Name of an Old Tradition


I’m trying to identify the name of an old tradition dating back (as far as I know) to the time of Saint Francis of Assisi.

The tradition is that one opens the bible three times (at random), and then the interpretation of the three passages is supposed to form some sort of spiritual direction. The use of the number “3” in the Bible has many different connotations, so a specific example of this may help to clarify exactly what I mean. A perfect example would be in the little flowers of saint francis chapter #2 when Saint Francis and Brother Bernard use this technique to discern how they should conduct themselves with respect to Brother Bernard’s confusion.

Today the tradition is sometimes (humorously) called “Bible Bingo”, but I’m pretty sure Saint Francis had a better name for it.

Any help much appreciated.



Never heard of what you are talking about. I’m 60 years a Catholic.
I have heard people talk about “doing an Augustine”: re: opening the Bible once and seeing what passage your eyes light upon as the “answer” you were seeking. It worked for him, but in general is not a recommended practice.


You could try bibliomancy, though it comes in many forms. The specific practice you describe here – picking three separate verses and then combining them with one another – is something I had never heard of till now.


No, it’s not a means of divination. What I am describing is said to be a legitimate practice, whereas divination is actually prohibited…


From the Wikipedia article on Bibliomancy, the tradition seems to have been called drawing the Sortes Sanctorum (Lots of the saints) or Sortes Sacrae (Holy Lots), which has its own Wikepedia article, here.

The practice was condemned as a form of divination by a number of local church councils.


Close, if not the same thing…

I just found my original source for the term, known as “Sortes Apostolorum” from the first in a three part documentary series called “The Birth of the Franciscans”…

The notion that it could be considered a form of divination is bothersome, but the franciscans seem to (have) approve(d) of it… because they do still practice some lottery-like rituals, and “Sortes Apostolorum” was the way St Francis asked for spiritual direction for him and Brother Bernard…

I am going to have to look into it more closely…

Thank you for your help.


All the verses were about poverty so I don’t think you combine the meanings or something like that.


You’re right.

I’m not sure what the problem is, but I think the definition of divination has something to do with it.

It’s possible Wikipedia could be misinformed.

Also, when you watch the documentary, which speaks about how they used sortes apostolorum, the friar says it was “a prayer method used at that time”. This could imply the practice may have been stopped later on.

That has happened in other areas of religion. For example, self-flagellation was initially permissible, but - during the black plague - people got too carried away with it, and the Pope intervened to put a stop to it. Later on some people would still practice mortification and penance through flagellation, though. The definition of divination and sortes apostolorum could have posed similar problems.

In the case of divination - divination is (as I understand it) seeking to know God’s will in order to manipulate it, but that’s not what they were doing in the old franciscan accounts.

It seems more likely something was lost in translation somewhere along the line.


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