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The Limits of Typology and the Wakefield Master's Processus Noe Edgar Schell A! whi fare ye thus?/ ffader and moder both! Of all the historical schemes available to the Middle Ages, certainly one of the more useful, both for medieval exegetes and for modern critics, has been the scheme of typology according to which earlier persons or events somehow prefigure and are completed by later persons or events. Typological relationships were not, or so it was believed, merely literary relationships: they were part of the unfolding of revelation itself, a divine heuristic strategy intended to lead fallen man by stages to an understanding of God's plan for his salvation. The history of Creation was thus a story of the gradual perfection of the images through which God revealed his plan to recover what had been lost in die Fall and of the gradual perfection of man's capacity to understand those images. In Hugh of St. Victor's formulation, though there were others, it was a story with three main divisions: the time of natural law, all that time before Moses received die written covenant; die time of written law, inaugurated at Mount Sinai; and die time of grace, which began with the Incarnation. 1 And it was only through grace that the full significance of what was revealed could be understood. Only when revelation was completed could one see into its emerging design. That is why Moses in the N-Town cycle, seeing the vision of the burning bush, a type of the virgin birth, is made to say tiiat "It fyguryth sum thynge of ryght gret fame/ [but] I kan not seyn what it may be" (6.21-22).2 And why later in the same cycle, in the time of grace, Jesus reveals the EDGAR SCHELL is Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California at írvine. Author of Strangers and Pilgrims: From The Castle of Perseverance to King Lear, he is presently finishing a book on Richard III. 168 Edgar Schell169 whole design, drawing together the typological relationships between Passover and the sacrament of the Host through the mediating figure of the Last Supper: And as we stodyn so dede \>e\ stond and here reynes f>ei gyrdyn veryly With schon on here fete and stavys in here hond And as we ete it so dede £>ei hastyly his fygure xal sesse A-nothyr xal folwe her-by Weche xal be of my body hat am xour hed weche xal be shewyd to jow be A mystery Of my fflesch and blood in forme of bred. (27.678-85) It was the full insight of revelation that St. Paul had in mind when he interpreted the veil that Moses wore before the people but removed when he entered the presence of God as a préfiguration of the gift of grace. The people saw through the written law as through a veil, he wrote, "but whanne Israel schal be convertid to God, the veil schal be don awei."3 And following St. Paul, the earliest Fathers of the Church argued that God carefully adapted the images through which he revealed himself to man's growing ability to understand them. "Thus he called them," St. Irenaeus wrote, "from types to realities, from temporal things to eternal, from fleshly to spiritual, from earthly to heavenly."4 Paraphrasing one of its most careful modern students, typology is a system of phenomenal prophecy whereby something concrete and historical is prefigured by something equally concrete and historical. It thus differs fundamentally from the system of allegorical interpretation of scripture practiced by the followers of Philo and Clement in the Eastern Church, according to which the events recorded in die Old Testament were veiled representations of spiritual truths. Where Philo of Alexandria "interpreted the various events of the Bible as phases in the development of the soul," tiius as chaff that might be discarded when the kernels were winnowed from it, St. Augustine admonished his followers to "believe what is read to have actually taken place as the reading narrates; lest, undermining the foundation of actuality, you seek as it...


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