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MISCELLANEA BIBLICA MARGINAL NOTES ON THE SENSUS PLENIOR Sensus Plenior and the understanding of the human author Tf one conceives the sensus plenior merely as a more perfect understanding of what the human author understood and meant to convey, there is no reason for not admitting its existence, unless one merely objects to the terminology.? This fuller meaning—fuller but not different from that clearly intended by the human author—is obtained by a clearer understanding of his terms; this fuller meaning is formally implicit in the author's statement. Such a species of meaning is not alien to non-inspired discourse. It is a commonplace for a speaker or writer to have his words clarified by another in a perfectly homo- geneous fashion, This explicitation is to be obtained, where it is possible, in a manner which is consistent with the genius of the language employed by the human author. In finding such a meaning we are not bound by an overly strict interpretation of what is contained in the logician’s definition of the implicit.? That the fuller meaning exist there is required nothing more than some very vague knowledge of it on the part of the human author. In exegesis we are often, indeed almost always, concerned with the content of a concrete term; consequently it is the hagiographer's understanding of this concrete reality and its legitimate formal implications which are to be ascertained when we seek a sensus plenior. Thus if the author used a totality concept? he would not have to see distinctly every member of the line or even the foremost later member of whom we see the concept more fully predicated; all that would be required of the human author is that he know that his term or description would apply to the line taken as a whole and to its various members taken separately in a greater or lesser degree. 1 Such seems to be the objection of A. Ibanez Arafia, “El concepto de inspiracién y el porvenir del ‘sensus plenior’,” Lumen 2 (’53) 193-219, summarized in TD 4 (56°57) 59-64; also C. Giblin, “‘As It Is Written’... A Basic Problem in ‘Noematics,” CBQ 20 ('S8) 334. Cf. also R. Bierberg, “Does Sacred Scripture Have ‘a Sensus Plenior?” CBQ 10 (48) 187; R. Brown, The Sensus Plenior of Sacred Scripture (Baltimore, 1955) 127 n. 110. 2 Cf. J. Coppens, “Nouvelles réflexions sur les divers sens des Saintes fcritures,” NRT 84 ('52) 14f. CE, J. Lévie, “L’fcriture Sainte, parole de Dieu, parole d’homme,” NRT 88 (36) 707-717, 722-727. 4 Brown, of. cit, 197 n. 61. © Cf. B. LeFrois, “Semitic Totality Thinking,” CBQ 17 (’55) 315-323. © A possible example is found in 2 Sm 7, 1-13; 1 Par 17, 1-12. From the whole context of these passages the words refer to Solomon and the other legitimate su cessors of David; to each of these the Lord gives assurance that He will have for him the tenderness and the care which are proper of a father for a son; hence the words apply in a literal but implicit sense to Jesus. The provision of sin is no obstacle to this oF MISCELLANEA BIBLICA 65 When we consider the position of those who admit that there can be a sensus plenior which is not at all known to the human author, we must state that there is great difficulty in seeing how this would be possible. The proponents of such an opinion hold that there is a real distinction between the two concepts of which the one is intended by God and the human author, and the other by God alone.’ This opinion seems to demand that we hold that God is capable of being the author of a double entendre. While at times the defenses against this accusation are quite ingenious and the denials of its validity are voiced strongly,? it still must be admitted that two formally diverse concepts are two formally diverse concepts. The concepts may be related, but they are still different and distinct, 4 fortiori is this true when the object of description is someone or something concrete. Adam and Jesus are not the same person, nor are Eve and Mary. If two different things or ideas are expressed at the same time by the same word, the writing is ambiguous unless such is patent, and then there is present conceptually but one object. When two things are both the object of a literal description and when they are not considered by the author or speaker as one object, there is present a two-fold literal meaning. Such ambiguity on the part of any serious author is unfitting; on the part of God it is impossible, An attack upon the notion of the sensus plenior, no matter how the sensus plenior is conceived, does not seem justified when it proceeds from the notion of instrumentality alone. After all, we do admit—indeed we must admit— that certain typical senses derive their typology from the manner of descrip- tion in Sacred Scripture,® which manner of description was intended by God to serve as the basis for the typology. An