On ‘Allegorical’ Interpretation

I’m taking a quick break from Sarum to jot down some thoughts that I’ve been having after Dean Knisely’s post on study plans. He notes that he’d like to do some thinking about hermeneutics, particularly any native Anglican form of hermeneutics, and brings up the issue of pre-modern forms of reading that tend to loosely travel under the label of “allegorical.”

This is kinda my *thing*; it’s what my dissertation was on. (Actually, if he’s not careful, I’ll send him a copy of it…)

In pondering what resources I should refer him to, I think back to my fundamental findings and to discussions about basically all pre-modern forms of reading that I had with my dissertation director. One of the points that he made (fairly constantly) and that I found to be concretely true in my research is that too many who are interested in this topic completely miss the forest for the trees.

The problem is context. The great grand-daddy of the modern study of figural interpretation is Henri De Lubac who, living in a pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic world, writes with some unconscious assumptions about contexts that it seems never occur to him to make explicit. Most medievalists (Beryl Smalley, I’m looking at you…) are interested in “interpretation of the Bible” and, in pursuit of what they think their focus is, so narrow that focus to the point where the context fundamentally disappears or is regarded as a layer that gets in the way.

The danger that everybody likes to get hyper about is the fear that if you go down the allegorical road, you can make any text say anything. Suddenly, the unbinding of Lazarus is actually about the sacrament of confession; the injunction about not eating weasels in Deuteronomy is actually about 0ral s3x (no, seriously, and that’s one from the late first/early second century Epistle of Barnabas…). Thus, the chief question becomes: what are the controls? What prevents you from plowing into totally crazy, over-the-top readings?  Or, alternatively, how do we know when an OTT reading must be reined in? In a word, context.

Figural interpretation happens within a structure of communal liturgical practices. In the patristic and early medieval periods in particular, interpretation was done by people who were enmeshed in their community’s liturgical cycles and it’s these fundamental communal practices that gave them a grounding. Constant repetition of the Offices, and constant contact with the Mass, presented a daily repetition of the Christian core practices and beliefs: the Creeds—the Canticles—the Gloria—the Canon. This grounding, in turn, gave them a flexibility for play in both their interpretive and theological musings. The playing field was marked off by the creeds, the goal was the edification of the Church centered in charity, defined by Augustine as the cultivation of virtue and the restraint of vice.

(As a side-note, this is always one of the problems with many modern readings of medieval mystics.  You can be way more “out there” and have it not be a major threat to fundamental Christianity if it’s set within the grounding practices.)

The major change with Reformation biblical interpretation, I’d argue, is the jettisoning of the context. I think it could be argued that with the rise of the Schoolmen, the mendicant orders, and the turn into Nominalism the liturgical context had already lost its important restraining function making it appear to the Reformers that they were pruning away the bad rather than losing a key component. Nevertheless, that’s what happened. Suddenly biblical interpretation was not and could not be an act of play. It was serious business. Without the grounding practices of Mass and Office, how each text was read suddenly mattered a lot more because the interpretive act was transformed into the grounding practice of the faith.

So—the liturgy was the context. But that’s not all. Particularly in the early medieval church and most especially in my world of the early medieval monastics, the liturgy was not simply the guiding context but was the fundamental tool through which Christians were inculturated into the hermeneutics of the Church. They learned to read through the liturgy.

On one hand, this is a literal truth: new monks or child oblates learned how to read through the memorization of the Latin psalter, then learning to match the words on the page with the texts they already had in their heads. They literally learned how to read from reading the liturgy. On the other hand, they also learned how to interpret the Bible from the liturgy and this happened in two ways, the first explicit, the second not so explicit. The explicit is that readings from the Fathers in the third nocturn of the Night Office gave them examples. They learned to interpret through what they heard and what was modeled for them by the patristic teachers every Sunday and feast day in the early morning.  And again at Chapter. And again at Mass. The not-so-explicit is the way that the liturgy introduces under-determined interpretive possibilities through the use of scriptural antiphons and responsories in the Mass and Office. When an antiphon taken from the Gospel of the Day is appended to the Magnificat it makes you hear it in a new way, as you are using  new lens. When a Pauline snippet is paired with a psalm, the mind begins working at it to find what the implied logical connection must be between the two. The hymns held together Scripture and Season for mutual reflection. (As it happens, the first paper I gave at the big medievalist meeting in Kalamazoo was on this topic. I’ll try and put it up on Scribd for those who are following me there.)

