Thursday, September 7, 2023

De Modo Studendi: St. Thomas Aquinas on Studiousness

Here is an explanation of the letter from St. Thomas on the way to study.

How should we study? It is very interesting to see that the Angelic Doctor, the Doctor who amongst human beings is one of those who had gotten the closest to the angels, starts by saying that if we want to learn something we must start with the little streams and not throw ourselves in the sea:

“Ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire–because it is wise to work upward from the easier to the more difficult.”

We have to start with little things. Yes, knowledge starts with humility. And humility is, I may say, the truth, the reality. We are not angels. We certainly have an intelligence because we have a soul, a spirit, but this spirit is deeply connected to the body. More than that, the way reality will come to our intelligence will be in a very, very special way: it has to go through the body, through the senses. The angels have infused knowledge. They have a way to know things which is totally different from human beings. And so if we want to know something, we have to start with the most evident, the most simple things. And any kind of educational program has to follow this. This is evident. But we see especially in modern thinking, modern philosophy, this tendency of human pride to pretend to go through other ways. And so the modern thinkers have finished by enclosing the human intelligence in itself. They have gone even further and have pretended that, finally, it's my intelligence which creates the world–which is obviously a total craziness.

St. Thomas is first going to give us advice about focusing on what we want to know. Avoid dispersion. It is true, our intelligence has an almost infinite capacity to know. We can add and add and add knowledge. But we are like a kind of bottle. If the contents are quasi infinite, we have to go through a little hole. We cannot know everything at the same time. And so, St. Thomas will tell us that we have to stay in our room. We must not go out:

“Cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam(1) vinariam introduci. Love to stay in your own room, the place where you study, if you want to come one day into the wine cellar,” which, of course, is heaven, finally.

“Nihil quaere penitus defactis aliorum. Never pry into other people's business.”

Take care of yourself, you have enough to learn. There are plenty of things which are totally useless. All this gossiping about what others do, just forget that if you want to really know what you have to know.

“De verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas. Don't throw yourself into worldly things.” Don't care, once again, about the world and worldly things.

“Discursus super omnia fugias. Fly away from these disputes,” we may say, “these endless discussions.” (2)

“Non respicias a quo audias, sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda. Don't concentrate on the personality of the speaker, but treasure up in your mind anything profitable he may happen to say.”

It's a very important principle. We have the tendency to accept what comes from, let's say, a good person. We must remember that knowledge may come also (especially when we speak of human knowledge) through other persons. This could be a little bit in contradiction with another principle which is very, very important in the principles given by St. Thomas; it's the second one:

“Conscientiae puritatem amplectere. Cherish purity of conscience.”

We know that St. Thomas had a very special temptation while he was a young man. He had just entered religion and his brother and the family, which was not happy with this, kidnapped St. Thomas. He was, so to say, more or less put in prison and there the brother tried to send bad girls to St. Thomas to really corrupt him, and St. Thomas reacted very logically against this temptation. After having fought, he fell asleep and an angel came with a very special cincture, and from this time on St. Thomas had no temptation of the flesh. And it is very clear when we read the teaching of St. Thomas that he makes a very special link between purity of heart and clarity of knowledge. And on the other hand, he will say that if somebody's throwing himself in the dirt of the world, he will finish by being stupid. He will end up in stupidity.

Of course, there are many degrees there. But there is a link, my dear Brethren, my dear Children, there is a very important link between your moral life and what you know, your knowledge, the way your intelligence works. That does not mean that if you are pure of heart you will know all the sciences. What is natural remains at the natural level. But it means that you will have the knowledge which brings you to heaven. And the good Lord will give you through another channel the light and knowledge which lead to heaven. Our Lord said to His Apostles: “The Holy Ghost shall teach you everything, all that I have taught you.” The Holy Ghost gives to the soul, communicates to the soul in the state of grace the higher knowledge which is not of this earth, which is, of course, of the Faith. And if we want to have this knowledge which is the highest, which is to know about God, about our end, we need to foster more than anything this purity of conscience.

What is very interesting when we read this letter of St. Thomas is that he is not only speaking of purity.
“Omnibus te amabilem exhibe. Show yourself amiable, affable, gentle, to everybody.”

Be kind. Practice charity. St. Thomas is giving us as a means to knowledge the practice of charity. He's also going to say that:

“Nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum. We should not show too much familiarity, because familiarity breeds contempt.”

“Sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omitas. Don't forget to imitate the examples of the saints and of the good.”

