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SIDIC Periodical XXI - 1988/3
Problems of Tipology: Reading the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures (Pages 04 - 08)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

Christian typology: is it still valid? If so, which typology?
Francesco Rossi de Gasperis


This text is a translation of part of a much longer article in Italian entitled "Jewish and Christian readings of the Old Testament", which will soon be published in its entirety by the "Amicizia Ebraica" of Rome.
In the first part the author emphasizes the permanent value of the Old Testament for Christians and the fact that since apostolic times the Church has nearly always understood the relationship between the Old and New Testaments by way of typology. This method goes back to the origins of the Church and is already used in the New Testament itself. It is, however, only a way of understanding how the New Testament is founded on the Old and it could have been developed only in a Jewish-Christian milieu. Under the greek term "typos logy" a typically Jewish method of exegesis may be found. This consists in recalling the saving deeds of God in the past in order to throw light on the present and build hope for the future. Jewish and Christian interpretations have a common ground there which could help them to understand one another.
The opposition between the Jewish and Christian ways of interpreting Scripture, which some hold to be irreconcilible, does not depend in my opinion on the fact that from the very beginning the Church has used typology to understand the relationship and the unity between the two Testaments. Even though other terms are used, Jewish exegesis is familiar with both the literal and the spiritual senses of the Bible. Paul already called the latter "allegory" (which means to say one thing while primarily intending another which has a certain connection with the former. This former thing is so deeply rooted in the spiritual and cultural patrimony of the unique revelation that it is inevitably evoked every time similar events recur in history cf. Gal. 4:24). The Jewish tradition constantly called into play those meanings of the sacred text that correspond with either the moral sense (tropological) or the anagogical sense of Christian reflection on the Scriptures. Besides, the same Hebrew Bible, particularly during and after the Exile, introduces among other things a spiritual and personal interpretation of worship, of the temple, of ritual sacrifice, of the Sabbath, of the kingdom etc. It broadly encapsulates the national history of the entire people into the personal history of each individual; it also projects the gaze of the believer and of the people towards the progressive, and ultimately eschatological, fulfilment of the national hope. Thus, without confusing the typology which is already to be found in the Hebrew Bible with the distinctive variety that Christian interpretation finds between the Old and the New Testament(1), I do not believe that, apart from certain questions of expression, there are irreducible divergencies on this point between the two exegeses. The really deep controversy lies elsewhere. This does not concern typology as such, but a certain precise way of understanding it and a particular manner of applying to the Old Testament the doctrine of the four senses of Scripture. This way of understanding has prevailed and still prevails today, in various strands of Christian tradition, whether liturgical, theological or spiritual.

A Typology of Discontinuity
I am speaking here about that kind of typology which is interested in the events and persons of the First Testament only as "figures" and "types" that are to be passed over as rapidly as possible in order to attain the "realities" (the antitypes) of the New Testament. According to this typology in the Gospel story of the Transfiguration the countenance of Jesus, resplendent with divine messianic glory, would outshine, obscure and finally obliterate, like mist before the sun, the faces of Moses and Elijah. replacing them with himself (2)
Umbram toga Veritas
Noctem lux illuminat
Figuram Res exterminat,
Et Umbram Lux illuminat. (3)

These and other- verses from Christian hymns facilely confuse "illuminate" with "put to flight" and "put an end to". Thus the "figure" came to be identified with "shadow" and "night". The typological relationship between the two groups: umbra-nox-figura on the one hand and yentas lux res on the other, here becomes opposition and also downright suppression and negation. Examples of this kind of Christian interpretation are met at every turn in the liturgical texts of the Christian Churches as well as in patristic and medieval exegetical writings. It suffices to explore a little the mine opened up by Henri de Lubac in his work Exegese Méclióvale.

Some examples:
According to Jerome, all that preceded Christ was only shadow which was superseded by the truth (4). The truth of God, in fact, only appeared in Jesus (5). For Origen, Moses is dead because the Torah has lost its validity (6), "Historical" understanding of the events of the Exodus had meaning for the Jews only until the corning of Christ. Now the only legitimate understanding of the same facts is the "spiritual" one, that is the Christian one (7). On the cross Jesus puts to death the shadows and images in their written code, and shows forth the spirit within them, by which his faithful will live (8). The Jews read the Scriptures but do not understand their meaning; they are observed only by Christians, the true spiritual race of Israel (9). The glory of the Lord has changed camps, from the Jews to the Christians because the ark of the Lord has been captured (10). The splendour of the sun which is Christ dissipates at a stroke the ephemeral and passing cloud which had preceded it (11).
This manner of thinking and speaking about Israel and the Hebrew Bible which is found in so much of the ecclesiastical tradition, tends to vilify and reject the reality of the Old Testament and to introduce a discontinuity between it and the New, always to the advantage of the latter. A similar way of thinking and speaking has produced and left its mark on a whole history. Only today can we begin to declare it closed and even so with much resistance and difficulty (12). Over and above this there is another aspect which has been noted by John Paul II "...We must never tire of reflecting on (the past) in order to draw from it the appropriate lessons .„ (13).

