Back to school

Share on email
Share on whatsapp
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on reddit

For the first time in my life I am no longer a student — in the formal sense, at least. Whether you’re starting a new year of school or trying to learn on your own, here follows a reflection from The Imitation of Christ (Thomas a Kempis). As the academic year begins, it’s important to keep in mind that God primarily asks us not to learn but to love:

Knowledge is a natural desire in all people. But knowledge for its own sake is useless unless you fear God. An unlearned peasant, whose contentment is the service of God, is far better than the learned and the clever, whose pride in their knowledge leads them to neglect their souls while fixing their attention on the stars… If your knowledge encompasses the universe and the love of God is not in you, what good will it do you in God’s sight? He will judge you according to your actions.

Studying may be your vocation right now. Everyone’s first vocation, though, is not to a specific role — to being a mother, a husband, a teacher, a writer — but to sanctity. You can dedicate all your labors to God, yet it’s impossible to do even that apart from prayer and contemplation. And if you’re studying hard but refusing to love those around you, your knowledge will avail you nothing in the end. More from Thomas a Kempis:

Remember, the more you know, the more severely you will be judged. So do not be proud of any skill or knowledge you may have, for such is an awesome responsibility.

It’s easy to forget this one. We are blessed in the 21st century to have the world’s library accessible to us on the Internet — whereas books were once accessible only to the privileged few —  but how often we forget what responsibility comes with our learning. This is especially true in the spiritual realm: We who know what the Church teaches will be held all the more accountable for whether we obeyed her. One last quotation from Kempis to sum it up:

It is not wrong to pursue learning, for since it comes from God it is good as far as it goes; but it is far better to have a clean conscience and lead a virtuous life. Because some prefer to be learned than to be virtuous, they make many mistakes and produce little or no fruit.

If only people would use as much energy in avoiding sin and cultivating virtues as they do in disputing questions, there would not be so much evil in the world, nor bad example given, nor would there be so much laxity in religion!

On the day of judgment we will not be asked what we have read, but what we have done; neither will we be asked how well we have spoken, but how devoutly we have lived… They are truly learned who forsake their own will to follow the will of God.

Anna Williams

Anna Williams

Anna Williams is a junior fellow at First Things magazine, a former Collegiate Network fellow at USA TODAY, and a recent graduate of Hillsdale College.

Leave a Replay

7 thoughts on “Back to school”

  1. Avatar

    It’s amazing (and in my opinion predictable) that this medieval text speaks so well to the 21st century. I started reading this book recently (along with about twenty others) and those guys really knew what they were talking about. And it’s pretty obvious that at least Thomas a Kempis practiced what he preached.

  2. Avatar

    Yeah, if there’s one time period that’s wrongly brushed off (by the mainstream culture) as totally irrelevant to contemporary life, it’s the medieval era. I’ve been reading The Imitation of Christ a page or so at a time for several months, but just one sentence gives you so much to ponder.

  3. Avatar

    Have you explored the eastern church fathers? They have these sets of a hundred sayings compiled from their spiritual advice that they gave to early Christians. Kind of like St. Josemaria’s The Way. They’re really good.

    Spiritual Reading ftw.

  4. Avatar

    I haven’t read much of the Eastern Church fathers– you mean something different from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (compiled in books with titles similar to that), right? I should look that up. The desert fathers, who I was introduced to in a class on Ancient Christianity a couple years ago, are sometimes just puzzling but generally wise as well.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit