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Puritan Typology

For more specific and extensive information than is possible on this brief page,
see the works listed in the  Selected Bibliography on Puritanism.See also Puritanism in New England.
See also Jonathan Edwards on Typology.
Definitions Based on an ancient hermeneutic method (Hebrews 10:1), typology is the interpretation of Old Testament events, persons, and ceremonies as signs which prefigured Christ's fulfillment and new covenant with the apostolic church. The concepts arose from those of the skia (shadow) and typos (type). Typology involves identification both of a type or figura, a figure, concept, ceremony, or event as an Old Testament precursor, and an anti-type, a New Testament historical figure or event that follows and fulfills the promise of the type. 

In describing the typological concepts of early Christians, Scott Foutz defines the term as follows: "In order for a typological correlation to exist between the contents of the Old and New Testaments, there must be found, (i) two distinct and temporally segregated phenomena (generally categorized as object, person, institution, event, or ceremony) whereby (ii) the reality of the latter (antitype) is literally, physically, or functionally prefigured by the former (type), so that (iii) the antitype's meaning and significance is further explained through the type and vice versa, and that (iv) the type, if an object, institution or ceremony, may be said to be "fulfilled" by the antitype, such that upon the manifestation of the latter, the type as figure is made functionally obsolete."

According to Emory Eliott's "New England Puritan Literature," "typological hermeneutics involved explicating signs in the Old Testament as foreshadowing events and people in the New.  This produced interesting consequences; for example, Jonah's three days in the whale typologically parallels Christ's three days in the tomb, and Job's patience prefigures, or is a figura, of Christ's forbearance on the cross.  Applied more liberally and figured more broadly, typology expanded into a more elaborate verbal system that enabled an interpreter to discover biblical forecasts of current events.  Thus, the Atlantic journey of the Puritans could be an antitype of the Exodus of the Israelites; and the New England colony, a New Zion, to which Christ may return to usher in the Millennium.  The first settlers were conservative, cautious typologists, but as Edward Johnson's Wonder-Working Providence of Sion's Saviour in New England (1654; composed c. 1650) demonstrates, by the 1640s New England's sacred errand into the wilderness and the approaching Apocalypse were accepted antitypes of sacred history.  Claiming to strive for plainness, Puritan writers created instead a subtle and complex language system.  The great Puritan poet Edward Taylor was the consummate typologist" (188). 

Although they appear to be similar, for the Puritans, types differed from common tropes. 

According to the Puritan Samuel Mather, unlike ordinary tropes, a true type had these elements:
        Divine institution
        Historical prophecy
        Christ's fulfillment
According to Mather, "It is not safe to make any thing a Type merely upon our own fancies and imaginations; it is God's Prerogative to make types."  He distinguished between the typus arbitrarius and the typus fixus and institutus.

Thomas Hartwell Horne explains in An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, the text that was standard reading for British divinity students: "A type, in its primary and literal meaning, simply denotes a rough draught, or less accurate model, from which a more perfect image is made; but in the sacred or theological sense of the term, a type may be defined to be a symbol of something future and distant, or an example prepared and evidently designed by God to prefigure that future thing. What is thus prefigured is called the antitype."

From Perry Miller's "Introduction" to Jonathan Edwards's Images or Shadows of Divine Things: "In the type there must be evidence of the one eternal intention; in the trope there can be evidence only of the intention of one writer. The type exists in history or temporal experience and its meaning is factual, that is, objective. . . . By contrast, the allegory, the simile, and the metaphor have been made according to the fancy of men, and they mean whatever the brain of the begetter is pleased they should mean. In the type there is a rigorous correspondence, which is not a chance resemblance, between the representation and the antitype; in the trope there is correspondence only between the thing and the associations it happens to excite in the impressionable . . . senses of men." --quoted by Albert Gelpi in The Tenth Muse

and Forms
According to George Landow's Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows, Horne suggests that types fall into three categories:

1. Historical types that exist in the Old Testament and prefigure characters and events in the New Testament--for example, Moses, Adam, David are types of Christ; Christ is the antitype.  Samson, who sacrifices his life for God's people, partially anticipates Christ, as do the animals sacrificed at Jerusalem.

2. Legal types (ritual, ceremonial, Levitical) that suggest the inadequacy of animal sacrifice and prefigure the need for a divine one.

3. Prophetical types through which divinely inspired prophets signify the future by means of symbols; of these, according to Landow, the passage in Genesis 3:15 that states "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel" signifies the great battle between good and evil; the Rose of Sharon becomes flower and risen Christ.

Practitioners Typology was used extensively in sermons, conversion narratives, and poetry, including that of Edward Taylor.

Later Puritan historians, such as Cotton Mather and Edward Johnson. According to Elliott, William Bradford (Of Plimoth Plantation, begun in 1630) drew more from the universal history tradition of St. Augustine's City of God and the medieval chronicle than from more directly typological models: "In universal history, the historian tried to discern some larger pattern of God's plan in the recorded events; the chronicle tended to be a straightforward account of details.  During the Crusades, biography was blended with history to add human drama and enable the writer to group seemingly unrelated events around a life.  The Puritan historians inherited these available models and added to them what they called a 'spiritualized,' or providential, dimension--that is, they sought to discover in past events possible divine meanings, just as a minister tried to discern the hidden truths of biblical passages.  Some later Puritan historians such as Edward Johnson and Cotton Mather went further and compared current events directly with Old and New Testament types, discovering parallels that elucidated how the scriptures were being fulfilled daily" (Cambridge History of American Literature, Volume 1, 215-216). 

Diane Gabrielson Scholl's "From Aaron "Drest" to Dickinson's "Queen": Protestant Typology in Herbert and Dickinson" (Emily Dickinson Journal) discusses Dickinson's awareness and use of Puritan typological tradition.

© 1997-2010. Donna M. Campbell. Some information adapted from Resisting Regionalism: Gender and Naturalism in American Fiction, 1885-1915 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997).
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