History of Lectio Divina

The special technique called Lectio Divina (literally meaning "divine reading"), is a method of prayer, meditation, and communication with God. Rather than rushing through Scripture and written prayer, it aims to slow the prayer down, so that they may absorb the word and in doing so spend time with God. The rhythm of the Lectio Divina is a careful balance of action and reception, praying and listening to God.

 

The concept of Scripture being something to absorb, take in, and digest slowly has its origins in the 3rd century when Origen Adamantius began to explore the idea of there being a larger wisdom behind the written word of God than can be immediately read. He asserted that there was a way to understand this higher meaning, by letting the words "touch" the listener. Private reflection on Scripture was also practiced in 4th century Eastern monasticism, though it was not quite the same as the Lectio Divina method. In the 6th century Lectio Divina became an essential part of monastic life and prayer. St. Benedict incorporated it in The Rule of St. Benedict, his spiritual and organizational guide to life in the monastery. This contemplative and careful approach to Scripture reminds us of St. Benedict's Rule 6, on the importance of Silence and obedience through listening: "If in fact speaking and teaching are the master's task; the disciple is to be silent and listen" (Rule of St. Benedict, Rule 6). In this case God is the master who is speaking to them during the Lectio Divina, and one needs to listen closely.

 

Like many concepts in St. Benedict's monastic vision, he drew inspiration for the Lectio Divina from the Bible: "The word is nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach" (Romans 10:8-10). The living word of God is surrounding you, in your heart, mouth, and ears. Another example of the dynamic word of God, and his ability to also hear us (without need of spoken words): "For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

 

Lectio Divina continues to be a fundamental part of Benedictine life today. Outside of the monastery it experienced a revival in the 20th century when Pope Paul VI included it as an important practice in Christian faith, in his document Dei Verbum, as part of the Second Vatican Council reformations and changes. This may have been in part a response to the 19th century's more historical approach to Scripture. Revitalization of the Lectio Divina continues in the 21st century with Pope Benedict XVI saying:

 

"I would like to mention the spread of the ancient practice of Lectio divina or 'spiritual reading' of Sacred Scripture. It consists in pouring over a biblical text for some time, reading it and rereading it, as it were, 'ruminating' on it as the Fathers say and squeezing from it, so to speak, all its 'juice', so that it may nourish meditation and contemplation and, like water, succeed in irrigating life itself." (Sunday Angelus, November 6th, 2005)

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