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nother defining characteristic of typology which has important implications for its use and interpretation is that both the symbolizing element and what it represents — type and antitype — are real The essential, radical historicity of the type, which both constitutes much of its appeal and creates problems for its interpreters, distinguishes it from other forms of symbolism. According to Horne, "a type differs from a parable, in being grounded in a matter of fact, not on a fictitious narrative," and it is thus "much of the same nature in actions, or things or persons, as an allegory is in words" (2.528) Hence a type must not only have (1) a futuristic element and (2) be divinely instituted, but (3) it must also be a real, historical existing thing or person. Therefore, unlike allegory, which interprets one thing as in reality signifying another, typology interprets something existing m Its own right as also symbolizing or prefiguring another.

This historical reality of the type distinguished it fundamentally from allegory. Patrick Fairbairn, who has more to say on this subject than does Horne, explains that "an allegory is a narrative, either expressly feigned for the purpose, or — if describing facts which really took place — describing them only for the purpose of representing certain higher truths or principles than the narrative, in its literal aspect, whether real or fictitious, could possibly have taught" (1.2). In typology, on the other hand, the literal sense or level is true and has an historical existence, whereas in allegory the literal meaning, even if not invented, is used "simply as a cover for the higher sense" (1.2).

According to Fairbairn, this distinction between allegory and typology has major implications for the student of the Bible, largely because allegory implies that the literal meaning of a text is not historically true. He therefore argues that one employs allegorical interpretation only "when the scriptural representation is actually held to have had no foundation in fact — to be a mere myth, or fabulous description, invented for the sole purpose of exhibiting the mysteries of divine truth; or . . . when the representation, even if wearing the appearance of a real transaction, is considered incapable as it stands of yielding any adequate or satisfactory sense, and is consequently employed, precisely as if it had been fabulous, to convey some meaning of a quite diverse and higher kind" (1.2) . Allegory and allegorical interpretation pertain to the Bible only when the passage in question possesses no historical reality or must be treated as if it possessed no historical reality. Typology, urges Fairbairn, thus possesses two qualities which distinguish it from allegory:

Typical interpretations of Scripture differ from allegorical ones of the first or fabulous kind, in that they indispensably require the reality of the facts or circumstances stated in the original narrative . And they differ also from the other, in requiring, beside this, that the same truth or principle be embodied alike in the type and the antitype. The typical is not properly a different or higher sense, but a different or higher application of the same sense. (1.2-3)

Whereas in typology both signifier and signified arc real, in allegory the signifier can be cast off like an empty husk once its meaning has been understood. The literal, historical, and narrative level of the type remains important.

From this central emphasis upon the historical reality of the type derives the hermeneutic rule that, as Horne states, "the TYPE must in the first instance be explained according to its literal sense; and if any part of it appear to be obscure, such obscurity must be removed" (2.531). As Melvill similarly tells his congregation, "we should never spiritualize any narrative of facts, till the facts have been carefully examined as facts, and the lessons extracted from them which their record may have been designed to convey" ("The Well of Bethlehem," Sermons, II, 196). Fairbairn further explains that the interpreter must pay close attention to the details of each type in its full historical context precisely because such details provide crucial links to the antitype. Therefore, a major "principle of interpretation is, that we must always, in the first instance, be careful to make ourselves acquainted with the truths or ideas exhibited in the types, considered merely as providential transactions or religious institutions. In other words, we are to find in what they were in their immediate relation to the patriarchal or Jewish worshipper, the foundation and substance of what they typically present to the Christian Church" (1.150). The typologist must pay close attention to the type in its full historical setting both because, being a real thing, it possesses such a meaning, and also because that meaning provides valuable clues to the significance of the antitype. In fact, the religious ideas and truths contained in "the typical events and institutions of former times, must be regarded as forming the ground and limit of their prospective reference to the affairs of Christ's kingdom. That they had a moral, political, or religious end to serve for the time then present, so far from interfering with their destination to typify the spiritual things of the Gospel, forms the very ground and substance of their typical bearing." In other words, the details of the immediate, literal, historical existence of the type provide the "essential key" to the remote antitype (1.150-51). In fact, as we have already observed, it was precisely these kinds of limiting clues which the Hutchinsonians like Pierce neglected in creating their freewheeling interpretations.

