A Look at Thomas Keating: The Benefits and Pitfalls of His View of Contemplation


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In order to dispel confusion on the topic of contemplation, today’s post will clarify certain benefits and problems inherent in some forms of the ancient practice. In order to accomplish this goal, I will use as an example Thomas Keating’s quaint book, Open Mind, Open Heart (1986). The title itself may beckon cheesy chick-flicks or, even worse, a Lifetime movie special on the horrors of unrequited love. In actuality, however, the book is refreshing and contains many great nuggets of truth. It is worth the buy. (You can do so here.)

Keating’s book also sometimes purports less desirable forms of contemplation. I say, “less desirable;” and not, “anti-gospel.” There will be no finger pointing today. I simply want to contrast an evangelical form of contemplation from Keating’s Roman Catholic and sometimes mystical perspective. I also realize that Keating, while an influence for the last 60 years, does not speak for all those who contemplate. The purpose of the post is simply to explain Keating’s view of contemplation, which contains both strengths and weaknesses, in order to learn from them as evangelicals.

Throughout many of my previous posts, I have mentioned that contemplation is somewhat content centered, that is, centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ. I also mentioned that contemplation is the quiet, restful, and ruminating side of communion with Christ. Keating also assumes these realities at times: “Jesus in his divinity is the source of contemplation,” as, for example, in the case of the transfiguration (16, cf. 17 for an elaboration).

But he can also say that the real problem confronting contemplators is not their sin but rather their thinking: “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from him” (44). I can certainly appreciate some of Keating’s sentiment if he refers only to believers in Christ, who are already washed in his blood but struggling through sanctification; yet, Keating’s words undoubtedly demonstrate a low view of sin, which is all too common in various strands of contemplation. One does not need to scour the history books to find examples of mystics affirming Keating at this juncture. (This is a later blog to be developed.)

Perhaps Keating’s following analogy clarifies what he means:

“Contemplative prayer is a way of awakening to the reality in which we are immersed. We rarely think of the air we breathe, yet it is in us and around us all the time. In a similar fashion, the presence of God penetrates us, is all around us, is always embracing us. Our awareness, unfortunately, is not awake to that dimension of reality. The purpose of prayer, the sacraments, and spiritual disciples is to awaken us” (44-45).

And: “God’s presence is available at every moment, but we have a giant obstacle in ourselves—our world view. It needs to be exchanged for the mind of Christ, for his world view. The mind of Christ is ours through faith and baptism . . . but to take possession of it requires a discipline that develops the sensitivity to hear Christ’s invitation: ‘behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone opens I will come in and sup with him and he with me’ (Rev 3:20). It is not a big effort to open a door” (45).

In a large sense, I agree with Keating here and elsewhere: a major problem that confronts human people is their own distorted worldviews. However, again, to say that flawed thinking is the “chief” problem misses the larger issue. The fundamental problem is not so much epistemological (thinking, worldview) as ontological (sin, separation, etc.). Keating’s analogies are insightful, even brilliant, but his metatheology sometimes misses the mark, at least from an evangelical vantage point.

Moreover, Keating helpfully identifies the importance and reality of the inner spiritual life of the believer. As he rightly notes, the heart of the monastic life was not so much its structures but rather its interior life in contemplation (29). He also effectively summarizes the lectio divina in several places: (1) the reflective part is meditation, which consists of pondering the words of Scripture; (2) the spontaneous part is affective prayer as one responds to the reflections; and (3) the contemplative part is where the reflections and acts of will are simplified as one moves into rest in the presence of God (20). Furthermore, he makes contemplation practical for people in new and insightful ways. He explains at least three steps: (1) silence, calmness; (2) focus on a “sacred word;” and (3) rest in God. I especially like his focus on “intention” and not “attention” in contemplative prayer.

Lastly, Keating rightly identifies God’s work in contemplation: “In contemplative prayer the Spirit places us in a position where we are at rest and disinclined to fight. By his secret anointings the Spirit heals the wounds of our fragile human nature at a level beyond our psychological perception, just as a personal who is anesthetized has no idea of how the operation is going until after it is over. Interior silence is the perfect seed bed for divine love to take root” (45). While his suggestion here faces some of the same objections I previously noted, he carefully notes God’s spiritual work, which functions as a scalpel in our hearts as we silently rest in him.

Nevertheless, Keating often identifies the inner life of the human in contemplation in odd and perhaps unbiblical manners. In one instance, he peculiarly states that the object of contemplation is to “deepen our contact with the ground of our own being” (46). If he refers to introspection here, then his sentiment is understandable; but it seems odd to say “our own being.” Is not the object communion with God in Christ by the Spirit? (Other times he does suggest this reality.) In another instance, while he rightly notes that our thoughts and feelings must be resting on something (34-35), he then elaborates, “They are resting on the inner stream of consciousness, which is our participation in God’s being” (35). Granted that all things, including our thoughts, are ultimately held together in Christ (Col 1:15); yet his view tends to associate too quickly our thoughts and our participation in God’s being. I cannot help but discern an implicit mysticism and even pantheism in some of these statements. Perhaps I misunderstand.

The point of this post is in no way to demean Keating’s work; it is also not to set up the proverbial whipping boy. I greatly respect and appreciate his insights. Rather, recognizing the distinct possibility for theological problems in the controversial subject of contemplation, this post has sought to show how my understanding of contemplation is similar and different from another view, namely, Thomas Keating’s view. Hopefully, the post has related the positives of Keating’s view throughout; hopefully, it has demonstrated some potential pitfalls as well. (I am sure that my view has as many pitfalls.)

In short, Keating’s work is excellent and practically relatable, yet it sometimes misplaces or ignores the theological foundations of contemplation, namely, those related to the seriousness of sin and the centrality of the cross. (For a more coherent treatment of theological foundations, see Kyle Strobel’s excellent article, “In Your Light They Shall See Light” in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care.)

How should one contemplate? By reading Scripture, meditating it, remembering God, and thus moving into a quiet, humble posture of resting in God (cf. Augustine, Calvin, and the Psalms).

(For a more expansive overview of Keating’s work, see James C. Wilhoit’s article, “Contemplative and Centering Prayer” in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care.)

Aquinas and Plato walk into a bar, and everyone thinks, “wait a second, this isn’t right” – Thomas Aquinas, the Forms, and Intellect


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I’ve been thinking a lot about Thomas Aquinas’s relationship to Platonic philosophy and his incorporation of it into his system. The saying goes, as I have often heard, that Thomas basically (and even, simply) appropriates Aristotle in his stance on, say, the passive and active intellect. On this reading, the active intellect is a capacity of the soul and not in any way something transcendent to it; thus, following the logic of Aristotle, there is no “universal” form of intellect but rather only particular forms in matter. (I realize that there are competing interpretations of Aristotle at this juncture.)

