The Intellectual Life by A.G. Sertillanges

The Intellectual Life by A.G. Sertillanges is an “entirely Thomistic work” based upon St. Thomas Aquinas’ Sixteen Precepts for Acquiring the Treasure of Knowledge: “it is priceless; we should like to imprint its every word in the inmost being of the Christian thinker” (xxix).

Do you want to do intellectual work? Begin by creating within you a zone of silence, a habit of recollection, a will to renunciation and detachment which puts you entirely at the disposal of the work; acquire that state of soul unburdened by desire and self-will which is the state of grace of the intellectual worker. Without that you will do nothing, at least nothing worth while (xviii)

Have you two hours a day? Can you undertake to keep them jealously, to use them ardently… (11). Learn to make the best use of that limited time (11).

Chapter 1: The Intellectual Vocation

I. The Intellectual Vocation has a Sacred Call 

The intellectual vocation has a sacred call because we are serving the Truth.

“We must give ourselves from the heart, if the truth is to give itself to us. Truth serves only its slaves” (4).

“Love truth and its fruits of life, for yourself and for others” (5).

“Brother,” said St. Thomas Aquinas looking at the great city of Paris, “I would give all that for the commentary of Chrysostom on St. Matthew.”

As a result, we must be athletes of the mind and devote ourselves to serving the Truth.

“A vocation is not fulfilled by vague reading in a few scattered writings. It requires penetration and continuity and methodical effort, so as to attain the fullness of development which will correspond to the call of the Spirit, and to the resources that it has pleased to bestow on us” (3).

“The athletes of the mind, like those of the playing field, must be prepared for privations, long training, a sometimes superhuman tenacity. We must give ourselves from the heart, if the truth is to give itself to us. Truth serves only its slaves” (4).

As a result, we cannot pursue the intellectual life for any other purpose.

“That presupposes you come to the intellectual life with unselfish motives, not through ambition or foolish vanity. The jingling bells of publicity tempt only frivolous minds. Ambition offends eternal truth by subordinating truth to itself.” (6)

“To get something without paying for it is the universal desire; but it is the desire of cowardly hearts and weak brains… the light of God does not shine under your study lamp unless your soul asks for it with persistent effort” (6).

II. The Intellectual Vocation does not stand alone

Every truth is practical; the most apparently abstract, the loftiest, is also the most practical. Every truth is life, direction, a way leading to the end of man. And therefore Jesus Christ made this unique assertion: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life” (13). Work always then with the idea of some utilization, as the Gospel speaks. Listen to the murmur of the human race all about you; pick out certain individuals of certain groups whose need you know, find out what may bring them out of their night and ennoble them; what in any measure may save them. The only holy truths are redeeming truths; and was is not in view of our work as of everything else that the Apostle said: “This is the will of God, your sanctification?”

III. The Intellectual belongs to his time

Chapter 2: The Virtues of a Catholic Intellectual

I. The Common Virtues

“Virtue is health of the soul” (20).

Purity of thought requires purity of soul (22).

Knowledge involves everything in us, we think with our whole being (20).

The love of Truth cannot be pursued in the intellectual life without virtue.

  • Truth visits those who love her, who surrender to her, and this love cannot be without virtue (19).
  • The true springs up in the same soil as the good: their roots communicate. Broken from the common root and therefore less in contact with the soil, one or other suffers; the soul grows anemic or the mind wilts. On the contrary, by feeding the mind on truth one enlightens the conscience, by fostering good one guides knowledge (19).
  • By practicing the truth that we know, we merit the truth that we do not yet know (19).
  • “The exercise of the moral virtues, of the virtues by which the passions are held in check, is of great importance for the acquisition of knowledge” ~ St Thomas Aquinas, VII Physics, lib. 6.
  • At the summit of things, the true and the good are not only connected, but are identical (22).
  • Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God (Mt 5)

2. The Virtue Proper to the Intellectual

  • Studiousness is the virtue proper to the man of study (25). Studiousness is under the controlling virtue of temperance. Two excess vices: negligence & vain curiosity.
  • A country priest who devotes himself to his parishoners… [is] not profaning the gift that is in him, he is paying homage to the True which is one and the same Being with the Good. If he acted otherwise he would offend truth no less than virtue, since, indirectly, he would be setting living truth at variance with itself (26).
  • “Do not seek what is beyond your reach” ~ Aquinas
  • “I want you to decide to go to the sea by the streams, not directly” ~ Aquinas
  • “If you want to see things grow big, plant small (27).
  • The wise man begins at the beginning, and does not take a second step until he has made sure of the first (27).
  • Go straight ahead, in your own way, with God for guide (28).