The better and more influential Victorian typologists, such as Melvill, Spurgeon, Keble, Newman, and Fairbairn, avoided "extravagant typifications in part by paying such close attention to the historical sense of the type. One characteristic of Victorian typological exegetics was consequently that the interpreter directed the Bible reader to the literal and the historical. Evangelicals, who were devoted to typology, often as a consequence made contributions to Hebraic studies and studies of the Old Testament lands. Another effect of this emphasis upon the literal appears in theories of a symbolic or typological realism shared by Ruskin and the early Pre-Raphaelites which required both artist and audience to devote particular attention to material and spiritual, realistic and metaphorical, formal and iconographical aspects of painting.

Despite the fundamental importance to the whole notion of typology of this emphasis upon the literal, historical meaning of the prefiguration, from its very earliest days typology has encountered pressures that tended to drive it in the direction of allegory. As Erich Auerbach has shown in Mimesis (1953) , Augustine and other early Church Fathers successfully defended "figural realism, that is, the maintenance of the basic historical reality of figures, against all attempts at spiritually allegorical interpretation" (196) in the Hellenic manner. But without a fully developed historical sense, men of the Middle Ages frequently transformed typology into allegory, for they essentially denatured the literal. Whenever spirituality is equated with reality, the historical, the literal, the here and now will seem of less importance — will appear to be less real — than the world of the spirit and idea. What is perhaps unique about Victorian typology is that it comes into being during an age when men have increasingly come to accept that reality inheres in present fact and not in a realm of ideas, forms, or spirituality. In fact, it is about the middle of the nineteenth century when "realism," a term formerly employed to designate philosophies which propounded that ideas are most real, becomes used to designate aesthetic and other philosophies which hold that reality inheres in present fact. As should be obvious, a theory of symbolism and biblical interpretation like typology which purports to locate reality in both spheres is well suited to Victorian times. Typology's emphasis upon the essential historicity of the type allows and even encourages that characteristically nineteenth-century fascination with historiography to play a major role in interpretation. At the same time, typology's implicit theory of progressive revelation similarly allows and even encourages meliorist theories of historical development. But perhaps most interesting to the student of Victorian culture is the fact that typology promises a means of linking two conceptions of the real within a coherent intellectual framework.

Ultimately, the very historical pressures which made typology so appealing to many Victorians made it intellectually untenable. Like the Evangelical emphasis upon the centrality of the scriptures, typology was based upon a non-canonical belief that God had dictated every word of the Bible. This belief, which is known as "Verbal Inspiration," was characteristically set forth by Thomas Scott in the preface to his annotated edition of the Bible, where he informs his reader that

THE BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD .... Let it be here carefully observed, that the DIVlNE INSPIRATION, and not merely the authenticity, or genuineness, of each of the sacred writings, is intended.... By "the divine inspiration of the Scriptures," the Author would be understood to mean, 'such a complete and immediate communication, by the Holy Spirit, to the minds of the sacred writers, of those things which could not have otherwise been known; and such an effectual superintendency, as to those particulars, concerning which they might otherwise obtain information; as sufficed absolutely to preserve them from every degree of error, in all things, which could in the least affect any of the doctrines or precepts contained in their writings, or mislead any person, who considered them as divine and infallible standard of truth and duty. " Every sentence, in this view, must be considered as "the sure testimony of God."["Preface; containing especially a compendious view of the evidences that the Holy Scriptures, and every part of them, as they stand in our Bibles, were given by inspiration from God," A Commentary on the Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments . . . arranged for family and private reading . . . 5 vols. (Philadelphia, 1858), I, ii-iii.]

Scott's statement of Verbal Inspiration was neither unique nor particularly extreme. For example, John William Colenso quoted the more extreme version of the doctrine from Burgon's Inspiration and Interpretation, which he pointed out was a standard work for ministerial students:

The BlBLE is none other than the Voice of Him that sitteth upon the Throne! Every book of it — every chapter of it — every verse of it every word of it — every syllable of it — (where arc we to stop?) every letter of it — is the direct utterance of the Most High! The Bible is none other than the word of God — not some part of it more, some part of it less, but all alike, the utterance of Him, who sitteth upon the Throne — absolute — faultless — unerring supreme. [Quoted by John William Colenso, The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined, Part I (London, 1862), p. 6.]

By 1860 when the Broad Church volume Essays and Reviews appeared, it had become an open secret that such beliefs in the absolute veracity of the scriptures were driving many out of the Church. Colenso in fact published his controversial The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined two years later precisely because he wished to relieve the spiritual anguish of many who had already come to the conclusion that the Mosaic account is not historically true. By simple calculations this controversial missionary bishop demonstrated that the biblical accounts of the Exodus cannot be accurate.