The objection often raised against Aristotle at this stage is the following: if there is no universal form apart from instantiated form, then universals could not exist (which of course contradicts Aristotle’s program). It is not the purpose of this blogpost to solve all these problems. Rather, I want to show how Thomas employs Platonic ideas via Augustine in order to solve Aristotle’s problem. The post thus accentuates a Platonic Thomas as much as an Aristotelian one. This research is now new, but is rather a personal response and rumination that was spurned by a discussion with a friend. (Bear in mind that I am no Thomas Aquinas scholar.)

Thomas shows his cards early in the Summa as he discusses the divine intelligence.[1] Indeed, the divine intelligence, as Thomas says, must be attached to the perfections of God, which are the logical assumption of the rest of theology.[2] He thereafter continues to elaborate the idea of the good in general, God’s goodness, infinity, existence, immutability, and eternity.[3] His philosophy/theology thus must be traced back to God himself, or more specifically, the divine intelligence.[4]

God created the world intelligently, that is, not by chance but according to God’s exemplary idea. In other words, the “ideas” (cf. Plato, Augustine) are in the divine mind. Thomas writes, “As then the world was not made by chance, but by God acting by his intellect . . . there must exist in the divine mind a form of the likeness of which the world was made.”[5] Or, as he more succinctly suggests earlier: necesse est ponere in mente divina ideas (“It is necessary to posit ideas in the divine mind”).[6] He continues, “Hence by ideas are understood the forms of things, existing apart from the things themselves.”[7] In this way, Thomas is able to incorporate the thoughts of both Plato and Augustine—a noticeable feat, indeed—by suggesting that the universal ideas are in the mind of God. (Of course, he also rightly criticizes Plato for postulating the existence of ideas apart from a [divine] mind.[8] By the way, this is where Plotinus picks up Plato by suggesting that the latter’s conception of the Good [or Beauty] is the abstract form that is contained within the Nous of the One, thus completing and perfecting Plato’s own unfinished system. This is another story….)

Importantly, Thomas avers that the exemplary idea is Christ himself. While it is true that Thomas does not explicitly say that the ideas are in the Son, the implication of his theology leads to this reality in two ways. First, just as Thomas before argues that the ideas are in the intellect of God (see above), so also by calling Christ, among other things, the emanation of the intellect, he suggests that the ideas are in Christ by extension. As he writes, using Aristotle and Augustine, the Word corresponds to the “concept of the intellect” within God; or, Christ is the “emanation of the intellect,” and, by way of this emanation, he “is called the Son”.[9] Second, Thomas often associates the Son with the mind of God. Namely, just as the “exterior vocal sound is called a word from the fact that it signifies the interior concept of the mind,” so also “first and chiefly, the interior concept of the mind is called a word.”[10] In other words, as the Son is called the Word, the biblical witness means to point us to the reality that he is himself the intellect of God. Therefore, again by extension, Thomas suggests that the ideas are in the Son. While at the beginning of his theology, he may be faulted for being less that Christocrentric,[11] he later overturns this problem.

The above argument grounds his later (more prominent) argument that a person, using an a posteriori method, can discern the existence and (basic) nature of God in the natural world. Thomas is attempting to clarify how general revelation in the natural world discloses God’s “power” and “nature” (Rom 1:20). The world reveals God, as the ideas of God found in the world are comprehended by the intellect of a person.[12] Furthermore, in a similar manner to God’s revelation in the natural world, Scripture reveals God through words.[13] As in the natural world, there must be correspondence between the ideas in Scripture and the ideas in the knowing person. In other words, in the natural world, God’s revelation is through “things,” that is, events; whereas in Scripture, revelation is through “words.”[14]

The manner in which Thomas argues for this revelation in the natural world and Scripture is both technical and dense. While this post cannot comprehensively elaborate his arguments here, it shall explain, first, the knowledge that may be gleaned from sensible objects and, second and more pertinently, the revelation-knowledge that may be gleaned from immaterial or spiritual objects, i.e., God’s revelation in creation or Scripture. While the argument that Thomas Aquinas uses a Platonic conception—via Augustine—to justify the reality of ideas in the divine mind should already be clear, the following discussion should explain it further.

First, Thomas holds that, while the concrete particular is always in view in knowledge,[15] the direct object of such knowledge is the form or universal within the concrete body: “So, then, our intellect understands the universal itself directly through the intelligible species, whereas it indirectly understands the singulars that the phantasms are phantasms of.”[16] The point of knowledge for him, therefore, is for the mind to abstract the universal form from the individualizing matter. In this manner, following Aristotle, he is able to say simultaneously that the mind has knowledge of the particular and the universal. Namely, “the sensory power has direct cognition of them [contingent things] and the intellect has indirect cognition of them, whereas the intellect has cognition of the universal and necessary aspects of contingent things” so that “some scientific knowledge has to do with necessary things and some has to do with contingent things.”[17] Notice, therefore, that Thomas’ epistemology leads him to implicate a sort of tabula rasa of the mind as sense-perception is the only source of knowledge. Reminiscent of Aristotle, he writes that “our natural knowledge begins from sense [i.e., perception]. Hence our natural knowledge can go as far as it can be led by sensible things.”[18] (Neither, of course, falls into the Humeian trap.)

Second, because all knowledge necessarily stems from sensible particulars (see above), he continues to define just how a person knows invisible or immaterial objects (which include God’s revelation through the natural world and Scripture). His basic argument is this: a person’s idea (from the natural world or Scripture) is true insomuch as it correlated with the divine idea (in the natural world or Scripture). Namely, while we cannot sense immaterial objects, we have an “active intellect” that allows us to see God in natural objects.[19] Indeed, as he suggests, the primary object of the intellect is being.[20] Incorporating some insights from Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine, he continues to explain, however, that there is a difference between our sensory and intellectual capacities: the former roughly correspond to material objects, whereas the latter correspond to spiritual objects.[21] In this manner, he answers his original question—how then does a person know the immaterial, spiritual, or divine?—by turning to intellectual cognition. As he states, “It seems that intellectual cognition is not taken from sensible things.”[22] In other words, part of the rational faculty of people includes the ability to induce God through analogy from the natural world and Scripture. Therefore, as sensible cognition is not the sum of a person’s mental capacity, “it is nothing to be astonished at if intellectual cognition extends further than sensible cognition” so that we may have a sort of “knowledge of invisible things.”[23] While the mind cannot apprehend the being of God directly, it can do so indirectly through the world because “sensible objects, as finite and contingent, reveal their relation to God, so that the intellect can know that God exists” and something about his nature.[24] He applies this same principle to Scripture because, as he argues, “It is appropriate for spiritual things to be proposed by means of likeness drawn from corporeal objects.”[25] In the end, he explains that, in the natural world, we can know God through nature “by cause, by way of excess, and by removal of” (lit. ut causam, et per excessum, et per remotionem [1:84.7, 3]); and, in Scripture, God can be known through the fourfold senses of his Word.[26]

