This text is the continuation of the article: Is There Progressiveness in The Implementation of Lectio Divina?
Section II: The Texts
The following texts are the major texts where Pope Benedict speaks about Lectio Divina. They constitute a yardstick in the life of the Church, a new phenomenon, a major event.
“I would like in particular to recall and recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio Divina: the diligent reading of Sacred Scripture accompanied by prayer brings about that intimate dialogue in which the person reading hears God who is speaking, and in praying, responds to him with trusting openness of heart [cf. Dei verbum, n. 25]. If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the Church – I am convinced of it – a new spiritual springtime.”
(Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI To The Participants In The International Congress Organized To Commemorate The 40th Anniversary Of The Dogmatic Constitution On Divine Revelation “Dei Verbum” 16 September 2005)
Speaking about Origen, Pope Benedict said:
“In his Letter to Gregory, Origen recommends: “Study first of all the lectio of the divine Scriptures. Study them, I say. For we need to study the divine writings deeply… and while you study these divine works with a believing and God-pleasing intention, knock at that which is closed in them and it shall be opened to you by the porter, of whom Jesus says, “To him the gatekeeper opens’.
“While you attend to this lectio divina, seek aright and with unwavering faith in God the hidden sense which is present in most passages of the divine Scriptures. And do not be content with knocking and seeking, for what is absolutely necessary for understanding divine things is oratio, and in urging us to this the Saviour says not only “knock and it will be opened to you’, and “seek and you will find’, but also “ask and it will be given you'” (Ep. Gr. 4).
The “primordial role” played by Origen in the history of lectio divina instantly flashes before one’s eyes. Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who learned from Origen’s works to interpret the Scriptures, later introduced them into the West to hand them on to Augustine and to the monastic tradition that followed.” (Pope Benedict, General Audience, 2 May 2007)
Speaking about St. Ambrose, Pope Benedict said:
“Until that moment, Ambrose had been the most senior magistrate of the Empire in northern Italy. Culturally well-educated but at the same time ignorant of the Scriptures, the new Bishop briskly began to study them. From the works of Origen, the indisputable master of the “Alexandrian School”, he learned to know and to comment on the Bible.
Thus, Ambrose transferred to the Latin environment the meditation on the Scriptures which Origen had begun, introducing in the West the practice of lectio divina. The method of lectio served to guide all of Ambrose’s preaching and writings, which stemmed precisely from prayerful listening to the Word of God.
The famous introduction of an Ambrosian catechesis shows clearly how the holy Bishop applied the Old Testament to Christian life: “Every day, when we were reading about the lives of the Patriarchs and the maxims of the Proverbs, we addressed morality”, the Bishop of Milan said to his catechumens and neophytes, “so that formed and instructed by them you may become accustomed to taking the path of the Fathers and to following the route of obedience to the divine precepts” (On the Mysteries 1, 1).
In other words, the neophytes and catechumens, in accordance with the Bishop’s decision, after having learned the art of a well-ordered life, could henceforth consider themselves prepared for Christ’s great mysteries.
Thus, Ambrose’s preaching – which constitutes the structural nucleus of his immense literary opus – starts with the reading of the Sacred Books (“the Patriarchs” or the historical Books and “Proverbs”, or in other words, the Wisdom Books) in order to live in conformity with divine Revelation.”
(Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 24 October 2007)
MESSAGE OF THE HOLY FATHER BENEDICT XVI
TO THE YOUTH OF THE WORLD (9 APRIL 2006)
“Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path” (Ps 119 :105)
My dear young friends!
It is with great joy that I greet you as you prepare for the 21st World Youth Day, and I relive the memory of those enriching experiences we had in August last year in Germany. World Youth Day this year will be celebrated in the local Churches, and it will be a good opportunity to rekindle the flame of enthusiasm that was awakened in Cologne and which many of you have brought to your families, parishes, associations and movements. At the same time, it will be a wonderful chance to invite many of your friends to join the young generation’s spiritual pilgrimage towards Christ.
