Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods

A.G. Sertillanges, O.P. The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods. Translated from the French by Mary Ryan with a new foreword by James V. Schall, S. J. Washington, D. C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1998.  266 pages. ISBN 0-8132-0646-4

About twenty years ago I observed that one can pursue an education with just a little amount of time. The reason for the observation was a friendship with an older man who was retired. This friend had a stroke, so he was unable to work. It was mainly the left side of his body that did not work well. My friend was able to get around quite well and do most things he needed to do. My friend spent a lot of time watching television and listening to the radio. In addition, he spent much of his time in conversation with others. He was also a caring person who would give his last shirt to a stranger. One day I observed that if my friend would spend as little as 30 minutes a day reading in the library that after thirty years doing this he would be well educated. I am often saddened that many people after finishing their college education spend little time after pursuing an education. An education cannot be acquired in for years of college, it requires a lifetime.

This brings me to a gem of a book that confirms my observation. The Intellectual Life by A. G. Sertillanges was originally published in French in 1921. It was translated into English by Professor Mary Ryan in 1946. The edition I read was a reprint in 1998 with a new foreword by James V. Schall. The book is based on a letter Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote to a brother John. In this letter he described Sixteen Precepts for Acquiring the Treasure of Knowledge. Father Sertillanges inspired by this letter produced a classic book on how to cultivate the intellectual life. His book is both inspiring and practical. He shows you how to organize your life to pursue the intellectual life. He shows the practical decide by showing how with as little as two hours a day or less, the reader can pursue the life of the mind. He inspired the reader by arguing that the intellectual life is a calling and vocation. In addition, he shows how the intellectual virtues are connected into the moral virtues.

The Intellectual Life includes nine parts: "The Intellectual Vocation," "Virtues of a Catholic Intellectual," "The Organization of Life," "The Time of Work," "The Field of Work," "The Spirit of Work," "Preparation for Work," "Creative Work," and "The Worker and the Man." This book will provide the tools and know-how on how to cultivate the life of the mind and the spirit. It shows how this can be done in the midst of life's of family responsibilities and a regular job. I can affirm the author's conclusions because I have actually implemented them in my life. This book actually encouraged me in my pursuit of the spiritual life. This book can be read in little segments as little as fifteen minutes a day.

A review I read listed four lessons form the book. The first lesson: "Recognize the intellectual life as a calling." This idea is very encouraging to me. I believe God has called me to an intellectual life. To pursue this calling I need to organize my life to fulfill this calling. The academic life and Christian faith is compatible and can be lived out in the daily routines of life. The second lesson is to "submit your intellectual pursuits to truth." Sertillanges writes that we must "submit not only to the discipline of work, but to the discipline of truth. This submission is the binding condition for communion to truth" (130). We must submit self to truth. We must not let ego or selfish desires interfere with the pursuit of truth.  Another point made by the author is that all areas of knowledge is connected. Learning does not occur only in reading books, but in conversations, observation, and reflective living. The third lesson: "Understand the intellectual life requires considerable discipline." We must prepare a place for concentrated study. We must be consisted in going to this place on a regular basis. I set aside early mornings before work to do my reading. The last lesson is to "remember the goal of the intellectual life is virtuous character." It is interesting that Sertillanges says that "the true springs up in the same soil as the good: their roots communicate" (19). This book shows the connectedness of character and the life of the mind. Our character influences our sight. In addition, the author notes that "the man is the finished work," not what he writes.

The Intellectual Life is highly recommended for those who need guidance on pursuing the intellectual life. It is a book for everyone who desires to continue learning their whole life. It is both inspiring and practical.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Classical Moment: Selected Essays on Knowledge and its Pleasures

James V. Schall, The Classical Moment: Selected Essays on Knowledge and its Pleasures. South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine's Press, 2014. 155 pages. ISBN 978-1-58731-124-6.

