The Medieval Church
Augustine had a vast amount of “worldly” learning (history, geography, science, linguistics) at his disposal. As a rhetorician he was familiar with it; as a biblical exegete he utilized it for the interpretation of Scripture. With the demise of the Roman Empire in the West, a significant part of this learning was lost. With the Christianization of the East, even famous Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle, fell out of fashion and were not copied and handed down anymore. However, also a number of ancient Christian writings and commentaries (orthodox and heterodox) were lost in the turmoil of late antiquity and through the loss of linguistic abilities (Greek!).
However, Augustine, as already the earlier tradition, rightly recognized that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” That is, the bible is a very special book (revelation); unclear passages need to be understood with the aid of clear passages that speak to the same subject matter. In this sense, the loss of much learning could have led to the revival of genuine biblical scholarship. However, some learning was still preserved and was passed on to posterity through a few transmitters.
 Pope Gregory I (540-604)
One of these was Pope Gregory I (originally a lawyer, later a monk, pope since 590) who was influential throughout the Middle Ages as compiler of older Latin exegetes who on their part were influenced by men like Origen and their Platonizing view of Christianity and interpretation (leave the sinful world of the sense behind and ascend to the heavenly, uncreated world and God himself). He also championed a verse-by-verse interpretation without much regard for “the larger whole.” He often allegorizes with moral intentions.
 Bishop Isidor of Seville, Spain (560-636)
Another “gatherer” was Isidor of Seville. In 630 he publishes his Etymologies, an encyclopedia of the whole of ancient pagan and Christian learning which was popular and widely copied throughout the Middle Ages. He thus does not desire to be “original” but simply wishes to summarize and hand down what greater spirits had discovered up until, and including, Pope Gregory.
 Venerable Bede (673-735)
Furthermore, there is the Venerable Bede who, likewise, gathers the (theological) knowledge available to him and passes it on to posterity. He is committed to allegorical interpretation, as most of the Latin fathers. Then there is Alcuin (730-804), another native of England, who (since 782) served as advisor at the court of Charlemagne. He reorganized the educational system in the Charlemagne’s kingdom; it was here that all the schooling was geared toward the education of clerics, that is, all the “liberal arts” served the one mistress, theology. Part of Alcuin’s genius was that he was able to simplify and summarize the heritage of the earlier fathers; this secured him a significant impact on his posterity. Both Bede and Alcuin use Scripture in doctrinal controversies in the following way: a. Scripture’s authority is supreme; b. the normative interpretation of Scripture is found in the fathers.
 John Scotus Eriugena (9th century)
Scotus is also still a figure of the transition from antiquity to the Middle Ages. On the one hand, he shares the traditional view of Scriptural exegesis as outlined above (Scripture as interpreted by the fathers). On the other hand, he relies more on logic. E.g., in a controversy over predestination, he first points out that the position of the opponent does not agree with sound reason; first then does he come to traditional arguments from Scripture and the fathers. In other words, for John, reason and the fathers (and Scripture) agree.
 Rupert of Deutz (1076-1129)
After the “transmitters” we come to some of the heirs. An interesting representative of monastic Scriptural interpretation is Rupert of Deutz, a contemporary of Bernard of Cluny, who died as abbot of a Benedictine monastery at Deutz, a village on the Rhine across from Cologne. For Rupert, the monastic life was almost identical with the meditation and explanation of the Scriptures. As he interpreted all biblical books, in his salvation historical work On the Holy Trinity and His Works, he asserted that also the opinions of the fathers need to be tested by Scripture. In other words, Rupert sets forth his own new insights as well. Since he views the Scriptures as the only reliable report of what has happened from the creation of the world till now, the literal sense obviously plays a significant role, even though Rupert places more emphasis on the spiritual sense which he sets forth in a not very sophisticated way. Unlike the emerging scholastic theology with its disputation-format, done at the cathedral school, Rupert is an exponent of monastic theology as biblical theology. Reason can be useful for the interpretation of Scripture, but only as an instrument and only when illumined by the Holy Spirit; it does not have an independent, speculative role (as in some scholastic systems).
