Guigo II – Checking it Out



In pursing my reading on “Spiritual Reading” or “Lectio Divina“, the name Guigo II came up repeatedly.  He is identified as the first to have discussed spiritual reading as a four stage process of reading, meditating, praying and contemplation.

This study had raised several questions for me:

  • Was this an anti-intellectual project or did the reading include study?
  • What is the difference between meditation and contemplation?
  • What sort of prayer are we talking about?

I traveled to the University of Wisconsin Library and found “The Ladder of Monks and Twelve Meditations” by Guigo II, translations and introductions by Edmond Colledge and James Walsh, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, 1981.  This is an English  translation of the original “Scala claustralium” and “Meditationes.”

“Ladder” is a short piece, about 20 pages,  written as a letter.   Guigo II became the ninth  prior of the mother house of the Grande Chartreuse in 1173 or 1174.  This  house is in the Benedictine tradition, which itself stretches back to the 6th Century.  He speaks of the four steps as a latter reaching from earth to heaven.    On the first read through I have some observations.

  • This is a means to a mystical experience  that is not automatic, but the desired result of the exercises   The person who follows this seeks to have “contemplation” in the sense of a mystical vision of Christ.
  • Thus meditation differs from contemplation in that the first is a mental reflection on the text, while the second is a spiritual experience.
  • It seems that to Guigo II this is part of a process of gaining eternal life. It is not merely part of his spiritual exercises; it is part of his salvation. [This is not totally clear in my reading.]
  • As far as anti-intellectualism, it seems first of all that in the 12th Century, there was not a lot of access to books, yet there was an emphasis on reading.  It may be better to say this is something above rational inquiry, not necessarily to replace it.  However, consider this quote, “Otherwise it is of no use for the reader to search in earthly books; there is little sweetness in the study of the literal sense, unless there be a commentary which is found in the heart, to reveal the inward sense.” [p. 76]  Like many in the middle ages, the real meaning of Scripture is sought beyond the grammar of the written page.

So the question for me is how is this useful to me as a protestant?  I have noticed that most protestant users of Lectio Divina live in the first three steps, and/or define the fourth step  in a different way.  that is to say, we see value in reading, meditation and prayer.  The end seems to be different, a more godly life as opposed to a mystic experience.

If I wrote a book on this, it would probably take the shape of a cycle.  Having received the new life in Christ (as an event not a process),  spiritual reading is a way to grow that faith and to extend the effect of salvation to all areas of life (this is a process, not a single event.)

Even so there are some interesting passages, particularly where he talks about how the stages are both sequential and inter-related. This quote defines the stages as Guigo uses them.

“Reading is the careful study of the Scriptures, concentrating all one’s powers on it.  Mediation is the busy application of the mind to seek with the help of one’s own reason for knowledge of hidden truth. Prayer is the heart’s devoted turning to God to drive away evil and obtain what is good.  Contemplation is when the mind is in some sort lifted up to God and held above itself, so that it tastes the joys of everlasting sweetness.”  [p.68]

My next project is to read the Rule of St. Benedict, written in 520 a.d. This is seen as the source of this particular stream of thought.


One thought on “Guigo II – Checking it Out

  1. Hello, JTW. You’ve followed me on Twitter, alhtough I haveno idea how you found me, in my tiny corner of the ether! Justwanted to say your poem, &#&si0;Minef2eld28#8221; is lovely. Quite apt for meat present. Post more, please. I’ll pop back to read more after Iget my own writing deadlines (technical, but my first contract.Still exciting!).

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