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the spiritual; notwithstanding that he speaks of spiritual interpretation under three different names. Whenever grammatical interpretation produced a sense which in his opinion was irrational or impossible, he then departed from the literal sense. At the same time, he admitted that historical or grammatical interpretation applies in many more instances than mere spiritual interpretation.
In a note to this part of his Lectures the Bishop of Peterborough suggests that the celebrated exclamation of Tertullian, 'Certum est quia impossibile!' may have reference to an impossibility resulting from a test which Tertullian disregarded to an imagined, not an actual impossibility. So, in the opinion of Dr. Neander, † this language is "only an exaggerated mode of declaring that a Christian readily admits, on the authority of revelation, what men who rely solely on the conclusions of their own reason, pronounce impossible.” The conjecture is ingenious, and has even an air of probability.
Cyprian professed to follow Tertullian, but was much more inclined than his master to depart from the literal sense of Scripture. Witness his famous exposition of the clause, et hi tres unum sunt, which follows the words spiritus, aqua, et sanguis, in 1 John v. 8; a comment, which, it seems, Facundus adopted on his authority. ||
Proceeding to the fourth century, we find that the influence of Clement and Origen on the Greek fathers Eusebius, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Apollinarius, Basil of Cæsarea, Gregory of Nazianzum, Amphilochius, Gregory of Nyssa, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria, disposed them all, with the exception of Theodore, to recommend or use allegorical interpretation. Another kind of interpretation prevailed together with it; that called Katar, the interpretation of management, of accommodation, the practice of expounding, perhaps we should say explaining away, Scripture, by making it bend to human creeds and speculations. Thus, it having been objected to the term is, that our Saviour had declared his ignorance of the day of judgment,¶ the answer was, that his words are to be understood κατ' οικονομιαν Οι οικονομικώς.
Among the Latin fathers of this period, Arnobius was a decided adversary of allegorical interpretation. However, it was not rejected by Lactantius, who found a proof of the Millennium in the first chapter of Genesis. Ambrose of Milan and Hilary were powerfully attached to mystical meanings. Jerom, too, though highly gifted as an interpreter of Scripture, has not unfrequently fallen into the error, which he condemns in Origen. Of Augustine's rules for expounding the Scriptures, that which relates to grammatical and allegorical (or as he terms it, figurative) interpretation, is the following: Iste omnino modus est, ut quidquid in sermone divino neque ad morum honestatem neque ad fidei veritatem proprie referri potest, figuratum esse cognoscas. Yet Augustine, like Tertullian, appeals also to a regula fidei. The will of God, according to Augustine, must be sought in Holy Scripture: and when he speaks about the authority of the church, he means only an authority to
• De Carne Christi, § 5.
+ Bishop Kaye's Eccles. Hist., &c., [ed. 2,] Pref. pp. xxix. xxx. Pp. 18-23.
§ Cyprian was accustomed to speak of Tertullian as his master. Bishop Kaye's Ecc. Hist. &c. p. 6.
Porson's Letters to Travis. No. V.
¶ Mark xiii. 32.
Sce a famous passage in Tertull. adv. Prax. § 3.
determine the sense of Scripture, which in controversies of faith is claimed by every church.
"He affords," adds Bishop Marsh, "no support to the Romish doctrine of tradition, as an authority independent of Scripture. And even were it true that a doctrina tradita existed, the discrepancies which prevailed among the fathers of the four first centuries, would shew the uncertainty of the vehicle by which it is supposed to have been conveyed."
This concluding remark is just, weighty, and comprehensive. But we cannot approve of his Lordship's criticism on Augustine's direction, that where any man doubts the sense of Scripture, consulat regulam fidei, quam de scripturarum planioribus locis et ecclesiæ authoritate suscepit. Whence are we to derive this rule of faith? Bishop Marsh replies, " from two sources-a comparison of difficult with plain passages of Scriptureand ecclesiastical authority." If we further ask, in what ecclesiastial authority consists, we shall be told that it means "only an authority to determine the sense of Scripture, which in controversies of faith is claimed by every church." Claimed indeed it, unhappily, is: and should we proceed to inquire, by whom it has been conferred, how it has been exercised, what have been its decisions, and what its fruits, we fear that the answers would be any thing but satisfactory. It is not possible that church authority can be a just and safe rule for determining the sense of Scripture. So far, all churches making pretensions to it stand on the same ground; nor is it very material whether nominally they possess a doctrina tradita or not, the discrepancies of the regula fidei being nearly as great, and quite sufficient to shew the uncertainty of the principle. Indeed, the regula fidei, the analogy of faith, or by whatever name it is called, can be no principle of exposition, since it merely informs us what are the expositions of other
To those Protestant writers who, not very consistently with the spirit of Protestantism, are strenuous advocates of church authority, the indefinite and somewhat ambiguous language of certain of the early fathers, of Irenæus, for example, in respect of the traditions of the church, has been sufficiently embarrassing. At a future time we may have a more favourable opportunity of entering into the discussion.
