Noah’s Ark and Peter’s Bark

In this number of the Ad Rem, I wish to consider the interesting and dogmatically significant subject of Ark-Church typology. In order to do so, I am going to excerpt from two other pieces — one written by Brother Thomas Mary, the other by your humble servant. I will credit both, though I will be less scrupulous in my own citation.1

A very important device in the study of the Old Testament — one employed under inspiration by New Testament writers — is typology. The Greek word typos, “blow, impression, or model” gives us the English word “type,” from which we get “typewriter” — something that leaves an impression on a page. We also get “archetype,” “prototype,” and “stereotype,” from it. A type, in the way we are using it here, is any thing (person, event, institution, object, etc.) in the Old Testament which foreshadows some New Testament reality. The New Testament reality itself is called an “antitype.” St. Paul engages in typology (the study of types) when he calls Christ the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45) and says that Adam “is a figure (typos) of him who was to come” (Rom. 5:14). In this case, Adam is the type, and Our Lord the antitype.

The Old Testament is filled with types of Our Lord. Adam, Isaac, Moses, Josue, Jacob, Joseph, Solomon, the paschal lamb, the tabernacle, the temple, the brazen serpent, and many other people and things foreshadowed Jesus. Other New Testament realities were also foreshadowed. The twelve sons of Jacob were types of the twelve apostles. Joseph, “the dreamer” of Genesis, was a figure of St. Joseph, who received messages in dreams. Baptism, an antitype of circumcision (Col. 2:11), was also prefigured in the flood: “baptism, being of the like form, (antitypon, literally “antitype”) now saveth you also” (1 Pet. 3:21). The Eucharist was prefigured by the manna in the desert (John 6). There are many, many more.

So not only was Our Lord prefigured; other New Testament realities were as well. It should not surprise us that the Blessed Virgin is one of those. As Jesus was the “last Adam” to St. Paul, Mary was the New Eve to many Church Fathers. Among the numerous Old Testament types of the Blessed Virgin, some have entered into the devotional life of the Church. In the Litany of Loreto, for instance, Our Lady is called Tower of David, Morning Star, House of Gold (referring to the Temple) and the Ark of the Covenant.

The Blessed Mother of God and our Holy Mother the Church have many points of comparison. They are “Two Perfect Women” who are both espoused to God. Just as the Blessed Virgin has many Old Testament types, so, too, does the Church. (Go to Fisheaters for a good article on typology.)

Typology of the Ark of the Noah

In his study, “The Ark of Noah and the Church of Christ,” Brother Thomas Mary, M.I.C.M., after defending the inerrancy and literal truth of the Flood and the Biblical account of Noah, writes this:

But there is more at stake in the Noachian Deluge than the historicity and inerrancy of the Bible; also involved is the necessity of the Catholic Church for salvation. Throughout history, the Fathers, Doctors, and the Magisterium of the Church have used the Ark of Noah as a type of the Church of Christ. Let me give just two examples. Here is St. Thomas Aquinas:

“Two things have to be considered in this sacrament [the Eucharist], namely, the sacrament itself, and what is contained in it. Now it was stated above (A.1, Obj. 2) that the reality of the sacrament is the unity of the mystical body, without which there can be no salvation; for there is no entering into salvation outside the Church, just as in the time of the deluge there was none outside the Ark, which denotes the Church, according to I Peter 3:20, 21.” [St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica , Pars III, Q. 73, a. 3.]

And here is an example from the Magisterium, the Bull Unam Sanctam of Pope Boniface VIII:

“We are compelled, our faith urging us, to believe and to hold — and we do firmly believe and simply confess — that there is one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, outside of which there is neither salvation nor remission of sins; her Spouse proclaiming it in the canticle, ‘My dove, my undefiled is but one, she is the choice of her that bore her’; which represents one mystical body, of which the head is Christ, but of Christ, God.

“In this Church there is one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism. There was one ark of Noah, indeed at the time of the flood, symbolizing one Church; and this being finished in one cubit had, namely, one Noah as helmsman and commander. And, with the exception of this ark, all things existing upon the earth were, as we read, destroyed.” [Denzinger 870 (old edition: 468). This Bull ends with the famous de fide definita definition: “Indeed we declare, say, pronounce, and define that it is altogether necessary for salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Denz. 875; old edition: 469).]

If the Flood had not been geographically and anthropologically universal, the Ark of Noah would not be a true type of the Church of Christ. It is interesting to note that liberal theologians and Modernist exegetes deny the universality of the Flood and the absolute necessity of the Church in the same way. We have seen Ignatius Hunt, for instance [whom Brother Thomas Mary had earlier cited in his longer work], flatly deny the geographical and anthropological universality of the Flood. “This means, coming down to concrete terms, that the biblical Flood neither covered the entire earth nor did it blot out all men.” [Ignatius Hunt, O.S.B., Understanding the Bible, Sheed and Ward, NY, 1962, p. 74. Father Hunt has since left the Benedictines and the Catholic Church, and returned to the Anglican communion from which he came.]…

Lex orandi est lex credendi, “the law of praying is the law of believing,” and the Church uses the Ark of Noah during the liturgy for the week of Sexagesima in preparation for the season of Lent. Here is Dom Prosper Guéranger, O.S.B., in his marvelous The Liturgical Year , one of the books that made the Little Flower, St. Therese, being read aloud in her home every evening by her parents. Here is Dom Guéranger’s reading for the Friday of Sexagesima Week:…

“Mankind, then, owes safety to the Ark. O saving Ark, that was planned by God Himself, and didst sail unhurt amidst the universal wreck! But if we can thus bless the contemptible wood, how fervently should we love that other Ark, of which Noah’s was but the figure, and which for eighteen hundred years, has been saving and bringing men to their God! How fervently should we bless that Church, the bride of our Jesus, out of which there is no salvation, and in which we find that truth which delivers us from error and doubt, that grace which purifies the heart, and that food which nourishes the soul, and fits her for immortality!” [Dom Guéranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B., Septuagesima, The Newman Press, Westminster, MD, 1951, p. 170.]

