161.
- § xi. t. i. 168.
- § i. t. ii, p. 205.
- In Matt. Hom. xiv. § 12, t. iii. p. 630. D.
- Strom. vi. c. xv. § 132.
- Apol. pro Orig. p. 36; D. ad calc. Orig. Ed. Bened. t. iv.
- In Matt. xii. 30. ; tom. Iii. 549. A.
- In Gen. Hom. 2. t. ii. p. 5963.
- Ibid. 7, § 2 ; t. ii. p. 78. C, D.
- Ibid. 11, § 2 ; t. ii. p. 90. C.
- Ibid. 8. 10. t. ii. p. 83.
- Ibid. § 9.
- Ibid. 10. 4. t. 11. p. 88.
- On c. 43, 13. t. ii. p. 48. E.
- In Jesu Nave Hom. viii. 7. t. ii. p. 417. B, C.
- Ibid. § 6.
- In Gen. Hom. v. 3. t. ii. p. 74. F.
- In Joan. Comm. x. 2. t. iv. 162. B.
- Ibid. § 3, 4
- In Matt. Comm. Series, § 77. T. iii. p. 892, 3.
- In Exod. I. § 5. t. iii. p. 131. E.
- Comm. in Matt. tom. 16. § 12. t. iii. 732.
- Pref. in t. ii. p. xvil.
- Comm. in Matt. t. xv. 2. tom. iii. 653.
- In Gen. Hom. vi. i. t. ii. p. 76, D.
- In Gen. Hom. x. 2. t. ii. p. 87. F.
- In Exod. Hom. ii. 1. t. ii, p. 133. E.
- Hom. in Gen. vii. 5. t. ii. 80. B.
- Vid. Harduin. Concil. t. ii. p. 286288.
- P. xxiii.
- Hexaëm. Hom. ix. § i.
- In Gen. Hom. xiii. t. i. p. 80.
- Epiph. Epist. ad Joan. Ierosolym. ap Hieron. t. i. 247, &c.; Ed. Vallars. 1766; Hieron. contra Joan. Ierosol. § 7 ; t. ii. 413.
- Hom. 13, in Gen. t. i. p. 80, lin. 29, Ed. Savile.
- t. i. 652, 16.
- In Esai. lib. i. 4 ; t. i. p. 113.
- T. i. p. 2. C. ed. Aubert. Paris. 1638.
- Contra Celsum, iv. 48, 43, 45.
- Ibid. § 44; p. 537, B
- Ibid. § 48; t. i. p. 540
- De Civ. Dei, viii. 7.
- Ibid. cap. 10
- Contra Celsum. Iii. 75.
- Strom. i. 99 ; vi. 44.
- Ibid. i. 38 ; vi. 45.
- Ibid. i. 73.
- Ibid. vii. 87.
- Contr. Faust. Lib. xxii. 26.
- Ibid. xxii. 27.
- Ibid. xxii. 73
- Quæst. in Jud. xlix. 4. t. iii. p. i. 456. D.
- Contr. Faust. xxii. 74.
- Ibid. § 79.
- In I Reg. qu. 34. t. i. 379. Ed. Schulze
- Comm. in Hos. t. iii. 13. C.
- Contr. Faust. xxii. 23.
- Lib. iv. 29. (1 Cor)
- de Mendacio 32. t. vii. p.341.E.
- Contr. Faust. xxii. 24.
- Lib. iv. § 37, p. 333.lin. 32. Ed. Grabe.
- Ibid. iv. 37, p. 336. 26.
- Contr. Cels. iv. 43. t. i. p. 537. C.
- Apol. p. 40. D. t. I ; Paris, 1609.
- Contr. Mendac. ad. Consent. c. 24, t. vi. 337 D
- De Jacob et vita beata, II. 6; t. i. 546
- In Gen. Hom. 43 ; t. i. 415. 7. Ed. Savil.
- De Jacob et vita beata, II. 9; t. i. 546
- Ap. Galland. Bibl. Patr. t. ii. 485. B.
- Serm. iv. § 16 ; t. v. 13. D.
- Ibid. § 152, 23
- Ibid. § 21.
- Ibid. § 24.
- Contr. Faust. xxii. c. 59.
- Lib. iv. c. 38.
- e. g.St. John Chrysostom in Gen. Hom. 29, t. i. 226. Ed. Savil
Whitby, p. 8 ; 345 ; & Pref. p. ix.
"Ride on triumphantly : behold we lay
Our lusts and proud wills in Thy way.
Hosanna ! welcome to our hearts. Lord here
Thou hast a Temple too, and full as dear
As Sion, and as full of sin.
Nothing but thieves and robbers dwell therein
Enter, and chase them forth, and cleanse the floor," etc.
t íz p o q w n o m a x e n w d
e z t o p a n e t h t u m w z ,
m h t i z o n t i n o u k o r v m e n ,
p r o n o i a s i t o u p e p r w m e n o u
g l v s s a n e n t u c a n e m w n ; k . t . l .
when people cross themselves
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