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.

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