Heidegger's "Handbook": The Spirituality of Scripture Reading

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

Bernard of Clairvaux’s[1] Golden Counsel concerning Reading the Scriptures


[From the Epistle to the Brothers of Mont-Dieu, Opera, page m. 1749, Basil Edition, 1552.]


William of St. Thierry

A casual and inconsistent reading, one lighted upon by chance, as it were, does not edify, but renders the soul unstable: and it, having been admitted without a thought, without a thought recedes from memory. But to trusty inclinations focused attention is to be given, and the mind is to be accustomed. For, by what Spirit the Scriptures were composed, by the same Spirit they need to be read; by Him they are also to be understood. For you will never enter into the sense of Paul, until by employment of a good intention in the reading of him, and by the pursuit of assiduous meditation, you will have imbibed his spirit. You will never understand David, until by experience you will have put on the very affections of the Psalms. And thus concerning the rest. And in all the Scripture study is no farther from reading, than friendship is from hospitality, social affection from fortuitous greeting. But from daily reading something is daily to be dropped into the belly of memory, which thing may be more faithfully disposed, and, having been called up again, ruminated upon again and again, which may harmonize with the purpose, which may be useful to the intention, which may detain the soul, so that it is not pleasing to consider things alien. From the course of reading affection is often to be drawn, and prayer to be formed, which interrupts the reading: and it does not so much impede by interrupting, as bring back an ever purer soul for understanding the reading. Reading serves the intention. If in the reading he that reads truly seeks God, all the things that he reads work together on his behalf for good, and he captures the sense of the reader, and reduces all the understanding of the reading unto the obedience of Christ. If the sense of the reader decline unto another, he draws all things after himself: and he finds in the scriptures nothing so holy, so pious, that either through vain glory, or distorted sense, or through depraved intellect, he does not apply it either to wickedness, or to vanity. For in all the scriptures the starting point for the reader ought to be the fear of the Lord,[2] so that in this first the intention of the reader might be made firm, and from this the understanding and sense of the entire reading might be ordered and arise.

[1] Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1157) was a Cistercian monk and abbot, whose learning and austere piety made him very influential in his day. However, the Golden Epistle to the Brothers of Mont-Dieu was written by William of St. Thierry (c. 1080-1148), a friend of Bernard. William was a Benedictine abbot, and later a Cisterician monk. His writings deal mostly with the development of the spiritual life and the quest for spiritual union with God.


[2] See Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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