Friday, April 5, 2013

The Three Books of God

Frank Livingstone Huntley, Bishop Joseph Hall and Protestant Meditation in Seventeenth-Century England, pp. 9-10:

Variety of Subject Matter in the "Three Books of God." Finally, Protestant meditation as opposed to Ignatian has a far greater variety in subject matter and procedure since it is more widely based on the "three books of God." In meditation the Protestant is not confined to the passion of Christ and the four eschatological "facts." He is free to roam through all the majesty of God's creation, through the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, and into his innermost soul's perception of God Himself. Two of the "books" have been made familiar through such confessions as this one of Dr. Thomas Browne: "Thus there are two books from whence I collect my divinity: besides that written one of God, another of his servant nature."7 As soon as the "I" is mentioned or even thought, a third "volume" is added for the Protestant, that of the ego, the conscience, the soul -- through which, even were the creatures and the Bible unavailable, one can still know God. In 1623 Owen Feltham recognized the "three books" in his Resolves: "God hath left three bookes to the World, in each of which hee may easily be found: The Booke of the Creatures, the Booke of Conscience, and his written Word."8 Thus Professor Martz summarizes "the Augustinian Quest" for Henry Vaughan by saying: "Such is the paradise within, compounded of the Bible, of Nature, and of the Self, which lies at the heart of Vaughan's Silex Scintillans, 1650...."9 For Protestant meditation in seventeenth century England, perhaps it took Joshua Sylvester's translation of the French Huguenot poet's Les Semaines to popularize the book of the creatures, King James' committees of Anglican bishops and Puritan divines for a new translation of the Bible to lend impetus to the book of Scriptures, and St. Paul, St. Augustine, and Calvin to stimulate the individual's soul-hunger for God.
Of the "three books," that of the Scriptures is central; and for meditation, if one book of the Bible were central to this, it would be the Psalms, a supposition strengthened by the incredibly fruitful custom, from Sydney to Milton, of putting psalms into English verse for singing. In the King James version of the Bible, the term "meditation" occurs more often in the Psalms than in all the other books of the Bible put together, and in the biblical mind of the Protestant the act of meditation is linked more closely to poetry and fervent ejaculatory address than to mental discipline. The Psalmist's most famous religious address (Ps. 19:14) does not mention paradigm or even intellect: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer." Joseph Hall had sung the Psalms from his boyhood, and while writing on meditation tried his hand at "metaphrasing" a few of them. "Indeed, my Poetrie was long sithence out of date," he writes in the 1607 publication of the result, "and yielded hir place to grauer studies; but whose vaine would it not revive to looke into these heauenly songs? I were not woorthy to be a Diuine, if it should repent me to be a Poet with DAVID, after I shall haue aged in the Pulpit."10 David's psalms contain all "three books of God": some praise the Lord for his "creatures" (Pss. 33, 104, 148); others cogitate His written commands (Ps. 119, no. 5); and still others seek God by looking into the poet's soul (Pss. 6, 22, 38, 42). One of the psalms that combines all three "books" is Psalm 19, which ends with the phrase "the meditations of my heart." The Psalm is divided into three parts: the first six verses meditate on "the Book of the Creatures"; the next four verses, on "the Book of Scriptures"; and the last four verses open up "the Book of the Soul," that is the individual's conscience. The Psalms of David, as well as the whole Bible from Genesis to the Revelation, provide literally for the Protestant "God's plenty" in varied subjects on which to meditate.
7. Religio Medici, pt. 1, sect. 25.
8. Owen Feltham, Resolves: A Duple Century, 4th ed. (London, 1631), 2nd cent. no. 68.
9. Louis L. Martz, The Paradise Within, p. 30.

No comments:

Post a Comment