The four master tropes are these:
For Giambattista Vico, the relations that obtain among the clauses that compose our claims about the world—the loci or topoi—are governed by social conditions, and these conditions a cyclical in character. These social conditions express themselves in our talk about the world in figurative terms: metaphor, metonymy, irony, and synecdoche. And they express themselves in succession.
- A faith begins with a person; he or she is G-d or is e.g. G-d’s prophet—this is a relation of simple identity, of metaphor, of this is that.
- The next phase is metonymic (substitution: this stands for that); this is when the prophet is replaced by priests and their churches or imams and mullahs and their mosques and madrassahs.
- The third is synecdochic (part for the whole: this is a part of that); this is the ecumenical phase, when the Church or Mosque attains the level of consciousness necessary to perceive itself as a religion instead of the religion, and one religion among many.
- The fourth phase is irony or negation or this is not that; this is when the fire of faith has left the Church or the Mosque and it becomes an institution or a service organization—this is when the term, in this case a faith, has passed into its opposite.