Note: [External Link] indicates a link to material not in the original print version. [pp. 46-51 in print version]

ccording to Thomas Hartwell Horne, "Our definition of a type includes also that the OBJECT REPRESENTED BY IT IS SOMETHING FUTURE." It is fundamental to a type that it adumbrate or represent something which has not yet come into existence — at least not into earthly existence — and here it differs even from divinely instituted symbols, which represent "a thing, past, present, or future; whereas the object represented by a type is invariably future" (2.528). Typology therefore relates on real existing thing or event to at least one other later thing or event. Paradoxically, despite the fact that it is of the essence of a type that it be a real, existing thing, it still exists as a type only in its relation to something which has not yet come into being.

Although a great many types, such as Joseph and Moses, reached fulfillment when Christ lived on earth, not all types have thus seen completion. In particular, those prefigurations which refer to Christ's Church or its individual members obviously could not have been fulfilled during Christ's earthly career, and these types take three forms. First of all, there are the Old Testament types which apply only to the Church and the people of Christ. "The rite of circumcision, for example, the passage through the Red Sea, the judgments in the wilderness, the eating of manna, and many similar things, must obviously have their antitypes", explains Fairbairn, "in the heirs of salvation rather than in Him, who in this respect stood alone; He was personally free from sin, and He did not Himself need the blessings He provided for others" (1.157-8). Second, there are those types, such as the reference to "bruising" in Genesis 3:15, which demand fulfillment both in the life of Christ and subsequently in the lives of His worshippers. Third, there are the comparatively rare types which appear, not in the Old Testament narrative, but rather within the life of Christ, and these can attain fulfillment only after Christ's death and resurrection.

In preaching on Matthew 27:32, which relates that Simon, a man of Cyrene, was compelled to take up Christ's cross when He faltered on the way to Calvary, Henry Melvill elucidates such a New Testament type. This favorite preacher of Ruskin and Browning begins by reminding his listener that Christ struggling beneath the cross fulfilled the type provided ages before by Isaac.

There is no more illustrious type of the Redeemer, presented in sacrifice to God, than Isaac, whom, at the Divine command, his father Abraham prepared to offer on Moriah. We have every reason for supposing that, in and through this typical oblation, God instructed the patriarch in the great truth of human redemption; so that it was as he stood by the altar and lifted up his knife to slay his son, that Abraham discerned the shinings of Christ's day, and rejoiced in the knowledge of a propitiation for sin.... Herein was accurately portrayed the sacrifice of Christ — the sacrifice presented in fulness of time, on the very spot where Isaac was directed to immolate his son. ["Simon the Cyrenian," Sermons, 2 vols. (London, 1843), II, 263-64.]

Following his standard exegetical practice, Melvill next points out that, since it was one of "the most significant, and certainly the most affecting, parts of the typical transaction, that Isaac was made to carry the wood on which he was to be presented in sacrifice to God", there must be a particular reason for Simon's having assisted Christ, since otherwise this action mars the symbolic correlation. In other words, Melvill, like all exegetes, makes it standard procedure to center his interpretations on troublesome, apparently contradictory details. Such procedure has the advantage of forestalling possible difficulties while it also permits the interpreter to win his audience by resolving interesting paradoxes. Such procedure, which characterizes many of the finest Victorian sermons, obviously left its mark on the writings of External Link  Carlyle, External Link  Ruskin, and other External Link  "Victorian sages." Melvill, a master of such tactics, here concludes that Simon's assistance demonstrates to the believer that Christ, who has assumed a full human nature, suffered terribly. This proof of Christ's nature and consequent terrible suffering in turn permits the believer to empathize with his Savior and relive the Passion imaginatively. Having thus related Simon's deed both to the ancient type and to the actual (and antitypical) sufferings of Christ, Melvill then proceeds to treat "the incident as itself typical," since, he assures his listeners, one "can hardly doubt than an event, which has apparently so much of significance, was designed to be received by us as a parable, and interpreted as a lesson to the Church" (274). He thereupon reminds his audience "that, on more than one occasion, Christ had spoken of taking up and carrying the cross, when He wished to represent what would be required of his disciples" (274), and then, on "that day of wonder and fear, when He was delivered to the will of His enemies . . . was it ordered that the truth, so often urged in discourse, should be displayed in significant action: when the Redeemer has literally a cross to bear, that cross is literally borne by one of his adherents" (275-76). This bold interpretive leap, which ignores the fact that Simon may not have been one of Christ's followers, leads to Melvill's main point, that Simon's taking up Christ's cross functions typologically as the prefiguration of all believers who would attain salvation in Christ and therefore as an instruction to all who would thus be saved. Melvill advises his audience that it is Christ's cross and not their own which must be taken up. "Many a cross is of our own manufacture: our troubles are often but the consequences of our sins, and we may not dignify these by supposing them the cross which is to distinguish the Christian. . . . The cross of Christ is endurance for the glory of God, and the furtherance of the Gospel" (279). Finally, Melvill tentatively suggests that, since it is possible Simon the Cyrenian may have been a pagan, he may also have "typified the conversion of idolatrous nations which either have been or will be brought to a profession of faith in our Lord" (283-84).