III. The Spirit of Prayer

We must cultivate in work itself the spirit of prayer.

  • Study is an indirect divine office that must make way at the right moment for direct intercourse with Him.
  • When we neglect the spiritual life for the sake of study, this is an abuse and a fool’s game. To suppose that it will further our progress and enrich our production is to say that the stream will flow better if its springs is dried up (29).

Never give up praying ~ Aquinas

Always pray before and after study.

No extrinsic effort is required

IV. The Discipline of the Body

Our minds communicate with the truth through the body. We must exercise and stay healthy every day.

“To a good bodily constitution corresponds the nobility of the soul” ~ Aristotle, De Anima II.19

“St. Thomas Aquinas was called the Angelic Doctor not only because of his winged genius, but because everything in him was subordinated to his brilliant and holy mind… he was an intelligence served by organs” (40).

Live as much as possible in the open air. Attention is closely related to breathing. Walk before and after work or even during work like the Greeks.

Easy manual work is precious for both mind and body. Set aside time for real vacations every year. Look after your diet. Sleep – not too much or too little.

A lover of pleasure is an enemy of his body and therefore quickly becomes an enemy of his soul. Mortification of the senses is necessary for thought, and can alone bring us to that state of clear vision (39).

Chapter 3: The Organization of Life

I. Simplification

  • You must simplify your life.
  • There is a luxury tax to be paid on intellectual greatness (42).
  • Society life is fatal to study.

II. Solitude

  • Solitude enables you to make contact with yourself, a necessity if you want to realize yourself – not to repeat like a parrot a few acquired formulas, but to be the prophet of the God within you who speaks a unique language to each man (50).
  • Before giving out truth, acquire it for yourself; and do not waste the seed for your sowing (52).
  • Jesus shows us truly that one can be entirely recollected, and entirely devoted to others – entirely given to men and living entirely in God (53).
  • Aquinas devotes 7 of his 16 precepts to solitude: exterior and interior.
  • “I want you to be slow in speaking and slow in going to the parlour”
  • “Do not inquire at all about the actions of others”
  • “Be polite to everyone” but “be familiar with none, for too much familiarity breeds contempt and gives matter for many distractions”
  • “Do not busy yourself about the words and actions of those in the world”
  • “Avoid useless outings above everything”
  • “Love your cell, if you desire to be admitted to the wine-cellar”
    • Wine cellar = the secret dwelling-place of truth, an abode of inspiration, the radiant centre of enthusiasm, of genius, of invention, or ardent search.
  • Be slow to speak and slow to go to those places where people speak
  • By your amiability to all, purchase the right really to frequent only a few whose society is profitable.
  • Avoid excessive familiarity which drags one down and away from one’s purpose
  • Do not run after news that occupies the mind to no purpose
  • Do not busy yourself with the sayings and doings of the world, that is with such as have no moral or intellectual bearing
  • Avoid useless comings and goings which waste hours and fill the mind with wandering thoughts.

III. Cooperation with One’s Fellows

  • Importance of association and cooperating with well-chosen friends. Mutual teaching and mutual support.
  • “Friendship is an obstetric art; it draws out our richest and deepest resources; it unfolds the wings of our dreams and hidden indeterminate thoughts; it serves as a check on our judgments, tries out our new ideas, keeps up our ardor, and inflames our enthusiasm” (56).
  • Develop a good group of friends.

IV. Cultivation of Necessary Contacts

  • The good is the brother of the true: it will help its brother. To be where we ought to be, to do what we ought to do, disposes us for contemplation, and feeds it; it is leaving God for God, according to the saying of St. Bernard (58).
  • Too much solitude would impoverish you.
  • Silence is the hidden content of the words that count. What makes the worth of a soul is the abundance of what it does not express (61).

V. Safeguarding the Necessary Element of Action

  • Contemplative life & active life have the same Source, the same Father. They help balance each other out.
  • The intellectual life needs to feed on facts (63). Action helps to enrich the mind by providing living examples.