In the end, the fondness of Thomas for Aristotle is usually overblown. This post has been long and technical, but it has sought to show that Thomas appeals to divine ideas as a ground for his understanding of the intellect. While he was a hylomorphist—conceiving of being as a compound of body and soul—he also avers that being is ultimately exemplified in the divine ideas (within the mind of God). Such a conclusion is hardly a blind following of Aristotelianism. He is rather following the logic of Augustine, whose incorporation of Plotinus perfected the incomplete system of Plato before him. Ideas are ultimately grounded in the divine mind. (How he connects his hylomorphism to his understanding of the divine ideas is unclear to me at this juncture.)

Fredrick Copleston is right to suggest that, while Thomas incorporated Aristotelian vocabulary and concepts, the theologian “was no blind worshiper of the Philosopher.”[27] Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt argues similarly.[28] Thomas often either attempts to explore and explain Augustine through the Aristotelian categories, or he interprets Aristotle in a manner that is consonant with Augustine. Lydia Schumacher concludes, “In affirming all of this, I implicitly challenge the longstanding assumption that Aquinas’ philosophy is essentially Aristotelian, at the expense of being Augustinian.”[29]

[1]Norman Kretzmann explicitly argues for this logic. Cf. Norman Kretzmann, The Metaphysics of Creation: Aquinas’ Natural Theology in Summa Contra Gentiles II (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998), 33-35.

[2]Thomas of Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, rev. ed. (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1920), 1:4.

[3]Ibid., 1:5-10.

[4]For a comprehensive logical or topical overview of the Summa Theologica itself, see Martin Grabmann, Introduction to the Theological Summa of Thomas Aquinas (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1930). For a more chronological approach, see Edward J. Gratsch, Aquinas’ Summa: An Introduction and Interpretation (New York: Alba House, 1985).

[5]Ibid., 1:15.1.



[8]Ibid.; see also Thomas, Truth, trans. Robert W. Mulligan (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1954), 2.1, 3.1; cf. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 2:359-360. For his defense of the (plural) ideas in the mind of God along with God’s own simplicity, see 1:15.1-3; idem, Contra Gentiles, 1:53-54. Therefore, while finite minds and their language compel us to speak in terms of subject and predicate, and while we apprehend the divine intellect in piecemeal, no such distinction exists in the simple mind/nature of God (idem, Summa Contra Gentiles: On the Truth of the Catholic Faith, trans. Anton C. Pegis (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1955), 1:31).

[9]Summa, 1:34.1, 2; cf. idem, Truth, 4.1, cf. 3.1.

[10]Ibid., 1:34.1.

[11]Cf. Ibid., 1:1-26, 44-119.

[12]He fundamentally argues this notion by appealing to his doctrine of analogy for knowledge (Summa Theologica, 1:13.5; cf. Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching, 68). Regarding the existence of God, he induces the necessity of God’s existence via the five ways: from (1) motion, (2) efficient cause, (3) possibility and necessity, (4) gradation, and (5) governance (Ibid., 1:2.1-3; cf. 1:12-15; idem, Summa Contra Gentiles, 1:13.1-35). Regarding the nature of God, he suggests that God’s perfections may be induced from the natural world “by cause, by way of excess, and by removal of” (lit. ut causam, et per excessum, et per remotionem [1:84.7, 3]). He thereafter posits the nature of God in terms of his perfections, goodness, infinity, existence, immutability, eternity, oneness, knowledge, truth, life, will, love, justice, mercy, providence, predestination, power, and beatitude (cf. 1:4-26). To bring Thomas’ thought together, it seems that the world reveals to us (1) the kind of relationship that God has with the world, (2) that God is not part (but rather cause) of the world, and (3) that God’s not being in the world is a result of his transcendence and not imperfection (Ibid., 1:12.12; cf. Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching, 62, fn. 5). For an excellent discussion of the natural theology inherent within Thomas’ discussions here, see Bruce D. Marshall, “Quod Scit Una Uetula: Aquinas on the Nature of Theology,” in The Theology of Thomas Aquinas, ed. Rik Van Nieuwenhove and Joseph Wawrykow (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 1-35.

[13]Theology or sacred doctrine, Thomas writes, “properly uses citations from the canonical Scriptures when arguing from necessity, whereas it uses citations from other doctors of the Church as if arguing from what is properly its own, though with probability. For our Faith is based on the revelation made to the Apostles and Prophets who wrote the canonical books and not on any revelation that might have been made to the other doctors” (idem, Summa Theologica, 1:1.8; cf. Dulles, Revelation Theology, 41). As he continues, “Holy Scripture” reveals God through words so that “spiritual truths are fittingly conveyed with bodily metaphors” (Ibid., 1:1.9). As Bauerschmidt summarizes, the point of the Scriptures is “for God to teach us” and “like any good teacher, God adapts his methods to the requirements of his students” (idem, Holy Teaching, 40, fn. 34; cf. Thomas, Summa Theologica, 1:1.8-10; 1:13.5). While Thomas’ understanding of Scripture and relation to theology is notoriously difficult and complex, it is important to note that, for Thomas, Scripture, tradition, and theology are overlapping and interdependent concepts. As Valkenberg notes, “my modern question ‘how do you use Scripture in your theology?’ would have been redundant in his [Thomas’] view” (Valkenberg, Words of the Living God, 11; cf. Christopher T. Baglow, “Sacred Scripture and Sacred Doctrine in Saint Thomas Aquinas,” in Aquinas on Doctrine: A Critical Introduction, ed. Thomas G. Weinandy, Daniel A. Keating, and John P. Yocum [London: T & T Clark, 2004], 1-25; cf. Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching, 37, fn. 24). For an excellent treatment of Thomas’ relationship between faith and reason, see Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt, Thomas Aquinas: Faith, Reason, and Following Christ, in Christian Theology in Context, ed. Timothy Gorringe, Serene Jones, and Graham Ward (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). For Thomas’ own “biblical theology,” or at least the closest he comes to laying out one, see Thomas, Summa Theologica, 3:27-59; cf. Valkenberg, Words of the Living God, 20. Especially within Protestant circles, Thomas’ commentaries have been overlooked in favor of his philosophical theology in his two Summas. For a helpful introduction to his exegesis, see Thomas G. Weinandy, Daniel A. Keating, and John P. Yocum, eds., Aquinas on Scripture: An Introduction to his Biblical Commentaries (London: T & T Clark, 2005); Thomas Prügel, Thomas Aquinas as Interpreter of Scripture, in The Theology of Thomas Aquinas, ed. Rik Van Nieuwenhove and Joseph Wawrykow (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 386-415.