So—where does all of this bring us? Back to the notion of a distinctively Anglican way of reading and interpreting the Scriptures. Is there one? Maybe… Is there the potential for one? Most certainly, because we of all of the Western Non-Roman ecclesial bodies have retained in theory that which was most important in the heyday of figural reading: the Mass and the Office.

What we have to realize, though, is that our Mass and Office is not theirs. While we have inherited the structures of the early medieval pattern, we have deliberately shorn ours of the richness through which catholic biblical interpretation was learned. We have no appointed patristic readings into which we are formed. We have no cycle of antiphons and responsories  that shape our readings. We have divested our Mass of the minor propers that complemented and guided the public proclamation of the Word.

Sure, I’d like to recover these things. That’s one of the key reasons why the St Bede’s Breviary puts back into place traditional or traditionally-shaped patterns of antiphons and the old Office hymns. But can we recover them? I honestly don’t know and I honestly fear not. We have a hard enough time getting people to come to Mass on Sundays let alone Holy Days that don’t fall then. (Epiphany, anyone?) Our clergy lac a familiarity with the Office, let alone those upon whom they—and we—are relying for our biblical interpretation.

I don’t know.

I’d like to hold up the old model as the possibility for a vibrant new model—I just fear that we lack both the will and the discipline to make into what it could be.

25 Replies to “On ‘Allegorical’ Interpretation”

  1. Jason Bayasee’s “Praise Seeking Understanding” is a good exploration of Augustine’s use of figurative/allegorical interpretation of the Psalms.

    “The danger that everybody likes to get hyper about is the fear that if you go down the allegorical road, you can make any text say anything.” Though not specifically about allegorical interpretation, I attempt some “rules of the road” to address this concern here:
    http://intotheexpectation.blogspot.com/search/label/Configuring%20Scripture

  2. Happy New Year, Derek!

    Thank you for this post. As an undergraduate I was trained (in literature classes) in the allegorical reading of Scripture – an interesting experience while at the same time taking intro to NT with a Bultmann disciple! I have to say that the allegorical approach always made much more sense in building faith and reflecting actual experience. What I found so helpful in your post was the identification of the Reformation shift in locus from communal liturgical practice to Biblical interpretation in isolation as the gold standard for faith. and haven’t we seen how much we are the spiritually poorer for that!

    Our dilemma is very real, as you have laid out. But in an odd way, as Sunday mornings have been lost as time dedicated to God and liturgical practice, maybe there’s an opportunity to capture the “off-peak” times (to borrow from NJ Transit!) in ways that folks might be more receptive to now than they were 15 or 20 years ago. Of course, that still creates a truncated experience of the liturgical cycle, but as a parish priest my sense is that I need to “keep on keeping on” and let the Holy Spirit do what needs to be done.

    Epiphany? Yes – 5:30 pm this Thursday, with all the pew torches lit, the Order for Evening preceding a very casual Eucharist in which the Magi make an appearence. Worship is followed by a soup and sandwich supper with a pinata for the kids.

    And one way that the connection between learning to read and liturgy still hangs in is with children’s choirs. Where else are third graders going to learn to read and understand words like “lineage”, “begotten”, “seer”, “redemption”, etc. so naturally as they do in hymn texts and psalm texts?

    Vicki McGrath+

  3. I am curious as to what Patristic allegorical commentaries are explicit about the liturgy? I am no patrologist (although I have a background in Patristics and Medieval History is a secondary academic field) and it seems to me that the claim made above – namely, that ‘Figural interpretation happens within a structure of communal liturgical practices’ – is not a little romantic. Briefly, we might consider that Origen’s comments on allegorical interpretation in On First Principles make no mention of the liturgy. We might also consider that early Christian allegorical interpretation was part and parcel of a world in which Neoplatonists (among others) were reading Homer in an allegorical fashion, but they were not doing so with any reference to allegory – so why should Christians themselves have done so? Philo was not strictly allegorical; within Judaism, the liturgical elements were most found within apocalyptic works. This is why there was a large amount of liturgical writing among the Dead Sea Scrolls community, although I am unaware of any extended allegorical exegesis on their part.

    I welcome correction concerning all of the above. I am concerned, however, that the oversimplification of disparate, sixteenth-century reform movements as a singular event called ‘the Reformation’ might be doing far more to occlude rather than clarify the complex development of antipathy to allegorical interpretation in the modern era. Hostility to allegory predated Luther, Calvin, Vermigli, and others by many centuries. The first question (tenth article, if I recall correctly) of Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae takes no kind look at allegory, and even proponents of allegory (Origen and Augustine, for example) never approached allegory as a matter of hermeneutical ‘play’ (Derridean or otherwise). Reformers – not least both Anglicans and Puritans – did quite a lot of interesting hermeneutical work by way of typology. And Anglicans did some magisterial Biblical work in their poetry and private prayers. Allegory was not an important method of interpretation for Anglicans, but at the same time no one denied that certain things in Scripture were allegorical and figurative. A break between the ‘medieval’ and ‘modern’ worlds is only exacerbates our inability to understand the nature of allegorical interpretation (however pervasive it may – or may not – have been).

