The Little Office Of Our Lady - On The Interpretation Of The Psalms, by E. L. Taunton


Holy Scripture admits of a four-fold interpretation : the Literal, or historical sense; the Allegorical, or that which refers to faith or the Church Militant; the Anagogical, referring to eternal life in the Church triumphant ; the Tropological, or moral sense, concerning the manner of reaching heaven. Durandus gives this example: " In like manner Jerusalem is understood literally of that earthly city whither pilgrims journey ; allegorically of the Church Militant; tropologically of every faithful soul ; anagogically of the heavenly Jerusalem which is our country."

But these four may be reduced to two; the literal and the mystical, and both of these may be the sense originally intended by the Holy Ghost when inspiring the writers. Our Lord Himself used the mystical interpretation when He took the case of Jonas, and applied it to His own resurrection, and when He spoke of the Temple, His Body. In the many parables He was intending a mystical sense, e.g., in the parable of the Good Samaritan, or that of the Prodigal Son. The Apostles, following His example, often give a mystical sense to the Scripture, and quote this sense as being, without controversy, the real meaning of the text. For instance, St. Paul says: Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine; for the Scripture saith: Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn [l Tim. v. 17, 18]. And again : Saith not the law the same also ? For it is written in the law of Moses: Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God care for oxen ? or saith He it not altogether for our sakes? For our sakes no doubt this was written [l Cor. ix. 9, 10.] Then, again, in that famous saying of Osee : When Israel was a child then I Ioved him and called my son out of Egypt [xi 1] ; which St. Matthew unhesitatingly takes in a mystical sense and applies it to our Lord, saying distinctly that the return from the sojourn in Egypt was its fulfilment.

This kind of interpretation the Church has always admitted ; and, guided by the same Holy Spirit that inspired the writers, she has not hesitated to declare, in certain cases, that the mystical interpretation is the primary one intended by the Holy Ghost. For instance, the whole of the Canticle of Canticles, she takes as referring to the mystical Espousals of God and the soul, although the literal sense refers to an earthly bride and bridegroom. And the description of Wisdom Holy Church applies officially in the Missal and the Breviary to our Lady. We are bound to accept this interpretation, not only as lawful, but also as true, as it is given by her who is the sole interpreter of Holy Writ. This is also an application of the old principle that from the Church's prayers can be gathered the Church's belief.

The piety of Christians has been fed on mystical interpretation for hundreds of years; and souls have grown in holiness by its means. The work has been that of God's saints and has resulted from their interior light and close union with God. It may seem to us, at first sight, that a few of the writers have gone rather wide of the mark and that their interpretations are somewhat far-fetched; but a closer attention to their meaning and to the steps by which they arrive at their conclusions will often show us that they have had a far deeper insight into the meaning of God's Word than we have who criticise them.

Following out the theory that the Psalms all speak of Jesus, that they are His words, we get at once into the mystical sense, and such phrases as these: The righteous one ; the poor man ; thy servant; the Word; the good thing —will all have new depths of meaning when we apply them to Him Who was on earth the righteous man, and so poor that He had nowhere to lay His head ; the faithful servant Who did his Father's will; the Eternal Word which gives us here below the Good Thing of the Blessed Sacrament and hereafter eternal life.

Again, we may take the case, so often occurring, of the names, Jerusalem and Sion; the first, " The Vision of Peace," being interpreted of the Church Triumphant ; the second " Expectation," of the Church Militant. As for example : That they may declare the name of the Lord in Sion and His worship in Jerusalem, when the people are gathered together and the kings also to serve the Lord [Ps. ci. 22]. Or another : Deal favourably, 0 Lord, in Thy goodwill with Sion ; and then, by a very beautiful sequence, And the walls of Jerusalem shall be built up [Ps. 1. 18], because through God's love and mercy to the Church here, those spiritual stones are prepared by which the walls of the Eternal Temple are to be built on high [Neale, vol. i., p. 451]. And once more. May the Lord from out of Sion bless thee that thou mayest see the good things of Jerusalem all the days of thy Life [Ps. cxxvi. 5], that is, by the means of grace stirred up in the Church we may attain the good things of life eternal. It is seldom in Scripture that these two words, either used separately or in contrast, cannot be thus explained in the mystical sense. The same applies to Jacob and Israel. The supplanter, he that has a hard struggle to attain his inheritance, is a figure of the Church on earth ; while Israel, He that sees Cod, at once suggests the Church in heaven.

This brief note will be enough to give us a warrant for a solid ground for interpreting the Psalms in a mystical sense as given in the Commentary which forms the third part of this work. The holy writers, from whose work the Commentary is woven, arrived at their interpretation, after years of prayer, after days of penance. Is it too much to say that, if we wish to understand the Psalms as they understood them, we must follow some way, at least, along the path they trod ? God alone, Who inspired the Scriptures, can open our understandings that we may understand the Scriptures, as He did to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus; and the dignity of our work, when saying Office, demands that we should pray Him to give us also light to penetrate the sense of the words we utter.

One last word. Except where the Church has officially adopted one meaning before any others, and this is the mystical sense in the proper meaning of the word, the interpretations given in the writings of the Fathers are not to be considered as infallible; they are only private explanations which we are free to use or reject as they appeal to us. They are often based on analogy and explain the Scripture in what is technically called an "accommodated" sense. The Angelical says: "It belongs to the dignity of Holy Scripture to contain in one letter many senses . . . Hence, if some things not understood by the author are fitted by interpreters of Holy Scripture, it is not doubtful but that the Holy Ghost understood them in that sense, for He is the principal Author of Holy Scripture."

From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907