[14]Ibid., 1:1.10; cf. Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching, 43, fn. 41.

[15]Cf. his contrast between the concrete/particular of something and its concept/idea (Ibid., 1:5.2).

[16]Aquinas, Treatise on Human Nature: The Complete Text (Summa Theologiae I, Questions 75-102), trans. Alfred Freddoso (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine, 2010), 1:86.1.

[17]Ibid., 1:86.3.

[18]Ibid., 1:12.12; cf. 1:84.7; 1:88.1; Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching, 40, fn. 33; Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 2:392, cf. 388-393.

[19]Ibid., 1:88.1.

[20]Ibid., 1:79.7; 1:5.2.

[21]Ibid., 1:84.6.

[22]Ibid., 1:84.6.

[23]Ibid., 1:84.6.

[24]Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 2:393-394.

[25]Ibid., 1:1.9.

[26]Ibid., 1:1.10; cf. Bauerschmidt, Holy Teaching, 43, fns. 41-44.

[27]Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 2:323.

[28]idem, Holy Teaching: Introducing the ‘Summa Theologiae’ of St. Thomas Aquinas [Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005], 14, 21-22.

[29]Schumacher, Divine Illumination, 155. For an excellent translation and survey of biographical documents surrounding Thomas’s life, see Kenelm Foster, trans. and ed., The Life of Saint Thomas Aquinas: Biographical Documents (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1959).

Academic People: Here’s a solution to all your problems. (Not really, but it’s pretty cool.)


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C-pen 3.0

C-pen 3.0

Do you dread copying quotes from books? Do you hate holding down a book with one hand and typing with the other? Of course you do. It’s pretty annoying. If you want to save some time and energy, then this product is for you.

It is a digital handheld scanner called the C-pen 3.0. At $120.00 or so, it is not cheap. You can find it here or here. The maker has also come out with a 3.5 model. I missed the boat on that one.

The reason I bought this digital highlighter was simple: I really like to quote people…I mean, all the time. While I suppose that I can write some things relatively eloquently, there is always someone else who is smarter and better with words. After I wrote my dissertation, I realized that a lot of the time spent writing involved merely holding down a book while I tried to copy a quotation or bibliographic information. (Of course, 100,000 of my 200,000 words were footnotes, but that is another story.) I never liked to do these things. This scanner has made my life a lot easier. And I just got it yesterday.

Okay, so I am definitely exaggerating, but I do like it.

If you are interested in something like this portable scanner, I will show you what it can and cannot do in this post. I decided to use Charles Hodge’s second volume of Systematic Theology (Hendrickson reprint edition, 2003). Not only is he likable and above controversy in every way all the time (*cough*), but also he often uses multiple languages throughout (English, Latin, and Greek). He is a great option to showcase the C-pen.

The C-pen is especially good at scanning straight English text. In fact, even as a beginner, I was able to scan about 5 inches a second and still obtain surprisingly accurate results.

Here’s an (unedited) example:

“The doctrine which makes all sin to consist in selfishness, as it has been generally held, especially in this country, considers selfishness the opposite of benevolence agreeably to the theory which has just been considered. There are others, however, that mean by it the opposite to the love of God. As God is the proper centre of the soul and the sum of all perfection, apostasy from Him is the essence of sin ; apostasy from God involves, it is said, a falling back into ourselves, and making self the centre of our being. Thus Miiller,^ Tholuck,^ and many others, make alienation from God the primary principle of sin” (148).

The pen made only three mistakes (a surprising feat considering the unbendable binding of the book): (1) a semicolon was misplaced by one space, (2) in the place of two footnote markings, the pen inserted “^”, and it misspelled Müller as Miiler. These are pretty minor errors considering it only took me 20 seconds to scan the text.

After I redid the scan, I realized that the pen can scan “Müller” correctly, but it will almost never perceive a footnote number correctly. Oh well.

The C-pen also accurately scans Latin and Greek, as long as you enable these languages on your pen. The pen apparently recognizes some 250 languages.

Greek/Latin Examples:

“Ambrose says, ‘ Manifesturn itaque in Adam omnes peccasse quasi in massa : ipse enim per peccatum corruptus, quos genuit omnes nati sunt sub peccato. Ex eo igitur cuncti peccatores, quia ex ipso sumus omnes.’”

And: “Πάντες ούν oi e^ Αδα/χ γενο/χενοι εν αμαρτίαις συλλαμβάνονται ttj του ττροττάτορος καταδίκη — δεικνυσιν ως €^ άρχης ή άνρθρωπων φύσις υπό την άμαρτίαν πεπτωκεν υπό τ^ς iv Ενα τταρα βάσεως, και υπό κατάραν η yivvησις yeyovev.”

Here is another example of Greek on the first try: “ενδυσά/χενοι τον νέοι/, τον άνακαινου/χενον εις επιγνωσιν κατ εικόνα του κτισαντος αυτόν.”

The pen is certainly not perfect, but it is relatively accurate, especially considering several words were split by trailing hyphens. Oh, by the way, the pen will read and understand what a trailing hyphen is and then remove it and put the word together in text. It is pretty nifty.

However, the pen has more difficulty constantly switching between languages. Here, Greek, English, and Latin are included together:

“Clemens Alexandrinus says: τό yap έζαμαρτάνζιν πασιν ΐμφντον και κοινον. Justm says, To yevo<s των άνθρώττων άττο τον Άδά/Λ νττο θάνατον καΐ ττλάνψ τψ του οφεως ΐττζπτωκΐί, although he adds, τταρά την ιδίαν αΐτίαν €κάστου αντωνπονηρευσαμέι^ον. Origen says, “ Si Levi …. In lumbis Abrahae fuisse perhibetur, multo magis omnes homines qui in hoc mundo nascuntur et nati sunt, in lumbis errant Adse, cum adhuc sunt de Paradiso.” Athanasius says,* Πάι/rcs oiv oi e^ Αδα/χ yevofi€voi €v άμαρτίαίζ συλλαμβάνονται rjj του ττροττάτορος καταδίκη — δεικνυσιν ω? E^ άρχης η άνρθρωπων φύσις υττο την άμαρτίαν ττέπτωκ^ν νττο της iv Ένα τταρα βάσ€ωζ, και νττο κατάραν η yivvησι<I yeyovev.

