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SCRIPTURAL EXEGESIS - PROLEGOMENA

The early Fathers set themselves at once to develop this idea, and to show it forth in detail. Accordingly in their commentaries, and explanations of particular texts, following out this view, they appear to press everything into their service, and to find the Incarnate Word, and what bears upon His person, character, and work, in every page of Scripture, whatever might be the nature of its subject-matter, whether historical, or allegorical, or prophetic, or didactic, or devotional, or moral, or ceremonial, or mystical. For all these, in patristic exegesis, are made to yield figures and types, predictions and allusions, referring directly or indirectly, to the mysteries of Redemption. We may grant taht this mystical and figurative method was sometimes carried too far by early writers, that some of their interpretations are forced and strained, and their applications fanciful and arbitrary; we may doubt, moreover, whether in many cases they made them with any more serious end in view than that of pious accommodation, or mere illustration -- still this very exaggeration serves to show how strong was their conviction that the doctrinal truths they thus illustrated, were deeply imbedded in the sense of Scripture, and though not apparent in the letter, were contained in its spirit; whilst the intimate association that was conceived of these truths with the Sacred text gives evidence of their importance in the mind of the writers.

As a consequence of dwelling so much on the mystical sense of Scripture, no doubt too little attention was bestowed by the earlier commentators on its literal and more obvious meaning. Hence by degrees a reaction set in, and a new school of interpretation took its rise, especially in the East under S. John Chrysostom who brings out into greater prominence the literal sense of the Sacred text.

Whilst, however, the more general rule of these later commentators was to explain with greater fulness the primary and literal meaning of Scripture, they by no means ignored or passed over its mystical sense; for of this frequent applications are to be found in their writings. But besides this more literal method, what perhaps most distinguishes them from earlier Fathers, is their greater tendency to draw from the Sacred text moral lessons and practical conclusions, in place of such as were of a more mystical character. This is particularly noticeable in S. Chrysostom's commentaries, and almost at every turn, as we shall later on have occasion to show.

 

 

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