Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Hugh of ST. Victor (1096-1141) Instructions for Learning

Hugh of ST. Victor, Didascalicon in Renewing the Mind: A Reader in the Philosophy of Catholic Education edited by Ryan N. S. Topping. Catholic University Press of America, 2015. ISBN 978-0-8132-2731-3

Hugh of ST. Victor provided instruction on how the seven liberal arts can provide the foundation to pursue all learning. Hugh asserts "these seven (grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music) they (the ancients) considered so to excel all the rest in usefulness that anyone who had been thoroughly schooled in them might afterward come to a knowledge of the others by his own inquiry and effort rather than listening to a teacher" (120). In other words, the liberal arts provides the tools for life-long learning. It is liberal because it is not vocational or job training. An example of this type of learning is that you teach someone how to fish, instead of endlessly feeding him or her.

In addition, Hugh presents instruction on learning. He states that three things are needed for learning: aptitude or the ability to learn, practice, and discipline. Natural endowment means they "must cultivate by assiduous effort the natural endowments they have;" and by discipline he means that they must cultivate virtue in their life because the intellectual and the moral life is connected. Hugh also gives instruction on the order of expounding a text and the method of expounding a text. For example he says that exposition includes the letter, the sense, and the inner meaning. The letter is the arrangement of words; the sense is the obvious meaning of the text; and the inner meaning is the "deeper understanding which can be found only through interpretation and commentary." The order of inquiry follows this order. The method of expounding the text consists of analysis. The expounder of the text must begin at the finite and move to the infinite. In other words, the student must begin with what he knows and move to what he does not know. The author believes the reading and studying of the text lays the foundation for meditation. Hugh states that there are three types of meditation: the first focuses on morals, the second on the commandments, and the third on the divine works. Hugh also gives instruction on the methods of remembering what the learner reads. Not everything has to be remembered, just the important principles.

In the section on discipline, Hugh asserts that morals equip learning. Next, he declares that the "beginning of discipline is humility." He thinks the lessons of discipline are many, but he emphasizes: "first, that he hold no knowledge and no writing in contempt; second, that he blush to learn from no man; and third, that when he has attained learning himself, he not look down upon anyone else." These lessons agree with Fr. Schall's ideas about the need to be teachable.

In the next section Hugh speaks c"concerning eagerness to inquire." This is not something that is taught, but encouraged. He shows how we can learn much from the ancient authors that have stood the test of time.

The last four precepts he discusses are quiet, scrutiny, parsimony, and living on foreign soil. Concerning quiet, there must be both inner and outer quiet. The learner must have sufficient leisure to pursue his studies. On scrutiny, he implies earnestness in considering things. It is compatible with the eagerness to inquire. Parsimony is being able to live simply. This requires the virtue of temperance and moderation. Last, Hugh speaks about living on foreign soil. Many students in the Middle Ages had to travel where the teachers were located. He asserts that living on foreign soil teaches us that earth is not our permanent home.

One thing that was impressed on my mind during this reading was the importance of ordering our life for study. In some sense, the path of learning is the path of a monk. Their lives were ordered for religious service. A student's life must be ordered if learning is to take place. What do I mean by this? I basically mean that we must have sufficient leisure time to pursue our studies. For example, if a person wanted to pursue learning over a long period of time he might choose a career that would allow him sufficient time to study. He must eat a temperate diet because excessive foods or the wrong types of food could hinder learning. In addition, he would need a place for quiet and freedom from distractions. This does not necessarily mean excessive amount of time, but it does mean arranging one's life to pursue his studies.

Monday, May 23, 2016


James V. Schall, "Self-Discipline" in On the Unserious of Human Affairs ... ISI Books, 2001.

Fr. Schall argues that we can order our lives for the purpose of seeking truth. Self-Discipline is not an end in itself, but the means for finding truth. Schall believes there in an important connection between our moral and intellectual lives. Schall defines self-discipline as "the ability to rule over all our given passions, fears, dreams, and thoughts" (109). Self-discipline is the beginning of wisdom, but not its end.

Schall's essay on self-discipline a great short essay on how to pursue wisdom, truth, beauty, and goodness. He believes that no one can order our lives for us. Disciplining one's self is a "systematic process by which we acquire knowledge or virtue or art." IT is instructive that the author of the Book of Hebrews tells us: "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (12:11). This is hard for modern man to understand. The popular idea is that learning is all fun and games. The idea is that teachers are to entertain the student. However, to learn any skill at the beginning is difficult. For example, if we want to be a great athlete it requires many hours of training and self-discipline. Another problem is that modern man wants instant gratification. He is not willing to wait for the reward of hard work.

Schall makes some great comments on what to expect from a college education. In addition, he lists some unexpected places from where we acquire wisdom. He does not think that we will learn what life is about from college. He says that college is "primarily to be used." He does not think we should attend them "blindly, even though we can and must make ourselves teachable." In other words, we must already know some things that will determine what is good and what is not so good that is offered to us in college. This relates to the idea of using college. We are to be in charge of our own education. Schall states that many of the "very important books and ideas that a student will need to know to know if he is to know the truth, and if he is to confront what is good, are never mentioned in any university curriculum or course" (108). This reminds me of my own journey. I have always read books that were not required for my courses with the books that are required. This has been very helpful in my own search for truth. In addition, Schall asserts that some of the important things we need to learn we can learn from "parents or our church or our friends or our own curiosity." I love his next sentence: "Many a man has saved his soul because of some book he chanced to read in some obscure library or used bookstore." This has happened to me many times over the years.

