According to a jingle popular in the later Middle Ages, there were four senses or modes in which Scripture was to be understood:

Littera gesta docet, quid credas allegoria,
Moralis quid agas, quo tendas anagogia.

The letter teaches what happened, allegory what you should believe,
The moral what you should do, anagogy where you should aim.

All four were interdependent, and all four were necessary to the realization of a proper human life.  Modern Christians have typically focused only on the first of these four senses: the deeds or events in the life of Jesus Christ, taken as a model for how to behave.  As opposed to the literal or historical sense, the other three senses have fallen out of favor as inventions of a supposedly less critical age, more given to fancies than science.  

But Scripture, while grounded in history, is both more and less than an archive of deeds.  Rather, as medieval Christian commentators understood, it is a record of God's revelation of God's self to the world and, as such, filled with mystery as well as wisdom.  Not everything is said on the surface, that is, in deeds, and much of what is said in deeds has deeper meaning.  Much of this meaning has been lost in the course of modern historical-critical reading of Scripture, but more has been lost than simply a method of reading.  Belief in something beyond that which appears to the senses, a conviction that how we behave should be grounded in something other than avoiding discomfort at all costs, a confidence that our lives matter for reasons other than how much money we make or how much fame we achieve: all of these things depend upon reading ourselves and our world as creatures of a loving and benevolent God as revealed to us through the Scriptures.  All, likewise, have arguably been lost or, at the very least, greatly weakened by the loss of the understanding that medieval Christians had of how to read the Scriptures on multiple levels, not just the historical.

This blog is intended as an exercise in reading the concerns of the present day through the lens of medieval Christian commentary on Scripture as revelation and on ourselves and the world as creatures of God.  Its purpose is not to preach, but to invite an alternative way of thinking about what it means to be human, that is, made in the image and likeness of God, and what this means about how we should behave and for what we should aim if, in fact, we believe that what is said in the Scriptures is not just true, but Truth.

As the Wisdom of God says of herself in the book of Ecclesiasticus 24:24-32:

I am the mother of fair love and of fear 
and of knowledge and of holy hope.
In me is all grace of the way and of the truth.
In me is all hope of life and of virtue.
Come over to me, all ye that desire me, 
and be filled with my fruits,
for my spirit is sweet above honey, 
and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb.
My memory is unto everlasting generations.
They that eat me shall yet hunger, 
and they that drink me shall yet thirst.
He that hearkeneth to me shall not be confounded, 
and they that work by me shall not sin.
They that explain me shall have life everlasting.
All these things are the book of life 
and the covenant of the Most High
and the knowledge of truth.

Our goal will be to learn something about that truth and how we should apply it to ourselves, our neighbors, and our world so as to have hope once again of life and of virtue, as medieval Christians did.

No comments: