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.

Contemplative Bible Reading – Richard Peace


Another book on Lectio Divina (in which Fresh Read learns how to pronounce this correctly (lex-ee-oh di-vee-nuh).

I am just getting familiar with this book. It is designed as a study guide for an individual or a group.  What I like is that first Peace presents a rather normal (for evangelicals) bible study on each sample passage.  then he offers a separate Lectio exercise on each passage.

I like this because our reflection on the word needs to be based on what the word actually says.  There is a great danger of subjectivity in scripture reading, that is we read the text without regard to the intended meaning.  There is also the danger of objectivity – if we leave our relationship to scripture to the assembling of information, we have not heard the word of God.

This is where reflective or meditative reading comes in.  We allow this book to speak to us by the ministry of the Holy Spirit   It is personal, prayerful and thoughtful.

To me it seems that Bible Study compares with cooking a meal.  You need to know how to prepare, mix and cook properly.  Just as in Bible study you need to know about grammar, history, genre and so forth.

Lectio Divina compares with eating the meal, not wolfing it down in your car, but eating it with friends or family in a relaxed and conversational style.

I will add more as I delve into this book.

Contemplative Bible Reading, Richard Peace, 1998, NavPress.

Practical Suggestions on Spiritual Reading



On Reading:



Here are some excerpts from “Sacred Reading” by Michael Casey (Ligouri, 1996)


  • Time: The best plan is to identify a brief daily slot that we could devote to our sacred reading – with a backup if necessary.  The main thing is to be realistic….It is better for morale to spend 5 minutes once a day and stick with it, than to pan on a longer duration and fail to find time.
  • Text selection: Read repeatedly from a single book of the bible – starting with one of the 4 gospels – and spend from 3 to 6 months in that book.
  • Ambience:  If you do your lectio divinia in areas associated with other activities, don’t be surprised if you are assailed by distractions…The first requirement is a degree of privacy.  The Gospels tell us as much (Matthew 6:6).
  • Lighting:  Whereas meditation often works best in dimness, spiritual reading obviously needs sufficient light o read the text comfortably.  For some people a large print Bible is a good idea.  Often some sort of bookstand can be helpful to get the page at the best angle and distance.
  • Routine.   Many people find that the repetition of customary actions is a great help in dropping off to sleep…the same kind of process can often help us in our prayer related activities.
  • Prayer.  Sometimes prayer wells us naturally during our reading; in such cases we do not need much external guidance.  At other times our reading may seem dry, and then we have to prime the pump.  If no prayer rises spontaneously from the text, we have to make a positive effort to add prayer.
    • E.g. Begin with a Psalm, or just one section of Psalm 119, this psalm is a celebration of the gift of God’s word, and saying part of it reflectively before we begin our reading helps unstill in us that spirit of joyful reference that makes us sensitive to its inner meaning.
  • Active Reading:  Spiritual reading is like reading poetry:  We need to slow down, to savor what we read, and to allow the text to trigger memories and associations that reside below the threshold of awareness.
  • Notes:  “…we may wish to compile a florigelium as the ancient monks did, writing a verse or two in of our daily reading in a book, so that gradually we build up an anthology of texts that have spoken to us.


Latin, Really?

JohnSo what we are doing in this time of preaching, teaching and reading John’s Gospel is “lectio divina.”  This is a way of reading the bible that has a long history; Most things with a Latin name have a long history.  I like Latin, as little as i know if it, but I prefer ordinary speech.


the official stages are:

  • lectio, to read in a way the really listens to the biblical text
  • meditatio, which E Peterson defines as “mov[ing] from looking at the words of the text to entering the world of the text.”
  • oratio, to pray in response to the text, all kinds of prayers are possible
  • contemplatio, which seems to mean more than the English cognate, “contemplate”, to also include living out the text.

J. Wilhold and E. Howard in “Discovering Lectio Divina”, (IVP, 2012), translate these to

  • Reading
  • Meditating
  • Praying
  • Contemplating

As a preacher I try to eschew obfuscation.  It seems to me that we can say that the process is this.  Take a selection, find a place and an uninterrupted period of time, without interruptions, and

  • Read deeply to understand what the text means, noticing its shape, genre, art and direction.
  • Think about what the text is saying, how it relates to other things you know, how it relates to your world and your personal life.  Carry it around with you after you have left your reading place.
  • Respond to God in any way that is suitable; Scripture models all kinds of prayer from silent to exuberant, from spontaneous to formal, individual and corporate.
  • Live, with the presence of the Spirit to guide and enable, what you have learned.
  • Repeat as necessary (yes, I added that)

If you like alliteration: Read, Reflect, Respond, Redirect, Repeat.

This is a new topic for me, so I plan to play around with what works for me and also with what communicates to people who are not attracted to tradition, to Latin or to history lessons.  As an unreformed history major, I like all of that stuff.  But tradition is helpful as a gentle guide, not as a drill sergeant.

a B c

So there will be an emphasis on the ABC’s of the faith this year: Attend whenever you can, Read the Bible Richly, Connect to Christ.  As part of the B the sermon focus from Advent to Easter will be on the Gospel of John.  I did preach John about a decade ago, but this time it will be with a different approach.  We will encourage each other to read, deeply and richly, the Gospel.  As I work out the schedule for the church, it will be posted here.

In the Catholic Tradition it is called “Lectio Divina”, or Divine Reading.  Being rather “low church” here, we will simply call it spiritual reading, or reading richly.  The idea is that we need to not just cast our eyes over the text, or to simply think about it.  We need to enter its story, smell its smells, imagine it’s events, carry around the teaching and chew on it like a dog chews on its bone.  What is more is that bible reading is a personal act – we read the book with the company of the Holy Spirit who walks with us through the text.