Colenso, of course, struck but one of the many blows that destroyed widespread belief in Verbal Inspiration and consequently made typology increasingly untenable: the natural sciences, biblical criticism, and comparative philology all contributed to the realization that the Bible could not be historically true. Geology, which showed that the earth was far older than stated in the biblical accounts, and Darwinism, which much later undermined scriptural accounts of the creation, made it impossible to accept such assumptions about the Bible, while German demonstrations that the scriptures had evolved over a long period of time had the same effect. Similarly, comparisons of Hebrew with other languages revealed that it was not, as many Evangelicals had supposed, a unique tongue designed by God as the medium of His truth. A belief in Verbal Inspiration permitted Evangelicals and many High Churchmen to practice typology well into the nineteenth century. The intellectual conservatism of the Church parties and dissenting denominations which employed typological exegesis permitted them to maintain a belief in the absolute historical truth of the Bible long after leading continental thinkers had abandoned such possibilities. But even though many believers found it impossible to accept the doctrine of Verbal Inspiration by the 1860s and 1870s, the influence of typology upon Victorian thought did not cease then, since, as the examples of Ruskin and Browning demonstrate, many men and women retained habits of mind associated with typology long after its initial religious basis had changed or vanished.

Of course, these questions concern the final demise of typology as an intellectual and cultural force, and they do much to clarify how something that had sufficient influence to warrant a book-length study should, after such a comparatively brief period, have been so forgotten by the average educated person as to require such a study to have been begun at all. But even during the heyday of typology, various pressures attempted to deform it into allegory and emblem. First of all, although preachers, tract writers, and guides to biblical interpretation all emphasize the historical nature of the type, they often undermine that historical reality when they refer the type to something more spiritual than itself. For example, although one usually emphasizes that type and antitype — Moses and Christ — are equally real, in precisely what sense are both equally real or even real? Obviously, Moses and Christ are both real only in so far as they both existed in historical time. But in addition to possessing this kind of reality, Christ, who both existed before time and will continue to do so after time has ceased, exists on some higher level of reality than does Moses — even though the prophet may now be in heaven with Christ or in the future will be. The problem of course is that "Christ" means two different beings or two different aspects of the same being. He is the incarnate, historically existent, physical being, who possesses reality "equal" to that of Moses and His other types, and He is Christ spiritual, who possesses a higher, more complete reality. Typology, which links these two orders of reality, inevitably contains an uneasy, though often invisible tension.

Problems appear when the believer's understandable delight in emphasizing Christ's transcending reality and importance downgrades the reality possessed by the type. As the popular Evangelical devotional poet, Frances Ridley Havergall argues in "Reality," Christ in heaven is far greater, far more real than any reality we can know during this earthly existence. Therefore, the believer finds solace and delight in turning to the higher reality of Christ,

From unreal words and unreal lives,
Where truth with falsehood feebly strives;
From the passings away, the chance and change
Flickerings, vanishings, swift and strange.

The "infinite Reality" of Jesus, who is always "far above" even our ideal, infinitely surpasses the reality of His earthly, historical symbols:

Reality, reality,
Lord Jesus Christ, is crowned in Thee.
In Thee is every type fulfilled,
In Thee is every yearning stilled
For perfect beauty, truth, and love.

Of course, one might object that in this sense the historical Christ, who suffered on the cross, is — like His historical types — far less real than Christ in heaven

John Keble's sermon, "The True Riches," makes a similar point that heavenly things possess a greater reality than do earthly ones. Thus, the gold and riches mentioned in Revelation and other parts of the New Testament make us "understand that the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, and Solomon's temple, which were inlaid with gold, were but images, shadows, patterns of things in heaven, shewn to Moses in the mount, and to David by the spirit of God. The gold, and silver, and jewels, and other like things on earth, are but pictures and tokens of the real treasures; they abide in heaven far out of sight and beyond thought: they are the true riches, the others are but riches of unrighteousness" (Sermons, 1.277). When considered in the light of Old Tcstament history, the temple is a real, historically existing institution and building whose shape had been ordained by God; when considered, on the other hand, in the light of what will happen after time ceases to exist, it becomes relatively trivial and unimportant. As Keble makes clear, he believes that Christ wishes us to take the entire world and our own earthly existence as types of greater things:

[Christ] would have us despise both the good and evil of this world, in comparison to that which is to come. He would have us firmly believe, that nothing is true and real which passes away so very soon: that it is all but a shadow, cast before, in the way which God knows best for us: a shadow of the true riches, the true glory, the true want, the true shame and reproach, which are to come. (Sermons, 1.279)

Of course, what Keble and others who make similar emphases have done is not to deny the reality of the type relative to its historical surroundings but only relative to an essentially non-historical, or meta-historical, antitype.

