do?" He said, "it is written, I confess my iniquity, I am sorry for my sin" [Psalm 38.18].'32

Other commandments, however, especially those embedded in biblical narratives, demanded unpacking, which the sages offered not by theological explanation but by object lessons that enjoined specific actions on the monks to help them toward deeper insight into the scriptural word. In one story, a Messalian ascetic, reputed to have spurned manual labour in favour of prayer and quietude, reproaches Abba Silvanus and some industrious brothers on Mt Sinai by quoting two Gospel texts: 'Do not labour for the food which perishes' (John 6.27) and 'Mary has chosen the good portion' (Luke 10.42). The Abba instructs that the ascetic be left alone in a cell with only a book to read. When he emerges, enquiring why he has not been called to dinner, the wise Silvanus answers, 'Because you are a spiritual man and do not need that kind of food. We, being carnal, want to eat, and that is why we work. But you have chosen the goodportion and read the whole day long and you do not want to eat carnal food.' When the ascetic begs the Abba's forgiveness, he responds, 'Mary needs Martha. It is really thanks to Martha that Mary is praised [by the Lord].'33 The demonstration clearly served to frame the true meaning ofthe Mary and Martha narrative and to elicit from it not a repudiation of manual labour but the mutual relation of physical work and 'spiritual' servanthood.

Scripture as the love language of the church

A significant aspect of biblical interpretation from 300 to 600 was the continuing development of 'spiritual' exegesis, the search for the sublime, the alluring mystery behind and beyond the letter. A major part of that story, ably reconstructed by Henri de Lubac,34 is the perpetuation of Origen's legacy East and West, the doctrine of the three- or fourfold senses of scripture, which thrived especially (though not exclusively) in monastic exegesis.35 In addition there is the deepening exploration of scriptural language itself as a medium of God's

32 Apophthegmatapatrum Poemen 153 (PG 65: 360); trans. Ward, 188.

33 Apophthegmata patrum Silvanus 5 (PG 65: 409); trans. Ward, 223.

34 H. de Lubac, Medieval exegesis.

35 Origen's hermeneutical legacy in the East was perpetuated, in part, by exegetical devotees like Eusebius, Didymus the Blind, Gregory of Nyssa and Evagrius Ponticus, and by the publication ofthe Philocalia of Origen by Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus. This anthology included Origen's treatise on interpretation, On first principles, book 4 (SC 312:179-203). In the West, Origen's legacy was borne by prolific imitators like Hilary, Ambrose and Gregory the Great, and by the Latin translations of Origen's exegetical works by Jerome and Rufinus of Aquileia.

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