VERBUM DOMINI
On The Word of God in the
Life and Mission of the Church

  Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Benedict XVI. September 30, 2010
 

 


to The Bishops, Priests, Consecrated Persons, and The Lay Faithful

 

 

 

The prayerful reading of sacred Scripture and “lectio divina”
Orans lectio sacrae Scripturae et 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.290 (Propositiones 9 and 22.) Synodus saepius in necessitatem institit orantis accessus ad textum sacrum uti elementum fundamentale spiritalis vitae cuiusque credentis, in diversis ministeriis et statibus vitae, cum peculiari relatione ad lectionem divinam.290
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:  Verbum enim Dei fundamentum exstat cuiusque authenticae christianae spiritalitatis. Hoc modo Patres synodales unanimiter consentiunt sententiae Constitutionis dogmaticae 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 ”.291 (No. 25.)

« Libenter igitur [cuncti fideles] ad sacrum textum ipsum accedant, sive per sacram Liturgiam divinis eloquiis confertam, sive per piam lectionem, sive per institutionem ad id aptas aliaque subsidia, quae approbantibus et curantibus Pastoribus Ecclesiae ubique nostro tempore laudabiliter diffunduntur. Meminerint autem orationem concomitari debere sacrae Scripturae lectionem ».291
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 ”.292(Enarrationes in Psalmos, 85, 7: PL 37, 1086.) Conciliaris meditatio magnam traditionem patristicam resumere volebat quae semper accessum ad Scripturam commendavit in colloquio cum Deo. Ut ait sanctus Augustinus: « Oratio tua locutio est ad Deum: quando legis, Deus tibi loquitur; quando oras, Deo loqueris ».292
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: Origenes, in hac Bibliorum lectione unus ex magistris, censet intellectionem Scripturarum magis communionem cum Christo et orationem postulare, quam inquisitionem ipsam. Ille enim compertum habet viam privilegiariam ad Deum cognoscendum amorem esse, et authenticam scientiam Christi non dari nisi erga Ipsum amoris flamma ferveat. In Epistola ad Gregorium magnus theologus Alexandrinus commendat:

[...] “Devote yourself to the lectio of the divine Scriptures; apply yourself to this with perseverance. [...]

« Praecipue attende divinarum Scripturarum lectioni, sed attente. (...)

[4 Σὺ οὖν͵ κύριε υἱὲ͵ ] προηγουμένως πρόσεχε τῇ τῶν θείων γραφῶν ἀναγνώσει· ἀλλὰ πρόσεχε. [πολλῆς γὰρ προ σοχῆς ἀναγινώσκοντες τὰ θεῖα δεόμεθα· ἵνα μὴ προπετέ στερον εἴπωμέν τινα ἢ νοήσωμεν περὶ αὐτῶν.]

 

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’.

Et attendens rerum divinarum lectioni cum fideli et quae Deo placeat anticipata opinione, pulsa quae in iis clausa sunt, et aperietur tibi a ianitore, de quo dixit Iesus: “Huic ostiarius aperit”.

καὶ προσέχων τῇ τῶν θείων ἀναγνώσει μετὰ πιστῆς καὶ θεῷ ἀρεσκούσης προλήψεως κροῦε τὰ κεκλεισμένα αὐτῆς͵ καὶ ἀνοιγήσεταί σοι ὑπὸ τοῦ θυρωροῦ͵ περὶ οὗ εἶπεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς· τούτῳ ὁ θυρωρὸς ἀνοίγει.

 

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.

Et attendens divinae lectioni, recte et firma in Deum fide eam quaere quae multis abscondita est, divinarum mentem litterarum.

καὶ προσέχων τῇ θείᾳ ἀναγνώσει ὀρθῶς ζήτει καὶ μετὰ πίστεως τῆς εἰς θεὸν ἀκλινοῦς τὸν κεκρυμ μένον τοῖς πολλοῖς νοῦν τῶν θείων γραμμάτων.

 

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’ ”.293(Origen, Epistola ad Gregorium, 3: PG 11, 92.)