Isn't it surprising to see all this advice which is totally linked with the moral life. And St. Thomas is insisting on this level too, if we want to know and to know better. We have to remember all these connections between the virtues. All the virtues are linked together, and this is more than ever true on the level of the supernatural level of grace. And we know that all these virtues with grace grow together. That means if we grow in charity, at the same time God is going to make us grow in faith. If we grow in faith, at the same time we will grow in hope, in justice, in charity. They are all linked and connected. It is not the same with defects, but nevertheless we can understand that if we don't care about advancing, of straining towards perfection, we will not get to knowledge as perfectly as we are expected to.
“Ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas. What you hear and what you read, take care to understand.”

If you leave in your mind things in doubt, if they are not clear to you, you will not remember them. They will just stay there foggy, and you will not go ahead.

“De dubiis te certifica–and if you have something which leaves you in doubt, take care to resolve this doubt.”

“Et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage–and take care to put in the drawers of your mind all that you can.” Make use of your memory. Remember. Be attentive.

“Altiora te ne quaesieris” That's the last advice. “Don't look for things which are too high for you.”
Stay in your place. This is the best way to go ahead.

“Ilia sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea Domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas. By following this path, you will throw out leaves and bear serviceable fruit in the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts all the days of your life. If you stick to these counsels, you will reach the goal of your desires.”

If you follow this advice given by St. Thomas, you will reach this knowledge, you will follow St. Thomas, a saint. He is one of the brightest intelligences which the Catholic Church enjoys. At the time of the Council of Trent two books were put on the altar during this council: the Holy Scripture and his Summa. And Pope Leo XIII, who insisted on reviving the teaching of St. Thomas in the 19th century, said that every article of the Summa, which is just one of the many books he wrote but the best known article–and there are about 3,000 of these articles in the Summa–is a miracle.

We know that when he had a problem, when he had a difficulty, St. Thomas went to the tabernacle to get the answer. Well, he even went into the tabernacle, which is, of course, something we can just admire and not imitate. He did put his head into the tabernacle! we may say, to be as close as possible to our Lord. Of course, that's the physical expression, but which says a lot. Be close to God. Be close to the Word of God. The Word of God is our Lord Jesus Christ. Word means knowledge. God Who knows Himself–that's Jesus: He is Science. He wants to communicate to us this science which saves. He wants to communicate to us what He knows of God, which is the highest knowledge, which is the one which, if we know it, we know everything, and if we don't have it, we know nothing.

So let us go today to St. Thomas, and let us ask him for his intercession that we may follow this imitation, that we may at the same time, of course, form our reason, our intelligence in this knowledge which God wants us, which He wants you to learn! He wants you to know! And first of all He wants you to know Himself. So let us ask St. Thomas that we may go through all the steps of human knowledge, of the knowledge of the Faith, to one day the highest knowledge, which is to see God as He is in heaven; at the same time linked, bound, with this knowledge, that we may practice all the virtues and especially the virtues towards our neighbor and towards ourselves so that we may all one day be saved and enjoy eternal happiness. Amen.  --SSPX Bishop Fellay

Plinthos Notes

(1) The “wine cellar” (cellam vinarium) in Precept #6 is a quotation from the Vulgate rendering of Song of Songs 2:4, “introduxit me in cellam vinariam ordinavit in me caritatem” (He brought me into the wine cellar, he ordered charity in me). This little idea, which in the Hebrew is closer to “house of wine” and dynamically, “banquet hall,” becomes important in Medieval spiritual reading of the Song.

(2) This is a common mistranslation of the text. "Discursus" means meandering, a running to and fro, an aimless running about. In the broadest sense the sense is to avoid above all vain distractions, since studiousness consists in fixing the mind on one thing and not on many things. Avoid, above all, we could say, the internet, the world-wide-web, social media, every manner of distraction, frivolity and curiosity, which are the greatest enemy of study.

