Tommy A, the Polonius of Medieval Churchmen

Thomas Aquinas, Letter on a Method of Study

Because you have asked me, Ioannes, my dearest companion in Christ, in what manner it is proper for you to study in acquiring a treasury of knowledge, such a plan is handed on from me to you: that you should choose to enter through little streams, and not suddenly into the sea, because it is proper that one come gradually through the easier things to the more difficult ones.

This is, therefore, my advice and your instruction. I order you to be slow in speech and slow in acceding to the mouthpiece. Embrace purity of conscience. Do not allow yourself to be free for speech. You should frequently esteem the wine cellar if you wish to be brought into it. Present yourself as lovable to everyone. Don’t look at all deeply into the deeds of others. Don’t show yourself as very familiar with anyone, because excessive familiarity breeds contempt and offers material for subtraction from study. Don’t in any way get yourself embroiled in secular words or deeds. Don’t forget to follow the footsteps of the holy and the good. Don’t consider from whom you are hearing something, but commend to memory whatever good is spoken.

Make sure that you understand what you read and hear. Make yourself certain about doubtful things. Try to store up whatever you can in the wardrobe of your mind as if you wanted to fill up a jar. Don’t seek things higher than your station. Following these steps, you will profer and lead forth the useful blooms and fruits on the vine of the God of Heavenly Hosts as long as you live. If you will have followed all of this eagerly, you will be able to attain what you affect.


Quia quaesisti a me, in Christo mihi carissime Ioannes, qualiter te studere oporteat in thesauro scientiae acquirendo, tale a me tibi traditur consilium: ut per rivulos, non statim in mare, eligas introire, quia per faciliora ad difficiliora oportet devenire. Haec est ergo monitio mea et instructio tua. Tardiloquum te esse iubeo et tarde ad locutorium accedentem; conscientiae puritatem amplectere. Orationi vacare non desinas; cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci. Omnibus te amabilem exhibe; nihil quaere penitus de factis aliorum; nemini te multum familiarem ostendas, quia nimia familiaritas parit contemptum et subtractionis a studio materiam subministrat; de verbis et factis saecularium nullatenus te intromittas; discursus super omnia fugias; sanctorum et bonorum imitari vestigia non omittas; non respicias a quo audias, sed quidquid boni dicatur, memoriae recommenda; ea quae legis et audis, fac ut intelligas; de dubiis te certifica; et quidquid poteris in armariolo mentis reponere satage, sicut cupiens vas implere; altiora te ne quaesieris. Illa sequens vestigia, frondes et fructus in vinea Domini Sabaoth utiles, quandiu vitam habueris, proferes et produces. Haec si sectatus fueris, ad id attingere poteris, quod affectas

One thought on “Tommy A, the Polonius of Medieval Churchmen

  1. The translator here has misunderstood two words referring to rooms in the monastery: “locutorium” is a parlor or room where one can have a conversation (as opposed to the silence of the rest of the monastery). A “cella” refers not only to the wine cellar, but the “cell” (room) where an individual monk (or friar) lives (and sleeps, and prays). Also, “oratio” often refers to prayer in Thomas Aquinas. Thus, the text:

    “Tardiloquum te esse iubeo et tarde ad locutorium accedentem; conscientiae puritatem amplectere. Orationi vacare non desinas; cellam frequenter diligas si vis in cellam vinariam introduci”

    means something like:

    “I enjoin you too be slow to speak, and slow to enter the parlor for conversation; esteem purity of conscience. Do not cease to make time for prayer; you should value spending time in your cell, if you want to be invited into the wine cellar.”

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