 Hugh of St. Victor (1097-1141)
Hugh of St. Victor, who was a priest and not a monk, died as head of the school of St. Victor in Paris. Hugh, following Pope Gregory, teaches a threefold sense of Scripture: historical, allegorical, and tropological (moral). He urges his students to take the historical sense and details seriously and not to “take off” into “philosophizing” right away; on the other hand, he criticizes those who claim that the Scriptures have only a historical sense. “History,” for him, is both the account of events of the past and the original meaning of the account. Following the lead of Origen and others, for him the “fruit” of studying Scripture is the ascent of the soul to heaven in several steps: reading (doctrine), meditation, prayer, action, and contemplation (which already in this life affords a glimpse on the future reward of the good work). Due to his historical interests Hugh was led to reject the Septuagint and to favor the hebraica veritas, the “Hebrew truth,” that is, the Masoretic Text of the OT. While agreeing on this with Jerome, Hugh apparently was not dependent on this father for this insight; quite unusually for his time, he himself seems to have been a student of the Hebrew language and of certain rabbinical commentaries.
 Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)
Aquinas was a member of the Dominican Order which had been founded by the Spaniard Dominicus Guzman a generation earlier. Thomas authored two summaries of Christian doctrine, one the Summa Contra Gentiles the other the Summa Theologiae; furthermore a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, various disputations, and commentaries on Aristotle and the bible. The summaries, due to their significant length, seem to be at the center of Thomas’ work. However, as a magister (teacher), his main duties were commenting on Scripture. The disputations and summaries also serve the purpose of elucidating the meaning of Scripture. Perhaps surprisingly, Scripture is for Thomas the only source of truth. Sacred doctrine is virtually synonymous with sacred Scripture. While he thus did not make “tradition” into a second source of doctrine, he nonetheless used quotes from the fathers to bolster his argumentation. Because Thomas was indebted to Aristotle in his epistemology (importance of “empiricism” and sensual knowledge), he put more emphasis on the foundational literal meaning of the Scriptures. However, he too distinguishes between literal and figurative senses of the text: since God is Scripture’s author, words signify things (historical, literal sense) and, in turn, things signify something more (mystical senses). The historical sense is the one intended by the author; the mystical senses contain nothing that is of the essence of the faith which is not revealed elsewhere in a literal way.
 Rashi (1039-1104)
Rashi, acronym for Rabbi Shelomo Yizchaqi, is a French Jewish exegete who gained influence beyond Judaism even in the Christian and modern worlds. He studied Talmud in the Jewish congregations of Mainz and Worms, Germany. After his studies he returned to Troyes, about 80 miles southeast of Paris. There he established a center for the interpretation of the OT and the Talmud. Due to the theological emphasis of Judaism (law), he discusses legal questions quite frequently and systematically in his commentaries on the entire OT. However, the “simple meaning” (peshat) of the Hebrew text is often preferred over against detailed discussions he found in his exegetical tradition. This simple meaning he also used as an antichristian apologist who questioned the Christological interpretation of the OT.]
 Nicholas of Lyra (1270-1349)
Nicholas of Lyra, a village in Normandy, is of the Franciscan Order and is in a certain sense a follower of Rashi. Two of his main works as magister biblicus are the Literal Postil On the Entire Bible and the Moral Postil. (“Postil” is derived from the Latin post illa, that is, “thereafter,” marking the transition from one verse to the next.) Not unlike in Thomas, Aristotelian “realism” might serve as an explanation for Nicholas’ interest in history and the historical meaning of Scripture, and also his interest in textual criticism for the latter of which he draws on the Hebrew text, but also on Rashi and other Jewish teachers. Nicholas’ attitude toward the “mystical” senses of Scripture apparently changes in the course of his life. At first he follows tradition uncritically, then he more and more prefers the literal sense. At the same time, however, he can occasionally speak of a double literal sense (historical and prophetical in typological correlation, e.g., 2 Sam. 7).