Bede "On the Tabernacle" (Review)

Below is a short review I wrote up that covers the Venerable Bede's work "On The Tabernacle." If you want to get an idea of how he did exegesis and what he thought about biblical interpretation, you may find this review helpful. Enjoy.

+ + + + +

Taking 1 Cor. 10.11 as his starting point for an interpretation of the Tabernacle, Bede argues that Paul’s remark concerning “all these things,” urges exegetes to consider items such as topography, chronology and socio-literary contexts in their analyses [1.1.5]. By beginning here, Bede is able to quickly segue into a topographical investigation himself, of Exodus 24, which he sees as a type for other events narrated in the Scriptures such as: The Calling of the Apostles (Mt. 5.1; Mk. 3.13), The Great Commission (Mt. 28.19-20), The Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 7.28), Pentecost (Acts 1.15-2.11) and even The Eschaton (Isa. 2.2). Though Bede omits The Transfiguration and The Last Supper, he does make an interesting move his in attempt to connect the OT & NT, he says: “Consequently, the Lord gave the precepts of both the law and the gospel on a mountain, so that he might in this way commend the sublimity of the two testaments” [1.1.6].

Just as the loftiness of the topographical locations represent types of the exaltedness of the testaments, both Aaron (the mountain of fortitude) and Hur (fire / light), represent types of the Lord and Spirit [1.1.7]. For Bede, a theological interpretation of such passages and personages results in a very practical principle concerning the “height of divine contemplation” [1.1.7]: “let us take solicitous care lest temptation should somehow draw us far away from the mountain of God” [1.1.7]. Like a strong tower, “if we continue steadfastly will be strengthened and raised up by the mountain of fortitude and empowered against the attacks of the enemy” [1.17]. Indeed, even the “cloud” that hovered over Moses on the mountain and that followed Israel throughout the wilderness, is suggestive of divine protection; this same divine protection “mystically” protects those who keep the divine commandments [1.1.8].

In fact, Bede argues that Moses was specifically chosen by God to ascend the mountain after 6 days and on the 7th to receive the law, he notes: “For on account of the good works that he had received from the Lord’s favor he doubtless merited to be further enlightened by him, and to be sheltered from all assaults of the evil ones, and so he attained to the higher gifts of seeing and talking with God” [1.2.9]. For Bede, “height” is linked to a “higher state of enlightenment,” that is, to be situated on a plane above others whereat one contemplates the “ambiguities and secrets of divine wisdom” [1.1.10]. To be on such a level, as Moses was, one realizes that they can indeed perfectly fulfill the Decalogue but that they can only do it by the “grace” of God [1.2.10]. It is only God, then, that can lead humans to a greater state of enlightenment and perfection. Thus, in one of Bede’s most memorable statements—issued, at least in part, against the Pelagians—he proclaims: “we are unable to even begin a good action or thought without the Lord” [1.3.11].

Transitioning directly into his exegesis of Ex. 25.3-8, a passage in which the Israelites are exhorted to provide a variety of material offerings such as gold, silver and bronze, Bede argues for a “spiritual understanding” of these verses [1.3.11]. For him, each of the materials represents a spiritual action to be taken on the part of the giver (e.g. gold represents the fact that the giver shines with the splendor of truth and wisdom) [1.3.11]. Not only are the Israelites called to give these minute offerings, they are also called to give / build Him a sanctuary, a tabernacle. Bede is convinced that when Moses saw the angels in the midst of God, he understood that “they” were the perfect tabernacle because their Creator never “ceases to remain and dwell in them” [1.3.11]. They, then, are a type for the sanctuary that is to be built on the earth; a place where Spirit dwells eternally.

From here, Bede moves into an in-depth discussion of the tabernacle reviewing its varying elements and what they signify (or are types of). Bede begins with the Ark of the Covenant which, he says was “the first of all things ordered [in the tabernacle]” and which “designates the incarnation of our Lord and Savior” [1.3.13]; thus, the Ark is a “type” of Jesus. Even the acacia wood from which the Ark was built, which is thought to be light and incorruptible, resembles the Lord’s body (the Church), which consists of members who are “free from every imperfection” [1.3.13]. It seems that for Bede, a “type” might best be described as that which precedes something similar to itself and is therefore, able to illuminate in a mystical-spiritual sense, that which comes later.

Thus, Bede can even find in the dimensions of the Ark spiritual illuminations for life in and outside of Christ [1.4.14]. Likewise, the “gold covering” of the Ark is for Bede, a theological precedent concerning the dual-nature of Christ [1.4.15], the crown [1.4.15], rings [1.4.15] and carrying poles [1.4.16] are prescriptions for spiritual principles concerning the believer. This sort of pattern continues for Bede with the testimony inserted into the Ark [1.4.17], the golden urn [1.4.17], the tablets [1.4.17], the propitiatory [1.5.18], the cherubim [1.5.18], the table [1.6.22], the vessels, loaves and incense [1.7.27], the lamp stand, lamps and the snuffer [1.8-31 - 1.9.37]. Bede wraps up Book 1 by reviewing Ex. 25.40, which says: “Look and make these things according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”

In a way, this sort of brings Bede back to his initial theme of height. He says: “Fore surely the pattern of the lampstand that he was to make was shown to Moses on a mountain because it was on the height of most secret contemplation that he openly learned the manifold sacraments of Christ and the Church” [1.9.40]. And following this, the reader is given more insight into Bede’s hermeneutic when they read Bede’s statement concerning Moses, who “signified” these things to the people “by means of a type through the form and the workmanship of the lampstand and its vessels, until such time as our Lord and Redeemer himself might come in flesh and disclose the inner meaning of that same form to his Church” [1.9.40].

Clearly, for Bede, spiritual enlightenment and exaltation to a higher plane or state of divine knowledge is the chief aim of interpretation and thus, Christian living. His language of “type” and “signification” is in many ways, comfortably at home within the realm of the Early Church Fathers but at times, it has a very Platonic, Eastern and even Gnostic or Mystery Religion aura about it. Nevertheless, Bede, who was revered as one of the greatest exegetes of his day, may, in some ways, be considered a “type” of those who, today, espouse the hermeneutic of theological exegesis.

No comments:

Post a Comment