Lectio Divina prompts: John 1:1-14

Yesterday I provided some notes on how to approach lectio divina in the Benedictine tradition, and suggested committing to prayerful reading of St John's Gospel during this quarter.  Accordingly, today, a few notes to help encourage you to get started.

The opening of St John's Gospel, of course, is said as the Last Gospel in every traditional Mass.

But because it's only place in the main cycle of Gospel readings is on Christmas Day, it is rarely the subject of sermons.  Accordingly, some prompts to aid your study, meditation, prayer and contemplation of John 1:1-14.


First, listen to the Latin, following along with the text.  Then read it aloud yourself.

Unfortunately there are, as far as I can find, no versions of the complete New Testament, or even the Gospel of John, read with ecclesiastical pronunciation (do let me know if you are aware of any though!).  But you can hear the whole text read with Latin classical pronunciation from the excellent Greek and Latin audio site here (to 1.25).

Alternatively, the video below provides a line by line version of John 1 read first from the Douay-Rheims translation, followed by the Vulgate Latin (to 3.47).

In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum. 2 Hoc erat in principio apud Deum. 3 Omnia per ipsum facta sunt: et sine ipso factum est nihil, quod factum est. 4 In ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum: 5 et lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebræ eam non comprehenderunt. Fuit homo missus a Deo, cui nomen erat Joannes. 7 Hic venit in testimonium ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine, ut omnes crederent per illum. 8 Non erat ille lux, sed ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine. 9  Erat lux vera, quæ illuminat omnem hominem venientem in hunc mundum. 10  In mundo erat, et mundus per ipsum factus est, et mundus eum non cognovit. 11 In propria venit, et sui eum non receperunt. 12
Quotquot autem receperunt eum, dedit eis potestatem filios Dei fieri, his qui credunt in nomine ejus: 13 qui non ex sanguinibus, neque ex voluntate carnis, neque ex voluntate viri, sed ex Deo nati sunt. 14
Et Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis: et vidimus gloriam ejus, gloriam quasi unigeniti a Patre plenum gratiæ et veritatis.

For the English, I personally think the best translation is the Knox one.  You can find it online (along with the Greek for those interested) at the fabulous New Advent site (and if you want to hear the Greek, listen here).

Here though is the Douay Rheims (updated version):

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. [2] The same was in the beginning with God. [3] All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. [4] In him was life, and the life was the light of men. [5] And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. [6] There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. [7] This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. [8] He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. [9] That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. [10] He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. [11] He came unto his own, and his own received him not. [12] But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name. [13] Who are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. [14] And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."

To aid your study

Once you have the text in your mind, focus on the overall message of it.  These extracts from the Catena Aurea may help:

"BEDE; The other Evangelists describe Christ as born in time; John witnesses that He was in the beginning, saying, In the beginning was the Word. The others describe His sudden appearance among men; he witnesses that He was ever with God, saying, And the Word was with God. The others prove Him very man; he very God, saying, And the Word was God. The others exhibit Him as man conversing with men for a season; he pronounces Him God abiding with God in the beginning, saying, The Same was in the beginning with God. The others relate the great deeds which He did amongst men; he that God the Father made every creature through Him, saying, All things were made by Him, and without Him was not any shiny made.

CHRYS. While all the other Evangelists begin with the Incarnation, John, passing over the Conception, Nativity, education, and growth, speaks immediately of the Eternal Generation, saying, In the beginning was the Word.

AUG. The Greek word "logos" signifies both Word and Reason. But in this passage it is better to interpret it Word; as referring not only to the Father, but to the creation of things by the operative power of the Word; whereas Reason, though it produce nothing, is still rightly called Reason..

BASIL; This Word is not a human word. For how was there a human word in the beginning, when man received his being last of all? There was not then any word of man in the beginning, nor yet of Angels; for every creature is within the limits of time, having its beginning of existence from the Creator. But what says the Gospel? It calls the Only-Begotten Himself the Word.

CHRYS. But why omitting the Father, does he proceed at once to speak of the Son? Because the Father was known to all; though not as the Father, yet as God; whereas the Only-Begotten was not known. As was meet then, he endeavors first of all to inculcate the knowledge of the Son on those who knew Him not; though neither in discoursing on Him, is he altogether silent on the Father. And inasmuch as he was about to teach that the Word was the Only-Begotten Son of God, that no one might think this a possible generation, he makes mention of the Word in the first place, in order to destroy the dangerous suspicion, and show that the Son was from God impassibly. And a second reason is, that He was to declare to us the things of the Father. But he does not speak of the Word simply, but with the addition of the article, in order to distinguish It from other words. For Scripture calls God's laws and commandments words; but this Word is a certain Substance, or Person, an Essence, coming forth impassibly from the Father Himself.

BASIL; Wherefore then Word? Because born impassibly, the Image of Him that begat, manifesting all the Father in Himself; abstracting from Him nothing, but existing perfect in Himself.

For Meditation

I would then suggest picking out one or two verses that seem particularly meaningful to you, then using some of the Patristic commentaries from the Catena Aurea to extract the juice from it.  Here is an example of the kind of material the Catena provides:

CHRYS. Observe the spiritual wisdom of the Evangelist. He knew that men honored most what was as most ancient, and that honoring what is before every thing else, they conceived of it as God. On this account he mentions first the beginning, saving, In the beginning was the Word.

ORIGEN; There are many significations of this word beginning. For there is a beginning of a journey, and beginning of a length, according to Proverbs, The beginning of the right path is to do justice. There is a beginning too of a creation, according to Job, He is the beginning of the ways of God. Nor would it be incorrect to say, that God is the Beginning of all things. The preexistent material again, where supposed to be original, out of which any thing is produced, is considered as the beginning. There is a beginning also in respect of form: as where Christ is the beginning of those who are made according to the image of God. And there is a beginning of doctrine, according to Hebrews; When for the time you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God. For there are two kinds of beginning of doctrine: one in itself, the other relative to us; as if we should say that Christ, in that He is the Wisdom and Word of God, was in Himself the beginning of wisdom, but to us, in that He was the Word incarnate. There being so many significations then of the word, we may take it as the Beginning through Whom, i.e. the Maker; for Christ is Creator as The Beginning, in that He is Wisdom; so that the Word is in the beginning, i.e. in Wisdom; the Savior being all these excellences at once. As life then is in the Word, so the Word is in the Beginning, that is to say, in Wisdom. Consider then if it be possible according to this signification to understand the Beginning, as meaning that all things are made according to Wisdom, and the patterns contained therein; or, inasmuch as the Beginning of the Son is the Father, the Beginning of all creatures and existences, to understand by the text, In the beginning was the Word, that the Son, the Word, was in the Beginning, that is, in the Father...

CHRYS. Life having come to us, the empire of death is dissolved; a light having shone upon us, there is darkness no longer: but there remains ever a life which death, a light which darkness cannot overcome. Whence he continues, And the light shines in darkness: by darkness meaning death and error, for sensible light does not shine in darkness, but darkness must be removed first; whereas the preaching of Christ shone forth amidst the reign of error, and caused it to disappear, and Christ by dying changed death into life, so overcoming it, that, those who were already in its grasp, were brought back again. Forasmuch then as neither death nor error has overcome his light, which is every where conspicuous shilling forth by its own strength; therefore he adds, And the darkness comprehended it not.

Pray, contemplate and work

The next stages of lectio must be an individual process: they involving turning the insights gained through our meditation into prayer; contemplating those insights, and considering how they should change our behaviour and thinking; and then putting these changes into action.

You can find notes on the next section of St John 1 (verses 15-34) here.

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