VI. Preservation of Interior Silence

  • The state of solitude is the mother of results. The spirit of silence must pervade the whole of life. Must regulate action and outer contacts.
  • An intellectual must be an intellectual all the time.
  • Solitude is not so much one of place as one of recollection; it means rising above things rather than keeping away from them; it consists in an upward tending isolation, thanks to the surrender of the self to higher things…68.


I. Continuity of Work

  • Study is a prayer to truth. Just as we can pray at all time since prayer is desire and desire is constant, so we can study at all time, since it is also a desire and an invocation of the truth. TIP = We must always be on alert to encounter the truth. Be present. Learn to look. Truth is everywhere. The thinker is truly a thinker only if he finds in the least external stimulus the occasion of a limitless interior urge. It is his character to keep all his life the curiosity of childhood, to retain its vivacity of impression, its tendency to see everything under an aspect of mystery, its happy faculty of everywhere finding wonderment full of consequences 75 (sounds like Chesterton!!!)
  • Importance of reflection = Great discoveries are but reflections on facts common to all (reminds me of Ignatian repetition).
  • Importance of filtering = A thinker is like a filter, in which truths as they pass through leave their best substance behind.
  • Since truth is everywhere and all things are connected, why not study each question in contact with kindred questions? Everything should contribute to our speciality. Everything should bear witness for or against our theses. 77
  • We are taught to live in the presence of God; can we not also live in the presence of truth? Truth is, as it were, the special divinity of the thinker 78
  • Since we are always thinking, why not utilize that thought to the advantage of what we have in mind? 78
  • The mind on the lookout for truth does not toil any more than the little boy frolicking, he is at play 80

II. The Work of Night

  • Sleep itself is a worker, a partner of the daily toil; we can make its forces serve us, utilize its laws, profit by that filtering process, that clarification which takes place during the self-surrender of the night 82
  • Deposit your point for meditation each evening like a seed in the furrows of the night 86
  • The human soul is rich: two seeds can be planted side by side without harming each other. Call to your mind as you fall asleep – entrust to God and to your own soul – the question that is preoccupying you, the idea that is slow in developing its virtualities, or that eludes your grasp. Do not make any contrary effort that would delay sleep. On the contrary, rest quietly in this thought: the universe is working for me 86
  • You must sleep; sleep renews nature and is indispensable. Sleep is a serviceable craftsman, it gives counsel, gives additional strength. Rest is not death; it is life, and all life bears fruit.


III. Mornings and Evenings

  • The morning:
    • The morning is sacred.
    • Waking must be a Sursum corda! 
    • Say prayer aloud – our voice is a “slave” that we may not neglect.
    • Acts of faith, hope, love for intellectual vocation.
    • The Mass really puts you into a state of eternity, into the spirit of the Universal Church, and in the Ite missa est you are ready to see a mission, a sending out of your zeal to the destitution of the mad and ignorant earth 90
    • The morning hours thus bedewed with prayer, freshened and vivified by the breezes of the spirit, cannot fail to be fruitful
  • The evening:
    • Evening! how little, usually, people know about making it holy and quiet, about using it to prepare for really restorative sleep!
    • How many poor ways to relax – like a violin with all its strings completely slackened. What a labour next day to tune them all up again! 91
    • Rest means giving up all effort and withdrawing towards the fount of life; it means restoring our strength, not expending it foolishly 92

IV. The Moments of Plenitude

  • Why morning is better — Night has renewed your strength; prayer has given you wings
  • Rise punctually and promptly; breakfast lightly; avoid futile conversations, useless calls, limit your correspondence to what is strictly necessary; gag the newspapers! 95
  • ** Avoid half-work more than anything. It is better to shorten the time and use it intensely, to increase its value, which is all that counts 96. Do something, or do nothing at all. Do ardently whatever you decide to do; do it with your might; and let the whole of your activity be a series of vigorous fresh starts. Half-work, which is half-rest, is good neither for rest nor for work.
  • To open up one’s being to truth and withdraw from all else is true work.
  • When you study, you belong to the truth!


