Lectio divina needs to be grounded in the intellect, not just the emotions
I said in the last part of this series that one of the Pope's major concerns was the 'sterile chasm' between exegesis and theology, and the resulting spiritual dangers to the faith.
A classic example of this is the kind of instructions one typically sees on how to do lectio divina, which basically amount to nothing much more than, read the text aloud a few times, seize on whatever part of it gives you a good vibe, and tell everyone about your emotional response to it.
It's the kind of approach that might work well if you are a trained theologian with a good knowledge of the whole of Scripture. But which is extremely dangerous for the typical under-catechized cafeteria Catholic whose acquaintance with Scripture is at best superficial.
Contrast that with the Pope's instructions on how to do real lectio divina, which reflect the real monastic tradition, not the pop version often propagated today under its name.
The stages of lectio divina
Pope Benedict suggests that there are five stages to the process:
1. Lectio (a terms that literally means reading, but in late antiquity and medieval usage also encompassed translating, thinking about studying the text): The Pope suggests that the fundamental question to be answered at this stage is, 'what does the text mean'?
2. Meditatio (meditation): 'what does the biblical text say to us'?
3. Oratio (prayer): 'what do we say to the Lord in response to his word'?
4. Contemplatio (contemplation): 'what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us'?
5. Actio (action; sometimes the term 'work' is used for this stage in medieval schemas for lectio): Putting it into practice.
Using all of the tools at our disposal to get at meaning
It is at the 'lectio' stage that the Pope first proposes the integration of the tools offered by exegesis and theology into the process.
He makes the point that Scriptural interpretation is not just a purely individual matter: we must read it in the light of the faith, and in accordance with the principles the Church as set out.
In particular he points to the importance of:
- the way the New Testament definitively interprets the Old;
- the witness of tradition: we must read "in communion with the Church, that is, with all the great witnesses to this word, beginning with the earliest Fathers up to the saints of our own day, up to the present-day magisterium";
- drawing on the tools of exegesis;
- with attention to both the literal and spiritual senses of the text (noting that the spiritual is subdivided into three senses which deal with the contents of the faith, with the moral life and with our eschatological aspirations).
Meditation through to action
And this intellectual orientation carries through into the other stages of the process. At the meditation stage, for example, he suggests that "we must open ourselves to what God wants to say to us, ‘overcoming our deafness to those words that do not fit our own opinions or prejudices’. The theological implications of the text, in other words, should inform and be the subject of our meditations, prayers and consideration for action.
It is not, of course, all a matter of intellect. The Pope stresses that lectio divina must be a dialogue with God, involving prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, so that "the word transforms us".
Dialogue though, involves listening, and listening not just to what we feel personally here and now, but also to what God has said to us through his Church down the ages. Sound advice indeed.