The Lectio

The pro and con approach to study found in Abelard's Sic et Non treatise provides the occasion to underscore the procedures of education that guided studies in the liberal arts, philosophy proper, and the reading of

Scripture or theology. These procedures were reading (lectio), questioning (quaestio), and disputing (disputatio). Each of these exercises has a long history. The lectio or reading exercise already had classic phases at the time of Varro, which was shortly before the time of Christ. The first stage of the lectio was reading in the narrow and simple sense of reading aloud. The next level of lectio involved the analysis of the text: looking at its plan, its faults and achievements, its originality, and so forth. A commentary, which included definitions, etymologies, and explanations of figures of speech and rhetorical techniques, came next. This more extended exercise of reading was capped off with a judgment. This judgment generally was based on aesthetic appreciations. However, in the world of St. Augustine and earlier Christian authors, judgments concerning particular biblical texts were made in terms of the rule of faith and would measure whether or not the interpretation increased the love of God and neighbor.

The nature and purpose of the lectio developed as the years went by. Robert of Melun, a pupil and sometime critic of Abelard, attacks readers who limit lectio to the recitation of biblical texts or to the recitation and glosses on them. Robert wanted more from the lector (reader): "What else do we look for in a lectio than the understanding of the text, which is called its meaning?" For him, as for Abelard, lectio means all the activities that lead up to understanding. "What is known, if the meaning is not known, or what is taught if the meaning is not unfolded?"

The lector routinely focused on traditionally respected texts. The lectio for teachers of grammar was centered on the texts of Donatus and Priscian; the lectio for the teachers of rhetoric concentrated on the texts attributed to Cicero and Quintilian. The lectio for the dialecticians centered on Porphyry's Isagoge [Introduction], Aristotle's Categories and On Interpretations, and Boethius's commentaries on them. The lectio for theology was the biblical text. These were the authoritative texts. The glosses providing definitions, etymologies, and so forth came from those who offered special help. For the Bible, in particular, the authorities were Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Hilary, Basil, Gregory the Great, John Chrysostom, and others. The philosophical authorities were Aristotle, Cicero, Boethius, Plato, Chalcidius, Marius Victorinus, Macrobius, and Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite. The chief characteristics of the lectio were that it was authoritative, based on respected interpreters, and assimilative, passing on the riches car ried by a wise tradition. The lector was a teacher whose expertise was to know and pass on the authoritative teachings of the liberal arts, of the philosophers, and of the Bible — that is, any of the ancient authorities who might help the scholar or apprentice to learn more about the authoritative texts.

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