“Every analysis begins from things which are finite, or defined, and proceeds in the direction of things which are infinite, or undefined.” [1]

— Hugh of St. Victor —

Reading a difficult work is always worthwhile. Yet in order to benefit from the mental exercise, one must learn to analyze a text to understand and then explain the meaning of the text. The reward of this effort always leads to a greater awareness of that which is unknown and can never be fully known. Exposition of a work of great value brings the student from the defined finite knowledge to the higher undefined infinite mystery. Illumination of what is hidden in great works is the duty of great scholars.

All Great Books have a deeper truth to the text than can be attained through first reading. What is required of the scholar is the mastery of analysis, methods of discernment, that lead one deeper into the meaning of the text and thus higher to the truths of God. Hugh of St. Victor taught in his De Sacramentis,

“All the arts of the natural world subserve our knowledge of God, and the lower wisdom — rightly ordered — leads to the higher.”  [2]

Exposition means to explain. When great ideas are rightly ordered the meaning of the text is revealed through work and deeper meaning leads to a higher truth.

Exposition is the duty of the clergy in that the church, and those outside the ecclesia, are shown what God says. Where the clergy exposit Scripture, academia exposits Great Works of wisdom. Rhabanus Maurus emphasizes the duty of the clergy in broadly understanding Scripture through also understanding language and forms of expression. “A knowledge of these things is proved to be necessary in relation to the interpretation of those passages of Holy Scripture which admit of a twofold sense; an interpretation strictly literal would lead to absurdities.”[3]  Absurd reading of Scripture leads one not to the infinite, but to the finite. It is those things infinite that require accurate exposition to fully grasp.

Hugh of St. Victor taught; “Exposition includes three things: the letter, the sense, and the inner meaning.”[4]  This three step process is the model to accurate exposition of both Scripture and Great Books. Often the higher meaning of a work is sensed in an initial reading of the text. Knowing how to read the text itself, through language and grammar, is the first form of knowledge that must be mastered well in order to exposit well. The medium of words is a mastered skill that must be understood. A plumber must know pipes and water flow in order to master the art of plumbing. Likewise an expositor must know grammar and language well in order to read and exposit what is read well. In reading the text, one then has an initial sense of the meaning of the text. This may not be an absolute formula of meaning. But the sense is an intuition based on previous skills of grammar and language and a greater sense of feeling about the piece. The inner meaning of a work is best understood by both the science of language and the enigmatic sense, or feel, of a text. Neither aspect alone grants a full exposition of a work. The work of the finite individual through grammar and language studies, combined with the hidden feeling of the infinite source behind the work leads one ultimately to the higher mystery of a great idea within a great work.

In summary, exposition is that effort which leads one to grasp, or merely taste, the higher infinite meaning of a great idea or work by both finite and enigmatic means. Defined absolutes of grammar and language are ordered by inspiration of, or directly by, undefined uncertainties that lead to a higher meaning beyond the lower mind. Exposition is work. But is also led by feeling. A sense of what is read and known ultimately leads to the prize of the inner meaning of a work. This is the purpose of exposition and analysis and the role of the scholar.


[1] Richard M. Gamble, The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007), p. 261.

[2] Ibid, p. 255.

[3] Ibid, p. 251.

[4] Ibid, p. 260.


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