The Four “Senses” and Four Exegetes

Edward Synan

in With Reverence for the Word

Published in print January 2003 | ISBN: 9780195137279
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199849482 | DOI:
The Four “Senses” and Four Exegetes

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The four senses of scripture honored during the Middle Ages generated two memorable lines of verse, a distich, that would be cited by Nicholas of Lyra around the year 1330 as if well known to all his 14th-century readers. Those Latin lines may be rendered loosely as: “the letter teaches what's been done; allegory—your belief; moral—what you ought to do; anagogy—where you'll get relief”. These four senses, their possible synonyms included, dominated Christian biblical scholarship from patristic to early modern times. After three medieval witnesses to the “four senses”, one post-medieval exegete will be adduced to account for the gap between the Middle Ages and our time: Jean Astruc seems to have transformed the problematic of “senses” into one of “sources”. These three medieval exegetes are Godfrey of Saint Victor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Nicholas of Lyra.

Keywords: Nicholas of Lyra; scripture; four senses; Godfrey of Saint Victor; Saint Thomas Aquinas; Jean Astruc; letter; allegory; moral; anagogy

Chapter.  6155 words. 

Subjects: East Asian Religions

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