Self-discipline is not an end in itself. It is for the purpose of acquiring truth. Self-discipline is the beginning of wisdom, but not the end. There is an essential connection between our intellectual and moral lives.

Friday, May 20, 2016

On Teaching and Being Eminently Teachable

James V. Schall, "On Teaching and Being Eminently Teachable" in On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing. ISI Books, 2001. 1882926633

I love the title of his book of essays. It pretty much sums up the good life. In his essay on teaching and being teachable, Schall reflects on the statement by Leo Strauss that "we are lucky if our lives coincide with those of one or two of the greatest human thinkers to ever live" (15). If we are to encounter the greatest thinkers who ever live we will discover them in their books. It is helpful to have guides to help us in our learning because of three problems suggested by Thomas Aquinas. First, the student is confronted by a multiplicity of information, for example, all the courses offered in a typical university. Where should the student begin. The second problem is that the knowledge of a particular discipline (history, science, philosophy, literature) is not presented "after the order of the discipline or the subject itself but are instead presented simply according to the arbitrary structure of a book, topic of dispute, or conversation" (23). Saint Thomas believed there was an order to learning. There is a certain order to the relationship between a subject and its parts. The third problem is the confusion of the student from encountering "a mass of unrelated material." Aquinas thought because of these problems that it was helpful to have a guide to learning. I know I have had several guides over the years: Thomas Aquinas, Plato, Augustine, C. S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, Josef Pieper, Mortimer Adler, and others. Schall observes, "But for most of us, an orderly learning is far easier and more productive. With the aid of someone who knows already, who has been through all the mistakes one is likely to make, and who takes delight in truth, we can learn easily, provided we allow ourselves to be eminently teachable" (24).

What does it mean to be eminently teachable? I am glad you asked. Yves Simon thought there were three types of students: those who are only interested in grades, those who continuously asks questions but does not listen, and the third student "recognizes that he must take responsibility for his education and has a certain faith or trust that someone else can guide him" (24). What kind of a learner are you? Simon's point about taking responsibility for our learning is remarkable? What do you think he means by this concept? What does it mean to take responsibility for our learning? One thing is that we need to have the desire for learning. Another characteristic for  learning is we must have an "inquiring mind wondering about the truth of things." Plato stated that the student "who is willing to taste every kind of learning with gusto, and who approaches learning with gusto, and who approaches learning with delight, and is insatiable" (18). We must have a (eros) love for the truth. We have to seek it with all our being. The best thing about learning is that it does not require formal schooling. It can occur any place at any time. We are never too young or too old to begin the journey of learning. In addition, our learning does not have to end with the ending of our formal schooling.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Road Most Travelled

Robert Jeffress, The Road Most Traveled: Releasing the Power of Contentment in Your Life, Broadman & Holman, 1996. 184 pages. ISBN 080546266x

I am reading a book by Fr. Schall, On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs. In one of the earlier essays he speaks about how used book stores can be a treasure chest. He states that for a little amount one can purchase some of the best books written. I have a similar experience in cataloging new and donated books. Sometimes I come across a book that catches my eye that I must read. Recently, I cataloged The Road Most Traveled: Releasing the Power of Contentment in Your Life. Maybe, what drew my attention is the word contentment in the title or maybe, it was the Road most traveled because I was curious what it meant. Usually I perused a book before reading it. I examine the title, the preface, the table of content, the back cover and any other introductory material. Usually, in a short time, I can discover the subject and purpose of the book. By that time, I usually know if I want to read the book or lay it aside.

The Road Most Traveled is a good book for a man approaching mid-life or a time where he is evaluating his life. For about two years now, I have been evaluating my life. Some people call this mid-life crisis, but Jeffress prefers to call it mid-life evaluation whichs seems a better fit for my situation. Jeffress believes that the key to contentment is accepting the sovereignty of God in our life. The author asserts, "The Road Most Traveled deals with the most basic issue in a man's life: contentment. Until a man can make peace with the unchangeable circumstances, choices, or even mistakes of his life, he will never be emotionally or spiritually free to perform the duties outlined by many books" (4). Among the topics covered in the book are how to be content wherever you are, finances, glorifying God in your work, accepting your spouse and children as God's gift, accepting on mistakes, accepting your inevitable death, and "seeing God's hand in your life."

I was not disappointed with the book after reading it. The author shared some essential principles for accepting our lot in life. A good point the author makes multiple times is: "The message of The Road Most Traveled" is that while most of us are destined to live an ordinary life, every detail of your life is part of God's plan--a plan designed for our good and for God's eternal purpose" (175). If our life in this world was perfect, we would never seek God; but we are pilgrims and this is not our final resting place. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to evaluate their life or looking for ways to find contentment in his life.