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.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Just after I posted the previous I began to read Servais Pinckaers' Morality: the Catholic View. This is an excellent, very accessible introduction to Catholic moral theology recommended to me by Dr. Mark Ginter of St. Meinrad's Seminary. I intend to use it in a class I'm teaching.
Here is Pinckaer's commentary on the passage from Romans I just cited and surrounding texts:

1. The Christian life is true worship. It is a liturgy where we offer to God as a living sacrifice our bodies and our persons, discerning what is good and pleasing to him. The term 'body' (soma) employed here evokes the body of Christ, offered in the Eucharist and the body that forms the Church (12:1-2). One can, therefore, refer to the liturgical dimension of Christian morality.

2. Shaped by faith, moral teaching takes place within the context of the faithful's participation in the body of Christ. They are members of this body and have received a multitude of gifts and ministries that they exercise for the good of all (vv. 3-8). this is the ecclesial dimension of the apostolic moral teaching, which returns to the fore in I Corinthians (ch. 12).

3. This ecclesial unity and generosity are the work of charity. Paul describes charity througha collection of characteristics that form a prototypical passage composed of brief, well-chosen notes that in Greek have an assonance and rhythm that facillitate memorization. With these successive brushstrokes, St. Paul paints for us the face of the Christian (vv. 9-12)....

4. The picture is completed by a passage full of energy that calls to mind the Sermon on the Mount: the invitation to bless one's persecutors, to seek out what is humble, and to conquer evil with good. This is the summit of Gospel agape (vv. 14-21).

Pinckaers is very big on the idea that the moral life is not simply an obedience to rules, but a result of the activity of the Holy Spirit in one's life.

It always amazes me when I run across a very important author that I haven't read in my 23 years of formal theological training!

An examination of conscience for members of the Body of Christ

by St. Paul, (Rom. 12:5-16ab), from yesterday's first reading. :

Brothers and sisters:
We, though many, are one Body in Christ and individually parts of one another.

[Use of gifts]

  • Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them:
  • if prophecy, in proportion to the faith;
  • if ministry, in ministering;
  • if one is a teacher, in teaching;
  • if one exhorts, in exhortation;
  • if one contributes, in generosity;
  • if one is over others, with diligence;
  • if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

[love of God and neighbor]

  • Let love be sincere;
  • hate what is evil, hold on to what is good;
  • love one another with mutual affection;
  • anticipate one another in showing honor.
  • Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
  • Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.
  • Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.
  • Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
  • Have the same regard for one another;
  • do not be haughty but associate with the lowly.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Important Papal Encyclicals

I received the following e-mail request:
I'd like to read all the major encyclicals by every pope from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI. It's pretty easy for me to figure out which encyclicals from John XXIII on are important -- but I need some help with those from Pius XII back to Leo XIII. A reading list would be most appreciated, but so would any sort of help.
My response:
Here is my list, for what its worth, of the best of the best. These are ones that had significant impact on theology or the life of the Church. Others might have been as intrinsically valuable. Also, not all the most important writings were encyclicals!

Aeterni Patris (1879), on the renewal of Thomistic Studies
Rerum Novarum (1891), on social teachings
Providentissimus Deus (1893), on the study of Sacred Scripture
Divinum Illud Munus (1897), on the Holy Spirit

Pius X:
Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907), on Modernism

Pius XI:
Casti Cannubi (1930), on marriage and sexual relations.
Quadragesimo Anno (1931), on social teachings
Mit Brennender Sorge (1937), on totalitarianism in Germany

Piux XII:
Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), on biblical studies
Mystici Corporis Christi (1943), on the Church
Mediator Dei (1947), on the liturgy
Humani Generis (1950), on the origins of mankind
[note the way and extent to which these four anticipate Vatican II]
Haurietis Aquas (1956), on the Sacred Heart

Mater et Magister (1961), on social doctrine
Pacem in Terris (1963), on war and peace

Paul VI:
Ecclesiam Suam (1964), on the Church
Mysterium Fidei (1965), on the Holy Eucharist
Populorum Progressio (1967), social teachings
Humanae Vitae (1968), I'm sure you know what this one is about

John Paul II:
[Where to begin?]
Redemptor Hominis (1979), Christ
Dives in Misericordia (1980), God the Father
Laborem Exercens (1981), work
Dominum et Vivificantem (1986), God the Holy Spirit
Redemptoris Mater (1987), Mary
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987), social teachings
Redemptoris Missio (1990), missionary activity
Centesimus Annus (1991), social teachings
Veritatis Splendor (1993), moral theology
Evangelium Vitae (1995), life issues
Ut Unum Sint (1995), unity with the Eastern Churches
Fides et Ratio (1998), faith and reason
Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003), the Eucharist

Note: all are available on the Vatican web page.

Two wonderful websites

Developed and run by one of the seminarians here at Sacred Heart. This one is called "Catholic Highlights." This one is a vocations page. The vocations page includes a very helpful link to resources for the laity, including a (somewhat underdeveloped, but quite positive) page on home schooling. I suggest those of you who home school e-mail Don with suggestion on how to beef up this page.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A synopsis of some of my thoughts about classic liberal education

Back in a post about Latin-Based Curriculum, someone named J.C. commented that the Andrew Campbell book, The Latin-Centered Curriculum, tended to be anti-Catholic, or at least anti-scholastic. I commented on that post, but I'd like to bring that comment to the top to get come conversation going. So, without further ado:

I haven't read Campbell's book so can't evaluate his approach per se. I like this list, though because I tend toward the rhetorical, rather than the philosophical, to use Bruce Kimball's (and Christopher Dawson's) distinction.

I took the idea that the components of the trivium were disciplines in their own right not as a contrast with theology as their raison d'ĂȘtre, but with Dorothy Sayers' idea that all disciplines have their own form of the trivium.

I think the classical trivium studied as disciplines, good catechesis and mystagogia, and good literature are the proper preamble for what Andrew Seeley has called the sapiential disciplines--philosophy, theology, etc..

I also think a purely great books approach is inadequate, for the reasons Fr. Schall mentions in A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, which I'm mentioned on this page. Wyoming Catholic college seems to recognize this by teaching the Trivium through the four years of undergraduate studies.

I agree with Newman that philosophy which opens up to theology is the coordinating discipline of undergraduate education and believe that scientific theology is an advanced study for upper classmen.

I also should mention that I didn't just recently discover Derrick's book, but rather read it a few years ago and have loved it and had a high regard for TAC ever since.

There. I've expressed all my main thoughts about these things.

Waugh's Helena

A nice review of a reprint by Loyola Press with an introduction by George Weigel. Find out what God wants you to do and do it!