James V. Schall is one of the best essayists of our time. He can communicate great truths in a few words. The Classical Moment: Selected Essays on Knowledge and Its Pleasures are short essays, one to four pages, of eternal truths. The essays on this book deal in a delightful way with knowledge and its pleasures. These essays originally appeared in both print and online sources. Reading Schall is always a delightful experience. One feels both stimulated and taught in the best sense.These are what I would call light essays that can be read in a few minutes. Schall is an excellent teacher through the written word.

Schall's contention is that "each of us, writer and reader, also belongs to reality, to what is. We all seek, in our classical moment, to be moved by the truth of things. In our lives and in our essays, in our reading and our conversation, we have all been, to use Maritain's phrase in the second from the last essay, 'touched by fire' (4). " Schall intends through 53 selected essays to facilitate classical moments where we contact the "truth of things" or reality. These are essays that one can enjoy at one's leisure.

Schall explains his use of truth of things in his essay, "the reality of things." He thinks that "truth is based on the reality of things! Truth occurs when the mind conforms to a reality it did not itself create" (9). He quotes from the early church father, Irenaeus who said, "the truth leads to faith, for the faith is based on the reality of things" (9). Another translation reads, "faith is produced by the truth; for faith rests on things that truly are" (9). Irenaeus further adds: "The truth leads to faith, because faith is founded on the reality of things, in order that we might believe in things as they are. Believing in this way, we thus must always protect, in their regard, the firmness of our conviction about them" (9-10). Truth is when we say what is that it is as Aristotle taught us. Schall says that it takes courage to say what is that it is. Faith concerns truth. Faith calls us to live in relationship with truth. This is an example of one of the many essays in this book that brings us in contact with the "truth of things."

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Called to the Life of the Mind

Richard J. Mouw, Called to the Life of the Mind: Some Advice for Evangelical Scholars. Eeerdmans, 2014. 73 pages. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6766-7

Richard J. Mouw is Professor of Faith and Public Life and former president of Fuller Theological Seminary. He is a long-time professor of Philosophy at both Full Theological Seminary and Calvin College. He has been a major evangelical thinker for about fifty years. Called to the Life of the Mind is lessons the author has learned over the years he thinks might be helpful to future evangelical scholars. The chapters are short, 2-3 pages. In it, he addresses certain challenges he has faced in being faithful to the Christian faith and to scholarship.

He begins the book by declaring that he had not intended nor his forbears intended him to spend his life in Christian scholarship. He notes, "In my early spiritual environs, higher education was something you suffered through in order to be able to get on with the Lord's real work:" (1) preaching the gospel. He was brought up on the rhetoric of anti-intellectualism. While a college student he was influenced by a chapel speaker to pursue the life of the mind. This commitment to pursue Christian scholarship did not end his struggle with anti-intellectualism. Throughout the book Mouw emphasizes being both faithful to the Christian faith and scholarship. He notes that "there is more to the Kingdom of God than academic pursuits" (9). Not everyone is called to the academy. There are many gifts and functions in the body of Christ.

Two virtues the author emphasizes are humility and hope. He notes, "it is precisely because we are finite beings--and if that were not bad enough, fallen ones as well--that we must take a humbly modest approach to human knowing. God alone knows all things" (23). Because we are finite beings we must be humble about our knowing. On the other hand, we believe that God is real and He is able to reveal Himself to us. We are always situated between humility and hope.

Another theme of the book is the need for a scholarly community. We must not carry on our scholarship isolated from one another. He notes how the early universities founded in America were established by communities who "believed that the academic calling had a profound religious significance" (29). Mark Schwehn in his book Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation states that "these intellectual communities were undergirded" by spiritual virtues like faith, hope, and love. These virtues were sustained by religious practices. These are things not emphasized in the secular academy. In other words, worship must be connected with scholarship. Body and soul, faith and life must be connected.

Called to the Life of the Mind is a little book that can be read in one sitting. It contains important lessons for future evangelical scholars or any Christian who wants to be a faith Christian and scholar.