Isidore of Seville (ca. 560-636 AD), who was Archbishop of Seville, Spain starting around 600 AD, wrote a collection of maxims called the Sententiae. In Book 3, chapter 8, he said this about prayer and reading:
Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading.
If a man wants to be always in God’s company, he must pray regularly and read regularly. When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us.
All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection. By reading we learn what we did not know; by reflection we retain what we have learned.
Reading the Holy Scriptures confers two benefits. It trains the mind to understand them; it turns man’s attention from the follies of the world and leads him to the love of God.
The conscientious reader will be more concerned to carry out what he has read than merely to acquire knowledge of it. In reading we aim at knowing, but we must put into practice what we have learned in our course of study.
The more you devote yourself to study of the sacred utterances, the richer will be your understanding of them, just as the more the soil is tilled, the richer the harvest.
The man who is slow to grasp things but who really tries hard is rewarded, equally he who does not cultivate his God-given intellectual ability is condemned for despising his gifts and sinning by sloth.
Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart. But when God’s grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding, his word which has been received by the ear sinks deep into the heart.
I find especially helpful his insight into the interplay between prayer and Scripture reading in the early part of the quote.
Prayer cleanses our heart and mind. It’s like a filter for the soul. Reading Scripture, especially if done in a prayerful manner, is the way we hear God speak through what God has already said. But, the key to that is faithful obedience. We read not to understand, but to obey, to fully integrate God’s Word in our lives.
Both are necessary, but if we have to choose one or the other, choose prayer.
I like that. It makes a lot of sense out of the tension between the two. What do you think?