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In antiquity, two schools of exegesis developed in Alexandria and Antioch. Alexandrine interpretation, exemplified by Origen, tended to read Scripture allegorically, while Antiochene interpretation adhered to the literal sense, holding that other meanings (called theoria) could only be accepted if based on the literal meaning.

Catholic theology distinguishes two senses of scripture: the literal and the spiritual.

The literal sense of understanding scripture is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture. The spiritual sense is further subdivided into:

  • the allegorical sense, which includes typology. An example would be the parting of the Red Sea being understood as a "type" (sign) of baptism.
  • the moral sense, which understands the scripture to contain some ethical teaching.
  • the anagogical sense, which applies to eschatology, eternity and the consummation of the world

Regarding exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation, Catholic theology holds:

  • the injunction that all other senses of sacred scripture are based on the literal
  • that the historicity of the Gospels must be absolutely and constantly held
  • that scripture must be read within the "living Tradition of the whole Church" and
  • that "the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome".