Holy Spirit: Interpreter of Scripture

Cathal Barry examines what the Catechism says about the interpretation of Scripture

In Sacred Scripture, God speaks to man in a human way, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. To interpret Scripture correctly, it suggests the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words.

It also proposes that in order to discover the sacred authorsí intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking and narrating then current.

The Second Vatican Council indicates three criteria for interpreting Scripture in accordance with the Spirit who inspired it, the Catechism notes.


It warns readers to be especially attentive to the content and unity of the whole Scripture, and advises them to consider the Scripture within the living Tradition of the whole Church while remaining attentive to the analogy of faith. By ëanalogy of faithí, the Church means the coherence of the truths of faith among themselves and within the whole plan of Revelation.

The Catechism states that according to an ancient tradition, it is possible to distinguish between two senses of Scripture, the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral and anagogical senses. ìThe profound concordance of the four senses guarantees all its richness to the living reading of Scripture in the Church,î the Catechism says.

The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation.

The spiritual sense, thanks to the unity of Godís plan, not only the text of Scripture but also the realities and events about which it speaks can be signs.


The allegorical sense: ìWe can acquire a more profound understanding of events by recognising their significance in Christ; thus the crossing of the Red Sea is a sign or type of Christís victory and also of Christian Baptism.î

The moral sense: ìThe events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly. As St Paul says, they were written ëfor our instructioní.î

The anagogical sense: ìWe can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.î

The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum notes: ìIt is the task of exegetes to work according to these rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory study the judgment of the Church may mature.

ìFor all of what has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and interpreting the word of God.î