Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Venerable Bede and the parables (part 2)

Bede the Venerable

Bede’s best-known parable interpretation is his allegorical reading of the Good Samaritan. Bede first observes that the lawyer who stands up to test Jesus exemplifies a “wise” person from whom God had “hidden these things” (Luke 10:21), and the lawyer is pretending not to know the Law’s command. Bede initially interprets the parable as an example story that “sets before us the perfect road to the life of heaven,” where humans are called to act with mercy as did the Samaritan, who showed his love not in word alone but in his concrete actions: “Remember that it is with such prompt mercy you must love and sustain your neighbour who is in need.” Love must be “proved also by deed, which brings us to eternal life.”

Bede then moves to an allegorical interpretation: the parable teaches us that a neighbor is one who shows mercy, but it also “at the same time” describes Jesus himself who became our neighbor through his incarnation, and interpreters must use allegory to understand the full message. Like earlier interpreters, Bede identifies the wounded man as “Adam, who stands for mankind” and its fall into sin, the robbers as “the devil and his angels,” and the stolen clothing as symbolizing the loss of Adam’s immortality.
The man was left wounded and “half dead,” and Bede adds a nuance to Augustine’s interpretation: The man’s attackers, the devil and his angels, did not really “go away”; their attacks instead become more crafty and subtle:

The wounds are sins, by means of which they implanted in his weakened body a sort of seedbed (if I may say so) of growing death, profaning the integrity of human nature. They went away, but not as ceasing from their assaults, but to conceal their attacks by craft. They left him half dead; for though they were able to strip him of the blessedness of immortal life, they were not able to deprive him of the power of reason. For in that part of him in which he can taste and know God, man is alive. But in the part that is grown weak from sin and faints from wretchedness, he is dead; defiled by a mortal wound.

Using Augustine’s language, Bede agrees that the priest and Levite “signify the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament,” but he elaborates that the “decrees of the Law” could only point out the wounds of sins and not cure them. The Samaritan (Defender/Guardian) is Jesus

who for us men and for our salvation, coming down from heaven, took the road of this present life and came near him who there lay perishing of the wounds inflicted on him; that is, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as man (Phil. 2:7), came close to us in his compassion, and became our neighbour through the consolation of his mercy.
            And, going up to him, bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine. He binds up the sins, which he finds in men, by rebuking them; inspiring with the fear of punishment those who sin, and with hope those who repent . . . .
            And, setting him upon his own beast, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The beast is his own flesh, in which he deigned to come to us. On it he placed wounded man, because he bore our sins in his body upon the tree (1 Peter 2:24); and according to another parable, laid upon his shoulders the lost sheep that was found, and brought it back to the flock (Luke 15:4) . . . . The inn is the present Church, where travellers, returning to their eternal home, are refreshed on their journey. And well does he bring to the inn the man he placed upon his own beast; for no one, unless he who is baptized, unless he is united to the body of Christ, shall enter the Church.

Bede concludes that Jesus’s parable makes clear that being a neighbor means showing mercy to one another, and no one is more a true neighbor than Jesus, because he healed our wounds of sin. In response, we should love him as a neighbor in return and love one another as neighbors:

And Jesus said to him: Go, and do thou in like manner; that is, show that you truly love your neighbour as yourself; doing with love whatever you can do to help him, also in his spiritual necessities, to the praise and glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Bede's tomb in Durham Cathedral

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