  4. Sure, I’d like to recover these things. That’s one of the key reasons why the St Bede’s Breviary puts back into place traditional or traditionally-shaped patterns of antiphons and the old Office hymns. But can we recover them? I honestly don’t know and I honestly fear not.

    Well….

    When I first started posting, for instance, the Great “O” Antiphons – I couldn’t find audio versions of them anywhere on the web. Few people knew what they were. Remember?

    Since that time – only about 5 years ago – hundreds of new resources have shown up at YouTube and elsewhere. (I grant that YouTube is fairly new itself – but the stuff could have been ignored there, too.) Recently, I started a Twitter account, publishing everything from chantblog to it – and now I have musicians in San Francisco and London following me on that account because somebody posted my “O” Antiphon posts on their Facebook page (got lots of hits this season from FB).

    At one time, too, I couldn’t find any audio files for the mass chant propers except the one site in Brazil. Now, I often find dozens of versions of every chants on YouTube (unheard-of just a year ago!), and dozens of later polyphonic pieces that used the same texts that didn’t used to be there, either. Many of these are posted by small groups who are singing the chants just for their own interest. Dozens of blogs and other websites link over to me, too, for these things. And every year it’s more. (On a Catholic forum recently, somebody asked the question, “Why do we sing that song about ‘water flowing from the right side of the temple'” – and another person replied by linking to a post of mine on “Vidi Aquam.” Right there is an indication that the songs are being sung someplace – and that people are asking questions about them.)

    So I’m not sure about your thesis above; from my point of view it seems there’s more interest in these things than ever before. It could just be increased web traffic, I guess – but I’m thinking it’s something more….

  5. (I have in mind to write English versions of the propers at some point, in fact, setting them to the original tunes! It could be done, and it would be splendid….)

  6. Matt,
    I enjoyed those when you wrote them but, again, I’d say the liturgical environment is prior even to explicit rules for reading.

    Vicki,
    We have learned a great deal from modern biblical scholarship and I would never want to be without it. That having been said, its goal is not the forming of saints—and that’s the business of the Church. Figural interpretation has been about this in more profitable ways for centuries. I truly believe that we need to embrace both; the art is knowing when to bring each to the fore.

    AKMA,
    I’m not surprised that you’ve written on this yourself…

    guyer,
    Examine your first sentence again: “I am curious as to what Patristic allegorical commentaries…” Consider the perspective which this places upon the works of the Fathers, intended or not. In our day, “commentary/commentaries” is a particular genre of writing where scholars work systematically through a biblical book for the edification of other scholars and perhaps others who might read them. The comparable items that we have received from the Fathers are, in the main, sermon series where they preached through a book sequentially within the public liturgies for the edification of the people. The great “commentaries” of Augustine, Chrysostom, and most of the others tend to be sermon compilations rather than exegetical productions. (Origen and Jerome did write commentaries whose intended context was apart from liturgical worship—but even they are better known for their liturgically-oriented works.)

    And that brings us to your point on Origen. Yes, his comments on allegorical interpretation in On First Principles make no mention of the liturgy. But consider the rest of his corpus and his own manner of life. Note, for instance, his comment to Gregory:

    “Do you then, sir, my son, study first of all the divine Scriptures. Study them I say. For we require to study the divine writings deeply, lest we should speak of them faster than we think; and while you study these divine works with a believing and God-pleasing intention, knock at that which is closed in them, and it shall be opened to you by the porter, of whom Jesus says, John 10:3 “To him the porter opens.” While you attend to this divine reading seek aright and with unwavering faith in God the hidden sense which is present in most passages of the divine Scriptures. And do not be content with knocking and seeking, for what is most necessary for understanding divine things is prayer, and in urging us to this the Saviour says not only, Matthew 7:7 “Knock, and it shall be opened to you,” and “Seek, and you shall find,” but also “Ask, and it shall be given you.” (Letter to Gregory, 3)

    For Origen, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Rather, his deep commitment to Christian practices and habits that ground his reading is found throughout his treatise “On Prayer” (which I heartily commend to you if you haven’t read it) particularly chapters 12 and 13 where he maintains that the whole of Christian life must be prayer, riffing off Paul’s “pray without ceasing.” Back to your point, he does discuss in chapter 31 the superiority of public, corporate, prayer over individual prayer. More foundational, perhaps is his practice. Pamphilius tells us that not only did he attend attend public worship most every day but that he was the daily preacher there as well.

