Dan Harrington, S.J., on Reading the Bible as a Roman Catholic Biblical Scholar

Dr. Daniel Harrington, S.J., professor of New Testament at Boston College recently posted at Huffington Post some reflections on the ancient practice of lectio divina (“divine” or “sacred reading”). This post picks up on Harrington’s chapter in The Bible and the Believer: How to Read the Bible Critically and Religiously co-author with me and Marc Brettler (Brandeis University) and published last month by Oxford University Press.

Lectio divina is an ancient Roman Catholic monastic pattern of reading Scripture, the goal of which is communion with God rather than intellectual analysis or study. It has also been an important element of the Anglican tradition and is gaining popularity among Protestants.

It may seem odd, then, for Harrington to claim: “Serious historical-critical biblical study and the devotional use of Scripture need not be viewed as opposites. In fact, they can and should enrich one another. Lectio divina provides a good framework for doing so.”

One of the stresses for believing biblical scholars is to bridge their academic study of Scripture with their own spiritual formation and that of their students. Harrington is suggesting a means of doing just that–a synthesis of old and new–and this biblical scholar appreciates his insights.



  • rvs

    Thanks for this insightful post. I now appreciate even more fully Kierkegaard’s point that the lover reads the love letter differently than the nonlover. Furor poeticus requires furor lectoris. Ergo, the search for an objective, disinterested, systematic reading of Scripture is inherently flawed, is it not? An authoritative reading of Scripture–this seems like a better phrase, especially if another authoritative reading might contradict the first reading in certain ways. How to judge the most authoritative readings? The tallness of the hat being worn does not seem like the best criteria. “The Protestant way of reading scripture,” David Olson argues, is algorithmic and produces disenchantment. Indeed, Olson claims that both Scripture and the Book of Nature suffer a profound disenchantment as a result of Protestant hermeneutics. This argument interests me. “The Protestant way of reading scripture” is a ridiculous generalization, I realize; Olson is thinking mostly about literalism-mongering and the jettisoning of sacramentalism. Nature becomes a clock, a mechanism, and Scripture becomes a set of propositions/instructions on how to build a swing set.

  • Mark Chenweth

    It was an interesting article and explained Lectio Devina well, but I wished there was more of a connection between the practice and historical/critical readings. It seemed to leave the two relatively unconnected. It does make me want to read this book though. His comment that we shouldn’t let the historical/critical questions distress us to the point of leading to spiritual/religious anxiety only shows that historical/critical studies can be done WITHOUT doing damage to one’s spiritual life. That’s great, but I just didn’t see a POSITIVE connection regarding how historical/critical studies can in some way or another AID in bringing us into God’s presence.

    Glad someone is thinking about this though.

    Orthodox are focusing on scripture and how it’s used in the lectionary, but still…how does THAT connect to historical/biblical studies?

    I’m looking forward to more fruitful discussion in this department.

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