In contrast to placing a type thus within a heavenly perspective, which lessens the reality of the type only in so far as it lessens the reality of all earthly matters, the very act of interpretation often lessens our sense that a type possesses a reality of its own . As soon as one selects certain features of a thing in order to make an interpretation, one has begun to abstract that thing and hence lose its full reality. Carried too far, this process of selective interpretation deforms the type into an allegory, symbol, or mere static emblem — a process which, incidentally, seems to be more characteristic of High Church exegetes than those with Evangelical leanings.

Frequently interpreters so use the terms "take the place of," "impersonate," and "are turned into" when relating type to antitype that they implicitly undercut the historical reality of the type. For instance, in "The Beginning of Miracles," Keble's sermon on the miracle of transformed wine at Cana, he argues that the signifying function of this first miracle was to inform all that "the Jewish law and ceremonies, the saints and commandments and histories of the Old Testament, were now to be made known to men in their full high meaning." Each Old Testament type is now perceived to be something higher than itself, and its own original nature consequently becomes of less value:

That which was glorious in Moses, hath no glory now, in comparison of the glory which excelleth. The Passover is turned into the Holy Communion, circumcision into Baptism, the brazen serpent into the Cross, the cleansing of the leper into the Absolution for remission of sins, Moses and the prophets into Christ and His Apostles, the glory of the Lord over the Mercy-seat into the inward Presence of God the Holy Ghost. (Sermons, 2.426-27)

Closely related to this sapping of the individual, discrete historical reality of each type, which is implied by the use of such terminology is the fundamental problem of how an individual, say, Moses or Jacob, can both be part of such a divinely instituted scheme and yet simultaneously possess his own individuality and free will. Typology, in other words, provides a sub-category or special case of the ancient problem of free will . How can a human being possess tree will (and bear responsibility for his acts) if God has foreknowledge? How can Moses and other types participate in such an all-embracing scheme governing human history and yet have free will? For those Evangelicals who had calvinistic leanings, the specifically typological version of predestination — if one can justly term it that would have presented no problems. Having already accepted the broader notion of predestination, the problems similar to It presented by typology would not have been particularly bothersome. One might have expected that other denominatlons might have confronted this problem, but in fact it does not seem to have occurred to most interpreters.

It is therefore of particular interest that John William Burgon, the incumbent of St. Mary-le-Virgin, Oxford, the University church and once Newman's pulpit, raises the problem as part of the larger one, "How can there really exist such a correspondence between type and its antitype; seeing that the two histories [that is, Old and New Testaments] are severed from each other by a full thousand years?" ("David and Goliath: Part II," Short Sermons, II, 521-2). Burgon broached this subject in his sermon on David and Goliath, which was part of a series intended for use in family worship and hence addressed to a general audience and not the theologically sophisticated. In arguing that typological correspondences are quite possible even when a type precedes the antitype by such long periods of time, Burgon asserts that there is

nothing at all incredible, or even very hard to accept, in the supposition that God's Providence so overrules human events, so shapes the lives and actions of men, that, under certain circumstances, and for certain purposes, and in the hands of certain persons narrating them under the influence of God the Holy Ghost, — a kind of mysterious correspondence, (which we call "typical,") shall be found to subsist between certain of Christ's ancestors and our Savior Christ Himself. [52]

Burgon here introduces, but does not actually explain, the problem of how it is that "Providence so overrules human events" and yet men are free. According to him, God put "no constraint" upon any of those human beings whom we later discover to be types of Christ and His dispensation. "Each pursued the shapings of his private, unfettered, often wayward, will. But the result, — when an inspired historian refers to, or relates it, — is found nevertheless to possess this mysterious character which we freely claim for it. The loom in which the stuff was woven proves to be of Heaven, not of Earth, and the workmanship is in consequence Divine, not Human." Burgon thus does not reconcile free will with the signifying function of the person who becomes a type. He simply asserts that there is no conflict between human free will and divine providence, and in a series of sermons such as these, which are intended for family devotions, his failure to confront and resolve the issue is hardly surprising. What is surprising, perhaps, is that Burgon provides one of the very rare examples of the interpreter who was even aware of the problem.