While it reads fairly accurately (kind of), I had to move the pen a lot slower in this example. It should be noted that the pen perhaps would pick up a newer, more modern Greek font better than the font that Hendrickson uses. (Also, note that the Greek text is skewed a bit by the font in WordPress.)

Moreover, the pen is unable to read accurately text that has been previously underlined. The problem makes sense, but it is unfortunate nonetheless. Here is an example of underlined text. It is pretty horrific:

^^ opPi^sition^to alLthe.fon^^           or the doctrine of a threefold substancejn the^nstitution ofmn^2imay^£rremarked, (10 That it is opposed to the account oftH^^^pg^^tj^Qf man as given in Gen. ii. 7. Accordmg^t^^ out_ofjthe]Just οΓϊΒβ eartETand breathed into him the treath of life, and he became’ π;ΐΐ”~^ *; ^;’ * f^^^^glrm^?. I3””ntt?^) I” whom is a living soul.

Yikes, the C-pen is not even worth the hassle in these cases. It can only handle clean and unobstructed text.

Lastly, just for grins, the following example shows what happens when I moved the pen as fast as possible. Surprisingly, it is relatively accurate:

“This theory is founded on the following principles, or is an essential element in the following system of doctrine : (1.) Happi¬ iss is the greatest good. Whatever tends to promote the greatest amount of happiness is for that reason good, and whatever he opposite tendency is evil. (2.) As happiness is the only and ultimate good, benevolence, or tne disposition or purpose to pro¬ mote happiness, must be the essence and sum of virtue. (3.) As God is intinite, He must be infinitely benevolent, and therefore it must be his desire and purpose to produce the greatest possible amount of happiness.”

Notably, as the makers say, the pen can also do more. Or so they say…. They say it can translate whatever you scan into another language. But because the dictionaries cost money, and because the reviews said that it did not work well, I did not bother to try this feature. It is better to learn the language anyway. There are also several other add-ons, including a dictionary that gives the definition of a word after it is scanned. I personally could not see myself using this feature. I use google to look up words, and it works just fine. I suppose the scanner’s more immediate feature is great for people with poor vocabularies. Just kidding.

Here’s a list of pros and cons, as I see them thus far:


  1. It is excellent for scanning quotes. If you are the type of person who likes to read a book and copy the quotes later, this pen is certainly for you. It makes taking notes and copying quotations simple and streamlined. While the pen is best with “typical” characters in English, French, and German, it also does a good job with Greek.
  2. It saves time. You can’t argue with that.
  3. It is easy to use. Most of the features were learned in minutes. This surprised me.
  4. It is light and handheld. It’s actually pretty elegant.
  5. It makes you look hip and technological.


  1. It is technology. Technology makes you stupider over time. That’s science.
  2. The C-pen seems a bit frail and easily breakable. I will get back to you on this one.
  3. No battery options in my model. Some models have this. Many pens also come with Bluetooth options. Mine did not.
  4. Get accustomed to writing in the margins. It cannot read text that has been underlined. You will need to get out of this habit if you buy the pen.
  5. It cannot recognize Hebrew. But who reads the OT anyway, right?
  6. It is one more thing to be snarky about. First pogs, then coffee, and now this?

My concluded opinion: it is worth the $120, if you have it. The C-pen will buy itself through the shear time it saves. While it is not as adaptable and flexible as I would like, it serves its purpose well. I think most academics would find this pen valuable. You don’t need the pen by your side 24/7, but it comes in handy after you markup a book or have a bunch of information to write down.


Gazing God (part 2): Contemplation, Remembering, and Seeing


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The previous post argued that contemplation is epistemologically based upon revelation in both its external (e.g. Scripture) and internal (e.g., illumination) senses. This statement includes and inevitably leads to a practical theology of contemplation.

Today’s post will look at two specific examples wherein David contemplates God (that is, “gazes God”) in a personal manner. The first example involves David beholding God’s face (Ps 17), and the second example involves him contemplating God in his mighty works (Ps 77). In both examples, David searches history (whether personal or corporate), seeking God’s face in the present life through searching the past. David teaches us a simple point: beholding God is personal and transformative.

In Psalm 17 David desires to behold God in a personal way. He cries out to God in his distress and asks for justice: “Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry!” (Psalm 17:1). Having established his anguish, weakness, and torments (vv. 2-12), he then emphatically points to the hope that is his, as it is grounded in God’s covenant: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (in v. 15; cf. 24:6; 44:24).[1] These are strong words, indeed.

While only Moses knew God face to face (Deut 34:10; Num 12:8), the author asks for this privilege for himself. As Kidner reflects, David “leaves these earthy preoccupations behind” in the former verses, and he boldly requests the judicial and transformative experience of seeing and knowing God, pointing towards the final promise of seeing God as he is and being like him (1 John 3:2; cf. 2 Cor 3:18).[2] As Calvin notes, while v. 15 ultimately reflects the final resurrection, one must not limit it to that time frame: “but as the saints, when God causes some rays of the knowledge of his love to enter into their hearts . . . David justly calls this peace of joy of the Holy Spirit satisfaction.”[3] While David struggles to sense God, he is assured that one day he will in fact behold him closely. He wants to contemplate God again in his righteousness.

Another example of this personal and transformative contemplation may be found in Psalm 77. Herein the psalmist faces a deep inner struggling and depression in the face of not seeing God in his life. While he believes God is there and exists, it seems as if God does not care (vv. 1-9). The psalmist’s downcast nature is so marked that, he writes, “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints” (v. 3). In his pain, the psalmist considers and contemplates God and his works. He remembers the mighty deeds of God in the exodus, these “wonders of old,” and he ponders and meditates upon these “mighty deeds” (vv. 11-12, cf. 23-15).[4] As he remembers these mighty deeds, he recalls that the holy and great God “redeemed your people” through the exodus from Egypt (v. 15), recalling his Christian readers to consider also the second exodus.[5] Afterwards, the psalmist vividly considers the majestic actions of God in splitting the waters of the sea. As the poet ponders and captures these tremendous events in his mind, he conveys them for the sake of encouragement. These actions show not only the holy and majestic power of God but also his gracious and caring shepherding: “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (v. 20). He thus contemplates God as shepherd, pointing towards Christ as the good shepherd.

The psalmist thus shows that contemplation is a means for the believer to grow and experience God in one’s walk. When one feels awry, one only needs to remember.

We must remember God; much more, we must remember God well, not merely considering him through our selective memory. Here, again, the importance of contemplation may be discerned in its gospel remembrance.

The point of these previous two posts is simple: contemplation is based upon revelation; as it is so based, contemplation seeks to remember God and behold him for the sake of personal knowledge and transformation according to the gospel of Christ. Paul explains this well: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). Paul’s words are a reality for every new covenant believer. As he or she “turns to the Lord, the veil is removed” (v. 16-17), namely, through the more complete revelation in Christ (external) and the unveiling of perception by the Spirit (internal).