According to Melvill, then, this comparatively minor episode during Christ's progress towards Calvary points towards the future, just as the anciently instituted types, such as that provided by Isaac, pointed to the initial appearance, actions, and sacrifice of Christ. Moreover, as he makes clear both here and in other sermons, various types must receive their antitypes within the lives of individual believers, so that many types, including the earliest instituted, will not see completion until the end of time. What Melvill has done, of course, is to so widen the application of the individual type that he finds in it something very like the old tropological (or moral) sense of scripture; that is, by joining typology to the notion that the believer must make himself into an imitation of Christ, Melvill discovers moral instruction in scriptural history which supposedly has divine authentication stamped upon it.

Melvill's common practice of thus identifying types within the life of Christ, which is an obvious example of inferred as opposed to innate typology, also appears in the sermons of High Churchmen. Keble, for example, holds that "the coming of the Wise men of the East, to worship our Lord in His Mother's arms, was, as we all know, a type and token of the conversion of the Gentile Church" ("The Priesthood of all Christians," Sermons, 2.316); and his poem from The Christian Year on "The Circumcision of Christ" similarly applies types found within Christ's life. Such habits of identifying types within the life of Christ had an important effect upon Victorian religious art, since they offered a way of approaching sacred subjects in a new way.

Hunt's The Shadow of Death Hunt's Scapegoat

(Left) William Holman Hunt's The Shadow of Death 1873. (Right) John Everett Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents 1850

Click upon images for an extended discussion of each painting in Landow, Replete with Meaning: William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism (Yale University Press, 1979).

Thus, Hunt's The Shadow of Death (1873), which presents Christ in the carpenter's shop at the end of a long day's labor, makes the shadow cast by the Savior's outstretched arms represent a prefiguration of the Crucifixion. By thus employing a type within the life of the Messiah, Hunt could simultaneously indulge his love for imaginative recreation of the physical details of Christ's life and yet also provide Victorian believers with a new version of the Crucifixion. Similarly, John Everett Millais's Christ in the House of His Parents (1850), which embodies a High Church theme, depicts the young Jesus holding up a wounded palm, as a variety of symbolic details instructs the viewer that this action prefigures the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ. The specifically High Church interpretation appears in the fact that Millais has set the young Jesus before a workbench which prefigures the high altar in a church, thus presenting an image of Christ as priest, and he has also separated the sheep, who symbolize the laity, from the sacred space of the main action, thus following this party's doctrinal emphasis.

In addition to locating types within the life of Christ, Keble, like the Evangelical Melvill, also perceives their fulfillment within the lives of individual believers. High and Low Churchman alike accept that types are still being fulfilled in the nineteenth century as they were in the time of Christ. For instance, in his sermon on "The Priesthood of all Christians" in which he reads the coming of the Magi as a type of the conversion "of the Gentile Church," he also explains that his listeners are included in that term. God intended "the gathering together of all nations to Him: and among the rest, of us Englishmen. For we also are Gentiles, naturally "without hope, and without God in the world," but chosen and called, by God's especial mercy, to be Christians" (Sermons, 2.316). Similarly, like Melvill, Keble also transforms the typological into the tropological sense of scripture, for, like the interpretations of his Evangelical counterpart, Keble's reading of the antitype demonstrates that he perceived moral instruction to be an essential component of a divinely instituted type. For example, when he discusses the typological significance of David's prayer of contrition in "How to receive the judgments of Almighty God," he does so in order to instruct the believer how to behave under hardship.

David's offer to suffer and thus spare others was no doubt a type and figure of our Lord so devoting Himself and when he went on and made mention of his kindred also, saying not only, let Thine hand be upon me, but likewise, on my father's house; was he not a type of our own Lord offering to His Father not only His own sufferings, but also, in some lower yet very true sense, the sufferings of His saints and martyrs, and of His whole mystical Body, the Church?

According to Keble, this typological significance informs us about the proper form of contrition. Thus, if God put it in the heart of any person to pray and wish as David did, " "Let Thy hand, I pray Thee, be on me and on my father's house:" devoting himself, and giving himself up, to suffer, if so it might be, rather than others," this action would be an "acceptable token" of one's "earnest and true contrition, and would greatly help, through the mercy of Christ, towards the entire forgiveness of past sins." In fact, says Keble, "this would be, so far, taking the Cross upon yourself " (Sermons, 1.242).

Hunt's Scapegoat

William Holman Hunt's Scapegoat 1856. Click upon image for an extended discussion of the painting — the chapter on it in Landow, Replete with Meaning: William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism (Yale University Press, 1979).

This widespread belief that scriptural types could be fulfilled in the individual's own life proves to have been a crucial factor in the influence of typology on Victorian literature and the arts. Even without such a notion, typological symbolism might still have appeared in Evangelical hymns and High Church art, just as It also might have been employed in paintings, such as Hunt's The Scapegoat (1856), which portrayed Old Testament types, and poems such as External Link  Browning's "Saul," which portrayed biblical subjects. Similarly, although types could always be used in devotional verse and hymns simply as prefigurations of Gospel truth, without the popular Victorian belief that antitypes existed within the believer's own life, one could not have the kind of religious poetry written by External Link  Christina Rossetti, Hopkins, or External Link  Tennyson. Furthermore, without such a belief in the idea that types are fulfilled in individual lives there could be no poetry, such as Browning's The Ring and the Book and Owen Meredith's Lucile, which uses types within fictional narrative. For without such a belief, an author would have had to have made a radically unorthodox transfer of ideas from religious to secular discourse, and then the likelihood is that those most able to comprehend such allusions would have found it blasphemous.


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Print version published 1980; web version 1998