The theme that I suggest to you is a verse from Psalm 119 : “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v. 105). Our dearly loved John Paul II commented on that verse of the psalm as follows: “The one who prays pours out his thanks for the Law of God that he adopts as a lamp for his steps in the often dark path of Life” (General Audience, Wednesday 14 November 2001). God reveals himself in history. He speaks to humankind, and the word he speaks has creative power. The Hebrew concept “dabar”, usually translated as “word”, really conveys both the meaning of word and act. God says what he does and does what he says. The Old Testament announces to the Children of Israel the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of a “new” covenant; in the Word made flesh He fulfils his promise. This is clearly specified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Christ, the Son of God made man, is the Father’s one, perfect and unsurpassable Word. In him he has said everything; there will be no other word than this one” (n. 65). The Holy Spirit who has led the chosen people by inspiring the authors of the Sacred Scriptures, opens the hearts of believers to understand their meaning. This same Spirit is actively present in the Eucharistic celebration when the priest, “in persona Christi”, says the words of consecration, changing the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, for the spiritual nourishment of the faithful. In order to progress on our earthly pilgrimage towards the heavenly Kingdom, we all need to be nourished by the word and the bread of eternal Life, and these are inseparable from one another!
The Apostles received the word of salvation and passed it on to their successors as a precious gem kept safely in the jewel box of the Church: without the Church, this pearl runs the risk of being lost or destroyed. My dear young friends, love the word of God and love the Church, and this will give you access to a treasure of very great value and will teach you how to appreciate its richness. Love and follow the Church, for it has received from its Founder the mission of showing people the way to true happiness. It is not easy to recognise and find authentic happiness in this world in which we live, where people are often held captive by the current ways of thinking. They may think they are “free”, but they are being led astray and become lost amid the errors or illusions of aberrant ideologies. “Freedom itself needs to be set free” (cf the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, 86), and the darkness in which humankind is groping needs to be illuminated. Jesus taught us how this can be done: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:31-32). The incarnate Word, Word of Truth, makes us free and directs our freedom towards the good. My dear young friends, meditate often on the word of God, and allow the Holy Spirit to be your teacher. You will then discover that God’s way of thinking is not the same as that of humankind’s. You will find yourselves led to contemplate the real God and to read the events of history through his eyes. You will savour in fullness the joy that is born of truth. On life’s journey, which is neither easy nor free of deceptions, you will meet difficulties and suffering and at times you will be tempted to exclaim with the psalmist: “I am severely afflicted” (Ps 119 . v. 107). Do not forget to add as the psalmist did: “give me life, O Lord, according to your word… I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law” (ibid. vv. 107; 109). The loving presence of God, through his word, is the lamp that dispels the darkness of fear and lights up the path even when times are most difficult.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (4:12). It is necessary to take seriously the injunction to consider the word of God to be an indispensable “weapon” in the spiritual struggle. This will be effective and show results if we learn to listen to it and then to obey it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to ‘hear or listen to’) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself” (n. 144). While Abraham exemplifies this way of listening which is obedience, Solomon in his turn shows himself to be a passionate explorer of the wisdom contained in the Word. When God said to him: “Ask what I should give you”, the wise king replied: “Give your servant therefore an understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:5,9). The secret of acquiring “an understanding heart” is to train your heart to listen. This is obtained by persistently meditating on the word of God and by remaining firmly rooted in it through the commitment to persevere in getting to know it better.
My dear young friends, I urge you to become familiar with the Bible, and to have it at hand so that it can be your compass pointing out the road to follow. By reading it, you will learn to know Christ. Note what Saint Jerome said in this regard: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (PL 24,17; cf Dei Verbum, 25). A time-honoured way to study and savour the word of God is lectio divina which constitutes a real and veritable spiritual journey marked out in stages. After the lectio, which consists of reading and rereading a passage from Sacred Scripture and taking in the main elements, we proceed to meditatio. This is a moment of interior reflection in which the soul turns to God and tries to understand what his word is saying to us today. Then comes oratio in which we linger to talk with God directly. Finally we come to contemplatio. This helps us to keep our hearts attentive to the presence of Christ whose word is “a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet 1:19). Reading, study and meditation of the Word should then flow into a life of consistent fidelity to Christ and his teachings.
Saint James tells us: “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing” (1:22-25). Those who listen to the word of God and refer to it always, are constructing their existence on solid foundations. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them”, Jesus said, “will be like a wise man who built his house on rock” (Mt 7:24). It will not collapse when bad weather comes.
To build your life on Christ, to accept the word with joy and put its teachings into practice: this, young people of the third millennium, should be your programme! There is an urgent need for the emergence of a new generation of apostles anchored firmly in the word of Christ, capable of responding to the challenges of our times and prepared to spread the Gospel far and wide. It is this that the Lord asks of you, it is to this that the Church invites you, and it is this that the world – even though it may not be aware of it – expects of you! If Jesus calls you, do not be afraid to respond to him with generosity, especially when he asks you to follow him in the consecrated life or in the priesthood. Do not be afraid; trust in him and you will not be disappointed.
Dear friends, at the 21st World Youth Day that we will celebrate on 9 April next, Palm Sunday, we will set out, in our hearts, on a pilgrimage towards the world encounter with young people that will take place in Sydney in July 2008. We will prepare for that great appointment reflecting together on the theme The Holy Spirit and the mission in successive stages. This year our attention will focus on the Holy Spirit, Spirit of Truth, who reveals Christ to us, the Word made flesh, opening the heart of each one to the Word of salvation that leads to the fullness of Truth. Next year, 2007, we will meditate on a verse from the Gospel of John: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (13:34). We will discover more about the Holy Spirit, Spirit of Love, who infuses divine charity within us and makes us aware of the material and spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters. We will finally reach the world meeting of 2008 and its theme will be: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
From this moment onwards, my dear young friends, in a climate of constant listening to the word of God, call on the Holy Spirit, Spirit of fortitude and witness, that you may be able to proclaim the Gospel without fear even to the ends of the earth. Our Lady was present in the cenacle with the Apostles as they waited for Pentecost. May she be your mother and guide. May she teach you to receive the word of God, to treasure it and to ponder on it in your heart (cf Lk 2:19) as she did throughout her life. May she encourage you to declare your “yes” to the Lord as you live “the obedience of faith”. May she help you to remain strong in the faith, constant in hope, persevering in charity, always attentive to the word of God. I am together with you in prayer, and I bless each one of you with all my heart.
From the Vatican, 22 February 2006, Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter Apostle.
Here is what Pope Benedict says about Lectio Divina on the occasion of the Synod. His words are a good witness to the miraculous birth, development and consolidation of Lectio Divina in the Church. This is really a new yet fundamental moment in the history of the Church. The following extract from the document of the Synod is a short treatise on Lectio Divina.
“The Prayerful Reading of Sacred Scripture and “Lectio Divina”
“86. The Synod frequently insisted on the need for a prayerful approach to the sacred text as a fundamental element in the spiritual life of every believer, in the various ministries and states in life, with particular reference to lectio divina. The word of God is at the basis of all authentic Christian spirituality. The Synod Fathers thus took up the words of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum:
“Let the faithful go gladly to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading, or in such suitable exercises and various other helps which, with the approval and guidance of the pastors of the Church, are happily spreading everywhere in our day. Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture”
The Council thus sought to reappropriate the great patristic tradition which had always recommended approaching the Scripture in dialogue with God. As Saint Augustine puts it: “Your prayer is the word you speak to God. When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God”. Origen, one of the great masters of this way of reading the Bible, maintains that understanding Scripture demands, even more than study, closeness to Christ and prayer. Origen was convinced, in fact, that the best way to know God is through love, and that there can be no authentic scientia Christi apart from growth in his love. In his Letter to Gregory, the great Alexandrian theologian gave this advice:
“Devote yourself to the lectio of the divine Scriptures; apply yourself to this with perseverance. Do your reading with the intent of believing in and pleasing God. If during the lectio you encounter a closed door, knock and it will be opened to you by that guardian of whom Jesus said, ‘The gatekeeper will open it for him’. By applying yourself in this way to lectio divina, search diligently and with unshakable trust in God for the meaning of the divine Scriptures, which is hidden in great fullness within. You ought not, however, to be satisfied merely with knocking and seeking: to understand the things of God, what is absolutely necessary is oratio. For this reason, the Saviour told us not only: ‘Seek and you will find’, and ‘Knock and it shall be opened to you’, but also added, ‘Ask and you shall receive’”.
