The Intellectual Life–Part 9

sertillangesRecently I reread the A.G. Sertillanges’s classic work on the life of the mind: The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods.  Sertillanges (1863-1948) was a Catholic writer and a member of the Dominican Order.  He published The Intellectual Life in 1934.  Read the entire series here.

p.199: You must write throughout the whole of your intellectual life

p.201: I have said that the art of writing requires lone and early application and that this gradually becomes a mental habit and constitutes what is called style.

p.208: Strive to write in the form that is inevitable, given the precise thought or the exact feeling that you have to express.  Aim at being understood by all…

p.209: …all creative work requires detachment. Our obsessing personality must be put aside, the world must be forgotten.  When one is thinking of truth, can one allow one’s attention to be turned from it by self.

p.213: We must not allow ourselves to be influenced by fear of what people will say; we must beware of yielding to the pressure of a spirit of cowardly conformity which proclaims itself everybody’s friend in the hope that everybody will obligingly return the compliment.

p.214-15: Seated at your writing table and in the solitude in which God speaks to the heart, you should listen as a child listens and write as a child speaks.

p.219: Sometimes it is good to stop for a while, when  one does not see the right succession of ideals and is exposed to the grave danger of making artificial transitions.

p. 220: But you most normal stimulant is courage.  Courage is sustained, not only be prayer, but by calling up anew a vision of the goal….Keep you eyes on its completion and that vision will give you fresh courage.

p.220: You must not yield to the first sense of fatigue; you must push on; you must force the inner energy to reveal itself.

p.228: You who have a sacred call, make up your mind to be faithful.  There is a law within you, let it be obeyed.  You have said: “I will do this.”

The Intellectual Life–Part 8

sertillangesRecently I reread the A.G. Sertillanges’s classic work on the life of the mind: The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods.  Sertillanges (1863-1948) was a Catholic writer and a member of the Dominican Order.  He published The Intellectual Life in 1934.  Read the entire series here.

p.145: Now reading is the universal means of learning, and it is the proximate or remote preparation for every kind of production. We never think entirely alone: we think in company, in a vast collaboration; we work with the workers of the past and of the present.

p.151: …have no superstitious respect for novelty; love the eternal books that express eternal truths.

p.158: The communion of saints is the support of the mystical life; the banquet of the sages, perpetuated by our assiduous cult, is the invigoration of our intellectual life.

p.158: Contact with writers of genius procures us the immediate advantage of lifting us to a higher plane; by their superiority alone they confer a benefit on us even before teaching us anything.

p.160: The society of intelligent minds is always an exclusive society; reading gives us easier entrance to it.  We cast on the inspired page an imploring glance that is not in vain; we are helped, paths are opened up to us; we are reassured, initiated; the work of God in rare minds is put to our account as well as to theirs; we grow through them; we are enriched through them.

p.164: An essential condition for profiting by our reading, whether of ordinary books or those of writers of genius, is to tend always to reconcile our authors instead of setting one against another.

p.166: There is a great revelation in discovering the hidden links that exist between ideas and systems the most dissimilar.

p.170: To develop wisdom was the first object of our education; it is still that of the education that we essay to provide for ourselves.  Without wisdom, what we take in would be worthless, it would be as useless as was the first when it was on the library shelf.

The Intellectual Life–Part 7

sertillangesRecently I reread the A.G. Sertillanges’s classic work on the life of the mind: The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods.  Sertillanges (1863-1948) was a Catholic writer and a member of the Dominican Order.  He published The Intellectual Life in 1934.  Read the entire series here.

p.123: …the spirit should animate the worker; and we need first of all, before any special mode of its application, a spirit of earnestness.

p.124: The mind is like the airplane which can only keep aloft by going forward with all the power of its propeller.  To stop is to crash.  On the other hand, earnestness and tenacity can carry us beyond all forseen limits into regions undreamed of.

