THE FOURFOLD METHOD
DIRECTED TO DANTE'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE THREE AFTER WORLDS

                   LITERA                         RES GESTA                              DOCET
                   QUID CREDAS            ALLEGORIA                              [docet]
                  MORALIS                       QUID AGAS                               [docet]
                  QUO TENDAS                ANAGOGIA                               [docet]

The "letter" (literal sense)              the things done                           teaches
What you might BELIEVE               the allegorical sense                  teaches
The moral sense                                what you might DO                    teaches
Where you might be TENDING      the anagogic sense                     teaches
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The LITERAL sense -- the plot line -- who does what to whom -- need not have factually happened; a parable, a novel as well as an actual set of events -- all have a RES GESTA or LITERAL sense. The literal level or plot line furnishes the reality symbols which can be expanded through the three symbolic senses. The three symbolic senses are the following:

    1) The QUID CREDAS or COMMUNITY BELIEF sense

        What we, as community, are believing/living; the BELIEF STORY of the "city", culture, country, race. In Dante's time, this was a story of the Church (symbol = crossed keys of the kingdom) and Empire (symbol = Black Eagle). Also the story told by theology (concerning revelation from God) and philosophy (showing the world according to human reason). Also the faith story (here Catholic Christian faith) -- the resonances of the reality symbols with the story of creation -- fall -- redemption -- church -- sacraments -- last judgment -- heaven or hell, etc.

    2) The QUID AGAS or MORAL/ PSYCHOLOGICAL sense

        What we are doing (actions and omissions) on our way from misery to happiness, from partialness to wholeness. The rightness or wrongness of our thinking, speaking, acting in the world.

    3) The QUO TENDAS or MYSTICAL/ MYTHIC sense

        Where we are tending -- going toward -- on the deepest level of our spiritual decline or growth. Here we are concerned whether we are blinding/ numbing ourselves into thickening illusion OR whether we are awakening more and more to the true nature of things -- concerning self and others and what binds us together -- community, world, God. In our spiritual life, we can choose TO DECLINE, becoming dehuman or sub-human; TO IMPROVE, becoming human; or TO TAKE THE MAJOR STEP OF THE MYSTIC, becoming transhuman -- seeing the God-nature in all things.

The mystical path involves shifts of consciousness:

        A) A "surface of the lake" consciousness -- focusing largely on me, driven by
                                fear and desire, tending to oppositional thinking (us vs. them) and
                                endlessly comparing how Iím doing with how others are doing.

       B) A "mid-level in the lake" consciousness -- able to observe without judgment
                        what the little me on the surface is thinking and saying and doing. Here I
                        begin to realize "The Four Beginnings:

             We are partial; we seek to be whole.
             We are asleep; we seek to be awake.
             We are enslaved; we seek to be free.
             We are reactive; we seek to be response-able [= able to choose my response ]

      C) An "all of the lake" -- unitive way of seeing and being -- I am at-one with all the
                                                                                                                            water.

        In the medieval world the Scriptures were read according to the Fourfold method. Dante explicitly states that the Comedy is structurally of the form of scripture -- taking us from a state of misery to a state of happiness. He states that we should read the Comedy as we read Scripture --i.e. according to the four-fold method. The part of philosophy to which the Comedy belongs, Dante tells us in the letter to Can Grande is "ethics." In the Fourfold Method we might see ourselves on several levels:

"I am my community; its beliefs dwell in me, its actions come from me.

  I am myself -- what I am seeing and not seeing, doing and not doing.

  I am at my center a conscious or unconscious manifestation of God."

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The Inferno in the Literal Sense In the Other Three Senses:

A structure of belief and poetic             We must think of going through  hell IN THIS LIFE.
geography concerning one state of       We must think of how WE -- as communities of belief,
 THE AFTER LIFE                                    involvingas individual moral actors, as spiritual SINS, PUNISHMENTS, ETERNITY.           beings -- SIN.
 

Dante as a Catholic believed in Hell      Perhaps the so-called "punishments" are simply
and in a set of sins that                                     symbolic representations of
got you there -- mortal sins --                 the REAL CONSEQUENCES OF SIN,
meeting the conditions of                                 not arbitrary matches.
(a) serious matter,                                  If so, then we are brought to see what sin really is --
(b) sufficient reflection,                          and in its nature and its consequences -- for self,
(c) full consent of the will.                                 others, and what joins us together.

Of course, how he imagined Hell and who he put there is poetic license, as he would admit.
Any of the folks he put there might have repented at the last instant and escaped! Or not fulfilled the 3 conditions for mortal sin and therefore not be liable. Today, one might, on the literal level, (i) deny hell entirely; (ii) deny hell except in a symbolic sense of evil here and now; (iii) admit hell in the after life with a cast of many, (iv) admit hell in the after life but hope that few or none are there. Some modern Catholic theologians, knowing psychology, maintain that committing mortal sins is rarer than used to be thought.

On eternity -- Perhaps something done is always a fact -- an unalterable part of our past. In that sense, everything we do is always a part of who we are. Our past is, so to speak, frozen in time.

    Today, we are aware that we choose AND that we mask from ourselves that we are choosing and what we are choosing and the consequences of our choices. We choose in a double ignorance --
        (i) we do not know what is real and good and beautiful and
        (ii) we do not know we do not know!
So we tend to psychologize responsibility away and brand "guilt" as anger in disguise.

            In the middle ages, a more robust view prevailed. You could choose against the Good -- against God -- and God would give you your choice. The whole of the Comedy assumes that we have free will and therefore responsibility for how we live as communities, as individuals, as potential mystics.

            Still suppose the insight into double ignorance is valid, suppose we are ignorant of what is truly real and valuable plus ignorant that we are ignorant. Suppose we are sick but do not realize that we are sick. Yet there is a remedy -- we can become aware of what we are doing, and begin to see and be differently. Once we realize that we are "in a dark wood," then we can begin the journey home -- to see vividly what we are doing and the consequences of what we are doing, to confront the subtle obstacles to growth, to reach the state of authentic human, and then to journey through the spheres -- through mystical states of consciousness until we see the ONE and see as the ONE sees.

Throughout this "journey home" is a journey inspired by love -- "by the Love that moves the sun and other stars" as Dante puts it in the Comedy.

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