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Introduction to the Senses of Scripture

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Generally speaking an “allegory” is taken to mean “whenever one speaks of one thing by means of another thing,” yet this is not its proper and specific definition which the Apostle uses in this passage and which Holy Mother Church defines it as. The Gloss gives a helpful definition, Dicitur quod aliquid aliud videtur sonare in verbis et aliud in intellectu significare (something sounds in words and something else signifies in the intellect).

To embark on answering this question, we must first dive into the nature of signification. For, words are certain artificial signs that signifies something existing (whether in the world, i.e., real beings, or in the mind, i.e., being of reason). This signification can be in two modes, immediate, or mediate. Immediately, this is done according to a first order of signification, i.e., the word blue signifies the reality of blue. In this, we can either speak properly, through the “bare signification” of words, or, improperly, through certain metaphors. This “immediate signification” is referred to as the “literal sense” with two species, the proper literal sense and the improper literal sense. Thus, for example, when I speak of my “right hand” I am speaking in the proper literal sense, yet when I am speaking of God’s “right hand” (Ps. 139), I am using the improper literal sense. For, I am only speaking of some analogous likeness found between God and a right hand. This is found in that both can “hold” something, I hold a pen while writing, God “holds” us by his providence.

Second, a word can be a certain sign that signifies something mediately. That is, a word signifies a certain reality through the instrumentality of another mediating sign in a second order of signification, i.e., blue refers to the color blue which is itself symbolic for sadness. This mediate signification can be be done in two modes, first, appropriative, and, second, primarily. The appropriative mode of mediate signification is done when a certain thing is appropriated as a sign for something else, thus, our example of blue for sadness, blue was not created by the author of the poem, rather it was appropriated as a sign for sadn