Christian Understanding Of The Relationship Of The Old Testament To The

The relationship of the Old Testament to the New came to be described in a series of analogies—it was like the outside to the inside; before to after;

shadow to substance; figure to truth; letter to spirit; prophecy to its realization. These are all comparisons to the disadvantage of the Old Testament, but they all make it an indispensable member of the pair. The Old Testament is the root, trunk and leaves of the tree whose fruit is the New Testament. The Gospel comes through the Law. From Old Testament to New is (in Augustine's words) a transitus ad Christum, 'a journey to Christ'. As Gregory the Great put it in the sixth century, 'The Catholic church receives the New Testament without rejecting the Old; she venerates the Old in such a way that in the Spirit she understands the New in the very sacrifices of the flesh.' 'Thus no Christian should think himself an outsider in Israel', says Augustine.

There is a tension in all this between seeing the two Testaments as succeeding one another and seeing them as in some measure opposed, or at any rate, deeply differentiated. As a result, much is characteristically made in the patristic and medieval period of the unity of Scripture, in an attempt to ensure that the Old Testament is in no way set aside. Jerome insists that the whole Bible is linked by one Spirit. 'All Holy Scripture is one book', says Hugh of St Victor in the twelfth century, 'for all Holy Scripture speaks of Christ and all Holy Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.' Other exegetes speak of the two Testaments as 'brothers' or as two wings in flight.

The most usual way of understanding the relationship between the two Testaments is to regard the message of the Old as 'veiled' and that of the New as removing the veil (cf. 2 Cor. 3). This notion is intimately connected with the ancient Christian view of Christ as the bringer of light. Tertullian (c.160-c.220) speaks of Christ as 'illuminator'. In the twelfth century Bernard of Clairvaux elaborates the idea to make Christ the Word the opener of his own Book. Peter of Celle, a little later, sees the Bible as a reading of the very mind of God by its authors. He discusses the sealing of the 'great book', which is the divine mind, in Isaiah 29:11 and Revelation 5:1, and the understanding of it in Ezekiel. This general notion of illumination is commonly employed to describe the unveiling of the Old Testament by and in the New. 'In the Old Testament is the hiding of the New (occultatio) and in the New the manifestation of the Old', says Augustine. Augustine allows that the Old Testament writers sometimes lifted the veil in part, but the veil is removed completely only in the New Testament, where the 'truth of the Holy Spirit now shines without any veil of the Old Testament', as Isidore puts it. Bede found the shift from shadow to light as he moved from Old Testament to New a startling and sudden one, and the same sense of dramatic change is expressed by others (for example, Peter Lombard).

The New Testament is the truth (veritas) of the Old Testament figure, the spirit which gives life where the Old Testament letter, or literal sense, 'kills'. With these ideas we come to the use of figurative interpretation.

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