NOTE: St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was a Dominican friar, the most learned theologian of his time. He is called the “Angelic Doctor” because of his pure life and his deep insight and understanding of the teachings of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas is venerated as the patron of Catholic schools and of students.
Many in their studies, as in other occupations, take great pains to little purpose, often to draw from them the poison of vanity or error; or at least to drain their affections, and rather to nourish pride and other vices in the heart than to promote true virtue. Sincere humility and simplicity of heart are essential conditions for the sanctification of studies, and for the improvement of virtue by them. Prayer must also both go before and accompany them.
St. Thomas spoke much to God by prayer, that God might speak to him by enlightening his understanding in his reading and studies; and he received in this what he asked in the other exercises. This prodigy of human wit, this unparalleled genius, which penetrated the most knotty difficulties in all the sciences, whether sacred or profane, to which he applied himself, was accustomed to say that he learned more at the foot of the crucifix than in books.
We ought never to set ourselves to read or study anything without first having made our morning meditation, and without imploring in particular the divine light in everything we read; and seasoning our studies by frequent aspirations to God in them, and by keeping our souls in a humble attention to His presence. In intricate difficulties, we ought more earnestly, prostrate at the foot of a crucifix, to ask of Christ the resolution of our doubts. We should thus receive, in the school of so good a master, that science which makes saints, by giving, with other sciences, the true knowledge of God and ourselves, and purifying and kindling in the will of the fire of divine love with the sentiments of humility and other virtues.
By a little use, fervent aspirations to God will arise from all subjects in the driest studies, and it will become easy, and as it were natural in them, to raise our heart earnestly to God, either despising the vain pursuits, or detesting the vanity and deploring the blindness of the world, or aspiring after heavenly gifts, or begging light, grace or the divine love, This is a maxim of the utmost importance in an interior or spiritual life, which otherwise, instead of being assisted, is entirely overwhelmed and extinguished by studies, whether profane or sacred, and in its place a spirit of self-sufficiency, vanity and jealousy is contracted, and the seeds of all other spiritual vices secretly sown.
Against this danger, St. Bonaventure warns all students strongly to be upon their guard, saying: “If a person repeats often in his heart, ‘Lord, when shall I love thee?’ he will feel a heavenly fire kindled in his soul much more than by a thousand secrets, on the eternal generation of the Word, or the procession of the Holy Spirit.” Prayer and true virtue ever naturally conduce to the perfection of learning in every branch; for purity of the heart, and the disengagement of the affections from all irregular passions, render the understanding clear, qualify the mind to judge impartially of
in its researches, divest it of many prejudices, the fatal sources of errors, and inspire a modest distrust in a person’s own abilities and lights. Thus virtue and learning mutually assist and improve each other.