- Is the Old Testament an allegory, and if so, how far does that extend?
- Is it true that there is no good argument against gay marriage, and if this is true, why does the Church oppose it?
Question: I recently heard a Catholic news commentator say that the Old Testament is allegory. Can you tell me if this is true, and if so, how far does it extend?
Answer: The question of the senses of Scripture and their contribution to the formation of faith is an important one. Traditionally, there have been four senses of Scripture: the literal, the allegorical, the moral, and the analogical. These are described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal. … The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of the events by recognizing their significance in Christ; thus, the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign, or type, of Christ’s victory, and also of Christian Baptism. The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they are written “for our instruction.” The anagogical sense. We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.” (115-117)
Though it is true there is allegory in Scripture, one must be clear that such allegory is not found in the Gospels which are certainly portrayed by the authors as literally what Jesus did and taught. Allegory may be used to interpret the New Testament provided it does not do violence to the literal sense of the passage. In the Old Testament, the same four senses of Scripture are also evident. As the Catechism states in the passage already quoted, allegory must be based on the literal sense, which is what the words mean, as the author intended them. Though some events may not be historical, still this does not mean the literal sense of them is allegorical. The Church has long made a further distinction in the literal sense with regard to prophecy, for example. The prophets literally addressed their prophecies to the situation at the time. Their prophecies also apply to future fulfillment in the time of Christ. But this application is not allegorical. The literal sense can only be complete when one considers what God intended to reveal in the passage. This may be an interpretation which is metaphysical. Sometimes, this is realized completely only in the use made of the passage in the New Testament.
For example, when Isaiah prophesied “a virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son” (Is 7:14), most scholars today would maintain that what he had in his mind was only something contemporary to his own time. The New Testament writers, on the other hand, used it to refer to Mary and Jesus. This is an example of what has been termed the “more complete literal sense” (sensus literalis plenior). This would include the fact that Holy Scripture is used to interpret, and give the complete meaning of, a text in Holy Scripture. So the New Testament draws out the fuller sense of the meaning of a prophecy or event in the Old Testament. This would be true for example in the story of Jonah and the whale, and the use Christ makes of it, the “Sign of Jonah.”
As to other sections of Holy Scripture, the first two chapters of Genesis, for example, are not allegory in the strict sense of the word. The literal meaning of the text is mythical, it is true. But mythical must be understood in a very rarefied, philosophical way. Myth in the context of the literal sense of the first two chapters of Genesis does not mean a fable. It is rather a primitive way of expressing metaphysical truths. For example, no serious Catholic scholar has ever maintained that the world was literally created in seven calendar days. For one thing, the heavenly lights by which earthly time is measured were not created on the first day. The seven days and hierarchy of creation are an attempt to state that God created an ordered universe, with all material things existing in time and space, under his creative power.
Though Adam and Eve are two individuals who were historical people, they are not treated in that way in the literal sense of Genesis 1 and 2. All men are considered as one man in Adam. There is an epic and metaphysical meaning to the literal sense of the creation and fall. This is not “allegory” in the strict sense of the word, though it could be used as allegory. It is not unhistorical, but examines truths which underlie all history. Thomas Aquinas said it best: “The duty of a good interpreter is to contemplate not the words, but the sense of the words.” (Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, 27, 2321)
Question:Many people today believe there is no good argument against gay marriage. If that is true, why does the Church oppose it?
Answer: The sad rush of governments today—even those governments existing in Christian countries—to uncritically approve gay marriage as though it were the same as heterosexual marriage, raises cause for great concern. This tendency attacks the very nature of the primary social unit of a society, which is the family. Since the family is the basic building block of society, errors regarding its nature strike directly, not only at its own common good, but at the whole idea of civil peace and concord.
The source of this error is found in contraception. Children have been completely divorced from sexuality. This has been true for 50 years in Europe and America. Marriage has now been added to this separation of children and sexuality. If children are really irrelevant when it comes to the enjoyment of the sexual act, then, of course, the fact that such an act can yield children, or is ordered to birth, becomes unimportant. This opens the way to permitting any sexual experience as long as it involves emotional love, and physiological stimulation. The social institution of marriage—which, in traditional terms, was not merely meant to satisfy the parties emotionally or physiologically, but also to provide a stable financial and moral climate in which children would be born and reared without fear—is completely denied.
Of course, a gay couple may choose to adopt a child. But the child is completely incidental to their relationship. This is because the child does not come from their own act of love. In this view, sexual identity becomes a matter of personal choice because it does not matter how one is physically constituted. This view gives primacy of importance to the personal experience of the fulfillment of the ego. Everything in nature—the body in its physical constitution as a sexual entity; the sexual identity and formation of the children demanding a father and a mother; the propagation of society; and even the peopling of heaven—is to be sacrificed to personal choice and ego. The “me” culture has won the day.
This is completely contrary to the purpose which Christianity, and general philosophical reflection on the natural law, have assigned to the sexual action. God created marriage so that man might not “be alone.” Genesis 2 says: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gn 2:18). Why not? God is not alone, but is a communion of persons who spend all of eternity giving and receiving in truth and love. In Genesis, when Eve is created from Adam and he sees her, he utters the first great cry of joy in the history of the human race, because he experiences one with an immortal soul like his, and who also has a body. In fact, it is through the body that they first recognize each other. This is the foundation of self-fulfillment as a person: to give the gift of self to another in love. This gift is then approved and ratified in the gift of the seed, and its reception by man and woman. This physical gift and reception of human seed also makes a person like God because life comes from it, the life of another person who can also give the gift of self.
Some people argue that God is on the side of any expression of love, but this certainly cannot be true. Love must be based on truth. Otherwise it is false. The Creator made the human body physically in a certain way. When human beings use the physical expression of sexuality in such a way that, by artifice, they deny this obvious purpose for which God made these organs, they shut him out of the process. Since he made these organs with the creation of human life as their purpose, and placed natural infertility into the process, those who seek to frustrate this design by any other means than periodic continence, deny the Creator his just rights. One of the two reasons for which marriage was made is, therefore, denied. Since this is contrary to the love which characterizes marriage, a marriage simply cannot be contracted. One of the impediments to permitting marriage between two people is that one of the persons CANNOT perform the sexual act. This is the reason. To base marriage on any other reason, ignoring the procreative part of it, is to build the foundation of social good on quicksand. The Church simply cannot recognize such a union as being either natural or sacramental marriage. Nor should the state recognize such a union. It will lead to the complete destruction of marriage as an institution. This will, in turn, corrupt the family, leading to civil chaos.