Josef Pieper on True Teaching
“Teaching in the real sense takes place only when the hearer is reached–not by dint of some personal magnetism or verbal magic, but rather, when the truth of what is said reaches the hearer as truth. Real teaching takes place only when its ultimate result–which must be intended from the start–is achieved: when the hearer is ‘taught.’ And being taught is something else again from being carried away, and something else again from being dominated by another’s intellect. Being taught means to perceive that what the teacher has said is true and valid, and to perceive why this is so. Teaching therefore presupposes that the hearer is sought out where he is to be found.
Thus teaching implies proceeding from the existing position and disposition of the hearer. Nor can that position be determined abstractly in advance, or fixed once and for all; it must be located in its own historical context, determined concretely for what it is. The hearer’s counterarguments must be taken seriously and the elements of truth in them recognized–for aside from the products of feeblemindedness or intellectual gamesmanship, there are no entirely false opinions. The teacher, then, must proceed from what is valid in the opinions of the hearer to the fuller and purer truth as he, the teacher, understands it”
~ Josef Pieper, Guide to Thomas Aquinas, 32-33
Wisdom Is Vain Without Divine Love
St. Bonaventure begins his treatise on the mind’s ascension to God by warning the reader that curiosity without a love for God is dangerous. The reader must approach this journey by the “exercise of the affections more than the instruction of the mind” (Prologue, The Journey of the Mind to God).
Wherefore, it is to groans of prayer through Christ Crucified, in Whose blood we are cleansed from the filth of vices, that I first of all invite the reader. Otherwise he may come to think that mere reading will suffice without fervor, speculation without devotion, investigation without admiration, observation without exultation, industry without piety, knowledge without love, understanding without humility, study without divine grace, the mirror without divinely inspired wisdom” (Prologue).
Bonaventure puts this essential truth another way a few sentences later,
The mirror of the external world put before them is of little or no avail unless the mirror of our soul has been cleansed and polished” (Prologue).
This view of education is markedly different from our current data-transfer model. Bonaventure’s invitation to learning is far more attractive, more desirable–and much more human.
John Calvin’s Prayer for Learning
David Calhoun’s excellent Knowing God and Ourselves begins with a prayer for learning from John Calvin. I plan to incorporate it into my medieval humanities course next year:
O Lord, you who are the fountain of all wisdom and learning…illumine my understanding, which of itself is blind, so that it may grasp the teaching that will be given to me; please strengthen my memory to be able to remember well, dispose my heart to receive what is taught willingly and with due eagerness, so that the opportunity you present to me may not be lost because of my ingratitude.
To do this, please pour out your Holy Spirit on me, the Spirit of all intelligence, truth, judgment, prudence, and teaching.
Grant that I may direct my study to the true purpose, which is to know you in our Lord Jesus Christ, to have full confidence of salvation and life in your grace alone, and to serve you rightly and purely, according to your pleasure.
Hear me, merciful Father, by our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
(From Miracles (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 60)
There is little doubt that education’s unofficial currency is love. To be more precise, its mission is to educe a love of the world–the kind of love without which there could be no world at all.”
Robert Pogue Harrison
(University of Chicago Press, 2016), 132
The constant, obvious flattery, contrary to all evidence, of the people around him had brought him to the point that he no longer saw his contradictions, no longer conformed his actions and words to reality, logic, or even simple common sense, but was fully convinced that all his orders, however senseless, unjust, and inconsistent with each other, became sensible, just, and consistent with each other only because he gave them.”
(New York: Vintage Classics, 2009), 70
On your exceedingly great mercy rests all my hope. Give what you command, and then command whatever you will. You order us to practice continence. A certain writer tells us, ‘I knew that no one can be continent except by God’s gift, and that it is already a mark of wisdom to recognize whose gift this is’ (Wisdom 8:21). By continence the scattered elements of the self are collected and brought back into the unity from which we have slid away into dispersion; for anyone who loves something else along with you, but does not love it for your sake, loves you less. O Love, ever burning, never extinguished, O Charity, my God, set me on fire! You command continence: give what you command, and then command whatever you will” (X.40, emphasis added).
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
by Circe Institute
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