Last week I discussed the first part of the Preface in Hugh of Saint Victor’s work, Didascalicon, particularly the way he identifies four varieties of learners, two virtuous and two sinful. For the virtuous learner who truly desires to grow and use his gifts of intellect (however great or meager they may be), Hugh of Saint Victor suggests that there are two things “by which every man advances in knowledge”: reading and meditation.
With respect to reading, he argues that learning to read requires three important steps. First, one must know what to read. Second, one must know in what order he ought to read. Third, one must know how to read. He goes on to explain how he will explore these three questions for both secular writings (Part I) and then for Sacred Scripture (Part II).
Of meditation, however, his preface has nothing more to say. Surely he goes on to discuss much more about meditation, but recently I have been reflecting myself on the nature and purpose of meditation. I often clarify with my students that meditation in Christianity is a much different exercise than it is in Eastern religions or New Age Spirituality. In the latter, meditation means emptying oneself, clearing one’s mind, and becoming one with the universe. In Christianity, however, meditation means filling our minds, typically with Scripture, and thinking deeply upon it. Eugene Peterson uses the analogy of his dog chewing upon the bones of some animal he found near the forested foothills of Montana to describe biblical meditation.
As I have been pondering this idea of meditation frequently in recent weeks, stumbling upon Hugh of Saint Victor’s commendation of its importance was exciting. But I’ve run into a problem—the lack of quiet. True, Christian meditation is much different than in Eastern religions, but they do share in common the importance of silence and solitude, something that has been significantly lacking in my life as of late. I am trying to learn how to find these times of silence and solitude in my busy schedule, providing me with a type of Sabbath rest for deep contemplation. I’ll end here today, but next week I will explore this idea further in my series Theology through the Eyes of Fiction in a piece entitled, “Lectio Divina and the Monster Book of Monsters: Harry Potter and the Art of Spiritual Reading.”
Hugh of Saint Victor, The Didascalicon, Trans. Jerome Taylor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 44.
Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 1-2.