Peter Leithart on Quadriga

“Over the course of several centuries, medieval theologians and biblical students had developed what is known as the fourfold method or quadriga. According to this mode of reading, Scripture as a whole and its particular passages are not single in sense, but have multiple senses, specifically the literal, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical. Interpreted literally, a passage tells us what happened; the allegorical sense teaches us what we are to believe, particularly about Christ and his church; the tropological tells us what we are to do; and the anagogical tells us what we are to hope for. From the time of John Cassian, Jerusalem served as a key example of the method.

Literally, Jerusalem is the city of David; allegorically, it is the church; tropologically, each of us is a city in which God dwells, so what applies to the whole city applies to each of us; anagogically, it is the future Jerusalem.

Among the Reformers, Luther was the most deeply informed by medieval methods of interpretation. In his early commentary on the Psalms (1513-1515), Luther combines the quadriga with the double literal sense of the French humanist Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples to produce a hermenetuic of eight senses. . .

Even Calvin, though very hostile to medieval flights of fancy, came close to a Protestant version of the quadrige with his hermenetics of promise and fulfillment. What is most distinctive about Calvin is his attention to the historical context of the text. When he read Joel or Daniel, he made every effort to discern what the text meant for the original hearers and how the prophecy was fulfilled close to the time it was delivered.

Yet Calvin also made room for multiple fulfillments, so that a prophesie delieverance of Israel came to fuller realization in the deliverance achieved in the cross and resurrection. Beyond that, Calvin believed that prophecies could also be applied to his own time, since the church of the sixteenth century existed within the unfolding histroy initiated by Jesus. These multiple fulfillments were all, for Calvin, contained in the literal sesnese, since the literal sense spoke not of isolated moments of time but of the “historical succession” of the kingdoms expansion. This scheme yields three wheels of the four-wheeled quadriga.” — Peter Leithart, Deep Exegesis 13-14

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