Christian Faith or Ideology
New Testament faith in Jesus Christ does not lead to this kind of typology. In fact between the word of Jesus and this way of understanding which has produced such results, a whole culture and a political theology have been introduced. By inadequate means these have watered down and deformed the profound but simple richness of the divine economy of the Bible. Not infrequently they have gone outside the realm of Christian theology, which must always remain at the service of Biblical and New Testament faith. By a movement foreign to a true understanding of faith (intellectus fidei) one has passed unconsciously from theology to ideology. Far from putting itself at the service of faith, ideology, consciously or not, pursues its own interests and objectives. These take precedence over those of faith, although it will make use of the latter to serve its own ends. It even calls itself "Christian" though in its hands the term becomes totally emptied of its true meaning. An indication of how ideological and alien to New Testament faith this historico-cultural tradition is, is found in the fact that if the successor of Peter had remained faithful to it he could never have visited his "beloved elder brothers" in the synagogue of Rome. On this point John Paul II has given the entire Church a great decisive lesson of faith. Surmounting "centuries of cultural conditioning (14) “ he, who holds that faith promotes and creates a culture, obeyed the Gospel of Jesus rather than a pseudo-Christian culture, showing how necessary it is to distinguish between the Word of God transmitted through the Scriptures on the one hand, and on the other the theologies which can be derived from it or ideologies seeking to make use of it (cf. Col. 2:8,16-23). At the same time he has shown that the opinions of those Christians or Jews who hold that the Christian faith is essentially antisemitic are illegitimate and unjust. (15)

Giving History its Own Value
I now turn to that type of Christian typology which in order to highlight New Testament antitypes puts them in the place of and above the "types" of the earlier biblical history (these latter being supplanted and rejected). It seems curious and paradoxical that the Old Testament is declared obsolete, not because of a presumed deviation or falsity in the revelation of the mysteries of God as Marcion found, but by reason of the "fulfilment" of the whole reality of the first covenant (called figures) which was achieved in the New. Would the fulness of history render meaningless the whole course it had run? In that case perhaps adulthood renders infancy valueless? (16) Coming to the crucial point, does the risen and glorious body of Jesus take away all meaning from his earthly flesh and therefore from the history that he lived in that flesh? Does it not rather transfigure it in glory once that same flesh is drawn out of the corruption of the "pit" and is clothed completely in the life-giving Spirit, in the resurrection? (Acts 2:25-36). Is it not in this way that the meaning of the one and only body of Jesus of Nazareth is revealed to us in his totality? (cf. 2 Con 4:6, Hebs. 1:1-4). Is it not truly significant that the Paschal event. far from rendering the earthly history of Jesus (the days of his flesh, Hebs. 5:7) meaningless for the Primitive Church, rather revived the remembrance of it, as collected in the Gospels (cf. Lk. 1:1-4, Jn. 20:30-31, 21:24-25)? Thus things which appeared at first only as facts were recognised as events and mysteries of faith, so bringing their full truth to light (cf. Jn. 2:22, 12:16, 20:9, etc.).
Far from taking all colour, dignity and value out of the human-divine history which had gone before (persons, events, realities, signs etc.), the New Testament, with Jesus, revealed the plenitude of meaning contained in every iota and smallest stroke of the Torah (Mt. 5:17-19). The Creator, giver of life, loves everything which exists and despises nothing he has created, preserving and saving all things (Wis. 11:21-12:1); in the same way the unique Word (logos Jn. 1:1-2:14) which the Father has finally spoken, has not come to deny the different ways in which God has spoken formerly by means of the Prophets, without breaking or quenching anything, without even lifting up his voice in the market-place (cf. Is. 42:2-3). On the contrary he has confirmed everything and brought it to its goal, as the conclusion of a discourse sets a seal on all its propositions (1-leb. 1:1-2, cf. Jn. 16:30).