    So, no, Origen never says that a life grounded in liturgical worship is a necessary corollary to allegorical interpretation, but it was most definitely his practice—as it was for the majority of the Fathers.

    Interesting that you chose Philo… His approach was most definitely allegorical. As for his worship life, scholars are divided on that one. We don’t know what he did but we’re very clear on what he thought about the matter. His treatise “On the Contemplative Life” [excerpt] he describes a community whose sole purpose is to study Scripture along allegorical lines and participate in liturgical worship. The chief question is whether such a group ever existed outside of Philo’s own head—I’m inclined to think not, but his vision is most interesting and did have an impact on developing Christian monasticism.

    The Dead Sea Scrolls do indeed contain figural exegesis. Indeed, the pesharim from Qumran are very clearly allegorical texts that work through biblical passages and explain how they pertain precisely and allegorically to the events of their days. I’m thinking specifically here of 1QpHab, 4Q161-167, 4Q169, 4Q171, 4Q173, 1Q16, etc.

    Yes, I was painting with a broad brush when I spoke of the “Reformation” and am aware that several different movements with different aims and emphases are clustered within that one title.

    Before I head into the meat of your point there, though, I want to caution you from drawing too clear a line around the concept of “allegory.” I prefer to use the word “figural” for a reason. If you are attentive to how patristic and medieval authors use language about their own acts of interpretation you’ll note that “allegory” is a certain pigeonhole that moderns tend to use more than ancients. This is particularly important as you note that some—I’m thinking Luther here in particular—can both speak against allegory and yet still, at points, embrace both it and typology.

    Perhaps we mean different things by play… What I will maintain is that Augustine when speaking on hermeneutics, is willing to maintain a much more open view than a closed view. He almost approaches a sense of carelessness with regard to how Scripture is interpreted as long as the fundamental aims are kept firmly in mind. I’m thinking here of 3.27 in “On Christian Doctrine”:

    “When, again, not some one interpretation, but two or more interpretations are put upon the same words of Scripture, even though the meaning the writer intended remain undiscovered, there is no danger if it can be shown from other passages of Scripture that any of the interpretations put on the words is in harmony with the truth. And if a man in searching the Scriptures endeavors to get at the intention of the author through whom the Holy Spirit spoke, whether he succeeds in this endeavor, or whether he draws a different meaning from the words, but one that is not opposed to sound doctrine, he is free from blame so long as he is supported by the testimony of some other passage of Scripture. For the author perhaps saw that this very meaning lay in the words which we are trying to interpret; and assuredly the Holy Spirit, who through him spoke these words, foresaw that this interpretation would occur to the reader, nay, made provision that it should occur to him, seeing that it too is founded on truth. For what more liberal and more fruitful provision could God have made in regard to the Sacred Scriptures than that the same words might be understood in several senses, all of which are sanctioned by the concurring testimony of other passages equally divine?”

    Ok—I’m being called to go talk with my wife about Hebrews over a drink so I’ll be content with this for now.

  7. (On the other hand, I wonder if it would be good to write new music for the propers? Something more congregational? Or maybe a simplified version of the chant, for most weeks – with the fancy stuff to be sung by soloists on the High Holidays? But in English, certainly.

    I think all this could be done and should be done. It would be quite an adventure besides. I know this is a bit of a tangent – but it’s not, really. Actually that question about “water from the right side of the temple” fits well within the topic, doesn’t it?)

  8. bls,
    You are quite right that there’s been a real revival of the chanted Minor Propers in recent years. And this revival is largely the result of the success of the Roman Catholic “Reform of the Reform” Movement. I’m fascinated by the way the Internet has facilitated this. In America at least, the New Liturgical Movement and the Chant Cafe have given a new awareness to a lot of Roman Catholics about the treasures of their tradition.

    In our church, however, it’s not quite caught on. Part of it has to do with party politics, I think. In the Roman Catholic Church, chant and a return to well-done Latin liturgy is a successful rallying point for traditionalists old and young who are not at peace with the Vatican II reforms or even for those looking for more beauty and reverence in their worship. A lot of different groups can get together around chant for a variety of reasons.