Verum ne tibi satis sit pulsare et quaerere. Nam maxime etiam necessaria est ad res divinas intelligendas oratio, ad quam cohortans Salvator, non solum dixit: “Quaerite, et invenietis”, et “Pulsate, et aperietur vobis”, sed et: “Petite, et dabitur vobis” ».293

μὴ ἀρκοῦ δὲ τῷ κρούειν καὶ ζητεῖν· ἀναγκαιοτάτη γὰρ καὶ ἡ περὶ τοῦ νοεῖν τὰ θεῖα εὐχή· ἐφ΄ ἣν προτρέπων ὁ σωτὴρ οὐ μόνον εἶπεν τό· κρούετε͵ καὶ ἀνοιγήσεται ὑμῖν· καὶ τό· εἶπεν τό· κρούετε͵ καὶ ἀνοιγήσεται ὑμῖν· καὶ τό· ζητεῖτε͵ καὶ εὑρήσετε· ἀλλὰ καὶ τό· αἰτεῖτε͵ καὶ δοθήσεται ὑμῖν.

 

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 ”.294(Benedict XVI, Address to the Students of the Roman Major Seminary (19 February 2007): AAS 99 (2007), 253-254.)

Attamen, ad tale quod attinet propositum, periculum est vitandum accessus individualistici, considerando quod Verbum Dei nobis datur ad communionem aedificandam, ad unionem in Veritate agendam nostro in itinere ad Deum. Verbum est quod unumquemque nostrum alloquitur, sed etiam Verbum quod communitatem aedificat, quod Ecclesiam aedificat. Quam ob rem ad sacrum textum in ecclesiali communione accedendum est. Etenim « maximi momenti est lectio communitaria, quia subiectum vivens sacrae Scripturae est Populus Dei, est Ecclesia... Scriptura ad praeteritum tempus non pertinet, quia eius subiectum, Populus Dei ab ipso Deo inspiratus, semper idem est, quocirca Verbum semper vivens est in subiecto viventi. Hanc ob rem magni ponderis est sacram Scripturam legere et sacram Scripturam sentire in communione Ecclesiae, cunctis videlicet cum magnis testibus huius Verbi, inde a primis Patribus usque ad Sanctos nostrae aetatis, usque ad hodiernum Magisterium ».294

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,295 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.

Quamobrem in lectione orante sacrae Scripturae privilegiatum spatium occupat Liturgia, potissimum Eucharistia, in qua, dum Corpus et Sanguis Christi in Sacramento celebrantur, ipsum Verbum inter nos praesens efficitur. Quodammodo lectio orans, personalis et communitaria, semper in relatione ad eucharisticam celebrationem est vivenda. Sicut adoratio eucharistica parat, comitatur et eucharisticam liturgiam sequitur,295 ita lectio orans personalis et communitaria parat, comitatur et altius inspicit ea quae Ecclesia per proclamationem Verbi in ambitu liturgico celebrat. Dum in tali stricto vinculo lectio et liturgia ponuntur, melius possunt colligi criteria quae hanc lectionem conducere debent in contextu actionis pastoralis et vitae spiritalis Populi Dei.

295 (Cf. ID., Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (22 February 2007), 66; AAS 99 (2007), 155-156.)

 
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 ”.296 (Final Message, III, 9.) 86. In documentis quae Synodum praeparaverunt et comitata sunt, de diversis methodis dissertum est ut in fide et fructuose ad sacras Scripturas accedatur. Maius tamen pondus tributum est lectioni divinae, quae revera « capax est fideli thesaurum Verbi Dei aperiendi, immo etiam communionem creandi cum Christo, Verbo divino vivente ».296
I would like here to review the basic steps of this procedure. Eius praecipuos gradus hic breviter recensere volumus:

[1] 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?

ea incipit lectione textus qui quaestionem provocat circa authenticam cognitionem eius argumenti: quid in se ipso biblicus dicit textus?

Without this, there is always a risk that the text will become a pretext for never moving beyond our own ideas.

Si praetermittitur hoc momentum, in periculum inciditur ne textus mutetur in praetextum ad minime egrediendum e nostris cogitationibus.