In this regard, however, one must avoid the risk of an individualistic approach, and remember that God’s word is given to us precisely to build communion, to unite us in the Truth along our path to God. While it is a word addressed to each of us personally, it is also a word which builds community, which builds the Church. Consequently, the sacred text must always be approached in the communion of the Church. In effect, “a communal reading of Scripture is extremely important, because the living subject in the sacred Scriptures is the People of God, it is the Church… Scripture does not belong to the past, because its subject, the People of God inspired by God himself, is always the same, and therefore the word is always alive in the living subject. As such, it is important to read and experience sacred Scripture 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”.
For this reason, the privileged place for the prayerful reading of sacred Scripture is the liturgy, and particularly the Eucharist, in which, as we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament, the word itself is present and at work in our midst. In some sense the prayerful reading of the Bible, personal and communal, must always be related to the Eucharistic celebration. Just as the adoration of the Eucharist prepares for, accompanies and follows the liturgy of the Eucharist, so too prayerful reading, personal and communal, prepares for, accompanies and deepens what the Church celebrates when she proclaims the word in a liturgical setting. By so closely relating lectio and liturgy, we can better grasp the criteria which should guide this practice in the area of pastoral care and in the spiritual life of the People of God.
87. The documents produced before and during the Synod mentioned a number of methods for a faith-filled and fruitful approach to sacred Scripture. Yet the greatest attention was paid to lectio divina, which is truly “capable of opening up to the faithful the treasures of God’s word, but also of bringing about an encounter with Christ, the living word of God”.
I would like here to review the basic steps of this procedure:
It opens with the reading (lectio) of a text, which leads to a desire to understand its true content: what does the biblical text say in itself? Without this, there is always a risk that the text will become a pretext for never moving beyond our own ideas.
Next comes meditation (meditatio), which asks: what does the biblical text say to us? Here, each person, individually but also as a member of the community, must let himself or herself be moved and challenged.
Following this comes prayer (oratio), which asks the question: what do we say to the Lord in response to his word? Prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us.
Finally, lectio divina concludes with contemplation (contemplatio), during which we take up, as a gift from God, his own way of seeing and judging reality, and ask ourselves what conversion of mind, heart and life is the Lord asking of us? In the Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul tells us: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (12:2). Contemplation aims at creating within us a truly wise and discerning vision of reality, as God sees it, and at forming within us “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). The word of God appears here as a criterion for discernment: it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
We do well also to remember that the process of lectio divina is not concluded until it arrives at action (actio), which moves the believer to make his or her life a gift for others in charity.
We find the supreme synthesis and fulfilment of this process in the Mother of God. For every member of the faithful Mary is the model of docile acceptance of God’s word, for she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19; cf. 2:51); she discovered the profound bond which unites, in God’s great plan, apparently disparate events, actions and things.
I would also like to echo what the Synod proposed about the importance of the personal reading of Scripture, also as a practice allowing for the possibility, in accordance with the Church’s usual conditions, of gaining an indulgence either for oneself or for the faithful departed. The practice of indulgences implies the doctrine of the infinite merits of Christ – which the Church, as the minister of the redemption, dispenses and applies, but it also implies that of the communion of saints, and it teaches us that “to whatever degree we are united in Christ, we are united to one another, and the supernatural life of each one can be useful for the others”. From this standpoint, the reading of the word of God sustains us on our journey of penance and conversion, enables us to deepen our sense of belonging to the Church, and helps us to grow in familiarity with God. As Saint Ambrose puts it, “When we take up the sacred Scriptures in faith and read them with the Church, we walk once more with God in the Garden”.”
(“Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini Of The Holy Father Benedict XVI To The Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons And The Lay Faithful On The Word Of God In The Life And Mission Of The Church”, 2010)