    Chant and the Minor Propers completely lack those valences within the Episcopal Church. As a result, there’s no pre-existing body of polarized by culture wars within the church that will naturally rally around them. Most of those who have knee-jerk reactions against our “new” liturgy seem to want a return to a more protestant and less sacramental way of doing the 1928 BCP. There is likewise no lived memory of the widespread use of Minor Propers here as there was in some quarters of the Roman Church. As a result, the folks who even know about them are missal Anglo-Catholics, liturgy geeks, and those who may have discovered them from their Roman revival.

    Whereas the Reform of the Reform is perceived to be a vibrant movement in modern American Roman Catholicism, the main liturgical movements in our church are towards the hyper-modern (the relevancy-contemporary crowd) and exotic (EOW and HWHM as people’s exhibits A & B). I feel like we’re engaged in a fighting retreat.

    If I were to go out on a limb here, I’d make an observation about the tone and content of the discussions at NLM. I don’t follow it as closely as I used to, but neither there nor at the Chant Cafe do I recall much discussion about homosexuality in the church. Yes, some conservative Roman Catholics like to get all up in arms about it, but it does not seem to be a major and repeated issue there. I believe this has significant implications for how the program is and will be advanced. Among our liturgical traditionalists, however, the great split has already occurred with the calving off of ACNA and the departure of many of the traditional Anglo-Catholics. This makes our position yet more difficult. On one hand, we’ve lost a significant chunk of our natural liturgical allies; on the other, our liturgical position is often associated with the worst tendencies of straight-male privilege by those who prefer different kinds of liturgies.

    As far as English-language Propers go, several groups have produced them/are working on them at various levels. I could have sworn that I did a post a while back where I compared some of the recent offerings but now I can’t seem to find it in the archives… (I did find this post on the Minor Propers from a little while back, though…).

    One of the issues with the propers and how we might use them, however, is that originally there was a liturgical distinction between choir and congregation. We as congregation had our specific parts to sing: the ordinary; the choir had their particular parts: the propers. I get ticked when High/Anglo-Catholic church choirs sing the ordinary even when done prettily and in Latin because they’ve usurped my role. (This is one of the things that bothered me about St Luke in the Fields.) It’s my ordinary, dammit, and I’m gonna sing it! Thus my suggestion in that previous post that the Mass Propers be smuggled in as an “Choir Anthem” book.

  9. Derek,

    I think what you are getting at is the interpretative matrix of interactions that happen in liturgies (I use the plural on purpose) and their happenings as the aspects of scripture composing much their content interact to bring us to an encounter with Christ and shape us to Him. Different traditions have emphasized differently that encounter. Anglicans have some history of emphasizing the encounter of Christ as Creator, for example, focus on the Nativity aspects of the Incarnation, as well as the Consummation, but never exclusively. Within this, appropriation of that encounter has always had some idiosyncracy appropriate to our particularity.

    I do think, however, that I disagree with you slightly on the strong (rather than modest) sense of formation the average person would have encountered within this matrix. It sounds to me like you are speaking for the monastic case (as normative), not the common case as it pertains to our liturgies in Daily Prayer and Holy Communion. I could be wrong but it doesn’t seem likely to me that the average person of the Medieval or Early Modern periods would have had the intensity of exposure to the full monastic round in most locales. More likely, perhaps, to Daily Mass, if anything. What the Prayer Book traditions open up is an exposure to a concentrated set that can be and was said both in parish and in home, perhaps, with a few exceptions, not everyday, but always available to inspire the heart and rejuvenate the imagination of God-With-Us (that playfulness of which you speak and which I think of as sign of a proper joyous humility).

    I will say it again and again, with a concern for the common case as normative, which is a portion of our peculiar Anglican catholicity, and not without some historical precedent (i.e., emphasizing Morning and Evening), our Prayer Books traditions (again, the plural is purposely so) have quite a lot of formational shaping in how it is we see God, existence, ourselves, one another, etc. Where this shows itself clearly is in appropriation–new hymnody, poetry, the fact that the common person is known to have carried about her Book with her and used it regularly for all the little and big things of life. Think of those little phrases folks swallow up from our Books, from “Dearly Beloved” to ”

    What our Prayer Books traditions do are provide some level of contingency and openness on our part and as we appropriate God in Christ to our particular lives which is fitting both to the mystery of the God Who Is and Who Is Born! who opens us onto Godself with the real care for each of us as particular creatures in One Body and of one creating by One Who Is.

