Questions Answered

May 2014

  1. Is the Old Testament an allegory, and if so, how far does that extend?
  2. 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 todayeven those governments existing in Christian countriesto 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 marriagewhich, 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 fearis 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 naturethe 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 heavenis 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.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

Please send your questions to:
Fr. Brian T. Mullady, O.P.
375 NE Clackamas St.
Portland, OR 97232
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  1. Avatar Lochain says:

    It is a great pity that this teaching is not widely expressed to Catholics because people under the age of 60 -65 have not had a good grounding in the faith and so the answer to this question does not come easily to them.
    I left school in 1961 at the age of 18 and, believe me, there was no mention of abortion, euthanasia, sodomy or any of the other issues now current in the mass media. Yet, when I first heard of abortion I knew it was wrong. I may not have been able, easily, to articulate the reasons ( apart from the 5th Commandment) but I was absolutely clear that it was a terrible crime. All these other issues including so called gay marriage were not difficulties for me. Of course, such matters were NEVER discussed in any conversation at home, in school or even at university; we were fortunate to have lived in the tail end of what was still a Christian society where it was expected that most people would enter marriage as virgins. It is true, that there were occasionally some who anticipated marriage but in my circle it was still not commonplace.
    Society changed with the advent of the Pill, the Abortion Act in Britain in 1967, the rejection of Humanae Vitae in 1968 and we have the catastrophic results with which we are all too familiar in all parts of our lives. Even little children as young as 6 or 7 can be heard discussing whether their mothers will keep the expected baby or get rid of it.
    At the same time the teaching of our faith seems to have collapsed also; I was astounded to discover (in 1990 when I returned to teaching in a Catholic school) that secondary school children who had had seven years of Catholic education, had made their First Communions, and were preparing in their parishes for Confirmation were not able to say the Lord’s Prayer if asked to recite it individually. This lack of knowledge of their prayers was reflected in their knowledge of even the most basic tenets of their faith. The one child, in my class, who did know her prayers and understood the Creed and could explain what she believed was an Evangelical Christian!
    If this is common throughout the Catholic Church, then it is no wonder that questions like this could be asked. It is not that there are no answers; there are. What is lacking is Faith.
    When I went to discuss this with the priest in charge of R.E. in my diocese, he was not concerned.
    Do I live in a particularly faithless part of the world?

    • Avatar Guillermo Gini says:

      I agree with the argument that contraception is behind the acceptance of gay marriage. I would also add relativism and other filosofical doctrines which destroy the idea of nature, and the idea that there is a natural way for sex ad the others are unnatural, This is strongly promoted in tv shows and films when they show anal and oral sex as being commonplace between husband and wife or boyfirends. The last two years students in my wife’s class have argued that there are no differences in the sexual acts of homosexuals and heterosexuals except the sex of the participants. My wife realized they thought that it was normal and morally acceptable that husband and wife had anal and oral sex. The emotional sex referred to by the author is also promoted in the way of unfulfilled relations, very common among teenagers who get involved in these kind of acts without any personal commitment. I believe the development of these habits pervades their ability to found a good marriage anda a family, and erases moral guidelines on sexual issues.

  2. Avatar Ted Heywood says:

    We are living in a time that has seen a complete breakdown of any meaningfull teaching of Catholic Doctrine. Only Peace and Love made the cut. For the most part, the Bishops bear the responsibility for allowing the priests to fail to teach and preach doctrine. One of our priests sends us forth from each mass with the encouragement to ..”love yourself and one another”.
    I was recently talking to two college seniors at a well-known Catholic University who had attended Jesuit high schools and Catholic grammar schools and asked if they had ever heard of the Catechism, Humanae Vitea or The Theology of the Body. The answer — a blank look.
    No wonder our young people can’t see any difference between Catholicism and any other Protestant Christian faiths. It is because there is no difference in the teaching — only in the rules and prohibitions.
    I just read in our Diocesan news paper about a delegation of American Bishops that went to Iran to discuss Nuclear Weapons and Disarmament with some leading Iranian Ayatolas. It sure is more fun pursuing world peace on the international front than teaching your own youth about the Faith you are supposed to be passing on. Their domestic church is falling down about their ears and they are off on a toot!!
    Go figure.

    • You wrote, “For the most part, the Bishops bear the responsibility for allowing the priests to fail to teach and preach doctrine.” I suppose this is true, but I’m beginning to wonder if we the laity have been waiting for the clergy to do what we ourselves could do: namely catechize ourselves and one another. I know this is an uphill and difficult ascent, but I wonder if the Spirit is urging us to do just that. Many Catholics will not take lay initiatives seriously, clericalism being strong and pervasive, but maybe the few will be enough for the Lord’s purposes. He certainly began, content with His few.