Over a decade ago I read a book by Sertillanges entitled The Intellectual Life. I found this book to be very formative in my own thinking and practice of life. I view this work as a large exposition of Thomas Aquinas’ letter to John the Monk. My only real complaint about The Intellectual Life is that Sertillanges did not include a copy of Aquinas’ letter. To this end, I have here posted the Latin and my own translation into English.
Although Aquinas wrote this to a monk, his statements contain wisdom that can be applied to anyone approaching a topic of serious study. Enjoy the read.
On the Mode of Studying
John, very dear to me in Christ, because you asked me how you ought to study and acquire the treasury of knowledge, I give you this advice: do not immediately enter into the sea, but enter through streams. Because it is necessary to arrive at more difficult things through easier things.
Therefore, this is my advice and your instruction.
Command yourself to be slow to speak and slow to go to the common room.
Embrace the purity of your conscience.
Do not cease from occupying yourself with prayer.
Frequently love your cell if you want to enter into the wine cellar.
Show yourself amiable to all people.
Ask nothing about the achievements of others. Because familiarity breeds contempt and supplies a means of subtracting from study.
By no means put yourself into the study of secular writings and works.
Flee wandering above all things.
Do not lay aside following the footsteps of good and holy men.
Do not care from whom you hear, but whatever good may be spoken, commit to memory.
Those things which you read and hear make understandable.
Verify what you doubt.
And busy yourself to store whatever you can gather in the chest of your mind, as one desiring to fill up a vessel.
Do not seek things above you.
Following Dominic’s footsteps, you will bring forth useful leaf and you will produce useful fruit in the vineyard of the Lord Sabaoth as long as you have life. If you follow these things continually, you will attain that which you seek.
The Latin reads as follows:
De modo studendi
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.