* * * * * * * * * * * *

To this invaluable contribution of Brother Thomas Mary, I add only this: As far as I can tell, this ark-Church typology goes back to Origen (184-253) among the Greek Fathers and Saint Cyprian of Carthage (200-258) among the Latins. Origen’s considerations can be found here on Scribd. Cyprian’s, along with those of four other Fathers and Doctors of the Church are here appended, and with them I conclude:

Saint Cyprian of Carthage (died A.D. 258): Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If any one could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church. (On the Unity of the Church)

Saint Jerome (died A.D. 420): “As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is, with the Chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the Church is built. …This is the ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. …And as for heretics, I have never spared them; on the contrary, I have seen to it in every possible way that the Church’s enemies are also my enemies.” (Manual of Patrology and History of Theology)

St. Bede the Venerable (died A.D. 735): “Just as all within the ark were saved and all outside of it were carried away when the flood came, so when all who are pre-ordained to eternal life have entered the Church, the end of the world will come and all will perish who are found outside.” (Hexaemeron)

Saint Peter Canisius (died A.D. 1597): “Outside of this communion — as outside of the ark of Noah — there is absolutely no salvation for mortals: not for Jews or pagans who never received the faith of the Church, nor for heretics who, having received it, corrupted it; neither for the excommunicated or those who for any other serious cause deserve to be put away and separated from the body of the Church like pernicious members…for the rule of Cyprian and Augustine is certain: he will not have God for his Father who would not have the Church for his mother.” (Catechismi Latini et Germanici)

Saint Robert Bellarmine (died A.D. 1621): “Outside the Church there is no salvation…therefore in the symbol [Apostles Creed] we join together the Church with the remission of sins: ‘I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins’…For this reason the Church is compared with the ark of Noah, because just as during the deluge, everyone perished who was not in the ark, so now those perish who are not in the Church.” (De Sacramento Baptismi)

  1. The first several paragraphs, up to the heading “Typology of the Ark of the Noah” are adapted from my article, “The Ark of the New Covenant.”
  • Paul

    Dear Brother, thank you for this. It was very instructive. One question I have is how the Fathers define ‘the Church.’ Many agree that the Church teaches that outside of her there is no salvation, but they question what that means. This brings the discussion to whether or not in the Fathers and Doctors ‘the Church’ refers to the visible institution and its visible borders, or whether it could mean both the visible institution and what is now called ‘the soul of the Church.’ Could you direct me to any writings where this definition is explicitly spelled out?

  • You’re welcome, Paul. That’s a good question, and I hope I can provide at least the beginnings of a good answer.

    Let me begin by pointing out that the Church being essentially a spiritual (or properly, “mystical”) reality, such a phrase as “visible borders” has to be understood analogously. I’m just throwing that out there lest someone accuse me of not answering you properly.

    The question then becomes what constitutes being a member of the Church. As Catholics applying the analogy of faith, we must believe that the single universal Church of Christ that is yet with us is the same as the Church of which the Fathers were members — the Catholic Church. If Saint Cyprian’s or Saint Irenaeus’ ecclesiology was not as developed as that of Saint Robert Bellarmine or Saint Peter Canisius, in all cases they are talking about one and the same Church.

    But we can be more specific. In the case, for instance of Saint Cyprian of Carthage, we see that his idea of Church Unity with and under Peter — upon which subject he wrote one of his maor works — is very clear. He has clear notions of what constitutes schism, on the importance of the visible office of the bishop, etc. I can save myself the effort of writing, and you of reading, my account of this by referring you to the Catholic Encyclopedia article on that Father:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04583b.htm

    Please skip down to the subheading, “Church unity,” for some informative material on these points.

    The patristic notion of “communion” was also pretty developed, as in being “in communion with” one’s bishop, the pope, etc. See, for instance, Saint Jerome’s passage above in the main body of my piece, which is from a letter he sent to the Roman Pontiff at the time of a disputed local episcopal election in the East. A corollary to that is the notion of schism, which, again, was clear in so many of the Fathers. Cyprian was strong against the Novatian schismatics (as was Saint Ambrose), while Saint Jerome gives us this lucid contrast of the concepts of schism and heresy:

    *”Between heresy and schism”, explains St. Jerome, “there is this difference, that heresy perverts dogma, while schism, by rebellion against the bishop, separates from the Church. Nevertheless there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church” (In Ep. ad Tit., iii, 10)* (vide: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13529a.htm )

    Note the emphasis on the bishop and “departure from the Church.” (And Saint Jerome knew how difficult bishops could be! He, a mere priest, was persecuted by the Arian-leaning Bishop James of Jerusalem.) Saint Augustine (who was a bishop) agrees with Saint Jerome on the point, and Saint Thomas, roughly 800 years later, accepted their distinction as his own.

    While the Fathers were clearly aware that the Church is a spiritual, mystical reality, they also believed it was a juridical, sacramental reality as well. It’s the darned moderns who have separated these realities.