Monday, July 27, 2009

The lure of symbolism

This past week I did a class on eshatology and the Second Coming of Christ. End times eschatology is perhaps one of the most speculative areas of theology - the Catechism says very little about it, and the Fathers and Saints are quite varied on their interpretations of the signs that will precede the end, though there certainly is unanimity.

One thing that is certain is that many of these signs lend themselves to a variety of interpretations, mainly on whether they are to be understood literaly or symbolically. For example, the mark of the beast. Some, like Dr. Scott Hahn, have saw in this a symbol of a kind of negative, demonic Confirmation, where followers of the beast are Confirmed in Satan's service - this is symbolized by the right hand and the head, or as he would say, your deeds and your thoughts. Others, many Protestants but many Catholics as well (myself included) tend to see this mark as a literal mark that is literally put on the skin of the hand. Some have argued for a microchip or something, but I don't know and I think good Catholics can legitimately disagree on these issues.

I did notice in the class, however, that when I offered the choice of accepting a literal or symbolic interpretation of a given sign, many people in the class unfailingly chose to identify the sign as a symbol. I totally understand the fact that many things about Sripture or prophecy can be intepreted symbolically or allegorically, but I am always disturbed when people seem to choose a symbolic approach consistently, as if they don't want to deal with the possibility that some things might be literal. I am fully prepared to acknowledge that the mark of the beast in the Scriptures may be symbolic of something, but I am also prepared to acknowledge that it may be something very literal. When there is room for debate, I think we lose something if we rule out one possibility.

Any thoughts?


Christina said...

Consider all the hype around Genesis. People are more and more interpreting that in a symbolic light, giving science a greater say than scripture sometimes. No wonder people will interpret the end times like the beginning; we're creatures of habit.

Jeffrey Pinyan said...

I'd say there are some signs in Scripture (especially in Revelation) that, if they are manifested literally, I don't see how anyone could doubt them for a second. If people start getting the mark of the beast on their hands/heads, who would balk at the book of Revelation?!

Then again... God did come as man, and a lot of people didn't believe...