Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lectio Divina - Part 3

Theological Foundations
          We have already come a long way in our introduction to lectio divina, but we must now turn our attention to some specifics regarding the theological foundations that undergird this ancient practice. Lectio divina is not merely an ephemeral, airy technique that leaves its practitioners floating dreamily somewhere up in spiritual space. Instead, it is firmly grounded in solid theological concepts, a few of which we will look at briefly in the discussion to follow. We will organize this presentation around three important, “journalistic” questions (what, who, and why) that will serve to provide us with both the theological foundations of lectio divina and further insight into its nature.

What is the proper subject matter for lectio divina?
          At first the answer to this question seems self-evident; during lectio divina we read the Bible, of course! But we must ask ourselves if we really know what the Bible is. Let us take a few moments to reflect on the important theological principles of Divine Revelation and Sacred Scripture. God reveals Himself and His will to human beings. He does so, as Dei Verbum tells us, through deeds and words. (19) Throughout the history of the world, God has shown Himself to His people through historical events. We may think, for example, of the Exodus from Egypt. God revealed His loving care for His people as He split the Red Sea in two and let them cross on dry land and as He stayed with them in a column of cloud or fire. These events also show us that God has a plan for His people, a will for their salvation. This plan, this divine economy as it is called, culminates in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity in Jesus Christ. God reveals Himself fully in Jesus; He shows us His own face. We will return to this fullness of revelation in a moment, but we can already see from our discussion the basic principles of Divine Revelation; God comes to meet human beings and shows them something about Himself and His plan for them. These events, these deeds of God, had to be remembered. At first they were passed down orally through the generations, but over time, written accounts began to appear. These written accounts were collected into what we now call the Bible or Sacred Scripture.
          The Bible is like no other book on earth because it has God as its Author. Dei Verbum asserts that “The divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Scared Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” (20) The Bible did not, however, just drop out of the sky. Both its Old and New Testaments were composed by human authors who, as true authors, “made use of their powers and abilities” to write exactly what God wanted them to write. Here we have both the theology of inspiration and the theology of divine accommodation. God, in inspiring the Scriptures, accommodated Himself to humanity by using human language to communicate divine realities. Further, because the Scriptures have God as their Author, they are inerrant. In other words, they do not teach error. Already we have a solid basis for lectio divina, a text that tells us about God and His plan for humanity and that is uniquely and inerrantly inspired by the Holy Spirit. (21)
          We can, however, move further in our discussion of the theology of Sacred Scripture, for the Bible is not merely an inspired and inerrant history book that describes past events. Instead, Scripture is a living Word that puts us in touch in a very real way with the divine realities it describes and contains. (22) The Holy Spirit Who inspired the text remains present in it. Mariano Magrassi explains, “He is present on every page, still speaking to us and revealing His power from beginning to end...” (23) Sacred Scripture, he continues, “is a living Word because it is animated by the Spirit of life.” (24) We can, then, actually meet God in the pages of the Scriptures. His is present in the Bible in a very real way, mysteriously certainly, and only accessible through the “signs” of words and events, but still really and truly present. (25) When we read the Bible in lectio divina, then, we are not merely interacting with words that narrate deeds; we are interacting with God Himself, the God Who gives life to both the Bible and to us. (26)
          We often hear this life-filled, Spirit-animated Biblical text referred to as the Word of God. This brings us to our next point, namely, because the theology of the Sacred Scriptures is so closely intertwined with the theology of the Word, we can say that when we read the Bible, we are in fact reading Christ. Let us look more closely at this. St. John's Gospel begins with the verse, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (27) Who is the Word John speaks of here? Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. In His very Person, Jesus is the Divine Word, the Logos, Incarnate. He is, as many theologians have said, the only Word ever spoken by God, the One Word that sums up, or recapitulates, every bit of Divine Revelation, that gives it all its meaning. (28) He is, Magrassi explains, “the final realization of what God intended to do; He is the final expression of what God intended to say.” (29) As such, Jesus is often said to be the “concise Word,” the “Word abbreviated,” or the “Word concentrated.” (30) So how does this relate to the Bible? Masini tells us: “Christ is at the same time the Word which speaks in the Bible and the Word of which the Bible Speaks. He not only brings the truth, but is the Truth.” He goes on to quote Henri de Lubac to clarify the point further: Christ “is at one and the same time the messenger and the content of the message, the Revealer and the revealed: the Revealer whom we must believe, and the personal Truth revealed in which we must believe.” (31) In the Bible, then, in a sacramental way, through the signs of human language and historical events, we are reading Jesus Christ, the One Word of God. Christ has become our Book, as Dom Jean LeClerq says. (32) Further, when we practice lectio divina, we are not just reading the words of a book, we are seeking Someone, reading Someone, the Divine Word spoken by God for all eternity, translated into our language, made human like us, Jesus Christ. (33)
          We can take this discussion on the proper subject matter of lectio divina one step further to notice that when we read the Sacred Scriptures and, in them and through them, the Book of Christ, we are also reading the very mind of the Blessed Trinity. This might seem like a bit of a stretch, but we know that the deeds recorded in the Bible, the oikonomia or divine economy, offer us a glimpse into the theologia, the inner life of God. (34) Further, we know what Jesus told Philip in John 14:9 after Philip asked Him to “show us the Father.” Jesus replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” (35) Is it too much to say after this strong declaration that when we read Christ the Book during lectio divina, we are accessing the mind of the Father through the mind of Christ and in the Holy Spirit? Could we not agree with LeClerq when he tells us that lectio divina is “essentially an experience of Christ, in the Spirit, in the presence of the Father, as Christ Himself is united with Him, is face to face with Him, is oriented towards Him, penetrating into Him and penetrated by Him”? (36) Can we really believe that as we read the Sacred Scriptures, as we read Christ, that we stand with Him in the very presence of the Blessed Trinity?

19. Second Vatican Council. 
20. Ibid.
21. For further discussion on the theology of Divine Revelation and Sacred Scripture in relation to lectio divina, see Masini, 30, 36, 54; Magrassi, 24; Casey, 44-46, 52
22. Magrassi, 28.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid., 29; Masini 9.
25. Casey, 45; Masini, 22; Magrassi, 35.
26. Magrassi, 29.
27. John 1:1 NAB (New American Bible).
28. Magrassi, 45.
29. Ibid.; Masini, 18
30. Magrassi, 45, 48-52; Masini, 18; Casey, 43.
31. Masini, 16; see also Magrassi, 50.
32. Jean LeClerq, “Lectio Divina” Worship 58 (May 1984): 240; see also Magrassi, 27; Masini 18-19.
33. Magrassi, 52.
34. Catechism (see #236).
35. John 14:8-9 NAB (New American Bible).
36. LeClerq, 248.

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