AQUINAS on the SENSES of SCRIPTURE
Summa Theologiae
ON SCRIPTURE (1P Q.1 art.10)

St. Thomas Aquinas The Summa Theologica (Benziger ed 1947) Tr.  English Dominican Prov.  ; Latin: Summa Theologiae Textum Leoninum Romae 1895 ed.

 

 Paris Breviary, 1414


 

 

 

 

Article 10. Whether in Holy Scripture a word may have several senses?

Articulus 10 [Decimo, utrum Scriptura sacra huius doctrinae sit secundum plures sensus exponenda.]

  1 Ad decimum sic proceditur.

 

 

 

 

Objection 1. It seems that in Sacred Scripture a single text cannot have several senses, namely:  Videtur quod sacra Scriptura sub una littera non habeat plures sensus, qui sunt

[1] historical or literal,

[2] allegorical,

[3] tropological or moral,

[4] and anagogical.

historicus vel litteralis,

allegoricus,

tropologicus sive moralis,

et anagogicus.

For many different senses in one text produce confusion and deception and destroy all force of argument. Hence no argument, but only fallacies, can be deduced from a multiplicity of propositions. But Holy Writ ought to be able to state the truth without any fallacy. Therefore in it there cannot be several senses to a word.

   Multiplicitas enim sensuum in una Scriptura parit confusionem et deceptionem, et tollit arguendi firmitatem, unde ex multiplicibus propositionibus non procedit argumentatio, sed secundum hoc aliquae fallaciae assignantur. Sacra autem Scriptura debet esse efficax ad ostendendam veritatem absque omni fallacia. Ergo non debent in ea sub una littera plures sensus tradi.

 

 

 

 

AUGUSTINE's ALTERNATE LIST

of the SENSES

Objection 2. Further, Augustine says (De util. cred. iii) that the Old Testament has a fourfold division as to[:]

arg. 2 Praeterea, Augustinus dicit in libro de utilitate credendi, quod Scriptura quae testamentum vetus vocatur, quadrifariam traditur, scilicet,

[1] history,

[2] etiology,

[3] analogy and

[4] allegory.

secundum historiam,

secundum aetiologiam,

secundum analogiam,

secundum allegoriam.

Now these four seem altogether different from the four divisions mentioned in the first objection. Therefore it does not seem fitting to explain the same word of Holy Writ according to the four different senses mentioned above. Quae quidem quatuor a quatuor praedictis videntur esse aliena omnino. Non igitur conveniens videtur quod eadem littera sacrae Scripturae secundum quatuor sensus praedictos exponatur.
   

 

 

 

 

Objection 3. Further, besides these senses, there is the parabolical, which is not one of these four.

arg. 3 Praeterea, praeter praedictos sensus, invenitur sensus parabolicus, qui inter illos sensus quatuor non continetur.

 

 

 

 

ON the CONTRARY, Gregory says (Moral. xx, 1): Holy Writ by the manner of its speech transcends every science, because in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery.

Sed contra est quod dicit Gregorius, XX Moralium, sacra Scriptura omnes scientias ipso locutionis suae more transcendit, quia uno eodemque sermone, dum narrat gestum, prodit mysterium.

 

 

 

 

I ANSWER that, The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Respondeo dicendum quod auctor sacrae Scripturae est Deus, in cuius potestate est ut non solum voces ad significandum accommodet (quod etiam homo facere potest), sed etiam res ipsas. Et ideo, cum in omnibus scientiis voces significent, hoc habet proprium ista scientia, quod ipsae res significatae per voces, etiam significant aliquid.

[1] Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal.

Illa ergo prima significatio, qua voces significant res, pertinet ad primum sensum, qui est sensus historicus vel litteralis.

[2] That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it.

Illa vero significatio qua res significatae per voces, iterum res alias significant, dicitur sensus spiritualis; qui super litteralem fundatur, et eum supponit.

Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says (Coel.Hier. i) the New Law itself is a figure of future glory. Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do.

Hic autem sensus spiritualis trifariam dividitur. Sicut enim dicit apostolus, ad Hebr. VII, lex vetus figura est novae legis, et ipsa nova lex, ut dicit Dionysius in ecclesiastica hierarchia, est figura futurae gloriae, in nova etiam lege, ea quae in capite sunt gesta, sunt signa eorum quae nos agere debemus.

[2a] Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense;

Secundum ergo quod ea quae sunt veteris legis, significant ea quae sunt novae legis, est sensus allegoricus,

[2b] so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense.

secundum vero quod ea quae in Christo sunt facta, vel in his quae Christum significant, sunt signa eorum quae nos agere debemus, est sensus moralis,

[2c] But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense.

prout vero significant ea quae sunt in aeterna gloria, est sensus anagogicus.

    Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Sacred Scripture is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses.

Quia vero sensus litteralis est, quem auctor intendit, auctor autem sacrae Scripturae Deus est, qui omnia simul suo intellectu comprehendit, non est inconveniens, ut dicit Augustinus XII confessionum, si etiam secundum litteralem sensum in una littera Scripturae plures sint sensus.

 

 

 

 

Reply to Objection 1. The multiplicity of these senses does not produce equivocation or any other kind of multiplicity, seeing that these senses are not multiplied because one word signifies several things, but because the things signified by the words can be themselves types of other things. Thus in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one the literal from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as Augustine says in his letter against Vincent the Donatist (Epist. [48 sic] 93.VIII.24). ad 1 Ad primum ergo dicendum quod multiplicitas horum sensuum non facit aequivocationem, aut aliam speciem multiplicitatis, quia, sicut iam dictum est, sensus isti non multiplicantur propter hoc quod una vox multa significet; sed quia ipsae res significatae per voces, aliarum rerum possunt esse signa. Et ita etiam nulla confusio sequitur in sacra Scriptura, cum omnes sensus fundentur super unum, scilicet litteralem; ex quo solo potest trahi argumentum, non autem ex his quae secundum allegoriam dicuntur, ut dicit Augustinus in epistola contra Vincentium Donatistam.

[For what else is it than superlative impudence for one to interpret in his own favour any allegorical statements, unless he has also plain testimonies, by the light of which the obscure meaning of the former may be made manifest. Aug. Let 93.VIII.24.]

Quis autem non impudentissime nitatur aliquid in allegoria positum pro se interpretari, nisi habeat et manifesta testimonia, quorum lumine illustrentur obscura? PL 33.334

 Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense.

Non tamen ex hoc aliquid deperit sacrae Scripturae, quia nihil sub spirituali sensu continetur fidei necessarium, quod Scriptura per litteralem sensum alicubi manifeste non tradat.

 

 

 

 

RECONCILING AUGUSTINE'S

 APPROACH

Reply to Objection 2. These three history, etiology, analogy are grouped under the literal sense. For it is called history, as Augustine expounds (Epis. 48), whenever anything is simply related; it is called etiology when its cause is assigned, as when Our Lord gave the reason why Moses allowed the putting away of wives namely, on account of the hardness of men's hearts; it is called analogy whenever the truth of one text of Scripture is shown not to contradict the truth of another. Of these four, allegory alone stands for the three spiritual senses. Thus Hugh of St. Victor (Sacram. iv, 4 Prolog.) includes the anagogical under the allegorical sense, laying down three senses only the historical, the allegorical, and the tropological.

ad 2 Ad secundum dicendum quod illa tria, historia, aetiologia, analogia, ad unum litteralem sensum pertinent. Nam historia est, ut ipse Augustinus exponit, cum simpliciter aliquid proponitur, aetiologia vero, cum causa dicti assignatur, sicut cum dominus assignavit causam quare Moyses permisit licentiam repudiandi uxores, scilicet propter duritiam cordis ipsorum, Matt. XIX, analogia vero est, cum veritas unius Scripturae ostenditur veritati alterius non repugnare. Sola autem allegoria, inter illa quatuor, pro tribus spiritualibus sensibus ponitur. Sicut et Hugo de sancto Victore sub sensu allegorico etiam anagogicum comprehendit, ponens in tertio suarum sententiarum solum tres sensus, scilicet historicum, allegoricum et tropologicum.

 

 

 

 

Reply to Objection 3. The parabolical sense is contained in the literal, for by words things are signified properly and figuratively. Nor is the figure itself, but that which is figured, the literal sense. When Scripture speaks of God's arm, the literal sense is not that God has such a member, but only what is signified by this member, namely operative power. Hence it is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Writ.

ad 3 Ad tertium dicendum quod sensus parabolicus sub litterali continetur, nam per voces significatur aliquid proprie, et aliquid figurative; nec est litteralis sensus ipsa figura, sed id quod est figuratum. Non enim cum Scriptura nominat Dei brachium, est litteralis sensus quod in Deo sit membrum huiusmodi corporale, sed id quod per hoc membrum significatur, scilicet virtus operativa. In quo patet quod sensui litterali sacrae Scripturae nunquam potest subesse falsum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aug. Let 93.VIII.24 [end]: For what else is it than superlative impudence for one to interpret in his own favour any allegorical statements, unless he has also plain testimonies, by the light of which the obscure meaning of the former may be made manifest. Quis autem non impudentissime nitatur aliquid in allegoria positum pro se interpretari, nisi habeat et manifesta testimonia, quorum lumine illustrentur obscura? PL 33.334


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