CHAPTER 5: The Field of Work

I. Comparative Study

  • Comparative study: by that we mean widening our special work through bringing it into touch with all kindred disciplines, and then linking these specialties and the whole group of them to general philosophy and theology 102.
  • If you want to have a mind that is open, clear, really strong, mistrust your speciality in the beginning.
  • You must pass from one spirit to the other so as to correct one by the other; you must cross your crops in order not to ruin the soil… the lights thrown by one subject on another will make everything easier; as you acquire breadth your mind will grow more receptive and less easily burdened.
  • “When a bushel is full of nuts, one can still pour into it many measures of oil” ~ Rabbi
  • Just as no particular branch of knowledge is self-sufficing so all the branches together are not self-sufficing without the queen of knowledge, philosophy, nor the whole of human knowledge without the wisdom springing from the divine science itself, theology 107
  • a harmony that can come only from an appeal to first principles.
  • Theology, said Pere Gratry, has inserted a divine graft into the tree of knowledge, thanks to which this tree can bear fruits that are not its own. It loses nothing of its sap thereby, on the contrary, the sap circulates gloriously 110.
  • Study the Summa – try to crack the nut yourself, it will hurt your hands, but it will break, and St. Thomas himself will instruct his pupil 113.

II. Thomism, the Ideal Framework for Knowledge

  • Thomism is the framework of comparative study. Thomism has a miraculous power to coordinate and uplift.

III. Our Speciality

  • The encyclopedic mind is an enemy of knowledge. True knowledge lies in depth rather than in superficial extent. Science is knowledge through causes, and causes go down deep like roots. We must always sacrifice extent to penetration.
  • Follow various paths to get a sense of their meeting points. Have an inkling of general areas to be a cultivated man, but do not try it all. Probe the depths of your speciality.

IV. Necessary Sacrifices

  • Leave to God, who will look after it, what does not belong to your proper vocation.

Chapter 6: The Spirit of Work

I. Ardor in Research

  • A spirit of earnestness
  • The intelligence is like a child, whose lips never cease their why. 
  • Our soul does not age; it is always growing; in regard of truth it is always a child 123
  • Let the man of study then be perpetually listening for truth 124
  • The mind is like the airplane which can only keep aloft by going forward with all the power of its propeller 124

II. Concentration

  • Nothing is so disastrous as to keep turning one’s attention this way and that.
  • Let each task take entire hold of you, as if it were the only one.
  • Doing a bit here and a bit there is never any good. The traveller who hesitates and tries different roads one after another, loses courage and makes no headway. On the contrary, to pursue one path steadily, to start off continually with fresh energy and then rest at the right moment – that is, when the first phase of activity is complete – is the way to produce our utmost, and at the same time to keep our mind fresh, our courage intact 128
  • Sow the seed of a fertile thought, then again the seed of the new plant, do not weary of tilling or sowing; a single germ is good for a whole field 129
  • “A philosopher worthy of the name never said more than one single thing” ~ Bergson
  • To dig and to dig into the same hole is the way to get down deep and to surprise the secrets of the earth.
  • Worth is never in multiplicity, it lies in the relationships of a few elements which govern the whole subject under consideration or the whole essence of a person or thing.
  • A few well-chosen facts, a few big ideas, big rather by their coherence and their inter-connection than by their tenor, are matter enough for an inspired work.

III. Submission to Truth

  • Most important = submit to the discipline of truth.
  • Truth will not give itself to us unless we are first rid of self and resolved that it shall suffice us 130
  • Profound work consists in this: to let the truth sink into one, to be quietly submerged by it, to lose oneself in it, not to think that one is thinking, nor that one exists, nor that anything int he world exists but truth itself. That is the blessed state of ecstasy 133
  • “Do not consider from whom you hear things, but entrust to your memory everything good that is said” ~ Aquinas 16 Precepts
  • “No one, however wise, should reject the teaching of another, however insignificant” ~ Aquinas
  • “Each of you must have the humility to think others better men than himself” (Phi 2:3).
  • The superior man at any moment is he who is nearest to the truth and receiving its light.
  • What matters is an idea not its origin but its magnitude; what is interesting in genius itself is not the person: neither Aristotle, nor Leibnitz, nor Bossuet, nor Pascal but the truth. The more precious an idea is, the less it matters where it comes from. Train yourself to indifference about sources. 135

IV. Breadth of Outlook

  • The True is a single whole; all things are connected in the one supreme Truth.
  • Truly to study a thing means evoking step by step the sense of all other things and of their solidarity – mingling in the concert of all beings, entering into union with the universe and with oneself 137
  • We must isolate things to penetrate them more deeply, but then we must unite them in order better to understand them 138

V. The Sense of Mystery

  • Great and fruitful study comes only from putting the little we achieve under the favouring direction of what we do not yet know 142
  • The gates of the infinite are always open.