  10. It is perhaps unfortunate, but I have come to associate much of Anglo-Catholic tendencies with authoritarian ecclesiological trajectories, anti-gay and women undertones wrapped up in Christ, a romantic historicism, and some tendencies theological questions that Ramsey and before him Temple and Maurice were able to raise concerns. I know this isn’t the whole of the movement, but it is a strong face that is at odds with an Anglican Benedictine outlook that otherwise provides wiggle room for creative rich traditions of liturgy, space to see what God and God’s grace are doing, and willingness to reform traditions in light of new insights from both Scripture and God’s other book, creation.

    To be catholic in my mind is to be concerned above all else with the Incarnation and appropriation of Him to our lives by the movement in us and about us of the Holy Spirit. I see many riches in the traditions you continue to put forward here (and some in our newer resources) for this, and continue to hope a renewed chant wave would occur while not needing to put down attempts to translate our riches into idioms of music and language that might move others to Christ where chant and the like might not. For example, the emphasis on Christ as Creator in one EOW EP comes out of a long theological conversation in our tradition and is appropriate to a catholic orienation.

  11. Derek –

    You didn’t really address anything that I brought up above. You refer to Origen on prayer and on his manner of life – but these are weak contexts in which to place his work. Unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, I have no reason to believe that Origen’s conception of prayer is necessarily, primarily, or exclusively liturgical. What is more, just because an exegetical homily is given in the liturgy, this does not mean that liturgy has itself become an interpretive framework. In other words, why should I believe that Origen’s thoughts on prayer map our own concerns with liturgy?

    It may very well be that you are asking a question that no one in the early or medieval church dealt with. There has been a rupture between ecclesiology and Biblical interpretation; you would like to reintegrate these things and are proposing that we should consciously – that is, intentionally – use liturgy as an interpretive framework for Scripture. Such a use of the liturgy – a use that aims at reintegration – would, you believe, give us greater room for play when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture. It is as if you want to ‘go back’ to the past – but as Adorno rightly reminds us, we can never go back. Every attempt to go back is really a movement forward. Thus, you are not asking the same questions as the past and not using liturgy as they did in the past. Rather, you are advocating using it in a new way.

    I’m not at all opposed to seeing the Bible as a fundamentally liturgical book – it was and is. Yet Scripture is not dependent upon the liturgy; as a book, it need not have a liturgical or material context, and the history of Biblical interpretation is hardly coterminous with the history of liturgy. There is no easy way out of arguments over Biblical interpretation. They will and always have existed without any necessary reference to the liturgy (which is to say that ‘the Reformation’ was no rupture). The interpretation of Scripture will not be made easier or less acrimonious through flirtation with liturgical anti-intellectualism.

  12. Well, one good thing, Derek, is this: that TEC has almost slavishly copied Rome liturgically since VII! I don’t know what will happen in the future, but it’s not been a bad argument that as Rome goes, so go we all for the most part! And that the interest there is an excellent thing for everybody. (In any case, part of the interest IS coming from Episcopalians – at least, from what I’ve seen. So it’s fine with me if there’s just a sliver of the church that finds it useful and appealing; that’s more than anybody could expect – and of course it’s always been like this in Anglicanism, anyway, with the various factions doing worship they way they prefer.)

    And of course, things are happening with the BCP in any case; it’s fracturing in many ways. Some think there won’t be another book, in fact – that we’ll be Common Worship and exclusively online (mix ‘n’ match) pretty soon. I’m not sure about this, but certainly there are pieces of the church that will do this. (I keep thinking that there will be, instead, some sort of “Book of Common Prayer” society that will continue to publish an actual book – and that perhaps it will be in use in a wider way, not only in the Episcopal Church.)

    But this area is very fruitful, as you know! And as you know, because I’ve been writing about this these past 5 years, I’ve learned a remarkable amount about the Bible, and how it ranges over territory and time, with its writers talking to one another. I’m fascinated by this now, in fact – and I can’t see why it wouldn’t be fascinating to others, and why everybody couldn’t learn a lot this way. I’m just a layperson among laypeople; all this doesn’t have to be for scholars or priests alone.

    It will all be very slow, anyway – according to church time, as usual….

  13. (The reason, BTW, they don’t talk about homosexuality in the Catholic world is the same reason they don’t talk about OoW: JPII shut down discussion on both topics during his Papacy. There’s absolutely nothing to talk about.)

  14. And Christopher is correct that Episcopalians used to carry around their BCP and use it for prayer all the time.

    The massive tome we’ve got now is not at all conducive to this, though! Who’d want to carry that thing around anywhere?

