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With Reverence for the WordMedieval Scriptural Exegesis in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam$
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Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Barry D. Walfish, and Joseph W. Goering

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195137279

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195137279.001.0001

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The Four “Senses” and Four Exegetes

The Four “Senses” and Four Exegetes

(p.225) 14 The Four “Senses” and Four Exegetes
With Reverence for the Word

Edward Synan

Oxford University Press

The four senses of scripture honored during the Middle Ages generated two memorable lines of verse, a distich, that would be cited by Nicholas of Lyra around the year 1330 as if well known to all his 14th-century readers. Those Latin lines may be rendered loosely as: “the letter teaches what's been done; allegory—your belief; moral—what you ought to do; anagogy—where you'll get relief”. These four senses, their possible synonyms included, dominated Christian biblical scholarship from patristic to early modern times. After three medieval witnesses to the “four senses”, one post-medieval exegete will be adduced to account for the gap between the Middle Ages and our time: Jean Astruc seems to have transformed the problematic of “senses” into one of “sources”. These three medieval exegetes are Godfrey of Saint Victor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Nicholas of Lyra.

Keywords:   Nicholas of Lyra, scripture, four senses, Godfrey of Saint Victor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Jean Astruc, letter, allegory, moral, anagogy

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