Some thoughts on study

by Bernard Brandt


In an earlier post, I suggested that Christians (and indeed, all humans) might want to get off their dead, er, intentions, and take steps to become the persons they were meant to be. I proposed a four step program, for starters, involving prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and study.

The only problem with such an approach is that our Lord has told us to pray, not openly, but in one’s inner closet; to fast, but not to make a big show of it; and to give alms, or to help people, but in secret. In short, it seems that our Lord is giving us similar counsel to that given by Patrick Dennis in one of his books about either sex or money: “Those who have it, don’t talk about it.”

Fortunately, I can get around Our Lord’s strictures in two ways. First, rather than tell you what I think about our Lord’s counsels, I can tell you what Sacred Scripture, what the Fathers, and what the Saints have said about prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Second, as neither our Lord nor any Person of the Holy and Life Giving Trinity has said anything against talking about study, it seems that I am free to do so.

While there is plenty that Scripture has to say about learning and study, a good beginning would be with the first Psalm. This tells us that ‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.’

These days, what with changes in our methods of education, that needs a bit of unpacking. In the days when scrolls or books were a bit more labor intensive than they are these days, what with tanning skins or making papyrus, hand writing and hand binding, people used to make more use of memory than they do now. Thus, students, while walking, would recite to each other what they learned. They would also stand at attention, either in a hall or in the open air, while a teacher would sit down, and either read from a scroll or a book, or taught the people ex tempore.

Now, I don’t think that the Psalmist, or the Holy Spirit who inspired him, is saying anything bad here about being in study groups, or hearing lectures, or even in teaching. On the other hand, I think this Psalm has a great deal to say about those with whom we study, those whom we read or listen to, and the manner in which we teach. If we study with the ungodly, if we listen only to sinners, and if we teach others scornfully, we are told by the Psalmist and by God that we will receive no blessing for it.

Now, let’s stop and think about that for a minute. Perhaps this means that we should be a bit more careful about whom we choose to listen to on the several mass media, including but not limited to print. Perhaps it also may mean that we might want to spend a bit more time thinking about where we want to send our children for their schooling. Finally, perhaps it means that we should not be scornful when we attempt to teach others.

But I digress. The point of the Psalmist here is that God’s blessings are in the one who ‘delights in the law of the Lord, and in His law does he meditate day and night.’

Let’s also unpack that sentence, starting with the clause, ‘delights in the law of the Lord’. Originally, this had the meaning of one who delighted in the study of Torah. But as God inspired more and more of Scripture, in the Writings and the Prophets. And, as our Lord chose to say that ‘every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old’, then it would appear that God’s blessing is also upon those who study all of Scripture, Old and New.

I would go several steps further than that. I believe that the Second Vatican Council was inspired when, in the document Dei Verbum, the Council Fathers proclaimed that Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium were the three means by which the Holy Spirit has spoken to humankind. I also hold to the Patristic view that God’s revelation can be found both in Scripture and in the Universe which God created. Finally, I hold to the Patristic view that each human being has an individual and unique insight into God’s creation. Thus, I believe that God’s blessing is upon all who seek to understand God through His Scriptures, His Creation, and his Creatures.

Now, let’s look at the other half of that verse: ‘and in His law does he meditate day and night.’ Now, I dunno about you, but I suspect that this ‘meditation’ is something other than repeating a mantra or phrase. It might be therefore reasonable to look at other scriptures to see what is meant here. You know, there are a lot of folk who believe Scripture is God’s instruction manual to us, or something like that. We might want to look through it, just to see what God has to say about the subject.

As for me, and after a long time of looking, I’ve come to the conclusion that the best point of entry to the subject of this ‘meditation’ thingee was given by the Prophet Isaiah, when he said: There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.’

You know, just between you and me, there might be something to these ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’, as Isaiah put it. They might just be the process of ‘meditation’ that the Psalmist is talking about. It seems, anyway, as if an awful lot has been written about them, in Scripture, by the Fathers, and by the Saints. Why, lookee here! There’s even a Wikipedia article! And with comments from everyone from St. Tommy the Ox to the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church. This may just be worth looking into.

To be continued…