Sortes Virgilianae

I was recently reading a short little booklet titled, How to Know God’s Will by John Newton and John Piper. It had been lying around and I needed a quick read so I decided to give a go. When I got to page six this little gem of an expression – Sortes Virgilianae – popped out. Being rather fond of the Latin language (after all it’s a dead language) I read the footnote, did a brief internet search and learned that it was  a form of divination primarily used during the Dark Ages ( also known as the Devil’s Millennium).  This was an age of spiritual darkness and superstition. It’s no wonder divination in its many forms prevailed.

The practice was to let the book fall open where it may and with eyes closed place finger on a random text. Where your finger fell was interpreted as divine will/guidance. Wars, governments, life and death were determined this way. Scary times for sure!

It was Virgil’s magnum opus, the Aeneid that was used in this practice. It was believed that there was some power or magic in the name Virgil (also spelled Vergil). Being revered as some kind of “pagan prophet who foretold the birth of Christ” it’s no wonder that his works were consulted.

There were other sources used in this form of  divination as well.

 1) Sortes Sanctorum/Sacrae – The scriptures (one source stated that it was the Psalms, Proverbs and the Gospels that were used) were used in a very similar way where the Bible was allowed to fall open and where the finger fell that dictated person’s fate.
2) Sortes Homericae (Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were also consulted)

Over the years I’ve met up with Christians (not too many) who practiced this type of divination. They shared that they would open a portion of scripture without looking and place their hand down on the verse and that would become the thing. This was supposedly their way of finding out what God’s will was for their life.

I never quite understood why Bible Believing Christians would do that and reasoned that such a practice, if followed to its conclusion, could have dire consequences. Imagine opening the scripture to Matthew 5:29 – “If thy right eye offend thee pluck it out.” Perish the thought! Now while this is certainly on the extreme side of things there is the spiritual side. Is this a practice that would be honoring to God? Was such a practice found in the holy writ? So for these two reasons, common sense and of course the spiritual ought to be reason enough not to practice it. Got Questions gives us a glimpse into the subject of divination.

We also have Webster’s which defines divination as:

DIVINATION, n. L., to foretell.
“The act of divining; a foretelling future events, or discovering things secret or obscure, by the aid of superior beings, or by other than human means. The ancient heathen philosophers divided divination into two kinds, natural and artificial. Natural divination was supposed to be effected by a kind of inspiration or divine afflatus; artificial divination was effected by certain rites, experiments or observations, as by sacrifices, cakes, flour, wine, observation of entrails, flight of birds, lots, verses, omens, position of the stars, &c.”

I’m an advocate for a rational and commonsense approach to Christianity with a spirit of faith and dependence on God. We are to be sober minded in our spiritual affairs both publickly and privately. This honors God and gives a good testimony before the world.

While I understand the desire to know the will of God I also understand there are no short cuts. Praying, daily Bible reading, church attendance and service go a long way in giving believers the tools and discernment to know the will of God without having to practice various forms of divination including SORTES VIRGILIANAE (Bibliomancy).

When asked I will often times tell folks to do the things they KNOW to do. Focus there first. Most of the questions folks have deal with the practical side of the Christian life, the answers come more readily the believer puts into practice daily spiritual disciplines. With the unknowns simply wait on God and he will make his will known.

Sources used; Wiki , Got Questions, Carm, How to Know the Will of God by Newton and Piper.