Contemplation is a key way in which believers experience communion with God in Christ. This post has added to the discussion by explaining two ways in which contemplation may be practiced: by (1) prayerfully desiring to behold God in his righteousness and (2) thoroughly remembering the mighty works of God in the past.

[1]Cf. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 104.

[2]Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 107.

[3]Calvin, Psalms, 1:254.

[4]See also Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 309.

[5]Boice, Psalms, 2: 641-644.

Gazing God (part 1): Contemplation Grounded in (external and internal) Revelation


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In the next two posts, I want to consider a couple other important traits of contemplation: contemplation as (1) revelation grounded and (2) personally purposed. Today’s post will describe contemplation as gazing God in his revelation (which is both external and internal); the next post will suggest that contemplation likewise gazes God through remembering him in his past deeds and seeing him presently in one’s life in a gospel-centered manner.

Contemplation is grounded in revelation. (This point is implicit in previous posts before, such as here and here.) In order to demonstrate further this point, I will use Psalm 119.

Revelation can be understood in both an external and internal sense, reflecting what the Reformers considered to be the principium cognoscendi externum and the principium cognoscendi internum, namely, the Word and Spirit. In other words, revelation is external and internal, whether a revelation occurs objectively to the human person in the form of a disclosure of information (external) or subjectively to the human person in the form of an unveiling of perception (internal). Following Psalms 1 and 19, Psalm 119 beautifully describes the love of the law of the Lord (external) and the necessity of the illumination of the Lord (internal).

While the purpose of this discussion is not to give a detailed account of this psalm, it is important to establish what this psalm has to say or imply about contemplation. Kidner reflects the overall picture of the psalm: “The mood is meditative; the poet’s preoccupations and circumstances come to light in prayers and exclamations, not marshalled in sequence but dispersed throughout the psalm.”[1] As the poet describes in many ways, Scripture (e.g., law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandment, ordinances, word, promise) is the joyful basis of the poet’s reflection. “I cling to your testimonies, O LORD; let me not be put to shame!” (v. 31). He does not simply contemplate God in his being but rather God as he revealed himself. As the poet does so, he acknowledges that, by seeking God in his word, the poet is liberated from sin (v. 133), guided by light (v. 105), given new life (vv. 37, 40), and given hope and stability (vv. 49-50), among other things.[2] To know God is to know God in his revelation. The psalm thus reminds us that gospel contemplation is grounded in Scripture meditation. This notion accounts for why the lectio divina begins by “biting” Scripture (i.e., reading it) and ends by “ingesting” it (i.e., contemplating it). Contemplation is ultimately grounded in God’s revelation.

The psalm also shows that the believer requires a special inner revelation in order to perceive the word. The Mosaic law, no matter how high and wonderful a revelation, is simply not complete. David prays, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps 119:18). David thus prays that God might “open” his eyes so that he can actually perceive what is in the law. One insightful commentator, Leslie C. Allen, rightly deduces: the text shows that the “Torah represents God” and the “hiding of God’s face in standard psalm usage is replaced . . . by hiding the Torah.”[3] Because the Torah is “hidden,” in other words, the psalmist asks for a personal, internal revelation (i.e., “open my eyes”) to perceive or understand correctly. Reflecting upon the meaning of revelation, Colin Brown concludes, “In this way Samuel [in Sam 3:7] and David [in Ps 119:18] are able to hear God’s instructions and promises.”[4] In some sense, then, God’s revealing activity happens in both an external (covenantal speaking) and internal (covenantal hearing) sense. Contemplation thus requires the special illumination of the Spirit.

Contemplation fundamentally involves gazing God in his revelation, and this requires the work of the Spirit. Contemplation is thus ultimately based upon the revelation of God (in this case, Scripture), and it requires the illumination of God by the Spirit. The next post will use Psalms 77 and 17 to show that “gazing God” is a profoundly personal matter.

[1]Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 452. For a most detailed explanation of the setting, tone, and structure of the psalm, see Allen, Psalms 101-50, 180-192.

[2]For a more comprehensive list, see Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 456-457.

[3]Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-50, rev. ed., Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002), 186.

[4]Brown, “Revelation,” 3:311. Regarding the meaning, John Calvin perceptively writes, “Having acknowledged, that power to keep the law is imparted to men by God, he, at the same time, adds, that every man is blind, until he also enlighten the eyes of his understanding.” In other words, God must “remove the veil from our eyes” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms 93-150, trans. James Anderson, The Calvin Translation Society [Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996], 413).

For Thomas Aquinas lovers




(Shown above: the Summa Theologiae: Complete Set, Latin-English Edition)

While we often read his Summa, many do not utilize the wealth of knowledge and insight from Thomas Aquinas’s commentaries, now available for Matthew and John and Paul’s letters, both Latin-English editions. As I have begun to read through them, I am struck by his careful exegesis and profound scriptural judgment. I cannot wait to use these in my work.

(More to come later.)

Chewing on Jesus: Contemplation as Meditative Eating


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A few weeks ago I explored the difference between contemplation and related spiritual disciplines such as meditation and introspection. More importantly, I explained contemplation in light of the traditional understanding of the lectio divina and its fourfold steps: Read, meditate, pray, contemplate. Following the monastic tradition, I compared these sequential steps to biting, chewing, savoring, and digesting/absorbing food. This post will further explain how contemplation and eating are analogous. I will primarily use Psalm 19 to do so.

Before diving into Psalm 19, it is worth noting that Scripture often compares the words of God to food. First, the word of God is necessary for nourishment. As God declares through Amos, “Behold, the days are coming . . . when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). The words of God are necessary, so much so that a lack of them is likened to a famine. Second, and related, the words of God are pleasant to taste. God’s words are “sweeter than honey to my mouth (Ps 119:103), and they are “the delight of my heart” (Jer 15:16). Lastly, the word of God allows the believer to grow. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet 2:2-3). Indeed, those who are immature need the “basic principles of the oracles of God,” whereas those who are mature can handle “solid food” (Heb 5:11-14).

The tentative point is simple: the analogy between food and God’s word is not without warrant. Therefore, the lectio divina and its fourfold step process—biting, chewing, savoring, and digesting/absorbing food—is a helpful way to understand one’s reading of Scripture. Indeed, Scripture is meant to be absorbed. David reflects this kind of perspective on God’s words throughout his psalms. These psalms reflect a deep pondering and application that is analogous to eating: biting, chewing, savoring, and digesting/absorbing.