Chapter 7: Preparation for Work


I. Not Reading Much

  • Reading is the universal means of learning
  • “You must go to the sea by the streams, and not all at once” ~ Aquinas 16P
  • The first rule is to read little.
  • We still want to develop breadth of mind, to practice comparative study, to keep the horizon open before us; these things cannot be done without much reading.
  • What we are proscribing is the passion for reading, the uncontrolled habit, the poisoning of the mind by excess of mental food, the laziness in disguise which prefers easy familiarity with others’ thought to personal effort 146
  • We must read intelligently, not passionately 147
  • The mind is dulled, not fed, by inordinate reading
  • The wise work, preserving his self-control, calm and clearheaded, reads only what he wants to retain, retains only what will be useful, manages his brain prudently and does not abuse it by cramming it absurdly 148
  • Cut down on less solid and serious reading like novels and newspapers – unless a grave event occurs.
  • “Never read when you can reflect; read only, except in moments of recreation, what concerns the purpose you are pursuing; and read little, so as not to eat up your interior silence” 149

II. Choosing Well

  • “What discernment we should exercise about the things that feed our mind and are to be the seed of our thoughts! For what we read unconcernedly today will recur to our minds when occasion arises and will rouse in us, even without our notice, thoughts that will be a source of salvation or run. God stirs up the good thoughts to save us; the devil stirs up the evil thoughts of which he finds the seed in us” ~ Nicole
  • Choose your books – go straight to the fountainhead to satisfy your thirst. The old stock or rather the permanent stock of ideas is the best – love the eternal books that express eternal truths.
  • Choose in your books – not everything is of equal value. Do not on that account assume the attitude of a judge; be to your author rather a brother in the truth, a friend, and even a humble friend since, at least in a certain respect, you are taking him for your guide. The book is your elder; you must pay it honour, approach it without pride, read it without prejudice, bear with its faults, seek the grain in the chaff. But you are a free man, you remain responsible; hold back sufficiently to keep possession of your own soul and if need be to defend it 151
  • Often necessary in the course of one’s reading to filter what one reads so as to purify it.
  • Also, the value of a book is partly your own value, and what you are capable of getting out of it. St. Thomas took from the heretics and the paganizers of his day an enormous number of thoughts, and none of them did him any harm.
  • An intelligent man finds intelligence everywhere

III. Four Kinds of Reading

  • Fundamental reading – demands docility. “You must believe your master” ~ Aquinas. Choose 3 or 4 formative authors.
  • Accidental reading – demands mental mastery
  • Stimulating reading – demands earnestness. Have a list of inspirational authors, books, pages, quotes, tc.
  • Recreative reading – demands liberty. One thing alone according to St. Thomas gives real rest: joy; to seek distraction in something boring would be a delusion.

IV. Contact with Writers of Genius

  • Contact with genius is one of the choice graces that God grants to humble thinkers 157
  • They set the tone for us, lift us to a higher plane.
  • Genius simplifies things.
  • Most great discoveries are a sudden lightning-flash of concentrated thought.
  • When you have a firm grasp of truth, everything can be useful – the errors of great men.

V. Reconciling Instead of Accenting Opposites

  • We must tend always to reconcile our authors instead of setting one against another.
  • It is not the thoughts, but the truths, that interest us. It is futile to linger endlessly over differences; the fruitful research is to look for points of contact. Here St. Thomas gives us an admirable example. He always tried to compare doctrines, to illustrate and complete them one by the other.
  • We must have the spirit of the bee. Honey is made by many kinds of flowers.
  • Let us build bridges, not dig ditches between their doctrines as you seek truth alone. There is a great revelation in discovering the hidden links that exist between ideas and systems the most dissimilar.