p.125: To know, to seek, to know more and to start afresh to seek more, is the life of a person devoted to truth, just as to make more money, whatever his or her fortune, is the aim of the miser.  The intellectual who is sincere says every day to the God of truth: “The zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up.”

p.127: …let your soul be all intent on whatever it is that is established in your mind as a dominant, wholly absorbing idea.  Make an orderly series of your different studies, so as to throw yourself into them completely.  Let each task take entire hold of you, as if it were the only one.

p.127-28: We must allow each thing its separate place, do it in its own time, provide all the conditions necessary for the work, devote to it the fullest resources at our disposal, and once it has been brought to a successful issue, pass on quietly to something else.

p.131: Study might be defined by saying that it is God becoming conscious in us of His work

p.141: …a sense of mystery must remain, even after our maximum effort and even after truth has seemed to smile on us.  Those who think that they understand everything prove by that alone that they have grasped nothing.

The Intellectual Life–Part 5

sertillangesRecently I reread the A.G. Sertillanges’s classic work on the life of the mind: The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods.  Sertillanges (1863-1948) was a Catholic writer and a member of the Dominican Order.  He published The Intellectual Life in 1934.  Read the entire series here.

p.82: But 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…When you wake, you find the collaboration of sleep all performed and recorded. The work of the previous day appears to you in a clearer light; a new path a virgin region lies before you; some relationship of ideas, of facts, of expressions, some happy comparison or illuminating image, a whole passage perhaps or a plan ready to be realized, will have surged into your consciousness.

p. 83: Have at hand a notebook or a box of slips.  Make a note without waking up too fully, without turning on the light, if possible, then fall back into the shadows.

p. 84: At other times, it is in the morning on first awaking, that the flashes comes…Take a good look at this utterly new spectacle, and do not lose a moment before fixing its broad outlines; note down its leading features, its turning points, enough to determine all the details when you have time to come back to it.  Every thinker has experienced instances of early morning lucidity that are sometimes surprising, almost miraculous.

p.86: 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 virualities, or that eludes your grasp.  Do not make any effort that will delay sleep; nature keeps watch; God keeps watch, and tomorrow I shall gather a little of the fruit of their work.

p.89: Whatever prayer he chooses, that of the intellectual should empathize for a moment what is especially appropriate to himself….In these forms of words and in others, the intellectual finds his needs expressed, reminds himself of his or her task; and he can, without isolating his or her specialty from Christian life as a whole, profit by what is providentially deposited for him in the common treasure.

p.99: The time of the thinker, when he really uses it, is in reality charity to all; only thus do we appreciate it properly.

The Intellectual Life–Part 4

sertillangesRecently I reread the A.G. Sertillanges’s classic work on the life of the mind: The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods.  Sertillanges (1863-1948) was a Catholic writer and a member of the Dominican Order.  He published The Intellectual Life in 1934.  Read the entire series here.

p.42: …a certain asceticism is the duty of the thinker.  Contemplation, whether religious or secular, scientific, artistic, or literary, is not compatible with the complications and burdens of an excessively comfortable life.

p.45: Children complicate life, but so sweetly that they should serve to give the worker fresh courage rather than to lesson his or her resources…they can heighten your inspiration by mingling joy with it…

p.50: When silence takes possession of you; when far from the racket of the human highway the sacred fire flames up in the stillness; when peace, which is the tranquility of order, puts order in your thoughts, feelings, and investigations, you are in the supreme disposition for learning.

The Intellectual Life–Part 3

sertillangesRecently I reread the A.G. Sertillanges’s classic work on the life of the mind: The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods.  Sertillanges (1863-1948) was a Catholic writer and a member of the Dominican Order.  He published The Intellectual Life in 1934.  Read the entire series here.

p.19: …by feeding the mind on truth one enlightens the conscience, by fostering good one guides knowledge

p.21: On what, first and foremost, does all the effort of study depend?  On attention, which delimits the field for research, concentrates on it, brings all our powers to bear on it; next, on judgment, which gathers up the fruit of investigation.  Now, passions and vices relax attention, scatter it, lead it astray; and they injure the judgment in roundabout ways.