In Psalm 19, for example, David takes a bite and savors the words of God. (He most often uses the term “law,” but this is a comprehensive term for God’s revealed will, that is, his word.[1])

            The law of the LORD is perfect,

reviving the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure,

making wise the simple;

the precepts of the LORD are right,

rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is pure,

enlightening the eyes;

the fear of the LORD is clean,

enduring forever;

the rules of the LORD are true,

and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold,

even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey

and drippings of the honeycomb.

Moreover, by them is your servant warned;

in keeping them there is great reward” (Ps 19:7-11).

David here contemplates the beauty of God’s word. He chews and savors the reality of the power and goodness of the word. He says that God’s word is perfect, certain, right, pure, clean, and true; it likewise gives life, wisdom, joy, enlightenment, and stability (vv. 7-9). David’s point is simple: when one beholds the words of God, one beholds something about God. In a similar way that God’s works in creation expose his awesomeness, so also Gods words in Scripture expose his majesty. As Derek Kidner reflects, David shows “the practical purpose of revelation, to bring God’s will to bear on the hearer and evoke intelligent reverence, well-founded trust, detailed obedience.”[2] It is unsurprising that David concludes with a meditation: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (v. 14). Contemplation for David is an act of chewing, ingesting, and absorbing.

Additionally, in the first half of the psalm, David considers the works of God, that is, creation itself. As he contemplates creation, he ascribes to creation the ability to speak the word of God. The heavens “declare” God’s glory, and the skies “proclaim” his workmanship (v. 1). He continues strikingly:

            Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words,

whose voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.

In them he has set a tent for the sun” (Psalm 19:2-4).

As people gaze at the universe, they behold the creator God. God’s glory is so displayed that, just as “there is nothing hidden from [the Sun’s] heat” (v. 6), so also there is nothing in the universe hidden from God’s intricate detail.[3] David thus also refers to creation as declaring and proclaiming words.

David’s poetic writings (in these and other instances) show a man who contemplated God. Along with Scripture as a whole, he often considered the words of God as an analogy of eating. This kind of argument finds warrant in how he writes his poetry in Psalm 19. (For more examples from David, which more comprehensively show David’s contemplative method, see Psalm 119 and 139.)

The word of God must be eaten; it must be read, savored, and contemplated. It’s a pretty simple idea with larger consequences. In the beginning was the Word, who created the universe. As we look upon and perceive the “proclamation” of creation, therefore, we are contemplating the creative result of this Word. The Word then became human flesh, dwelling among us. He is not only meant to be understood and known by humans; rather, he is to be savored and “absorbed” by his people through contemplation. (Remember Mary who lay at his feet?) He, the Word incarnate, is ultimately the object of contemplation and affection. The Spirit, thereafter, wrote the word of the gospel in Scripture to be read and contemplated by us today.

While one might not want to push this analogy through the wall, it is interesting to note the words of Jesus Christ at the first “Lord’s Supper:” he told his disciples to eat the bread and drink the wine, which is, he says, “my body” and blood “for you” (1 Cor 11:24). We remember Jesus and contemplate him by eating him and drinking his blood. This eating is of course a spiritual eating, but the wording and scriptural allusions are certainly interesting and telling. Scripture forms an analogy between God’s word and food, suggesting the very intimate manner in which the believer ought to understand the Word; likewise, Jesus Christ, drawing from the scriptural imagery before, compares his disciples eating of food to a relationship with himself, the incarnate Word.

Contemplation may be likened to eating. It is biting, chewing, savoring, and ingesting the word of God.

(I said, “May be likened.” Remember, it’s a metaphor, people. J)

[1]Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 117.

[2]Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 117.

[3]For an excellent overview of these verses, see Kidner, Psalms 1-72, 114-116.

Study the Old Stuff of Philosophy


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I recently came across a philosopher – or rather, an historian of philosophy – named Robert Pasnau. He is Professor of Philosophy at CU-Boulder, and he edited the two-volume Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy (2010) and the annual Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy. For all you Thomas Aquinas lovers, his 2002 monograph, Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature (Cambridge UP), won the American Philosophical Association Book Prize.

He had this to say to prospective graduate students of philosophy. (You can read his entire letter here.)

The discipline of philosophy benefits from a serious, sustained engagement with its history. Most of the interesting, important work in philosophy is not being done right now, at this precise instant in time, but lies more or less hidden in the past, waiting to be uncovered. Philosophers who limit themselves to the present restrict their horizons to whatever happens to be the latest fashion, and deprive themselves of a vast sea of conceptual resources.

If you think you have original philosophical thoughts in you, they can wait – indeed, it’s better to let them wait until you’ve had the chance to develop the philosophical breadth and depth to make the most of them…

[M]any philosophers today are presentists – they think that the only philosophy worth reading has been written in the last 100 years, if not the last 30 years. This attitude is hard to justify. The historical record shows that philosophy – unlike science and math – does not develop in steady, linear fashion. Perhaps the very best historical era ever came at the very start, in Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. If that was not it, then one has to wait some 1600 years, for the century from Aquinas to Oresme, (Who’s Oresme?, you may ask. Exactly.) or wait 2000 years, for Descartes through Kant. I’m leaving out important figures, of course, but also many quite fallow periods, even in modern times. Maybe subsequent generations will judge 2011 and environs as the highpoint up until now of the whole history of philosophy, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Every generation of philosophers has been equally prepossessed by its own ideas.

Of course, I am no more capable than others of judging my own times, but certainly I am not alone in feeling some amount of dissatisfaction with the way philosophy looks today. Tyler Burge nicely expresses my own worries when he remarks, in the preface to his recent book, that “if philosophy is not to slide toward irrelevance and become a puzzle-game-playing discipline, good mainly for teaching the young to think clearly, some central parts of philosophy must broaden their horizons.” Burge mainly has in mind science as a broadening influence; I think the history of philosophy can play a similar role. Although a background in the history of the subject is obviously not a prerequisite for doing deep and original work, it helps, and I fear the discipline’s present collective neglect of its past contributes to its often insular character.

There you have it: read the old stuff. The new stuff ain’t new.

A Monastic Contribution: Mediation, Contemplation, and the ‘Lectio Divina’


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After receiving questions on the relationship between contemplation and meditation (and other spiritual practices), I thought I would write a short post to clarify the relationship. Ultimately, I will use the example of the monastic practice of lectio divina in order to describe the similarities and differences. The example will also serve as a holistic lens by which to understand the method or practice of contemplation.

