More on lectio divina!

This is just a note to draw your attention to the latest part in Peter Kwasniewski's Lectio Divina series over at New Liturgical Movement.

The post contains a discussion of my post on the need for proper guidance in reading Scripture, and some helpful suggestions on resources to help those doing lectio, and guide your theological formation more generally.


I've posted a comment over there, but let me repeat the gist of it here with a few additional notes.


Study vs prayer?

In the main the NLM post agrees with my concerns about the potential dangers of reading Scripture unaided, but still argues that study and prayer are not the same thing, study being directed to intellectual ends.  Dr Kwasniewski argues that:
"Study originates in a desire to know something intellectually; its medium is our thoughts about things; its goal is conceptual understanding. Prayer originates in a desire to be united to the beloved; its medium is the things themselves; its goal is to get closer to the reality and to conform oneself to it. When we study, we are taking things into our mind; when we pray, we are being drawn to the thing itself, which, at least at times, forces our mind to be quiet."

There is therefore a danger, he suggests, in study driving out the space for prayer.


I agree that is a danger, but the view that study and prayer are potentially at odds with each other, I would suggest, is entirely an artifact of modern approaches to 'study' of the text, rather than those traditionally adopted by the Church until relatively recent times. 


In particular, the historico-critical approach has encouraged the study of the text in order to find what was 'really' originally said, done or written; what was really meant by the text given its 'original' cultural and historical setting, and perhaps what it means for doctrine. 


The more traditional approach to study of the text, on the other hand, is to study it in order to find Christ in the text (where he is not the explicit subject of it), to enable it to be interpreted in the light of other verses of Scripture that deal with the same ideas (the Rule of Faith), and to understand its moral teachings and applicability to us in the here and now.


Study applied to our transformation

The more traditional approach certainly requires study - in reading the Old Testament one needs to be familiar with typology, events and people who foreshadow events in the Gospels for example; in reading the New, one has to be familiar with the Old Testament events and prophesies are that are being responded to. It also requires looking at things like word concordances so one can find the web of associations around a particular text. 

But its object is not the accumulation of intellectual knowledge, but rather the transformation of the reader. 


Study then, is, Dom Paul Delatte's classic Commentary on the Rule of St Benedict suggests, a necessary step in the lectio divina process, but it is a means to an end, not an end in itself.  Lectio divina he suggests:


"...is not merely intellectual activity and culture of the mind...it is the work of the intelligence if you will, but of the intelligence applying itself to divine mysteries and divine learning...it is the organized totality of those progressive intellectual methods by which we make the things of God familiar to us and accustom ourselves to the contemplation of the invisible.  Not abstract, cold speculations, nor mere human curiosity, nor shallow study; but the solid, profound and persevering investigation of Truth itself....It is a study pursued in prayer and in love.  The name lectio is only the first of an ascending series: lectio, cogitatio, studium, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio (reading, thinking, study, meditation, prayer, contemplation); but St Benedict knew that the remaining degrees would soon come if the soul were loyal and courageous..." p306)


There is, unfortunately, no one book on lectio and how study relates to it that I would recommend, but I did personally find Australian Trappist Michael Casey's book Sacred Reading The Ancient Art of Lectio Divinaquite helpful in attempting to map out some of the intellectual effort involved in the process.  I've also recently come across O'Keefe and Reno's Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible which looks to be quite helpful in articulating the different approaches involved.


On the study tools for lectio 

The NLM post contains some links to very useful resources to assist the reading of Scripture, and to it I would add the Ancient Christian Commentary series, which provides an anthology of patristic texts on each book of Scripture arranged by chapter.

That said, I do agree that there is a challenge for us in how to integrate the 'study' of Scripture with prayer.  In the end though, I think that the dangers of over-intellectualising the process can easily be overcome if we keep the proper end of lectio in mind.  My own favourite description of lectio divina is from the fourteenth century Cloud of Unknowing:


"God's word...can be likened to a mirror. Spiritually, the 'eye' of your soul is your reason: your conscience is your spiritual 'face'. Just as you cannot see or know that there is a dirty mark on your actual face without the aid of a mirror, or somebody telling you, so spiritually, it is impossible for a soul blinded by his frequent sins to see the dirty mark in his conscience, without reading or hearing God's word." (ch 35, Penguin edition, p102)

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