[2] Next comes meditation (meditatio), which asks: what does the biblical text say to us?

Sequitur deinde meditatio in qua quaeritur: quid nobis biblicus dicit textus?

Here, each person, individually but also as a member of the community, must let himself or herself be moved and challenged.

Hic unusquisque singillatim, at etiam sicut communitas, tangi atque excuti sinere debet, quia agitur de verbis inspiciendis non in praeterito tempore, sed in praesens prolatis

[3] Following this comes prayer (oratio), which asks the question: what do we say to the Lord in response to his word?

 . Deinde ad tempus orationis venimus quae interrogationem praesumit: quid Domino in responsione ad eius Verbum dicimus?

Prayer, as petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise, is the primary way by which the word transforms us.

Oratio ad modum petitionis, intercessionis, gratiarum actionis et laudis, primus est modus quo Verbum nos transformat.

[4] 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?

Lectio divina denique concluditur contemplatione, in qua nos sicut donum Dei sumimus eundem Eius contuitum in rebus iudicandis et nos quaerimus: qualem conversionem mentis, cordis et vitae Dominus a nobis postulat?

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).

Sanctus Paulus in Epistula ad Romanos asserit: « Nolite conformari huic saeculo, sed transformamini renovatione mentis, ut probetis quid sit voluntas Dei, quid bonum et bene placens et perfectum » (12,2). Etenim contemplatio ad creandam tendit in nobis sapientialem visionem realitatis, secundum Deum, et ad instituendum in nobis « sensum Christi » (1 Cor 2,16). Verbum Dei hic offertur veluti criterium decernendi: « vivus est enim Dei sermo et efficax et penetrabilior omni gladio ancipiti et pertingens usque ad divisionem animae ac spiritus, compagum quoque et medullarum, et discretor cogitationum et intentionum cordis » (Heb 4,12).

[5] 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.

Opportunum deinde memorandum est lectionem divinam sua in dynamica non concludi nisi ad actionem perveniat, quae exsistentiam credentem movet ut donum fiat pro aliis in caritate.
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.297(Ibid.) Hos gradus in synthesi et summario invenimus expletos summa forma in figura Matris Dei. Cuilibet fideli exemplar docilis acceptionis Verbi divini, Ipsa « conservabat omnia verba haec conferens in corde suo » (Lc 2,19; cfr 2,51), sciebat invenire altum vinculum quo eventus, actus et res, apparenter disiuncta, in magno proposito divino iunguntur.297

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.298 The practice of indulgences 299 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 ”.300

Recolere insuper volumus quod Synodus hortata est circa momentum personalis lectionis Scripturae etiam tamquam praxis quae possibilitatem praevidet, iuxta consuetas Ecclesiae normas, indulgentiam sibi ipsi vel defunctis lucrandi.298 Praxis indulgentiae299 implicat doctrinam de infinitis meritis Christi, quae Ecclesia, sicut redemptionis ministra, dispensat et aptat, sed implicat doctrinam quoque de communione sanctorum et nobis dicit « quam intima unione in Christo inter nos coniungamur, et quantum conferre possit vita supernaturalis uniuscuiusque ad alios ».300

298Plenaria indulgentia conceditur christifi deli qui Sacram Scripturam, iuxta textum a competenti auctoritate adprobatum, cum veneratione divino eloquio debita et ad modum lectionis spiritalis, per dimidiam saltem horam legerit; si per minus tem‑)

299 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1471-1479.)

300 Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina (1 January 1967): AAS 59 (1967), 18-19.)

 
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 ”.301 (Cf. Epistula 49, 3: PL 16, 1204A.) Sub hoc prospectu, lectio Verbi Domini nos in itinere paenitentiae et conversionis suffulcit, nobis permittit ut penitus inspiciamus sensum ad Ecclesiam pertinendi atque nos in maiore cum Deo familiaritate sustinet. Ut aiebat sanctus Ambrosius: quando in manus cum fide divinas sumimus Scripturas easque cum Ecclesia legimus, homo revertitur ut in paradiso cum Deo deambulet.301

 


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