  15. I was delighted to see that two of my favorite blogs dealt with “allegory” within days of each other. You might find this article interesting, even though not strictly dealing with the same issue you are:

    http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/the-mystery-of-theophany/

    I have quoted Louth at some length to make a point. His characterization of a search for a “deeper meaning” is a hallmark of Patristic thought about Scripture. They do not all call it “allegory,” indeed, it was and is called by many names (theoria, etc.). But all shared a common sense that there was something behind or beyond the text that confronted them.

  16. I do think, however, that I disagree with you slightly on the strong (rather than modest) sense of formation the average person would have encountered within this matrix. It sounds to me like you are speaking for the monastic case (as normative), not the common case as it pertains to our liturgies in Daily Prayer and Holy Communion. I could be wrong but it doesn’t seem likely to me that the average person of the Medieval or Early Modern periods would have had the intensity of exposure to the full monastic round in most locales.

    This is correct, Christopher, that the average person wouldn’t be experiencing the fullness of the liturgical system and was one of the weakness of the system’s implementation. (Another weakness, seen at Cluny, was the tendency to over-enrichment at the expense of the clarity of the basic pattern.)

    I’ll say in my defense, though, that the liturgy was still the primary place for encountering the Scripture even for the non-monastic; in a largely pre-literate age it was heard as proclamation rather than read.

    And, yes, while we lose a certain richness in the reduction of offices from 9+ (depending on place and time, of course) to 2 (or our present 4), there’s no doubt that Cranmer following the inspiration of Quinognez and others gave us a tremendous gift in freeing the offices from being solely the practice of the religious “professionals.”

  17. You didn’t really address anything that I brought up above.

    Ok… I did address your points on Philo and the Qumran materials. I likewise addressed your point on the Reformation(s). And, I addressed your point on Origen whether you found it useful or not. Apparently not.

    You refer to Origen on prayer and on his manner of life – but these are weak contexts in which to place his work. . . .Unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, I have no reason to believe that Origen’s conception of prayer is necessarily, primarily, or exclusively liturgical.

    His conception of prayer was not primarily liturgical, nor did I claim that it was. Does it have liturgical touchpoints? It does, particularly if you compare what he says in chapter 32 about the three times of day at which one should pray with the Sahidic translations of the Apostolic Tradition where Morning Prayer is the public Office done in the church by the gathered community. My key point is that Origen was a constant and consistent participant within the life of his community’s liturgical practices. Do you disagree?

    Furthermore, given the way that Eusebius and others emphasis how so many of his students modeled their patterns of life after his, it seems reasonable that he expected those who followed him to similarly participate in the communal practices of the faith. Do you disagree?

    I’m not trying to say that Origen’s allegorical program was explicitly tied to a liturgical program. And I doubt Origen would have expressed that either. What I am trying to say is that Origen understood the work of interpreting the Scriptures and living them out as occurring within the framework of the communal Christian life which placed a greater emphasis on gathering corporately for worship together than ours.

    What is more, just because an exegetical homily is given in the liturgy, this does not mean that liturgy has itself become an interpretive framework.

    I suggest that it does and, for the early medieval monastic setting I’ve argued that it goes both ways: the liturgy interprets the text to the preacher before the preacher even sits down to interpret. Here are links to the presentation and accompanying handout on this topic that I gave at Kalamazoo a couple of years ago.

    It may very well be that you are asking a question that no one in the early or medieval church dealt with.

    I wouldn’t frame it this way. The way I’d frame it is that the Fathers and the early medievals wouldn’t have conceived of the interpretation of Scripture apart from the major practices of the Christian life—and liturgical worship was one of the regular, daily events.

    There has been a rupture between ecclesiology and Biblical interpretation; you would like to reintegrate these things and are proposing that we should consciously – that is, intentionally – use liturgy as an interpretive framework for Scripture.

    That’s correct. I believe that we have to be explicit about it in ways that our forebearers didn’t have to. Daily liturgical worship (whether physically corporate or not) was a natural part of their Christian environment; it is less often a natural part of ours.

    It is as if you want to ‘go back’ to the past – but as Adorno rightly reminds us, we can never go back. Every attempt to go back is really a movement forward. Thus, you are not asking the same questions as the past and not using liturgy as they did in the past. Rather, you are advocating using it in a new way.

    I recognize your point here and agree with it. I’m not trying to go back. I’d point to Cranmer’s own preface to the 1549 BCP (largely taken from the preface of Quiqnonez) where he himself points back to the early medieval monastic ideal and attempts to recast it in a form suitable for his day. I’m a guy with a wife, kids, and a job. 9+ offices a day is fundamentally undo-able. 4 a day doesn’t happen most days. If we can make some basic tweaks to the 2 about which we should be the most serious, I’d be happy.

