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Catechism of the Catholic Church

The senses of Scripture

115 According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. The profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church.

116 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." 83

117 The spiritual sense. Thanks to the unity of God's plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.

(1) The allegorical sense. We can acquire a more profound understanding of 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. 84

(2) The moral sense. The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St. Paul says, they were written "for our instruction". 85

(3) The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). 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. 86

118 A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith; The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny. 87

119 "It is the task of exegetes to work, according to these rules, towards a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture in order that their research may help the Church to form a firmer judgement. For, of course, all that has been said about the manner of interpreting Scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God." 88

But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me. 89

Notes:

83 St. Thomas Aquinas, S Thess I, 1, 10, ad I.

84 Cf. I Cor 10:2.

85 I Cor 10:11; cf. Heb 3:1 -4:11.

86 Cf. Rev 21:1 - 22:5.

87 Lettera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia. Augustine of Dacia, Rotulus pugillaris, I: ed. A. Walz: Angelicum § (1929) 256; Augstine of Dacia, Rotulus pugillaris, I: ed. A. Walz: Angelicum § (1929) 256.

88 DV 12 § 3.

89 St. Augustine, Contra epistolam Manichaei 5, 6: PL 42, 176.

English Translation of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church for the United States of America © 1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

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