According to Dante (Convivium, II, 1), ” texts can be understood and expounded according to four senses”: the literal sense; the allegorical sense, which Dante says, “is a truth concealed behind a beautiful lie’; the moral sense; and the anagogical sense. The anagogical sense occurs when “reading in a spiritual way a scriptural passage, which in its literal meaning and in the things being signified points toward the things of eternal glory”; in other words, it is the innermost meaning of a text that, even when it has a literal sense, deals with topics of a spiritual nature. (…) Dante calls this anagogical sense “super-sense.” An-agogy means “to lead” or “to carry upwards,” or “to elevate.” Moreover, when employed as a technical naval term, it designates the act of weighing anchor and sailing away. Metaphorically speaking, when it is referred to spiritual topics, anagogy therefore indicates spiritual elevation or a rising up from the earth. In the symbolism of “navigators,” it designates leaving that “earth” or terra firma to which human beings are tenaciously anchored, in order to hoist the sails and to find a strong current, heading toward the open sea.
Dante was referring to the writing of “poets,” although the distinction of the four senses may undoubtedly be applied to sacred and initiatic writings and to any means of expression and representation of spiritual facts and doctrines. According to this distinction, the “super-sense” in every type of symbolism is always the anagogical sense. The full understanding of symbols consists in the perception of the anagogical sense concealed in them; if anagogically understood and employed, they may even contribute to spiritual elevation. In this sense, symbols are endowed with an anagogic virtue.