The fact that allegory is not only a mode of text production, but also a mode of understanding has been recognized since the times of the Church Fathers. From its very beginnings patristic interpretations of the Bible aimed at discovering the hidden meaning behind the literal surface structure of the Holy Scriptures. Especially the Old Testament was interpreted as typologically signifying the events of the New Testament. Moreover, the works of the classical authors, such as Homer or Virgil, were allegorically understood in the Christian context. This method of allegorical interpretation is called 'allegoresis', 'exegesis', or 'exegetical interpretation'.
Biblical exegesis developed a specific method of the fourfold interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. The commentators distinguished between four levels of understanding, or simply between the four senses of texts:
This method was widely used in twelfth-century European theology and was similarly applied to vernacular literature by Dante in his Letter to Con Grande. In our times a school of American critics, misleadingly called 'historical criticism', dogmatically tried to apply the concept to all medieval literature.