In his Apology for the Religious Orders (Liber contra Impugnantes Dei Cultum et Religionem, 10) St. Thomas says this about the evils of "wandering about" ("discursus"): 

Response: But, we must note that the Sacred Scripture blames three classes of men who wander about. The first class consists of those whose restless and changeable class disposition causes them to roam hither and thither, and whose journeys produce no fruit.The second class is composed of those who travel about in hopes of material profit. The third class is formed of those whose journeys are undertaken from some evil motive, and to accomplish some sinful end. Of all these three orders of men, St. Jude writes: woe to them! For they go the way of Cain, and abandon themselves to Balaam’s error for the sake of gain, in which is shown their intention of doing harm. These are blemishes on your love-feasts, while they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves. They are waterless clouds carried along by the winds: which touches upon their concupiscence impelling their motion; autumn trees without fruit, which shows that they roam fruitlessly from fickleness (Jude 1:11–12). By these words is typified the unfruitfulness of journeys which are undertaken through frivolous motives.
Ad 1: The Apostle blames the men of whom we have been speaking for the levity, or inordinate desires, which cause them to travel abroad. The Gloss says that the words of St. Jude refer to those who seek food by unworthy means or inquisitive disquiet.
Ad 2: St. Augustine, when he speaks of monks, who, although they bear no commission, are never settled, never quiet, means that their journeys are undertaken from frivolous or avaricious motives. This is clear by the context, wherein he blames them for running about in quest of lucre.
Ad 3: The words quoted from Mark 6 and Luke 10 plainly allude to men whose inordinate desires induce them to run from house to house in hopes of being supplied more abundantly with food by one family than by another.
Ad 4: The text of Isaiah 30:7 warns us against that inconstancy of mind, which tempts the man whose soul does not rest in God, to flit from one object to another, finding rest in none. The words, in their literal sense, refer to the Jews who, not satisfied with the divine assistance accorded to them, desired to go down into Egypt to seek protection from the Egyptians.
Ad 5: The words quoted from Jeremias are likewise a warning against that love of wandering about which arises from lightness of mind. This appears by the context, these people have loved to move their feet. For, they who move easily, delight in motion. And the Gloss, on this passage, explains the movement of the feet to mean movement of the affections.

Respondeo: Sciendum tamen quod discursus tripliciter in sacra Scriptura vituperatur: uno modo quando ex inconstantia mentis procedit vel animi levitate, et hoc praecipue accidit in illis qui sine aliquo fructu discurrunt; uno modo quando ex inconstantia mentis procedit vel animi levitate, et hoc praecipue accidit in illis qui sine aliquo fructu discurrunt; alio modo quando ex concupiscentia terrenorum ad lucra quaerenda discurritur; tertio modo quando incitantur malitia ad aliqua mala procuranda. Et de his tribus habetur in canonica Iudae 11–12: vae illis qui in via Cain abierunt et errore Balaam mercede effusi sunt, in quo ostenditur intentio nocendi; hi sunt in epulis suis maculae, convivantes sine timore, semetipsos pascentes, nubes sine aqua quae a ventis circumferuntur, in quo tangitur concupiscentia impellens ad motum; arbores autumnales infructuosae, in quo ostenditur quod ex levitate sine fructu discurrunt.
Ad 1: Quod ergo Apostolus arguit quosdam de inquietudine, discursum ex levitate procedentem reprehendit, vel etiam ex concupiscentia, quod patet ex hoc quod in Glossa subiungitur: qui foeda cura pastum sibi quaerebant per curiosam inquietudinem.
Ad 2: Similiter quod dicit Augustinus quosdam monachos nusquam fixos, nusquam missos, nusquam stantes, nusquam sedentes, arguit eorum discursum ex levitate procedentem; vel potius ex cupiditate, unde subiungit quod propter lucrum quaerendum discurrebant, et in hoc reprehensibiles erant.
Ad 3: Quod etiam dicitur Marc. VI, 10 et Luc. X, 7 manifeste prohibet discursum de domo in domum, idest de hospitio in hospitium: ad quod frequenter concupiscentia inducit, ut scilicet contingit in illis quibus ea quae habent non sufficiunt lautiora quaerentes, unde de domo in domum discurrunt.
Ad 4: Quod autem dicitur Isai. XXX, 7 pertinet ad animi levitatem per quam homo qui in Deo fixus non est ad diversa discurrit in quibus quietem invenire possit; unde hoc ad litteram dicitur contra Iudaeos qui divino auxilio non contenti in Aegyptum descendere volebant ut aegyptiorum patrocinio salvarentur.
Ad 5: Similiter quod dicitur Ier. XIV, 10 ad discursum ex levitate procedentem referendum est, quod patet ex hoc quod dicit: qui dilexit movere pedes suos; eis enim qui ex levitate moventur, hoc ipsum quod circueunt appetibile videtur: unde Glossa exponit ibi motum pedum de motu affectuum.

St. Thomas Aquinas, An Apology for Religious Orders, ed. Fr. John Procter, Sands and Co.: London, 1902, 268-270.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...