Daily Lessons from St. Thomas

Aquinas Day By Day

298

Aquinas’s Topic: The Senses of Words in Scripture

Scripture: “Go then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.” Exodus 4:12

Aquinas’s Text: Summa theologiae I.1.10

Art. 10 asks: “Does Sacred Scripture contain several senses within one word?”

Br. Thomas’s “response”:

The author of Sacred Scripture is God, who has the power not only to make words signify things, as even a human can do, but also to make things themselves signify. Consequently, while in all sciences words signify, this science [of Scripture] has the property that the things signified by words also signify something. Therefore, the first kind of signification, in which words signify things, pertains to the first sense of scripture, the historical or literal sense. But the kind of signification in which the things signified by words in turn signify other things is called the spiritual sense. It is based upon the literal sense and presupposes it.

Now this spiritual sense is divided in three ways, for as the Apostle says [Heb. 10: 1], the Old Law is a pre-figuration of the New Law, and the New Law, as Dionysius [the Aeropagite] says, is a pre-figuration of future glory. And in the New Law, those things that have been done by our Head are signs of the things that we are obliged to do. Therefore, based on how the things that belong to the Old Law signify those that belong to the New Law, there is the allegorical sense. And so far as things done in Christ or things that signify Christ are signs of the things that we are obliged to do, there is the moral sense. And so far as they signify what concerns eternal glory there is the anagogical sense. Finally, since the literal sense is what an author intends; but the author of Sacred Scripture is God, who comprehends everything all at once in his intellect, it is not inappropriate, as Augustine says, if even under the literal sense in one word of Sacred Scripture there are many senses.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]

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The Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas is the only graduate philosophy program uniquely focused on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in the United States. The Center is founded on the Church’s insistence of the perennial value of the thought of Aquinas as the new millennium proceeds.
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