This is a long chapter, but do your best to make it all the way through it, because it contains some of the best material in the book. For example, Father Andrew talks, at length, about allegory, and that is an extremely important discussion. Allegory is not the only way to approach Holy Scripture; however, it is the way that Holy Scripture is approached in the hymnography of the Church and in the writings of the Holy Fathers. So, if we are going to be able to understand those resources and enter fully into the life of the Church, then we will need to be familiar with allegory and how it works.
Father Andrew also connects the topic of allegory with his on-going discussion of meaning. He contrasts the allegorical approach to Scripture with the classic Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura, and he also talks about how our modern reliance on method impacts the way we interpret the Bible. This leads to a consideration about what we are looking for when we interpret Holy Scripture: Is there one correct meaning for each particular passage (usually identified with the author’s original intention or with the historical context of the material) or is the process of interpretation a way to “focus our attention on the text of Scripture in such a way that we are more able to hear what it has to say to us, more alert, more sensitive, to the voice of God in the Scriptures”? Of course, Father Andrew advocates for the latter approach, and he spends the rest of the chapter developing that perspective.
One of the best moments in that discussion happens on pg 108, when Father Andrew considers how we interpret the Psalms. Think, for example, about Psalm 67, which is one of the oldest psalms in the collection and which we use on the night of Pascha when we first announce the resurrection of our Lord and Master (“Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered”). When we consider what that psalm means, are we talking about the ancient Israelite text which drew from Ugaritic sources? Are we talking about how the psalm was used in the worship of the synagogue and the temple? Are we talking about the Christian usage of the psalm at Pascha and during the daily services? Are we talking about what the psalm means to us personally? The answer to all of that is ‘yes’, and that is the breadth of meaning that Father Andrew is attempting to point us to—and, in his estimation, allegory is the approach which makes that breadth of meaning available to us.
Father Andrew also deals with some technical considerations in connection with allegory—what is the relationship between allegory and typology, is allegory just an attempt to finesse difficult passages of Scripture, is allegory arbitrary—but the final ten pages of the chapter are filled with examples of the sort of interpretation that he’s been talking about. If we actively attend the Divine Services, most of those examples should be familiar to us, but Father Andrew always uses an early Protestant example and even a modern example, demonstrating that allegory is not an archeological enterprise. It is an approach that can be used with great benefit even in our day and age because it is an approach that brings us before the mystery of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So, there are just 16 more pages to go in our Great Lent Reading Project! Continue to look up the words that you don’t know, and review those names/references that you looked up at the beginning of our work together, because it’s easy to forget who all the players are. Good work, all.