The quadriga is a Roman cart or chariot drawn by four horses abreast. This was commonly used as a racing chariot and each horse was thought to share an equal part of the burden. It is little wonder then why medieval theologians called their approach to scripture, based upon the partistic theologians, the quadriga. This methodology has been viewed with a great deal of skepticism by large portions of the protestant church in the modern day, much to their detriment. The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites a medieval couplet which summarizes the four senses of the quadriga: Lettera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria, moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia. (The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith; the Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.) A looser translation that is a bit easier to remember is “The literal teaches what God and our ancestors did, The allegory is where our faith and belief is hid, The moral meaning gives us the rule of daily life, The anagogy shows us where we end our strife.” This rhyme has survived since the middle ages as a way to help theologians and scholars remember the four senses of scripture.
The four senses, or interpretations, are the literal (meaning of historical events from a neutral perspective including the text, the time, the location, and the language), the anagogic (prophecy and eschatology), typological (allegorical connections between the OT and NT, as well as passages speaking directly to you such as when St. Francis heard the passage to sell all he had, and connecting types of things, such as Mary, the mother of Christ as the Ark carrying the word of God), and tropological or moral. That all sounds fairly overwhelming perhaps, but it is not really that bad once you get into the swing of things. This particular type of exegesis has been met with a great deal of skepticism by large segments of the protestant church, much to it’s detriment.
So the question of why we should care about this begs to be asked. The first and most obvious reason should be that the patristics cared about it, so we should at least have some familiarity with it. Origen of Alexandria is perhaps the most popular person who suggested that scripture should be seen and interpreted at different levels, though he only recognized three, in Treatise on First Principles. While the patristics did not use the word ‘quadriga’ to describe how they viewed and understood scripture and faith, any careful reading of their writings reveals the methodology in them. There is a strong argument to be made that this is indeed the methodology favored in the tradition of the church, but that is another rabbit hole for another day. Another reason for caring and using this method of understanding is that it allows us to take the best of all available scholarship and actually attempt to use it to understand. One of the very large problems that we have today is the artificial and false dichotomy of should we see this or that verse literally or not. That is the wrong question to ask entirely. using this methodology, old and antiquated as it seems to be, eliminates that problem. Finally, and likely most importantly, it connects us to the early fathers rather than perpetuating the disconnect that we have all to often now. By examining in this manner, we are asking the same eternal questions as those who have come before. There is nothing new under the sun, including questions. In future installments, I will attempt to break down each of the four interpretation and attempt to show not only how they interconnect, but why such interconnection is vital to proper understanding of scripture. “And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new wine, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ” (Luke 5:39). I invite you to look for the posts to come on this subject and drink deeply of old wine with me.