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SIDIC Periodical XXI - 1988/3
Problems of Tipology: Reading the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures (Pages 09 - 11)

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The fathers of the Church - Some Aspects of the Typological Method which are valid today
Francesca Cocchini

 

In a previous issue of SIDIC(1) Sofia Cavalletti wrote: "Typology is a method of reading which looks for comparisons and relationships between the different events in the history of salvation, the reciprocal imprints of one upon another", and she compared this exegetical method (which is already present in Scripture itself) with the method employed by liturgy. The latter, characterised by "memorial" in both the Jewish and the Christian tradition, has the power to transcend the limits of space and time, enabling the faithful "to live past events in the present, while turning towards the end times". S. Cavalletti shows, on the one hand, the dangers deriving from a wrong use of typology and on the other, its positive values. When it is rightly understood and used this methodology is "essential in order to approach the Mystery".

Typology can in fact be an obstacle to, and can misunderstand the mystery of the Word of God if it equates this Word simply with the way the Old Testament is taken up in the New and stops there as if the end had already been attained. On the contrary it respects and helps to penetrate the mystery if. by discerning the relationships which link the events and personages of the Two Testaments. the typological method discovers the essential elements of the divine plan, which will only be accomplished and fully manifest when "God is everything to everyone" Cor. 15:28).

Two Presuppositions underlying the Typology of the Fathers of the Church
The ecclesiastical writers of the first Christian centuries made frequent use of the typological method in their approach to the texts of the
In their writings it is applied in many different ways and various theories are put forward. The Fathers demonstrated that there are two presuppositions fundamental to the validity of, as well as the necessity for, a typological interpretation:
1) The World of God conceals a "mystery"; thus it has a meaning which cannot be easily grasped and exhausted but needs to be discovered and deepened, with the awareness that its full meaning will never be mastered. It can be found at least partially in the measure in which each verse, each word, is interpreted not only in its own light but in the context of the whole "field"
in which "the treasure is hidden" (2)

2) The Word of God has a single author, the Holy Spirit thus J is coherent in all its parts and faithful to itself in all its expressions.

Irenaeus: A Typology which shows a progression in the Economy of Salvation:
The term "typology" comes from the typos that Paul uses to demonstrate the relationship between Adam and Christ, thus between two personages belonging respectively to the Old and the New Testaments. Irenaeus (c. 140202) explains why the apostle calls Adam typos of Christ:
... the Word, the maker of all things, had formed beforehand for himself the future dispensation of the human race, connected with the Son of God"(3)
His discourse concentrates on the person of Christ and on his role of recapitulation and salvation but, and this seems interesting to point Out, the pivot on which Irenaeus builds the parallelism Adam Christ is the "economy", the dynamic global plan of God, orientated to the future and at the same time already prefigured in its initial moment (Adam) (4) and concentrated in its central point (Christ).
Moreover Irenaeus makes increasingly explicit the movement towards that continuous progress which marks the whole of sacred history (cf. his commentary on Mt. 12:6 "Something greater than the Temple is here"). He writes:
"The words 'greater' and 'less' are not applied to those things which have nothing in common between themselves and are of an opposite nature, and mutually repugnant, but are used in the case of those of the same substance and which possess properties in common, but merely differ in number and size; such as water from water and light from light and grace from grace ... They do not change God, nor proclaim another Father, but speak of the same one who had always more to give to his household and who, as their love for him increases, gives them more and greater benefits, as the Lord said to his disciples 'You shall see greater things than these' (Jn. 1:50). Paul declares 'Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect' (Phil. 3:12); 'for our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect, but when the perfect comes the imperfect will pass away' (I Cor. 13:9-10)." (5)

Irenaeus is writing against heretics who have been identified as the Gnostics and the Marcionites and he uses typology primarily to defend the Old Testament, The intrinsic value of the latter was contested in the teaching of the Gnostics and by the followers of Marcion who rejected it, separating it totally from the New. Therefore it was necessary to demonstrate its value and to show Christians (who were increasingly coming to the Church from paganism and were in danger of regarding the Old Testament as superfluous), the necessity to know it in order to understand the New.

