Making Friends

“Next, at fixed hours time should be given to certain definite reading.  For haphazard reading, constantly varied and as if lighted upon by chance does not edify makes the mind unstable; taken into the memory lightly, it goes out from it even more lightly.  But you should concentrate on certain authors and let your mind grow accustomed to them.” William of St Thierry, The Golden Epistle I. xxxi. 120., trans. Theodore Berkeley (Spencer, MA: Cistercian, 1971), p. 51.

The twelfth-century monk and theologian, William of St Thierry, wrote this work as a guide for the spiritual life of monks.  In this section, he instructs novices (those new to the monastery) on the monastic way of life.  These chapters describe how monks practiced reading the Bible.  Following this section, William continued:

“The Scriptures need to be read and understood in the same spirit in which they were written.  You will never enter into Paul’s meaning until by constant application to reading him and by giving yourself to constant meditation you have imbibed his spirit.  You will never understand David until by experience you have made the very sentiments of the psalms your own.  And that applies to all Scripture.  There is the same gulf between attentive study and mere reading as there is between friendship and acquaintance with a passing guest, between boon companionship and chance meeting.” William, Golden Epistle I. xxxi. 121, Ibid., pp. 51-52. [Emphasis added]

William compares reading texts properly to friendship.  One must not read too quickly or only be introduced to the text as if to a temporary guest.  Friendships rest on getting to know each other over a long period of time.  William explains to young monks that the Scriptures must become like a friend to them.  In this way they will become ‘imbibed’ with the spirit of the text and truly understand its true meaning.

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