Strangely, Child’s jumps nearly 900 years to his next major interpreter, Aquinas. How is it even possible that there is no real discussion of Augustine’s voluminous dealings with the Biblical text, including Isaiah? Or even someone like Bede? And why include a minor figure like Nicholas of Lyra who really adds little to the discussion? However we answer these questions, there can be no cavil with giving good treatment to Aquinas.
As profound a theologian as Aquinas was, it is interesting, as Childs notes, that he culminated a trend in Biblical interpretation that “replaced the interest in the figurative senses with a new focus on the primacy of the literal/historical sense” and with Thomas this involved “replacing the neo-Platonic heritage of Augustine with that of Aristotle.” Notice that there is still Greek philosophy used as a guide or touchstone in these matters, not to mention Greek rhetorical categories and influences. Thomas stressed that “no doctrinal implication be drawn that deviate[s] from the literal sense”…Nothing essential to the dogmatic content of the faith can be expected from figurative interpretations.”
Aquinas affirms that God is the author of the Bible, and that the human authors can be called ‘instrumental causes’ of its production. There is no tension or contradiction between divine revelation on one hand, and the human author’s efforts on the other. Thomas is not a child of the Enlightenment born out of due season. It is important however to note that Thomas discusses the human author’s intention as well as the divine intention. The literal sense of the text is that which the human author intends, it would seem.
The commentary is highly organized, and Thomas gives great and detailed attention to issue of literary context and structure, and spends a good deal of time, much as in a rabbinic commentary, by citing a bunch of other texts which the reader is expected to compare with Isaiah. He also spends a remarkable amount of time on geographical, zoological, and chronological details as well. Thomas also includes the use of metaphor as within the category of attending to the literal sense of the text (see Is. 5). But when he gets to texts like Is. 7,9 he sees these as literally straightforward predictions of the coming of Christ. Once having affirmed the literal referent of such a prophecy, he is prepared to supplement this by interpreting Jer. 31.22 and Ezek. 44.2 as allegorical references to the virginal conception. Interestingly, in dealing with Is. 11 he sees this also as referring to Christ, but in a figurative way.
Thomas is certainly one who emphasizes the literal meaning of the Biblical text, but he could get to the figurative meaning of the text through the use of an inter-textual reference or two. And there is both a plus and a minus to his use of Aristotle’s categories to make sense of the text. On the plus side is the fact that it doesn’t try to radically distinguish the literal and deeper meanings of the text. Many meanings can be present in the literal sense of one prophetic passage. It’s not an either or situation.