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Father, between a tradition supplanting or perverting the inspired records, and a corroborating, illustrating, and altogether subordinate tradition. It is of the latter that he speaks, classing the traditionary and the written doctrine together, as substantially one and the same, and as each equally opposed to the profane inventions of Valentinus and Marcion.
Lastly, the secret tradition soon ceased to exist even in theory. It was authoritatively divulged, and perpetuated in the form of symbols according as the successive innovations of heretics called for its publication. In the creeds of the early Councils, it may be considered as having come to light, and so ended; so that whatever has not been thus authenticated, whether it was prophetical information, or comment on the past dispensations, is, from the circumstances of the case, lost to the Church. What, however, was then (by God's good providence) seasonably preserved, is in some sense of apostolical authority still; and at least serves the chief office of the early traditions, viz. that of interpreting and harmonizing the statements of Scripture.
In the passages lately quoted from Clement and Cyril, mention was made by those writers of a mode of speaking, which was intelligible to the well-instructed, but conveyed no definite meaning to ordinary hearers. This was the Allegorical Method; which well deserves our attention before we leave the subject of the Disciplina Arcani, as being one chief means by which it was observed. The word allegorizing must here be understood in a wide signification; as including in its meaning, not only the representation of truths, under a foreign, though analogous exterior, after the manner of our Lord’s parables, but the practice of generalizing facts into principles, of adumbrating greater truths under the image of lesser, of implying the consequences or the basis of doctrines in their correlatives, and altogether those instances of thinking, reasoning, and teaching, which depend upon the use of propositions which are abstruse, and of connexions which are obscure, and which, in the case of uninspired authors, we consider profound, or poetical, or enthusiastic, or illogical, according to our opinion of those by whom they are exhibited.
9 2 Thess. ii. 5. 15. Heb. v. 11.
This method of writing was the national peculiarity of that literature in which the Alexandrian Church was educated. The hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians mark the antiquity of a practice, which, in a later age, being enriched and diversified by the genius of their Greek conquerors, was applied as a key both to mythological legends, and to the sacred truths of Scripture. The Stoics were the first to avail themselves of an expedient which smoothed the deformities of the Pagan creed. The Jews, and then the Christians, of Alexandria, employed it in the interpretation of the inspired writings. Those writings themselves have certainly an allegorical structure, and seem to countenance and invite an allegorical interpretation; and in consequence, they have been referred by some critics to one and the same heathen origin, as if Moses first, and then St. Paul, borrowed their symbolical system respectively from the Egyptian and the Alexandrian philosophy.
But it is more natural to consider that the Divine Wisdom used on the sublimest of all subjects, media, which we spontaneously select for the expression of solemn thought and elevated emotion ; and had no especial regard to the practice in any particular country, which afforded but one instance of the operation of a general principle of our nature. When the mind is occupied by some vast and awful subject of contemplation, it is prompted to give utterance to its feelings in a figurative style; for ordinary words will not convey the admiration, nor literal words the reverence which possesses it; and when, dazzled at length with the great sight, it turns away for relief, it still catches in every new object which it encounters, glimpses of its former vision, and colours its whole range of thought with this one abiding association. If, however, others have preceded it in the privilege of such contemplations, a welldisciplined piety will lead it to adopt the images which they have invented, both from affection for what is familiar to it, and from a fear of using unsanctioned language on a sacred subject. Such are the feelings under which a deeply impressed mind addresses itself to the task of disclosing even its human thoughts; and this account of it, if we may dare to conjecture, in its measure applies to the case of a mind under the immediate influence of inspiration. Certainly, the matter of Revelation suggests some such hypothetical explanation of the structure of the books which are its vehicle; in which the divinely-instructed imagination of the writers is ever glancing to and fro, connecting past things with future, illuminating God's lower providences and man's humblest services by allusions to the relations of the evangelical covenant, and then in turn suddenly leaving the latter to dwell upon those past dealings of God with man, which must not be forgotten merely because they have been excelled. No prophet ends his subject: his brethren after him renew, enlarge, transfigure, or reconstruct it; so that the Bible, though various in its parts, forms a whole, grounded on a few distinct doctrinal principles discernible throughout it; and is in consequence intelligible indeed in its general drift, but obscure in its text; and even tempts the student, if I may so speak, to a lax and disrespectful interpretation of it. History is made the external garb of prophecy, and persons and facts become the figures of heavenly things. I need only refer, by way of instance, to the delineation of Abraham as the type of the accepted worshipper of God; to the history of the brazen serpent; to the prophetical bearing of the “call of Israel out of Egypt;" to the personification of the Church in the Apostolic Epistles as the reflected image of Christ; and, further, to the mystical import, interpreted by our Lord Himself, of the title of God as the God of the Patriarchs. Above all other subjects, it need scarcely be said, the likeness of the promised Mediator is conspicuous throughout the sacred volume as in a picture: moving along the line of the history, in one or other of His destined offices, the dispenser of blessings in Joseph, the inspired interpreter of truth in Moses, the conqueror in Joshua, the active preacher in Samuel, the suffering combatant in David, and in Solomon the triumphant and glorious king.
Moreover, Scripture assigns the same uses to this allegorical style, which were contemplated by the Fathers when they made it subservient to the Disciplina Arcani; viz. those of trying the earnestness and patience of inquirers, discriminating between the proud and the humble, and conveying instruction to believers, and that in the most permanently impressive manner, without the world's sharing in the knowledge. Our Lord's remarks on the design of His own parables, is a sufficient evidence of this intention.
Thus there seemed every encouragement, from the structure of Scripture, from the apparent causes which led to that structure, and from the purposes to which it was actually applied by its Divine Author, to induce the Alexandrians to consider its text as primarily and directly the instrument of an allegorical teaching. And since it sanctions the principle of allegorizing by its own example, they would not consider themselves confined within the limits of the very instances which it supplies, because of the evident spiritual drift of various passages which, nevertheless, it does not interpret spiritually; thus to the narrative contained in the twentysecond chapter of Genesis, few people will deny an evangelical import, though the New Testament itself nowhere assigns it. Yet, on the other hand, granting that a certain liberty of interpretation, beyond the precedent, but according to the spirit of Scripture, be allowable in the Christian teacher, still few people will deny, that some rule is necessary as a safeguard against its abuse,