While contemplation is related to and overlaps with other spiritual practices such as meditation and introspection, there is a firm distinction. For example, meditation seeks to saturate one’s mind with God’s Word and ruminate those words within. Introspection specifically seeks to understand the self (especially in terms of exposing sin). I would understand contemplation as the larger practice that organically integrates both elements as it actively seeks to understand and appraise the person’s union with God through Christ Jesus. Contemplation does not only seek reflective understanding of sin (introspection) or the text (meditation); it also seeks personal, intellectual, and practical integration of the gospel by mind-saturated, comprehensive, and cohesive rumination. Contemplation includes meditation and introspection, but not necessarily the other way around.

To use the example from last week’s post on Psalm 145: meditation is what we do when we absorb and apply God’s words through David, and contemplation is what David was doing as he ruminated on the unsearchable and mysterious greatness of God while also applying this truth to the world around him. Meditation’s content or object is Scripture, while contemplation’s object is God himself, especially as he is understood through the lens of the gospel. While they overlap in many ways, contemplation can be seen as the larger category with meditation as part. This difference was also implicit in Calvin’s heretofore seen distinction between meditation (of Scripture) and contemplation (of the acts of God, i.e., the gospel).

While one might disagree with my distinctions here, they go back to the earlier church. One can see a similar distinction within the lectio divina, an expression of the earlier Rule of St. Benedict.[1] The lectio divina involves a synthesis of the love of letters (of Scripture) and the desire for God. It sought to understand Scripture, not so much as a text to be studied, but as the living Word with Christ as the center. Founded upon the tradition set forth by Origen, Benedict, and Gregory I, the process included up to four steps: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate. The last stage was often seen as the final end or purpose of the whole practice, that is, to see and savor the Lord (cf. Guigo II).

Read, meditate, pray, contemplate. The first stage consists of a prepared stillness wherein one asks for the Spirit to come alongside as he/she thoughtfully reads the passage (cf. Ps 46:10; 1 Cor 2:9-10). The second stage involves, after several readings, a deep and multi-perspectival pondering of the text as it relates to the gospel in Christ (cf. Ps 19; 119). The third stage prays such a meditation to God as the reader asks to live out the meaning of the passage. The fourth stage involves the total experience and appreciation of the person in communion with God.

While there may have been some less helpful forms of the lectio divina, the ancient practice helpfully clarifies the purpose and progression of reading Scripture. One must take a bite (lectio), chew (meditatio), savor the essence (oratio), and then digest and absorb and thereby imitate (contemplatio). The monastic reading was thus meditative and reflective, as the person’s goal was to experience the divine realities in Scripture (hence the term from Benedict and others, “divine readings”).[2] In this sense, I would include meditation and introspection under the larger umbrella of this reading unto contemplation.

A concise example would help to express the intent of the lectio divina. Take, say, John 6:35: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” A more modern analytical reading would approach the text descriptively (e.g., what Jesus meant by “bread,” how his audience would interpret this kind of statement, the literary context of John’s organization, authorial intention, etc.), which accounts for why modern commentaries are so darn dry and boring. A lectio divina reading would ask other questions. After reading the passage aloud in context several times, the person would ruminate (lit.: masticate) on the passage, perceiving connections between Jesus words here and Israel’s wilderness wanderings, for example. Using words from the passage as a sort of concordance hook for the rest of Scripture, the person would continue to pray the Scripture for the world and their own life in God. In other words, they would not so much intellectually dissect the meaning of “Bread of life” but rather ingest, chew, and digest Jesus Christ as the bread. They wanted to know Scripture, certainly; but they wanted this knowledge to intersect and change their hearts.

(Notice, I am not advocating the mutual exclusion of the analytical and monastic methods.)

Summarizing the basic difference between this monastic method and scholastic theology (more akin to analytic methods), Jean Leclercq notes, “Rather than speculative insights [in scholastic theology], it gives them a certain appreciation, of savoring and clinging to the truth and, what is everything, the love of God” (4; cf. 72-73). Benedict, for example, wanted his monks to experience the gospel in their “divine reading;” the best way to do so, he believed, was by reading Scripture as speaking (not only to the ancient context but also) to them. As Leclercq says again, “Theology, spirituality, cultural history: these three realities were not separated in the real life of the monks, and they can never be dissociated” (6; cf. 28-34). It is no wonder that Benedict preferred the pastoral and personal writings of Origen and Gregory I over other more intellectual and esoteric writings. It is also no wonder that the monks—along with many other Christians in that day—interpreted Scripture through the fourfold witness (Scripture as literal, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical), but this is another topic for another time.

In total, reading Scripture includes and encompasses the holistic human capacity. This is in fact part of the reason that the ancient always sounded out the words while reading, weighing all words and releasing their full flavor. Without the lectio divina, I fear, one may easily fail to read Scripture in light of its intent and goal: the personal and reflective knowledge of Jesus Christ as your Lord. Without the lectio, or at least the contemplative and personal aspects of it, one simply reads to understand the meaning of Scripture and not necessarily its direct intent for you. Reading Scripture is—and ought to be—inescapably bound with personal meditation and gospel contemplation.

[1]The Rule of St. Benedict: In Latin and English with Notes, ed. Timothy Fry (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1981), chapter 48 (pgs. 249-252).

[2]See Jean Leclercq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture, trans. Catharine Misrahi (New York: Fordham University Press, 1982), 16-22; D. Rees, Consider Your Call (London: SPCK, 1978), 261-273; D. Gorce, La Lectio Divina (Paris: Picard, 1925).

Exciting Development: Amandus Polanus’s “A System of Christian Theology” (10 vols.) will be published in English

A System of Christian Theology (10 vols.)

One of my favorite Reformed theologians is Amandus Polanus. He is well-known for his logical distinctions and his ability to summarize and systematize the Reformed tradition before him. I was excited to hear that his work, the Syntagma, is being published (by download only).

The Syntagma has influenced the giants of the Reformed tradition, like John Owen, Charles Hodge, and B. B. Warfield, and was consistently relied upon by such theologians as Herman Bavinck and Karl Barth. In his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Richard A. Muller cites and refers to Polanus and the Syntagma nearly 600 times to illustrate classic Reformed orthodoxy. An invaluable resource for scholars, pastors, students, and interested lay-people, the Syntagma is the chief representative of Reformed orthodoxy in the generation following the Reformation, coming at last in English as A System of Christian Theology.


Lexham Press is pleased to announce the first ever English translation of Amandus Polanus’Syntagma Theologiae Christianae, or, A System of Christian Theology. Using the Pre-Pub Process for this project allows us to invest in translating Syntagma Theologiae Christianae, in proportion to community demand. With Pre-Pub, books that have hitherto only been available to specialists will soon be accessible to everyone. As the scope of the project becomes clearer (for example, once we announce the translator and begin production), the price may increase. That means users who pre-order right away will get the best price.

I’d encourage you to buy it. It is a must-own for those who love Reformed theology.

See the series on the Logos website here.