p.21: Knowledge depends on the direction given to our passions and on our moral habits.

p.22: Purity of thought requires purity of soul…

p.25: …ambition may injure studiousness, and hinder the usefulness of its results.

p.28-29: …study must first of all leave room for worship, prayer, direct meditation on the things of God.  Study is itself a divine office, an indirect divine office; it seeks out and honors the traces of the Creator, or His images, according as it investigates nature or humanity; but it must make way at the right moment for direct intercourse with Him.

p.32: Neither knowledge, nor any other manifestation of life, should be separated from its roots in the soul and in reality–where the God of the heart and the God of heaven are revealed and are one.

p.37: Live as much as possible in the open air.  It is a recognized fact that attention–the nerve of study–is closely related to breathing, and for general health we know that plenty oxygen is a first condition…walks before and after work or even combined with work according to the Greek tradition; all these practices are excellent.

p.38: Set aside every year, and secondarily in the course of the year, time for real vacations

p.38: Pay still more attention to your sleep. Take neither too much nor too little.  Too much will make you heavy, stupid, will slow up the blood and the power of thinking; too little will expose you to the risk of prolonging unduly the stimulation of work and dangerously superimposing strain upon strain.

The Intellectual Life: Part 2

sertillangesRecently I reread the A.G. Sertillanges’s classic work on the life of the mind: The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods.  Sertillanges (1863-1948) was a Catholic writer and a member of the Dominican Order.  He published The Intellectual Life in 1934.  Read the entire series here.

p.3: A vocation is not fulfilled by vague reading and a few scattered writings. It requires penetration and continuity and methodical effort, so as to attain a fulness of development which will correspond to the call of the Spirit, and to the resources that is has pleased Him to bestow on us.:

p.4: The life of study is austere and imposes grave obligations.  It pays, it pays richly; but it exacts an initial outlay that few are capable of.  The athletes of the mind, like those of the playing field, must be prepared for privations, long training, a sometimes superhuman tenacity.

p.6: [You should] come to the intellectual life with unselfish motives, not through ambition of foolish vanity.  The jingling bells of publicity tempt only frivolous minds.  Ambition offends eternal truth by subordinating truth to itself.  Is it not a sacrilege to play with the questions that dominate life and death, with mysterious nature, with God-to achieve some literary or philosophical celebrity at the expense of the true and independently of the true?

p. 12: It is another characteristic of the intellectual vocation that the Christian worker who is consecrated by his [or her] call must not be an isolated unit…he [or she] must not yield to the lure of individualism, which is the distorted image of Christian personality.

The Intellectual Life: Part 1

sertillangesRecently I reread the A.G. Sertillanges’s classic work on the life of the mind: The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods.  Sertillanges (1863-1948) was a Catholic writer and a member of the Dominican Order.  He published The Intellectual Life in 1934.

Over the next few days I am going to post some of my favorite parts of the book.  I encourage you to read it.

p. xviii: 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 acquire that state of soul unburdened by desire and self-will which is the state of grace of the intellectual worker.

p. xxii: When the world does not like you it takes its revenge on you; if it happens to like you, it takes revenge still by corrupting you.  Your only resource is to work far from the world, as indifferent to its judgments as you are ready to serve it.

p. xxvi: Even if one does not use everything that one has learned, the accumulated knowledge gives a hidden resonance to one’s words, and this fulness has for its reward the confidence it inspires.

What Happens to Evangelical Intellectual Life After “Books & Culture?”

bcI started graduate school in 1994.  That was the same year that Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was published. One year later, Christianity Today Inc. began publishing Books & Culture: A Christian Review with John Wilson as editor.  I subscribed immediately.  I have read every issue in its 22-year run.

Books & Culture was a book review modeled after the New York Review of Books.  It was a place where evangelicals turned to worship God with their minds.  My heart always skipped a beat when I opened up my mailbox and found the recent issue waiting for me.

