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A sign can never be a medium of communication, unless it represent the same idea as that desired to be communicated. The basis, therefore, on which all signs rest, whether these be literal or figurative, is identity. The sign represents the same thing as that which is signified. But the literal sign does this directly; an ideographic sign does it indirectly, and through the medium of a complex operation which the mind has to perform. This operation it has to make ere it arrives at the thing signified.
It has to proceed to the identity which every sign must establish between itself and the thing signified by a somewhat circuitous route-by the route, namely, of analogy. One idea is taken to represent another, not because it is the same, but because it is like this other. But in every analogy there is an element of identity. It is on this that the truth of the indirect sign rests. There is at the same time, however, an element of difference, which is either comparatively great or small. Hence arises a complex operation. If this difference, which subsists between the one idea and the other be not correctly subtracted, an untrue idea will be transmitted. Let it be supposed, for example, that in the instance of figurative language which we have above quoted, no account is taken of the actual difference between a ship and a plough, and land and water; a conception altogether erroneous will be formed. Let the difference be taken into account and the identity which really exists be founded upon, and the true idea will be presented to the mind intended to be expressed, which was, that the ship
moves through the sea in the same manner as the plough through the land, subtracting the difference between ship and plough, sea and land. In the production of the figure there is always a process of comparison involved. If this is not duly performed, the figure in its true significancy is not understood. The basis of indirect signs or figurative language, is then analogy. The analogy, however, must be so stated that it resolves itself into an identity, else the sign were no sign. Now as ideas of analogy may be multiplied to an almost infinite extent, the amount of indirect signs or figurative language placed at the disposal of the mind for the transmission of its ideas, may nearly be regarded as boundless. The mind, by laying hold on ideas to convey ideas, obtains a capital in signs which is inexhaustible.
These two species of signs constituting literal and figurative language, are used for the same object. They are employed to convey ideas from one mind to another with as much clearness, fidelity, and rapidity, as possible. When literal language fails in accomplishing this result, the boundless resources of figurative language are called into requisition.
But there is a third language employed in Scripture, the object of which is entirely different from this. This is the allegoric, or symbolic, language. The object of this is not to convey ideas from mind to mind with rapid clearness, but to convey them with slow clearness.
It employs, like figurative language, ideographic signs, but with this difference, that it presents to the
mind only one-half the double sign, leaving the mind to supply for itself the other half by a process of search. It is designed undoubtedly to be understood, and for this end it is constructed with extreme precision and definiteness, but its precision and definiteness are concealed.
It behoves us to scan this peculiar language closely, for it is in it that the prophecy of the Revelation is cast.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ALLEGORY AND FIGURE.
The symbolic language, or, as it may be called, the enigmatical language of Scripture, is a peculiar kind of ideographic language, which may be regarded as the generic term. Like figurative, the symbolic contains signs which represent one idea by another. The difference between them lies in the difference between allegory and figure. It will be necessary, accordingly, to define these two kinds of ideographic signs with precision, in order to obtain a clear conception of what symbolic or allegoric is, as compared with figurative or metaphorical language.
It is apparent, from what has been already said, that in the construction of the complex or indirect signs which compose ideographic language, there is a double process involved. The idea desired to be communicated is transferred to the mind through the medium of another, and the communication is effected through a double operation. It is accordingly necessary, in order to obtain a perfect transfusion of thought, that both the ideas concerned in the
process be apprehended. Now one of these ideas may properly be called the picturing idea ; the other may be termed the pictured.
To elucidate this let us take the following example: when Christ says, “I am the door,” the door taken literally is the picturing idea, and the door understood figuratively, is the pictured idea. To understand Christ's meaning fully, we must thoroughly comprehend what a door means in the literal or picturing sense, and what it signifies in the figurative or pictured sense.
Now it is in their different relationship to this duplex representation, that the real difference lies between allegory and figure. Allegory has only to do with the first part of the representation made; figure has to do with both. The allegory in the strict sense of the term, expresses nothing more than the first, or picturing idea, or set of ideas, as it may be. It presents this to the mind for its contemplation. It thus, in the above instance, simply places the first idea, “the door,” before the mind, without drawing the connection between it and the second idea, “ Christ." The former idea is no doubt designed to bring out the second, but it is no part of the allegory to perform this development; on the contrary, it is its part to conceal it, either wholly or partially. The figure, on the other hand, presents both to the mind at once, but its chief purpose is to bring out into strong relief the second, or pictured, or in other words, the real idea.
Thus the words of Christ already quoted are not allegorical. They form a figure, because, when Christ affirms that he is the door, the pictured, or second idea, is clearly developed. The mind rests not in the first representation, but presses forward to the second,