As we have now reached the conclusion of the former of Bishop Marsh's Supplementary Lectures, it is natural to look back on the wretched methods of interpreting Scripture, which prevailed even during the first, second, third, and fourth centuries of the Christian æra. Allegory and the regula fidei were the rules in vogue. The false philosophy of the schools, and attachment to church authority, introduced wild and visionary expositions of the sacred volume. An historical review of such causes and such effects will have answered no important purpose, if it do not warn the present age and succeeding generations against the danger of falling into the same or similar errors of speculation and of practice; if it do not illustrate the necessity and value of a sound judgment, of correct learning, and of personal and impartial examination, to the public teachers of religion.
In the remaining lecture, the Bishop of Peterborough continues his historical sketch. He begins with the fifth century, and proceeds down to our own times. But the narrative is conducted, avowedly, on a limited scale
Pp. 23-30. See Paley's Evid. of Christ. [ed. 8,] Vol. I. pp. 206, &c., and Bishop Kaye's Ecc. Hist. &c., p. 290.
and in a summary manner; on scarcely any other account is it objec
Little was done in the fifth century for scriptural interpretation. It was facilitated, indeed, by some mechanical divisions of the text. Nevertheless, even Theodoret and Isidore of Pelusium retained allegorical interpretation. Andreas, Bishop of Cæsarea, in Cappadocia, wrote, at the beginning of the sixth century, a commentary on the Apocalypse, which abounds in mystical meanings. Still, his commentary is of some use in the criticism of the Bible, because it is accompanied with the text. In this century, as original commentators began to decrease, it became the fashion in the Greek church to make collections from former commentaries, and to arrange them under the portions of Scripture to which they belonged. These collections acquired afterwards the name of Zipai, or catenæ, in which the individual writers were considered as so many links.
From the end of the sixth to the middle of the eighth century, the only Greek commentator of any note was Johannes Damascenus. In the ninth century we find Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, whose writings, however, as far as we know them, contain but little of biblical interpretation. The tenth and eleventh centuries place before us Ecumenius and Theophylact as annotators on Scripture; in the twelfth we meet with Euthymius, a Greek monk at Constantinople, as a commentator on the Psalms, the Gospels, and the Epistles; and there are those who very highly extol him as a judicious and accurate interpreter.*
To these commentators may be added the unknown authors of the Greek Scholia; † nor, in a history of interpretation, should we omit the Greek Glossaries, especially those of Hesychius and Suidas. ‡
Returning to the Latin church, in the fifth century we find Tychonius, Vincentius Lirinensis, Eucherius, Gennadius; and in the sixth century, Cassiodorius, Facundus, Vigilius Tapsensis, Fulgentius, Primasius, Junillius, Isidore of Seville, and Gregory the Great. But it would be a waste of time to examine their writings in the expectation of meeting with any thing useful for the interpretation of the Bible. The original languages of Scripture were unknown to them, grammatical interpretation was consequently disregarded, and mystical meanings were adopted without control. §
The seventh century produced no biblical commentator in the Latin church nor did Italy produce a biblical commentator during many ages. But in the eighth century, and in England, Bede published commentaries on the Latin Vulgate, which were principally derived from the works of Ambrose, Jerom, Augustine, and Gregory the Great; while his good sense and solid judgment induced him to adhere, especially in the New Testament, to literal interpretation, though it must be admitted that he has sometimes deviated into mystical meanings. The works of Alcuin, a native of Yorkshire, contain various remarks on Scripture, which are chiefly taken from former writers. Rabanus Maurus, a disciple of Alcuin, wrote commentaries on the Latin Bible. But, like Origen, he maintained a four-fold, or more properly a two-fold, sense of Scripture.
* Pp. 30, 33. See Matthai's Greek Test. and Larduer's Works, [1788,] V.
Specimens of which may be seen in Matthai's edition of the Greek Testament. In this view, we should recommend to the student's care Alberti Glossarium Græcum, 1735.
§ Pp. 33, 34.
In the ninth century Walafrad Strabo compiled a commentary on the Bible, which was called afterwards Glossa ordinaria, on account of its general adoption. Druthmar, too, a monk of Corbie, wrote a commentary on Matthew. Being well acquainted with the original, he was better qualified than most other Latin writers to investigate the grammatical sense; and he forms a remarkable exception to the then prevailing taste for spiritual meanings.†
During the tenth and eleventh centuries, there arose no commentator in the West of Europe that is worthy of notice. In the twelfth century, the most distinguished writer was Petrus Lombardus, who, from the work which he composed, acquired the title of Magister sententiarum. He wrote observations on the Epistles of Paul, which were principally taken from Jerom and Augustine. In the thirteenth century we find Thomas Aquinas: he was eminent as a scholastic divine, but contributed little to the interpretation of the Bible. Hugo de St. Caro, in the same century, adopted Origen's views of interpretation, and composed a Concordance, and divided the Vulgate into the chapters which are now in use. Albertus Magnus attempted to unite the Aristotelian philosophy with an allegorical interpretation of Scripture; and Bonaventura was a most extravagant advocate of mystical senses and expositions.
