Letter to Brother John

Here is a letter of advice from Thomas Aquinas to a young friar on how to conduct himself while at school. Wonderful words for any student:

“Since you have asked me, my very dear John in Christ, how you should apply yourself in order to gain something from the treasure-house of knowledge, let this be the advice handed down to you by me on this subject.

Make up your mind to start on small streams rather than to plunge into the sea; for one should progress from easier matters to those that are more difficult. This is, then, my advice and instruction for you. I counsel you to be slow to speak and slow to take the speaker’s stand. Embrace purity of mind; do not neglect prayer; cherish your cell most of the time, if you wish to be admitted to the vintage-room [of knowledge]. Be friendly to all men; do not be curious about the private activities of other people; do not try to be overfamiliar with anyone, for too much familiarity breeds contempt and provides an opportunity for neglecting one’s studies.

Do not get interested in any way in worldly talk or deeds. Avoid idle talk on all matters; do not fail to imitate the example of holy and good men; do not be concerned about what speaker you are listening to; instead, when something good is said, commit it to memory. Be sure that you understand whatever you read. Make certain that you know the difficulties and store up whatever you can in the treasure-house of the mind; keep as busy as a person who seeks to fill a vessel.

Do not seek higher positions. Follow in the footsteps of Blessed Dominic who brought forth and increased the buds, the flowers and the fruits that were useful and wonderful in the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, as long as he lived.

If you follow these words of advice, you will be able to attain your every desire.”

From Richard Gamble, The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to be an Educated Human Being, p.287.

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2 thoughts on “Letter to Brother John

  1. Pingback: At the Edge of Attention | Sixteen Seasons

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