Volume 6 / Issue 1 SPRING 2020

44 S p i r i t ua l i t y S t u d i e s 6 - 1 S p r i n g 2 0 2 0 2 The Historical Roots of Lectio Divina The contemplative reading has its roots in the Patristic and Monastic tradition of the East in the early Middle Ages. Private prayer that included reading, meditation, and contemplation became an essential part of the daily praying routine of the monks in cloisters. Reading and meditative pondering over the text (mostly biblical) prepare monks for a prayer that leads to contemplation. These individual phases were seen as a process during which the spirit and the heart of a monk immerse into the mysteries of faith. This immersion leads us deeper into God’s word. It also has a practical effect on understanding oneself and one’s life situations. In this fashion, monks often read texts of the Church Fathers and other monastic literature. Lectio Divina is one of the oldest techniques of meditative reading. In the fifth-century West, Lectio Divina was practiced especially in the Benedictine and Carthusian tradition. In its traditional form, this method is attributed to Saint Benedict, who found inspiration in the Patristic tradition. In this regard, there is a plethora of similarities between St. Benedict and St. Basil. In his Rules, Saint Benedict gives importance to obedience ( Regula Benedicti , Prologue2; 5, 1–2) and community stability (Lat. stabilitas loci ) ( Regula Benedicti7, 78), which are interdependent. In the similar vein, St. Basil believed that countless human sufferings come from not being able to remain in silence in one’s place. Stabilitas and  conversio set the framework for the practice of Lectio Divina , too (Altrichter 2013, 69–70). Lectio Divina was an essential feature of St. Benedict’s spir - ituality to which he wanted the monks to dedicate three hours a day ( Regula Benedicti48). “ Idleness in the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in man - ual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading. Hence, we believe that the time for each will be properly ordered by the following arrangement… ” ( Regula Benedicti48, 1–2). During the Lenten season, another hour was added to the reading time ( Regula Benedicti48, 14). For St. Benedict, the balance between praying and manual work was very important. Lectio should always be accompanied by silence ( Regula Ben - edicti48, 18) to facilitate the vigilant listening to God. If the monk does not practice it, he could run the risk of never encountering the One that he so wholeheartedly seeks. Such an intense prayer asks for attention and concentration. It is not just some sort of informative reading. Through the practice of lectio, the monk seeks answers to the existential questions of his very life. In the Middle Ages, books were not readily available to everybody and the reading was considered a rather difficult activity. Lectio , therefore, was sometimes substituted with listening to texts that were read aloud by others. Repeated reading and listening helped monks memorize the Holy Scripture and then reflect on its meaning whilst doing man - ual labor during the day. Lectio thus involved reading and reflection [2]. Initially, it was not the kind of imaginative reflection introduced in the 14th century bydevotio modernaor the kind we can find in Jesuit spirituality or inmantra meditations. The practice of lectio opened with the slow, deliberative reading and memorizing of the text, which allowed the sacred words of the Bible to enter the monk’s heart so he could ponder over them during the day (Stewart 1998, 36). A detailed description of this spiritual exercise is provided by the Carthusian writer and the prior of the Grande Chartreuse monastery from 1174–80, Guigo II. What we see here, however, is more of a meditative approach to the biblical text. His Scala Paradisi is written in a form of a letter, sometimes before 1150, and addressed to his friend Gervase, a prior at Mont-Dieu. In his letter, Guigo II described four stages of the spiritual life that lead to God: “ When I was at hard at work one day, thinking on the spiritual work needful for God’s servants, four such spiritual works came to my mind, these being: reading; meditation; prayer; contemplation. This is the ladder for those in cloisters, and for others in the world who are God’s Lovers, by means of which they can climb from earth to heaven. ” ( Scala Paradisi , chap. 1). The teaching of Scala Paradisi became an integral part of the monastic tradition in the West. It is also found in the treatise known asThe Cloud of Unknowingwritten by the anonymous English author in the second half of the 14th century. He discusses the teachings of Guigo II as the foundation for his own elaboration developing apophatic tradition. Just as Guigo II, the anonymous author too puts emphasis on spiritual reading (Lat. lectio ), meditation (Lat. meditatio ), and prayer (Lat. oratio ) as the essential stages that enable the person to contemplate (Dojčár 2017, 41–42). He writes: “ …the beginners and profiters – thinking may not goodly be gotten, without reading or hearing coming first ” ( The Cloud of Unknowing1982, 103). Lectio coupled with meditation is anchored firmly in the history of Christian spirituality. It has enjoyed something of a renaissance since the late 19th century and has become a standard element in the monastic formation and the core of spiritual life. The resurgence of this spiritual tradition is