A Typology of Continuity Some examples
In the Fathers of the Church and among the medieval exegetes the continuity between the two testaments is esteemed no less than their discontinuity. "That which already shone in the Old Testament is resplendent in the New" says Aimone of Auxerre (17). There is not, in fact, the same opposition between the light of the dawn and the midday splendour of the sun as there is between shadows and truth or between the night and the light. The lamp of the Torah is transformed into a luminous star (18). The splendour of the coming of the Messiah, illuminating the Torah of Moses with the brightness of truth, has rent the veil which had covered the letter and has unveiled to all those who believe in him the blessings which were covered and hidden by it. (19) According to the symbolism of Cana (Jn. 2:1-11) Jesus turned the water of the letter into the wine of the spirit (20). The water of Torah becomes the wine of the Gospel (21). Jesus Christ did not appear unexpectedly and without preparation in the bosom of a hostile and silent world (22). The Old Testament is an introduction, a first proof, a model of the new (23) With a greater sense of harmony Isidore of Seville says that the New Testament is the fruit of the supernatural tree of which the Old was the root, the trunk and the leaves, and it is through the Torah that the gospel is approached (24). In a phrase that should never be forgotten (25) Origen says that the Church is daughter of the ancient synagogue. Christ has not destroyed the synagogue but has maintained it (26). The Old Law is in accord with the New (27). The latter is woven with the thread of the former' (28). The New Covenant is sister to the Old (29), the one must not suppress the other unless it wishes to commit the sin of Cain. Christ is present in the two Testaments, he himself constitutes this harmony (30). Jesus is the goal perficiens (which brings to fulfilment) not interficiens (which destroys) the Old Testament (31). The New Testament succeeds the Old in such a way that the latter finds itself again in the former. Together they form a single unity as God is one. Nevertheless as in God unity expands itself into trinity and trinity gathers itself in unity, so the New Testament expands itself in the Old and the Old condenses itself in the New (32).
A series of affirmations according to which the New Testament fulfils the Old by abolishing it is opposed by another series of affirmations according to which the fulfilment reveals the ultimate significance of the preparation and confers on it its full meaning and real value.

A Global and Unifying view
Certain theologians have recourse to the Gospel paradox and to Christian dialectic to resolve these oppositions (33). Going back to the icon of the Transfiguration, it is said that at first there are Moses and Elijah (two), then Jesus appears between them and for a moment there are three personages. Finally the first two are assumed into and, as it were, absorbed by Jesus alone, who tills the entire picture (one). In reality the New Testament account of the Transfiguration present six personages. each of whom possesses and conserves his own identity. There are Moses and Elijah, there is Jesus between the two of them, there are Peter. James and John who are bathed in light and inebriated with joy. All six are necessary to complete the messianic constellation (34). Evangelists (Church) and Prophets (Israel) do not oppose each other, nor does the one replace the other. Rather, they both take their proper place and pace themselves through history according to an order laid down by the central event which is capital in itself, that is the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Notwithstanding the austere grandeur and beauty of dialectic theology, in my opinion certain humble insights of Origen are preferable, where he invites us to listen to all the harmonies of God in the Holy Scriptures. Jesus himself has taught us that to do one thing, even if it is the most important, must not lead to the neglect of others which, even if they are less important, also merit to be carried out (Mt. 23:23). The Bible, taken in its entirety, is the unique musical instrument of God, perfected and tuned to produce through different notes one single salvific melody for all who wish to hear it. Such a melody does not unsettle the heart but pacifies the soul, impeding the action of the evil spirit, just as the music of David pacified and extinguished the bad spirit which was in Saul (I Sam. 16:14-23). All Scripture is, in fact, in harmony and is unified by a single spirit (35). The totality, however weighty it may be, does not stifle or quench the detail, but throws it into relief. The details, in their particularity, do not distract the attention of the listener because they are not found in isolation. Rather they constitute a factor of continuity and unity in a total harmony.

