Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XI:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Works of John Cassian.: Chapter VIII. Of spiritual knowledge.
Of spiritual knowledge.
But to return to the explanation of the knowledge from which our discourse took its rise. Thus, as we said above, practical knowledge is distributed among many subjects and interests, but theoretical is divided into two parts, i.e., the historical interpretation and the spiritual sense. Whence also Solomon when he had summed up the manifold grace of the Church, added: “for all who are with her are clothed with double garments.” 1872 But of spiritual knowledge there are three kinds, tropological, allegorical, anagogical, 1873 of which we read as follows in Proverbs: “But do you describe these things to yourself in three ways according p. 438 to the largeness of your heart.” 1874 And so the history embraces the knowledge of things past and visible, as it is repeated in this way by the Apostle: “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondwoman, the other by a free: but he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh, but he who was of the free was by promise.” But to the allegory belongs what follows, for what actually happened is said to have prefigured the form of some mystery: “For these,” says he, “are the two covenants, the one from Mount Sinai, which gendereth into bondage, which is Agar. For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia, which is compared to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.” But the anagogical sense rises from spiritual mysteries even to still more sublime and sacred secrets of heaven, and is subjoined by the Apostle in these words: “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not, break forth and cry, thou that travailest not, for many are the children of the desolate more than of her that hath an husband.” 1875 The tropological sense is the moral explanation which has to do with improvement of life and practical teaching, as if we were to understand by these two covenants practical and theoretical instruction, or at any rate as if we were to want to take Jerusalem or Sion as the soul of man, according to this: “Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem: praise thy God, O Sion.” 1876 And so these four previously mentioned figures coalesce, if we desire, in one subject, so that one and the same Jerusalem can be taken in four senses: historically as the city of the Jews; allegorically as Church of Christ, anagogically as the heavenly city of God “which is the mother of us all,” tropologically, as the soul of man, which is frequently subject to praise or blame from the Lord under this title. Of these four kinds of interpretation the blessed Apostle speaks as follows: “But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation or by knowledge or by prophecy or by doctrine?” 1877 For “revelation” belongs to allegory whereby what is concealed under the historical narrative is revealed in its spiritual sense and interpretation, as for instance if we tried to expound how “all our fathers were under the cloud and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” and how they “all ate the same spiritual meat and drank the same spiritual drink from the rock that followed them. But the rock was Christ.” 1878 And this explanation where there is a comparison of the figure of the body and blood of Christ which we receive daily, contains the allegorical sense. But the knowledge, which is in the same way mentioned by the Apostle, is tropological, as by it we can by a careful study see of all things that have to do with practical discernment whether they are useful and good, as in this case, when we are told to judge of our own selves “whether it is fitting for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered.” 1879 And this system, as has been said, contains the moral meaning. So “prophecy” which the Apostle puts in the third place, alludes to the anagogical sense by which the words are applied to things future and invisible, as here: “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those that sleep: that ye be not sorry as others also who have no hope. For if we believe that Christ died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. For this we say to you by the word of God, that we which are alive at the coming of the Lord shall not prevent those that sleep in Christ, for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” 1880 In which kind of exhortation the figure of anagoge is brought forward. But “doctrine” unfolds the simple course of historical exposition, under which is contained no more secret sense, but what is declared by the very words: as in this passage: “For I delivered unto you first of all what I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day, and that he was seen of Cephas;” 1881 and: “God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law;” 1882 or this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord the God is one Lord.” 1883
Prov. xxxi. 21 (LXX.).437:1873
The meaning of the four senses of Scripture here spoken of; viz., the historical, tropological, allegorical, and anagogical, is well summed up in these lines:
Litera, gesta docet; quid credas, allegoria;
Moralis, quid agas; quo tendas anagogia.
Or, as the lines are sometimes given:
Litera scripta docet; quod credas, allegoria;
Quod speres, anagoge: quid agas, tropologia.
Both Origen and Jerome had spoken of the threefold sense of scripture, referring to the LXX. rendering of Proverbs xxii. 20 (which Cassian quotes below): but in general the Latin Fathers, and the Schoolmen after them, separated the third of Origens senses; viz., the spiritual, into two, the allegorical and the anagogical: and so the “fourfold” sense became the established method of interpretation in the West.438:1874
Prov. xxii. 20 (LXX.).438:1875
Gal. iv. 22-27.438:1876
Ps. cxlvii. 12.438:1877
1 Cor. xiv. 6.438:1878
1 Cor. x. 1-4.438:1879
1 Cor. xi. 13.438:1880
1 Thess. iv. 12-15.438:1881
1 Cor. xv. 3-5.438:1882
Gal. 4:4, 5.438:1883
Deut. vi. 4.
Next: Chapter IX. How from practical knowledge we must proceed to spiritual.
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