Against vain and worldly learning



SON, be not moved with the fine and subtle sayings of men for the Kingdom of God is not in speech, but in power (1 Cor 4:20).

Attend to my words which inflame the heart and enlighten the mind, which excite to compunction and afford manifold consolations.

Never read anything that thou mayest appear more learned or more wise.

Study rather to mortify thy vices, for this will avail thee more than the being able to answer many hard questions thou must always return to one beginning.

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Latin grammar

I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this, not because Latin is traditional and medieval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labour and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty per cent. It is the key to the vocabulary and structure of all the Romance languages and to the structure of all the Teutonic languages, as well as to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences and to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilisation, together with all its historical documents.

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


[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)

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

“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