VI. Assimilating and Living by One’s Reading

  • Passive – the reader must be passive in order to open his mind to truth. Docility is praiseworthy and necessary but not enough. A man who is always listening may never learn, unless he changes into his own substance what he has heard in his docile intercourse with others.
  • Active – the reader must react to what he reads so as it make it his own and by means of it to form his soul. We read only to think, we acquire wealth in order to use it, we eat to live. No one can teach us without our own effort. Reading puts truth before us; we have to make it ours. No one can make the journey to truth for us. Our mind has the task not of repeating but of comprehending – that is, we make “take with” us, cum-prehendere, we must vitally assimilate, what we read, and we must finally think for ourselves.
  • The principal profit from reading is not the acquisition of scattered truths, it is the increase of our wisdom.
  • We must find in books what is not in them, find an entry point into new domains.
  • When you are struck with a new thought, put down the book and assimilate.
  • A book is a signal, a stimulant, a helper, an initiator – it is not a substitute and it is not a chain. Our thought must be what we ourselves are. When we read, our masters must not be a goal for us, but a starting-point. A book is a cradle, not a tomb


I. What Things Are to be Remembered

  • “Lay up in the treasury of your mind all that you can, like a man aiming at filling a vessel” ~ Aquinas
  • We must remember everything that we can, on the condition that it is useful, as with the same reservation we read everything we can.
  • We do not live by memory, we use our memory to live. Engrave on your mind whatever can help you to conceive or carry out a project, whatever your soul can assimilate, whatever can serve your purpose, vivify your inspiration, and sustain your work. As for the rest, consign it to oblivion. 175

II. In What Order they are to be Remembered

  • A well-ordered mind is like a genealogical tree, in which all the branches spring from the trunk and so communicate with one another; relationships of every degree appear clearly in it, showing family descent in all its connections and as a whole 178.
  • There are in every subject-matter a few ideas that govern the whole, there are the keys to everything; there are some also that govern life, and before these we must light the sanctuary lamp within our hearts 180

III. How they can be Remembered

  • St. Thomas proposes 4 rules:
    1. to set in order what one wants to remember – notice the connections & reasons, order, consequences, imitate in your mind all of this.
    2. to apply the mind deeply to it – be wholly present and concentrated, repeat to yourself as if aloud what is said to you; accent every syllable. Be ready, as soon as you have read or heard the thing, to repeat it exactly insofar as you want to fix it in your memory. If it is a book, do not leave it without being able to sum it up and to estimate its value.
    3. to think over it often – reflect as often as is possible and as is worthwhile, on the object to be preserved from oblivion. Cultivate a sense of newness of the information because we remember more what has struck us.
    4. when one wants to recollect it, to take the chain of connections by one end, which will bring the rest with it.
  • To sum up, what matters about memory is not so much the number of things it retains, as, first, their quality, then their order, and lastly skill is using them. 185
  • To learn is nothing at all without intelligent assimilation, orderly connection, the progressive unity of a rich and well-ordered soul 185.
  • Keep your inspiration lofty, your attention keen; be sensitively responsive to truth, be eager in research, and you will remember enough 186

C. Notes

I. How to Take Notes

  • We are obliged to repeat ourselves often. If we do it most of all in speaking of reading, memory, and notes, it is because these three subjects are in a sense one and the same. Through all three we aim at completing ourselves, so as to produce our work when the time comes 186
  • Notes are a “paper memory” (Montaigne).
  • Memory is a unreliable servant 186
  • Common Rules
  • Special Rules
  • Avoid excesses – let some time elapse before writing down a passage.
  • Only note what you need.
  • Notes are storehouses of nourishment and of personality.
  • Read with a feeling expectation

II. How to Classify Notes

  • Order is a necessity, but it must serve us, not we it.

III. How to Use One’s Notes

Chapter 8: Creative Work

I. Writing

  • You must write throughout the whole of your intellectual life.
  • Contact with the public will compel you to do better; well-deserved praise will stimulate you; criticism will try out your work
  • To speak is to listen to one’s soul and to the truth within it.
  • To speak alone and wordlessly, as one does by writing, is to listen and perceive truth with a freshness of sensation like that of a man who rises in the early morning and holds his ear to nature.
  • “The beginning is more than the half of the whole” ~ Aristotle
  • Style must contain truth (to reveal what is), individuality and simplicity
  • Secret of writing is to stand and study things ardently, until they speak to you and themselves determine their own expression 204
  • Truth cannot fail to have an individual ring on each of its instruments.
  • Only by trying to express truth through the use of reason does originality emerge
  • The beautiful is the removal of the superfluity ~ Michelangelo
  • Cultivate the art of omission, of elimination, of simplification: that is the secret of strength 208

II. Detachment from Self and the World

  • You are consecrated to truth, you must serve, not use it 210
  • One throws oneself wholeheartedly only into causes that one would die for. Are you ready to die for the truth?
  • For me, to live is truth.

