Reading and the Ark

From contemplation to reason, against the storm.

crashing waves

A lesson in the voice of Hugh of St. Victor, adapted from his writings on education in the art of reading, and his interpretation of the story of Noah’s Ark.

When it comes to knowing, logic is the last to be discovered. For learning, it is a good place to start. Just remember, real things do not always conform to the conclusions of reasoning. One needs to learn for certain, what forms of reasoning to trust, and which to hold suspect. Without such discernment, reasoning may mislead as often as it may lead. The ancients offer plenty of examples. Take Epicurus, for example, equating pleasure and virtue. Yikes, but he meant well.

Better to start with the true and whole nature of argument. Consider this: exposition includes the letter and the sense–– beyond both, the inner meaning. No study of a worthy text is complete until the last of these is reached, but most stop short. The great depths resound beyond the words, like strings resound toward music. And yet, the music is not the strings.  The pleasure of honey is enhanced by its enclosure in the comb.

It is one thing to understand words, another the meaning of phrases, passages. But what about the whole? That is another matter altogether. There is much confusion about the old texts, written in the idioms of an unfamiliar language. Many, professing with confidence, miss the point entirely. But the divine deeper meaning can never be absurd, and never false.

Now I want to tell you about the ark. It is the house of mystery within the heart, which each must protect against the world’s storms. You build a great ark, three stories, welcome inside all the creatures of the earth. Protect them, too. But we are not made to stay in contemplation. That’s why there’s a door and a window. The window offers a way out through thought, and the door a way out through action. But neither thought nor action will be right, unless it begins here, within the sacred ark. Let’s begin here.

Adapted and using borrowed phrases from Jerome Taylor’s translation of The Didascalicon, or On the Study of Reading (1125) and also The Mystic Ark as interpreted by Conrad Rudolph.

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I keep watch and listen, mostly in dark places.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: