The influence of Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225-74 A.D.) compared to some of these earlier church fathers, not including Augustine, can hardly be over-estimated. I recently went to a Christology Conference at the Dominican Centre at Catholic University in D.C. to present a paper. To my amazement, most of what went on was interpreting Christology through the lens of Thomist theology. Thomas Aquinas is alive and well in this nation’s capital.
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.