Irenaeus and Augustine: A Typology which respects historical truth:
The passage from Irenaeus quoted above contains another element which enriches the meaning of typology. If the realities which are in communion one with the other must be "of the same substance" that implies that both must be equally "historical" and "real". It was above all Augustine who, at the beginning of the fifth century, felt the need to explain that if it is true that the Old Testament is "shadow and "figure" of the New, it does not mean that this shadow and figure are void of historical truth and have only a symbolic function. He writes:
"We do not believe that these things (the facts of the Old Testament) were spoken and written but did not come to pass. In fact we believe that they actually happened and happened as they are recounted. Nevertheless, by the teaching of the apostle, we know that these things which came to pass were the shadow of those which were to come thus above all we must seek for the meaning behind the reality of the event, in order not to give the impression of wishing to build upon air. having taken away all foundation."(6)

Origen, Ambrose, Augustine: A Typology linked to Hope:
If the typological reading of the Old Testament favoured by the Fathers can at times. especially when it is centred on Christ, give the impression that the New Testament exhausts the dynamic movement of history, a text from Origen (which is still Christ-centred) maintains a vision of progress. Joy is one of the clearest eschatological signs, but not even Christ has attained it completely. Commenting on Mt. 26, Origen, writing in the first half of the third century says:
"Still today my Saviour weeps for my sins. My Saviour cannot rejoice as long as I remain in iniquity. Why not? Because he is advocate for my sins before the Father ... How therefore could he, advocate for my sins, drink the wine of gladness in the very moment when I sadden him by sinning? For this reason he says 'I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes' (Lk. 22:18). He thus waits for us to convert ourselves in order to rejoice with us in the kingdom of his Father."(7)

This text of Origen shows that it is only in the eschaton that history win reach its fulfilment, "the fulness of truth". Ambrose also writes:
"The shadow in the Law (Torah).
The image in the Gospel,
The truth in the heavenly realities. "(8)

These two texts show that typological reading has value only if it leads to hope. Augustine writes:
"The Jews went out of Egypt and after the Red Sea wandered in the desert. In the same way Christians after baptism are not yet in the promised land, but live in hope. The desert is the world and the one who is truly Christian lives in the desert after baptism, understanding that he lives in pilgrimage, awaiting the promised land. The wait is a long one, he lives in hope ... This patience in the midst of the desert is a sign of hope. If he thinks he has already reached the home-land, he will not arrive there. If he thinks he has already reached the land he will remain on the road. In order not to remain on the road, hope for the home-land, desire it, without leaving the road."(9)


Notes
Francesca Cocchini is a Research Scholar in the History of Christianity in the Department of Historical-Religious Studies in "La Sapienza" University of Rome. She has published Commento di Origene alla lettera ai Romani, Ascolta Israele collection (ed. Marietti) 2 vols. 1985-86. as well as various articles.
1. Cf. SIDIC, Vol. XIX, No. 2 (1986) pp. 50-51.
2. For the application of Matthew's parable of the "hidden treasure" to Scripture, see my article "Un discorso sulla Scrittura per Greci, Giudei, Gnostici e Cristiani. Mt 1344" in SSR VI 1-2 (1982), 105-133.
3. Irenaeus, Adv. Haar. Ill 22,3; cf. English translation, Ante Nicene Fathers by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson eds. W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Go Michigan, USA.
4. A parallel discourse is found in Bereshit Rabba, Gen 1:113. "Heaven and Earth" ... The Holy One, blessed he He built the heaven, i.e. the heaven which he originally contemplated Even those whereof it is written, 'For behold, I create new heavens' 11s. 65-17), have been created long ago, in the six days of creation, as it is written 'For as the new heavens ... remain before me' Is. 66.22) not 'new' is written here. but 'the new'.
5. Irenaeus, Adv. Hoer. 11/ 8,2.
6. Augustine, Ser. 82.
7. Origen, Horn in Lev.
8. Ambrose, Enarr. 25 in Ps. 38.
9. Augustine, Ser. 4:9.

 

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