Reading Needs Memory

“Reading needs the aid of memory, and even if memory is sluggish, it is sharpened by frequent meditation, and recovered by assiduous reading.  Often a prolix reading will overwhelm the memory with its length, but if it is short, and if one reconsiders its meaning in the mind, with the book put aside, then it may be read without effort, and the things which one has read, once recollected in memory, will not be lost.” Isidore of Seville, Sentences 3. 14. 7-8 (PL 83:689) translated in Duncan Robertson, Lectio Divina: The Medieval Experience of Reading (Collegeville, MN: 2011), p. 99.

Early Christian and medieval monastic writers understood the relationship between memory and reading.  Their technique, usually referred to as lectio divina (sacred reading), was a form of prayerful, meditative reading.  They did so to store God’s Word and other spiritual texts in their hearts.  Thereby, true meditation could take place.  Memory played an a significant role in their spirituality because of relative scarcity of texts.  However, they also sought to transform their souls through intentional memorization of religious texts.

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