Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Lectio Divina as School of Prayer

5. The hermeneutics of the desert

The few narratives I have mentioned give us a glimpse of the lines of force of what might be called the hermeneutics of the Fathers of the Desert - hermeneutics which are certainly never expressed in the form of abstract principles, but which are hermeneutics nevertheless. The great masters of modern hermeneutics, who considers every interpretation as a dialogue between the text and the reader or the hearer, and for whom every interpretation should normally lead to a transformation or a conversion, invented nothing. They gave expression to a reality which the Fathers of the Desert lived, certainly without being able to formulate it, - or in any case without being concerned about formulating it.

In the desert, Scripture is constantly being interpreted. This interpretation is not expressed in the form of commentaries and homilies, but in actions and gestures, in a life of holiness transformed by the constant dialogue of the monk with the Scriptures. The texts do not cease to be ever more significant not only for those who read and hear them, but also for those who meet these monks who have incarnated these texts in their life. The man of God who has assimilated the Word of God has become a new "text", a new object of interpretation. Moreover, it is in this context that we should understand the fact that in the desert the word of the Ancient is considered to have the same power as the Word of Scripture.

I have mentioned above the apophthegm of Antony when he replied to the brothers:

anthony_web"You have heard the Scriptures? they will do very well for you. In fact the brothers were not satisfied with this reply and said to him: "Father, we would also like a word from you". Then Antony told them:"The Gospel says: if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also". They said: "We cannot do that." The old man said to them: "If you cannot offer the other one, at least allow him to strike you on one cheek." - "We cannot even do that" - "If you cannot even do that", said he, "do not pay back the evil you have received." And they said: "We cannot do this either". Then the old man said to his disciple: "Prepare a little broth of corn for them, for they are ill. If you cannot do this, and you will not do that, what can I do for you? You are in need of prayer."


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