Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Reading as a Spiritual Discipline

Paul J. Griffiths, "Reading as a Spiritual Discipline" In The Scope of Our Art: The Vocation of the Theological Teacher edited by L. Gregory Jones and Stephanie Paulsell. Eerdmans, 2002.

Hugh of St. Victor stated, "For the Christian philosopher, reading should be an encouragement, not busy-work; it should nourish good desires, not kill them" (32). John Webster asserts, "A theological school is a place where Scripture and the classics of theological response to Scripture are read in common to the end of the formation of Christian intellectual habits" (32). These quotes seem to assert that reading is important to spiritual formation. In a footnote, Griffiths states, "Formation is generally preferred to education as a word for what does (or ought to) go on in a (Christian) theological school because it emphasizes that Christians are made, not born, and their Christian-ness must be given them rather than educed (drawn out) from them" (32-33).

 Does this theological formation require a certain type of reading? Paul Griffiths thinks that it does require a certain type of reading. He discusses literacy and how we think it is all about being able to take meaning from letters on a page. This makes me think of Adler's How to Read a Book. This book was written for people who already know how to read. This show their are different levels of reading. Theological formation will probably require a level above basic literacy or a different way of reading. For example, the stress in literacy is improving your speed in reading. Some types of reading will require us to slow down.

The author in this articles describes three types of reading. The first type of reading he calls "academic reading." Two terms he uses to describe this type of reading are "technical mastery" and Consumption-for-use." Griffiths states that academic readers "typically show a deep concern with reading just what the author of whatever they're reading wrote" (37). This type of reading emphasizes getting just the facts. Griffiths writes, "Academic reading is, then, not aimed at and does not lead to God, or true art, or effective happiness, or moral transformation. It does not provide answers to questions of value . . . it answers only questions of fact" (39).

The second type of reading is called "Proustian." Griffiths writes that this type of reading "is productive of sensual, aesthetic, and (often) properly sexual pleasure" (40). In other words, they are reading for some type of experience. They are not really interested in the content of the material.

The third type of reading is "Victorine," referring to the work of Hugh of St. Victor. The Victorines divided books to be read into two types: "One is that work that belong to the arts; the other is that it belongs to the writings that should be called divine" (43). The Victorines thought these works should be read differently. They do not think non-scriptural works should be ignored. They thought they must be read carefully because of errors. They had an ordered program for reading these works. They first read these non scriptural works "by analyzing them grammatically, syntactically, and semantically" (44). Second, they studied the work analytically. This step would be similar to how the academic reader read a work. The third step had to do with the memory. Griffiths observes, "The memory must be used to order and compile . . . extracts that illustrate the analytical outline at the second stage; these extracts are to be memorized verbatim where they can later be ruminated at leisure" (44). The last step would be the "chewing-over memorized extracts" in some type of outline of what had been read. At this stage the reader would ruminate over the "implications" of the work.

The Victorines established a certain relationship with the work read. Hugh emphasized "the need for humility before what is read" (44). Even nonscriptural works were considered an "instrument that contributes to the reader's wisdom and that permits advance to divine wisdom" (44).

The three different types of reading as different ends for their reading. Hugh would probably say academic readers read for "fame and honor." Proustian readers read for pleasure. Then there are those who read to better understand God. Griffiths states, "Victorine readers, then, read with the knowledge and love of God always before them as the point of purpose of their reading" (45). They also looked at Scriptute as canonical reading and nonscriptural works as noncanonical reading. The canon is defined as what is "essential and primary." Griffiths notes, "Everything noncanonical (nonscriptural) is to be read in the light of what is canonical" (45).

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