Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Intellectual Life as Intellectual Labor, Chapter 2

Sertillanges begins chapter two ("the virtues of the intellect") in Augustinian fashion, by identifying personhood with love: one is what one loves (or phenomenologically, one becomes what one loves). Intellectuals are (or ought to be) lovers of Truth, and therefore servants to Truth, and therefore submissive to Truth's commands.

Submission requires an active directing of passions and moral habits. They must be conformed to the demands that the love of Truth requires. Because of this, Virtue is necessary to the intellectual life as a purifier of the soul-in-service-to-Truth.

The particular virtues that aid intellectual pursuit include studiousness. Studiousness may be understood as diligent continuance of thought directed toward a question of truth. Temperance of mind is another virtue of the intellectual life. Temperance avoids the sloth of negligence as well as the pride of vain curiosity. Temperance aids the soul in avoiding taking up too little (malnourishment) or taking on too much (gluttony).

The vehicle of virtue is prayer. Indeed, prayer may be considered both a propaedeutic to study as well as the vessel by which the Spirit conveys the intellect to the Truth. To arrive at Truth is to arrive at God, the fount, headspring, source. The intellectual comes to the Truth through the effulgence of truths and this requires the humble acknowledgment of Truth as God's own to give, and it requires the humility to ask and receive wisely and freely.

The humility of prayer extends to the body. The body is our own unique tool and charge in the pursuit of Truth. The health and vitality of the body must be maintained to elicit the health and vitality of the mind, and it is often through the body that the mind is able to receive Truth.

For instance, think about the importance of memory for the receipt and retention of Truth. With music one must keep in the memory those notes that have passed out of hearing in order to understand, anticipate, and appreciate the notes that follow. One of the cultivators of memory is the body. Consider the difference of trying to memorize who my "riding partners" by repeating over and over again in the mind their names, as opposed to remembering them by riding with them once and then being responsible to remember them for the next time. The bodily experience of taking a trip together lends itself to the mind more potently than the abstraction of repeated names.

Love, studiousness, temperance, prayer, and bodily care constitute the chief virtues of the Intellectual Life.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Intellectual Life as an Intellectual Labor, Chapter 1

In the first chapter of his book, The Intellectual Life, Sertillanges peers into the facets of the intellectual vocation. Three conclusions emerge: the intellectual has a sacred call, he does not stand alone, and belongs to his own time.

One cannot pursue the intellectual life who has not at least the smallest spark of desire for the discovery of Truth for its own beauty as opposed to some self-directed end. In other words, the intellectual doesn't search for truth so that he can do something with it for himself, but because the truth is worth knowing (he must do something with the truth, but that is the secondary and unselfish in nature, as will be seen below). The same Spirit that invested Bezalel and called Oholiab to design the tabernacle and carry out its construction invests men with the intellectual vocation. No Spirit, no vocation.

Sertillanges emphasizes the value of solitude for the intellectual, but he does not equate solitude with isolation. Isolation is poisonous to the intellectual life. The Spirit that fills the intellectual also fills the body of Christ, and so the intellectual who is not participating in the life of that Body is cut off from the Spirit and from a necessary constituent of the intellectual vocation. He draws from the Body as well as contributing to it.

Not only the Church, but also the City and his Time are communities in which the intellectual lives and serves. Although the intellectual touches all points of time through his study, he is uniquely set within the time and place where he lives, and must be attentive to the characteristics, needs, and opportunities his time and place afford. The intellectual looks back to draw upon history so that he may serve in the now and open an avenue for the communities of the future. There is a kind of universal horizon of koinonia among past, present, and future that the intellectual stewards by his labor.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Intellectual Life as an Intellectual Labor, Introduction

This month a book club I participate in is reading A.G. Sertillanges' book, The Intellectual Life. The book is a lengthy meditation on and preparation for the life given by the book's title. I've read it once before and was excited by many of its insights, but I've not made much conscious use of them (I do hope some profitable unconscious effects have been produced!). This time around I'm attempting to be more intentional in my approach. The remaining post is an outline of that intention.

Phase I: Tilling & Sowing

In the first phase of reading The Intellectual Life, I'll be writing meditative summaries of the book's chapters after reading each one. Sertillanges' book is very well organized and lends itself to easy summary. The ease is dangerous, however, since it would be deceptive to think that one has profited by summarizing the points of each chapter and its sections. Sertillanges' language is so simple that it gives the appearance of ease, where great difficulty is actually present. Thus, I've added the task of "meditative" to my summaries; allowing room for my thoughts to analogize, apply, question, and so forth, and put all of that into written words. I'll then type the meditative summaries on this blog, critically reviewed and potentially substantively altered.

Phase II: Watering & Weeding

If it can be done, I am hoping to draw in a couple of the other men from book club to develop some specific applications of Sertillanges' book in some aspect of our own lives, whether as part of our individual development, or as a part of our vocations (several of us are teachers, who are paid to pursue an intellectual life, in my opinion). The very first chapter of Sertillanges' book emphasizes the necessity of community both as a necessary part of the intellectual vocation as a productive art (giving it life & health), as well as a recipient of the intellectual vocation's produce (partaking of its fruit). Phase II will be harder to accomplish, but will certainly make the fruit of higher quality and of greater quantity.

Phase III: Harvesting & Feasting

Should the work reach completing, there should be some fruits to be enjoyed and shared with others. There are some vague ideas in my mind of what fruit might result (curricular changes, pedagogical changes, articles written, lectures given, seminars conducted, etc.) but there will be plenty of room for surprise, especially if some non-teachers are able to join in the labor.

Phase IV: Composting & Reproducing

In the wake of our feasting, I hope the leftovers will lead into future activities of like kind, whether they involve repeating The Intellectual Life, or moving on to a different book, or developing an analogous project with some other medium or means of application. This is the vaguest and least imaginable phase, since it is so dependent upon the labors that have only just begun. However, I hope to look back upon this beginning in a few months, or a year, or more, and find that it was not wholly in vain.