The Early Origins of Lectio Divina
Origin (185-232) laid the groundwork for Lectio Divina when he put forth the idea of reading to discover a deeper meaning that lay beyond the literal sense of the biblical text. “He used the Greek phrase thea anagnosis to describe scriptural reading for the purpose of finding a hidden message from God” .
This tradition continued into monasticism where it became an important part of the daily rhythm of monastic life. By the 5th century lectio was a well established practice in all monasteries. Benedict (480-543) extolled the value of “divine reading” in his Rule, making it a part of the daily ritual of monks in the Benedictine Order.
Guigo II (1140-1193) was the first to systematize Lectio Divina into four steps or moments: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation. Sometime around 1150 he wrote his famous Scala Claustralium, “The Monk’s Ladder.” In this writing uses the image of a ladder, reminiscent of Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28) stretching from earth into heaven.
This spiritual ladder is the means by which people “can climb from earth to heaven. It is a marvelously tall ladder, but with just four rungs, the one end standing on the ground, the other thrilling into the clouds and showing the climber heavenly secrets. Understand now what the four staves of this ladder are, each in turn. Reading. Lesson, is busily looking on Holy Scripture with all one’s will and wit. Meditation is a studious insearching with the mind to know what was before concealed through desiring proper skill. Prayer is a devout desiring of the heart to get what is good and avoid what is evil. Contemplation is the lifting up of the heart to God tasting somewhat of the heavenly sweetness and savour. Reading seeks, meditation finds, prayer asks, contemplation feels. The first degree is for beginners, the second for those profiting from it, the third for those who are devout, the fourth for those who are holy and blessed of God (Guigo).