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.
On the Return of a Book Lent to a Friend
“I give hearty and humble thanks for the safe return of this book, which having endured the perils of my friend’s bookcase and the bookcases of my friend’s friends, now returns to me in reasonably good condition. I give hearty and humble thanks that my friend did not see fit to give this book to his infant for a plaything, nor use it as an ashtray for his burning cigar, nor as a teething-ring for his mastiff. When I loaned this book, I deemed it as lost; I was resigned to the business of the long parting; I never thought to look upon its pages again. But now that my book has come back to me, I rejoice and am exceedingly glad! Bring hither the fatted morocco and let us rebind the volume and set it on the shelf of honor, for this my book was lent and is returned again. Presently, therefore, I may return some of the books I myself have borrowed.”