John Wilson was always good to me and my career as a historian and writer.  In 2008 he published Lauren Winner’s review of my book The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America.  Then in 2012 he called upon Jay Green, Eric Miller, and myself, the editors of Confessing History: Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation, to reflect on the historian’s vocation.  Later that year John published Paul Kemeny’s review of my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.  This year, Books & Culture published Peter Thuesen’s review of The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society.

I have also done a little writing and reviewing for the magazine.  Back in the summer of 2015 John published my review of Kevin Kruse’s One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.  I have also written a for short reviews for the Books & Culture website.

But more importantly, I have learned a great deal from the many reviews I have read by Christian scholars interested in the life of the mind.  My friend Eric Miller was a fixture in the pages of Books & Culture over the years.  In the early years Don Yerxa interviewed a lot of important intellectuals, including John Lukacs, Jonathan Spence, Andrew Walls, Barry Strauss, and Max Hastings.  Wilson gave a voice to writers that were new to me at the time that I first read them: Lauren Winner,  Mary Noll Venables, Matthew Milliner, Alister Chapman, Preston Jones, Jane Zwart, Agnieszka Tennant,  Alissa Wilkinson, Elisha Coffman, Agnes Howard, Eugene McCarraher, Virginia Stem Owens and Sarah Hinlicky Wilson all come to mind.

And then there were some of the more familiar names (at least to me) in the world of Christian thought and scholarship:  Mark Noll, Grant Wacker, Betty Smartt Carter, Philip Jenkins, Allen Guelzo, Timothy Larsen, Alvin Plantinga, Alan Jacobs, Carlos Eire, David Bebbington, Daniel Walker Howe, Karen Swallow Prior,  Dale Van Kley, Wilfred McClay, John Schmalzbauer, Thomas Albert Howard, Brad Gregory, James Bratt, George Marsden, David Lyle Jeffrey, Paul Harvey, Bruce Kuklick, John Stackhouse, Stephen Webb, Bruce Ellis Benson,  Miroslav Volf, James Calvin Schaap, John G. Turner, Catherine Brekus, Dana Robert, Joel Carpenter, Gerald McDermott, Harry Stout, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, David Hempton, Richard Cawardine, Roger Lundin, Tim Stafford, Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner, D.G. Hart, Aaron Belz, Harold K. Bush,  Christian Smith, Thomas Kidd, Charles Marsh, Douglas Sweeney, Richard Mouw, James K.A. Smith, David Skeel, Kristina Bieber Lake, Susan VanZanten, Joseph Bottum, Mark Walhout, John McWhorter, Laurance Wieder, Scott Cairns, Susan Wise Bauer, Ralph Wood. C. Steven Evans, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.

John Schmalzbauer, the Blanche Gorman Strong Chair in Protestant Studies at Missouri State University, seems to feel the same way that I do about the end of Books & Culture. Check out his piece, “The Life and Death of Evangelicalism’s Little Magazine” at Comment magazine.

Here is a taste:

Ending its run at twenty-one, Books & Culture did not live to see middle age. Its closing has left the evangelical intelligentsia searching for answers. Among the questions being discussed:

  • Has the evangelical intellectual renaissance run its course?
  • Do conservative Christian philanthropists care about the life of the mind?
  • Can evangelicalism sustain a publication that bridges the ideological divide?

In approaching these questions, it is helpful to consider the wider context of evangelical intellectual history. Too narrow a focus on 2016 will keep us from seeing some of the larger issues.

Downplaying his own publication’s significance, Wilson once called Books & Culture a “Small Good Thing (Even a Small and Very Good Thing),” adding that “if you know of any philanthropists who might agree, send them my way.”

Schmalzbauer’s piece suggests some places where “those who care about evangelical book culture” can turn now that Books & Culture is off the scene.  It is a great list, which includes Englewood Review of Books, Byron Borger’s Hearts and Minds blog, and Eighth Day Books.  I would also add the ever-popular “Author’s Corner” published most Mondays and Thursdays right here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Read the entire piece here.