obvious example is the Gn descrip- tion of Melchisedech as used by the author of Heb. The efficacy of conven- tional signs is limited by the intention of the prime agent. In Sacred Scrip- ture not only the words but also the objects described by the words can serve as conventional signs. The only thing required of the prime agent in the case of Sacred Scripture is that He be true to Himself. Lest it be said that our criticism of some of the proponents of a sensus plenior has been disallowed by interpretation because the most excellent Son of David would be without reproach, something which the Chronicler seems to have sensed in a special manner because he suppressed the threat of punishment in I Par 17, 13. T Cf. Brown, op. cit., 1284. 8 Eg. Brown, of. cit., 129, In fairness to him it should be noted that he tends to favor the opinion that the human author did at least vaguely see the fuller meaning; ef. 1478. Cf. also R. Murphy's review of this work in CBQ 17 ('S8) $03. ® J. Coppens, “Le Probléme du Sens Plénier,” ETL 34 (’58) 8£, 18. 10 Cf. W. Van Roo, “The Resurrection of Christ: Instrumental Cause of Grace,” Greg 39 (58) 276-280; also A. Fernandez, “Apostillas relativas a los sentidos biblicos," Bib 37 (’36) 197% This problem was treated by R. Krumholtz, “Instru- mentality and the ‘Sensus Plenior’,” CBQ 20 ('58) 200-205; unfortunately I cannot agree with some of his proposals. 66 Tue Carnoric Breticat QuarTeRty [Vol. 21 this last observation, be it noted that other principles are involved when one is concerned with a literary sense.1! If one accepts as the definition of the literal sense that which is found in the words, one would include the sensus plenior under the literal sense? Patently we have not eliminated, save perhaps as a term of classification, what has been called the general sensus plenior,8 i.e, the enrichment in mean- ing which a text is seen to have when it is placed in the context of the whole Bible or of all revelation. Inasmuch as there is but one economy of salvation and there is but one principal author of Scripture, later revelation or develop- ment should show what was latent in earlier teaching or should show the relationship of one truth to another, thereby enriching one’s understanding of the meaning of the earlier truth. For this enrichment in meaning to be a sensus plenior in the sense already defended it would only be required that some knowledge of this clearer truth have been in the ken of the hagiographer and expressed in his words, even if this be only in the most shadowy fashion. 11 It is for this reason that partial exception must be taken to Giblin, art. cit., 331- 333. A man can be used at the same time as an instrument in two (and perhaps more) different ways provided that for each different way there is a different object. 12 Fernandez, who coined the term sensus plenior (Brown, op. cit, 88) proposed in “Sentido plenior, literal, tipico, espiritual,” Bib 34 ('S3) 304 this definition of the literal sense : “el sentido divino expresado immediatamente por las palabras del hagi- égrafo.” In a later article he proposes to call the meaning clearly understood by the human author historic: “el sentido claramente conocido y expresado por el hagidgrafo esta en consonancia con el ambiente histérico—ampliamente entido—en que vivia el autor en el momento de redactar su escrito: personalidad del mismo hagidgrafo con sus cualidades peculiares, medio cultural, circunstancias topogrificas y cronoldgicas . ++» todo esto influye en el pensiamento del hagigrafo, y a nosotros nos sirve de hilo conductor para descubrirlo.” “Apostillas . . . ,” 186f. Thus for Fernandez the sensus plenior is a species of the literal. This is also the opinion of Coppens, “Nouvelles reflexions,” 15: “Le sens plénier est le complément de signification que Tunité et le progrés de la révélation nous invitent et nous obligent d'inclure dans le sens litéral de certains textes scripturaires, surtout prophétiques, dans les limites d'une homogénéité rigoureusement sauvegardée.” Cf. also his table on p. 19. Similar seems to be the idea of J. Michl, “Dogmatische Schriftbeweis und Exegese,” BZ (NF) 2 ('58) 7é. Cf. A. Miller, “Sui diversi sensi della Sacra Scrittura” in Problemi Scelti di Teologia Contemporanea (Rome, 1955) 240; S. Zarb, “De Ubertate Sensus Litteralis in Sacra Scriptura Secundum Doctrinam Sancti Thomae Aquinatis,” 254. 18 Cf. Brown, op. cit., 97i. H. Hummel in a review of Brown's book remarks, “If the sensus plenior were defined as a statement of God's ultimate intent throughout the Old Testament, which we in the New Testament understand from the vantage point of fulfillment, but which the people of the Old Covenant understand cither not at all or only very dimly, it would seem to be possibly a useful classification with which to work.” Concordia Theological Monthly 29 (’58) 542. 14 CE, Giblin, art. cit, 330.