The Senses of Scripture


Fairly early on in the life of our Bible Study Group in San Diego, we took some time to read through the section of the Catechism beginning in paragraph #101 which addresses the subject of Sacred Scripture. We did this because when I first read that portion of the Catechism I was delighted to discover some truly wonderful guidance for understanding more fully the depth of God’s word.

In this post I would like to take some time to discuss the material outlined in the section of the Catechism entitled “The Senses of Scripture” (CCC #115). In five short paragraphs, it explains that there are two primary senses of Scripture: “Literal” and “Spiritual”, with the latter sense being subdivided into three additional subcategories: “Allegorical”, “Moral” and “Anagogical”.


Let’s look at each of these senses in turn…
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Does the Church think that Scripture is important?

During my various apologetic endeavours I have often heard the assertion that that Catholic Church doesn’t think much of Sacred Scripture. I have been told by well-meaning non-Catholics that the Church doesn’t care about God’s word and that our clergy do everything they can to keep the Bible out of the hands of their congregations.

When meeting with these assertions, I invite my interlocutors to peruse the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is the official compendium of all that we believe as Catholics. The section concerning Sacred Scripture begins at paragraph #101. It draws heavily from a Second Vatican Council constitution “Dei Verbum” (“Word of God”) and is a nice summary of that conciliar document.

So, what does the Church actually believe and teach about Sacred Scripture?


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Catholic Biblical Interpretation

The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers three main guidelines for the interpretation of Scripture.

#112 (1) Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”. Different as the books which compose it may be, Scripture is a unity by reason of the unity of God’s plan, of which Christ Jesus is the center and heart, open since his Passover.

#113 (2) Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”. According to a saying of the Fathers, Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (“. . . according to the spiritual meaning which the Spirit grants to the Church”81).

#114 (3). Be attentive to the analogy of faith.82 By “analogy of faith” we mean the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

But what do each of these mean? Here’s my paraphrase:

1. Be especially attentive “to the content and unity of the whole Scripture”
Does my interpretation fit within the overall context of the passage, that particular book of Scripture and all the books of the Bible? How does it fit in within God’s fatherly plan (oikonomia)

2. Read the Scripture within “the living Tradition of the whole Church”
Is my interpretation in line with the consensus of the Early Church Fathers, the Saints, the councils and popes and the Liturgy of the Church throughout the centuries?

3. Be “attentive to the analogy of faith”.
The “analogy of faith” is sometimes called the “rule of faith” and refers to the standard for belief. For the Catholic this means: does my interpretation logically and coherently fit into the Catholic Faith, which is the complete revelation of Jesus Christ as revealed in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and taught by the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church? If it conflicts with other parts of the faith, the interpretation is probably wrong.

The article Catholic Biblical Interpretation first appeared on

Listening to the Liturgy

oransA couple of days ago I wrote a post entitled Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi but I realized today that I never explained what that phrase actually means. Bad Pilgrim!

Long before there was the Nicene Creed or the official Biblical canon, there was the worship of the Church. Ever since Pentecost, Christians have gathered together to pray and to celebrate the Sacraments. Therefore, when issues arose in the Church, such as when the canon was being solidified or the creeds were being written, the Bishops would look to the worship of the Church to provide their theological framework in which to address these issues.

It is to this principle that “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” refers. It is a Latin phrase which means:

“The law (‘lex’) of prayer (‘orandi’) is the law of belief (‘credendi’)”

This phrase is first found in the works of a Fifth Century Christian writer called Prosper, who was a disciple of St. Augustine:

“Let us consider the sacraments of priestly prayers which, having been handed down by the apostles, are celebrated uniformly throughout the whole world and in every catholic Church so that the law of praying might establish the law of believing – Prosper of Aquitaine

It’s a bit like the phrase “You are what you eat”, maybe something like “You believe what you pray”.  This is why liturgy was so important to the ancient Church and it’s why it’s important today.

I’ll admit, it took me a long to really wrap my head around why Catholics put such an emphasis on what happens on Sunday mornings. It was only when I started studying the worship of the Early Church that I began to realize its importance and begin to understand the teaching and creedal role of the liturgy.  Our liturgy demonstrates what is important to us. It expresses (among other things) what we believe about God, how we understand ourselves and the Church.

So why am I bringing this up? Well, yesterday afternoon I went to Vespers at my Byzantine parish and noticed a couple of things in  the liturgy that got me excited which I wanted to share…

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Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

Do Catholics know the Bible?

I remember the first time I heard the Bible at Mass. By that, I don’t mean the first time I heard a Reading from Scripture in the Liturgy of the Word. No, I’m referring to the first time I heard some words from the lips of the priest and thought to myself “Hey, that’s straight from Scripture”.

Now, I knew some of the more prominent features of the liturgy such as the Gloria, Sanctus and Kyrie came from Scripture, but I thought that was pretty much it. It turns out I was very wrong…

So when was the first time I “heard the Bible at Mass”? Well, I was an altar server and went to wash the priest’s hands prior to the Eucharistic prayer. The priest came forward and, as I poured water over his hands, he said the words “Lord, wash away my iniquity  and cleanse me from my sin”.  I recognized those words! I had been reading through the book of Psalms at the time and recognized the verse from Psalm 51:

Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin – Psalm 51:2

Sound familiar? 🙂

After that experience, I began to pay closer attention to the words of the Mass. Again and again I found that virtually everything that was said came from Scripture. In fact, now whenever I have non-Catholic Christians attend Mass with me, I invite them to keep a tally of the number of Scripture quotations or Biblical allusions they hear.

So do Catholics know the Bible? Well, maybe better than they think…

Dumbed Down Catholicism

A little while ago there were some statistics released following a large survey asking 3,400 Americans basic questions about Christianity and world religions. Catholics didn’t perform well. How well would you have done?

Pew Report

Why do you think Catholics performed so badly and, more importantly, how do you think we can reverse this arrested development?

Healing Medicine


Silvanus…acted like a skilled physician and put on his [brother’s] soul a poultice made of texts from Scripture, showing him that repentance is available for all who in truth and in charity turn to God.

– De vitis Patrum, Sive Verba Seniorum, Liber V

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