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Beyond the literal sense to the deeper meaning of the Scriptures

Maximus the Confessor, 7th century 

The sacred Scripture, taken as a whole, is like a human being.  The Old Testament is the body and the New is the soul, the meaning it contains, the spirit.

From another viewpoint we can say that the entire sacred Scripture, Old and New Testament, has two aspects: the historical content which corresponds to the body, and the deep meaning, the goal at which the mind should aim, which corresponds to the soul.

If we think of human beings, we see they are mortal in their visible properties but immortal in their invisible qualities.

So with Scripture. It contains the letter, the visible text, which is transitory. But it also contains the spirit hidden beneath the letter, and this is never extinguished and this ought to be the object of our contemplation.

Think of human  beings again. If they want to be perfect, they master their passions and mortify the flesh.

So with Scripture. If it is heard in a spiritual way, it trims the text, like circumcision.

Paul says: `Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day.' [2 Cor. 4:16] We can say that also of Scripture.

The further the letter is divorced from it, the more relevance the spirit acquires. The more the shadows of the literal sense retreat, the more the shining truth of the faith advances.

And this is exactly why Scripture was composed.

(Translation by Thomas Spidlik, Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, MI - Spencer, MASS, 1994)

 

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