III. Constancy, Patience, and Perseverance

  • Avoid stimulants. Pray instead and get some exercise and fresh air.
  • Your best stimulant is courage.
  • Do not yield to the first sense of fatigue; you must push on; you must force the inner energy to reveal itself. Eventually your motor will warm up.
  • Work requires heroism just as a battle does.
  • Carry your burdens alone.
  • Hasten slowly. In the realm of the mind, quietness is better than speed.
  • Keep your peace.
  • He who works for God and as God wills abides in God. What does it matter if time runs on, when one is established in God?
  • The true intellectual is a man who perseveres.
  • Strengthen your will and entrust it to the Lord so that He may set His seal on it.

IV. Doing Things Well and Finishing Everything

  • As long as you have goodwill in your work, don’t worry about the length.
  • An intellectual vocation is no half-and-half thing; you must give yourself to it entirely. Your life, which as a whole is sacred to the God of Truth, is His in every separate occurence of which it is made up.
  • To have a vocation is to be obliged to perfection.
  • Settle immediately in the beginning by a vigorous effort the quality that it is to have.
  • Put out your very best at the moment of creation.

V. Attempting Nothing beyond One’s Power

  • “Do not seek things above you” ~ Aquinas 16P

Chapter 9: The Worker and the Man

I. Keeping contact with life

  • keep your soul free. What matters most in life is not knowledge, but character.
  • Study must be an act of life, must serve life, must feel itself impregnated with life.
  • The mind must stay open, must keep contact with humanity and with the world, so that every time it comes back to its work, it brings capacity for a new flight 237
  • Do not turn your back on the rest of life for the sake of study.

II. Knowing how to relax

  • Nothing must be in excess.
  • To love turth at the expense of prudence – that is, at the expense of the truth of life – is an absurdity.
  • Rest is a duty.
  • The best way of all to relax would be, if possible, not to get tired; I mean, so to balance one’s work that one operation would afford rest from another 244.
  • When one does not make room for rest, the rest one does not take takes itself; it steals into the work, under the form of distractions, of sleepiness, of necessary things that demand attention, not having been foressen at the right time 245
  • Work energetically then relax
  • True rest is joy, some activity in which we delight.
  • Find the right balance
  • Know yourself and proportion things accordingly
  • Frequent short spells of rest, which refresh woithout obliging you to make a complete new start afterwards, are the most advantageous.

III. Accepting our trials

  • Work done for supernatural means is our one and only purpose
  • to correct one’s mistakes and to keep silence is the great maxim
  • the truly wise man does not dispute
  • great souls suffer in sielcne ~ schiller
  • intellectual life is heroism. things have value in exact proportion to what they cost.
  • turth is revealed little by little.

IV. Apreciating our joys

  • contemplation begins in love and ends in joy
  • true intellectual shares in the eternal youth of the true
  • sanctity and intellecutality are of the same essence
  • truth is holiness of the mind 256

V. Lookign forward to the fruits

  • we all have turth behind us, and it drives us on through our intellignece; we have it before us, beckoning above us, inspiriing.
  • 16P


  1. Work always with the idea of some utilization. Write down for what group you are studying what you are doing and offer it up for them (1.II).
  2. Always pray before and after study (32).
  3. Live as much as possible in the open air. Walk before and after study. Every day you should take exercise. Easy manual work is precious for both mind and body. Set aside time for real vacations every year. Look after your diet. Sleep – not too much or too little (37).
  4. Develop a good group of friends.
  5. Always be on alert to encounter the truth. Be present. Learn to look. Compare what is before you with what you know.  73.
  6. React to what you read and make it your own 166
  7. When you are struck with a new thought, put down the book and assimilate 172.
  8. Learn by heart Scripture to sanctify the memory by these divine words 177
  9. engrave your firm resolution today to pay the price. renew your resolve each day.

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