Thursday, November 08, 2007

St. Thomas's advice to a student

Somewhere recently there was a discussion about St. Thomas Aquinas' letter of advice to a student. I can't figure out where the discussion was. Maybe it was Jeff Vehige's now defunct St.Thomas blog. At any rate, I just discovered the Latin text of the letter at Intratext here.
Quia quaesisti a me, in Christo mihi carissime Ioannes, qualiter te studere oporteat in thesauro scientiae acquirendo, tale a me tibi traditur consilium: ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire. Haec est ergo monitio mea et instructio tua. Tardiloquum te esse iubeo et tarde ad locutorium accedentem; conscientiae puritatem amplectere. Orationi vacare non desinas; cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci. Omnibus te amabilem exhibe; nihil quaere penitus de factis aliorum; nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum et subtractionis a studio materiam subministrat; de verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas; discursus super omnia fugias; sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omittas; non respicias a quo audias, sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda; ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas; de dubiis te certifica; et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage, sicut cupiens vas implere; altiora te ne quaesieris. Illa sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea Domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec si sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas.

Here is my translation:

Since you asked me, John, my dear brother in Christ, how you should strive to acquire the treasure of knowledge, I pass on to you the following counsel: that you might choose to enter through rivulets, and not immediately into the ocean [of knowledge], because one ought to approach the more difficult by passing through the less difficult. This is therefore my admonition and your instruction.

  • I enjoin you to be slow to speak and slow to stir into flame anything having to do with speaking.
  • Cherish purity of conscience.
  • Do not cease to cherish prayer; value your cell frequently if you wish to be led to the wine cellar [of knowledge].
  • Present yourself as amiable to all; do not inquire excessively about the deeds of others; do not present yourself with great familiarity to anyone, because excessive familiarity begets contempt and furnishes material for the dimishment of diligence.
  • Do not admit into your life any of the words and deeds of the world; above all, stay far away from dissipation; do not omit the imitation of the holy and the good; do not consider from whom you hear something, whatever good is said, commit it to memory; that which you read and hear, make sure you understand; mark what is unclear to you; and strive to put into the treasury of the mind whatever you can, hence seeking to fill up the vessel; may you seek nothing higher for yourself [I'm not sure about the translation of this clause because I'm not sure how quaesi[v]eris, which appears to be in the perfect subjuctive fits into the purpose clause. Tim?].
Following these steps as long as you have life, you will bring forth and produce useful leaves and fruits in the vinyard of the Lord Sabaoth. If you have followed these things, you will be able to attain that to which you aspire.
I think it significant that this method produces leaves as well as fruit. Not all our actions bear intellectual fruit directly useful for the expansion of the kingdom. Some of the results of our actions, like leaves, nourish the vine so that it can bear fruit: e.g., the relationship between philology and scripture study. Just because a scholar is not using his linguistic knowledge to interpret Scripture, does not mean he is not contributing to the kingdom. In fact, his proper work is making the useful interpretation of the sacred text possible. One would be a fool to say that the only useful thing Tolkien ever did was translate the Book of Jonah for the Jerusalem Bible.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The "ne quaesieris" is a negative command with the perfect subjunctive. It means "do not seek/ask".
-- Timothy J. J. Gotcher, B. A. (Cand.)

Robert said...

Thanks, Tim. See ya tomorrow!