Wednesdays with Words: The Intellectual Life

I’ve been slowly reading through The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being – a collection of writings about classical education by a variety of writers, from Plato to modern authors.

Yesterday I read a selection from The Intellectual Life by A. G. Sertillanges, a book that’s been on my “to read” list for quite awhile.  It moved up the list after reading this selection, which was so encouraging to me.

Sertillanges says that the intellectual life is a calling, whether or not it is your main calling. From the beginning of the passage, he asserts that even if one is “not entirely free to give themselves up to study”, they might still have an intellectual calling.

As I have worked to educate my children, I have repeatedly seen the lack in my own knowledge and understanding, and been frustrated that – at least in this season – I am not able to throw off all my responsibilities and do nothing but read and study all day long. I love to daydream about a life of intellectual pursuits – how I would order my day and the things I would study if I had no other responsibilities. (In this daydream, I am also independently wealthy and don’t need a paying job, so that helps.)

But Sertillanges encourages me:

One does not need extraordinary gifts to carry some work through; average superiority suffices; the rest depends on energy and wise application of energy. It is as with a conscientious workman, careful and steady at his task: he gets somewhere, while an inventive genius is often merely an embittered failure.

What I have just said is true of everyone. But I apply it especially to those who know that they have at their disposal only a part of their life, the least part, in which to give themselves to the labors of the mind. They, more than others, must be men consecrated by their vocation. What they cannot spread out over all their years, they must concentrate in a small space. ..

If genius is not necessary for production, still less is it necessary to have entire liberty…The very constraint will make you concentrate better, you will learn the value of time, you will take eager refuge in those rare hours during which, the claims of duty satisfied, you can turn to your ideal and enjoy the relaxation of some chosen activity after the labor imposed by the hard necessity of getting a livelihood…

You, young man who understand this language and to whom the heroes of the mind seem mysteriously to beckon, but who fear to lack the necessary means, listen to me. Have you two hours a day? Can you undertake to keep them jealously, to use them ardently, and then, being of those who have authority in the Kingdom of God, can you drink the chalice of which these pages would wish to make you savor the exquisite and bitter taste? If so, have confidence. Nay, rest in quiet certainty.

More posts about meaningful words and reading at the linkup at ladydusk.

About waymel

Navy wife. Homeschooling mom. Adoptive parent. Pianist. Introvert. One who loves quiet and beauty.
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3 Responses to Wednesdays with Words: The Intellectual Life

  1. Robyn Keeney says:

    I will rest in quiet certainty that my average superiority will suffice. 🙂

  2. Anna says:

    Encoraging and challenging, because it’s so easy to fritter away the time we do have!

  3. shirley wilmoth says:

    Not surprisingly my first thought to comment was the same as Robyn’s….that was my favorite line….I rest in quiet certainty. At any age, there are never enough hours in a day.

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