    Yet Scripture is not dependent upon the liturgy; as a book, it need not have a liturgical or material context, and the history of Biblical interpretation is hardly coterminous with the history of liturgy.

    Believe or not, I do know a little something about the history of biblical interpretation… I’ll also remind you that in the present day biblical interpretation is not coterminous with the basic practices of the Christian faith. I have dear friends who are insightful biblical scholars who will never set foot inside a church and who do not hold the faith. Do you believe that this has any impact upon their interpretation of the texts?

    The interpretation of Scripture will not be made easier or less acrimonious through flirtation with liturgical anti-intellectualism.

    Just curious: are you accusing me of anti-intellectualism here?

  18. I’ll say in my defense, though, that the liturgy was still the primary place for encountering the Scripture even for the non-monastic; in a largely pre-literate age it was heard as proclamation rather than read.

    Derek,

    I don’t dispute this at all, and indeed, I think it problematic when Scripture is largely understood to be something read rather than proclaimed. Precisely in proclamation we have a communal and immediate address to us. That is not to exclude personal reading such as lectio (closer to proclamation on the personal level imho) or scholarly study by any means, but Scripture as a canon is a liturgical and thus proclamatory matter and just so liturgy is shaped by Scripture, precisely so that the fullness of the God self-revealed in Jesus Christ be proclaimed.

  19. I wouldn’t frame it this way. The way I’d frame it is that the Fathers and the early medievals wouldn’t have conceived of the interpretation of Scripture apart from the major practices of the Christian life—and liturgical worship was one of the regular, daily events.

    It is a consistent complaint of the East that the schoolmen caused trouble by beginning to conceive of interpretation of Scripture apart from the major practices. Now, it can also be that Scripture provides a corrective to liturgical interpretation and practices gone awry, and it isn’t easy to suggest the Reformers were not so concerned. What is clear is that Cranmer did not jettison the liturgical program, but wrote large the central theological concerns of his era precisely into prayer. We are heirs to this in multiple ways to this day, including a central focus on Christ’s mediation and merits alone, which is obvious in comparing our collects for saints feast days with those of pre-Reformation and modern Roman tradition. An emphasis on God’s forgiveness and grace as ground, rather than something we must first earn is another. Both, I might add are found in at least two of our vital preReformation Isles theologians, St Anselm and Bl Julian. And I would go so far as to say that the trajectories of Cranmer’s reforms take on distinctly Isles feels even when engaged with continental concerns just in the same way we cannot divorce either Anselm or Julian from the rest of the Body in their times.

  20. Also, no need for a defense on your part. I really do not like the sort of typically male approaches in academia to questions–sort of like a pissing context. It encourages hubris in my opinion and closes off learning. Such always gets framed as debate rather than exploration and discovery together refined by ongoing questions, thoughts, concerns raised together.

  21. That’s why I was given a pocket-sized copy of St. Augustine’s Prayer Book for my confirmation by my Anglo-Catholic priest. Prayers for all occasions!

  22. bls,

    I have several pocket-sized BCPs and now have it on my iPhone as well as the link to St. Bede’s. All may not be lost in this regard. On the contrary, we may find people continuing to carry Prayer on their persons.

  23. Anyway, it seems much much easier to look at something “allegorically” if it’s first acknowledged as a literary work. And I agree with you that is what things like the chant propers help do.

    They are, essentially, bits and pieces of Scripture – still working on figuring out if there are patterns to them in terms of where they end up in the temporal cycle! – that relate to the day, in some way. (Again, still working out how this actually works!) And since they are “bits and pieces” taken from various sources in the Bible, and because they are “related in some way,” they are pretty much by definition “allusive” rather than “analytic.”

    And at that point, you’re in the literary genre – and it’s one small step from there, if a step is even needed, to “figurative” readings. I have begun seeing the Bible in a whole new way because of these facts – and it wasn’t anything I was actually attempting to do! It just happened.

    Now, I’m always seeking to “tie things together” and seeing various patterns and connections here and there. And they are there! I had no idea, for instance, how much Paul referred to Psalms – but of course, Psalms are everywhere in Scripture; they may be the main thread that ties everything together from the very misty beginnings to the last books. (Little pieces of Psalms are everywhere in the BCP, too….)

    Even if we didn’t use these as chants, we could simply print them on the Sunday, once a week, as a sort of supplement to the readings and the rest of the liturgy. Perhaps we could even put out a book for this very purpose at some point. A podcast wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

    Really, the literary angle is the way to go, I think. There’s so much there….

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