Teaching as Divine Imitation

Saint Thomas Aquinas by Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

One of my favorite thinkers is the great Catholic French philosopher Etienne Gilson. His work The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, so crucial to Thomas Merton's turn to Catholicism, has become a milepost for my own faith development. So too his God and Philosophy, which I first read as a senior at Saint Louis University, and which, as well as anything I've read, traces the presuppositions of the dominant approaches to God's existence. For me, Gilson is not merely a philosopher; he is a cartographer. His work reveals the landscape of the intellect and its possibilities in their totality.  

This week, as I enjoy a few days' break from teaching, I once again find myself edified by his thought, in particular passages from his The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. They are lines that remind me of how different it is to be a teacher within the Christian tradition, and more particularly within the Catholic tradition. In the opening pages of the book, Gilson reflects on Aquinas as a doctor, as a teacher, and writes:

Advertisement

"Teaching (doctrina) consists in communicating to others a truth meditated beforehand. It demands of necessity both the reflection of the contemplative in order to discover the truth, and the activity of the professor in order to communicate his findings to others. But the most remarkable thing about this complex activity is that there is an exact correspondence between the higher and the lower, between contemplation and action."

It makes me think: How many teachers meditate on the truths they teach? How many consider contemplation to be essential for their work in the classroom, and not just any contemplation, but a prayerful contemplation, a contemplation anticipating the sacred? I think if we take Gilson's -- and Aquinas's -- thought seriously, it imbues our days with a special reverence for our work and for our call. We are building bridges for the conveyance of essential things. To borrow from Gilson, "To contemplate truth by his intellect and to communicate it out of love, such is the life of the Doctor. It is an exalted human imitation of the very life of God." 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Beth Cioffoletti
4 years 5 months ago
"To contemplate truth by his intellect and to communicate it out of love, such is the life of the Doctor. It is an exalted human imitation of the very life of God." Boy, this is a loaded sentence. The concept of contemplation is thrown around a lot lately and used in a lot of different contexts. I've always felt it to be a knowing by un-knowing (beyond the rational mind) - a way of seeing and being that is grace-given, not by our own efforts. A teacher who attempts to transfer truth has surely got to be beyond the mere giving of information. Perhaps "truth" can only be lived and in that way it is taught? Yet the teacher role is so needed.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

 Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate Mass marking the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 20. The pope at his "Regina Coeli" announced that he will create 14 new cardinals June 29. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Eleven of the new cardinals are under the age of 80 and so have the right to vote in the next conclave.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 20, 2018
Images: AP, Wikimedia Commons
Bishop Curry described Teilhard as “one of the great minds, great spirits of the 20th century.”
Angelo Jesus CantaMay 19, 2018
Both men were close to each other in life, and both are much revered by Pope Francis.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 19, 2018
The Gaza Nakba demonstrations this week have done nothing to advance the situation of Palestinian refugees, nor did they provide relief to the people of Gaza, who dwell in an open-air prison, hemmed in and oppressed at every turn.