The scholastic theology, so prevalent at that period, had a most unhappy effect on the interpretation of the Bible.
"A theology which could establish points of doctrine by the aid of dialectics, necessarily tended to bring the Bible into disuse; and the church of Rome derived advantage from the substitution of dialectics, in proportion as doctrines were introduced, which had no support in the Bible. Thus, when Berengarius and his followers denied the doctrine of Transubstantiation, they were silenced by arguments derived from the scholastic theology."
This statement is correct; and we may apply the spirit of it to other churches than the church of Rome, and to other doctrines than the doctrine of Transubstantiation. The substitution of ecclesiastical authority, of metaphysical creeds and formularies, countenances and even prescribes tenets which have no support, tends to bring the Bible into disuse, and impedes the progress of truth and reformation in communions nominally Protestant. While the subtleties of logic and the fancies of mysticism thus perverted Scripture, there existed in the South of Spain many learned Jews, who devoted their attention to the study of the Hebrew Bible. It will be sufficient to mention the names of Aben Ezra, David Kimchi, and Moses Maimonides.
In the fourteenth century Nicolaus Lyranus was, among all the Christian interpreters who either preceded him or lived at the same time with him, the most distinguished for his knowledge of Hebrew. The same century was likewise characterised by the attempts put forth both in England and in Germany to make the Bible known to the people at large. Wickliffe undertook soon afterwards to translate it into English. About the same period translations were made into the German language; and, though they were only from the Latin Vulgate, they opened the Scriptures to the common people, who had long been kept in darkness. Those German translations were among the earliest books printed by Fust and Schaeffer.
At the beginning of the fifteenth century the revival of literature prepared
Porson's Letters to Travis, pp. 357, &c. † Pp. 37, 38.
the way for the study of the Bible in its original languages. In 1488 the whole Hebrew Bible was printed at Soncino: and about the middle of the century Laurentius Valla had made contributions of real value to the criticism and interpretation of the Greek Testament.
The sixteenth century is adorned by the great names of Erasmus, Luther, and Melanchthon. By them and by their learned contemporaries a method of enlightened interpretation was at once exemplified and defended. In the seventeenth century there appear writers still more eminent who were advocates of a single sense and a literal exposition: J. and L. Capellus, F. Spanheim, Louis De Dieu, Pricæus, Lightfoot, Arminius, Grotius, Episcopius, Le Clerc, are a few among the number.t
Bishop Marsh takes occasion to remark, in a note, that "it would have been fortunate, if they who agreed in opinion that Scripture had only one sense, could have further agreed in adopting one and the same sense."
"Fortunate," nevertheless, as he may deem this uniformity of interpretation and of sentiment, he must be aware that, in the circumstances, and at the period, of which he treats, the approaches to it were necessarily and particularly faint. Nor would its existence be an unmixed good; nor would there be any difficulty in assigning the reasons why, even at the present day, it cannot be attained.
"Towards the close of the seventeenth century," says the Right Reverend Professor, "an effort was made by Cocceius at Leyden, and by some German divines at Berlin and Halle, to restore the manifold interpretation of Scripture, which the Reformation had banished. During a period of many years their efforts were attended with success; but good sense and good taste gradually restored the Scriptures to the same mode of interpretation which is applied to classic authors. And with a few exceptions, which it is unnecessary to mention, the same kind of interpretation has continued to prevail. Here then I will conclude, without further remarks, the historical view of the modes which have been adopted in the interpretation of Scripture from the earliest ages of Christianity to the present day."
We should have been more satisfied if he had not here concluded: for at least one additional lecture ample and interesting materials were at hand. We should have been glad if Bishop Marsh had noticed those divines, both of his own church and of other communions, not excluding the Romish, who, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, have given proofs of their practical acquaintance with the true principles of Scriptural interpretation. In particular, we wish that he had directed the student to the best works illustrative of the subject, whether in the way of precept or of example; nor can we hold him justified for attempting little or nothing of this kind by the plea that selection would be difficult and invidious.
Is the following statement designed for censure or for praise of the state of theological learning in England?
"Since the year 1800, the explanations of the Bible, which have been published abroad, are not generally such as would recommend themselves to an English divine."
To a certain extent these Supplementary Lectures are good and valuable. We lament, however, the scantiness of their limits, and of their references to
⚫ Camerarius, Osiander, Chemnitz, Calixt, Zuingli, Bucer, Calvin, Beza, Isaac Casaubon, Drusius, Scaliger, &c.
+ Pp. 41-49.
First printed in the new edition (1828) of the Lectures on the Bible.