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Dear Fr. Jonathan:

I'm not sure I have the background to understand the niceties of the use of allegorical interpretation and the (presumably corrective?) Antiochene exegetical mission.

However, one point here does resonate -- you state:

What is it about the substance of cassia that promotes prayer?

Why is it that olive oil is the proper vehicle for the grace of unction, instead of something else – say, like glycerin?

I have often felt this way about the mystery of blood sacrifice. What is it about the shedding of blood that is so necessary? At base level one has to wonder what it is about the shedding of blood, yet at a wholly visceral level (no pun intended) there seems no question that as humans we understand the necessity of blood sacrifice across many cultures, times and places. A reduction to "well, blood carries/represents life" seems too facile an explanation.

Re: bread and wine - St. Nicolas Cabasilas provided to me a reasonably satisfying answer - something to the effect that the people of the Old Testament were bringing as a sacrifice the first fruits of their crop, but these were foods common to all creatures whereas gifts bread and wine are specific first fruits of human life since they represent food that is characteristic to man and not to other creatures, therefore they represent human life. That said, it seems that it IS so, whatever the reason, and we seem to understand this very deeply in most cases (clown masses aside), whatever the reason, much like cassia and olive oil.

And I guess I'd thought that Antioch had corrected the allegorical excesses of Alexandria... bringing understanding squarely back to the text itself.

Sounds like a confrontation with that kids book we used to have... where the last page has the child's photo and there's a hole for the face on every page: "Look at me, I can be who/what I want to be..." only it's a lot harder than that because we can't really be who we want to be until we accept who/how we were are. And so often, we don't do either. Seems to me the story of the human person isn't that far from the written word in this case, or the Word in all.

Well information shared . nice on post.

I suppose if an allegory survives for a couple of hundred years then I'll pay attention. New allegory is too astringent for my taste, and too prone to exposing more of the person speaking than what he is speaking.

This essay was not intended to dismiss allegory at all. As the speaker of my lecture stated, allegory is essential in Orthodox hermeneutics.

Allegory, however, is fraught with peril. One of the main criticisms of allegory is that it's "translations" are often arbitrary, and left to devices that are individual and subjective at the least, if not idiosyncratic. Origen was faulted for imposing a "spiritualized" hermeneutic upon Scripture, to the point where Scripture was separated away from history. The Genesis account is popularly (and sloppily) understood in such a manner, rather than what I think is the better historic understanding of it as "true myth" and Christology.

Allegorical interpretations must at least cohere with the lineaments of Apostolic Tradition. It is one thing to interpret the Canticles as an image of Christ's marriage with the Church: the "eros" of Christ as Nymphos and Church as Bride is well established, and comprises a unified meaning. It is quite another thing to interpret the Canticles as the soul's ascent from the demesnes of the Demiurge, and into union with the One.

That is the first concern. I think, also, that allegorical interpretations must converge into a proper "symbol" or "sign" with regard to the structural context of the Scripture. I understand that this would immediately suggest some doubt as to a number of patristic references -- but then again, that is indeed the problem with Origen.

Some of the problem here may be due to some confusion between rhetorical devices and allegorical interpretation. Our Lord's use of the lost coin or the lost sheep to represent a sinner needing redemption is not allegory, but a beautiful use of metaphor. Our Lord's demand for the amputation of an offensive body part, in preference of Heaven over Hell, ought to be understood as hyperbole: in turn, this should yield certain ascetical conclusions, such as "if one is oriented toward sex outside of traditional marriage, then one ought to struggle decisively and mightily against this urgency."

But to suggest that the Fall of Adam and Eve really means the incarnation of human nature, and its division into genders?

No -- this is an egregious exercise of arbitrary allegorization.

Actually, Dante and others recommend not only a co-existence of "literal" and "allegorical" interpretations, but rather a simultaneous interpretive possibility of historical, moral, spritual/allegorical, and anagogical/typological meanings. G. K. Chesterton averred that Christ, the Logos and supreme Rhetor, spoke on seven levels at once (what the extra three are I do not know).

It is a good writer or speaker that combines, in a unity, the first two levels of meaning.

It is only in the context of true theology -- the Apostolic Theoria -- that all four levels are combined into a mutually referential symbolic unity of meaning.

That said, I mean to say that allegory was really not my main point.

Father I think it would be helpful to point out the proper usage of the allegorical method of understanding scripture.

Dear Fr. Jonathan,

I always understood that both literal and allegorical interpretations could stand at the same time. Am I missing something?

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