This paper was originally written for a class on lectio divina at Franciscan University of Steubenville. As always, I will post it in manageable sections with a bibliography following the final section. Enjoy!
An Introduction to Lectio Divina: Theological Foundations
The Second Vatican Council's Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, calls all Catholics, clergy, religious, and lay alike, to immerse themselves in the Sacred Scriptures. Quoting St. Jerome, who said, “Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” the Council recommends “constant spiritual reading and diligent study” of the Bible so that all Christians will come to a deeper and “surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ.” (1) While most Catholics would certainly agree with these sentiments, many still wonder how they are to do this. The Bible seems remote, long, and difficult, and potential readers might ask, “What does the Council mean by 'constant spiritual reading' anyway or by 'diligent study'?” or “How would I participate in something like that, busy person that I am?” The answer: the ancient practice of lectio divina.
This small study is the first in a two part series that seeks to lay down both the theological foundations and the practical elements of lectio divina using the six “journalistic” questions (who, what, when, where, why, and how) as an organizing principle. We will begin by defining lectio divina as well as its four “dimensions” or “times,” lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. Then we will move on to examine the theology behind this ancient technique of prayerful reading. We will answer the question “What is the proper subject matter for lectio divina?” by looking closely at the theology of Divine Revelation, Sacred Scripture, the Word of God, and the Trinity and examining theological principles such as divine accommodation and signification. Then we shall answer the question “Who performs lectio divina?” by delving into the theology of the body and the Church as well as various precepts from Christology and the theology of the Holy Spirit. Finally, we shall examine the effects of lectio divina in answer to the question “Why do we practice lectio divina?” Here we shall return to the the theology of the Word as well as concepts drawn from the theology of communion, soteriology, and moral theology. Of necessity, we shall be brief in these discussions, but they will at least provide a foundation for the further investigation and, more importantly, practice of lectio divina
Defining lectio divina is not an easy task. While Christians have practiced lectio divina since the days of the early Church, no one thought to systematically define the term or describe the technique's characteristics until Guigo II, a twelfth century Carthusian monk, offered a detailed account of monastic prayer in a letter to a fellow monk. Guigo declares that the monks' prayer is like a ladder by which they “are lifted up from earth to heaven” through the reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation of the Sacred Scriptures. (2) Since Guigo's time others have tried valiantly, with some success, to add to his basic definition. Scholars like B. Baroffio and P.J. Emery have defined the practice, respectively, as listening to Christ “Who speaks through the Scriptures” and trying to “taste God.” (3) C. Jean-Nesmy, while a bit less poetic, is more specific when he defines lectio divina as “An astonishing, contemplative reading in which the Word of God reveals to each one, personally, how his own special vocation fits into the convergence of all, toward the one salvation in Christ.” (4) In other words, lectio divina is a way of attentively and prayerfully reading the Bible in order to understand the the message of the written words but, more importantly, to personally encounter the Author of those words, God Himself.
1. Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/ documents/ vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html (accessed 26 June, 2009).
2. Guigo II, Ladder of Monks and Twelve Meditations, ed. Edmund Colledge and James Walsh (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1979), 68.
3. Mario Masini, Lectio Divina (New York: St. Pauls, 1998), 27.
4. Ibid., 27-28.