[W]hen we look at the shameless abuse made, in print and on the platform, of controversial expressions with shifting and ambiguous connotations, we may feel it in our hearts to wish that every reader and hearer had been so defensively armoured by his education as to be able to cry: Distinguo.

For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armour was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects. We who were scandalised in 1940 when men were sent to fight armoured tanks with rifles, are not scandalised when young men and women are sent into the world to fight massed propaganda with a smattering of “subjects”; and when whole classes and whole nations become hypnotised by the arts of the spell-binder, we have the impudence to be astonished."

We dole out lip-service to the importance of education — lip-service and, just occasionally, a little grant of money; we postpone the school leaving-age, and plan to build bigger and better schools; the teachers slave conscientiously in and out of school-hours, till responsibility becomes a burden and a nightmare; and yet, as I believe, all this devoted effort is largely frustrated, because we have lost the tools of learning, and in their absence can only make a botched and piecemeal job of it. … Distinguo. I should like every term in that proposition defined.

Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning (Paper read at a Vacation Course in Education Oxford, 1947)

Build your own memory mansion (2)

The faculty of remembering — of retaining and recalling what one has already experienced — helps us to act in the present and plan for the future. This is why St Thomas Aquinas associates memory with the virtue of prudence, the first of the four cardinal virtues, which comprise of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Prudence aids us in perfecting all other virtues and is the closest of all the cardinal virtues to the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, because it helps us to choose the best means of attaining our goal, and to order everything to our final end. Its rule is reason informed by faith, by the examples and teaching of Jesus Christ and His true imitators, the saints.

Just as aptitude for prudence is in our nature, while its perfection comes through practice or grace, so too, as Cicero says in his Rhetoric, memory not only arises from nature, but is also aided by art and diligence.

St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a 2ae, Q. 49. A1 g
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Why we should study the natural law tradition

In the opening lesson of his course at the Family and Life Academy, Dr Joseph Shaw explored the origins of the natural law tradition — from ancient Athens in the fifth century BC to Roman North Africa in the fourth century AD. In under an hour, Dr Shaw brought together eight centuries of key figures and ideas from diverse schools of thought, starting with Socrates and ending with the great doctor of the Latin Church, St Augustine of Hippo. He also covered Aristotle’s understanding of ergon (“function” or “characteristic behaviour”) in some depth and, without breaking stride, advanced halfway to St Thomas Aquinas’s definitive formulation of natural law in the thirteenth century.

This week, Dr Shaw has begun to build on this foundation in lesson two, with no-less-diverse materials. He explained how the augustinian tradition, Roman legal theory and the rediscovery of Aristotle in the West would impact the thinking of St Thomas Aquinas and shape the whole of the scholastic approach to natural law. He has made a second pass over the key aristotelian principles, this time from the eagle’s-eye view of Christian Revelation, continuing to expand the perspective on the natural world, on human nature in particular, and on the supernatural destiny to which humanity is called. What is more, he has made it look easy — and with four lessons still to go.

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The family and faith of Blessed Karl and Zita

Last Friday, the feast of the Holy Rosary, saw the opening webinar at the Family and Life Academy. People from over 20 countries assembled on the platform to watch, listen and put questions to His Excellency Eduard Habsburg, ambassador of Hungary to the Holy See, in an inspiring webinar on his holy kinsman and kinswoman, Blessed Karl and Servant of God Zita von Habsburg — “a giant of the faith, who married a giant of the faith”.

In this intimate look at two young Catholic spouses, parents and heads of state, their great-great-nephew revealed that, “on the eve of their wedding, Karl told Zita, ‘Now we must help each other attain Heaven!’ … If there ever was a better and more wonderful definition of what Christian married life is, I don’t know it.”

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La petite fleur and Archimedes

Is it not in prayer that the likes of Saint Paul, Augustine, John of the Cross, Thomas, Francis, Dominic and innumerable other illustrious friends of God have drawn this divine learning, which ravished the greatest geniuses? A savant said, “Give me a lever and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” What Archimedes was not able to obtain, because his request was not addressed to God and was only made from the material point of view, the saints obtained it in all its plenitude. The Almighty gave them for a fulcrum HIMSELF and HIM ALONE; for a leaver, prayer, which burns with the fire of love — and it is thus that they moved the world; it is thus that the saints still in the world move it and thus that, until the end of the world, the saints to come will move it also.

St Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, End of manuscript C

Prayer to your guardian angel

Angel of God's light, whom God sends
as a companion for me on earth,
protect me from the snares of the devil,
and help me to walk always
as a child of God, my Creator.

Angel of God's truth, whose
perfect knowledge serves what is true,
protect me from deceits and temptations.
Help me to know the truth,
and always to live the truth.

Angel of God's love, who praises
Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
who sacrificed His life for love of us,
sustain me as I learn the ways
of Divine love, of sacrificial generosity,
of meekness and lowliness of heart.

Thank You, my heavenly friend,
for your watchful care.
At the moment of my death,
bring me to heaven, where the one true God,
Who is light, truth and love,
lives and reigns forever and ever.


St Jerome (c. 347–420)

Patron of scholars and students

One of the four Doctors of the Latin Church, and probably the greatest biblical scholar in history after Origen, St Jerome was born to a pagan family in Dalmatia (modern-day Croatia) and distinguished himself early as a man of letters. Jerome soon became convinced of the truth of the Christian religion, but remained powerless to lift himself by his own strength to make a profession of faith. Trying to read the scriptures, he would quickly put them aside for the works of pagan writers such as Ovid and Cicero, for whom he had a reverential preference.

The decisive moment came when he dreamt that he stood before the judgement seat of God, Who was ready to condemn him to an eternity in Hell for his obstinacy in sin and error. The terrified Jerome heard all the angels and saints in Heaven imploring the Almighty, by the merits of His divine Son, to give the poor sinner a little more time to repent. Their prayer was granted.

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“Better the love of God than knowledge or disputation”

In all things that we work or think, be we more taking heed to the love of God than to knowledge or disputation. Love truly delights the soul and makes conscience sweet, drawing it from love of lusty things here beneath, and from desire of man’s own excellence. Knowledge without charity builds not to endless health but puffs up to most wretched undoing.

… Wherefore let us seek rather that the love of Christ burn within us than that we take heed to unprofitable disputation. Whiles truly we take heed to unmannerly seeking, we feel not the sweetness of the eternal savour. Wherefore many now so mickle savour in the burning of knowledge and not of love, that plainly they know not what love is, or of what savour; although the labour of all their study ought to spread unto this end, that they might burn in the love of God.

Bl Richard Rolle (c. 1300–1349), The Fire of Love, chapter 5

Ante studium

Prayer before study by St Thomas Aquinas

O Infinite Creator, Who of the riches of Thy wisdom
didst appoint three hierarchies of Angels
and didst set them in wondrous order over the highest heavens,
and Who didst apportion the elements of the world most wisely:
do Thou, Who art in truth the fountain of light and wisdom,
deign to shed upon the darkness of my understanding
the rays of Thine infinite brightness, and remove far from me
the twofold darkness in which I was born, namely, sin and ignorance.
Do Thou, Who givest speech to the tongues of little children,
instruct my tongue and pour into my lips the grace of Thy benediction.
Give me keenness of apprehension, capacity for remembering,
method and ease in learning, insight in interpretation,
and copious eloquence in speech.
Instruct my beginning, direct my progress,
and set Thy seal upon the finished work,
Thou, Who art true God and true Man,
Who livest and reignest world without end.


Saint Joseph of Cupertino (1603–1663)

Patron of students and those with learning difficulties

Giuseppe Maria Desa is a saint whose religious life seems to have been one continuous miracle — not only because of his charismata, which manifested God's power to the faithful and converted many hearts, but also because of the ordinary action of sanctifying grace. It was the latter which transformed an apparently obstinate and bad-tempered neapolitan peasant, who seemed to be endowed with the very minimum of intellectual gifts, into a meek and joyful friar, armed with an invincible patience and humility — and even a certain erudition.

Rejected once from the Franciscan order, he was accepted as a servant in another friary, where his whole character underwent a mysterious conversion, characterised by a divine meekness which contrasted with the anger often elicited from those charged with instructing him. Despite his apparent inability to learn or remember anything, which did indeed make his instructors' task rather thankless, and his slack-jawed and abent-minded mien (which did not make their task any easier), he was able recall the Gospel of St Luke through and through — a gift which he could apply to conveying the essential truths of the faith with simplicity and clarity to virtually anyone. This would prove to be the key to his success in clerical studies and, soon, to his ordination to the priesthood.

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