Peter Leithart has an excellent post on the Quadriga or the “fourfold sense” of Scripture.
Protestants generally cast a suspicious eye on this “method” of reading. That’s a mistake. It’s a handy guide to the questions we should always ask as we study Scripture.
The first question we ask is, What happened? What events or people or places or requirements does the text give us? Each text has a literal sense: It speaks of real people, real places, real events…all other dimensions of textual meaning grew out of the literal sense. Thomas Aquinas argued that the text referred only to the literal sense, to things and people and events of the real world. Since God writes with things as well as with words, though, the things that the text speaks about are themselves signs of other things. If you don’t have a literal sense at the beginning, you don’t get the other senses either.
Protestants often want to stop with the literal sense. But that’s equally an error, and leads to boring, truncated readings of Scripture. Medieval theologians knew better.
They understood that Scripture speaks literally of things that serve as allegories or types of other things. The word “rock” in Exodus 17 refers to a rock at Horeb, and the water was water. But God orchestrates history so that the real rock and the watery water foreshadow the temple rock of Ezekiel from which water flows, the Rock on the cross whose side is opened by a spear, who was the Rock that followed Israel. The Spirit really did hover over the waters of creation, but that actual event offers a perspective on events of new creation: The same Spirit who hovers on the waters hovers over Israel in the cloud, over the tabernacle and temple, overshadows Jesus at His transfiguration, finally hovers over the apostles in the upper room. Those are all literal events too, but those literal events are interpreted as new-creation events by the re-deployment of the imagery of creation. And these events in their turn becomes foreshadowings of still future events. And all of it comes to a climax in Jesus.
Leithart also speaks of the tropological and anagogical nature of Scripture. He closes with this.
It would be too much to say that the Quadriga heals all our hermeneutical diseases, but it heals an awful lot of them. And not only hermeneutical diseases. The Quadriga is not only a method of reading but a practical theology and a spirituality, a historiography, an ethics, and a politics, a way of training our senses to discern Christ not only everywhere in Scripture, but everywhere and in everything.
Via Dr. Pennington via Brian Renshaw.