First of all, what exactly is an anagogical interpretation? What is a good example of a text that can be understood to be anagoge?

Secondly, what textual clues should one look for when considering whether a passage should be understood to have an anagogical meaning? For those who do interpret scripture using this sense, are there guiding principles to discern when such a meaning should be looked for in a text?

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    Wow, there sure isn't much out there on this... Google keeps suggesting other words like synagogue and analogue. Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 11:43
  • @GalacticCowboy You'll find some stuff in Catholic material since they still use the term, but it seems to be mostly a much (or deservedly?) neglected last bullet point on the four-fold sense understanding.
    – Caleb
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 12:08

2 Answers 2



Per the Catholic Catechism 115 and 117.3, the anagogical sense is one of the three "spiritual senses" (or spiritual meanings) of scripture.

There are two primary categories of meaning regarding the sacred text: the literal sense and the spiritual sense. They have gone further to sub-divide the spiritual sense into three smaller categories:

  • allegorical - (Also called typology), this sense is the idea that all scripture is an allegory for Christ and all the events are related to him.

  • moral - This sense of the scripture is the meaning that encourages us to act righteously.

  • anagogical - This sense of the scripture shows that all events in the Bible are used as a way to point towards their eternal significance.

Source: CCC 115, 117.3

So, the idea behind the "anagogical sense" is that all events in the Bible relate towards our heavenly life or our movement towards eternity. The parting of the Red Sea, for example, is like God bridging the gap to bring us from our earthly home to our heavenly home. The church here on Earth, as another example, is a copy our relationship with God in heaven.

There's an ancient couplet that summarizes these four senses nicely:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith;
The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.
CCC 118


The anagogical sense should be considered whenever there seems to be a clear corollary to our spiritual life. Often times (such as the wandering in the desert), how these events point to our eternal existence isn't always obvious. I suspect that there is a anagogical sense there, somehow, but it is beyond my understanding.

In the end, the Catechism isn't clear about when to apply these. The wording there seems to show that the anagogical sense can always be applied to all scripture. I take that to mean that the anagogical sense is always present in scripture but not always obvious to us.

So, in my mind, whenever we can apply it to scripture, it should be applied to scripture. The idea being that it would help give us a "fuller sense" of the scripture.

  • Not so sure that the Catholic Catechism belongs here? Voice your concerns! This is still an open topic.
    – Richard
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 12:31
  • The catechism is useful for understanding the historical context of the discussion, as are Jewish view points. Modern hermeneutics have evolved from both.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Oct 20, 2011 at 5:57
  • Consider Sensus Plenior as a way to discern the anagogical. It appears to be applicable to every scripture as the Catholic church suggests. Your term "fuller sense" is used by Raymond Brown for the sensus plenior.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Oct 21, 2011 at 15:15

Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpretation, particularly of sacred texts. Anagogical hermeneutics is an interpretation that looks for the primary vision or experience underlying the text. Dante used this term in his letter to Can Grande della Scala, describing a fourfold process of interpretation that he said was needed to understand his Divine Comedy, which he said was "not simple, but polysemous, or 'of many senses'". The first step is literal. (Dante experienced a vision of the afterlife.) The second step is allegorical. (Dante made reference in the narrative to the life and deeds of Christ.) The third step is moral. (Dante addressed the state and progress of the soul.) The fourth and final step is anagogical. In this instance, the vision underlying his Divine Comedy is Dante's own visionary journey.

Another example is Carl G. Jung's Red Book, or Liber Novus, which describes his imaginative and visionary descent into the depths of the human soul, or the collective unconscious. In Aion, which was published prior to The Red Book, Jung utilized anagogic hermeneutics to explore and interpret his original visionary experience. However, this was not evident to his reading audience, until Liber Novus was published in 2009. Jung passed away on June 6, 1951.

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    Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please consider registering an account to fully take advantage of what this site has to offer. Also, be sure to check out the site tour to learn what we are about... This is a good answer to the first half of the question ("what is anagogical interpretation?") but it doesn't seem to touch on the second half ("when should it be used?") If you could revise your answer to address the second question, it would be improved greatly.
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 4:17

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