More from Guigo II on Lectio Divina

Because of my disposition and profession, I have decided to read Guigo II of La Grande Chartreuse’s treatise De Scala Claustralium as my introduction to Lectio Divina on the grounds that the is the first, from what we can tell, to spell out the practice as lectiomeditatiooratio, and contemplatio. I find myself surprised that people are opposed to Lectio Divina; what Christian would be turned aside by the fruits of Guigo’s meditations? Behold:

Therefore, keen meditation, as it begins, does not remain on the outside, does not drink on the surface, fixes it foot higher, penetrates interior things, probes individual matters. It carefully considers [in the verse, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart…’] that it does not say, ‘Blessed are the pure in body,’ but ‘pure in heart’ — so it is is not enough to have hands unstained by wicked deeds, unless we are purified from base thoughts in our mind; this the prophet confirms with authority, saying, ‘Who will ascend the mountain of the Lord, or who will stand in his holy place? The man innocent in his hands and with a pure heart.’ (Ps. 24:3-4) Again, it considers how much the same prophet desires this purity of heart when he says thus, ‘Create a pure heart in me, O God,’ (Ps. 51:10) and again, ‘If I saw iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not hear me.’ (Ps. 66:18) It considers how stirred up blessed Job was in such watchfulness, when he said, ‘I have settled an agreement with my eyes that I am not thinking about a virgin.’ (Job 31:1) Behold how much a holy man limited himself, who closed his eyes lest he see vanity (cf. Ps 119:37), et perhaps incautiously behold that which later on he would desire reluctantly.

After it has drawn out these thoughts about purity of this sort of heart, it begins to think about the prize, how glorious and desirable it would be to see the desired face of the Lord, ‘beautiful in form before all the sons of men’ (Ps. 45:3), not now humble and poor, and not having that form with which His mother clothed Him, but the clad with the robe of immortality and crowned with the diadem with which His Father crowned him on the day of resurrection and glory, the day ‘which the Lord has made’ (Ps. 118:24). It considers that in that vision there will be that satisfaction about which the prophet says, ‘I shall be satisfied when your glory has appeared’ (Ps. 17:15).

You see how much liquid pours forth from the smallest grape, how much fire is set alight from a spark, how great the limited matter, measured out: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God’, has been extended on the anvil of meditation? (ch. 5, my trans.)

There is a sweetness and richness to Guigo and his pursuit of treasures in Scripture: What does this Bible verse really mean? Where do we see ‘purity of heart’ in Scripture? What does it mean to see God? This is what Lectio Divina is about; I see no reason why we should not practise this method of searching the Scriptures.

Guigo II: Lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio

La Grande Chartreuse: Home to Lectio Divina

I am not the greatest practicioner of the medieval discipline of Lectio divina; I really only started a few weeks, and only sporadically. To get myself into the discipline, I’m reading Guigo II, Prior of La Grande Chartreuse, the motherhouse of the Carthusians in the late 1100s, Scala Claustralium — The Ladder of Monks. My Internet research says that he’s the first to clearly articulate the now-standard quartet of lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio.

He writes, at the end of chapter 2:

Lectio is the careful investigation of the Scriptures with the attention of the soul (animus). Meditatio is the zealous activity of the mind (mens), seeking out the knowledge of hidden truth by the leading of its own reason. Oratio is the devoted attention of the heart to God for the removal of evil or the acquisition of good things. Contemplatio is a certain elevation above itself of the mind suspended in God , tasting of the joys of eternal sweetness.

How lectio divina and contemplative practices can be dangerous

La Grande Chartreuse: Home to Lectio Divina

Various Scripture-related ‘mystical’ practices that call themselves lectio divina have been growing in popularity in the world outside Roman Catholic monasteries, and, indeed, not only in the liberal mainline but even amongst evangelical Protestants. Some evangelicals are automatically, and irrationally, afraid of lectio divina because it comes from ‘Roman Catholicism’; others are concerned because some of its proponents are also into Buddhism and the like.

And, certainly, books about lectio divina are not all equal.

I won’t mount a defence of the practice here, though. Mark Moore has already done that in his post, ‘Is Lectio Divina Really Dangerous?

Instead, I would like to highlight the fact that I think the disciplines of the contemplative life can actually be dangerous — and not ‘dangerous to your small views of God’ dangerous. Actually potentially harmful. Of course, I must get this out of the way first: Their alleged ‘Roman Catholic’ (aka Latin medieval) origins have nothing to do with their potential for harm. If Protestants rejected everything from the ‘Roman Church’, we would have no Bible, no sacraments, no doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity, etc., etc. We must find the danger in the actual practices themselves.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking. As I said at the beginning, a variety of different practices currently masquerade under the name lectio divina. Some of these are actually medieval, deriving ultimately from the prayerful practices outlined around 1180 by Guigo II (d. 1188/93), prior of La Grande Chartreuse (motherhouse of the Carthusians) in The Ladder of Monks. Others are inspired by the medieval practices but are more in line with traditional Protestant discursive meditation. Others may not know what a Carthusian is but may be conversant with Buddhism.

The possibility is, in the end, that any of the forms of lectio divina currently on parade can endanger you spiritually.

One person, alone with a Bible, seeking to encounter God directly through the Word, sometimes reducing that to a single word or phrase.

Or, to move to other meditative practices, simply praying the Jesus Prayer. Or seeking to empty your mind of all thoughts. Or whatever.

Why do I think these things might be harmful? They might be harmful if they lack an important ingredient:

The community of the faithful.

Any of these practices can be salutary (yes, even ones tainted by Buddhism, let alone Roman Catholicism). They can be ways for us to focus our heart and minds on the Most Holy Trinity, upon the meaning and lesson and immediacy of Scripture as living and active. They can be ways for us to unclutter our cluttered hearts.

But they might make you go crazy. The Orthodox actually say that practising the Jesus Prayer unsupervised can be harmful. They also say that illusion is particularly dangerous for those who shut themselves off from the community of the faithful. The translators of The Philokalia are at pains in the introduction to point out that the teachings found therein, and the whole eastern Christian tradition of stillness (hesychia, hence hesychasm) is not reducible to these texts for monks and solitaries — these texts were written for people who participated in the sacramental and liturgical life of the church. They also read Scripture in the same ways you and I read Scripture.

Lectio divina, then, is not inherently harmful. I actually think it is good for us — as a way to stop trying to govern Scripture and allow it to govern us. However, any Christian discipline, when cut off from the fellowship and community of God’s people, can lead you astray and make you think that you are growing into the fullness of the stature of Christ when really you are growing up gnarled, crooked, and distorted. But don’t worry, God can straighten us out

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