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by RICHARD MCCAMBLY
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This website represents some fifty years of reflections upon Scripture and Fathers of the Church. Speecial attention is given to Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Bernard of Clairvaux, three Christian authors of the Greek and Latin traditions respectively. Also are included works by non-Christian authors of the Greek and Latin Classical tradition, one of the most important being Plato. Because of his immense influence on the development of Christianity it does us well to appreciate him anew. In fact, you could maintain that a proper understanding of Plato (and of course, Socrates) leads to a better grasp of Christianity. The reason? He represents in a marvelous way our innate desire to philosophize, literally to be friends of wisdom. Once we’re learned how to effect that, the transition to theological reflection is more seamless.

The phrase lectio divina, difficult to translate, is the Latin for “sacred reading.” The noun lectio could be rendered as a reading which is sacred or better, a reading which is divine. It derives from the verb lego, to choose, pick. In sum, lectio divina may be said to be a kind of divine picking or choosing of a given sentence, phrase or word through which God himself speaks. Ordinarily this practice is confined to the slow perusal of sacred Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments. It is undertaken not with the intention of gaining information but of using the texts as an aide first to contact the living God and secondly, to sustain that contact. Basic to this practice is a union with God in faith which, in turn, is sustained by further reading.

One might expect that instead of the adjective divina, sacra (the feminine form of sacer) would be used. The word “sacred,” whether Latin or Greek, pertains to objects related to the holy such as a church or vessels of the altar used for Mass. Instead, tradition employs the adjective divina or “divine” (the feminine form of divinus). Exactly when and how this came about is lost in the mists of time, but that is secondary. Divina intimates that such reading is divine...not sacred...or more proximate to God himself instead of being an object related to his holiness.

There is no special program or technique to lectio divina. Even more importantly, one must resist the modern temptation of covering a prescribed amount of material within a given time frame. This is more difficult to sustain over time than first meets the eye but certainly well worth the effort. The fruits gained from lingering over a single word or phrase without having your eye on the clock is well worth the effort. Besides, it leads to further appreciation of the text at hand. Combine that with the Church's liturgical cycle, and you have literally a never-ending source of inspiration. Such is one of the most attractive features to lectio divina which is open-ended and subject to continuous growth.

Lectio traces its origins to early monasticism and currently is enjoying a wider acceptance among lay persons. In fact, many people show a spontaneous interest in lectio divina after having been initiated into some form contemplative prayer in line with Christian teaching and tradition. They realize that such prayer cannot continue without verification of their practice, and the best locus for those raised in the Judaeo-Christian heritage is found in both the Old and New Testaments. Prayer enables one to penetrate beyond the letter of text and to see how the Holy Spirit is speaking to us through these inspired words here and now. Not long ago Pope Benedict XVI recognized this and remarked that lectio divina lies at the heart of the Church's renewal.

The approach to lectio divina as applied to the Bible in this Home Page is unique in that it relies heavily upon the biblical texts composed in the original Hebrew and Greek languages. Not only that, the same approach applies to some authors of both the Latin and Syriac traditions included here. Despite frequent references to these original texts, a purely etymological or scholarly approach is far from the goal. That is to say, they are not presented as bits of information but as aids to foster Christian contemplative prayer which must remain primary to any subsequent reflections. Outside this goal, the material presented here is of no value.

When it comes to those texts dealing with scripture (and that includes the bulk of the documents), often the title will begin with the word “expansions” (as on the Book of Genesis). This is a deliberate choice and pretty much sums up the whole enterprise. A word or phrase within a scriptural text is expanded upon in deliberate fashion, again to assist the reader in doing lectio divina...not to study the text in the conventional sense.

While some readers may find the numerous insertions of transliterations as wearisome, somewhat dense and repetitious, constant appeal to the original texts is of utmost importance. If the reader is patient, he or she can allow the text to speak on its own terms minus any personal take on them. Again, it is important to keep in mind one critical point with regard to documents pertaining to scripture and philosophy. Avoid rushing through a given text but linger as long as needed to absorb it. The notations are meant simply to stop the reader in his or her tracks in order to savor the divine presence both in scripture and in oneself.

A special note of thanks to Joe Cece of Little Falls, New Jersey who from the beginning had been instrumental not only in setting up this website but in offering continued guidance.  The site would be literally impossible without him.

This website is dedicated to many fine men and women in the country of Iceland who have adopted the practice of lectio divina.  Since the middle of the last decade its practice has expanded rapidly after having been introduced some forty-two years ago. Now it is flourishing and has become an integral part of the local culture.

Please note the following two: 1) There is available a CD containing many works by St. Gregory of Nyssa, including his Commentary on the Song of Songs. The cost is free though an offering would be appreciated to cover mailing.  2) While the material in this website is not subject to copyright, contacting the author for use of any material would be appreciated. Please use the email under “contact the author.”

Richard McCambly, ocso
Mardi Gras 25 February 2020

 

QUICK LINKS

gregoryofnyssa
Reflections on the writings of
St. Gregory of Nyssa

lit1
Reflections on the Liturgical Texts

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