It is possible, however, that a characteristic emphasis of the more old-fashioned Victorian typologists originally came into being as a response to this theological crux. According to many seventeenth and eighteenth-century typologists, the various Old Testament figures who served as types of Christ were granted special understandings of both their status and the entire Gospel scheme for man's salvation, and many Victorians, particularly those with Evangelical leanings, continued to accept this notion. A related version of this idea of self-conscious types appears in the often unstated but implicit belief that the average Jewish believer in Old Testament times was more or less aware of the outlines of the coming Christian dispensation. As William Cowper phrased this idea in "Old Testament Gospel," one of the Olney Hymns:

Israel, in ancient days,
Not only had a view
Of Sinai in a blaze,
But learn'd the Gospel too:
The types and figures were a glass
In which they saw a Saviour's face.

When Cowper writes of the paschal lamb and the blood-sprinkled lamb of the Passover, he does so only to point out that they "Would teach the need of other blood,/ To reconcile an angry God," which might seem to be merely a general anticipation of Christian belief; but when in succeeding stanzas he mentions the lamb, dove, and scapegoat, he asserts that such communicated the more specifically Christian belief that anyone "who can for sin atone,/ Must have no failings of his own" . By the close of his poem or hymn, he holds that the types in fact showed — as they can still usefully show — the Gospel itself.

Similarly, Melvill, we recall, held that God had instructed Abraham in the full significance of his acts, informing the patriarch both about "the great truth of human redemption" and about "the shinings of Christ's day." Preachers were not always completely clear on precisely how detailed and exact were these privileged visions; and whereas some only assert that those participating in a typological scheme were granted a general notion that sacrifice alone could atone for breaking the moral law, others held that individual types in fact attained not only a full comprehension of Christian truths but also a full foreknowledge of Christ's coming sacrifice and its results. The less-educated preachers in the dissenting denominations probably accepted most fully these ideas, that were already becoming theologically unfashionable by the beginning of Victoria's reign (G. Eliot's criticism of such views). Hymns and the dissenting tradition kept such views alive enough that Robert Browning could base "Saul" upon them, and, clearly, Fairbairn found it necessary to caution his readers that "in determining the existence and import of particular types, we must be guided, not so much by any knowledge possessed, or supposed to be possessed, by the ancient worshippers concerning their prospective fulfillment, as from the light furnished by their realization in the great facts and revelations of the Gospel" (I .145).

Fairbairn, who believes that the willingness of earlier typologists to accept this idea of a self-aware type constitutes a major failing, argues that they introduced irrelevant, distracting considerations. According to him, although "all sincere and intelligent worshippers" may have comprehended the general bearing of types, these earlier believers "did not necessarily perceive their further reference to the things of Christ's kingdom. Nor does the reality of the precise import of their typical character depend upon the correctness or the extent of the knowledge held respecting it by members of the Old Covenant" (1.146). Such a comprehension of the coming Gospel, Fairbairn believes, was simply unnecessary, since the most important parts of God's purpose may have been carried out without their understanding anything of His plan. Furthermore, he points out, since those making explicit prophecies of the Gospel in earlier times were not always granted an understanding of these visions, it is unlikely that types, which are generally less clear than prophecies, would have been understood. To make Joseph's, Melchizedek's, or the average Israelite's comprehension of his typological significance a standard of Christian interpretation is "traveling in the wrong direction" (1.150), since "it is the mind of God, not the discernment or faith of the ancient believer, that we have properly to do with" (1.146-47). In other words, to emphasize too much the self-understanding of any Old Testament type — or even the awareness of Old Testament people who lived among the types — is to place one's attention, not on the mind of God but rather on the mind of man, and to do so is also to lose sight of the fact that typological signification is a divinely instituted symbolic system.

Although many earlier typologists surely made outlandish and often outrageously naive assumptions about the Christian knowledge supposedly possessed by figures in the Old Testament, one can sympathize with the motives of these exegetes. Their attempts to reconcile a potential conflict between the free will of the individual who serves as a type and the controlling force of God's plan often led them to grant so much Christian knowledge to the ancient Israelites that the actual appearance of Christ seemed anticlimactic. In essence this conflict occurs between the historical existence of the type and its function as signifying unity in God's extratemporal plan to redeem humanity. By making the participants in the typological scheme fully understand their purpose within it, older exegetes tried to preserve the historical status of the individuals who functioned as types. Fairbairn, who apparently sees no such conflict, answers these earlier writers on the grounds that they have neglected the all-important fact that the types are divinely instituted.


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Print version published 1980; web version 1998