Rev. Francesco Rossi de Gasperis S.J., is a member of the Team at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem where he directs the renewal course in Biblical Spirituality. He is also Professor of Biblical Theology at the Biblical Formation Centre at the Ecce Homo in Jerusalem and, during several months of the year, at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He is a member of the Board of Consultants of the SIDIC Centre and its periodical.
1. Cf. H. de Lubac, Exegese medievale - Les quatre sens de l'Ecriture, Aubier, Partie I, 1, (coll. Theologie 41), Paris 1959, 156-178. H. de Lubac, Histoire et Esprit - L'intelligence de l'Ecriture d'apres Origén, Aubier (coll. Theologie 16), Paris 1950, 267-277, 400-410.
2. Cf. Nerve du Bourg-Dieu's homily, cf. H. de Lubac. Exegese medievale, I, 1, 344, note 1.
3. From a paschal hymn of Adam of Saint Victor. cited by H. de Lubac, Exegese medieval& I. 1. 316. note 5; p. 327 Gautier de Chatillon. Cf. also Drigen. Commentary on Lamentations 4,20, PG 13 657-660.
4. Cited by H. de Lubac, Exegese medievale. I. 1. 320. note 13, 316-336.
5. Jerome. cited Mid.. 319, note B
6. Mid., 319, note 7.
7. Gaudence de Brescia, Mid., 338, note 1: Berengeaud, note.
8. Claude. ibid. 324, note 9.
9. Justin, Mid., 329, note 4.
10. Gregoire. ibid., 329, note 9.
11. Richard. ibid., 342, note 2, Bernard. ibid., 320, note 12.
12. Resistance to the positions taken by the Second Vatican Council about the relationship between the Church and Judaism persist today in the theology of LM. Carli; cf. "Un grand prelat. Monseigneur Carli in La Pensee Catholique n. 223 (July-August 86) 56-66. See also the works of D. Judant Les deux, Israel - Essai sup le mystere du salut ()Israel selon l’economie des deux Testaments. Paris 1960; Judaisme et Christienisme - Dossier patristique, Paris 1969; Jalons pour une Theologie chretienne d’Israel, Paris 1975.
13. John Paul II. Address at the Rome Synagogue (1a April 1986) n. 3.
14. Ibid.
15. This thesis is shared by some Jews and some Christian theologians. They think that Christian faith and theology are intrinsically "antisemitic" and anti-Jewish, above all in the fact that they affirm that eschatological salvation is already present in human history since the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. For them the Shoah would be the sign of an internal Christian crisis. Cf. R.M. Ruether: Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of anti-semitism. New York, 1974; F.H. Littel1 The Crucifixion of the Jews, New York 1975; M. Hay. The roots of Christian anti-semitism, New York 1981. A good theological response to this thesis has been given by F. Mussner, Tractate on the Jews. Philadelphia. 1984 (Fortress Press). John Paul II in his address at the Rome Synagogue M. 4) clearly affirmed: "The Jewish religion is not 'extrinsic' to us, but in a certain way is 'intrinsic' to our own religion. With Judaism therefore we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that YOU are our elder brothers."
16. Thus Sedulius Scotus, cited by H. de Lubac, L'Ecriture dans la Tradition. 215. note 1.
17. Cited by H. de Lubac, Exegese medièvale, I, 1, 319. note 1.
18. Origen. cited by H. de Lubac: L'Ecriture dans la Tradition, 215, note 1. Also Guerrico, cited by H. de Lubac: Histoire et Esprit, 442, note 241.
19. Origen, cited by H. de Lubac: Exegese medievale.I. 1, 324, note 7.
20. Origene,, Gaudence, Augustin, Gregoire, Bede. Ps. Bede, Othloh, Ps.Maxime de Turin, ibid . 344, note 2.
21. Odilon de Cluny, Othloh, Godefroy d'admont, Rupert. Collect. d'Hildebert, Aelred. Joachim de Fiore etc. ... Prose, X-XI centuries, ibid.. 344. notes 3-4.
22. Maxim ede Turin, Hildegarde, ibid., 318, note 6: cf. Notes for a Correct Presentation of Jews and of Judaism in the Preaching and Catechesis of the Catholic Church, Vatican Commission, June 1985.
23. Augustine, Bede. cited by H. de Lubac, Exègese madievale, 318, note 7.
24. Ibid.. note 8, cf. Penns. 11:16-24.
25. Ibid., 310, note 2.
26. Pascasius, cited by H. de Lubac, L'Ecriture dans la Tradition, 204, note 6
27. Jerome, Isidore, cited by H. de Lubec. Exêgese medieval& 334, note 4.
28. Hildegarde, ibid., 334, note 5.
29. Origen. ibid., 330, note 5: Pierre de Celli, ibid., 334. note 7.
30. Origen, ibid.. 331, note 9; Jerome and Ambrose Autpert, ibid.. 243, note 7; Claude. ibid., 333, note 2, Raoul de Saint Germer, ibid., note 3.
31. Augustine. cited by H. de Lubec, L'Ecriture dans la Tradition, 223. note 6.
32. Jerome. Rabanus, ibid., 182, note 36.
33. H. de Lubac: Exegese medievale. I. 1, 328-355.
34. Cf. H.U. von Balthasar: Le complexe anti romain, Essai sur les structures ecclesiales, (trad.Sr. Willibrande). Paris-Montreal, 1976, 137-152.
35. Jerome, Gregoire d'Elvire, Isidore, cited by H. de Lubac: Exegase Madievale, I, 1, 331. note


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